Top 5 Best Free Cities in EU4This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Free cities are unique one-province republics inside the Holy Roman Empire that possess imperial immediacy.
This means they answer directly to the emperor, free from the shackles of local nobles.
As long as you remain a free city, no one can declare war on you without also dragging in the emperor!
Usually situated at high-value provinces with a lot of development, free cities offer a nice change of pace from your typical campaign. Whether you stay as an OPM (one province minor) or leverage your position to expand, there are some incredibly strong choices among the free cities.
Aachen deserves a spot on the list for historical reasons first and foremost.
As the original capital of the HRE, playing as Aachen and restoring the city to its former glory is a very satisfying experience.
Aachen’s ideas are nothing incredible. Some nice bonuses to republican tradition and diplomacy in general are the highlights. Republican tradition is great if you want to stay as a republic.
However, if you chose to play as Aachen, you probably want to flip into a monarchy and try to become emperor. That is where the diplomatic bonuses will come in handy.
With a typical HRE starting positions, surrounded by similar in strength nations all around, you can begin your expansion right off the bat. Of course, you can make use of your free city status before expanding to ensure your survival.
Can you restore Aachen to what it was under the rule of Charlemagne?
Rothenburg is one of the two free cities in Franconia, along with Nürnberg. It’s one of the less developed ones, with just 10 development and no Center of Trade.
However, Rothenburg has an excellent set of national ideas to compensate for that.
Military bonuses in the form of early army morale and fort defense, plus discipline and manpower down the line. Really you can’t ask for much more in that department.
The rest of the bonuses are all-around decent, with the first idea being one of the most unique in the game. It nullifies maluses from different religion in your provinces, which allows you to completely ignore the reformation!
It’s starting position is another typical one for the HRE.
Although your development is less than that of your neighbors, hiring some mercenaries can allow you to comfortable punch above your weight.
There could be no list of free cities without Ulm. After all, Ulm is low-key the strongest nation in the game, as everybody knows.
For those not up to date with Europa Universalis memes – it’s not.
Just a long-standing meme since the days of EU3.
Well just like with all memes, this one also has a hint of truth to it.
Ulm can survive until the late game in most of your campaigns due to the fact it’s a free city and under the emperor’s protection. The same is true if you yourself play as Ulm.
Although as a player, you probably won’t find much fun in not expanding at all as a landlocked one province nation.
Ulm has access to a unique idea set, albeit not a very strong one. It’s in a position to fight and unify Swabia though, switching to that idea set.
You begin the game with a level 1 great project and a well-developed Center of Trade. Securing allies and conquering the disparate Swabian nations and forming the nations of Swabia is a great early goal!
Goslar can easily compete for the title of most overlooked nation in the game.
Its seemingly inconspicuous starting position hides its potential very well.
Plain and simple, Goslar has one of the strongest idea sets in the HRE. With development cost reduction and a boost to goods produced, it can be an excellent choice for a tall campaign.
What it lacks is military bonuses though, which can develop into a problem in certain scenarios.
The weirdest part of Goslar’s national ideas is that they give a bonus to Imperial Authority. This is only relevant if you’re the HRE emperor.
To do that, you have to abandon your status as a free city and switch into a monarchy.
Early expansion can be a problem as your neighbors are some of the largest nations in the HRE. Good alliances and opportunistic attacks will give you the upper hand though. Remember, as a free city no one is going to directly attack you, so take your time.
Hamburg begins the game as part of Lübeck’s trade league, representing the Hanseatic confederation.
It starts in a rich trade node with weak neighbors all around. Securing alliances with other hanseatic members at the game’s start will help you start expanding.
Hamburg offers you the possibility of playing and finishing a campaign without conquering a single province for yourself. It makes for a fun little challenge.
Your expansion will consist of vassalizing your neighbors and feeding them provinces. Colonization and trade companies are also an option.
Whether for yourself or your vassals, you eventually want to betray your hanseatic allies and bring the rich cities of Bremen and Lübeck under your control.
The Hamburger (yes, that’s what someone from Hamburg is called in German) national idea set is excellent for setting up a trade empire overseas.
Of course, you can form Hannover if you conquer your southern neighbors, and switch to a different idea set.
Moreover, Hamburg has a unique achievement tied to it. And one of the most fun ones – a personal favorite of mine:
The “Bunte Kuh” achievement tasks you to control a certain percentage of specific trade goods globally, forcing you to set your merchant empire in unique and creative ways.