Cities Skylines Ultimate Guide

Cities Skylines is the perfect city-building simulator that is available on multiple platforms. Once a genre dominated by SimCity, it lost its way after SimCity 4 and hasn’t returned to the genre since while focusing on The Sims.

This guide will show you how to get started with your first city and run you through how to manage your growing city. After gaining sufficient knowledge, you can leave this city and create your own version of it.

To preface this guide, I’m assuming you are playing with no cheats and none of the DLC. The guide won’t be platform-specific, so it should apply to all versions. 

For a more detailed traffic management guide, I have made a new article regarding road patterns that you can use. Click here to view that article.

Cities Skylines Starting 

cities skylines guide laying road

At the very beginning of a new city, you have access to limited options. First, pause the game. In your new city, you will have two roads, both one-way. Taking traffic in and out of your city. First, connect these two roads with a simple road. Then either side of the new road extends the road further, like in the screenshot below.

Create a grid of roads with as few junctions as possible. Junctions = Traffic. Fill one of the rectangles with the residential zone and the other with the industrial zone. Between the road and the edge of the map filled with the commercial zone. Commercial zones are best to keep on busier roads. They are also a great buffer between Residential and industrial zones. 

City Utilities 

Place a coal power plant next to the industrial zone to minimize the impact of the air and noise pollution it produces. You may need to use pylons initially to power the residential area. But once the area is built up, you can remove the pylons since each building extends the range of the grid.

cities skylines guide power station 1

Next is water, unlike SimCity you need to place two buildings: A water pump and a sewage plant. Place the water pump upstream to the sewage system. The sewage system will output dirty water into the water source. Placing the water pump upstream makes sure it doesn’t pick up the dirty water. Depending on the map, both water buildings will be far away from your start point, so you have two choices: 

  1. Use pylons to extend power grid to the water buildings. 
  1. Deploy wind turbines next to the water buildings. 

The choice is up to you. I prefer to minimise the use of ugly pylons and place wind turbines. It also means that for the initial period if there is a power shortage it won’t affect your water solution. Once that is sorted place plumbing in all zoned areas. 

Press Play 

General Tips 

Keep an eye on the RCI meter. If none of the types of zones is filling up it means you need to add more services. This will increase the desirability of your city which in turn will make others want to move in.

With regards to road and zone, distribution keeps using the grid system as it provides the most zones per road distribution. Once you’ve played a few cities you can start making more interesting road layouts.

Cities Skylines Milestones 

The progress of your city is measured using population and by hitting each milestone you will unlock new buildings and features. 

Milestone Name Minimum Required Population* 
Little Hamlet 120 
Worthy Village 240 
Tiny Town 360 
Boom Town 650 
Busy Town 1,200 
Big Town 1,800 
Small City 2,600 
Big City 4,000 
Grand City 5,000 
Capital City 8,000 
Colossal City 11,000 
Metropolis 16,000 
Megalopolis 20,000 
Cities Skylines Beginner's Guide: Population increases the city level unlocking more buildings and services.

*The actual population requirement depends on the map 

Little Hamlet 

cities skylines guide city next level

Once you hit play, the city will build. As the population grows, you will hit milestones. These milestones unlock new services, roads, and needs. The first milestone is 120 people, which shouldn’t take long to achieve. This milestone unlocks the health and education services as well as a nice bonus of $20,000 in cash. Use that extra cash to buy a medical center and primary school and position them next to your residential zone.

Another feature that is unlocked is loans and taxes. Taxes you don’t need to touch early game. If you overspend, loans are a cheap and quick way of securing extra funds. The interest and repayments are very low. If you don’t waste the money on construction you don’t need, you should be able to keep on top of the repayments. 

Worthy Village 

The second milestone unlocks at 240. It unlocks emergency services, a second loan, a district, and policies. Again, use the $20,000 in cash you receive for this milestone to construct both emergency services. Be warned that when new services are unlocked, your population will start to request them. For fire and police, for example, fires and criminal activity will start appearing across your built-up areas. If you can only afford one, go for the fire station. If a fire appears in a utility building, it will stop producing its utility, which can have catastrophic effects on your bank balance as well as the happiness of the population.

You can now also buy one extra plot of land. At this point in your mayoral career, you do not need to buy an additional plot since your city will still be tiny.

Districts are a great way to micromanage specific areas within your city as well as see specific stats for that area. Make use of them early on and enact the power and water restriction when the needs for both exceed your output.

Tiny Town 

Unless you have any of the DLC, this milestone doesn’t add much apart from another 20,000 cash. Continue to expand your residential, commercial, and industrial zones, depending on the RCI meter. The only building you need to construct is the high school; again, it needs to be next to the residential zone. Your population will also now be above the maximum amount for a single Primary school. It would be the best time to set up another one.

Boom Town 

cities skylines guide bus depot

You’ve finally unlocked the public transport options. You have access to buses and Taxis. For Taxis, you need to place a Taxi depot and leave it to the business to manage itself. Buses on the other hand you need to not only place a Bus depot but also bus stations to plot a route. 

There are many guides on how to place bus routes. My suggestion is to start the route next to either a school or health service, then next to industrial, then at a commercial zone finally route back to the original bus station. Workers will need to get to work and then on their way home stop at the shops to buy products then head home. Wait a while and then click on one of the bus stops and select line information.

Keep an eye on passengers vs buses. If most of the buses are operating under ten passengers reduce the budget for that line. This will reduce the number of buses being underutilised so won’t cause more traffic than it reduces. 

Busy Town

Have you been keeping an eye on your utilities? If you are lacking in power production, you can now purchase the oil power plant. It provides greater power production at an increased price.

On top of that, keep an eye on your traffic. If the road into your city starts to get blocked up, your power stations won’t get the resources they need to power your city. No power means no water and sewage system. If it is getting blocked up, increase the size of the road. Or reduce the number of junctions that are close to each other. Moe junctions at closer proximity to each other mean more traffic.

Big Town

The big town milestone unlocks the university. Build one as soon as possible so that you can get access to higher educated workers. Higher educated workers mean less waste produced and fewer polluting industries.

Cities Skylines And So On…

From this point on making sure to keep on top of all your population’s needs. This means balancing power, water, and waste utilities as well as fire/police services. Health services are also important to prevent fewer dead bodies in buildings. Also, make sure to have enough graveyards and crematoriums. Education though important, you can in theory get away without keeping on top of the population.

You can also start to expand your city outwards. Once you get to Megalopolis you have completed all the milestones. However, this isn’t the end of meeting targets. There are various monuments you can unlock that can boost your city in a variety of ways. But before you can get them you need to build important buildings which have requirements.

The monuments are:

Eden Project

The Eden Project increased the land value of the city. As well as the boost to land value it also reduces all types of pollution

The Eden Project requires the following: Statue of Industry, Friendly Neighbourhood Park, Official Park, Business Park, Servicing Services Offices, and Cathedral of Plenitude.

Fusion Power Plant

This power plant produces 16,000 MW of power. More than enough to supply any city.

The Fusion Power Plant requires the following: Plaza of the Dead, Fountain of Life and Death, Tax Office, Observatory, Science Centre, and MAM Modern Art Museum.

Hadron Collider

The Hadron Collider provides education capacity for 1,000,000 people from Primary to University.

The Hadron Collider requires the following: Statue of Shopping, Posh Mall, Colossal Order Offices, Grand Library, Aquarium, and Theatre of Wonders.

Medical Centre

The Medical Centre is a new and improved version of the hospital. It has the capacity of 1,000 patience as well as 50 ambulances

The Medical Centre requires the following: Lazaret Plaza, Mall of Moderation, Court House, Oppression Office, High-Interest Tower, and Sea-and-Sky Scraper.

Space Elevator

The Space elevator increases the number of tourists in your city. Maybe some of them are aliens in disguise?

The Space Elevator requires the following: the Statue of Wealth, Transport Tower, Grand Mall, Opera House, Expo Center, and Stadium.

Cities Skylines Want More?

There is plenty of DLC available for Cities Skylines once you have completed all that the base game has to offer. Personally, I would try Park life and Industries first as they both provide a game within a game experience.

Want to watch a city planner play Cities Skylines? click here.

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