Cities Skylines Guide – Beginner tips and tricks guide

Cities Skylines Guide – Beginner tips and tricks guide




Hi there! Thanks to Paradox interactive I have been playing the latest city builder Cities Skylines for the last few days. Cities Skylines is an interesting game that is pretty accessible compared to some of its competitors. However there are a few things that might not be immediately clear or that can even allow you city to perish in a few minutes.

Obviously this guide is a work in progress but I hope it will allow you to avoid some of the mistakes I made! The chapters in this guide appear in the order they are presented in-game.


Just like in the famous SimCity series you will need to designate land for your citizens to construct housing on. In Cities Skylines zoning is completely free but the roads are very expensive! So do not go crazy on laying roads. Make sure you take care of your essential first.

Creating zones is free in Cities Skylines, but building roads isn't! Don't create too many at the start of your game.
Constructing roads is very expensive in Cities Skylines, do not attempt to create a grid like this at the start of your game!

Recommendation: Zoning can only be achieved on the white squares that appear next to roads, but do not build too many roads at first. All roads have a maximum range of 4 squares.  You can read more about Residential zones here: Cities Skylines Guide – How residential zones work.

Power and Wind

At the start of the game you can choose between a Wind Turbine and a Coal Power Plant.

Recommendation: The Coal Power plant is too expensive at the start of the game (19.000 vs 6.000) so really the Wind Turbine is your only option! Want to know more about different power options in Cities Skylines? Checkout this guide: Cities Skylines Guide – Electricity and the best power plants!

Wind levels

Wind Turbines require Wind in order to generate electricity. Therefore the output in MW is not fixed like in a coal power plant. Instead the efficiency is determined by the wind map resulting in 1-8 MW of power produced.

The electricity output of windmils depends on its location! Keep that in mind. Luckily you c an relocate them.

The Wind Turbine on the bottom right is only producing 4 MW. I should have placed it in the darker zone where it would yield 7 MW. Luckily you can relocate buildings!

Recommendation: Try to position Wind Turbines in the dark blue zones

Windmills and noise pollution: Plan ahead

In Cities Skylines some buildings and traffic generate noise pollution. Noise pollution will lower health and happiness of your citizens. Therefore you need to plan ahead.

Certain buildings create noice pollution. Don't place them close to your residential area.
If this city gets any bigger I will be forced to move these 6 Wind Turbines at a cost of 6x €1200!

Recommendation: At 6+ MW a Wind Turbine it is more cost efficient than a coal power plant, so use them when you can!

Power lines

Power lines can be a bit confusing at first. Basically all buildings emit a blue power zone. Buildings close to each other will create a single zone. Power lines will need to be constructed to connect different zones together. Let’s take a look:

You need to use powerlines to connect different zones together. The yellow sign indicates the two zones are not connected.

In this example the power line is not correctly placed for two reasons:

  • The yellow sign shows it is not connected to a zone (meaning you have to place it INSIDE the other blue zone)
  • The power line is not needed because the houses already joined the same power zone as the wind turbine

Instead power lines should be constructed like this:

Connected PowerlinePower grid example
Here the powerlines are connected because each end is placed inside a zone.
Power lines are connecting because each end is placed inside the different zones.
This is an example of a power grid in Cities Skylines.
Power lines are connecting the wind farm to the sewage drains, water pumps, residential area and industry.

Recommendation: Always create multiple links between important zones. Constructing roads can automatically demolish power lines. If you forget the connection to your water pumps your entire city could be left without water.

Water and Sewage

When you construct your first Water pipe you will notice it has two lanes. Like in any city builder water pipes are used to supply fresh water to your citizens. This means you must connect them to a Water Tower or Water Pumping station.

Now here is something new: The other lane is used to transport sewage. Although you might not like it you will have to dump your waste into the nearest river!

The people in this residential zone are unhappy because they lack a sewer drain.
Although these buildings have access to fresh water from a Water Tower just like in Simcity 4 they are unhappy because they lack a sewer drain!

Water pump placement and Water pollution

Keep in mind that using a Water Drain Pipe or Water Treatment Plant pollutes the river water. Rivers always move into one direction (downstream). Therefore you must make sure your water pumps are located upstream relative to the sewer system. If you fail to do that your citizens will become ill.

Place your water pumps upstream from your Water Drain Pipe or Water Treatment Plant! You don't want your population to drink polluted water.
Trust me when I say you do not want to swim in that water, let alone pump it up and serve it to citizens as “fresh” water!

Water Tower

At €3500 with €240 upkeep it produces 60.000 m3 of fresh water. Therefore it will cost about €4 per 1K of water. It does not need a road connection and it can be built pretty much anywhere

Water Pumping Station

At €2500 with €240 upkeep this building produces 120.000 of fresh water. Therefore it will cost about €2 per 1k, making it twice as efficient as the water tower. It is also cheaper to construct. The only downside is that it needs to be constructed on a river bed.

Water Drain Pipe

Costs €2500 with an upkeep of €320. It can drain 120.000 m3 sewage and uses 240 KW.

Water Treatment Plant

Costs €15000 with an upkeep of €640. Can drain 160.000 m3 sewage and uses 480 KW. This building reduces water pollution by 85%.

Recommendation: Skip the water tower and only use pumping stations. Also make sure you plan your sewage drain pipes properly. Meaning you should reserve fresh water space for at least 5-6 pumping stations.

Garbage disposal: Failing is game over

In Cities Skylines buildings produce garbage that needs to be disposed of.  Garbage trucks pass each individual building to collect garbage. After a few buildings they are full and will return to their landfill or incinerator. Due to this mechanic Garbage disposal is a strain on road network and trucks can be delayed by traffic. Garbage collection will be unlocked at 500 inhabitants.

It is important to collect the garbage in your city. The brighter blue the building the lower the amount of accumulated garbage.

A garbage truck is collecting trash. The brighter blue the building the lower the amount of accumulated garbage.

When garbage fails things go to sh*t.

The first thing you should realize is that when you properly fail garbage handling you will encounter a catastrophic failure and everyone will leave your city in a very short timeframe. This will quickly result into losses because you have zero income. After a few weeks you can actually go bankrupt.

The buildings with the red signs wil soon be abandoned.

In this screenshot all buildings marked red will soon abandon. They already stopped paying taxes reducing the in-game balance from +€10.000 to +€445. Ouch!

Recommendation: Do not force 75 garbage trucks over one direction road layout. Be aware of the impact on your roads!


At 500 inhabitants the landfill will unlock as the first garbage disposal option. This building will send out up to 15 trucks to gather garbage. This will only be sufficient for very small cities so expect to construct multiple landfills so you have enough trucks to drive across town.

Each landfill will send out up yp 15 garbage trucks. Be prepared to build more then one landfill.

This “busy town” of 6722 inhabitants required 5 landfills.

Keep in mind that a landfill can only be relocated once completely empty. The building comes with a button to accomplish this. However this will unleash the full force of its 15 trucks. An easy mistake to make here is forgetting to create a turning point. Without it trucks will move from A to B and then have to cross all the way over town to return to the first landfill.

A landfill can only be relocated once it is completely empty. You need to empty the building to another facility.

Recommendation:  Reserve space for at least 3 landfills and realize they can only be moved when empty.


At 7500 inhabitants (Big  Town) you will unlock the Incineration plant. This building has a few advantages of over the traditional landfill

  • It actually burns garbage instead of storing it
  • It can spawn up to27 garbage trucks instead of just 15
  • It can provide 12MW of power (almost 2x a windmill)
  • You can empty landfills into incinerators

At 7500 inhabitants (Big  Town) you will unlock the Incineration plant. Now you can burn your garbage.

If you check the garbage overlay you can try to balance the number of incinerators required.

Garbage overlay. Here you can check if your barbage disposal system is balanced.
A balanced garbage disposal.


Recommendation: The larger your city gets the more troublesome landfills become. They simply take up too much space. Switch to Incinerators when you can afford to. They use less space and provide more trucks.

Health care: don’t go big

When citizens become ill they require health care. To receive health care they must be picked up by an ambulance and brought the nearest facility. Because ambulances use the roads they suffer from traffic congestion. This also means that one way roads can severely limit the efficiency of your facilities.

Medical clinic

For $10.000 with $ 400 upkeep it can send out 8 ambulances and “store” up to 100 patients. Meaning it will cost you €50 per ambulance or €4 per bed. The range is about a single tile (2km x 2km). A single medical clinic should be enough up to 11.000 citizens.


For 65.000 with 2400 upkeep this bad boy can send out 25 ambulances and handle up to 500 patients. Therefore it will cost you €96 per ambulance or €4.8 per bed.  The range is about twice that of the medical clinic (about 1.5-2 tiles). Although it looks cool a combination of 4 local medical clinics is usually far more efficient in terms of costs, range and response time.

 Although a hospital looks cool a combination of 4 local medical clinics is usually far more efficient.
The coverage of the hospital is huge!

Recommendation: Health care is not something you have to worry about much in my experience. A single medical clinic will provide plenty of coverage. When your city grows you can consider upgrading to a hospital because it will save some space.

Death care

Now here is something new! Eventually citizens will die and they need to be ‘dealt with’. Just like ambulances drive across town in an attempt to save people the Hearse will collect the dead and bring the citizen to their final resting place. It will take 2 days to “load” a dead citizen.

Death care is a big deal in Cities Skylines. When you experienced a period of large growth followed by stagnation large parts of your population reach their maximum lifespan at the same time. Therefore all over your city people will die and each death requires a Hearse. I am currently using 8 crematoriums and 2 cemeteries on 40.000 citizens.


For €3000 and €160 upkeep this building can store 3000 ‘patients’ and send out 10 hearses. Keep in mind that it can only be relocated once completely empty. There is an option to empty the cemetery into another cemetery. So basically it has the same functionality as the landfill (no disrespect intended, it is how the game works).

A cemetery can store 3000 deceased. You need to relocate them before you can move your cemetery.


For €25.000 and €720 upkeep your citizens can be cremated. This building can store up to 105 deceased but will also process them. It can send out only 7 hearses.

A cemetery can send out 10 hearses, a crematorium 7.
A hearse is passing by two crematoriums in order to pick up a deceased citizen.

Recommendation: So far it looks like not everyone likes to be cremated so you will always need a cemetery.  Spread your crematoriums across the city to avoid traffic congestion caused by hearses. Do not forget that people can also die while working or shopping. So also cover commercial and industrial zones!

Practice using the Asset editor!

In City Skylines you can freely build complicated intersections because roads can be placed completely 3d including different height levels. Unfortunately roads are also extremely expensive. Demolishing a road when the game is paused will only result in a partial refund (75%). Therefore I recommend you save yourself time and start using the Asset Editor. Do not worry it is extremely simple!

Step 1: Launch the Asset editor

To launch he Cities Sklyines Asset editor go to Tools> Asset Editer> Temperate> New .

Step 2:

Once inside the Asset editor can construct roads like you would in-game:

The assed editor is great to develop for example a new roundabout!

Step 3: Save your asset.

When you are finished designing your “crazy” intersection you should go to the asset editor options and take a snapshot. After that press escape and save the asset!Do not forget to enter a filename, Asset name and description or you will see error warnings when you load your next game.

Don't forget to save your asset.


Got questions or other remarks? Feel free to post in the comments below. It is possible that future chapters will be added.

  • Good post!

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Thank you for being the first visitor after 12.000 views to bother to leave a comment :D.

  • ASolutionToAProblem

    How do you access the area where you can buy the expanding areas. It popped up once and I bought one, but now I want to buy more and I can’t find where it is located.

    BTW, great beginner guide. It got me moving along nicely. :]

    • tridus

      It’s the button in the bottom left corner of the UI, I think it’s blue.

      • ASolutionToAProblem

        That does take me to the world view, but it does not allow me to purchase the other land areas. I am not sure what is going on.

        • tridus

          How big is your city? The number of areas you can buy (annex in game terms) starts at 0 and goes up as your city grows.

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Like tridus said its the big round button. But it will take a few milestones before you can increase your city. Check it here:

  • Siha / Elle

    This was really useful – thanks!

    Could you add a section on optimal zoning for residential/commercial? I’m not sure how big to make my residential blocks, and where to intersperse commercial zones.

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      I was able to separate Industrial en Commercial zones up to 40.000 inhabitants. After that I was forced to mix because traffics cannot handle that amount. Will need to do some more playing to figure out the best balance here.

  • Steve

    A question regarding the healthcare: when my city reached 30,000 people suddenly everyone started getting sick. There was no reason I could see – no one living near pollution, plenty of cemeteries, crematoriums, and incinerators, no traffic issues for the ambulances, negligible noise pollution and plenty of parks in the residential areas – I continued plopping clinics and hospitals until I had 20 of them, but the number of sick kept growing and people kept dying until a quarter of my population was sick and almost 5 percent had died (or moved out) within a few years. And still the numbers of sick continued to increase until eventually I had to quit the game.
    What the heck happened? Is there a bug in the health care or did something go horribly wrong? Can’t figure out what . . .

  • Sebastiaan de Kooter

    I am going to assume that you were pumping up polluted water. When you use a water tower (really you shouldn’t) and that is on polluted ground you will kill your population.

    • Steve

      Didn’t use water towers and my water pipes were upstream from the sewage. Beginning to think that maybe I didn’t have enough clinics to start with, but there was no warning I could see – would scroll through the icons periodically and healthcare seemed ok … until it wasn’t. Ah well – will try again – do love the game, though!

      • Sebastiaan de Kooter

        Hmm strange. Keep in mind though that your citizens actually age. So if you have a period of large growth followed by stagnation than eventually you will have lots of seniors that will die at the same time. However these will show death icons and will not appear sick.

        • Steve

          Good point – maybe the elderly get sick more easily as well. Just that much more depth to the game, I suppose!

      • Caio Henrique

        When you click on the house and mouse over the sick icon you can see what’s going on.

    • Adrian

      This tip saved my city, I forgot about that water tower and then a lot of pollution accumulated on the area… You know the rest

    • Soeski

      The very first map does not have flowing water. If you put a water pump there, as well as your sewage, your population will get sick quite soon. There is no solution to this really, you need to use water towers.

  • partwish

    [QUESTION] What should I do with full landfil? Just switch it off or what? If I choose to move garbage it will only move it to another landfil, so that do me nothing good.

    • Steve

      Once you have the possibility to plop incinerators, you can empty all the landfills into them (they have storage capacity as well) – just do it slowly and keep an eye on the progress. Eventually you can destroy the landfills once they are empty and use only incinerators from then on.

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Like Steve said. I am not sure if garbage decomposes over time. You unlock the incinerators pretty quickly and they have 27 instead of 15 garbage trucks AND produce 12 MW of power.

    • partwish

      Thank you guys.

  • The game doesn’t explain much properly. This article did. Thanks!

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Thanks for caring!

  • mr. bigglesworth

    Thanks for posting this. I had everything in my city going fine, then people started to get sick. I assumed it was my water supply or something, but eventually I found out it was noise pollution due to wind turbines. I thought this was kind of funny because in real life, their sound is really very soothing, I actually prefer it to total silence.

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Fun fact: Wind Turbines actually generate inaudible noise that can be bad for your health!

      • Fex

        I actually read about a double-blind study that disproved that theory. So I guess it’s one of those things we’ll never be completely certain about..

  • Dale Sinclair

    Great write up! Any advice on Hydro Dams? Mine just flooded my entire city!

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Basically realize that the dam will block water until water has reached it’s maximum height. So the higher you construct your dam the more it will flood and the less water it will allow to flow through.

  • very good recommendations. I lost almost sixty porcent of population after having everybody die with no preparation… or money..

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Thanks and ouch!

  • yanloup

    CS Wiki mentions: “Garbage and dead body disposal does not have infinite range, so you will need to disperse garbage services and body disposal services throughout the city”, which seems to conflict with what is shown on your screenshot. Thoughts ?

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      The central garbage handling was taking on a highly compact city that was covering about 2 tiles meaning 2x4KM. The maximum city size is 9 tiles meaning 6x6KM. At one point I was even using dedicated garbage highways. So eventually you will need to spread out these services just like the wiki mentions. However this will not be an issue up to 50.000 inhabitants.

  • Eldaddio

    Hi Have just started playing and am having problems with water:

    – I have three pumps, but some residents say they don’t have water even though display shows water going past them
    – After zoning some new land I have connected new pipes up to existing pipes but water/sewage won’t flow through them

    Any thoughts/suggestions

    Problem sorted itself out after a couple of restarts

  • xfatdanax

    Thank youuuu!

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Thanks for caring :D.

  • vulq

    [QUESTION] my water is polluted and can’t figure out why have moved bothe my pumping stations and water treatment plant and my drinking water is now 25% polluted and some og my pipes have a weird colour.

    And a great guide you can never learn to much about a game

  • Sebastiaan de Kooter

    Glad to hear the problem was solved :).

  • Jordan Hitch

    I’m guessing the answer is no, but is there a way to “upgrade” a road/highway into an intersection without first demolishing the roads “in the way,” that will simply be recreated by the intersection? It’s quite the pain.

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      So far I have not found a way but there might be a mod.

  • jerre

    great many thanks from Belgium friend

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Your welcome from The Netherlands :).

  • Eldaddio

    I have a problem with incinerator plants. When I place a new one, it does not work. When I click on the building, it is ‘on’ but has a message that it is “not operating”. What is happening here?

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      Try to post a screenshot on imgur.

  • Sebastiaan de Kooter

    You are probably using a water tower close to polluted ground (like industry).

  • Kevin Seiden

    Rivers do not always move in one direction. It is possible with creative use of the Hydro Dam to reverse their flow (I’ve done it).

  • Tom Mitchell

    Drawing roads (or pipes or subway tunnels) seems to be sticky. By that I mean the only way to continue drawing roads after laying the first section is to either continue from the point you stopped, or to back out completely from the roads tools and come back in when you want to start drawing the next road from a different point. Any one know a way to get the game to let you start drawing somewhere other than where you stopped? I’ve tried things like the escape key or clicking on another road type. Nothing seems to work. It’s annoying.

    • Dave

      After laying the first section, right-click. That leaves you in the road (or whatever) tool and allows you to mouse over to where you want the next section to start.

  • Neil Calabroso

    I am new in this game and the “tutorial” is not a tutorial. Thank you for this post. Great one!

  • Gee Eersteling

    Nice post, very clear as well.

    A question tho (unrelated to the game whatsover), but did you mean “no disrespect intended” instead of “do disrespect intended” @ the [Cemetry] section of your post?

    • Sebastiaan de Kooter

      O wow I can’t believe that typo has been in there for so long. Thanks!

  • The Doctor

    This post provided more information in a few minutes of reading than the game did in over 60 hours of playing…I still suck at it, but at least now I understand WHY I suck at it.

  • Sean

    Excellent article. Asset editor sounds great, building intersections during gameplay can be so tedious!

  • DirtyDeedz

    I’m new with this game, but am very excited about it’s potential. This guide was very helpful and explained a lot.

  • Mariana

    Great! This guide was very helpful and explained a lot.

  • Lauren Field

    Great guide, I found it very helpful. Thank you so much 🙂

  • BrotherWill

    It is not cheaper to use wind turbines. It is far cheaper to use coal plants. The power to cost ratio of wind turbines is ridiculously expensive.

    ” adding 40 MW of capacity costs ₡19k with a coal plant, but ₡30k with a
    set of optimal wind turbines. It will take at least 68 weeks for wind
    power to make up this difference on lower running costs.”

  • Khaled Al-Hamdan

    Amazing work and effort, thanks for tips.

  • plusmetal

    This was a fun game to play but it is gets very annoying later because there is no tutorial at all.
    For example if your residential or industry or office or commercial have problem like garbage has piled up or not enough goods to sell,it doesn’t give any information what is causing the problem. Because of this I completely lost interest in this game.

  • America2028

    I just got this game on a steam sale and am loving it so far! Great tips!