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Basel vs Bern: Which Swiss city is the best to live in?

Moving to Switzerland and can't decide between Basel and Bern? We look at some factors to consider in these two cities, from the population to wages, rents, and international connections.

Traffic in the Swiss city of Basel. Photo by Johnson Hung on Unsplash
Traffic in the Swiss city of Basel. Photo by Johnson Hung on Unsplash

Despite being only an hour’s train ride apart, many would argue that Basel and Bern are quite different.  Basel draws in international residents with its convenient location: living in the cosmopolitan city you are perfectly situated for frequent trips to both Germany and France – a distinct advantage Bern cannot offer its residents.

Moreover, besides being the hometown of none other than tennis legend Roger Federer, Basel is also an ideal place of residence for researchers and art lovers. The city boasts an outstanding university, the prestigious University of Basel, and is home not only to Art Basel, but to (nearly) 40 museums.

READ MORE: Six things people who live in Basel take for granted

However, what Bern lacks in geographical location and celebrity connections, it delivers in architecture and panoramic views. Strolling through the Old City – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 – you will never tire of taking in the many Renaissance-style fountains, sandstone buildings and six kilometres of arcades, which date back to the 12th to 15th centuries.

If you like to bike to work, then Bern may be just the right fit for you. In fact, no other Swiss city has as many bike stations as Bern, and you can rent both regular and e-bikes at a low cost – perfect for your commute to work. ‘Berners’ are also known to be very laidback and approachable, while simultaneously being some of Switzerland’s slowest walkers. What’s not to love?

Though some points may set them apart, the two cities have a lot more in common than they might care to admit. For instance, both are German-speaking, lie along rivers (the Rhine and Aare), have similar nightlife and shopping opportunities, and outstanding train connections to boot.

Based on the data we collected from various official sources, here’s how these two cities compare to each other:


Population: The city of Basel has a population of around 170,000 residents. As of December 31st, 2022, the population of the canton of Basel-City (or Basel-Stadt as it is also called) – Switzerland’s most densely populated canton – boasts 204,550 inhabitants.

As of April 30th, 2023, 78,275 residents of the canton were foreign nationals.

Wages: According to the canton of Basel-City’s statistical office, the median wage for men (2020) in the canton was 7,050 francs and for women 6,395 francs.

The canton of Basel-City is also one of few Swiss cantons to have set a minimum wage at 21 francs an hour.

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland is there a minimum wage and how much is it?

Rents: Just as is the case in many major Swiss cities, Basel is currently facing an affordable housing shortage as demand surges and average earners struggle to afford rents in the city.

A view of Basel, Switzerland.

A view of Basel, Switzerland. Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay

A quick glance at the apartments on the canton’s own website shows that property hunters will need to fork out around 1,480 francs net for two rooms, 1,320 francs net for three rooms in the city and 2,275 francs net for four rooms.

International connections: The city of Zurich is home to one of Switzerland’s three main airports, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, which is jointly administered by both Switzerland and France.

It also has a number of train links to destinations across the border via Basel Hauptbahnhof, taking travellers to six cities in Germany, one in Italy, as well as Paris and Dijon.

International companies: Two large Swiss healthcare companies — Roche and Novartis — are based in Basel, which is unofficially known as the pharma capital of Switzerland.

Roche employs 13,6000 people in its core diagnostics and pharmaceutical divisions, while 8,000 people work on Novartis’ site, to which the company refers to as a “campus.”

READ MORE: Vaud, Basel, Zug: Where are Switzerland’s largest companies?


Population: The city of Bern has a population of 144,447 residents at year-end 2022, made up of 69,122 men and 75,325 women. Of that, 35,436 people were foreign residents.

A view of Bern, Switzerland.

A view of Bern, Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

In comparison, the canton of Bern counted some 1,047,473 residents at the end of 2021 of which 16.8 percent were foreign residents.

Wages: According to an equal pay analysis by the city of Bern, the median monthly wage for men in the canton was 7,785 francs and for women 6,896 francs as of March 2021.

Rents: Similar to Basel, flat hunters in the city of Bern will also struggle to find affordable housing that fits their criteria.

Still, it is possible to find the odd hidden gem with a reasonable monthly price tag in Bern.

According to BärnToday, those hoping to find an apartment in Bern’s inner city will be expected to pay higher prices than renters willing to compromise on location.

For example, a 3-room apartment in the inner-city part of Bern will set you back 1,692 francs per month, while the same amount of rooms cost just 1,025 in Bümpliz-Oberbottigen. The same is also the case for smaller/larger apartments in the inner city when compared to other areas just outside of Bern’s centre.

International connections: The city of Bern has a regional airport, the Bern Airport or Regionalflugplatz Bern-Belp, which is located in Belp and is serviced by Helvetic Airways, SkyAlps, Private Wings, and Lübeck Air.

It also has a number of train links to destinations across the border via Bern Hauptbahnhof, taking travellers to six cities in Germany as well as Milan in Italy.

International companies: Though no renowned international companies are headquartered in Bern, the city is home to a few major domestic players, such as the Swiss Railway System, Swiss National Bank, pharmaceutical and logistics company Galenica, mechanical engineering firm Ammann Group, and RUAG Holding, which specialises in the aerospace engineering and the defence industry.

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What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Switzerland's Alpine pasture season has been included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But what makes it so special?

What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Why are Swiss Alpine pastures in the news?

On Wednesday, UNESCO announced it had inscribed 45 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its annual session held in Kasane (Republic of Botswana).

The list comprises cultural “practices and expressions [that] help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.” 

Among this year’s new elements were two Swiss entries, one of which is the country’s popular Alpine pasture season.

What is Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season?

As an exemplary tradition of the Swiss mountain areas, the Alpine pasture season combines traditional skills, customs and rituals related to Alpine farming in Switzerland.

The Alpine pasture season takes place from around May to October in Switzerland when various cattle, sheep and goats are relocated to high-altitude pastures (between 600 metres and 2900 metres) to graze on fresh forage and herbs that thrive in the summer months.

The Alpine farmers, or Alpacists, then look after the livestock and their surroundings, produce different dairy products, and even invite visitors to observe the animals and farming practices.

“The practice contributes to the preservation of natural landscapes and creates economic and social ties between the local populations and the Alpine farmers. It has given rise to the knowledge and skills needed to maintain the sites, as well as to a variety of social and religious practices such as rituals, prayers and blessings, traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivities,” UNESCO writes.

Some of these practices also include “traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivals” like the Alpine cattle ascent (inalpe) and the Alpine cattle descent (désalpe) where – depending on the region – the most beautiful cow of the herd is crowned.

Festivals to celebrate the herd animals heading to their summer pastures play a vital role for farmers and locals as they highlight craft practices that are otherwise rarely observed in Switzerland.

“The knowledge, skills, and customs of the Alpine pasture season, including farming and cheesemaking, are often transmitted informally, within families and their seasonal employees or among members of Alpine societies and cooperatives. They are also transmitted through regional training centres, cultural events and tourism,” UNESCO says.

READ MORE: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

UNESCO also recognises Swiss irrigation technology

Switzerland’s cattle weren’t the only ones to join UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity this year.

Its centuries-old irrigation technology from Bern and Lucerne also made the cut.

The multinational agricultural technology was proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO list by Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, zentralplus reported.

According to UNESCO, traditional irrigation involves temporarily digging small ditches and channels to distribute water from as springs, rivers, streams, and glaciers to meadows.

This sustainable form of water supply, which serves to cultivate dry areas, also has a positive effect on biodiversity.

In Switzerland, this technology is celebrated with various social gatherings and other festivities to mark the start and ending of the water season.

UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity also includes six other Swiss entries.

These include the Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics (2020), the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio (2019), Alpinism (2019), the Avalanche risk management (2018), Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques (2018), the Basel Carnival (2017), and the Winegrowers’ Festival in Vevey (2016).

Since 2020, the craft techniques and customary practices of cathedral workshops, or Bauhütten, in Europe, know-how, transmission, development of knowledge and innovation – which include Switzerland – also joined UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and falls within the agency’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

READ MORE: The 13 world heritage sites in Switzerland you need to see