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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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For members


What you should know about Basel’s EuroAirport

When talking about Switzerland’s air hubs, Zurich and Geneva are most commonly mentioned. But in fact, the country has three international airports (even though Basel airport is actually in France).

What you should know about Basel's EuroAirport

When taking about international flights, Basel’s EuroAirport is often omitted. But the fact is that this particular airport is more ‘international’ than its better known counterparts, Zurich and Geneva.

The reason is that unlike Zurich (ZRH), which is located entirely on Swiss territory, and Geneva (GVA), which straddles both  Switzerland and France, EuroAirport lies in France, but next to Basel, it also services the nearby German city of Freiburg and French city of Mulhouse.

It is no wonder, then, that the airport’s official name is the rather long EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, and it has not one but three codes: BSL is the Swiss code, MLH is the French one, and EAP (EuroAirport) is the international code.

What else is there to know about this airport?

As airports go, this one is pretty unusual, not only because of its long name and three codes, but also because it was developed (and is operated) jointly by two countries — France and Switzerland.

It is located in the administrative commune of Saint-Louis, in the French Alsace region, but only about 4 km from Basel.

It can be accessed quickly and easily from Basel’s central train station by a number 50 bus, taking about 15 minutes in good traffic conditions.

There is no border / customs checkpoint on the way.

What airlines fly to and from BSL / MLH / EAP?

Unlike is the case in Zurich and Geneva, SWISS airline is not the airport’s main carrier — in fact, it doesn’t operate from EuroAirport at all.

Of the major airlines that fly to and from this airport is Lufthansa, Austrian, British Airways, Air France, Turkish Airlines, and KLM.

Most operators, however, are low-cost airlines.

Foremost among them is EasyJet, but RyanAir and WizzAir, as well as lesser-known ones like AirTransat, EnterAir, and Chair Airlines, are also present.

What international destinations can be reached from EuroAirport?

This is yet another difference between this airport and Zurich and Geneva: no long-haul flights leave from or land at EuroAirport.

Most routes are short or medium-haul, mostly in Europe.

However, there are also fllights to and from destinations like Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Dubai, Israel, and Morocco.

This link shows all the airlines and destinations that can be reached from EuroAirport.

Are there air shuttles between Zurich or Geneva and EuroAirport?

The flight between Zurich and Geneva is the only one operating within Switzerland.

However, Basel airport can be reached by train and bus no. 50 from Zurich in less than two hours,, and from Geneva in just over three.