Pros and Cons of Living in Bern

Bern is one of Switzerland’s most historic and picturesque cities. It’s not only safe but also extremely well-connected, so residents can easily visit neighbouring cities and countries when living in Bern. Keep reading to find out whether the Swiss capital could be a good fit for you.

Pros of Living in Bern

It’s Safe

Bern is considered one of the safest capitals in the world. Although every city in Switzerland is relatively safe, Bern residents experience significantly less crime than people living in Basel, Solothurn, Zurich, and Geneva.

There aren’t any bad or dangerous neighbourhoods in Bern. You can walk around anywhere during the daytime without having to worry about crime, and at weekends there are night buses to take you home safely. However, it’s advisable to stick to busy streets at night and avoid the Reithalle area whenever there are demonstrations.

Pros and Cons of Living in Bern

It’s Easy to Get Around

Bern is well-connected. No matter where you live, you’ll likely have more than one way to get to the city centre. In central Bern, there are trams, buses, and trains. If you live further out, you may need to take a post bus.

Since Bern is small, commuting by bike is a great option for many people. In recent years, the city has made an effort to encourage cycling by improving routes and safety measures and offering public bike rentals. The aim is to make Bern a Cycling Capital and eventually get to one million bike trips per year.

There Are Lots of Expats

Over 30% of the Bernese population is foreign. Even though the town is small, you’ll find a vibrant English-speaking community. There are clubs, playgroups, language exchanges, and local meetups. If you don’t yet have any connections in Bern upon arrival, these groups are a great place to begin building a social life.

It’s One of the Most Historic Swiss Towns

The city centre of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With several famous churches, countless statues, the beautiful rose garden, and the bear park, it’s a great place to spend your evenings and weekends. You’ll find something to love, whether you’re a history buff or you simply enjoy sipping a glass of wine in a charming location.

There’s Lots to Do Year-Round

Although Bernese people are known for being slower and more serene than their neighbours in Zurich, you’re unlikely to be bored in this town. There are plenty of activities for everyone:

  • Summer: Swimming in the local river, the Aare, is a great Bernese pastime. As long as you’re a reasonably good swimmer, you can jump in and float down the river while enjoying an excellent view of the Swiss government building. And the best thing: the whole experience, including the lido, is completely free.
  • Winter: If you like winter sports, Bern is for you. Every year, there is a free ice rink on the Bundesplatz in the centre of the town. You simply arrive and go straight on the ice — no booking and no queues. If you want a more professional experience, there are several larger rinks dotted around the city.
  • Year-round: Bern has a distinct museum district in the Kirchenfeld quarter. There, you can find a wide range of science and art-themed museums. If you get a Museum Card, you’ll be able to enjoy most of them at a discount.
  • Year-round: No matter the weather, shopping is possible in Bern because the city’s main shopping streets have arcades that shelter people from the rain. You’ll find everything you need, from large chain stores to small local shops and fresh food markets.

Shopping arcades and a fountain statue in Bern’s historic old town.

You Can Travel to Lots of Places

In addition to enjoying everything Bern has to offer, you can also travel further afield. Bern is located in the western part of Switzerland, and you can get to Basel, Zurich, Lucerne, and Lausanne in approximately one hour by train. Day or weekend trips to Italy, France, and Germany are also possible.

Youth Culture Is More Vibrant than in Other Towns

As one of Switzerland’s most progressive cities, Bern benefits from a vibrant youth culture. Much of it is centred around the Reithalle, a controversial building that hosts concerts, readings, and performances mainly targeted at a young audience. Even if you’re not directly involved in youth culture, the progressive nature of Bern makes it easier to integrate because migration is typically considered beneficial, and expats are well-integrated.

Cons of Living in Bern

It’s Smaller than Zurich or Geneva

If you’re looking to live in a large city, Bern isn’t right for you. It has around 135,000 inhabitants, so it’s smaller than Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Lausanne. However, this makes Bern a quiet and relatively unpolluted place to live. There is still plenty to do in and around the city, and if you need a change, you can easily travel to the larger towns.

Most Shops Are Closed on Sundays

Switzerland is known for its quiet Sundays, meant for rest and recreation. Shops are generally closed, which can be surprising for expats who come from places where everything is open 24/7. While this has changed somewhat in the larger Swiss cities, it is still generally the rule in smaller towns like Bern. Despite this, you’ll be able to find essentials in the train station shopping mall, which has two supermarkets and a few specialist shops.

There Could Be a Language Barrier

In most parts of Switzerland, standard German is the written language, but the locals speak a collection of dialects called Swiss German. Berndütsch (Bernese German) is more distinct-sounding than the dialect spoken in Zurich, so you might struggle to understand the Bernese, even if you already speak some German.

(If you’re curious about Swiss German, listen to our podcast episode on the topic.)

Most of Your Friends Will Be Expats at First

When you first move to Bern, you may find that you’ll mostly meet other expats, at least at first. Many people who have been living in Bern all their lives already have established friendship groups, so it can be challenging to find local friends. However, you can get to know Swiss people if you join clubs, regularly attend the same courses and events, and make an effort to chat with your local coworkers and neighbours.

Should I Move to Bern?

Living in Bern can be a fantastic experience for expats from around the world. You’ll particularly enjoy Bern if you love history and nature. If you’re ready to make the move, sign up for our Rigby AG newsletter to access our comprehensive guide about moving to Switzerland.

Pros and Cons of Living in Bern