Living in Switzerland: The main Swiss cities
Looking where to live in Switzerland? Explore our guide to popular expat locations in Switzerland, including Bern, Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Lugano.
If you're planning on moving to Switzerland, there are many picturesque settings to settle into a Swiss lifestyle. From Zurich's high quality of living, to multicultural Geneva or Switzerland's capital city of Berne, here's a guide on the main Swiss cities to choose where to live in Switzerland.
With a population of 122,178 (half the size of Zurich), newcomers to Switzerland may be surprised to learn that Berne is the capital city. Located near the linguistic border between French and German Switzerland, the city combines the plateaus of the western region with the eastern mountains. All major Swiss political decisions are made in Berne, a surprisingly international city for its size. The medieval city centre is recognised by UNESCO as a Cultural World Heritage Site and still retains elements of its 12th century origins. The city also possesses one of the longest shopping promenades in Europe. Transport connections to other major Swiss cities are very good, with various motorways, an extensive rail network and an airport nearby.
Zurich is often considered the economic powerhouse of Switzerland. The city was recently ranked second in a quality of living survey (www.mercer.com) due to its high standards of education, health and transport. Consequently, it is a popular destination for companies and families setting up a new home. The cost of living is high, especially in the city centre, despite the authorities’ efforts to expand the city by building new suburbs.
The city is arranged in 12 districts, which contain one to four neighbourhoods each. Main sights include the Kunsthaus, a classic modern art museum, Bahnhofstrasse (considered the Champs d’Elysees of Zurich), and Grossmunster, a church built in the 9th century.
Zurich's own Champs d’Elysees by night
Geneva is one of Switzerland’s most multicultural cities. It hosts the headquarters of numerous international organisations including the United Nations, the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation. Due to the high numbers of diplomats and high-ranking politicians working in Geneva, as well as the rich history and stunning scenery, the cost of living in Geneva is even higher than in Zurich. In addition to the international organisations, which are open to the public, the main attractions include the large shopping district, the preserved old town and Lake Geneva with its famous fountain. Transport links to Geneva are very good, with a large international airport and connections to the Swiss and French rail and motorway systems. In the winter months, many pass through Geneva on their way to the Alps’ best ski resorts.
The city of Basel, located in northwest Switzerland, offers its inhabitants a great geographical position for enjoying Switzerland, France and Germany. It is considered a European cultural centre despite its small size. Small, winding backstreets in the old town connect shopping districts, museums and heritage sites. Picturesque views over the River Rhine can be enjoyed from numerous spots across the city and the river plays an important role in exporting and importing goods, since Basel is Switzerland’s only outlet to the ocean. There is also heavy industry along the main international borders with France and Germany. Transport connections are exceptionally good in Basel due to its sea port, international airport and proximity to both Zurich and Berne.
Switzerland’s most southern town, often regarded as the capital of Italian-speaking Switzerland, is a stark contrast to other towns of the country. The extreme climate ranges from metres of snowfall in winter to high temperatures averaging 27 degrees Celsius in the summer, which attracts visitors from the German and French speaking regions. Due to the Mediterranean summers, winemaking is a key source of income for the Ticinese (inhabitants of Italian Switzerland). The Italian influence on the region is identifiable in its architecture, food, mannerisms, and even driving. Lugano is located an hour’s train ride from Milan.
Lugano by night
Switzerland offers some of the best skiing resorts in the world, and thousands of tourists flock to the slopes each season to benefit from the hundreds of kilometres of well-kept pistes. There are numerous skiing locations in each linguistic region.
The winter season begins in November after the first snowfall and can run until mid-May depending on temperatures. Summer skiing is also a possibility in the mountainous regions over 3,000 metres, but is a more expensive option.
Reaching the slopes is easy, with airports located in and around the main resorts. Geneva, Berne, Zurich, Lugano, and Milan (Italy) airports are well-connected to the mountains via train and bus. Some resorts such as Zermatt, Murren and Wengen are completely car-free, so driving there is not an option.
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