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A tale of two (expensive) cities The cost and quality of living in two very different capitals

An original Routemaster Bus from 1966 in London
(EPA/ Karel Prinsloo)

In some ways, the Swiss and British capitals couldn’t be more different: one, picturesque and small with arched walkways and cobbled streets, where politicians go about their business without any bother, where a quiet market takes place just steps away from the parliament building. The other, bursting at the seams with people, cars, noise and the latest trends.

Neither city would win an award for being affordable, but just how do they compare?

The cost of living

Crowd-sourced cost of living website Numbeoexternal link puts Bern in 5th place out of 525 cities around the world, and Londonexternal link 34th (as of January 2018), for how expensive it is to live there. According to the website, rent for a one-bedroom flat in the city centre of Bern costs CHF1,154 (£872) per month, and in London, CHF2,191.23 (£1,656).

And while it states that groceries prices in London are 49.57% lower than in Bern, local purchasing power in London is also lower than in Bern, by 20.65%.

For example, a meal for two at a mid-range restaurant (three courses) will set you back CHF100 in Bern, and CHF66 in London.

In the Economist’s Worldwide Cost of Living rankingexternal link from 2017, two Swiss cities, Zurich and Geneva, both came in the top ten of the most expensive cities. Bern doesn't make the list of the 133 places. While a more affordable lifestyle is not to be taken for granted in a country known for being expensive, the Swiss capital on the other hand is somewhat in the shadow of Switzerland’s better known cities, which are globally recognised as business and finance centres.

London fell by 18 places in the same ranking from 6th position in 2016 to 24th this year—its lowest position in the cost of living ranking in 20 years.

On average, total household expenditure in Switzerland is around 60% higher than the European Union average, according to 2016 Eurostat figuresexternal link.

…but what about the quality of living?

In a ranking of 162 Swiss cities by consulting firm Wüest Partner for the magazine Bilanz, Bern came in fourth place, behind Zurich, Zug and Winterthur, for quality of living. The capital remains “unbeaten” the magazine reported in terms of relatively secure jobs, even in times of crisis, due to government jobs and opportunities at other connected enterprises.

But the city lost out due to comparatively high taxes compared to in other cantons, and a lack of housing. Although the number of housing developments and the number of residents have grown in recent years, demand for somewhere to live has stayed high.

An international study by consulting group Mercer, put Bern in 14th place out of 450 cities in 2017, with London in 40th position. 

To get an idea of how our readers feel about the two places, we asked our Facebook external linkand Twitterexternal link fans where they would rather live and how the two places compare. 

twitter poll bern or london

A Twitter poll

Some of our followers went into more detail:

tweet 1

A tweet

tweet 2

Another tweet

We posed a similar question on Facebookexternal link and received a wide range of replies external linkin over 200 comments.

facebook comment 1

A comment on Facebook

Facebook 2

A Facebook comment

Facebook 4

A Facebook comment

Facebook 4 (1)

A Facebook post

What do the two cities have to offer?

Here's how Bern presents itself to the world. In its official promotional video the focus is on an outdoorsy, active lifestyle, though of course the major sporting and historical sides to the city also feature.

visit bern video

Visit Bern video

It can be hard for expats to get a feel for how a city they used to know well has changed over the years, or to understand what a city is like once the honeymoon period has worn off. Traditional stereotypes from years gone by might no longer stand, and the borders between different areas in cities can be changeable.

Crowdsourced maps can give an idea of the current feel of a place, as here, with Bern.

Bern map

A crowdsurced map of neighbourhoods in Bern

The map for Londonexternal link has many more inputs and paints an intriguing patchwork impression of the city.

London

Neighbourhood map of London

And in London's latest official promotional video, there is a heavy emphasis on culture.

London Autumn

A video about London in Autumn

After doing the sums and weighing up the different costs and benefits of each city, the quality of life an individual will enjoy there does in the end, come down to personal preference. And isn't it nice to be spoilt for choice?

Questions? You can contact the author of this article on Facebookexternal link or Twitterexternal link.

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