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Basel vs Freiburg: Which city is better to live in?

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Basel vs Freiburg: Which city is better to live in?
People cool off in Basel during a Swiss heatwave. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The Swiss city of Basel and Freiburg in Germany are located a short distance apart. But how does life differ in each place? And which is best to live in? From wages and the population to salaries and travel, here's a look at the two cities.

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Switzerland's third largest city Basel and Freiburg im Breisgau, the fourth largest city in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, are about an hour's drive or train ride away from each other. German is spoken in both places (although it will probably sound very different in each place), and they each have a strong cultural offering. 

Basel is known for its arts scene and hosts the raucous Basler Fasnacht (Basel Carnival) every year. Meanwhile, Freiburg is known for being an eco-conscious student city that's said to receive the most sun every year in Germany.

So if you had to choose one of these lovely cities to live in, which would it be? The Local collected data from various sources to offer a comparison of these two European destinations. 

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Basel 

Population: The city of Basel is home to around 195,000 people, and lies on the river Rhine in the canton of Basel in the north of Switzerland.

Due to its location near the border of both Germany and France, the city is known for drawing in lots of different nationalities. Just over 36 percent of Basel’s residents are foreigners - that's over 70,000 people. They are mostly from Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and countries in Eastern Europe. 

In 2022, Basel was ranked 'Switzerland's best city for expats' by InterNations.

READ ALSO: What we know about Basel's foreign population

Languages spoken: You'll hear lots of different languages while out and about but the official language of Basel is Swiss German. The main spoken language is the local Basel German dialect (called Baaseldytsch). Just over 12.1 percent of residents are native English speakers. 

Wages: The median annual wage in the canton of Basel is CHF 78 000 (around €78,430) according to the site jobs.ch, which is based it on 14,166 wage entries.

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Meanwhile, according to the site Numbeo, which gathers user contributed data on the cost of living across the world, the average monthly net salary (after tax) in Basel is 5,984.90 francs. That amounts to just over €6,000.

However, the cost of living, including rents is known for being high in Basel. 

READ MORE: Where are the best places to live if you work in Basel?

Rents: The cost of living site Numbeo says that a one-bedroom apartment in the centre of Basel costs on average 1,391 Swiss Francs (around €1,400) a month. A one-bedroom outside the centre costs on average CHF 1,116 (€1,123).

Jobs: Basel - and the surrounding area - has a strong jobs sector. Many of the city’s foreign residents work in the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma giants like Roche and Novartis are based there. Other companies such as Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are all located in the Basel region.

"The Basel region, consisting of the cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura as well as the regions Fricktal and Dorneck-Thierstein, is one of the world‘s leading life sciences locations," according to a report on Switzerland as a pharmaceutical hub. 

And, of course, because of its location many workers either live in Germany and France and cross over into Basel for work, or vice versa. 

A view of the city of Basel.
A view of the city of Basel. Photo by Chris Boese on Unsplash

Public transport and connections: Basel boasts an efficient and fairly comprehensive public transport system. It has a reputation for punctuality - during the day, trams and buses on the main lines run every 7.5 minutes.There are also cross-border connections such as the tram routes like Tram Nr. 8 or Tram Nr. 3 which go neighbouring German and French districts.

The so-called ‘Umweltabonnement’, a monthly environmentally-friendly travel card, covers all public transport (bus, tram, train) in the area of the Tarifverbund Nordwestschweiz TNW. It costs CHF 80 a month. Meanwhile, a day ticket for the Greater Basel area costs CHF 9.90 for an adult. 

International connections: Basel has lots of train connections (including high speed train services connecting to different countries) and is located near to motorways heading to France, Germany, Zurich and Gotthard. It's also close to the EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, which sits in the small commune of Saint Louise, France and serves both Freiburg and Basel as well as Mulhouse, France.

It offers frequent flights within Switzerland as well as short and long-haul flights abroad. The airport is located just over the border in France and serves the border region.

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Freiburg

Straddling the Dreisam river and situated at the foot of the scenic Schlossberg, Freiburg im Breisgau (though almost always referred to as Freiburg) has a total of 234,563 residents as of December 2022. It’s the fourth largest city in the southwestern state of  Baden-Württemberg behind Stuttgart, Mannheim and Karlsruhe, and 33rd largest in all of Germany. 

Of the population, 17 percent are foreigners whereas 13 percent are Germans with a migration background, according to the city’s official website. 

Languages spoken: While German is the official language of the city, its border location and relatively large international population - including a handful of university exchange students - mean that many languages can and will be heard spoken around town, particularly English and French. 

Wages: The gross monthly salary in Freiburg stands at an average of €3.492, slightly lower than the average for Baden-Württemberg, or €3,522, according to German wage comparison website Gehaltsvergleich.com.

Last week, recruiting platform Stepstone published its latest annual Salary Report. The study revealed that, in 2022, the gross median salary in Germany was €43,800 a year. 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: How to get an English-speaking job in Germany

Rents: According to Numbeo, a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre goes for €907.14 a month. A one-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre, on the other hand, costs just €663.89 a month.

Jobs: The jobs portal Stepstone says there are currently around 1,245 positions available in Freiburg.

Freiburg is a popular destination in Germany.

Freiburg is a popular destination in Germany. Photo by Marco Pregnolato on Unsplash

The top five employers in the city are the university-led Universitätsklinikum Freiburg, church-led hospitals of RKK -Artemed Kliniken Freiburg, digital production company Haufe Gruppe, energy supplier Badenova AG and the banking group Sparkasse Freiburg-Nördlicher Breisgau, according to Zutun.de

Of course many people also commute to and from Freiburg from other cities in BaWü, as the state is colloquially known, and Basel. 

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Public transport and connections: Known for being an especially ‘green city’ Freiburg maintains an extensive bus and tram network. Belonging to the transportation group, Freiburger Verkehrs AG, the city’s busses and trains run reliably everyday from 5:30 am until 30 minutes past minute. 

But students living it up on the weekend won’t be left stranded in the wee hours: At night, from Friday to Saturday, from Saturday to Sunday and before many holidays, the popular Lines 1 and 3 as well as trams between Rieselfeld and Zähringen leave from Bertoldsbrunnen in the city's Altstadt every 30 minutes between 0:30 and 4:30.

A single ticket for local travel will starts at €2.50, and the price for a monthly ticket (without a subscription) is €62.50 for adults.

The city is also particularly popular for cyclists, with an array of well-marked bike lanes.

International connections:

Due to its proximity to both Switzerland and France, Freiburg is well connected internationally. It's about an hour by train from the EuroAirport. During peak travel seasons, the airport offers several hundred flights a week to multiple destinations around Europe.

For intercontinental flights, the nearest airports are in Frankfurt and Zurich, both easily reachable by direct train from Freiburg’s main train station. Its Hauptbahnhof also connects to several European countries and cities including Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Venice.

With reporting by Rachel Loxton and Rachel Stern

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