The Livable Capitals: Santiago, Bern and Berlin

As I listed the capital cities I have visited, I kept thinking which would could be the “most livable.”  Livable, for me, means not an intense place, not one with millions of tourists ruining summer months, with character, and some great redeeming feature (the ocean, the mountains, a great river running through it, an amazing spot in history, etc.).  There were several candidates (and some definite ‘nevers’…) but the top three I landed on were:  Santiago, Bern, and Berlin.

Santiago (Chile)

This may be cheating a little but I have lived in Santiago already.  Twice.  Sort of.  I lived there for 3 months over 20 years ago staying at an apartment in the area called Providencia near Tobalaba.  Then I spent a whole year traveling back and forth, spending 60-65% of the year down there (though this second time I stayed at a hotel, the awesome Marriott on Ave. Kennedy).

And I would happily do it again because Santiago is such a livable place.  Traffic aside, it has everything I would want in a place to live.  Quiet enough for a city, arts and culture, great food, neat things to do on day trips (beaches, skiing, wineries, hiking, etc.), friendly locals, interesting architecture and neighborhoods, and the magnificent Andes as a backdrop – my favorite feature of this city.

Andes, cordillera, Santiago, Chile, view, Marriott hotel, photo

A wonderful view to wake up to every day!

I would likely live in Vitacura or Las Condes: not too far from the city center towards the mountains but near the river, a nice mall, and close to many of my favorite eateries.  I used to go running along Americo Vespucio towards the river then meander through neighborhoods.

Santiago, Andes, snow, winter, skiiing, Cihle

Granted, that was not the prettiest of winter days but imagine the great skiing further up in the Andes!

Hopefully, my job would be towards that part of town to avoid the pretty nasty traffic though – I commuted from that area to “el Centro” and that was, on a very good day, a 45-min commute each way.

Bern (Switzerland)

I am not as familiar with the next two cities as I am with Santiago as I have only spent all of a day in each – severely limiting knowing, for example, in what of town I would want to live in.  In my one day visit to Bern its compactness and its location struck me.  Bern is hugged by the Aar River (I wonder if so named to make sure it sorted first in lists of rivers….) and surrounded by hills that look down upon it.  Its old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this capital city of around 200,000 inhabitants has been included in the top ten best quality of life cities as recently as 2010 (do I choose them well or what??).

Aar River, Bern, Switzerland, old town, architecture, charm, capital

The Aar River along the old historic center of Bern

I think Bern would be a great place to spend a year or two, anchored in central Switzerland.  It may not be an easy place to fly in and out of which would be a drawback for getting back to the States but nothing that a good connection in Zurich, Munich, or –heaven forbid- Charles de Gaulle in Paris wouldn’t fix.

I enjoyed walking its old streets, enjoying the architecture and its details, and sitting at an outdoor café sipping some good beer!Bern, Switzerland, old town, architecture, charm, capital,

Perhaps the compactness of the town would get to me after some months but I think I could get used to it quite easily – plus there would be so many places to spend time visiting in a radius of less than half a day’s drive.  A little more ambitiously, it would not be much of stretch to launch weekend trips elsewhere to places like Bavaria, Austria, northern Italy, and –for sure- the rest of Switzerland itself!


Berlin is clearly a major city and those can be a little too much in terms of livability but, in my short visit there, I got a sense for the variety of neighborhoods and cosmopolitan vibe of the place.  That, coupled with the deep and painful history this city has had, would draw me in as a place I could live in.

Berlin, Germany, history, architecture, Brandenburg gate

The iconic Brandenburg Gate – one of the many reminders of the city’s deep history

There seems to be a lot of turning over old areas into new districts to draw people in (I presume, a younger generation) and it would be interesting to see how Berlin continues to morph over the next 20 years.

Berlin, Germany, river, beach chairs

Berliners seeking some sun by the river – OK, it isn’t the Caribbean but let ’em enjoy!

Berlin, Germany, dark sky, architecture

Newer and older residential buildings

Living in Berlin would give me ample time to explore its arts scene while also geeking out on its Cold War, WW II, WW I, and imperial history.  Of course, German beer and food would not be far behind but that I could find anywhere in Germany too.  I just hope I don’t become “ein Berliner” after eating all that food!  (Thanks, JFK, for the idea.)



  1. Awesome shot of the Aar! I agree with Berlin being Cosmo. I preferred Hamburg, sort of more blue collar IMHO lol.
    Karl recently posted..A Taste of Mongolia in DublinMy Profile

  2. Great post of three interesting possibilities. We’ve always wanted to hit Chile and we may just do that after our next stays are complete and we head to South America.

    I’ve only been through Bern on the night train and never made the time to see it.

    What I can say is this: We lived in Berlin for 1.5 years, and we really enjoyed it. It’s a great city with endless amounts of history and culture. If you ever do decide to live there, just be sure you don’t get sucked into the expat hipness that does not bother to learn the culture or the language, and only lives there because it’s “cool.”

    There’s nothing wrong with being in a place one deems cool (happens all the time), but it was fairly annoying to regularly run into non-German residents of the city who never bothered to learn any German. This is a complaint you will regularly stumble across from people who do want to know the language and culture of their adopted home.

    I’d go back in a heartbeat, I really would. And it’s easy enough to ignore my prior complaint if you want to, and I shouldn’t harp on all those folks too much.

    Viel Spaß!
    Ryan from Jets Like Taxis recently posted..“The Human, Earth Project”: Support this Cause!My Profile

  3. Great article. Thanks for recommending Santiago- I’ve been to both Bern and Berlin, and loved them, but I’ll have to visit Chile and stay a while.
    I agree with Ryan that living abroad is the best opportunity to learn a new language. If long term travellers don’t make the effort while they’re immersed in the culture, then they’re missing out on a big opportunity!
    Happy travels- looking forward to more posts.
    Leah recently posted..Travel Insurance Coverage for the Ukraine/Russia DisputeMy Profile

  4. Lourdes says:

    Beautiful pictures!

  5. Bern looks so quaint and pretty!
    Jamie recently posted..Family Travel Insurance Plans for Spring BreakMy Profile

  6. I haven’t visited any of these cities but Berlin would be the choice for me, mainly because my dad’s paternal grandfather came from Germany to the U.S. I’d also like to understand more the changes Germans have gone through since the end of World War II. It seems like such an intriguing place to me, especially since I’ve always studied WWII and post-war history.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..Five Experiences: American Conference TournamentMy Profile

    • Lance, history sure comes alive in Berlin. It was moving to see the final bit of the Berlin Wall still standing and seeing the line on the streets marking where the wall used to go through. And that is just the most recent bit of history – before that is WW II, WW I, and keep going backwards. Berlin is fascinating to history buff like me!

  7. I like the idea of rating the livability of cities while traveling. I was impressed with Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Singapore, and Bangkok while in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, Bangkok has political problems that look like they are only going to get worse. These three cities all look pretty sweet to visit and to live.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Singapore River night cruise is a perfect intro to the cityMy Profile

    • I wonder how KL and Bangkok would be to live in. I have not gone to either one of them but hope to soon. Hmmm, will I have to re-write this post??

  8. BERN! Take me there now, but first give me a massive loan so I can afford to live in Switzerland. 😉
    Leah Travels recently posted..Meet Maxwell Scott, My New Italian LoveMy Profile

  9. I really enjoyed my time in Bern. I found it to be a great city with some very fun history. DId you love the statues in the fountains that told the city’s history? Great article thank you.

  10. I can say without a doubt that Santiago is absolutely a place I would live. I don’t speak much Spanish, but I felt so comfortable in the city and picked it up as I went along. It’s such a beautiful place, the food is outstanding, and the people are wonderful. Now, I’ll have to take your advice on the other two. 🙂
    Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted..Eating and Drinking in Santiago, Chile.My Profile

  11. great idea for an article, Raul. i’d have to think about where i’d really want to live that i’ve visited. not sure i’ve found my place yet 🙂
    lola recently posted..The Great Escape – Cabo San Lucas, MexicoMy Profile

  12. Must confess I have only visited Berlin, and that was a very quick business trip – really want to go back. And wouldn’t say no to the other 2 options!
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..My Top 5 destinations for SpringMy Profile

  13. whenever we travel, we totally gauge a city on whether or not we’d live there! and we LOVED bern. will need to check out santiago & berlin, fo sho.
    the lazy travelers recently spotter: galway girlMy Profile

  14. Well, I’d be happy just visiting Bern and (finally) Berlin! But Santiago… I can see myself in South America, tu lo sabes!
    Pola (Jetting Around) recently posted..Book giveaway: The Same Sky [Ends 3/22/2014]My Profile

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: