Photo: Looking across from Hafebar to the old town.
You will find plenty of expats talking about life in Switzerland from the perspective of Zürich, Basel, Zug, Geneva, Bern….. but not much from Solothurn. This will be a bit niche but will hopefully be helpful to some people (hello incoming Biogen and Synthes employees).
Most of the advice for Switzerland also applies here, but there are some local pointers that might help too.
I moved to Solothurn in 2015 having previously lived in various (much bigger) cities in the UK and Australia. These are my lessons learned and tips for Solothurn.
What there is to do
Solothurn is small but surprisingly lively. As soon as the sun comes out the bars along the Aare will be filled (especially when it comes out mid-afternoon in winter).
- The Solothurn Wikivoyage page is very extensive.
- My collection of my hikes, bike rides, and other activities around Solothurn.
- The Solothurn Swiss Anglo Club has a weekly pub night, monthly coffee morning, and there are various events organised throughout the year.
- I have always had positive experiences with the local government. Every interaction has invariably been quick, easy, and friendly.
- Solothurn is a catholic canton which means more public holidays than in the protestant cantons.
- Tax rates in canton Solothurn are on the higher side for Switzerland (but far from the worst).
- It is generally not a problem to find somewhere to live, it is also a fairly cheap region (by Swiss standards).
- Some areas have less charm than others (Bellach and Zuchwil are rather bland for example), but there are not any areas that should be avoided out of safety concerns.
- It is usually easy to find a flat in the old town. There are a few festivals a year where it gets loud. Mostly this isn’t a problem (especially on weeknights), but Fasnacht celebrations can go on very late into the night on the Tuesday/Wednesday. The only place you are really going to have a problem with noise (and smoke of various kinds drifting up) is if you are directly on the river front where the bars are busy most nights in the summer.
- If you decide on the suburbs then check the transport connections. You won’t be far from a bus or train into the centre, but some of the routes are a bit slow. I live 20 minutes walk from the main station, my option to take the bus instead would also take 20 minutes because the route swings back and forth along the way.
- Getting by with English is generally easy (you might have a hard time getting people to speak to you in German). I moved here with hardly any German and didn’t have any difficulty getting my life setup. I have even known people who moved here with no German and managed to basically run a bar by themselves.
- Due to the growth in the Med-Tech industry around here there an increasing number of internationals with English as their main/working language. When I first moved here it was rare to overhear any English in the old town, now it feels like I catch some every time I visit.
- The local Solothurn dialect of Swiss-German doesn’t have anything in the way of teaching material it (what resources I have found for Swiss-German in general are here). Probably the best way to try and improve your understanding is by listening to the SRF Regionaljournal Aargau Solothurn.
- Opening hours for shops are among the shortest in the country. Closing time is 18:30 on weekdays, rather than say 20:00 like in neighbouring Bern. Thursday is late shopping in Solothurn until 21:00, and the Ladedorf shopping centre in Lommiswil is open until 21:00 on Fridays. There are a few weekends in the run up to Christmas where the shops are open on a Sunday too.
- There are several cinemas, but most of the screenings are dubbed. If you want to see a film in the original language then you will probably have to go to Biel/Bern/Basel/Zürich.
- There are a large number of restaurants and almost no chains, but there isn’t that much variety. Mostly it is Swiss, Italian, and Thai.
- There are a few Asian mini-markets scattered around selling more exotic ingredients and large bags of rice and spices for more reasonable prices. Pack Markt (Wengistrasse 34, 4500 Solothurn) probably has the biggest (and most chaotic) range.
- Connections by train or car are generally good. Many other cities are close enough to commute to in an hour. The Jura mountains are right next door, you can do an easy daybtrip in the Alps, or reach most of the country quickly enough for a weekend trip to be worth it.
- There are direct trains to Zürich and Geneva airports, and a fairly easy connection to Basel EuroAirport.
In my experience the climate is not all that different to England.
- Summer is becoming increasingly hot. It is pretty much a certainty that there will be at least one heatwave with temperatures hitting 35°C each year.
- Winter is fairly mild in Solothurn. This isn’t the Alps so don’t expect everything to be blanketed in snow. There will usually be a few snowfalls, but most of the time it will be above freezing and anything coming down from the sky will be rain. It will frequently snow up on the Jura above the town (there are even little ski areas up at Balmberg and Grenchenberg).
- Often if you see rain coming in during the summer it will just sweep along the Jura and might well miss Solothurn. This can be a bit frustrating during a heatwave when you really want an evening thunderstorm to hit and cool the air, but they all bypass the town and along the Jura or to the south through the Emmental instead.
- Be ready for Fog. From September to February temperature inversion results in a build up of fog along the Aare. How much there is varies: some years there is hardly any, sometimes it will clear up by late morning, sometimes it sits just above you like a low grey ceiling, and sometimes you are stuck in thick fog for a week. The fog has its beauty (especially with the light effects in the dark), but if you have SAD then it might be a bit much. Climbing slightly up the feet of the Jura or south away from Solothurn is sometimes enough to get out of the fog, otherwise going up to Weissenstein or a chain or two back in the Jura is often the best way to quickly find clear skies. Thankfully Weissenstein is high enough that it is normally above the fog, and the cable car makes it easy to get up there (spare a thought for those further to the east who are stuck in the fog without a high enough hill to easily escape it). It isn’t uncommon to see people going up on the cable car just to read the Sunday paper in the sun.
Good to know
- The water comes from the limestone in the Jura and is so hard you could chew it. Either use a water filter for your Kettle or be prepared to decalcify it twice a week. it is also worth taking your taps apart and decalcify them every so often.
- The Jura limestone is very slippery when wet. Be careful when hiking or biking above the city.
What I would change
I have lived here for almost 8 years and am very happy. There are a few things which I would prefer if they were different, but they are only really minor points.
- More varied restaurants. There are some very good restaurants, but more exotic options would be appreciated.
- A faster train to Bern. The RBS train is fine and the route is scenic, but a faster intercity connection that could get you there in 20 minutes (and ideally carry on to Interlaken or Brig without having to change) would be perfect.
- More films in native language at the cinemas. There are some non-dubbed screenings, but you need to keep an eye out for them, otherwise you are off to Bern/Biel/Basel.
- Different Inter-City train models. Mainly to have more space for bikes rather than the awkward little alcove on the models that the IC5 routes to Zürich/Geneva currently uses.