It is located on the southern shores of Lake Morat. Morat is situated between Bern and Lausanne and is the capital of the See/Lac District of the canton of Fribourg. It is one of the municipalities with a large majority (about 75%) of German speakers in the predominantly French-speaking Canton of Fribourg.
On 1 January 1975 the former municipality of Burg bei Murten merged into the municipality of Murten. It was followed on 1 January 1991 by the former municipality of Altavilla and on 1 January 2013 by the former municipality of Büchslen.
The oldest archaeological traces of a settlement around Murten are from the Mesolithic (8200-5500 BC). The Mesolithic finds are mostly small flint shards for use in weapons or tools. These flints were produced mostly in the swampy lowlands east of the city at Murten-Combette and Murten-Ober Prehl. While many of these flint objects are in museums, the exact discovery sites were not properly documented and have been lost or covered by later excavations. Several other sites were discovered during construction of the A1 motorway in 1976-95. These settlements are from the Neolithic (5500-2500 BC) and the Bronze Age (2300-800 BC). Murten Pré de la Blanc was used in the Neolithic and middle Bronze Age, while the sites Murten-Lowenberg, Murten-Ober Prehl and Chantemerle 1 are from the Late Bronze Age. The cemetery at Lowenberg was used for more than a millennium, from the middle Bronze Age to the La Tène period. The nearby necropolis holds a number of Hallstatt era graves. The remains of a large Roman villa from the end of 1st or early 2nd century BC and a piece of a Roman road have also been found.
Murten was founded by Duke Berchtold IV of Zähringen or Landri de Durnes, the Bishop of Lausanne in either 1159 or during the 1170s or 1180s next to the fortress. Murten was first mentioned as a city in 1238. After his death the German emperor Frederic II recognized Murten as a "Free Imperial Town". At that time the emperor himself lived in the south of Italy and a small town north of the Alps was not his concern. It did not last long – in 1255 Murten fell under the protection of Count Peter of Savoy. When Philip I of Savoy refused to give Murten to him, King Rudolph of Habsburg seized it as a royal estate. After Rudolf's death Amadeus V of Savoy, bought the city again in 1291, but lost it to King Albert I of Germany again. The House of Savoy bought the city and surrounding lands again in 1310 for 4,000 marks of silver. This time the city remained under Savoy control. During this time, Murten began to develop alliances and ties with the surrounding Swiss cities. In 1245 they created a treaty with Fribourg, followed in 1335 with Bern.
A fire in 1416 led to rebuilding in stone.
From 1484 on, and for 300 years, Murten was ruled by the two cantons — Bern and Fribourg. In 1530, under pressure from Bern, Murten adopted the Protestant Reformation, after the preacher Guillaume Farel began to preach the new faith. Murten's Protestant faith often brought the city into conflicts with the more conservative, Catholic Fribourg.
During the second half of the 17th century the city grew wealthy on trade over the road from Bern to Vaud and along the Broye river to Yverdon. Most of the houses in the city were rebuilt with this wealth. Although Bern and Fribourg had already granted Murten permission in 1584 to form guilds, the coopers, carpenters, locksmiths and cabinet makers first formed their guilds in 1731. In the late 17th century a brickyard and a brewery were built outside of town.
Following the 1798 French invasion, under the Helvetic Republic Murten was part of the Canton of Saane and Broye. When the Republic collapsed, the Act of Mediation in 1803 gave the town to the canton of Fribourg.
In 1856, a plan to run the Lausanne-Bern railway line through Murten was shelved and the line was rerouted through Fribourg. The loss of revenue from transportation affected Murten for almost twenty years. This changed in 1875-76 with the construction of the Palézieux-Murten-Lyss railway line. This first line was followed in 1898 with the Freiburg-Murten line and in 1903 with the Murten-Ins line. Steamship service between Murten and Neuchâtel began in 1835. The Bon Vouloir Hospital, opened in 1867 in Merlach and by the 1920s it became the district hospital. The tourism industry, began with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Murten in 1876.