He was born in Breselenz, a village in the Kingdom Hanover, near Dannenberg, Germany. His father Friedrich Bernhard Riemann was Lutheran pastor in Breselenz. Bernhard was the second of six children.

In 1840 Bernhard went to Hanover to live with his grandmother and visit the Lyceum. After the death of his grandmother in 1842 he went to the Johanneum in Lüneburg. 1846, at the age of 19, he started studying Philology and Theology at the University of Göttingen. He attended lectures of Gauss on the method of least squares. 1847 his father allowed him to stop studying Theology and start studying Mathematics.

In 1847 he moved to Berlin, where Jacobi, Dirichlet or Steiner were teaching. He stayed in Berlin for two years and returned to Göttingen in 1849.

Riemann held his first lectures in 1854, which not only founded the field of Riemannian geometry but set the stage for Einstein's General relativity. He was promoted an extraordinary professor at the University of Göttingen in 1857 and became an ordinary professor in 1859.

In 1862 he married Elise Koch.

He died on his third journey to Italy in Selasca.