If it’s peace, tranquillity and picture-postcard surroundings you’re after, prepare to be thoroughly enchanted by the Swiss capital of Bern. Offering the charming provincial air of a medieval town along with lush rolling hills and spectacular scenery, it’s easy to see why pint-sized Bern is considered one of the most relaxed capital cities in Europe, not to mention one of the most beautiful. Along with its iconic cobbled streets and quaint fountains, Bern is home to 114 national heritage sites including its historic Old Town, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Do not miss an opportunity to visit one (or all) of the many historical and coveted sites when in Bern, starting with the Old Town. Dating back to the 12th century, the Old Town is an excellent example of medieval Europe. Bordered on 3 sides by the Aare River, this compact and wonderfully charming part of Bern is home to Switzerland’s tallest cathedral, an excellent collection of Renaissance fountains, and many historic bridges and buildings. A wander through the cobbled streets really is like stepping back in time.
Next it’s on to Einstein House, the former home of Albert Einstein and where the famed scientist lived when he conceived the Theory of Relativity. One floor of the house has been restored and re-decorated in the style of the early 1900s to reflect Einstein’s living conditions, while another floor features an exhibit showcasing his biography and life’s work.
A trip to Bern won’t be complete without a stop at Bear Park. Located on the eastern edge of Old Town, the city’s ancient barengraben, or bear pit, has housed bears (the symbol of Bern) since 1857. These days the traditional concrete pit is connected to a large naturally landscaped enclosure where the current family of four bears roam and play.
Eat and Drink
The bustling Barenplatz (Bear Plaza) is an obvious choice for tourists looking to soak up the Bernese atmosphere, with a range of restaurants catering for bigger budgets. Sit by the fire in the winter and on the pavement in summer, and enjoy great food and coffee all year round.
Look out for specials, a budget-saver when it comes to eating out in Bern, with lots of lunchtime bargains and daily fixed-price menus readily available. Alternatively, the University district offers more affordable options, while Theaterplatz is home to some brilliant mid-range restaurants.
Where to Stay
Bern is a compact city that is easy to navigate, so you won’t need to worry too much about where you’re located. The Old Town is home to the bulk of hotels and guesthouses, but the Greater Bern area also has a few options if you want to be a little less central. Wherever you end up staying, you’re likely to be within comfortable walking distance of most attractions and amenities.
Bern boasts a 6-kilometre long undercover shopping promenade that caters for laid-back shopping trips regardless of the elements. ‘The arcades’, as the locals call them, offer everything from high-street brands to top-quality specialty boutiques, all the better to give the credit card a good workout or you can window-shop if you’re low on funds.
RailCity, located at the central railway station, offers more affordable shopping, while Bern’s Brockenstube (second-hand shops) are renowned for offering good quality items at excellent prices. The outdoor markets at Bundesplatz, Barenplatz and Munstergasse are well worth checking out, particularly if you’re on the hunt for fresh produce and local gift items.
Bern Like a Local
If you’re visiting during the warmer summer months, follow the locals to the clean, clear waters of the Aare River, Bern’s fast-flowing city river. After you’ve enjoyed a refreshing dip, grab a seat at one of the many sidewalk tables in the Old Town and refuel with an ice cold drink and a spot of alfresco dining.
If you happen to be visiting Bern during November, swing past the annual Onion Market in Parliament Square. This traditional festival showcases tonnes of red and white onions woven into wreaths and braids, and culminates in a confetti battle between local children.