Switzerland's capital is a particularly attractive city, with scores of elegant medieval buildings and stunning views out to nearby lush green hills and snow-covered mountains. Relax and enjoy Bern’s slow pace of life, friendly atmosphere and beautiful UNESCO-listed Old Town, with Ben West’s insider tips.
0700-0900. Take the little Marzilibahn funicular (or ‘Marzilibähnli’ as the locals call it) – the shortest public railway in Switzerland – from behind the Parliament Building, and at the bottom take a refreshing swim at the free Marzili swimming pool (Marzilistrasse 29, 031 311 0046). Breakfast treats and hot coffee at Marzilibrücke (Gasstrasse 8, 031 311 2780), a popular nearby café/restaurant, will be the perfect way to round off this relaxing, early start to the day.
0900-1100. Bern’s main art gallery, the Kunstmuseum Berne (Hodlerstrasse 8-12, 031 328 0944), is a brilliant introduction to the world of fine art, with rooms full of masterpieces and excellent temporary exhibitions. One mind-blowing room alone contains works by Van Gogh, Pissarro, Renoir, Cézanne, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and top Swiss artists Hodler and Anker.
1100-1300. The Old Town – from Nydegg Bridge to Bubenberg Square – is a delight to wander around. Among the array of medieval buildings stands Switzerland's tallest cathedral, Berner Münster (Münsterplatz 1, 031 312 0462) – the most impressive example of late Gothic architecture in the city. Also not to be missed are the Zytglogge (clock tower), a masterpiece of medieval clockmaking, and the Bear Park (Tierparkweg 1, 031 357 1515), an enclosure for Bern's famous brown bears. The centrally located Botanical Gardens (Altenbergrain 21, 031 631 4945), containing 6,000 plant species, are a tranquil option, and in warmer months you can swim in the Aare River that snakes around the centre. Amazingly, the water meets drinking water standards. Jump in and the gentle current allows you to drift through the city.
1300-1500. There's a particularly good choice of cafés and restaurants to choose from for lunch. Tapas bars are popular, and one of the best is Volver (Rathausplatz 8, 031 312 0404), relaxed yet stylish, with bold black-and-grey walls and good-value dishes. Café Aarbergerhof (Aarbergergasse 40, 031 311 0870) is another city fixture with a cosy French bistro-style atmosphere. It's particularly good value, especially by Swiss standards.
1500-1700. There's lots to entertain window shoppers in Bern, from the Loeb Department Store (Spitalgasse 47-51, 031 320 7111), a fixture of Bern since 1881, to the colourful markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, selling everything from fresh produce to belt buckles and vintage clothes. The arcades of little shops under the arches around Kornhausplatz (Granary Square) are also a delight to discover. They include antique shops, bookshops, a barbershop, and boutique, gift and design shops. The Old Town is peppered with interesting finds, including Kitchener (Aarbergergasse 40, 031 327 1330), a hip and super trendy (but not cheap) clothes and shoe shop. Olmo (Zeughausgasse 14, 031 313 1031) has a clothes shop with the latest brands as well as distinctive, colourful Swiss Freitag bags, made from old lorry tarpaulins. A sister store a few shops down sells a huge range of shoes. Yamatuti (Aabergergasse 16-18, 031 318 2657) is a quirky, colourful and beautifully decorated gift shop full of kitsch decorations, toys, enchanting cards, wrappings and chandeliers.
1700-1900. When it is time for an early evening drink, the locals hang out at a trio of unpretentious bars all located near each other in the centre: Adriano's (Theaterplatz 2, 031 318 8831), with its long, chrome bar; Drei Eidgenossen (Rathausgasse 69, 031 311 1828), a restaurant and bar with wooden tables and a laid-back atmosphere; and the cosier but smaller Les Amis (Rathausgasse 63, 031 311 5187).
1900-2100. Bern has no shortage of good restaurants and one the locals flock to for a special night out is the Kornhauskeller (Kornhausplatz 18, 031 327 7272), or The Granary, in the centre. This huge, vaulted cellar is a rare example of Bern's High Baroque period and a meal here can be quite stately. In summer be sure to reserve a table by the river at Casa Novo (Läuferplatz 6, 031 992 4444). As well as its excellent Spanish-inspired cuisine it has an excellent wine selection.
After 2100. Mahogany Hall (Klösterlistutz 18, 031 331 6000) is a small live music venue near the bear enclosure that always features a varied range of music styles. Dixieland, jazz, swing, rock, bluegrass, folk, funk, hip hop, soul... they have it all! Famous throughout Switzerland for its excellent, wild concerts and DJ nights is the rather more mainstream Bierhübeli nightclub and concert venue (Neubrückstrasse 43, 031 305 3150).