Bern Guide. Leisure Guides.

 

Capital cities tend to be big and brash – but not Bern. Friendly and relaxed, it is particularly attractive – its medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and it boasts stunning views of nearby lush green hills and snow-covered mountains.

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Getting around


Bern is a relatively compact capital and therefore easy to navigate by foot. Being located in the centre of Switzerland, it is very well connected with the rest of the country, with regular express trains to Geneva, Basel, Zurich and many other Swiss towns and cities.
 
Bern’s excellent public transport system makes travelling around the city effortless, with a good choice of trams, trolleybuses and buses. There are also a number of taxi stands around the city. For car drivers, it’s easy to get around but free parking is rare in the centre and parking can be expensive. 
 
The ‘Bern rollt’ bike scheme means that if you provide your ID and CHF 20 deposit, bicycles can be borrowed for free for four hours, and for CHF 1 per hour after that. The scheme operates outside the train station all year and from May to October at Hirschengraben and Zeughausgasse.
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Hotels


As you may expect for the Swiss capital, there is a good range of hotels available at all budgets. Many are located in or near the centre, convenient for the main tourist attractions, business venues and train station. Particularly popular for its attractive mix of style, comfort and good value is the slick and newly renovated City am Bahnhof (Bubenbergplatz 7) and the Astoria (Zieglerstrasse 66), which retains a friendly family atmosphere and has also recently been renovated.
 
The Novotel Bern Expo (Am Guisanplatz 2-4) boasts modern design and is just across from the BERNEXPO exhibition centre, the ice hockey stadium, the Stade de Suisse stadium and the Paul Klee Zentrum institute. It has a restaurant, bar and fitness centre, and is just minutes by tram from the Old Town. 
 
To book a hotel click here
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Nightlife

 
There’s plenty of choice of entertainment in Bern once the sun goes down. The oldest live music venue in town, Mahogany Hall (Klösterlistutz 18) features a varied range of music styles, including jazz, swing, rock, folk, hip hop and soul. The rather more mainstream Bierhübeli nightclub and concert venue (Neubrückstrasse 43) has live concerts and DJ nights, while Wasserwerk (Wasserwerkgasse 5), dubbed ‘Wasi’ by the locals, is the place to go for urban and electronic music.
 
Club Bonsoir (Sternengässchen 5) is cosy and cool, playing everything from hip hop and house to dubstep and drum and bass, while the Wankdorf Club (Papiermühlestrasse 79) is the city’s biggest club, with more than 1,500 square metres of dancefloor and music for most tastes in its various nooks and crannies.
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Restaurants


Bern has a great selection of restaurants. Altes Tramdepot (Grosser Muristalden 6) boasts a great view over the Old Town and brews its own beers in the middle of the restaurant.
 
Ever popular with locals for a special night out is the imposing Kornhauskeller (Kornhausplatz 18), or ‘The Granary’, a large, vaulted cellar and a rare example of Bern's High Baroque period. In summer you can sit by the river and enjoy Spanish-inspired cuisine at Casa Novo (Läuferplatz 6). Tapas bars and all things Spanish seem to be particularly popular in the city. Another good spot for tapas is Volver (Rathausplatz 8), while for a French bistro-style atmosphere head for Café Aarbergerhof (Aarbergergasse 40).
 
You can feast upon the Mediterranean cuisine at Rosengarten (Alter Aargauerstalden 31b) whilst enjoying its magnificent views of the whole town. The best tables are on the veranda.
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Shopping


Wander the Old Town and you’ll stumble across a seemingly endless crop of enticing shops, whether your interest is fashion, arts, crafts or antiques. Starting at Loeb Department Store (Spitalgasse 47-51), a fixture of Bern for more than 100 years, just a few steps away are arcades of little shops under the arches around Kornhausplatz (Granary Square) that constitute one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe. There you will find plenty of interesting shops selling antiques, books, design and souvenirs. 
 
Other recommended shopping spots in Bern include quirky, colourful and kitsch gift shop Yamatuti (Aarbergergasse 16-18), über-trendy clothes shop Kitchener (Aarbergergasse 40) and Olmo (Zeughausgasse 14) for designer clothes and, a few doors down the street, shoes. At Bellocchio (Münstergasse 62), you will find home accessories, lamps, furniture with a vintage look, jewellery and nautical decorative items. 
 
Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Bärenplatz, Bundesplatz and adjacent side streets feature a market selling fruit, vegetables and flowers. From May to October, the market is held every day on Bärenplatz. 
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Top 10 sights


Top 5 sights for first-timers
 
Old Town 
 
Extending from Nydegg Bridge to Bubenberg Square and framed by the curving Aare River, Bern’s Old Town is a delight to wander around. It features six kilometres of limestone buildings, medieval arcades and Renaissance fountains.
 
Bear Park
 
The new enclosure for Bern's famous brown bears – which are also the city's heraldic animal – has a landscape where the bears can climb, fish and play, but also just retreat and relax.
 
Tierparkweg 1
www.baerenpark-bern.ch
 
Zytglogge (clock tower)
 
This striking structure was Bern’s first western city gate and formed the boundary of the first city extension. Its ornate astronomical calendar clock was built in 1530 and its display of mechanical figures set into motion every hour is imposing.
 
Kramgasse
www.zeitglockenturm.ch 
 
Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament
 
Construction of the Parliament buildings began in 1852 and took 50 years. The building complex is the seat of the Swiss government and features lots of ornate decorations including a grand central domed hall. Kids love to dodge the fountains in the square in warmer months.
 
Bundesgasse 3
www.bundeshaus.ch
 
Münster
 
This represents the most impressive example of late Gothic architecture in Bern. The basilica with its three knaves towers above the roofs of the Old Town. The portal with its depiction of the Last Judgement is an especially outstanding feature. Switzerland’s highest church tower offers magnificent views across the city into the depths of the Swiss Mittelland and the snow-capped mountains of the Bernese Oberland.
 
Münsterplatz 1
www.bernermuenster.ch
 
Top 5 sights for old hands
 
Kunst Museum Berne
 
This fabulous fine art gallery has wonderful temporary exhibitions and an amazing permanent collection: a room full of old masters, another of exemplary 20th century works from the likes of Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, Dali and Miro, and a room room with works by Van Gough, Pisarro, Renior, Cezanne, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Monet, Gioacometti, Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard, and top Swiss artists Hodler and Anker. There’s also a lovely cafe.
 
Hodlerstrasse 8-12
www.kunstmuseumbern.ch
 
Botanical Garden
 
The centrally located Botanical Gardens, containing around 6,000 plant species growing on an area of more than two hectares outdoors and in seven glass houses, is a great option when you want some rest and respite from the city.
 
Altenbergrain 21
www.botanischergarten.ch 
 
Marzili
 
The Marzili swimming pool is located right below the Parliament buildings by the Aare River and in warmer months is ideal for a refreshing dip. It is a popular meeting place too. Skilled swimmers can swim in the river itself, which snakes around the centre. Amazingly, the water meets drinking water standards. 
 
Marzilistrasse 29
www.aaremarzili.info 
 
Zentrum Paul Klee
 
Designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2005, this striking, curving building contains the world’s most important collection of works by Paul Klee (1879-1940). There’s also a children’s museum, topical exhibitions and numerous events.
 
Monument im Fruchtland 3
www.zpk.org
 
Einstein House and Museum
 
Not only can you visit Albert Einstein’s house in the centre of the Old Town – his home from 1903 to 1905, where he developed his theory of relativity – but also a museum dedicated to the great man, with memorabilia, films and written records all presented in an easy-to-understand way.
 
Einstein Haus: Kramgasse 49
www.einstein-bern.ch
Einstein Museum: Helvetiaplatz 5
www.bhm.ch
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Top 5 activities


River rafting on the Aare

This is a fun summer experience for young and old. At the weekends, hundreds of water enthusiasts travel to the Aare just to ride the rapids with an inflatable raft, the highlight being entering the Bundesstadt with the dome of the Federal Parliament building in the background.
 
Bernaqua Water Park and Spa 

This superb oasis of relaxation and well-being caters for all requirements, with giant slides, a river pool with currents and a wild water canyon. For relaxation, there is the Asian spa, Roman-Irish steam bath, sauna and fitness area.
 
Ropetech Seilpark

This high-wire forest adventure course at Thunplatz consists of a series of overhead ropeways set amongst Bern’s Dählhölzli Woods. Visitors can admire the woods from a new perspective from the vantage point of seven courses of varying degrees of difficulty.
 
Tierpark Dählhölzli
 
This riverside zoological garden has 200 animal species, and its concept of combining a recreational area close to town for families with the educational benefits of a zoo is well appreciated by young and old alike.
 
Helicopter ride over Bern Old Town

Take a trip with Swiss Helicopter AG (Heliswiss) and enjoy an unforgettable bird's-eye view of Bern and the surrounding region. The Bern city flight takes around 15 minutes but there are longer flights taking in surrounding castles, lakes and the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains.
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Top 5 events


Qin – The eternal emperor and his terracotta warriors

A cultural highlight this year is this stunning exhibition focusing on First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who created the Chinese Empire over 2,000 years ago. Amongst approximately 220 exhibits is a group of terracotta figures from Qin’s famous Terracotta Army – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is often considered the eighth Wonder of the World. 
 
Date: 15 March – 17 November 2013
Venue: Bernisches Historisches Museum
 
Bern International Jazz Festival

For 10 weeks, Bern becomes the home of world-class jazz performances by top stars. The first festival was staged in 1976 and since then the likes of B.B. King, Fats Domino, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie have taken part.
 
Date: March-May
Venue: Marian’s Jazzroom
 
Bern Grand-Prix 

This is Switzerland’s largest running event, with 25,000 runners traversing 16 kilometres of Bern’s streets. Crowds cheer them on as groups of musicians add to the atmosphere.
 
Date: May
Venue: Bern Old Town
 
Gurtenfestival

This rock and pop festival on Bern’s own local mountain attracts tens of thousands of music fans each year. More than 60 live acts and 60 DJs play pop, rock, punk, electro, funk, soul, R&B, hip hop, country, singer-songwriter and blues.
 
Date: July
Venue: Gurten Mountain
 
Zibelemärit (Onion Market)

This traditional folk festival sees farmers from surrounding areas bring more than 50 tonnes of onions to Bern, artistically woven into braids. Market stalls offer ceramic pots, mementoes, craftwork and mulled wine.
 
Date: November
Venue: Old Town (between the railway station and Bundesplatz

Written by World Travel Guide

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