Bern may be small but it sure packs a big punch. Immediately charming, pretty much everything in the town in UNESCO heritage listed. Okay that may be an exaggeration but the Swiss capital’s old town centre definitely has a disproportionate number of attractions for a city of such small size. Modern and medieval at the same time, the city is bordered on all sides by the crystal clear Aare River. Flowing out to it is the nearby Bernese Oberland, with the impressive Alps casting a constant shadow on this fairytale like town.
With a population of just 130,000, Bern’s relatively minute geographic area makes it easy to explore on foot. Dating back to the 12th century, the cobbled lanes and sandstone arcades have changed little in the past hundred years. Within the city centre you’ll find the iconic Zytglogge clock tower and nearby the famous bear pits, which relocated to their new location in 2009. Add the Muenster Cathedral, and Bernese and Alpine Museums to your itinerary, while those with extra time should also pay a visit to the Rose Garden. For the perfect photo opportunity take a train trip to Gurten’s observation deck on the outskirts of town.
If Toblerone is Bern’s most famous culinary item, the silver medal goes to the Berner Platte. Dating back to 1798, when Bernese celebrated defeating the French army with a feast containing ribs, bacon, beef tongue, country ham, blood sausage and frankfurters, Della Casa on Schauplatzgasse is where to go to sample this quirky delicacy. Another Bern institution is Hotel Schweizerhof at Bahnhofplatz, which is widely regarded to have the best schnitzel in town. Vegetarians, head to nearby Tibits, a hip eatery for those wanting to avoid meat. Speaking of cool cats, the chic Restaurant Kairo has an all-organic kitchen and is widely regarded to have the best burgers in Bern.
As the second largest watch-making region in Switzerland, Bern is the perfect place to purchase a timepiece - you’re going to need one to keep up with Bern’s strict shopping hours, which are all government regulated. Rathausgasse is a good place to start your shopping journey but the inner city literally has countless stores selling Swatch, Rolex, Wenger and Omega watches manufactured in nearby Biel. Tuesdays and Saturdays see the squares of Bundesplatz, Baerenplatz and Waisenhausplatz fill with stalls selling everything from clothes to chocolate, while if you happen to be here in November, the onion market is a proud highlight on the Bernese shopping calendar.
Where to Stay
Bern offers a surprisingly large range of accommodation options for a city of such small size. There you’ll find everything from bed and breakfasts to hotels and family run apartment lodgings. Bellevue Palace on Kochergasse offers spectacular Alpine views and the full five stars while a top budget room can be found at Hotel Landhaus on Altenbergstrasse. Jazz themed Hotel Innere Enge is another fine hotel to stay at. Housed in an old colonial mansion, each room comes with individual quirk and charm.
Bern Like a Local
It’s no cliché – Swiss really do love chocolate! In fact the Swiss consume 54% of the chocolate produced in Switzerland and each person eats on average 11.6kgs per year. It’s not just the Bernese Toblerone brand that locals love though. Visit any one of the local Migros and Coop supermarket chains and you’ll find countless chocolate brands to choose from. Ever popular with the locals is the supermarket branded varieties, which taste just as good and sometimes better than the export varieties. Best of all you can purchase a kilogram (or all 11.6) from only a few Swiss Francs.