The capital of Switzerland, Bern is a charming, small, city listed as a UNESCO World Heritage since 1983. It is well worth a quick visit if you are travelling through in within Switzerland. With plenty of ambience and cafés to pass the time of day, it is also easy to walk around.
Founded in 1191, Bern is built on a peninsula that offered natural protection on three sides due to the Aare River flowing around it. The clock tower (Zytglogge), which was the city’s first known gate, was built in 1530. It is an astronomical clock and has moving figures that perform a little show before each hour.
A fire in 1405 destroyed much of the city and the reconstruction used local sandstone for the most part. Bern’s narrow, cobbled streets are home to many attractions, markets, hotels, restaurants and museums and more and the best way to take it all in is on foot.
Arrival in Bern is most likely by train, as there is no true international airport. The Bern-Belp Airport does cater for scheduled flights within parts of Europe and some holiday (charter) flights to the Mediterranean tourist regions. By train, connections to Zurich take about an hour, and two hours to Geneva. From the train station, it is an easy walk to most hotels in the central area. The main tourist office is located at the train station and you can obtain lots of information and maps there.
A good way to explore Bern is to first walk from the railway station to the nearby Houses of Parliament, or Bundeshaus, where the doors are open to visitors most of the time. A plus here is the great view of the Aare River below. From the Houses of Parliament, continue walking along towards Nydeggbrucke and cross the river.
Below is the Bear Garden, which houses four brown bears and entry to the garden is free. The bear is the heraldic animal of the city, due to it being the first animal that Duke Berchold caught whist hunting. Close by, above the Bear Pits, is the elevated Rose Garden which provides excellent views back towards the Old Town.
Then just keep walking and exploring. Distances are not big and the streets will eventually lead you back to the main station that marks the end of the Old Town section. The shopping streets are in arcades and, together, cover six kilometres making it the largest covered shopping promenade in Europe. Plenty to explore in there! If you still need things, the main shopping centre is Westside, which is a large mall and a short train ride away.
Whist exploring the streets, a visit to the Munster Cathedral is highly recommended. This cathedral dates from 1421 and is a good example of late Gothic, Swiss architecture. It has the highest spire in Switzerland at 101 metres tall and offers another of the best views of the Aare River. To reach the top means taking 344 steps, but it is well worth the climb for the view.
Bern is, in part, where Sir Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity. It is also the home of Emmental cheese (also known as Swiss cheese) and Toblerone chocolate.
Einstein’s House can be visited at Kramgasse 49, where he lived from 1903 to 1905. It is now a small museum with pictures that tell the story of his early life in Bern. There is also an Einstein exhibit at the Historical Museum.
A comprehensive collection of works by the artist, Paul Klee, can be found at Zentrum Paul Klee, which is located on the outskirts of the city.
The Swiss Alpine Museum, on the south side of the River Aare, provides an exceptional history of the Swiss Alps.
The day we were in Bern it was hot, so we took in the free, open-air swimming pool at Marzili on edge of the river. Many good swimmers float down the River Aare with the tide. There are barbecue facilities at Eichholz park, so a great place for an outdoor get-together of family or friends.
Located along the river are the Botanical Gardens, the Dählhölzli Zoo and the old Matte district. Out of Old Town are the Zoological Gardens set in an attractive woodland setting. To get there, use bus 19 to Tierpark.
Free bikes are available at Milchgassli next to Bahnhofplatz. You can also rent skateboards, and electrobikes.
A popular day trip to Mt Gurten can be reached by tram 9 to Wabern, using the stop at Gurtenbahn. From there, take the Gurten Railway to the top or walk up. The annual Gurten Festival, with international music artists, runs for several days here in July and gathers a huge crowd.
The social calendar in Bern also includes the International Jazz Festival, originating in 1976 and with world-class jazz artists, is in March to May each year; the Berne Onion Market, which is a traditional folk festival held on the fourth Monday in November; the Christmas Market in Münsterplatz, with plenty of arts and crafts; the Bern Dance Festival which has workshops, exhibitions and dance performances in June; and, in August, the Buskers Bern Street Festival, spread over about 20 locations, at which many artists perform and a mid-town cabaret can be enjoyed.Write a Review
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