What surprised me when I mentioned I was going to Bern, is that a lot of people nowadays don’t know it’s actually the capital of Switzerland. Most of them think it is Zürich or Geneva. Nope. Work on your geography people!
I do understand where that’s coming from, as Bern is quite small for earning the name of a capital, but it’s part of its charm. If you’re up for some activity and loads of cheese, here are our tips:
Bern offers a variety of hotels, of which the Bellevue Palace (Kochergasse 3-5) is the most famous and also considered the guesthouse of the Swiss government (as it is adjacent to the Bundeshaus -the seat of the federal government); many international Heads of State have stayed here. Nelson Mandela was one of them.
Other suggestions are the très classy Hotel Schweizerhof with its noted sky terrace (though it was closed due to the rain when we wanted to have a drink there…). It also houses a 500 sq m spa. The Allegro is located in the Kursaal –the Bernese Conference venue– and offers an amazing view of the old town and Alps.
Apart from the luxe hotels, Bern has not much to offer in the likes of a design- or boutique hotel. One that could be categorized as such is the Goldener Schlüssel. A cosy city hotel just a stone’s throw away of the famous Zytglogge (Clock Tower).
The most luxurious is Kornhauskeller (Kornhausplatz 18). The restaurant is situated in the amazing baroque wine cellar of the former granary (built in the 18th century) and offers a mix of Bernese specialties and Italian cuisine.
A total opposite is Kung Fu Burger (Speichergasse 27) which attracts the young and hip. It’s an interesting contrast to eat burgers in an Asian setting. They have the burgers in all sorts you can imagine, even veggie ones.
If your mind is set on Asian food, and your preference goes out to Thai and Japanese then Fugu Nydegg (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 16) is the place. Settled in the old town, from Thaï curry to Tempura. Take-away is also available.
Feel like typical Swiss food like rösti, späzlis, raclette or cheese fondue? One of our hotspots is Lötschberg (Zeughausgasse 16). It was across the street of our hotel and we had a delish salad with –of course– cheese, when we were famished after our bicycle tour. And made some new friends there too.
During our ‘bike-around-the-area’ getaway, we came across Dampfzentrale (Marzilistrasse 47). It’s a sort of cultural playground for modern dance, music and theater, where you can also have a bite at the Taverna alongside the Aare.
If you’d rather have dinner right on the banks of the Aare or what’s named the Bern Rivièra, you can opt for Schwellenmätteli (Dalmaziquai 11). Choose between the river view Restaurant Terrasse or the Ristorante Casa.
For those who fancy a quick ‘crêpes-dinner’ before a splurge in the Bernese nightlife we’d recommend La Chouette (Bollwerk 39). It’s a small crêperie (pancake restaurant) where you can have your crêpe with a sweet or salty filling. Plus, they have the concept of ‘crêpes-a-porter’ (admit it, this sounds way better than ‘take-away crêpe’!).
Two other tips for drinks or coffee are: Einstein Café –having a drink here will make you smart for sure– (Kramgasse 49) and Montag (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 27), a cute coffee shop/tearoom where they have a very interesting loo…
Don’t pick Bern for a hip & happening shopping-trip destination because it might not quite live up to the expectations. If you want to buy a watch or chocolate on the other hand…
Aside from the galleries in the old town, some department stores and several high street shops we’ve counted a few worth sharing:
Fizzen (Ryffligäschen 13)
This was by far our favorite because it’s like a small Urban Outfitters offering cool urban labels and vintage for da boyz and girlz.
Kitchener (Aarbergergasse 40)
Somewhat comparable to the shop mentioned above. There’s Kitchener for the more urban and basic labels, and Kitchener Plus for the more ‘on-trend’ items and labels.
Globus (Spitalgasse 17-21)
It’s the department store which carries a vast selection of premium fashion, beauty and home decor brands.
Aerni (Aarbergergasse 60)
A shop, bar, hairsalon and spa in one! Some labels you’ll find here are MarCCain, Armani Jeans and René Lézard. They also have the exclusive fragrances from Terry de Gunzburg and Shu Uemara haircare.
Sonia Rykiel (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 24)
The boutique from the French designer is hidden in the arcades of the old town, but has a nice selection of the coveted knitwear and prêt-a-porter items
Teo Jakob (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 25, 29,36)
Great shop for interior design and decoration.
Yamatuti (Aarbergergasse 16-18)
This was actually the first shop we entered when we arrived in Bern. The perfect adress for a (fun or kitsch) gift.
There couldn’t be a bigger contrast between a club like Kapitel (Bollwerk 41) and the Reitschule (Neubrückstrasse 8) just across the street. The first is one of Bern’s hippest places (restaurant turns into club) and the second is a mini version of Berlin’s RAW temple. Get our point?
Other places to go are Turnhalle (Speichergasse 4), an old gym which is now a large bar with a courtyard, Bon Soir (Aarbergergasse 33-35) and Du Théâtre (Hotelgasse 10) welcome the clubbers, cocktails can either be enjoyed at the bars of the hotels Schweizerhof, Allegro and Bellevue, or bars such as Cesary (Kornhausplatz 11), Abflugbar (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 50), Kreissaal Bar (Brunngasshalde 63) or Adriano’s (Theaterplatz 2).
•A must-see touristic highlight when in Bern is the Zytglogge. Ok, so it’s a tower with a clock. But you can go up there (with a guide), and the machinery is ancient (16th century) and impressive. It is said that the clock helped Albert Einstein with his relativity theory. Though we couldn’t help ourselves making jokes about the ‘wrecking ball’ (which is the ball to set the clock into motion), but just consider that our goofy sense of humor.
•Rent a bike! It’s lots of fun to take a ride along the river Aare.
•Take the funicular to the Gurten park (Im Grünen, Wabern) — 2830 feet above sea-level–and have yourself a ‘disc-golf-match’. This is not a joke but a serious activity. There’s even a Disc Golf Open Bern. Frisbees to play disc golf are available for 5 CHF per day. The park offers entertainment for all ages and includes a hotel and resturants (the restaurant Tapis Rouge offers picknick baskets). Bern’s ‘Traumberg’ is a beautiful green sight and the spot for festivals in Summer (Gurtenfestival). Winter sports facilities are available in winter (ski, sleigh etc.)
•Visit the bears at the Bärenpark (Grosser Muristalden 6). We’re not big fans of animals living in captivity, and these bears have become a strange kind of attraction…Nevertheless, it’s the closest we ever came to a living bear by remaining safely behind the fence. The bears –Björk and Finn– live on the slope of the Aare where they can play, climb and fish (though we only saw them eating grass).
• Cross the Körnhausbrucke. Why? Because the Dutch got their own sign in orange and Dutch as a thank you for the fun the Bernese had with us during the Euro 2008. Just saying…
•Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without an authentic Swiss cheesefondue. Yet we left the city to go to the Emmental region and have our fondue at the Emmental museum. It’s about 1 hr by train.