Things To Do In Switzerland’s Capitol City
The city symbol is a bear, which brings to mind a menacing creature that digs its claws into people and growls. Hustle. Bustle. Tussle.
Only the strong survive, which would make it pretty much like any country’s capital city. It’s the nature of the beast.
But Bern, Switzerland is more like a newborn cub, safe enough to pet, cute enough to cuddle and so easy to love one is tempted to say “I want one of those!”
A drink in the platz, strolling and shopping the walkways, dinner at a cool cafe and cocktails deep into the night. This is Bern.
While there is certainly more to Bern than meets the eye, much of the city is centered around its compact Old Town.
Not much bigger than a Swiss Alps ski village, Old Town can be casually walked in a little more than an hour.
The centrally-located Barenplatz, with its outdoor tables by cafes, oversized chess board and fountain in front of the capitol building, is the center of the city’s attention.
And it’s only a few blocks from the popular Clock Tower and dozens of cafes, restaurants, shops and bars.
As a result, Bern is alive with activity, with its residents and tourists shopping along the amazing and seemingly endless archway-covered “passages,” enjoying one of the weekly markets along Krangasse or simply strolling by the Clock Tower.
There’s a reason the city’s unofficial slogan is “slow down” because it only take a few minutes to walk from one place to another and there’s no reason to be in a hurry.
BERN IN THE WINTER
Lights and background music that fill the Bundersplatz square with warm colours and dreamy sounds for winter ice skating. Food and drink stalls in the neighbouring pavilion provide the skaters and spectators with warming drinks and delicious winter snacks.
From December 31-Feb. 14, the ice-skating rink is be open on all weekdays. Use of the rink is free of charge, the hire of ice-skates is possible.
BERN IN THE SUMMER
Bern has a beach.
Well, sort of, in the form of Marzili Beach. People lay out and tan on a large grass, go for a swim in one of the many pools or plunge into the fairly fast-moving (and, er, “refreshing”) river from a bridge for a quick trip down the shore.
BERN GENERAL INFORMATION
Bern became the capital of Switzerland for the most basic of reasons – it’s location. It’s practically in the middle of the country, an hour from the Alps, Geneva and Zurich. The wonderfully efficient Swiss Travel System makes getting here a breeze and the train station is only a couple of minutes from Barenplatz.
A very convenient place to stay is the Best Western Hotel Bristol, just around the corner from the train station, two blocks down Schauplazgasse.
The Aare River wraps its “arms” all around the city of Bern.
In Bern, as in all Swiss cities, the mountains are always in view.
Old Town, which contains most of the city’s attractions, is like a peninsula, with the Aare River wrapping around it, hugging the city like a grandpa giving a gentle bear hug to the grandkids. In the summer, the river is a recreation center, as it is clean enough in which to swim. The Marzili pool, right below the House of Parliament, is the gathering spot. Yes, bring the bathing suit to Bern.
There are three main east-west streets, all eventually leading to the Nydeggbruke Bridge; cross it and BearPark is on the right. The main shopping area is on the middle street, which changes names several times between the bridge and the train station; it’s Kramgasse when it meets the Clock Tower.
People keep the Kronhausplatz busy with activity.
Kornhausplatz runs north/south and is always alive with action. In addition to the Clock Tower, many of the city’s cafes, bars and restaurants are located either along the street or just off of it. A good photo viewing spot is to walk across the bridge toward the Kursaal Grand Casino. The bridges of Bern are high above the river, making for great vantage points.
Parliament is located at the Bundesplatz, a fountain plaza next to the cafe-lined Barenplatz.
Old Town is a traffic-free area. The only vehicles allowed are cabs or those for delivery to businesses.
The helpful Bern Tourist Office in the main train station has information on Bern, maps and can even provide guided or iPod-assisted tours.
There’s a long-standing American joke about Southern people who have been around for quite a few years to say they are “as old as the hills.”
The same could be said about Bern, which has a history that dates back to the year 1011. That’s when Duke Berchold V. von Zahrigen commissioned a nobleman, Cuno von Bubenberg, to build a city on a peninsula that would be protected on three sides. The land surrounding the Aare river fit this idea perfectly, and Bern was born.
There’s a lot of history under those Bern rooftops.
Local legend has it that the Duke announced the first animal he killed would become the city’s symbol. It just so happened he encountered a bear, and instead of high-tailing it to the hills (as most reasonable likely would have done), he captured it. Apparently the Duke was a man of his word because the bear became Bern’s permanent symbol.
Like anything that’s been around for a while, Burn has had its bumps and bruises throughout its history. A fire destroyed the city in 1405, but reconstruction in sandstone instead of wood led to the creation of the Laubengange, the tree-lined walks and covered arcades, the latter of which today comprise much of the city’s shopping area.
In fact, Bern is pretty much today as it was then and has been named a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site.
THE BERN BEAR PARK
A new BearPark opened in the fall of 2009 and became an instant hit with tourists.
A couple of months later, it got a welcome addition – two cubs. Bjork and Finn are now bear parents, and visitors will be able to see mother and cubs. The father, Finn, has been moved to another part of the park to protect the cubs, whose names are Berma and Urs.
The BearPark extends down to the Aare river and enables people to witness bears climb, play and even fish. It’s the highlight of a good walk through town, by the river and just over the Nydeggbruke Bridge.
BERN ACTIVITIES & SIGHTSEEING
Since BearPark hardly takes all day, there’s plenty of time to see many of Bern’s other cultural attributes.
It begins at the Zytglogge, or Clock Tower, Bern’s version of the Glockenspiel in Munich. Created in 1530 as the literal gateway to the city, it announces each hour with multiple moving parts in an entertaining show. From May thru October, a tour to the top with outstanding views above the city is available through the tourist office (12 CHF).
Since it’s the city’s main landmark, it’s a great place meeting place. When the ladies want to go shopping and the men to say, a cafe, you can simply say, “meet at Clock Tower at 1800.”
The House of Parliament is the seat of the Swiss government (Federal Council) and the parliament (National Council and Council of States). Free guided tours of the city’s dominant building on the Aare are available, but not when Parliament is in session (this occurs four times a year for three weeks at a time).
This park just down from Parliament is a place to picnic and relax.
Just down from Parliament, a short stroll high along the river, is one of the city’s many parks. People sit and relax here, read books (or this PubClub.com artice) and even play ping-pong. Other parks in town include the Rose Garden (just up from BearPark) and the Botanic Gardens across the Lorianebrucke bridge.
While walking about town, notice the detailed sculptures on the fountains. Bern has more than 100 fountains and the water is clean enough to quench a quick thirst (drink out of the pipe, not the pool).
Bern has several museums, including the Kunstmuseum (Swiss and international art), the Swiss Alpine Museum, the Swiss Rifle Museum and the Museum of Communication.
Most museums are convienently located in the same area across the Kirchenfedbruke bridge. One exception is the Einstein Haus, which is on Kramgasse just down from the Clock Tower. The genius lived here from 1903-1905 when he formulated his Theory of Relativity. He lived in the third floor of the building (6 CHF).
There are free bikes in the Velostation inside the train station; simply give a deposit and it’s yours for four hours. It it’s Monday night, get some rollerblades and join the hundreds of people who go through the city, complete with a police escort.
SHOPPING IN BERN
It may only take an hour or so to walk from one end of Old Town to the other, but that doesn’t take into account stopping for shopping.
And for gentlemen who are visiting Bern with their lady, allow PubClub.com to suggest that you pull up a seat at a cafe’s table in the Barenplatz and have a few cold Swiss beers. Because your lady is going to be a while.
Bern’s main east-west street is lined with small shops, They range from high end to low end and have clothes, trinkets, watches, electronics and just about everything else one can imagine.
Most shops are under the covered archway, called the “passage,” but several more are almost hidden down alleys revealing a sort of mini-mall. Still more are below the street in cellars, their wooden doors open to the street like welcoming arms.
While no one has ever bothered to count the number of shops in this 6-kilometer area, it must number close to 1,000. The shops close at 2100 hours each night.
Just in time for dinner, ladies and gentlemen.