The capital city of Switzerland is a wonderful and surprisingly understated place, located in the centre of the country. This UNESCO world heritage site sits on the banks of the Aar river and at the feet of the Swiss Alps.
Interested in visiting the city? Here are 10 tips for an awesome trip to Bern.
- 1 Take a Stroll Through the Old Town
- 2 Hike up the Gurten
- 3 Let Yourself Go with the Flow: Swim Down the Aar River
- 4 Go Shopping at the Farmers Market
- 5 Wander Around the Federal Palace
- 6 Pay a Visit to the Bernese Spirit Animals
- 7 Go Out for a Drink
- 8 Follow Einstein’s Footprints
- 9 Take a Day Trip to the Bernese Oberland
- 10 Visit Bern’s Modern Aquatic Park.
- 11 Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Where to Stay in Bern
- 12 Luxury Hotels in Bern
Take a Stroll Through the Old Town
Bern is a beautiful city that should be explored by foot. The old city with its 6 km of arcades and its narrow streets is one of the most vibrant locations in Bern. The wonderful river surrounding the city and the majestic mountains peaking at the horizon finish to complete the picture.
As the city has never been destroyed, most of the buildings date back to the 15th century. They are very well taken care of and retain a certain medieval flair. The old town is not very big and has numerous hidden gems that can easily be explored by foot if you only have one day in Bern.
Hike up the Gurten
The Gurten is a small mountain on the side of the Swiss capital city. It summits at 860 meters above sea level and is very easy to hike in 1 to 2 hours. For the less sporty, you also have the possibility to reach the summit with the “Gurtenbahn”- a funicular train.
You can reach the foot of the Gurten in a few tram stops from the city centre.
Let Yourself Go with the Flow: Swim Down the Aar River
Flowing down from the glaciers of Switzerland, the Aar is the longest river starting and ending on Swiss soil. It flows through the lakes of Brienz and Thun before finding its way to Bern.
This beautiful river winds through the city and around its old town. It is renown for its intense turquoise color and is a very common bathing location in summer.
Looking for an adventure? Follow the local tradition and participate in the Aareswimming which is considered as one of the best summer activities in Bern. Going down the Aar between Thun and Bern will take you about 4 hours and is the favorite summer refreshment of every Bern citizen.
Go Shopping at the Farmers Market
Since medieval ages, farmers are transporting goods to the city in a big Market. Taking place in the city center every Tuesday and Saturday from 7 am to 12:30 pm, the so-called “Berner Märit” is not only an appreciated shopping tradition but it is also the opportunity for locals to meet and have a chat.
Wander Around the Federal Palace
The Federal Palace is the political heart of Bern and Switzerland. The construction of the complex started in 1852. The prominent central part and its iconic dome was completed in 1902. The palace was decorated by 38 artists, coming from all the Swiss regions.
With more than 100.000 visitors a year this is one of the most popular sights of the town. Outside the parliamentary sessions, free guided tours are available in German, French, Italian, and English.
Related: Best Places in Europe for Winter
Pay a Visit to the Bernese Spirit Animals
According to the lore, the founder of the city encountered a Bear while strolling through the forest. This is how he would have had the idea to call the city Bär or Bären (bear(s) in German), which later evolved in “Bern”.
Bears have been recorded to be the symbol of Bern since 1220. A bear pit was opened in 1857 and since then, bears could always be observed in the city centre. In 2009, 24 Mio. Swiss francs were invested to renovate the pit and open a park to better meet the actual needs of Finn, Björk, and Ursina; the 3 bears living in the park today.
Go Out for a Drink
You will find a lot of nice clubs and bars in the old city but you should check out one of the key meeting points in Bern. The “Turnhalle”, built in an old Gym, is a café-bar and concert venue with a great cultural agenda. When the weather is nice, the courtyard turns into a peaceful and laid-back place to hang out in the middle of a busy city life.
Follow Einstein’s Footprints
Did you know that Albert Einstein lived in Bern? The 5 years he spent living in the city was his most creative ones and it is during one of them, in 1905, that he wrote his thesis in which he put together the famous equation E=mc2.
If you are interested in science, you should not miss visiting the “Einstein haus”, his former apartment, in Kramgasse 49. For the most attentive, there are several statues Einstein sitting in his favorite spots (the bear pit, the rose garden and the main building of the university).
Take a Day Trip to the Bernese Oberland
High mountains, stunning landscapes and lakes taking surreal shades of blue: the Bernese Oberland is Switzerland as you see it on every postcard.
Easily reachable from Bern, we highly recommend taking a day trip to visit this wonderful region. Stay in awe in front of the Lauterbrunnen waterfall, challenge yourself with a hike to a remote mountain lake or head towards Grindelwald to reach the Jungfraujoch at an altitude of 3’500 meters above sea level.
Visit Bern’s Modern Aquatic Park.
Built in a modern shopping mall designed by the famous architect Daniel Libeskind, Bernaqua is one of the biggest indoor bathing facilities in Switzerland. Aside of several waterslides, you will find plenty of pools and relaxation area.
We especially recommend taking the access to the sauna area, it’s a great way to relax after an exhausting day walking around the city. You should, however, avoid the peak hours, as it tends to get crowded.
Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Where to Stay in Bern
Don’t know where to stay in Bern? Check out these suggested properties to consider on your next visit in this idyllic German district.
Budget Hostels in Bern
Pension Marthahaus – Located in the quiet, residential part near the district center, Pension Marthahaus is a modern-styled hostel with dorms and rooms decked in clean, minimalistic furnishings. It’s also close to the main station, old town, and main attractions. WIFI and the guest kitchen are free of charge. Dine on the hostel’s complimentary breakfast or eat out in one of the many restaurants surrounding the hostel.
Bern Backpackers Hotel & Hostel Glocke – This hostel is located in a UNESCO world heritage area domain. It’s also a 15-minute walk to the central station, where you can hop on to commute to any part of the city. Rooms and communal showers/toilets are simple but clean, and the staff are quite friendly and helpful. There’s a club underneath the hostel, so this might be an issue to light sleepers.
Mid-Range Hostels & Hotels in Bern
Bed & Breakfast Villa Alma – This B&B may be a bit on the pricey side, but guests love staying here because of its charming surroundings and quiet location. The services and extras will make you feel as if you have never left home. Attractions like Münster Cathedral and Bern Clock Tower can reach by foot or via bike rental.
To compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com
Hostel 77 Bern – A favorite among backpackers, the modern-styled Hostel 77 Bern has all of the accommodation basics: clean rooms, nice facilities including a shared kitchen, complimentary breakfast and free WIFI. It’s also close to popular points of interest like the House of Parliament and Bern Clock Tower. The staff offers a free, one-day public transport ticket to help you with your commute.
Luxury Hotels in Bern
Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & THE SPA – The long-established, centrally located Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & THE SPA is known for its massive, 5-star wellness center. The rooms are luxurious and are equipped with state-of-the-art entertainment facilities and a Nespresso coffee machine. The Continental, Schweizerhof, and business breakfast are something to look forward to at Jack’s Brasserie.
Hotel Bellevue Palace Bern – This elegant, Art Nouveau-styled hotel next to the Federal Parliament building looks like a set from a movie. The Bellevue Palace features spacious, luxurious rooms, strong WIFI, gourmet restaurant, wellness facilities, and a terrace overlooking the Aare River and the Alps. No wonder celebrities like the Queen of England, Nelson Mandela, and Bruce Springsteen have considered this hotel their second home during their visit here.