In December 2015, I started hosting couchsurfers here in Berne, Switzerland. By doing so and only half a year later, I had gained like 3 or 4 kg of weight. “Did you eat some of your guests???”, I can hear you asking. No, of course not. But many of my visitors want to taste typical Swiss dishes so I take them to the restaurant “Lötschberg” for a delicious cheese fondue. And of course, I can not resist taking part in it, too.
So in case I refuse joining you on a tour to the city (so I can get rid of those extra kilos) you can use my following hints to see some outstanding places of the city.
And yes, in English language, you can write the city’s name both “Bern” or “Berne”. Crazy sh*t.
- The Zytglogge is Bern’s emblem – a must see.
Just one hint: Don’t wait for the hourly ringing of the bell. It is disappointing.
- The Bern Minster – go up there and enjoy the fantastic view over the city. Even on cloudy or rainy days.
But keep in mind that the tower closes already at 16:30.
- You may recognize some international flags and crests on the outside of several houses even in the old city of Bern (which is by the way a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site). As you know, Switzerland is a neutral country and thus in diplomatic relationships with almost every other country. And as Bern is the de facto capital of Switzerland you will find nearly all the embassies here (there is even one of North Korea).
Some of those embassies are located in separate buildings (like the one of the US one or the many embassies in the district of Kirchenfeld) while some other countries decided that an apartment is just enough to handle their daily business. This is why you will find their national coat of arms or flags on many buildings in the city.
- Free walking tours
I highly recommend to take part in one of the almost daily free walking tours in Bern. They will tell you a lot interesting historical details about the city which I do not want to list here.
On their website you will find the several information about routes and dates, also about the various meeting points.
There are guided tours through the parliament building which will take about 1 hour. The building is beautiful and represents modern Swiss history so check out the schedule. English spoken tours take place on Saturdays.
You have to write them an e-mail or call them 1 day in advance (or on the same moning of the day of your visit) to make a reservation. Tickets are absolutely free!
These are places that you more or less just walk by while exploring the city. But you should keep an eye open because you can take great pictures there!
From this bridge, you will have a fantastic view over the roofs of the old part of the city, and on days with great weather, also the Swiss mountains Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the background. You can see a photo of this at the end of this post. To get there, just follow this link to Google Maps.
- Kleine Schanze
Because this place is close to Bern’s main station (like 200 meters far), I often take my guests there directly after their arrival, still with their suitcases in their hands. But I am nice, I might help you with your luggage.
If you don’t like asking people how to get there, just ask Google Maps.
A former cemetery, now a small park a bit uphill with a fantastic view over the old part of Bern’s city. This is where even professional photographers go to create picture postcards that are sold at many places. And guess what, this place is on Google Maps, too.
Aare is the river passing by the city of Bern. You can swim in it and have a fantastic experience. But please only do this if you are an experienced swimmer. There are no life guards and a river is still a river being able to drwon you under certain circustances.
No link to Google Maps needed because if you cannot see the Aare while you are in Berne you might be blind.
London has its Hyde Park, New York the Central Park, and people of Bern go up the Gurten. It is a small mountain directly connected to the city. You can even go there by tram line 9 and then taking the funicular to get up to the top. There you will find a huge park, restaurants, playgrounds, sculptures – and of course fantastic views on the city center and the Alps. If you want to hike/walk up the Gurten, it will take around from 45 minutes (starting from the funicular’s ground station).
Less known than Gurten and harder to get up there (no funicular, pretty steep way) but the view is much more fantastic!
I am happy when you don’t go to Jungfrauchjoch aka Top of Europe because up there you will meet more Indian and East-Asian people than Swiss culture. There is even a Chinese restaurant on top of the Jungfrau!
Although I understand that my friends from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong have never seen any snow so they want to visit this glacier area, I still prefer to send them to Oeschinensee. It is a fantastic scenery, UNESCO region and looks like typical Swiss countryside. There is a lake, you can hike even with children, and you will also find a toboggan.
I am not that much into food. But when you want to try some traditional Swiss dishes like cheese fondue, raclette or “Chässchnitte” (bread covered with melted cheese, some vegetables in between) then I have to admit I am a fan of the “Lötschberg” restaurant. It is run by young people, looks modern and fancy (but not hipster) and the food is fantastic. You can find this place on Google Maps.
And if you are lucky to visit Bern on a Saturday morning, go to the local food market. The most interesting section #imho is in the Münstergasse between “Burgerbibliothek” and “Münster” (the biggest church in Bern). There you will find a lot of local meat, cheese, fish, presented to you by passionate people who are often the ones who create, fish or whatever this food. Feel free to try stuff – Swiss people are so wealthy, they will not force you to buy anything. But be there early, the market closes at 12:00.
It is easy to get to know the Turnhalle, a nice and beautiful, but mainstream club/bar/garden in the city center. But if you are more independent resp. brave go and visit the Reitschule. Don’t be afraid of the people who offer drugs at in front of the building – just say “no thanks” and they will leave you alone. Inside, you find like 3 music stages, bars, cafes, a theater and sometimes also a flee market: Damnit, there is no information in English!
Some people ask me for typical Swiss souvenirs. Instead of buying a boring t-shirt with a Swiss cross on it, I recommend taking something really local with you. In my opinion, there are these options:
- A “Swiss Army knife”
A classical souvenir from Switzerland. Useful not only when you are a soldier but also when you are an outdoor freak in general. It can also help you in the kitchen.
Best store to buy one of those knives in Bern is “Klötzli Messerschmiede” – they have a large collection of Swiss army knives for every intended use.
Klötzli Messerschmiede: Rathausgasse 84, CH-3011 Bern
- A “Freitag” bag
The company “Freitag” was founded in 1993 by two brothers who were working as designers and wanted to create messenger bags – from old truck canvas covers. They are very successful and you can find a large collection of these unique bags at OLMO and a smaller selection at “kitchener”.
- SIGG water bottles
This might not be the most extraordinary souvenir, but SIGG aluminum water bottles are useful, look a bit like design elements and Swiss people really use them e.g. while hiking. So you take a true piece of Swiss culture with you. They can be found in many stores in Bern and also on sigg.com.
If you still prefer the Swiss flag (and because some travellers like putting stickers on their backpack showing the flag of the country they visited) go to this place and get one: “Heimatwerk”, Kramgasse 61, CH-3011 Bern.
Don’t fall for fancy chocolate with salt of the sea and chili flakes and finally a price of at least 6,50 Swiss francs. Stay classy and stay classic. My favourite chocolate is the Cailler Dessert (Cailler is part of Nestlé). Another chocolate many of my couchsurfers fell in love with is the Ovomaltine. Both are like “normal” chocolates you can find for a “normal” price of 2 or 3 Swiss francs (hey, this ist still Switzerland, not Romania) in almost every supermarket. #funfact: although Ovomaltine is a typical Swiss product, invented and produced in Bern, you will not find it at the biggest Swiss supermarket chain Migros. Get over it and go somewhere else.
My former coworker Sabrina Bigler runs a blog telling you everything about hiking in Switzerland. It is written in German and this is the link.