BerneBerne (German: Bern) is the seat of most of the institutions of the Swiss confederation, this is only a small to medium sized city with a population of about 130,000 in the city proper and roughly 350,000 in the urban agglomeration. It sits on a peninsula formed by the meandering turns of the river Aare. The remarkable design coherence of Berne's old town has earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It has 6.4 km (4 miles) of arcaded walkways along streets decked out with fountains and clock-towers.
There are Tourist Information Centres outside the main railway station, and in the Old Tram Depot next to the Bear Pit.
In 1353 Berne joined the Swiss confederation. After conquering several rivals, Berne became the largest independent city state north of the Alps. It was occupied by French troops in 1798 during the French Revolutionary Wars, and was stripped of a large part of its territory. The city became the Swiss capital in 1848.
Bern was one of the eight host cities in the 2008 European Football Championships.
Bern-Belp AirportThis airport is a small affair.
To reach the city take Bus 334 or 160 to Belp railway station (10 mins). Frequent S-bahn local trains connect Belp to Bern's main station, 40 min altogether. The bus runs every 30 minutes between 05:10 and 23:10, with the first and last buses of the day running directly to Bern railway station. The transfer is free if you have booked accommodation in Bern, just show your confirmation letter; otherwise Fr. 7 each way.
A taxi to the city is about 40 Fr and takes 20 mins.
For better choice of flights, fly into Geneva (GVA), Zurich (ZRH) or Basel (BSL) then take the train to Bern.
By trainBerne is at the hub of the Swiss Federal Railway network. Express (InterCity) trains connect twice per hour to Geneva, Basel and Zurich as well as Zürich and Geneva airports. Hourly express trains connect to most other cities, including Interlaken, Brig, and Lucerne.
Bern Railway StationIn a mall surrounded by cafes and other shops. The info kiosk and main bank of ticket machines are at the back, beneath the big departures board.
For timetables and connections see Swiss Federal Railway. For best travel deals see the Swiss Travel Planner - walk-up full fare tickets are expensive. And see also Switzerland#Get around#by rail.
By carBerne is easily reachable with the national motorway network from all directions and has several exits from motorways A1, A12 and A6.
By busEurolines, Flixbus and RegioJet connect Bern to several European cities by bus.
Berne has an excellent public transportation system, with frequent local city services provided by trams, trolleybuses and buses, together with an S-Bahn rail system for longer journeys into the surrounding suburbs. Tickets are valid for all modes of transport within a given zone and time. The suburbs of Berne, Biel and Solothurn form a common public transport network named "Libero-Tarifverbund". Tickets can be purchased as single ticket, saver ticket with six rides, day pass as well as weekly, monthly or yearly passes.
Tickets can be bought at vending machines at most stops, or with a smartphone using the SBB mobile app. They are valid for all modes of public transport within the zones they encompass. A ticket valid in the central urban zones (100 and 101) for 60 minutes costs Fr. 4.60 (March 2019).
Since June 2014, all hotel accommodations in Bern include the "Bern-Ticket", which allows the free use of public transport within the city (zones 100 and 101) for the duration of the stay, including the Gurten funicular and transfer from and to the airport.
By footThe city centre of Berne is easily accessible by foot. The relatively small old town and the area around the main train station is best explored by walking.
By tram and busThe bus and tram lines operated by Bernmobil are complemented with yellow Postauto bus lines connecting to the suburbs. Almost all lines are linked together at the main train station, and operate at intervals between 5 to 30 minutes.
phone: +41 31 321 88 88Operator of the local tram and bus services, and provides timetables and other information on its web site or by telephone.
By railBerne's S-Bahn rail system will take you to many places in the suburbs and to nearby cities like Biel, Thun, Fribourg or Solothurn.
phone: +41 31 327 27 27Web site in German only.
By car or motorbikeLike in most Swiss cities, parking space is rare and expensive. There are several paid parking stations, including at the main train station. As the city centre is quite small and all of the major attractions are within walking distance, it's a good choice to park in a "park and ride" and take public transport to the centre of town. Using the car in the old town is very difficult and not recommended.
Motorbikers will find free dedicated parking spaces in several places around the perimeter of the old town, including near Waisenhausplatz and at the main train station.
By bikeBerne is a bike-friendly city, and most thoroughfares include dedicated bike lanes. There are a few challenging spots where bike traffic interweaves with motor traffic, but motorists are used to sharing the road with bikers and will normally pay attention. Because of the city's topography, some stamina may be required, or an electric bike.
The local branch of the Swiss-wide bike sharing Publibike charges CHF 3 for the first 30 minutes. The formerly free local bike-share "Bern Rollt" has been terminated.
By taxiSeveral taxi companies operate in Berne, including Nova Taxi (+41 31 331 33 13), Bären Taxi (+41 31 371 11 11) and Taxi Bern (+41 31 333 88 88). Taxis can be booked by phone, or at the main train station.
English seems to be supplanting French as the favourite second language of the Bernese, even though the canton of Berne is a bilingual German and French speaking canton. However, many people you encounter as a tourist will be able to speak both so it's certainly worth a try.
Berne is full of history and museums. It also has quite a bit of public art, all of which is marked on a walking map which is available from the tourist office in the train station for free.
phone: +41 31 350 77 11address: Helvetiaplatz 5Large historic museum, combining under one roof one of the country's most important ethnographic collections together with the Bernese historical collections from prehistory to the present day.
address: Bundesplatz 3Inaugurated in 1902, the Swiss Parliament building is a great dome separating the two chambers: the National Council and the Council of States. Free guided tour when Parliament is not in session (German Tu-Sa, English only Sa 14:00, book online). In session there are 25 spaces in the spectators' gallery, no advance booking. For either, you need your passport.
ZytgloggeIt has been a guard tower, and a prison for women convicted of having sex with priests, but since the 15th century, it's been a clock tower with an elaborate astronomical clock. Hourly throughout the day, it puts on a great display of early animatronics. The show starts a few minutes before the hour with a little song and some drumming by a jester on top. On the hour, bears and an old bearded king get into the act. As well as the time, the clock shows the month, day, sign of the zodiac and phase of the moon. There are guided tours inside the tower that will let you have a look at the clockwork while the show is displayed outside. It can be booked at the tourist office and is definitely worth it if you love mechanics.
phone: +41 31 312 00 91address: Kramgasse 49Suppose a Bern Tram passed you at the speed of light, with Einstein peering out the window. While your own watch ticked on, his would appear stationary, and the tram's mass and dimensions would distort. Most of us would just shrug at this and await the next tram. But Einstein realised that the same occurred if you were aboard the tram looking back at the tourist standing at the tram-stop. There could be no absolute reference point: all was relative. He also inferred an equivalence of acceleration and gravity, and of mass and energy, that totally rewrote the laws of what till then was a Newtonian universe.
Einstein rented this flat 1903-05 with his first wife Mileva, during his years working at the Swiss patent office. (The day job helped, as many inventors were exploring telecomms, and the problem of synchronising processes many miles apart.) Their son Hans Albert was born here in 1904; their illegitimate daughter Lieserl (b. 1902) was given up for adoption and her fate is unknown. But above all Einstein's special and general theories of relativity were born in this flat, which now displays photos and original documents from his life, work, and speeches. His writing desk overlooks the bustling street: trams rumble by, and the clock-tower tick-tocks, with a Swiss regularity that we now know to be deceptive.
Invasion of Berne - successful!As you explore, you may notice these small graffiti mosaics, in the style of Taito's "Space Invaders". There are some 29 in Bern, the work of an "Unidentified Free Artist". They've appeared on the walls, bridges and roofs of many cities around the world, including Basel, Geneva and Lausanne. And still they come: "Game Not Over". Consider buying a map and doing the space invader tour - though in midsummer 2018 the Invader's online shop is closed.
phone: +41 31 328 09 44address: Hodlerstrasse 12Huge collection including Pablo Picasso, Ferdinand Hodler and Meret Oppenheim, and all the big names over eight centuries.
phone: +41 31 350 04 40address: Helvetiaplatz 4A museum describing all aspects of the Swiss mountains: geology & tectonics, glaciers, weather, wildlife, agriculture & settlement, and alpinism and winter sports. With a large collection of artwork, e.g. paintings by Ferdinand Hodler.
phone: +41 31 359 01 01address: Monument im Fruchtland 3The Centre is a modern building formed of three waves. The ground floor is a rotating exhibition drawn from some of Klee's 4000 works - to Oct 2018 this is "Cosmos Klee". Downstairs are other artists - to Oct 2018 this is Etal Adnam. Klee was celebrated for his "child's view" of the world and his work is so accessible and fun, eg his wacky glove-puppets. A short walk across the adjacent park brings you to his grave. The Centre is included on the "Berne card" so you'll recoup the Fr. 20 straight away.
address: Grosser Murisalder 6Run as an outstation of the city's Dählhölzli Zoo, the bear pit has a tunnel through to a bosky enclosure along the steep river bank, around which the bears can roam and swim. There are three: Finn (b 2006) is Daddy Bear, Björk (b 2000) is Mummy Bear, and Ursina (b 2009) is their daughter. Björk has been sterilised so there will be no more cubs: "More space for fewer animals" is the zoo's motto. These are Eurasian brown bears, Ursus arctos arctos, with a round head and yellow-brown fur; they remain common in the wild in Central & East Europe.
A second smaller pit is bare of bears but describes the history of the pits. Next to this is the Old Tram Depot, see "Eat".
phone: +41 31 357 15 15address: Tierparkweg 1Berne's zoo is along the Aare river, with many outdoor enclosures that incorporate the river.
GurtenThe Gurten is a lovely hill just outside the city. It features a park and great view over the city on one side and a nice panorama of the Bernese alps on the other. The park is visited heavily by locals to play ball, to barbecue or to just lie in the sun. Tourists are not an unusual sight, though this little attraction is missed by most of the many that visit the city. Hiking paths lead in all directions and you will almost certainly stumble across some cows when walking around. A wooden look-out tower allows an even better panorama than that you would already have. If you get hungry or thirsty, a good budget restaurant service and self-service provides you with all you need. Families with children should not miss the cool playground. The Gurten can be easily reached with tram number 9 from the railway station in Berne in direction Wabern. Exit the tram at station Gurtenbahn and walk a few steps up the hill. Then take the Gurtenbahn , a panorama train that will bring you on top in just 5 minutes, round-trip tickets are Fr. 9 for adults or Fr. 4.50 for children (BernCard is valid), departure usually every 20 minutes depending on daytime. A club called up-town features various cultural events on weekends and once a year in summer national, European and a few international music stars (among others Alanis Morissette, Skin, Moloko and Jimmy Cliff in 2003) visit it for the Gurtenfestival, an open-air music festival . Gurten is a must see for everybody visiting the city for longer than a day.
RosengartenLittle park with a splendid view over the old town. Situated close to the bear pits (follow the path that goes up the hill opposite the bear-pit-roundabout. Quite popular (and populated) during lunchtime. The Rosengarten can be easily reached by bus number 12 from the railway station in Berne in direction Zentrum Paul Klee.
- Watch football ie soccer at BSC Young Boys, who play in the Swiss Super League, the top tier of Swiss football. They play at Stade de Suisse, capacity 32,000, 1 km north of city centre.
SC BernThe SCB is Berne's ice-hockey team. The stadium is the second largest in Europe and is regularly sold out, producing an impressive atmosphere in the arena. It is also mentionable that the SC Bern boasts the highest average attendance outside the NHL. To get there, just take Tram Nr. 9 towards Guisanplatz and get off at the terminal stop.
Swimming in the river AareOn hot summer days, let yourself drift for a few kilometres in the river Aare. Good (and safe) stretches are between the Kornhausbridge and the public pool of the Lorraine (old fashioned swimming pool just next to the river) and between the Eichholz and the public pool of the Marzili. Other stretches such as swimming the bend around the old town (starting at the "Englische Anlagen" to the Lorraine) or the "Bremgartenschlaufe" are only to be done by good swimmers accompanied by experienced locals. Entrance to public pools is free of charge. This makes it a good idea to choose a swim that ends at a public pool so you can have a shower afterwards.
GurtenfestivalIn July the Gurten hill is host for an open air festival with many national and international music acts. During these four days you will find a party crowd of up to 25,000 people on the hill day and night.
International Jazzfestival BernA jazz festival with international reputation is held in Berne every year since 1976.
Buskers BernSince a few years the annual street musician festival is taking place in the picturesque old town streets. You don't need to buy a ticket but are encouraged to buy a festival pin or give donations to the musicians which come from all around the world.
Rathausgasse and the streets parallel to it have any number of cute shops with an amazing range of handicraft and luxury goods. This is not the normal range of Swiss souvenir stuff, but really interesting things. There are a couple of worthy examples below, but the real pleasure is in spending a few hours (or days) exploring the arcades and vitrines.
Yamatutiphone: +41 31 318 26 56address: Aarbergergasse 16-18Unique toys and kitsch collectibles pack the walls of this cramped space.
phone: +41 31 311 3489address: Effingerstrasse 51, 3008 BernThe thing that makes this shop special is its huge collection of sheet music and English language music instruction materials. Pretty good CD section with lots of Swiss artists, both pop and folk.
There are several used book stores that carry cheap books in German, English and French:
Bücherbergwerk Monbijouphone: +41 31 381 71 25address: Monbijoustrasse 16The used bookstore of the Swiss Workers' Aid Society.
phone: +41 31 311 44 59address: Rathausgasse 34
Suan Longphone: +41 31 311 87 88address: Rail City, underneath main station, BernLow-priced Chinese meals, wide variety of dishes, including good vegetarian selection. Quick service and ideal if you're waiting for a train. Especially recommended if you enjoy spicy food!
phone: +41 31 301 24 59address: Erlachstrasse 3Old-fashioned restaurant serving traditional Swiss and Bernese cuisine at very affordable prices. Popular among students due to its situation close to the university; equally popular among the local workers. Definitely not a tourist restaurant—go here if you want to meet the Bernese among themselves.
phone: +41 31 306 69 55A nice restaurant in the Reitschule complex which serves excellent dishes.
Wäberephone: +41 31 311 42 58address: Gerechtigkeitsgasse 68Excellent soups, a good rendering of Swiss standards, such as cheese fondue, and an decent number of veggie choices. Many items available in half portions.
phone: +41 31 368 14 15address: Grosser MuristaldenThe trams used to terminate here: nowadays it's a trolleybus route. Good, hearty Swiss food. Range of dishes from budget price rösti to higher-priced meat specialities. On-site brewery with traditional beers available. Bench seating with great atmosphere.
phone: +41 31 311 16 24address: Bärenplatz 31Stylish, modern atmosphere and international cuisine. Situated in front of the Bundeshaus, its popularity among politicians during the "Session" is legendary. Specializes in entrecôtes (a kind of steak), but has other dishes, including vegetarian ones.
phone: +41 31 328 03 28address: Herrengasse 25At the shore of Aare river, with a view over the river and mountains on the South. Dishes include excellent pasta with mushrooms, fish, and meats, served throughout the day. .
phone: +41 31 327 72 70address: Kornhausplatz 18The room alone is worth a stop at this fabulously appointed mostly Italian restaurant. As one might guess from the name, the building was built for grain storage, but now features fresco paintings of traditional Swiss scenes, events from local history, and related characters.
phone: +41 31 311 34 61address: Schmiedenplatz 5German, French, Italian, English and Spanish spoken. This traditional Swiss restaurant is well known for its typical dishes, such as Röschti, Cordon Bleu, Älplermakkaronen. It's 90 m (300 ft) from the clock tower "Zytglogge".
phone: +41 31 350 50 01address: Dalmaziquai 11A very nice restaurant at the side of the river Aare with a nice view on the Cathedral.
phone: +41 31 320 45 45address: Kochergasse 3-5Stylish hotel and restaurant; has its price. Go there when the Parliament is in session, and you may very well see the president of Switzerland having lunch.
phone: +41 31 331 32 06address: Alter Aargauerstalden 31bUpscale Swiss restaurant with amazing view over the city
phone: +41 31 339 55 00address: Kornhausstrasse 3The Meridiano is renowned far beyond the borders of Bern for its welcoming hospitality. And for its innovative cuisine - prepared to perfection by Chef de Cuisine Markus Arnold and his team. The restaurant has been awarded 16 Gault-millau points and one Michelin star. Guests are offered fine views extending over Bern and the surrounding scenic countryside.
For a drink or two, there's a wide choice of bars all over town. However, you might be disappointed with most central options as they tend to be annoyingly conventional, though there are an ample number of exceptions:
Du Nordphone: +41 31 332 23 38address: Lorrainestrasse 2
address: Dammweg 43, 3013 BernAnother nice choice in the same area as Du Nord.
Cubaphone: +41 31 311 64 86address: Kornhausplatz 14With Latin-influenced Cuba Bar next door.
Most of the towns cooler bars are around the main clubbing venues though. In the ancient Matte neighborhood, which is well worth a daytime visit too, you'll find nightlife options for almost every taste.
phone: +41 31 310 05 40address: Marzilistrasse 47In this former electricity facility you'll find an excellent restaurant and bar, along with lots of cultural pearls. They specialize in urban, jazzy, electronic music and dance performances. Definitely a gem!
phone: +41 31 318 82 70address: Waisenhausplatz 30/ Speichergasse 4Close to the Reithalle and even closer to the city centre, you will find the PROGR. More than 100 artists, dancers, actors and musician have their studios here. It's large courtyard with the CaféBar Turnhalle is a real oasis. From September to June, they offer a cultural program with exhibitions of experimental and contemporary art, theatre, performance, lectures and regular concerts on Sunday nights (jazz- connected, world women voices).
phone: +41 31 306 69 69address: Neubrückstrasse 8Next to the central train station is Berne's most important centre for alternative culture. The huge brick building is visible from far, easy to recognize by its abundant graffiti art on the façade and roof. Reitschule has the status of an autonomous cultural centre, which means in firm language that it's a no-police zone. This of course gives it a bit of an anarchist touch, a touch of "anything goes". And indeed, anything does go: Reitschule features a theatre, a cinema, a women's room and two concert/dancing venues, all dedicated entirely to alternative culture. Concerts included rjd2, Metalheadz and DJ Babu. The centre as a whole is a unique experience and a must-see for anyone who has an interest in contemporary urban culture.
Wasserwerk ClubThis is one of Berne's traditional clubbing and concert venues for urban music. It actually features two parts: Sportwerk The very welcoming, smaller "Sportwerk", which is open all week and free of charge, offers drinks, music, pool, snooker, darts, table soccer and flipper games as well as sport events on TV in a laid back, greenish atmosphere. The bigger part of the club, the actual "Wasserwerk" is open on weekends and features excellent djs and live concerts.
phone: +41 31 331 41 66address: Altenbergstrasse 4A cute, friendly, and well-kept place with a good restaurant and bar downstairs. (If they are fully booked ask to crash in the TV room, Fr. 34)
phone: +41 31 311 37 71address: Rathausgasse 75A member of Swiss Backpackers Association in the centre of the old town this highly favored backpackers' hotel is a 10-15 min walk from the central train station they have Internet, games and laundry facilities, solid security and no more than six beds in a room. There are also kitchen facilities, a big common room with TV, a pool table, games, movies at night, and gift shop.
phone: +41 31 311 63 16address: Weihergasse 4187 beds in all, consisting of two, four, five and six-bed rooms and two group rooms, one with eighteen and one with 20 beds. Shower and WC on each floor, the security is lacking though, and theft is common in the dorms, given the area the hostel is in.
address: Zieglerstrasse 66Tastefully renovated 3
address: Zeughausgasse 9Charming hotel in the city centre of Bern, 600 m from the main station away and 10 km from the airport Bern Belp. Single room from Fr. 245, double room from Fr. 280
address: Zeughausgasse 41Member of Swiss Quality Hotels International. 500 m from the railway station directly in the city centre.
address: Zeughausgasse 26Member of Swiss Quality Hotels International.
address: Münstergasse 76Fully furnished apartments in the heart of the old city, near the Münster (main Cathedral) and around the corner from the Zytglogge. Apartments can be rented via email with notice. Rates are Fr. 130-175 + cleaning and Visitor tax depending on apartment type and season.
phone: +41 31 326 80 80address: Bahnhofplatz 11In 2016 the Hotel Schweizerhof in Berne was awarded the "Luxury Hotel of the Year" by the Luxury Travel Guide Awards. This five-star hotel is in the core of the city.
phone: +41 31 320 45 45address: Kochergasse 3-5This five-star hotel provides exquisite rooms and attentive service. It is situated next to the Federal Council building, which is appropriate, as it belongs to the state and frequently houses visiting dignitaries and heads of state. The bathrooms alone make this place worth the price, if you can afford it. There is a public bar with tons of old world charm (and a dress code - no shorts, no trainers) on the ground floor, which is usually nice for a quiet drink.
phone: +41 31 329 22 22address: Zeughausgasse 9A good value nearing the upper end the Hotel Bern has a great location, near perfect service and impeccable rooms for somewhat less money than the five star options. The hotel mainly caters to business travelers, which means that they are more likely to be booked up during the week, and more likely to give you a deal on the weekend. Ask for room 508, not just because it's named for the only Swiss astronaut to date, but also because it has a lovely bay window with a view of the cathedral and of course of neighboring rooftops, offering an especially nice view when it snows.
Berne is a very safe place with nearly no violent crime. However, as it is the capital of Switzerland, it sees political demonstrations every few weeks on a variety of subjects, occasionally leading to police intervention.
The central railway station often hosts drunks and vagrants at night, which is a nuisance but in general not dangerous.
There has been a slight increase in violence from young people. Try to avoid groups of drunk teenagers that look suspicious and you should be fine.
While police officers in Berne will happily help you out if you are in trouble or need information, they are also known for approaching "suspicious" persons in order to check their papers. This procedure is annoying, but legal as you will probably have a hard time proving you were not acting suspicious. Carry a photocopy of your passport and your onward ticket with you, stay calm and polite and you won't have much trouble.
- phone: +41 31 350 41 00address: Weltpoststrasse 4, 3015 Bern
- phone: +41 31 350 87 00address: Seftigenstrasse 7
Geneva, Basel and Zurich can easily be done as day-trips but deserve a longer stay.