Bern is my favourite Swiss city. I love its old town centre, built around the River Aare in medieval times. According to legend, it was named for the first animal the founding duke encountered on his hunt: a bear.
Today the UNESCO-listed old town retains much of its medieval charm, and a walking food tour around it feels like a stroll through time – from the wonderfully ornate medieval clock tower (Zytglogge) with its moving puppets, past the Gothic cathedral, to the elaborate 16th century fountains. I’ve visited Bern many times with my Swiss husband, Franz, who grew up there. Here are the things we love about it, the food of course but so much more. This is our guide to getting the most out of a visit to Switzerland’s capital city.
Stay Bellevue Palace
This Belle Époque hotel at the top of the old town, beside the Swiss parliament house, hosts politicians, diplomats, heads of commerce and visiting celebrities. I love its fabulous views of the Alps and the Aare river, its atmospheric front bar and gorgeous leadlight ceiling in the lobby. And it’s close to all Bern’s best food shops, cafés and restaurants.
My first meal in Bern is always fondue with a mâche salad (nüsslisalat in Swiss German) and quarter carafe of Swiss white wine at this casual eatery that’s been serving the Bernese for over 100 years. It’s the perfect lunch spot on our Bern food tour as it has all the Swiss classics, including some very calorie-laden desserts.
Do Gurten Park
At 858 metres, Gurten, Bern’s highest peak, offers fabulous views. Catching the funicular railway to the top and taking one of the shady ‘wanderweg’ paths back down is a great way to work off some calories from our food tour of Bern. There’s a great kids’ playpark and toboggan run at the top too.
Thanks to its extensive covered walkways, among the longest in Europe, the old town of Bern is a great place for shopping in any weather. Start at the top of the Kramgasse and browse your way down to the Bärengraben at the bottom of the hill. Be sure to stop for a snack along the way at the various chocolatiers including 100-year-old Tschirren.
The bear pit at the bottom of the old town has hosted the city’s namesakes since at least the 16th century. These days the furry residents have a spacious adjoining ‘bear park’ in which to roam, including access to the Aare River for them to take a dip.
Updated 20 Feb 2024