Explore the top sights of Bern in just 36 hours. Bern is a ‘soft power’ capital if ever there was one. Laid-back Bern, with its lovingly maintained Old Town, serpentine river Aare and endearingly lilting local accent is often forgotten as the Swiss seat of power (since 1848), sandwiched as it is between money-mad Zurich and international Geneva.
Not taking advantage of this achingly picturesque city’s many charms would be a shame. Bern is a small-scale delight with all the essential ingredients for a great city break. Discover character-filled streets and lanes, glorious views (some to the Bernese Oberland Alps), restaurants filled with locals enjoying regional cuisine, a lively after-work drinks scene, distinctive museums, and quirky sights and shops,.
The place to start your tour is Old Town. Discover a network of narrow streets and covered walkways so lovely that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Within Old Town, make sure you visit the Zytglogge and check out as many Hans Gieng-created fountains as you can.
On a clear day there is no substitute for climbing to the top of Bern’s glorious Cathedral. In any case, views over the city’s medieval rooftops and to the Alps will do your pounding heart some good.
The city’s well-endowed Kunstmuseum came into a controversial windfall in 2014 in the form of the Gurlitt Collection, which features works looted from Jewish art collectors during the Nazi era. Moreover, whatever your feelings, it warrants a visit if you wish to learn more about Swiss art.
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Bern’s apero-loving locals flock to local bars to unwind, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t either. One of the most relaxing places to watch the rapid Aare flow by, gaze at the old town and enjoy some craft beer is the redoubtable Altes Tramdepot. Here you are close to the Bern’s famous (and thankfully, updated and much more animal-friendly) Bärenpark, where bears (the symbol of the city) do what bears do on a landscaped section of the riverbank.
Dinner on your first night simply has to be the vaunted Jack’s Brasserie, in the opulent Hotel Schweizerhof. The schnitzel is justifiably famous, and reassuringly plus-sized (albeit melt-in-the-mouth tender and wafer-thin). Furthermore, the service at this hallowed meeting place is exemplary. Be sure to check out the brass plaques naming the rich and famous who’ve enjoyed a five-star comfort feed.
If you need a grunge-flavored nightcap, finish off the night with drinks at Sous le Pont. This unique spot once served as the city’s riding school and which, despite its somewhat rebellious vibe, boasts a great drinks menu and frequent happenings. Of course, if you’re not in the mood for counter-cultural hijinks, stay put at the Schweizerhof and head up to its elegant Sky Terrace for after-dinner drinks.
In the summer months, there’s little that can beat hanging out at the old-school and amusingly retro Marzili Pools. It’s a great spot for an early-morning swim and has some lovely views of the Bundeshäus.
From the pools, head to the city’s architectural statement par excellence, the Renzo Piano-designed Zentrum Paul Klee, whose art collection focuses on some 4000-odd works of Paul Klee.
Head back into town for lunch at one of the town’s more intriguing enterprises – Lötschberg — a contemporary, hip-looking spot with a focus of the traditional and local. Think fondues, apero tastings, died-and-gone-to-heaven cheese-and-sausage selections, plus Swiss wine and craft beer.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in or around Bern, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. If you wish to book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or, if you have somewhere particular in mind, enter your preferred resort/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.