Relax in the Charming Capital of Switzerland: Bern

I’ve only been on a daytrip to Switzerland before – I visited Geneva and I thought it was too busy and not interesting culturally.  Bern is a a relatively small city and it doesn’t feel like a capital – it’s way too laid back. The old medieval centre is UNESCO World Heritage Site and I was really positively surprised. Indulge in excellent museums, cozy squares and good wine and chocolate with a view to the river and the mountains in the background. There’s even a small mountain nearby with view of the Alps on sunny days.  Did I mention chocolate?


Bern means bear. Legend has it a duke in the 12th century went hunting. He would name the city after the first animal he shot. Bears are everywhere: on cakes, on signs, in names and even 3 real bears has a home by the river. Bern is in many ways my favourite kind of town. Old medieval center, good restaurants, pretty views, river and mountains and lots of history. And it’s even UNESCO listed. Also being a university town and (not to forget) the capital means its not just old and dusty, but has some vibrance. The only thing I don’t like is the price! But if you decided to splurge on a weekend trip here, there’s plenty to see and do in Bern.


Even though it’s quite small, Bern still has sites enough for a weekend – even for a cultural traveller. Just wandering the old cobbled streets, crossing old bridges across the river Limmat or drinking coffee hiding from the rain under the many arcades. Bern isn’t overrun, because most people head for the mountains.

Old town

The absolute highlight of Bern is the old town, which is UNESCO-listed as World Heritage (my #141 site). Mostly car-free due to its narrow streets and cobblestones, you can get lost in the narrow alleys passing medieval houses, fountains and students grabbing a coffee under the arcades. A must-do in old town Bern is wander the streets and feel the atmosphere.

The most iconic thing in the old town of Bern is Zytglogge – a clockwork which was once the old city gate. First it was a fortified guard tower, then a prison, a lookout and fire observation tower, and finally a clock tower. After a large fire in 1405, the structure was rebuilt. Most spectacular is the tower’s astrolabium – an astronomical calendar clock – and the musical mechanism from 1530. Try be too early, because the jester rings his bells 3 minutes before time – just to annoy you. It reminds me of the one in Prague, but funnier.

Berner Münster is the city’s cathedral. Built in 1413 as a Gothic cathedral  had to visit, when I work in a UNESCO listed Gothic cathedral myself. (I love my work!) Check out the the old stained glass windows. On the south side nave is a classic – who doesn’t love a good old dance macabre (Dance of Death. You can learn more about this at the History Museum). Across the entrance is the most complete late Gothic sculpture collections in Europe. 

But if you are not me, there’s another reason to visit. You can climb the 344 step tower for great views. But not if you’re a single traveller…

I left leaving my scared-of-heights-friend in the hotel heading for some spectacular views across Bern. But alas, apparently people commit suicide by throwing themselves from the tower. So I was only allowed with a family member or a friend. That’s so sad. The lady apologized, but imagine to have a job where you have to be afraid your guests will kill themselves.  

So I called my friend and had to wait an hour before she arrived. She bravely followed me up to the first platform and convinced the tower man, that I wasn’t going to kill myself after just surviving cancer. Hesitantly, he let me continue up alone to the second level. But otherwise first level is fine enough it being the tallest cathedral in Switzerland. Beware of the time when passing the largest bell in Switzerland or you’ll go deaf. 

Just next to the church is the perfect picnic coffee spot Münsterplattform – a grassy platform looking over the river built in 1334. It was originally a graveyard, so this shows clearly how property value has changed. You can challenge the old guys to some boccia under the pine, lime and chestnut trees.

History & Einstein Museum

Bernes Historisches Museum has a large collection showing the city’s history from it’s earliest day. Collection includes old catholic decorations from the cathedral removed after the reformation, a large treasure and the 2 400-year old executioner’s swords. On one of the swords is engraved “To God alone the glory”, a gallow and a crucifix, a wheel and Justitia.
The Einstein Museum is the best part of this place. I wasn’t aware Einstein lived in Bern, but he graduated from Zurich University and worked at the patent office in Bern from 1903-05. In the old town is the Einstein House where you can see his old apartment, but a local told us our time was better spent in the museum. And it was excellent. The museum tells everything regarding his life, his Jewish heritage, his inventions and his time in Switzerland. You definitely feel a little more clever when leaving this place having been close to his watch and his passport. You can spend a lot of time, especially if you dive into the very pedagogic videos try to explain the relativity theory for idiots. And you feel even smarter when you realize Einstein had mediocre reports and was turned down for a doctors degree. Entrance to both museums is 16 euro. The museum has an explorative trail for kids and a nice café in the garden.

Museum of Fine Arts Bern

Trying to find the art museum, we accidentally went to the Kunsthalle. It’s small with contemporary art. Not fantastic, but coincidentally the current exhibition was by an artist with Danish roots. The Kunsthalle has performances and events, and I always like to support art institutions. We were the only ones there. But you should head for the Museum of Art.
The art museum in Bern has a quite impressive collection. Don’t miss the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin (the guy with the island of the dead painting in Berlin), also Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, Georges Braque and a very small sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, which is unlike anything I’ve seen from her before.  Right now, there is  special exhibition on North Korea, which is unusual. You don’t see much art from the closed-off country, so even though it was extra, it was really interesting. Tickets are 9 euro for the collection only. A museum freak like me are of course aware there is an entire museum dedicated to the swiss artist Paul Klee. But I’m still tired from my recent cancer treatment and I just can’t see everything. It comes highly recommended by a Swiss friend though.
The Bundeshaus - the parliament

Gurten Mountain

Gurten is aclled the “Güsche” by locals. On sunny days, you can see the alps only 60 km away AND the Jura mountains. On cloudy days you can see nada. So we planned to visit the nearby Gurten Mountain viewing point for the best day. In vain. You can take the furnicular train (Gurtenbähnli) for 5 euro oneway leaving every 15 minutes. I recommend taking the train up and then walking down. To get to the train, we just walked the 3 km from the old town, but you can also take tram 9 to Wabern.
The mountain is 858 meters high. On top of the mountain is a 25 meters high viewing tower, a restaurant, a playground and large grassy area. We decided to go all in the local vibe and order meat and cheese on the terrace looking across the valley. Seems like it’s a popular place in non-corona and warmer days. Walking down the mountain back into town is easy. There are clearly marked paths in different  lengths. We took the one going from the alpeblick, and it takes around 1 hour to reach the city where the train runs from. The walk takes you pass cornfields, cows, small patches of forest and views across the valley.

Swimming & chilling

After all this sightseeing you need to chill. Alongside the river Aare, the are many small walkways and paths. If you really want to cool off head for Freibad Marzili. This is where you promenade along the river in your best bathing suit with friends on sunny days. You plunge in in one end of the river and the strong current takes you down the river – fast! You can watch people floating with their clothes in a bag or even people in rubber boats.
I'm just dipping my toes in the river

Where to eat & drink in Bern

Chocolate? Yes! Brezel? Definitely! Cheese? Not so much! Sausage? Rather not! The local stable food of sausage and cheese is not right up my alley. Of course we had some, but otherwise I kept to the many Italian restaurants. But if you are not as picky as me, you’ll have a feast of fondue. (Fun fact: Brezel or pretzel was most likely invented by an Italian monk in 610! So you’re eating history here) Depending on where you eat, you can order your meal in Italian, German, French or the local dialect. Or English if you don’t want to practice your language skills. I love the international vibe and everyone has an accent. Even in the middle of a sentence you can switch language. Unfortunately, my recent cancer treatments has f***ed with my taste buds, so I don’t like wine anymore, but my friend says you have to try the country’s white merlot. Find more information on Swiss wine here. (If you like wine, you’ll like the Rhine Valley)
For a “cheap” breakfast go to the bakery and buy a bread with cheese for 4 euro or some yoghurt with fruit for the same price. Top off with a good cup of coffee lige the one from Adrianos on Korhnausplatz (again advice from my travel companion, since I don’t drink coffee).
La Terassa Bellevue Hotel In one of the finest hotels in the Bern, the Bellevue Palace, we enjoyed a birthday dinner and cocktails. Built in 1913 and owned by the Swiss state as a guesthouse for visiting heads of state and government. Also Queen Victoria, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill have stayed here.  The terrace has a lovely view across the river and is perfect for lunch or afternoon drinks. Or birthday dinner: Swiss whine, Swiss chocolate as a birthday surprise and in season: chanterelles. All while watching the sunset. Not a bad birthday. The cocktail bar inside is also excellent in making non-alcohol drinks that doesn’t just taste like juice.
Einstein Café Even though you might skip visiting the Einstein House, it has a really good café on the back of the building in Kramgasse 49. When we sat down for a beer and some hummus, it seemed like a popular snack and drink place for students.
Dampfzentrale, Kornhauskeller and Nydeggbrücke
Dampfzentrale If you – like me – go for the greens, you need to prepare a little more than sausage-and- cheese-lovers. A bit outside the old town by the river is Dampzentraleon old industrial building turned into a concert and café venue. On sunny days, it’s very buzy. We had to wait for a table. But service is quick. Looking like a relaxed place, you’d expect it to be cheap. But nothing is cheap in Switzerland. I had a falafel & sweet potatoes salad for 28 euro! But nothing is wrong with the view.
Swissotel Kursaal


Big hotel with conference facilities. Not cozy, but good location near the old town and our room had a great view.


Large and spacious rooms. Cotemporary decorated with brass and tiles. Very comfortable.


You can probably find a cheaper hotel, but this is good value for money.

Switzerland is notoriously expensive. The short train ride from Zurich to Bern was 50 euro! And that’s coming from someone from one of the most expensive countries in the world. 
While most travellers in Switzerland rush for the mountains, I hope you consider Bern for a stopover. If you want to visit another cozy UNESCO listed city, try Bruges or Riga. Do you know any nice cities in Switzerland?

CORONA (August 21)

We had to fill out an electronic form. Being fully vaccinated, we didn’t need tests, but we took one anyway. The hotel also asked us for extra information beforehand. But nobody checked the formula or the vaccine certificates. But we did get a text message from the health authorities. We had to wear facemasks everywhere inside. But from September 13, you don’t have to wear masks, but you do have to show a certificate. Check updated information before you go.