Bern Travel Guide
As the nation’s capital, this is the center of all the action. It’s a vibrant city but sometimes lacks the touch of Zurich or Geneva. However, whether you’re a chocolate lover (the city is also home to Toblerone Chocolates), a shopping fiend, or an art buff, you can usually find something to interest you.
Budget hotel prices – Most budget hotels are under $130 USD per night for a double room.
Average cost of food – Eating in Bern can be expensive. For a budget meal, expect to spend between $11-22 USD, including a drink. All other restaurants will cost between $28-55 USD for a meal.
Transportation costs – A single journey ticket on the metro/bus is $4 USD, and a daily pass is $13.50 USD. This ticket is valid for both the bus and the train during that time period.
Money Saving Tips
Eat café food – Café and street food are the cheapest ways to go if you’re not going to cook. Restaurants are really expensive in the city, so you’ll want to avoid as many of them as you can.
Couchsurf – Accommodation is very expensive throughout the country. Use the website Courchsurfing (or any other hospitality site) to connect with locals who will give you a free place to stay. I use this method a lot, and there’s no better way to meet locals and save money!
Top Things to See and Do
Visit Einstein’s home – This was Einstein’s apartment while he came up with the Theory of Relativity. While it has a museum-type feel, you can learn about Einstein, his life, and about his time in this city. It provides an interesting look at the man who changed science.
Stroll through Bern Cathedral – Take the tram and admire its Gothic architecture at night along the skyline. This is one of the best Gothic cathedrals in Europe and is very detailed.
Visit the Old Town – Go antique shopping, dine at a variety of restaurants (and there are plenty of cheap eats as well) and bask in this unique neighborhood’s bars and taverns. This was the historic area of the city and you’ll be able to walk down tiny cobblestone streets and see houses hundreds of years old.
Take a walking tour of Bern – Although many activities in Bern are expensive, taking a self-guided tour won’t be. In Old Town you will find some wonderful bakeries and markets where you can cheaply taste the local cuisine. Take your picnic to Gerechtigkeitsgasse and see the Bear Park – a little bit of history while you eat and, if you hit the right time of year stroll through one of many free concerts, parades and festivals.
Check out the Bern Historical Museum – Switzerland’s second largest historic museum, combines one of the country’s most important ethnographic collections together with the Bernese historical collections from prehistory to the present day. It’s closed on Mondays.
See the Zytglogge – The clock tower near the center of the old town (built around the turn of the 13th century) is a great thing to see. Every hour on the hour, there is a stunning display of early animatronic technology. The clock tells time as well as 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.
Hike the Gurten – The 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, who come to play ball, barbecue or to just lie in the sun. Tourists are not an unusual sight, though this small 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.
Tour the Parliament – The Swiss House of Parliament, known as the Bundeshaus, lies on the main square of Bern. When parliament is not in session, you’re welcome to take a free tour of the premises.
Visit the Kunstmuseum – Bern’s Museum of Fine Arts contains over 800 years of artwork, and the institution itself is the oldest art museum in the country. Here you can find paintings by masters such as Picasso, Klee, and Oppenheim. There are more than 3000 paintings and sculptures here.
See the bears – Bern’s name has been historically linked to “bears.” One existing legend says that the city’s founder, a duke, named Bern after the first animal hunted and killed in the area. In any case, the bear became a symbol of the city, and the first “bear park” opened in the 19th century. At the moment, four brown bears live in the bear park.
Learn to communicate – The Bern Communications Museum traces the history and patterns of human interaction, as expressed through written and verbal communication. It also has exhibits on computers and the digital age, and Swiss stamps. This is a good place to visit with children, as it’s pretty interactive.
Stop to smell the roses – East of the historic center lies the Rosengarten, the city’s beautiful rose garden. There are over 200 varieties of roses to admire, and you can also get a good view of the city from here.
Swim in the river – The great thing about Switzerland is that even urban rivers are clean enough to swim in! In the summer, swimming in the River Aere is a popular activity. Check with your hostel or hotel to find out where the best and safest spots are before heading out. Pack a picnic, and make an afternoon of it!