Berne

Although Berne (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 features 4 miles of arcaded walkways along streets decked out with fountains and clock-towers.

High technology for the 13th century. The 'Zytglogge' clock tower is found in the centre of the old-town.

Understand

Berne was founded in 1191 by Duke Berthold V von Zähringen and was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was made a free imperial city by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1218 after Berthold died without an heir.

In 1353 Berne joined the Swiss confederation. After successfully 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.

Get in

Situated in the middle of Switzerland, Bern is easy to reach from all parts of the country.

By plane

Located a few kilometres south of the city, Berne's small Bern-Belp Airport' offers direct flights from and to several seasonal destinations and most principal cities in Europe.

The airport is connected to the city by:

For longer flights, Berne is served by Zurich's airport.

By train

Berne 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.

For more information:

By car

Berne is easily reachable with the national motorway network from all directions and has several exits from motorways A1, A12 and A6.

By bus

Eurolines connects Bern to several European cities by bus.

Get around

Aerial view of the Old City

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 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 (101, 102) for 60 minutes costs CHF 4.20 (2014).

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 foot

The city center 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 bus

The 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.

By rail

Berne's S-Bahn rail system will take you to many places in the suburbs and to nearby cities like Biel, Thun, Fribourg or Solothurn.

By car or motorbike

Like 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 center 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 center 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 bike

Berne 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.

Free bikes can be rented for four hours at the "Hirschengraben" near the main train station. All you need is an ID and 20 CHF for deposit, and you can explore Berne by bike. After four hours, you'll have to pay 1 CHF each hour. There are paid bike deposit stations at the main train station, which also offer repair services.

By taxi

Several 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.

Talk

The main language spoken in Berne is (Bernese-)Swiss-German, a Swiss dialect of the Alemannic language. Swiss-German is mostly a spoken language, but also used in text messages etc. In official publications and announcements, Standard German is used.

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.

See

The Federal Palace of Switzerland
Zentrum Paul Klee

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.

Do

The View from Gurten Hill

BTW: 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.

Events

Learn

Berne is home to the prestigious University of Berne which currently enrolls approximately 13,000 students. In addition, the city has the University of Applied Science also known as Berner Fachhochschule. There are also many vocational schools and offices of the Goethe Institute and the Alliance-Francaise (German and French cultural institutes).

Buy

Marktgasse lies right in the centre of the 6km long shopping arcades

As with most other cities in Switzerland, store opening and closing hours in Berne are strictly regulated. All stores, including grocers, close by 6:30PM or 7PM from Monday to Friday, except on Thursdays when they remain open until 9PM. Aldi supermarkets are an exception, closing at 8PM during the week. On Saturdays everything must close by 5PM. On Sundays, all stores are closed, except for those in the main railway station, which are open 7 days a week until about 10PM, and which include Migros and Coop supermarkets.

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.

There are several used book stores that carry cheap books in German, English and French:

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Under CHF 25
Mid-range CHF 25 to CHF 50
Splurge Over CHF 50

Eating in Berne (or almost anywhere in Switzerland for that matter) can be an expensive proposition for foreign tourists. Be sure to "shop around" before deciding on a restaurant as many of them cater to foreign tourists (especially those serving traditional Swiss food) and have inflated their prices accordingly. Most Bernese natives prefer Italian, Asian, or other non-local cuisine so finding a traditional Swiss restaurant with acceptable prices can often be a daunting experience. Be patient and you will persevere without breaking the bank.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Many Bernese will tell you that nightlife in Berne is not exactly what you might call spectacular, but they're probably comparing it to Zurich or Paris. There are quite a few good spots to hang out at.

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:

Most of the towns cooler bars are located 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.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under CHF 150
Mid-range CHF 150 to CHF 300
Splurge Over CHF 300

The main train station has a tourist office on the west side on the ground floor. They'll try to help you find a hotel room, if you arrive without booking. However, it is better to book ahead if you can, as Berne is a capital city; the budget hotels do tend to fill up on the weekends.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

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.

Recently 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.

Cope

Embassies

Go next

Berne is an ideal gateway to the Bernese Highlands. You can make day trips to many famous and/or beautiful locations, like Spiez, Interlaken, Grindelwald, Jungfraujoch or Gstaad.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.