Surrounded by snowy mountain peaks and blessed with a fairytale-like atmosphere thanks to its charming medieval Old Town, Bern is a wonderful destination for a Christmassy weekend away. Its pedestrian-only streets are ideal for strolling, and in the winter its squares are home to atmospheric Christmas markets that sell handcrafted gifts, warming Swiss food and hot, spiced drinks.
It’s no secret that Bern is a wonderful place to visit. The River Aare bisects the town, meaning pretty riverside walks at any time of the year, and the Old Town is packed with great places to eat and drink. But while in summer the town is full of people swimming in the freshwater river, drinking at outdoor bars in the sun and dining al fresco on the cobblestone streets, in the run-up to Christmas Bern transforms into the perfect winter wonderland. And it’s not just the town itself that is great in the colder months – it’s surrounded by the Alps, so there are also ski resorts nearby that offer a whole host of outdoor winter activities, plus unusual places to stay when the snow starts to fall.
Oscar Elch pop-up bar | Courtesy of Oscar Elch
Shop at Berner Münster Christmas market
It’s impossible not to get into the Christmas spirit while browsing the stalls at the market on Münsterplatz (Minster Square): the atmosphere is cosy and charming, and the setting, with buildings dating back to the 1500s surrounding the exterior, is beautiful. Here local artisans sell their unique handcrafted goods: you will find arts and crafts, culinary delights, unique jewellery pieces, games and presents for everyone on your list. The Berner Münster (Bern Minster), the city’s cathedral, which rises up at the eastern end of the square and boasts the tallest bell tower in Switzerland, adds even more charm.
Berner Münster Christmas Market | Courtesy of Bern Welcome
Enjoy mulled wine at Waisenhausplatz’s traditional Christmas market
Not far from Münsterplatz, on Waisenhausplatz (Orphanage Plaza), you will find another much-loved traditional market, where visitors can buy all sorts of souvenirs and typical Christmas trinkets. The wooden stalls and huts are beautifully designed, and the scent of ginger, cloves, and candy floss wafts through the air. If you like mulled wine, this is the right place for you: this hot beverage is served all round the square and is a must-try while in Bern.
Market Waisenhausplatz | Courtesy of Bern Welcome
Absorb the magical atmosphere at Bern Starsmarket
The newest addition to Bern’s array of Christmas markets, the Bern Starsmarket on the Kleine Schanze is home to the town’s official Christmas tree and is a paradise for foodies, as it features around 60 wooden huts offering winter delicacies and wonderfully warming drinks. While kids enjoy the large merry-go-round, adults can mingle around the fondue chalet, the focal point of the market and the place to be for cheese lovers.
Stärnemärit | Courtesy of Berner Sternmarkt
Soak up the atmosphere at PROGR
For a fun and varied Christmas programme, look no further than the festive courtyard of the PROGR, the avant-garde artistic centre and cultural hub in the heart of Bern. On December 6, Saint Nick pays a special visit to distribute gift bags to the little ones, while every Wednesday kids can listen to enchanting fairytales told by a storyteller. There’s also a vast array of live concerts by local musicians performing on the Rummelbummel stage, and craft lovers can try their hand at candle making. At the end of the day, bonfires are lit in the square, a great reason to stay a little longer and take in the holiday atmosphere.
Rummelbummel | Courtesy of Bern Welcome
Snap the perfect shot in the most Instagrammable winter city
In 2017, Bern was named “the most Instagrammable winter city in the world”, and it really is the ideal destination to fill your feed with pretty snaps. From the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) clock tower to the allegorical fountains around town, there is plenty to photograph, especially while the city is all dressed up and decorated for Christmas. Looking for an action shot? Check out the ice-skating rink in front of the Parliament building, where young and old alike zoom by on their skates.
View of the Old Town from the famous Rosengarten | Courtesy of The Switzerland Tourism Board
Step into a winter wonderland at Schwarzsee’s ice palaces
In a small wood not far from Schwarzsee, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Bern, lie artist Karl Neuhaus’s ice palaces. It’s a fairytale come true: wander through the palaces, along footpaths and admire some incredible ice constructions, some of which reach 15 metres (49 feet) in height. After your visit, warm up in the small bar and enjoy a drink by the fire.
There are several ski resorts around Bern that can easily be reached by train, making it the perfect hub from which to explore Switzerland’s natural surroundings. Wengen, Grindelwald, Mürren and Adelboden are all destinations popular with snow lovers, offering the very best of the Swiss Alps. From skiing and snowboarding to tobogganing and snowshoeing, there is something to experience for everyone, and these resorts suit athletes of all levels.
Sure, you can enjoy cheese fondue at a large number of restaurants and markets in Bern, but what about enjoying it on a tuk-tuk? This special food tour is a must if you want to discover Bern while sipping white wine and indulging in one of Switzerland’s national dishes. And while you eat and drink, your driver will provide tidbits and interesting facts about the city, so you can learn more about this quirky town.
Cheese fondue tour | Courtesy of The Switzerland Tourism
Berner Platte is Bern’s most traditional dish and is said to date back to the 1700s. Very hearty and rich, this is a winter speciality composed of smoked pork and beef, pork belly, sausage, bacon and pork ears and tails cooked with juniper-flavoured sauerkraut. Kornhauskeller is one of the best and most characteristic restaurants that prepare it: dine in a wonderfully frescoed room with long wooden tables and a festive atmosphere.
Stop for a hot drink at Oscar Elch
Oscar Elch is very popular with Bern locals during Christmastime. The pop-up bar, located on the promenade overlooking the Aare River, is the place to be in the afternoon for a hot beverage after a shopping session or Christmas market browsing. The vibe is young and fun, the drinks are hot and delicious, and there are also some food options should you get a bit hungry.
Just across the river from the Old Town you will find one of Bern’s most beloved restaurants, the Altes Tramdepot. The name, which translates as ‘old tram depot’, says it all. The refurbished warehouse no longer houses trams but is home to a fun, cosy and lively brewery. If you’re looking for something a bit more warming than beer, enjoy one of the house specialities: Rösti, Spätzli or Cordon Bleu.
Sleep in a luxury igloo at Hotel Kemmeriboden-Bad
Iglu Hotel, Kemmeriboden-Bad | Courtesy of The Switzerland Tourism Board
Hotel Kemmeriboden-Bad is one of the most unique and romantic hotels you will find in all of Switzerland, and is located around 60km from Bern. Here you can relax in a hot tub, enjoy a sauna then sleep in an igloo that’s lavishly furnished with thick blankets and furs – something you can’t do at any other hotel in the world.