Hop on one of the trams that glide around Bern and you never know who you might find yourself in conversation with. This capital of leisure has such a laid-back atmosphere that even former Swiss presidents have been known to use public transport. The only difficult part about a visit to Bern? Trying to narrow down exactly what to do next. Here’s a roundup of highlights to get you started.
Local swimming spot the Aare River is renowned for its crystal-clear water, and taking a dip to cool off is considered a rite of passage. You’ll find the locals (and possibly the seven-member Swiss Federal Council) there at lunch, trading work suits for bathing suits. Some Bern residents are even here daily in the summer months. Less-experienced swimmers should head for one of the lidos that flank the river – breakwaters allow for a smoother swim.
Flowing from the Bernese Alps, the Aare River can be rather cold at times. That doesn’t stop anyone from splashing about for a few laps; but if you’re looking to experience the water without taking the plunge, why not try rafting. Exploring Bern by river raft is a great way to see the city’s landscapes from a different perspective, and allows you to be close to nature, too. As you kick back and float along in a rubber raft with friends or locals, you’ll discover the castles, forests and islands along the riverbanks that often go unnoticed.
One way to understand a city is through its food. Sports fans should make like the locals and head to a Young Boys football game to support Bern’s home team and sample the infamous YB sausage – a local speciality. Another popular haunt is the Bellevue Bar where you can tuck into a Bernese platter filled with more sausage, plus bacon and sauerkraut. Otherwise, the farmers’ market at Bärenplatz is a foodie haven for fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses and other local produce. Eat your way around the stalls on Tuesdays and Saturdays, keeping your eyes peeled for Alpine cheeses and fresh breads like zopf, a sweet braided loaf. Pack up your treats for a picnic in the Rose Garden park, where you’ll discover beautiful views of the Old Town and Aare Loop.
An art museum and architectural marvel, the Zentrum Paul Klee is the place to go to appreciate Switzerland’s most famous abstract artist, as well as Italy’s modern star architect Renzo Piano, who designed the space. The steel and glass building echoes both the rolling, peaceful landscape of the area and the trademark wandering lines that characterise Paul Klee’s work. Piano called the building a “landscape sculpture”. To understand this completely, be sure to take the gravel path to the museum’s rear, where you’ll notice how the building almost blends into the greenery around it.
The Bernaqua complex might be home to a waterpark with 18 pools and three giant slides, but this striking stainless-steel structure also houses an Asian-influenced spa to help you unwind. Choose from a variety of restorative massages, body scrubs and Thai treatments or head to the Roman-Irish baths to get your R&R off to the right start.
Inspired to plan a memorable trip to Switzerland? Discover the best of Bern this summer.