Bern might be the capital of Switzerland but it doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. While many international travelers won’t hesitate soaking up the summer sun in Geneva or planning a winter ski trip through the alps, Bern sometimes falls off the map so to speak. Then it got me thinking…Is Bern the highly-underrated (and sometimes forgotten altogether) middle child of Switzerland? It just might be and in my book, that makes it extra special. From the gorgeous vistas, quaint old town and decadent drinking fountains, here are 5 reasons Bern is a must-see city.
1) Travelers have their pick of reliable transportation.
Having lived in big cities like London, New York and most recently, Hong Kong, I’ve learned to rely heavily on public transportation. Yet, in a city like Bern I never imagined that things would run as smoothly as they do. For starters, the Old Town is very easy to explore on foot. In fact, I think I only took a tram twice during my stay. Then there are the bikes. Bern Rollt is a free bike rental program that runs from May-October, with rental options ranging from children’s bicycles and e-bikes to skateboards and scooters. You’ll need an ID and a deposit of CHF 20 to hop on your ride. For multiple city trips, the Swiss Pass is a money saver.
Fun fact: As you pedal along, keep an eye out for street signs. You’ll notice that they are different colors: white, yellow, green or burgundy. Back in the day when the French ran things in Switzerland, the color-coded signs helped illiterate soldiers find their way home.
2) You can go swimming in The River Aare.
This is definitely a warm-weather activity but one that I highly recommend. In fact, it was the best thing I did in Bern. The River Aare is seen from almost every viewpoint throughout the city and it’s one of the most popular summer activities for locals and tourists alike. There are several entry points but I opted to check out the Marzili Outdoor Pool. It’s free if you have a Swiss Pass and next to nothing if you don’t. Once inside, there is a pool, plenty of green grass to dry off on and of course, easy access to The River Aare. The current is strong, so if you aren’t an experienced swimmer, tread wisely, literally! That and follow the buddy system.
Fun fact: The River Aare starts in the eastern Bernese Alps. Before reaching Bern’s old town, the mountain water flows through Lake Brienz, Interlaken and Lake Thun.
3) Happy hour has never looked so good.
Call me vain but I can’t resist a cool glass of white wine on a hot summer day. In Bern, drinks almost always come with a great view. I snapped this photo from the top of Restaurant Rosengarten in the early afternoon. While fine dining in Switzerland can be pricy, a coffee or cocktail won’t set you back too much. If you’re on a tight budget, forget the restaurant altogether and pack a homemade picnic. If you decide to walk up the hill as I did, you’ll more than earn your hearty lunch. The garden is complete with lawn chairs, a playground for kids and plenty of space to stretch your legs. In one word? Bliss.
Fun fact: The garden is home to 220 types of roses and 200 types of irises and 28 different types of rhododendrons. Oddly enough, before transforming into a garden, the space served as a cemetery.
4) The drinking water is delicious.
I didn’t believe my friend when he said that the water in Bern (and likely most cities in Switzerland) is delicious. Isn’t water supposed to have no taste? Wrong! The water here really does taste good and it’s also perfectly chilled. Unlike other destinations around the globe, it’s not always a good idea to drink the tap water but since that’s not the case here in Bern. The water is fresh and there are plenty of fountains dispersed throughout the city should you feel parched. The fountain pictured below is one of my favorites, for the ornate decor alone. The most famous has got to be The Child Eater, aka a scary-looking ogre devouring a naked baby.
Fun fact: Bern is sometimes called the “city of fountains,” and for good reason. There are more than 100 in total. Some of these date back to medieval times.
5) Great views don’t cost a thing.
Despite only being in Bern for a few days, I was surprised how many “bird’s eye views” I had. The first came as a pleasant surprise when I looked out on the balcony of my room a the Bellevue Palace. I assumed it was because I was staying at a posh hotel until I exited the front doors and walked across the bridge to the Einstein Museum. There were views there, too! Next came the famous clock tower called the Zytglogge. Then the cathedral. Then the Rose garden…the list goes on. Many of these views are completely free, or in the case of the cathedral (Das Berner Münster), for example, requires a small fee.
Fun fact: The Cathedral of Bern is well-worth the 344-step climb to the top not only for the view but because it’s the largest of Switzerland’s churches that dates back to the Middle Ages.
What city is totally underrated in your opinion?
This trip was hosted by Switzerland Tourism. All opinions are my own.
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