Bern Pictures, Switzerland
Berne’s number one sight, the medieval Clock Tower (Zytglogge) and West City Gate, with tram, west Switzerland.
Berne Old Town
The lower part of Bern’s main street, Kramgasse, in August. Old, yes, but medieval? Hmm, wide streets and five storey buildings. . . Or is the medieval bit just the Clock and the Cathedral?
Bern is the arguably the easiest capital in Europe to travel around as a tourist – and that includes Monte Carlo.
Walking is the way to tour these UNESCO Heritage streets, even a bicycle would be overkill. In fact, if you were in a hurry you could see Bern’s key attractions in a couple of hours as they are well represented by just three or four streets.
Bern’s old town is a lively, pretty and interesting place to walk around. It’s full of history, strange statues (little bears, knights and ogres), medieval buildings and cobbled streets and covered arcades so you can still wander and shop or nip into quirky bars and cafés if the weather is bad. The old town is easy to get around if you get tired, as buses and trams go pass through the area.
One way to explore beautiful old Berne is by bicycle. Hotels often rent cycles and if not there are shops that do so.
The main old town street starts as Spitalgasse, becomes Marktgasse and Kramgasse before leading into something unpronounceable and onto the Nydeggbrucke (bridge) and the Bear Garden, Barengraben.
Another couple of attractive streets run parallel to Spitalgasse/Marktgasse and two or three more cross those three. And that’s about it, though it would be a shame to rush the experience as the relaxed ambience is part of the joy of Berne and a sit down near one of the many quirky sights is worthwhile, if you can afford the cost.
Bundesplatz, or Parliament Square. The Bundeshaus/Parliament building is on the right.
Bundesplatz square is the core of Berne and frequently stages events here. Water fountains in summer, ice skating in winter, Christmas markets, lights shows at random times.
A small section of Bern’s 6 kms (4 miles) of shopping arcade network, cool in summer, warm in winter.
Bern’s mascot, the bear, seen everywhere but most curiously here preparing to fire a musket.
A 16th century drinking fountain topped by Samson killing a lion (a biblical story); Kramgasse, a street that was also home for a while to Albert Einstein at No. 49, Einsteinhaus. Berne provides the thirsty passer-by with over 100 drinking fountains, eleven of which are crowned by allegorical statues from the 16th century, usually colourful and occasionally grotesque.
Best month in Berne
The best month to visit Bern is September when the daily average temperature is 13C (56F) with 8/30 rainy days. However, the three summer months June-August are acceptably dry with a 1/3 chance of rain while high temperatures range from 21C-23C, so strolling the shady streets and arcades is fine then. October is also usually dry but considerably cooler with a mean of 9C (47F).
All in all Berne is one of the drier, smaller cities in Switzerland with moderate temperatures so perhaps tourists should base their travel plans on other trickier Swiss destinations since Bern can be fitted into most itineraries, such as holidays in Lucerne or Vevey, trips to Zurich or jazz in Montreux.
By road Bern is around 1-2 hours to these cities on fine tho’ busy motorways/autoroutes, but watch out for speed cameras, your SatNav may not warn you about them! (most of Europe yes, Switzerland, no! )
Free Walking Tours of Bern
These tours are pleasant and very informative with many stories about Berne, it’s history and odd anecdotes. Guides vary of course but since it’s free you can hardly grumble if you get one that’s not feeling very perky that day. Tourists who have experienced free walking tours in other European cities say that Berne’s are one of the best. Find the tours online or from the tourist office.