Berne  (German: Bern), the capital of Switzerland, is a small to medium sized city with a population of about 130,000 in the city proper and roughly 350'000 in the agglomeration area. It sits on a peninsula formed by the meandering turns of the river Aare. The remarkable design coherence of the 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. Bern was one of the eight host cities in the 2008 European Football Championships.
Berne was founded in 1191 by Duke Berthold V von Zähringen and was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was made an 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 several successful conquers, 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 most of its territories. The city became the Swiss capital in 1848.
The main language spoken in Berne is Bernese-German, one of the many Swiss-German dialects which all vary greatly not only from what the Swiss call Hochdeutsch/High German, but also among each other. Because of these differences, even Germans are often not able to follow Swiss-German talking. Like all Swiss-German dialects, Bernese-German is only a spoken language. For writing, the standard German (Hochdeutsch/High German) is used.
By popular demand among the Swiss (especially the young), Swiss-German is more and more often used as a written language in advertisements and personal communications as well, though as no particular spelling for the words exist, one can write whatever seems appropriate. In schools and Universities, children and students are taught only using standard German, so Swiss-Germans can understand their northern neighbors from Germany, if not the other way around.
English seems to be supplanting French as the favorite second language of the Bernese, but both are widely spoken, especially as the canton of Berne is a bilingual canton (German/French), and Berne itself is only about 12 kilometers from the nearest French-speaking village.
Berne is located in the center of Switzerland and is very well connected with the rest of the country.
Berne's small international airport  with direct flights from Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Munich and Vienna lies just a few kilometers south of the city. If you don't exit the plane as one of the first, you may suddenly end up without a taxi when exiting the terminal as the few available have already been taken. But new taxis arrive usually within a few minutes. A taxi ride into the city is approx. CHF 30. Alternatively, the airport shuttle bus takes you to the railway station in the center of Berne for CHF 14.
Berne is connected to Zurich Airport with half-hourly direct trains (less than 1.5 hours).
Berne is on the main line of the Swiss Federal Railway between Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich and is served twice per hour by express (Inter-City) trains from the airports of each of these cities. Hourly express trains take you into all directions, including Basel, Fribourg, Lucerne, Brig and Interlaken.
For more information:
- Swiss Federal Railway, ☎ +41 (0)900 300 300, . Provides a useful online travel planner which includes information about local bus and tram services as well as rail services and can plan your journey from any address to another.
Berne is easily reachable with the national motorway network from all directions and has several exits from motorways A1, A12 and A6.
Berne has an excellent public transit 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.
The city center of Berne is easily accessible by foot. You can get around the main shopping area and restaurants simply by walking. But if you are going to go outside of the city center in areas like Guisanplatz, it's better to go by tram unless you want to be walking for 45 minutes.
By tram and bus
- Bernmobil, ☎ +41 (0)31 321 88 88, . Operator of the local tram and bus services, and provides timetables and other information on its web site or by telephone.
Ticket for one ride (Einzelbillette) is CHF3.80; daily pass (Tageskarte) is CHF12 (2008). The city also provides "Berncard", an integrated ticket good for unlimited rides on all modes of transport within the city and the surrounding area (including the Gurtenbahn funicular to the top of the Gurten hill - see below) as well as free or discounted admission to many of the museums and attractions; the prices (2008) are CHF20/31/38 for 24/48/72 hours from the moment of validation. Buy it at any museum, at the rail station or at the kiosk by the bear pits.
Berne's S-Bahn rail system will take you to many places in the suburbs and even to other nearby cities like Biel, Thun, Fribourg or Solothurn.
- S-Bahn Bern, ☎ +41 (0)31 327 27 27, . Web site in German only.
As in most Swiss cities, free parking space is rare and the paying ones in the city center are quite expensive. As the center is quite small and all of the major attractions are within a mile walking distance it's a good choice to park in a "park and ride" and take public transport to the center of town.
You can get a free bike for four hours at "Hirschengraben". 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 1CHF each hour. The "Hirschengraben" is less than five minutes away from the main train station. It's a stop for trams. Ask somebody, it's easy to find!
Berne is chock full of history and thus 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.
- Berne Historical Museum, Helvetiaplatz 5, ☎ +41 (0)31 350 77 11, . Monday closed. Switzerland's second largest historic museum, combining under one roof one of the country's most important ethnographic collections together with the Bernese historical collections from prehistory to the present day.
- Bundeshaus (Federal Palace of Switzerland), Bundesplatz 3, . The Swiss House of Parliaments is a representative building dominating the Square. Constructed by the end of 19th century. Free guided tour when the Parliament is not in session. During session only access to the spectators ranks. The house is temporarily under construction now. The guided tour will be open again during summer 2008.Free.
- Einsteinhaus, Kramgasse 49, ☎ +41 (0)31 312 00 91(firstname.lastname@example.org), . 10am to 5pm (4pm Saturdays) March to October, 1PM to 5PM (Noon to 4PM Sat) March and February. Albert Einstein rented this small flat with his wife during his years working at the Swiss patent office. Their first child, Hans Albert, and the special and general theories of relativity were born here, where Einstein's writing desk overlooked the busy street and its lovely clock-tower. There are numerous photos and original documents from Einstein's life, work, and speeches.CHF 6/4.5 Adults/Students..
- Invasion of Berne -- successful!, . As you explore, you may notice these small alien graffiti mosaics. GAME NOT OVER was declared by the anonymous Parisian artist "Invader" in 1998. Since then, space invaders have been reappearing on the walls, bridges and roofs of cities across the world, most famously on the Hollywood sign and in several locations in the Louvre. Two additional Swiss cities have been invaded: Geneva and Lausanne. Those with 10 EUR, a longer visit, and a weird sense of humor might consider ordering a map and doing the space invader tour.
- Kunstmuseum (Museum of fine Arts), Hodlerstrasse 12, ☎ +41 (0)31 328 09 44, . Closed on Mondays. The Museum of Fine Arts Berne is known for its collection of works of painters such as Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Ferdinand Hodler and Meret Oppenheim. It is the oldest art museum in Switzerland with a permanent collection and houses works covering eight centuries.
- Swiss Alpine Museum, Helvetiaplatz 4, ☎ +41 (0)31 350 04 40, . A museum showing the full variety of the Swiss mountains.
- Tierpark Dählhölzli (Zoo), Tierparkweg 1, ☎ +41 (0)31 357 15 15, . Summer: 8AM - 6:30PM, Winter: 9AM - 5PM. Berne's zoo is located along the Aare river, with many outdoor enclosures that actually integrate the river.
- Zentrum Paul Klee, Monument im Fruchtland 3(Bus No. 12 to the end of the line), ☎ +41 (0)31 359 01 01, . 10-17 except closed Mon.. The Paul Klee centre which is located in a modern wave-shaped building presents the world's most important collection of works by Paul Klee (rotating exhibition drawn from 4000 works, or 40% of his oeuvre). If you plan on visiting, then the CHF20 "Berne card" validated for that day (show it at the ticket counter to receive a complimentary pass) is totally worth its price - you'll spend about that for bus round trip and the ticket alone.CHF16 ('08).
- Zytglogge, . The Clock Tower near the center of the old town, built around the turn of the 13th century, is a great thing to see. On the hour, every hour throughout the day, there is a stunning display of early animatronic technology. The locals are proud to tell you it's "the longest running act in show business". A few minutes before the hour, it begins with a little song and some drumming by a jester on top. On the hour, bears and an old bearded king get into the act. It's great for kids to see. The clock tells time too, as well as the month, day, sign of the zodiac and phase of the moon. There are guided tours inside the tower that will let you have a look at the clockwork while the show is displayed outside. It can be booked at the tourist office and is definitely worth it if you love mechanics.Free.
- Bear Pits. Opening hours: Summertime: 8AM - 5:30PM, Wintertime: 9AM - 4PM. Berne is inseparably linked with bears. According to legend the city’s founder, Duke Berchtold V von Zähringen, named the city after the first animal to be caught here. The saga lives on in the form of the real-live bears in the Bear Pits and the heraldic bear in the Bernese coat of arms. Members of the RSPCA might find the pits quite depressing. The good news are that they will be enlarged within the years to come. The bears will even have the possibility to go for a swim in the river. The Bear Pits can be easily reached by bus number 12 from the railway station in Berne in direction Zentrum Paul Klee.Free.
- Gurten, . The Gurten is a lovely hill just outside the city. It features a park and great view over the city on one side and a nice panorama of the Bernese alps on the other. The park is visited heavily by locals to play ball, to barbecue or to just lie in the sun. Tourists are not an unusual sight, though this little attraction is missed by most of the many that visit the city. Hiking paths lead in all directions and you will almost certainly stumble across some cows when walking around. A wooden look-out tower allows an even better panorama than that you would already have. If you get hungry or thirsty, a good budget restaurant service and self-service provides you with all you need. Families with children should not miss the cool playground. The Gurten can be easily reached with tram number 9 from the railway station in Berne in direction Wabern. Exit the tram at station Gurtenbahn and walk a few steps up the hill. Then take the Gurtenbahn , a panorama train that will bring you on top in just 5 minutes, round-trip tickets are CHF 9 for adults or CHF 4.50 for children (BernCard is valid), departure usually every 20 minutes depending on daytime. A club called up-town features various cultural events on weekends and once a year in summer national, European and a few international music stars (among others Alanis Morisette, Skin, Moloko and Jimmy Cliff in 2003) visit it for the Gurtenfestival, an open-air music festival . Gurten is a must see for everybody visiting the city for longer than a day.Free.
- Rosengarten, . Little park with a splendid view over the old town. Situated close to the bear pits (follow the path that goes up the hill opposite the bear-pit-roundabout. Quite popular (and populated) during lunchtime. The Rosengarten can be easily reached by bus number 12 from the railway station in Berne in direction Zentrum Paul Klee.
- SC Bern. The SCB is Berne's ice-hockey team. The stadium is the second largest in Europe and is regularly sold out, producing an impressive atmosphere in the arena. It is also mentionable that the SC Bern boasts the highest average attendance outside the NHL. To get there, just take Tram Nr. 9 towards Guisanplatz and get off at the terminal stop.
- Swimming in the river Aare. On hot summer days, let yourself drift for some kilometers in the river Aare. Good (and safe) stretches are between the Kornhausbridge and the public pool of the Lorraine (old fashioned swimming pool just next to the river) and between the Eichholz and the public pool of the Marzili. Other stretches such as swimming the bend around the old town (starting at the "Englische Anlagen" to the Lorraine) or the "Bremgartenschlaufe" are only to be done by good swimmers accompanied by experienced locals.
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.
- Tramdepot, . Just next to the bear pits you'll find the tram depot, the old final station of Berne's first tramway. The building now houses the town's most popular brewpub, and the tourist office, with free shows on the city's history at regular intervals.
- Gurtenfestival, . In July the Gurten hill is host for an open air festival with many national and international music acts. During these four days you will find a party crowd of up to 25'000 people on the hill day and night.1 day pass CHF 75, 2 days 115, 3 days 155, 4 days 195.
- International Jazzfestival Bern, . A jazz festival with international reputation is held in Berne every year since 1976.
- Buskers Bern, . Since a few years the annual street musician festival is taking place in the picturesque old town streets. You don't need to buy a ticket but are encouraged to buy a festival pin or give donations to the musicians which come from all around the world.
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 an office of the Goethe Institut.
As with most other cities in Switzerland, store opening and closing hours in Berne are strictly regulated but were slightly relaxed on 1st January 2007. All stores, including grocers must close by 7PM from Monday to Friday, except on Thursdays they remain open untill 9PM. On Saturdays everything must close by 5PM. The stores are closed on Sundays. Stores inside the railway station are allowed longer opening times. Both major supermarket chains Migros and Coop have a store inside the station so you'll be able to get relatively cheap groceries even on Sundays.
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.
- Yamatuti, Aarbergergasse 16-18, ☎ +41 (0)31 318 26 56. Open M,Tu,W,F 10AM-6:30PM, Th 10AM-9PM, and Sa 10AM-5PM. Unique toys and kitsch collectibles pack the walls of this cramped space.
- Krompholz Music, Spitalgasse 28(Just around the corner from the main train station), ☎ +41 (0)31 311 3489(email@example.com), . Open Mon to Sat 10AM to 5PM. The thing that makes this shop special is its huge collection of sheet music and English language music instruction materials. Pretty good CD section with lots of Swiss artists, both pop and folk.
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 cater to said 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 a daunting experience. Be patient and you will persevere without breaking the bank.
- Beaulieu, Erlachstrasse 3, ☎ +41 (0)31 301 24 59(fax: +41 (0)31 305 86 55), . Open Mon to Thur 8AM - 11:30PM, Fri 8AM -00:30AM, Sat 10AM - 10PM. Old-fashioned restaurant serving traditional Swiss and Bernese cuisine at very affordable prices. Popular amongst students due to its situation close to the university; equally popular amongst the local workers. Definitely not a tourist restaurant - go here if you want to meet the Bernese amongst themselves.
- Pastamania, Kramgasse 49, ☎ +41 (0)31 318 28 28(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +41 (0)31 318 28 29), . Open Mon to Fri 9AM to 11:30PM, Sat 7:30AM to 3PM. Located in the same house as the Einsteinhaus, this very small restaurant serves some very good pasta dishes.CHF 18-25 for the main dish. CHF 8-14 for appetizers..
- Sous le Pont, ☎ +41 (0)31 306 69 55(email@example.com), . Open Tue to Fri 11:30AM to 2:30PM and 6PM to Midnight, Sat 7PM to Midnight, Sun 10AM to 4PM. A nice restaurant in the Reitschule complex which serves excellent dishes at affordable prices.
- Wäbere, Gerechtigkeitsgasse 68, ☎ +41 (0)31 311 42 58(fax: +41 (0)31 312 20 67). 11AM to 11PM except Sun. Excellent soups, a good rendering of Swiss standards, such as cheese fondue, and an decent number of veggie choices. Many items available in half portions.CHF 14-24.
- Café Fédéral, Bärenplatz 31, ☎ +41 (0)31 311 16 24, . Stylish, modern atmosphere and international cuisine. Situated in front of the Bundeshaus, its popularity amongst politicians during the "Session" is legendary. Specializes in Entrecôtes (a kind of steak), but has other dishes, including vegetarian ones.
- Kornhaus, Kornhausplatz 18, ☎ +41 (0)31 327 72 70(fax: +41 (0)31 327 72 71), . The room alone is worth a stop at this fabulously appointed mostly Italian restaurant. As one might guess from the name, the building was originally built for grain storage, but now features fresco paintings of traditional swiss scenes, events from local history, and related characters. CHF 26-45 for the main dish. CHF 9-14 for appetizers..
- Schmiedstube, Schmiedenplatz 5, ☎ +41 (0)31 311 34 61, . Open Mon to Sat 8:30AM - 11:30PM. German, French, Italian, English and Spanish spoken. This traditional Swiss restaurant is well known for its typical dishes, such as Röschti, Cordon Bleu, Älplermakkaronen. Its location in the heart of Berne (300 ft from the clock tower "Zytglogge") makes it an ideal resting stop while you're enjoying the city of Berne.
- Vatter, Bärenplatz 2, . Grocery: 9AM to 5PM, Restaurant: 10AM to 10PM daily. Vatter is the largest of the several organic groceries in the old town, and has its own restaurant upstairs as well if you don't feel like cooking, or lack the facilities. It serves excellent beer from the Locher Brewery in Appenzelland has a balcony overlooking Bärenplatz.CHF 8-20.
- Bellevue Palace, Kochergasse 3-5, ☎ +41 (0)31 320 45 45(fax: +41 (0)31 47 43), . Berne's N° 1 address. Stylish hotel and restaurant; has its price. Go there when the Parliament is in session, and you may very well see the president of Switzerland having lunch.
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:
- Du Nord, Lorrainestrasse 2(just across Lorraine Bridge from the city center), ☎ +41 (0)31 332 23 38..
- Café Cairo. Another nice choice in the same area as Du Nord.
- Kornhaus Café, Kornhausplatz 18, ☎ +41 (0)31 327 72 70. Posh but nice and near the center.
- Kornhausbar. Located in the basement, one floor over the restaurant. It serves the best drinks in Berne, but is always crowded with overdressed people.
- Cuba, Kornhausplatz 14, ☎ +41 (0)31 311 64 86. with Latin-influenced Cuba Bar next door
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.
- Dampfzentrale, Marzilistrasse 47, ☎ +41 (0)31 310 05 40, . In this former electricity facility you'll find an excellent restaurant and bar, along with lots of cultural pearls. They specialize in urban, jazzy, electronic music and dance performances. Definitely a gem!
- PROGR_center for cultural production, Waisenhausplatz 30/ Speichergasse 4, ☎ +41 (0)31 318 82 70, . Close to the Reithalle and even closer to the city center, you will find the PROGR. More than 100 artists, dancers, actors and musician have their studios here. It's large courtyard with the CaféBar Turnhalle is a real oasis. From September to June, they offer a cultural program with exhibitions of experimental and contemporary art, theater, performance, lectures and regular concerts on Sunday nights (jazz- connected, world women voices).
- Reitschule, Neubrückstrasse 8, ☎ +41 (0)31 306 69 69, . Next to the central train station is Berne's most important center for alternative culture. The huge brick building is visible from far, easy to recognize by its abundant graffiti art on the façade and roof. Reitschule has the status of an autonomous cultural center, which means in firm language that it's a no-police zone. This of course gives it a bit of an anarchist touch, a touch of "anything goes". And indeed, anything does go: Reitschule features a theater, a cinema, a women's room and two concert/dancing venues, all dedicated entirely to alternative culture. Recent concerts included rjd2, metalheads or dj babu. The center as a whole is a unique experience and a must-see for anyone who has an interest in contemporary urban culture, but proceed with caution, as the square in front of the Reitschule is also home to one of Bern's open drug scenes, with dealers perpetually hanging around. There are occasional reports of people being beaten up or robbed.
- Silo Bar, Mühlenplatz 11, ☎ +41 (0)31 311 54 12, . Also in the Matte, this is a popular student hangout and disco. Admission is free and the place gets really packed on weekend nights. A nice place if you don't mind the sound (a mix of mainstream hits).
- Wasserwerk Club, . This is one of Berne's traditional clubbing and concert venues for urban music. It actually features two parts: Sportwerk The very welcoming, smaller "Sportwerk", which is open all week and free of charge, offers drinks, music, pool, snooker, darts, table soccer and flipper games as well as sport events on TV in a laid back, greenish atmosphere. The bigger part of the club, the actual "Wasserwerk" is open on weekends and features excellent djs and live concerts.
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.
- Landhaus, Hotel-Restaurant Landhaus(near the bear pit), ☎ +41 (0)31 331 41 66(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +41 (0)31 332 69 04), . checkout: Reception is open until 10. A cute, friendly, and well-kept place with a good restaurant and bar downstairs. (If they are fully booked ask to crash in the TV room, CHF 34)CHF 90-160.
- Berne backpackers - Hotel Glocke, Rathausgasse 75, ☎ +41 (0)31 311 37 71(email@example.com, fax: +41 (0)31 311 10 08), . A member of Swiss Backpackers Association, and Located in the center of the old town this highly favored backpacker's hotel is only a 10 or 15 min. walk from the central train station they have Internet, games and laundry facilities, solid security and no more than six beds in a room. There are also kitchen facilities, a big common room with TV, a pool table, games, movies at night, and gift shop.Prices from CHF 31.- per person, per night.
- Youth Hostel, Weihergasse 4, ☎ +41 (0)31 311 63 16, . 187 beds in all, consisting of two, four, five and six-bed rooms and two group rooms, one with eighteen and one with 20 beds. Shower and WC on each floor, the security is lacking though, and theft is common in the dorms, given the area the hostel is located in.
- Astoria Swiss Quality Hotel, Zieglerstrasse 66, . Tastefully renovated 3*-hotel with a friendly and informal atmosphere, close to the city centre on the “Eigerplatz” (motorway exit “Berne Forsthaus”). Awarded Swiss Tourism’s Quality Award I, the hotel has 62 spacious and comfortable rooms, a restaurant with bar, conference rooms, w-lan and parking for cars and coaches.
- Bern**** Swiss Quality Hotel, Zeughausgasse 9, CH-3011, (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +41 (0)31 329 22 99). . Charming hotel in the city center of Bern, only 600m from the main station away and 10km from the airport Bern Belp. Single room from 245CHF, double room from 280CHF (rates from february 2009).
- Bellevue Palace, Kochergasse 3 - 5, ☎ +41 (0)31 320 45 45, . This five star hotel provides exquisite rooms and amazingly attentive service. It is situated right next to the Federal Council building, which is appropriate, as it belongs to the state and frequently houses visiting dignitaries and heads of state. The bathrooms alone make this place worth the price, if you can afford it. There is a public bar with tons of old world charm (and a dress code - no shorts, no trainers) on the ground floor, which is usually nice for a quiet drink.Doubles from CHF 350 per night, presidential suite from CHF 2500 a night..
- Hotel Bern, Zeughausgasse 9, ☎ +41 (0)31 329 22 22(fax: +41 (0)31 329 22 99), . A good value nearing the upper end the Hotel Bern has a great location, near perfect service and impeccable rooms for somewhat less money than the five star options. The hotel mainly caters to business travelers, which means that they are more likely to be booked up during the week, and more likely to give you a deal on the weekend. Ask for room 508, not just because it's named for the only Swiss astronaut to date, but also because it has a lovely bay window with a view of the cathedral and of course of neighboring rooftops, offering an especially nice view when it snows.Doubles start at CHF 180..
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 terribly dangerous.
Recently there has been a slight increase in violence from young people.
There have been problems with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. For lone travelers it can be particularly problematic.
One must always keep in mind that around the bar/nightclub called Reitschule on the outskirts of downtown, this place is notorious for dealers of all types, gang activity, violence and junkies shooting up in plain sight. If you do go here, make sure to stay INSIDE the bar, as the outside could generally be seen as unsafe.