Despite the circumstances that brought us to Bern this summer, it was impossible for us to stay impartial to the charms of this beautiful city. My husband’s birthplace, Bern is a city we visited many times. We absolutely love it, and see it as a second home.
And so, before the summer ends, I thought I’ll share some of the things I love about the place, and give you a few ideas for activities to do with kids, if you happen to find yourself in Bern with children and some time to explore:
Walk around the medieval old city
The old city of Bern is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to. Neatly contained by the river Aare, it is fun and walkable. Stroll down the main street, but make sure to explore the side streets as well. You never know what you might find!
The streets in this part of town are all covered. This has to do with an old regulation, under which people were not allowed to sell out of their windows. The archways circumnavigated that rule, but also provided (and still do!) shelter from the elements: protection from snow in winter, rain in summer, and also the sun on especially hot days!
While you walk, make sure to look up and down as well as to the sides. Try to notice the little details. The old Bernese architects had an amazing sense of humor. You will find some funny carvings, statues and architectural details. Take this guy, for example, which I noticed on my recent visit:
Or the little frog on the bottom-right-hand side of that door:
Or this wall painting (which is actually not that old):
Modern city planners made fun contributions of their own, like this statue in one of the squares that always makes me smile:
Or these plastic dogs that filled the city this summer, some sixty strong:
There’s also street art, though I’m sure the City Fathers (as well as many of the respectable citizens) frown upon it:
Drink from the street fountains
The old city is dotted with water fountains, each a piece of art on its own. Many feature old statues, or funny faces. A few let YOU be the statue! They are all perfectly safe to drink from, and doing so on a hot summer day can be very refreshing (not to mention money-saving!).
Stop by the famous Bernese Clock Tower
It does funky things every hour, but it is most impressive at noon, when it’s show is the longest and fullest. Looking at the clock is fun, but watching the tourists that gather in front of it is even more fun!
Make sure to go all the way to the Bear Park
It’s at the edge of the old city, and you can clearly see the bears after which the city is named. These days they are walking leisurely in their new, big enclosure. You can also stop by the old bear pit, where bears used to be kept until a few years ago. They lost their mind then, in that tiny den, which is what prompted the city government to open the new park. The old pit is now a museum.
And if you’re there already, climb the steep hill across the street to the Rose Garden, and enjoy the breathtaking view of the old city. The restaurant there was one of my mother-in-law’s favorites.
On Saturdays, go to the farmers’ market
The Saturday farmers’ market is full of fresh vegetables, delicious breads, amazing cheeses and great meats. It also has flowers and ready-to-eat foods. My kids love the crape booth. There is a smaller market on Tuesdays as well.
Play a game in one of several street-game locations
There are boards painted on the pavement and big game pieces for the public to use in both bärenplatz and in the park near the cathedral. You can play with family members or friends, or with complete strangers. This is a great way to break barriers and promote world peace. Here, for example, you see an Israeli boy playing with a two siblings from an Arab country. No words were used, but fun was had by all:
Climb the Cathedral tower
The cathedral in Bern is beautiful, and climbing the tower will give you some exercise and reward you with beautiful views.
Stores in Bern are true works of art. There is great stress on aesthetics and keeping things beautiful and clean. Even window-shopping is fun:
One of our favorite stores is the toy store Clatterbar, where you can find beautiful wooden toys. We go there every time:
And yes, there are at least three fabric stores in the old city!
Make sure to EAT!!
Swiss food is delicious, and looks great, too. You will drool just looking at the food displays: The breads, the pies and, of course, the chocolates!
Where else can you find chocolate spinners?
So make sure to put some (or a lot!) of this into your mouth. You will not regret it!
There are many different restaurants in the city as well. If you want to try some typical Swiss food, there is a Swiss restaurant right in bärenplatz, where you can get huge portions of roshti:
There are fun things to do outside the old city as well:
For little kids:
Different parks around the old city, like this one down by the Aare:
The Natural History Museum is one of my kids’ favorite places to go to on a rainy day. It has an old-style permanent exhibition with stuffed wild animals, as well as nice collections of insects, minerals and so on. There are also changing exhibitions. Last summer we enjoyed one about the famous Swiss San Bernard dogs. Turns out they were bread to be sickly and useless…
The Marzili baths has multiple pools for all ages, including toddler pools. There are public toilets, showers and snack bars. Bikini tops are optional.
Gurten Park, on top of a mountain in Bern, calls for a ride in a steep-tracked train, which little kids love. There is a big park on top, with a giant ball track, mini-train rides, water fountains to splash in and bumper cars to ride. There is also a nice play structure. When the kids are hungry, head over to the restaurant and enjoy the magnificent view.
The Zoo is a great place to spend a few hours. It has happy-looking animals, nice signage and a couple of places to grab food. There is also a playground if your little ones needs to let out some energy.
For older kids:
The Botanical Gardens cover five acres and are a beautiful place to stroll through and see some six thousand plant species.
The deeper pools of the Marzili baths are always a hit, or even better: the Aare itself. The water is usually quite cold, which adds to the thrill, and some people jump in from bridges, too. Only for good swimmers.
The Bern rope park has tracks for different levels, but is mostly fun for teenagers as well as adults. The track for eight-year-olds is not that thrilling. My kids love going there! You can easily spend an entire day roping in the tree tops.
Finally, if it rains, the History Museum. It has both permanent and changing exhibitions covering history, archaeology and ethnography. My son especially loves the knight armors. You can also visit the adjacent Einstein Museum.