Bern

Humble and down-to-earth, Bern is a city of broad medieval streets, farmers’ markets, and friendly people. It is also a World Cultural Heritage city known for its sandstone arcades, fountains, and thick, sturdy towers. Though Bern is the Swiss capital, you won’t find much cosmopolitan affectation here: The cuisine du marché, based on the freshest ingredients available in the local market, features fatback and sauerkraut; the annual fair fetes the humble onion; and the president of the Swiss Confederation often takes the tram to work.

Bern Sights

Bern stands on a high, narrow promontory surrounded on three sides by the Aare River. The Old Town area was founded on the farthest tip and spread westward. Today, it retains a distinctly medieval appeal.

As antiquated as it may look, this old city is decidedly modern, with countless shops concentrated between the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and the Zytgloggeturm (Clock Tower). Along Kramgass, Gerechtigkeitsgasse and Postgasse there are plenty of antiques stores and places for bohemian types to mingle. You may hear the Bernese calling the area east of the clock tower the Altstadt (Old Town) as its 800 years of commerce give it seniority over the mere 15th-century upstarts to the west.

Bern Reviews

Although Bern strikes a diplomatic balance between French-Swiss and German-Swiss politics, its Teutonic nature conquers Gaul when it comes to cuisine. Dining in Bern is usually a down-to-earth affair, with Italian home cooking running a close popular second to the local standard fare: German-style meat and potatoes. The most widespread specialty is the famous Bernerplatte, a meaty version of Alsatian choucroûte—great slabs of salt pork, beef tongue, smoky bacon, pork ribs, and mild, pink pork sausages cooked down in broth and heaped on a broad platter over juniper-scented sauerkraut, green beans, and boiled potatoes. When a waitress eases this wide load onto the table before you, you may glance around to see who’s sharing: One serving can seem enough for four. Another meaty classic is the Berner version of Ratsherrtopf, traditionally enjoyed by the town councillors: veal shank cooked in white wine, butter, and sage.

Bern Reviews

As a frequent host to conventioneers, tourists, and visiting members of Parliament, Bern is well equipped with hotels in all price ranges. Rooms are hard to find when Parliament is in session; this is one town where you need to book well ahead. All but the bargain hotels are concentrated in the Old Town.

Bern

This Week in Bern carries listings of concerts, museums, and nightlife; it’s available at most tourist offices and hotels. Bern Aktuell, published every two weeks and also distributed by the tourist office, has listings in English.

Movie listings can be found in the daily newspapers Der Bund (weekly events supplement “Die Berner Woche”) and Die Berner Zeitung (weekly events supplement “Die Berner Agende”).

Bern

Shop hours are usually Monday-Wednesday and Friday 8:15-6:30, Thursday 8:15 AM-9 PM, and Saturday 8:15-4; most stores are closed on Sundays, and many remain closed Monday morning.

On Tuesday and Saturday mornings, colorful farmers’ markets (fruits, vegetables, and flowers) take place on the Bärenplatz, where buskers perform pantomime and music. There’s a meat-and-dairy market on Münstergasse and a general market on Waisenhausplatz on Tuesday and Saturday.

From May through October a flea market sets up shop every third Saturday on Mühleplatz, behind the cathedral. On the first Saturday of the month, the Münsterplatz is the site of an arts-and-crafts fair. Mid-May brings the geranium market (morning only) to the Münsterplatz.

The best antiques shops line Gerechtigkeitsgasse and Postgasse; their wares range from cluttery brocante (collectibles) to good antiques from all over Europe.

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