Just Back: Bern

Just Back: Bern

Exploring Switzerland's Capital City.

Flowers in the lobby at Bellevue Palace.

Switzerland’s capital city gets attention for its medieval (and UNESCO listed) Old Town and for its bear park on the milky blue Aarne River, home to trio of brown bears, the city’s heraldic animal. During a few days there recently, I discovered Bern has plenty of under-the-radar surprises too: great shopping and dining, a beautiful trail along the Aarne, views across the city’s rooftops to the Bernese Alps from the balcony of my room at the Hotel Bellevue Palace, and more.
Here, a few of my favorite discoveries:
Neighborhood: I came across the ancient residential Marzili district, located riverside just below the Hotel Bellevue Palace and the Parliament building when I was out for a jog. I reached it via a steep cobbled road but there’s a short funicular at the western end of the parliament building for those who want to save their legs. There’s not much in the way of shopping or dining in the Marzili, but wandering through a well preserved village along the blue-green Aare feels like finding a secret. Since 1782, swimmers have spent summer days at the river pool here – the largest in the country (and the first to lift Switzerland’s topless ban in 1978). There’s the Gelateria di Berna for post-swim treats and not far away, Restaurant Terasse, which feels like dining on an island in the Aare.
The Marzili neighborhood. 

Souvenirs: Nearly four miles ­of covered arcades make shopping in Bern pleasant – and possible – no matter the weather. I loved spare Feinfracht in the Old Town for locally made contemporary jewelry, home goods, and art; Kitchner for well designed clothing and housewares from around the world – and the more upscale Kitchener Plus with brands such as A.P.C. and Paul Smith. Tschirren in the Old Town has been making chocolate in Bern for three generations – I picked up bushels for family back home here.
Café scene: Adrianos, a small neighborhood bar and cafe around the corner from the Bellevue Palace serves serious coffee, fresh sandwiches, and drinks such as the Swiss-made Gazosa La Fiorenzana blueberry soda. I had a rustic smoked salmon platter at cozy Karl & Co. in Old Town, which also serves pasta and take-away meals. Einstein Café, connected to Albert Einstein’s actual former apartment, has a local hangout vibe and pretty great chocolate cake.
Viewpoint: Take a five-minute funicular ride up to Gurten, a car-free public park above the city, for a panorama of Alps and Bern below. There’s a miniature railway, a playground, and a warm-weather toboggan run.
Getting around: All travelers staying overnight receive a Bern Ticket, good for free access to all public transportation in the city, including Gurten and Marzilibahn funiculars, city buses, and trains to and from the airport. Everyone in Switzerland takes public transport, and with good reason: It’s clean, famously on-time, and easy to navigate. Travelers receive a Bern Ticket upon check-in at any tourist accomodation in the city of Bern. 
Posted by Marika Cain on June 22, 2016. 

Marika Cain is Virtuoso Life’s managing editor.  
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