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The Tourist Office in Bern is right in the station so go there first to get maps and information... Look at their site before you go – www.bern.com
Then walk out onto the Bahnhofplatz. Here you will see a magnificent glass roof which was put up to protect the tram passengers from the weather. It is really beautiful and does its job well! Leave the Bahnhofplatz and turn left down the Spitalgasse to the Bärenplatz, crossing over to continue down the Marktgasse to the next intersection – the Kornhausplatz - this will start you on walk in the arcades of the old town of Bern . This part of town is full of shops and department stores and if you wish to picnic then you can get your supplies in the Food Hall at Globus (in the basement) which has lots of take away food and drinks. There are also a lot of “confiseries” – sweet shops – bakeries and “charcuteries” – delicatessens – where you can buy material for a great picnic.
Entering the Marktgasse the old town of Bern awaits you. This part of town was rebuilt after a large fire in 1405 and you will immediately be struck by the architecture – houses joined together with arcades in front. In fact these arcades make Bern a great place to visit on a rainy day! Note the little “gasse” which run between the houses. You will find lots of little boutiques and cafés there. IF you can, plan your visit nicely to be at the Zytglockenturm just a little further along at 11.55am. At noon the clock chimes, a cockerel crows and all sorts of cute things happen! The clock dates from the 16 th century but the tower itself is 12 th century. From here continue on down to the Nydeggbrucke. (The roads run one into another – Spitalgasse becomes Marktgasse, in turn Kramgasse and then Gerechitkeitsgasse)
On the right, on the part called Kramgasse, there is an excellent shop for high quality souvenirs – the Heimatwerk. For many years this shop has sold beautiful things made by hand by artists and artisans in the Canton of Bern. Shortly to the left, between the buildings you will see the building of the medieval Rathaus, or Town Council. It is worth going over there to look at it. It was built in the early part of the 15 th century
If you are interested in Science, you can visit the house where Einstein lived when he was in Bern and where he wrote the Theory of Relativity! This is at 49 Kramgasse, on the right as you go down. Check the Einstein Haus website before going to be sure it will be open. www.einstein-bern.ch
Then continue on down the Gerechtigkeitsgasse, crossing over the Nydeggbrücke to see the bears in the bear park. For centuries bears have been kept in Bern , as a symbol of the city. For many years – a hundred or more, they have been in two bear pits in this location in not-so-great accommodation! But all this has changed. A new Bear Park opened on October 25 th 2009. It is very big, sprawls down the hillside to the river and the bears even have a nice swimming pool should they wish to swim! In September 2009 the Russian President on a state visit to Switzerland donated two little bear cubs to the city, and they are now in their new home. They are very cute but will soon grow, so come and see them now.
After visiting the Bear Park , cross over the bridge (back in the direction you came, stay on the left side of the bridge and take time to look down at the river Aar and see the area of Bern right next to the river. It is very pretty, with lovely roof lines, but it gets flooded a lot!! Then turn back up the slope to your left and walk up the Junkerngasse and at No. 22 you will see a beautiful painted building. Almost right opposite is an elegant town house that is now used for city offices. After a few minutes you will come to the Munster (cathedral) which is well worth a visit. The main part is free but it costs a little to climb up to the tower.Continuing on you come to the Bundesplatz where the Bundeshaus - Federal Parliament - is located. You can visit the Federal Parliament building when Parliament is not in session. Call (031) 322 85 22 for details. Excellent tours are offered - free of charge - in German and French on weekdays and weekends and in English and Italian on Saturdays. A schedule of the day's tours appears on an electronic "noticeboard" near the Visitors' Entrance on the terrace. The tour lasts for an hour and you have a chance to sit at the desks of the Parliamentarians in both houses! You can sign up for a tour via the Federal Parliament's website.
If Parliament is in session you can ask for a ticket to observe the debates from the Visitors' Galleries. Go to the desk in the Visitors' Centre to get the ticket, which is free.
If the day is clear then walk just to the left of the main entrance and go to the promenade behind the building where you can often see the chain of the Bernese Oberland Alps. It is a very beautiful view. The building was restored in 2007-2009 and the cupola was re-gilded. From the terrace, look back up at the building and you can see the shields of all the Swiss Cantons.
When you leave the Federal Parliament you are on the Bundesplatz – Parliament Square . Here, every Saturday, there is a large market – a bit incongruous right in front of Parliament! There is also a lovely fountain, made up of 26 jets of water (one for each of the Swiss Cantons) which dance up and down. It does not work during the market but when it is on, the children love to run in and out of it! On your right, if the Parliament is behind you, is the Swiss National Bank. Across the street is a restaurant called the “Café Fédéral”. This is where many political deals are brokered over a glass of wine or a meal! If you continue down the Bärenplatz and turn left along the Spitalgasse you will shortly be back at the station.
If you have time and would like to visit a museum or two, or have a meal, here are some suggestions:
Museums : Kunstmuseum – Art Museum. Hodlerstrasse, 8. This is a large museum with a good permanent collection as well as rotating exhibitions. For information on what is currently on – www.kunstmuseumbern.ch
Paul Klee Centre – Recently built to house the works of the Bernese painter Klee. The building itself is a beautiful piece of modern architecture and it also houses a good restaurant, the “Schöngrün”. www.paulkleezentrum.ch
Historical Museum – a little outside the centre, on the Helvetiaplatz. Take tram 3 or 5 from the centre. www.bhm.ch
Swiss Communications Museum – about 300m from the Historical Museum , this fine museum tells all about the various means of communication in Switzerland and is a good place to bring children. www.mfk.ch
Restaurants: Here are a few favourite restaurants –
Kornhauskeller – on the Kornhauplatz in the centre of town. It is, as its name suggests, in a huge cellar and there are wonderful old frescoes on the walls. Quite expensive. (031) 327 72 72
Ratskeller – near the Rathaus on the Gerechtigkeitsgasse. This restaurant offers a selection of food from simple soup and salads to more complicated dishes and is good value for money. (031) 311 17 71
Brasserie Bärengraben – next to the Bear Park . It has a lovely terrace and a great view on the old town of Bern . Reasonable (031) 331 42 18
Pizzeria Treff - at the bottom of the Gerichtigkeitsgasse, right near the Bear Park. Nice restaurant with staff who seem to like and understand children! Excellent pizza and good value.
There are also a lot of restaurants on the Bärenplatz and the Kornhausplatz as well as in the station. Hopefully you will have enjoyed your visit to Bern and that when you leave you will agree that this is indeed a jewel of a town!