Bern’s cobbled streets and red-roofed houses on the banks of the Aare River give it a small-town charm.
Its UNESCO-listed old town has a medieval look and feel, but the stylish cafes and designer shops hidden in its pretty arcades offer a very modern distraction. With brilliant museums, a dynamic nightlife and 100 striking – sometimes macabre – fountains make it a must-explore city.
With the River Aare running through it, Bern has plenty of ways to get active, from running along its banks to paddling a canoe for a unique way to see its sights. You could also up the adrenalin on a rafting tour or take it easier with some stand-up paddleboarding.
South of the river, the Ropetech Rope Park in Kirchenfeld makes for an exhilarating afternoon of treetop adventures. Explore nearly two miles (3km) of bridges and zip lines between 13 feet (4m) and 75 feet (23m) above the ground.
In summer, make like the Bernese and take a dip in the Aare. There are pontoons in the city centre, but it’s not uncommon to see locals jumping off Bern’s bridges. Try the river beach at Camping Eichholz, or one of the many outdoor swimming pools in the city. North of the old town is Freibad Lorraine, which has hot showers and changing rooms, and to the south is the popular Freibad Marzili.
And, of course, you’re in Switzerland, so head for the mountains. For some wildlife spotting with stunning views and striking scenery, enjoy a hike in Gantrisch Nature Park, or head for the rolling hills, waterfalls and lakes in Oberaargau. In winter, Bern’s snow-covered playground opens up. Think snowshoeing, skiing and even igloo building.
A great excursion close to Bern is a trip up the Gurten mountain on its funicular railway. Using the free Bern Ticket, you can hop on at Wabern and ride the train to the top of the mountain. Kids will love the miniature railway and playground, and adrenaline-seeking adults can get their thrills on the toboggan run. There are a couple of excellent restaurants on the mountain, as well as public-use grills for cooking and picnic benches.
Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum
An hour’s drive from Bern, the Ballenberg museum has over 100 centuries-old Swiss houses and farms, all carefully reconstructed outside Brienz. Try your hand at traditional crafts and meet animals at the petting zoo. You can explore the park on foot or by horse-drawn carriage, stopping at any of the restaurants or throwing out a picnic blanket.
Emmental Show Dairy
Learn the art of Swiss cheese-making at this free-to-enter, village-like dairy in the region of Emmental. Rent an audio guide for an in-depth tour, see old techniques and visit the modern dairy, which is still in use today. Join one of the regular workshops to try your hand at cheese-making.