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The capital of Switzerland and its second largest canton. Bern is home to around 150,000 people in its centre and just over 400,000 in its metropolitan area.
Founded by the Zähringen family in the 12th Century, Bern’s wooden buildings were devastated by a fire in 1405. It was occupied by French soldiers during the Revolutionary Wars and in 1848 it became the Federal city of Switzerland. In the early 20th Century it was an important city for socialist movements.
Today, Bern has a very low unemployment rate and a diverse economy. It is a centre of politics, culture and education. Tourists are attracted to Bern for its beautifully preserved, medieval town centre (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and great shopping opportunities.
For gay rights in Switzerland please check out our Gay Zurich City Guide page.
Compared to Zurich, Bern’s organised gay scene relatively small. There are several irregular Gay Dance Parties and a few Gay Saunas for gay men. Like most of cities in Switzerland, Bern is very welcoming to the LGBT in general.
Pink Mama Theatre is a queer theatre troupe based in Bern who perform in the city and across Europe. Gay Radio Switzerland is also based in the city. There is no regular gay Pride festival in Bern, but November’s Queersicht LGBT film festival is very popular.
Bern Airport (BRN) is a small regional airport located a few km south of the city in the town of Belp. It offers a few connections to European hubs such as London, Vienna, Amsterdam and Munich as well as seasonal connections to holiday destinations in southern Europe.
From the airport you can get take a bus to Belp train station where you can then take S-bahn lines S44, S31 and S4 to the centre. The whole journey costs CHF 7 and will take between 15-20 minutes. Tickets can be bought from the driver or in the airport. Services run from just before 6am to just after 11pm and services wait if planes are delayed.
If you are staying at a hotel Bern you can use your booking confirmation for free transport from the airport to your hotel.
There are taxis available to hire at the Terminal building or you can order a ride advance to save time on arrival. A journey into the centre of Bern will cost around 50 CHF. There are car hire companies operating at Bern airport. The drive from the airport to the city centre will take around 30 minutes depending on traffic.
It is easy to get to Bern from the larger Zurich Airport (ZRH) and Geneva Airport (GVA). From Zurich Airport you can get a direct IC train in around 75 minutes. From Geneva Airport an IC train will take you around 2 hours. Zurich Airport has a codeshare with American Airlines so a train may actually be your connecting flight
Bahnhof Bern is centrally located and a great place to begin your trip to Bern. It is well connected to the Swiss rail network and also has international connections to Paris, Berlin and Milan where you can connect to the greater European rail network.
The centre of Bern is great to navigate by foot and offers the best way to take in the wonderful medieval architecture. Trams are recommended if you’re travelling further away or if the weather isn’t too good.
By public transport
Bern has a comprehensive public transport network of trams and buses (operated by Bernmobil) and an S-bahn system. You’re only really likely to travel via S-bahn if you’re staying further away from the centre. If you’re staying in a hotel in Bern you will get a free travel ticket for zones 100/101 for the duration of your stay.
You can buy tickets from machines at stops and the Libero shop in Bern’s main train station. The Moonliner night bus service runs on 18 lines on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Bernmobil app is worth downloading as it has up to date timetables and allows you to purchase tickets via the app.
Taxis in Switzerland are expensive when compared to other destinations in Europe but are a convenient way of getting around the city quickly. Fares should be displayed on the inside and outside of the cab. There are taxi ranks at the rail station and at Casinoplatz but you can also order a cab in advance.
Most travellers stay within city centre. A list of some great-value hotels in Bern on be found on the Bern Hotels page.
Paul Klee Centre – this strikingly modern building is dedicated to the artist Paul Klee. Its exhibitions rotate meaning that each time you visit you are likely to see a brand new collection of the artist’s works.
Rathausgasse – this street and the streets feeding off it offer the best shopping opportunities in Bern. Here you will find tourist souvenirs and high-end, designer goods.
Zytglogge – Bern’s most famous clock tower. On the hour, every hour, there is a kinda puppet show in which bears and an old king appear to delight the crowds.
Invasion of Bern – throughout the city you will notice the trademark alien mosaics of the Parisian street artist Invader.
Einsteinhaus – the home of everyone’s favourite, unruly haired physicist when he worked at the Swiss patent office. Here you will find original documents and items that give an intimate insight into Einstein’s life and work.
Gurten – from the top of this hill you get fantastic views of the city. In the summer it’s a great place for a picnic or a barbecue.
Bundeshaus – the home of the Swiss national government. You can do tours of the building when parliament is not in session.
Kunstmuseum – the oldest fine art museum in Switzerland. Here you will find works by Swiss artists as well as by international greats like Picasso. Closed on Mondays.
The summer weather in Bern is changeable, and you can experience bursts of heavy rainfall. Late spring is the best time to visit as the days are long and sunny and dry. Snow is common in the winter months. There is no major high season; however, most Bern residents holiday in the summer meaning some shops and restaurants may be closed.
There are several festivals and events in Bern. Gurtenfestival takes place every July on the hill and attracts a diverse rosta of pop, rock and dance acts. The Shnit International Shortfilmfestival is held every October simultaneously with ten over cities.
Switzerland is within the Schengen visa area but it is not in the European Union. If travelling from outside Europe, you should check to see if you require a Schengen visa.
The Swiss currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF). Prices in Switzerland are generally far higher than in other parts of Europe.
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