Where the locals go in Bern

Bern is the capital of Switzerland, and with its central location, is perfectly primed to be an ideal stop if you’re visiting Europe’s highest mountain range. You might think you already know what to expect from this alpine city, but follow these tips by Bern locals and you will find that there’s a whole lot to be surprised by!

For beer connoisseurs

Altes Tramdepot | Local tips Bern

When in Bern, have a beer in this old tram depot! Photo by: Altes Tramdepot Facebook

This restaurant used to be where Bern’s trams would go to sleep — now, the Altes Tramdepot, or Old Tram Depot, serves beer which they actually produce themselves, and the local sommeliers create more than 30 new kinds every year, from wheat to pale to cloudy to dark. Enjoy the view over the Old Town together with a meat dish or some warm homemade bretzels! 

The ultimate alternative hub

Reitschule | Local tips Bern

Reitschule is a special place with a little bit of everything. Go and take a peek. Photo by: Sebastian Meier

For some it is the single most important hotspot for alternative culture in the city, probably the country, maybe even the continent; for others, it is an eyesore, a legal vacuum, a marketplace for illegal drugs. No matter which point of view you might ascribe to, Reitschule, this old riding school, is one of the most interesting spots in Bern. A club in the attic, a cinema in the stables, a restaurant, a theater, a bookstore, a printing facility… take a deep breath, step inside and you will have entered Bern’s wild side.

Lightshows on the parliament

Lightshow | Local tips Bern

Until November 23 2019 you can see this amazing light show. Photo by: Kathrin Hiss

Every year there is a new 3D-mapping light show that is projected nightly on the Swiss parliament. If you go down to Lightshow Bundeshaus this year, you’ll see the story of the moon landing through the eyes of Tintin and Neil Armstrong created by 8 projectors and told in 23 million pixels. There are food trucks in the area, so grab a snack and enjoy the show and the music by David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Ludovico Einaudi and others.

Cross the river Aare by boat

Fähre Bodenacker | Local tips Bern

If you want to keep your feet dry, cross this blue river by ferry. Photo by: Sebastian Meier

Here’s an idea for a refreshing walk to explore town: go a bit up the river, preferably by bike or on foot, and reach the ferry Fähre Bodenacker that will take you to the other side. It can’t fit more than a few dozen people and a couple of bikes, and the voyage just lasts around 40 seconds, but this is a unique opportunity to be close to the water, plus there’s a nice family restaurant next to it, and one of the ferrymen sometimes gives concerts in the middle of the river! Also, if the season’s right, you can just jump in the water and float back to the city that way (yes, the river Aare is perfectly, and popularly, swimmable).

One of the oddest watering holes in town

Seemanns club | Local tips Bern

Bern may not have a port, but that’s no reason not to visit the Seemanns Club. Photo by: Isabelle Thürlemann

Now you’re a tried and true traverser of Swiss waters, you can level up and enter a true sailor’s universe — in a city without a port, no less. Behind an unassuming door in the old town lies the Bern branch of the Swiss sailor’s club (Seemanns-Club). The small and elongated room already resembles a ship, but the maritime atmosphere is further enhanced by all kinds of sailor memorabilia. And, even if you’re not a member, you can still join in and listen to old seafarer tales. Note: only open on Friday nights.

This one’s for the boys

Sytglogge pissoir | Local tips Bern

There aren’t many places that offer a medieval pissoir, so don’t skip this, boys! Photo by: Sebastian Meier

Zytglogge tower is probably Bern’s most recognisable landmark and tourist attraction. It has served the city as a guard tower, prison, (astronomical) clock tower, centre of urban life and civic memorial since the 13th century. It also offers a less celebrated but no less significant service: a walkthrough pissoir that is open 24/7 built on the base of the tower. You might think this tip is a bit redundant, but you never know when it might save you in the small hours. Plus, where else can you legally relieve yourself on a medieval UNESCO world heritage site?

A bakery that fights food waste

Ässbar | Local tips Bern

Buy delicious bread at the Ässbar, and help reduce food waste. Photo by: Katrin Hiss

Ässbar sells perfectly fine bread, sandwiches, pastries etc. for a reduced price. This way, around 40t of food are saved from the bins of bakeries in and around Bern each year. “Since I discovered Ässbar”, writes local Kathrin, “I haven’t been to any other bakery!” It’s also super centrally located in a cellar in the heart of the old town, and the staff is very helpful and well informed.

Ultra-intimate music venue

International Student Club | Local tips Bern

Get up close with musicians at the Internation Student Club. Photo by: Sebastian Meier

Bern is the musical capital of Switzerland, with plenty of memorable and cozy venues for you to discover, hang out with locals and enjoy fledgling bands. However, ISC (International Students Club) is extra special as there’s only half a meter or so separating the musicians from the crowd. So, if you’re looking for an extra-tight where the atmosphere can get hypnotically intimate, look no further.

For more local favorites to check out during your Eurail trip, check out Spotted by Locals.