A charming Old Town surrounded by a wild river, a Rose Garden with great views, live bears at Bärenpark, the sound of the river and violin music are the ingredients for a great day in Bern.
I was sitting in the train looking through the window. The lake Leman disappeared in the distance and was replaced by small houses and green fields. Somewhere behind me, two guys were listening to very loud music. A man complained, the guys answered in bad manners, and lowered the volume anyway. I was lost in my thoughts.
I remembered the couchsurfing meeting I attended in July, more than a month before. That day I met some locals who recommended me a few places to visit.
‘You should go to Bern, it’s just a day trip from Lausanne’.
‘I’ll go’, I thought immediately. But summer passed by and it wasn’t until my last week in Switzerland that I finally bought the train ticket to Bern.
‘Do you know what to see there?’, my friend asked.
‘The center. And… there is a river…’. That is to say, I had no idea.
When I entered the train I still hadn’t done any research. For a moment I contemplated the possibility of just wandering around without knowing what to expect. At the end I discarded the idea though, since I would be there only for one day.
I looked at the map on my phone to get a first impression of the city.
The Old Town was built on a peninsula surrounded by a river. I saw a lot of theater icons and viewpoints. ‘I’ll like it’, I thought. There was also a giraffe icon.
I clicked the icon of the giraffe. Bärenpark, it said. Not knowing German, the name didn’t clarify me anything. So I consulted wikitravel and discovered that it is a park with live bears.
In addition, I read that the city center is a Unesco World Heritage Site, featuring arcade walkways, fountains and clock towers. It definitely sounded promising. I just hoped the weather would be fine!
Bern music (and other sounds)
When I left the train station, the first thing I saw were the trolleybuses and their network of cables. And the first thing I heard, in between cars and motorbikes, was a violin.
How could I not like a city which received me with a clear blue sky and violin music? Moreover, music and sounds followed me all day.
It started right outside the train station. The music came from a violinist marionette. She was wearing a traditional dress, had long hair and a friendly smile.
I like music, though I’m not a person who listens to music all day. If I don’t listen to it, I don’t miss it. But sometimes, in some situations, music attracts me like iron to a magnet. And that violin had this effect on me, and though I was excited to explore the city, I stopped there. It was soothing and emotive at the same time.
The city center was indeed charming. I liked the architecture, the cobbled streets, the arches and the clock towers. There were many bicycles. A fountain was decorated with flowers and balloons. A restaurant had cacti on the tables.
And it was lively.
Cars, tramways and people shared the narrow streets. I was trying to find the best angle for a photo when I heard a tramway coming and had to go out of the way. It happened again and again. I felt like in a video game, trying to take photos without being run by the numerous tramways. The sound of the coming tramways is still in my memory!
There was a lot of people around one of the clock towers, looking at their watch. It was 11:55 am. Would something happen at 12 o’clock?
At midday there was a little song and then the sculptures moved at the sound of the bells.
I left the Markgasse, the main street, and took side streets. There were arches and paintings on the walls. I found a church that had a park behind, with nice views over the river. Until that moment I hadn’t realized that the city was so high compared to the level of the river, down there.
Many people were sitting on the grass, having a picnic. It was lunchtime. So I sit down as well and ate my food. Nearby, a street musician was playing the guitar. Again, the music was with me.
Bern roses (Rose Garden)
After lunch I crossed the river and went to the Rose Garden. Up, up, up. It was a bit hard to go up after lunch under the hot sun, but the views over the Old Town were wonderful. And it wasn’t so long before I reached the Rose Garden.
There were many kinds of roses, big and small, of different colors and shapes. I didn’t know there was so much diversity of roses!
Next to a pond with a fountain I stopped to listen to the sound of the water. It was relaxing. So relaxing, that I lied down on the shade of the trees and closed my eyes. I stayed there for half an hour.
Bern bears (Bärenpark)
The legend says that Bern is named and carries the emblem of the first animal which was hunted in the area when the city was founded in the 12th Century. It was a bear, and hence the tradition of keeping live bears in the city.
As the city expanded the bears pit changed location several times. Nowadays there are three bears kept in a large area on the shore of the river. They have trees, shade and a place to bath in the river. Definitely much better than the previous pit, which was depressingly small. It’s still possible to see it since it hosts an exhibition of the history of the bears in the city.
The bears produced in me contradictory feelings. As exciting as it was to see this powerful wild animals from so close, it made me sad to see them in captivity, so I didn’t stay long.
Bern river (River Aare)
I kept walking along the river. If you’ve been reading me you’ll know that I’m a water lover so, of course, I love any city which has a river, lake or sea.
And the river in Bern was quite special. Usually the rivers in big cities are large and quiet, but in Bern the river was wild. The water moved fast. And people knew how to enjoy it.
They entered the river and let the flow take them downstream, where there were specific places to go in and out. I didn’t dare because you have to be a strong swimmer, due to the current, or carry some kind of floating stuff.
I stopped and sit under the trees, my feet in the water. It was a hot day and the water was cold, it was so cool. Nearby three girls chatted and drank a bottle of wine. I listened to the soothing sound of the water, and observed the brave swimmers. Most of them had a floating bundle attached to a cord, which I imagined to be a water proof bag to keep their belongings.
And somehow, despite the charming old town, the special garden with roses, and the controversial bears… this is the image of Bern I keep in my mind. The river, the sound of the water, the violin music, the sounds of Bern.
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This post is part of Jo’s Monday walks.
If you liked it, please share 🙂
Ahhhhh, I want to go back to Switzerland now! ? Love the pictures!
Thanks you! So happy that you like my photos 🙂
Your photos are beautiful. Bern looks lovely. Totally agree about those poor bears but interesting story! I really enjoyed your post ?
Thanks Cliodhna! Well yes, it’s actually an interesting story!
Goodness gracious those pictures are beautiful! Bern looks like the perfect little city to visit. Definitely adding it to my travel bucket list!
Thank you Maggie! I don’t know how big is Bern but the center and all the places I visited are accessible by walk, I visited all in one day and didn’t take any transport 🙂
That was such a beautiful walk thru the city! I felt like I was right there alongside you the entire way – thank you for your writing and pictures. It was lovely – especially the Bern Roses!
Thank you Cynthia! So happy you enjoyed the walk and could feel like you were there. And yes, the roses were lovely!
I’ve been to Switzerland, but not bern. After reading this, I might just have to make a trip back! Sounds like a fairytale and your photos are amazing! Thank you 🙂
Thanks Kachina! I understand that you were in Switzerland but didn’t visit Bern… Switzerland has so much to offer! And I’d say that mountains and lakes are the best of the country 🙂 That said, so far Bern is the Swiss city I’ve enjoyed the most, and it’s worth a visit.
I would NEVER have imagined bears in Bern! What beautiful photos of the town, I’d love to visit one day to experience walking down the narrow streets. Like you, I probably won’t stay long – seeing animals in captivity makes me so sad!
Right? Me neither! If someone had told me there were bears in Bern I wouldn’t have believed 😛
But well, a part from the bears, it’s a beautiful town!
It looks so pretty! Love your pictures. I’ve had people tell me it’s a great place to visit too.
Thanks Sonja! Happy that you like the pictures, it’s a beautiful town 🙂
i really like your writing. and i love switzerland. visited it this summer for the first time and fell in love
Thanks Lucine! So glad you like my writing 🙂
Switzerland is a stunning country, I fell in love too!
it’s so cute and photogenic! I need to go!
Thanks Julie! Hope you’ll find the opportunity to go!
Great tips. I’m thinking to visit Bern soon, I keep seeing pictures from there that make me want to go there right now. haha
Thank you Evelina! I’m sure you’ll enjoy Bern!
Jurga - Full Suitcase says
I’ve only been to Bern once, years ago and your post brought back some good memories. Loved reading it!
Bern is a beautiful city, I’m happy that you liked it too!
Looks like your trip was worth it! I’ve never been to Bern myself but it looks absolutely gorgeous from your photos. Great post! 🙂
Yes, the day trip was worth! The city is beautiful and I enjoyed it even more than I expected. I recommend it 🙂
I am amazed by the many different aspects that Switzerland has. It is not all big mountains, but also charming towns and villages. And very nice weather! You talked about the many trams, but there is another famous myth of Switzerland: the trains. Are there also many, always on time, and running across the entire country? You always take such a nice pictures: perhaps you could make a post on the most beautiful trains of Switzerland.
Haha I think the weather in Switzerland is quite unpredictable and rainy, but I guess it depends on the place you compare to. The weather in Barcelona is better than Switzerland, but Switzerland might be better than Brussels 🙂
About the trains, yes, you’re right. There’s a very good network of trains and train is the preferred mode of transport in Switzerland. And they’re very punctual, fast and comfortable!
I like the idea to make a post on the most beautiful places I’ve visited so far. Thank you!
Diana Garcés says
Berna es preciosa, me encanta esta ciudad. Desde su reloj, sus calles, sus mercados, sus vistas y sus osos (el parque) y el que está hecho de cobre o no sé qué material es. Además, me gusto en navidad, es preciosa esta ciudad en esa época. Has recorrido los mejores lugares y desde luego las mejores imágenes de esta bella ciudad, yo tuve la fortuna de estar unos días muy cerca y pude ir a varios mercadillos y otros eventos en la ciudad y lo dicho es una pasada ahhh y los gofres de los mejores que he comido 😉
Berna en navidad tiene que ser muy especial! Que bien que pudieras ir varias veces a los mercadillos, a mi me encantan.
No probé los gofres (¿recuerdas dónde estaban?) pero si que comí un bretzel que me encantó. De hecho comí uno cuando llegué y me gustó tanto que antes de irme compré otro 😛
Johanna Bradley says
I didn’t really have much idea of how it would look either, Laia, so many thanks for sharing. 🙂 🙂 It’s beautiful! I love those heavy arcades, and the water too, of course. Did you manage a photo of the swimmers? Thanks a lot for the link, and for your patience 🙂
Yes it’s a beautiful city! I don’t think I got a photo of the swimmers, when I saw them I was just enjoying the views and they went too fast to get my camera!
What a stunning city . . . . . and your photographs are wonderful
Thanks Becky! Yes Bern is a stunning city 🙂
What a pretty town! I agree with you about the bears though – I don’t like to see animals in captivity.
Yes it’s sad about the bears but otherwise Bern is an interesting pretty town 🙂
Looks beautiful Laia – especially the views of the river and bridge. I’ve never been but we passed by it on the train once and I got a peak at the peninsula and river and regreted not having visited.
Yes Bern is a beautiful town! I’ve also had this feeling sometimes, passing by a place by train or bus and regretting not having the time to see it. And I always think… it will be for next time 🙂
Agness of Fit Travelling says
Great buildings, admirable nature, rich culture make Bern this phenomenal. Love this article, Laia!
Thanks a lot Agness! Bern is indeed a great city with this combination of architecture, culture and nature!