Here’s What to Do if You Have Two Days in Bern, Switzerland
After spending two days alone in Paris and then flying to Milan and exploring that city on my own, I decided to venture to Bern, Switzerland by myself. I learned so much during those few days in both Paris and Milan, so I had the confidence to return to Europe for another solo excursion.
Believe it or not, traveling alone has never been on my bucket list. In fact, if anyone had told me that I would go to a foreign country by myself, I would never have believed it. But now, I realize how liberating it can be. So when I was offered a solo trip to Switzerland, I thought about it, and then said, I can do this. I can get on a plane by myself and travel solo on a train from Zurich to Bern. I can figure out how to get from the train to the hotel. And finally, since Bern is not too big of a city, I can maneuver the streets of Old Town and stumble around alone. And so I did. And it was fantastic.
Bern is a vibrant city that takes on a slower pace than its larger cousins, and people are friendly and happy here. After all, it is Switzerland. Located in the canton by the same name, Bern is the de facto capital of the country and a two-hour train ride from Zurich. While you could get lost in the romance of this gorgeous medieval town, you can see a lot in a short period of time, and still have some romantic moments.
Here’s what to do if you have two days in Bern, Switzerland.
Hit Old Town’s Highlights
Bern’s Old Town, also known as Alstadt, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. One stroll through the district and you’ll understand why. Some of its medieval center is still intact, and several buildings date back as far as the 12th and 13th centuries. The city boasts more than 100 fountains, many crowned with decorative statues, and the water is clean, fresh, and drinkable. The footprint, although not a complete grid, is easy to navigate.
Climb the Zytglogge (clock tower)
One of the can’t-miss landmarks in town is the Zytglogge or clock tower. As one of Bern’s oldest structures dating back to 1220, the clock tower cannot be missed (literally)! It’s centrally located, and practically all streets in Old Town lead to the Zytglogge. I climbed to the very top (about 130 spiral steps) to catch spectacular views of the city. Note: I did this on my first full day in Switzerland, and I was super jet lagged. I recommend doing this climb after a good night’s rest if possible.
Browse the Shops
Bern has an excellent lineup of independent shops, and many are located in the ancient arcades. Here’s a fun fact: Bern has one of the longest covered shopping promenades in all of Europe. I spent several hours window browsing and admiring the buildings, many of which date back to the 15th century. My favorite discovery was Ooonyva. This fashionable shop is owned by three friends, Zara, Natalie, and Debora. The store sells locally designed men and women’s clothing, jewelry, shoes, handbags, fine textiles, and unique note cards, among other things. Many of the items are made right in Bern, and some of the pieces are produced in Poland, London, and France. I wanted to buy everything in that shop, but I somehow restrained myself.
Sip a local beer or have coffee at Adriano’s
Like other European cities, Bern’s coffee houses and bars are rolled into one. I love that you can grab an espresso or a beer at 10 a.m. I recommend the former if it’s a work day. Adriano’s brews their own beer, so I stopped by one afternoon, sampled it, and ordered a glass. I’m typically not much of a beer drinker, but this brew sure hit the spot.
Eat dinner at Kornhaus (The Granary)
I dined one night at Kornhauscafe, part of a larger cultural complex that houses two restaurants, two libraries, a nightclub, and theater. Originally a grain store, Kornhaus was built in the early 1700s and is one of the grandest examples of Baroque architecture in Bern. I sat at a table outside under the arcade and savored my steak frites, which worked out perfectly because the rain came as soon as I arrived. Kornhaus is a must for a meal if you have two days in Bern, Switzerland.
Walk across the Aare
Since I stayed across the river from Old Town at the lovely Hotel Allegro in Kursaal (only a 10-minute leisurely stroll from town center), I walked over the Kornhaus Bridge many times during my stay in Bern. I so enjoyed this walk. The water in the Aare is an unusual shade of blue and locals swim in the river. It was about 85 degrees when I was there, and that’s very hot for Switzerland, so every day I noticed Bernese floating along in the Aare and cooling off. The river Aare surrounds Bern on three sides, so most everywhere you turn, you’ll see that sparkling clean aquamarine-colored water. Bern is already a picturesque town, but add the water views, and it resembles a postcard. That said, get walking.
Dine at Giardino
After hanging with the locals and listening to live blues music, I ate a fantastic dinner at the Italian Giardino in Hotel Allegro. I ordered the beef carpaccio and Dover sole with mashed potatoes and spinach and devoured it. I paired it with a nice local rosé. With a spacious patio and pond, the setting at this restaurant is relaxing and and ideal spot to chill after many hours of travel.
Visit Centrum Paul Klee
If you’re a modern art fan, you must set aside some time to visit the Paul Klee Museum. It’s just outside town, but the tram goes right to the museum and back to Old Town, so it’s super easy to get to. While Paul Klee’s work is fascinating, the building––designed by Renzo Piano––is a work of art in itself.
Watch the bears at Bären Park
Bears have been at home in Bern since 1513, and since 2009, the critters have lived in the spacious Bear Park. The bears can romp and roam in the 600 square meter space, and gain access by tunnel. When I was there, I searched for the three bears currently living in Bären Park (Björk, Finn, and cub Ursina), but two must have been hiding because I only spotted one (not sure which). While this park is a major tourist attraction, locals go here too. It’s along the water, and it’s an idyllic spot for photos or even to kick back for a short while and get your bearings before you continue touring the city. You can take the lift up and down to walk along the water, or if you’re more ambitious, use the stairs. Since I had already done the clock tower stairs, I opted for the lift. 🙂
Have lunch and taking in the views at Restaurant Rosengarten
For a special meal, this restaurant overlooking Bern is a fantastic choice. The views are Instagram-worthy, and the vibe is laid-back. Most of the dishes are Mediterranean-inspired. I went with the tandoori chicken with jasmine rice and cucumber salad and paired it with a Swiss white wine. My lunch was flavorful (and pretty) and well worth the steep climb to get there. After dining, be sure to walk over to the adjacent rose garden. It’s a lovely spot to take pictures.
Mix with friendly locals
Even if you take a solo trip to Switzerland (or anywhere) that doesn’t mean that you’ll be alone the entire time. On my last night, I went to Lötschberg, a cute, casual restaurant that serves Swiss-German food and I sat outside at a table for four (it was the only table available). After hanging out for a few minutes, two women walked up to the table, and the one asked if anyone was sitting next to me. If I’m honest, I was shocked because in the states, no one would ask to sit at a table with a stranger (unless it’s a communal table).
I’m not sure if this restaurant’s tables are communal or not, but these two locals joined me for dinner. They didn’t live in Bern, but outside the city and worked as nurses in town. They were enjoying a nice meal before heading home that evening. We chatted up a storm and had the best time. It was one of the most memorable moments of my trip. Swiss people are very friendly, so don’t miss any opportunity to mix and mingle in Bern.
What to know about taking a solo trip to Switzerland
Switzerland is an excellent choice for a woman traveling solo for the first time (or anytime). As a city, Bern is very safe. It’s not too big and not too small, and for those with limited navigation skills, traveling around Bern is straightforward. I rode the tram from the train station to my hotel and back to the train when I left Bern. Beyond riding the tram two other times, I walked everywhere else. (I put in some miles.) I would recommend spending at least two days in Bern Switzerland. You could certainly hang out longer and see more of this stunning town.
Is there anything negative about Bern?
Bern is an expensive city. And Switzerland as a whole is more expensive than other countries in Europe, so you’ll have to plan in advance and get crafty to make your money last. Because I live in New York, I am accustomed to higher prices, the country’s prices didn’t surprise me. But, know that you will have to budget more per day for food, drink, and general travel expenses when you visit Switzerland.
Did you know that Travel & Leisure voted Switzerland one of the best countries for solo travelers? For a woman looking to do a solo international trip for the first time, I recommend starting with Switzerland.
Two days in Bern, Switzerland will give you an excellent overview of this stunning city, but if you have more time, take a tour of the Parliament building and visit the Einstein House. And if you’re looking for a mountain experience while in Bern, ride the funicular to the Gurten, the local mountain reaching 858 meters high and showcasing views of Bern, the Jura mountains, and the Alps. You can also hike it if you’re feeling energetic. It should take about an hour.
Many thanks to Bern Tourism for hosting me.
UPDATE: Hotel Allegro is now Swissotel.