A weekend in Bern

This past weekend Andrew and I went on a Saturday-Sunday trip to the Swiss capital city of Bern, only a 1:06 hour train ride away. Our initial purpose of the trip was to see the World Tour of the Banff Mountain Film Festival  as Bern is the closest viewing. We also saw it as a good opportunity to explore the city for the first time.

Stay: Hotel Allegro. We chose this spot after reading good reviews in our travel books and online and also thanks to its convenient location in between the old city, the train station and the film festival venue. The hotel had a really nice restaurant, a garden terrace, a bar and an awesome breakfast buffet.


Saturday lunch was at Luce, an Italian reataurant right in the center of the old town on a big plaza bustling with people. Andrew had grilled prawns and I got the spring asparagus, salmon and tagliatelle pasta. It was too cool to sit outside on the sidewalk but we got a window seat to be able to watch the outside passersby.

Saturday night before the film festival we got drinks and appetizers at the hotel bar, which was easy and convenient.

We had a late Sunday lunch and beers on the terrace of the Altes Tramdepot. It was clearly a popular spot with seasonal beers brewed on site, a view of the city across the Aare river and a spacious terrace. Sunday afternoon was a beautiful spring day and perfect for  hanging out.

Beers and a view from across the river of the old city of Bern

Site Seeing:

We figured it would be good to get in a formal introduction to the city so Saturday morning we joined an 11am UNESCO Walking Tour of the old city. The tour gave us a taste of the city’s history and a little bit of facts about the Swiss federal government.

The Zytglogge. An astronomical clock and on the right a mechanical display where at 12 noon Kronos counts the chimes of the bells, while the animals dance in a circle below him. There was also a massive gold statue of a man that struck the bell tower on the hour. It was kind of like a mini version of the Glockenspiel in Munich.
Rather unique, this old city had some of the widest streets for an old town that I have seen. We learned that when they designed the city they did this on purpose as there was not enough space on the Bern peninsula to have large plazas. There are also covered arcades on each side of the road which is lined with shops and provides cover if it rains. The buses and trams come down these streets, but they are otherwise car free.

So …. Bern got its name from the word bear. Naturally, they have kept pet bears in the city center since 1511! Nowadays, there are three bears kept in the Bärenpark, a small park on the edge of the Aare river. We did not walk down next to the park but we could see it from a bridge above the river. If the bear park wasn’t enough there are ever present reminders that this city loves bears. The largest plaza is the Bärenplatz, the canton flag has a bear in the middle, many buildings have bear murals, and there are numerous sculptures of bears around the city including one that gives you good luck if you touch it (or at least according to the tour guide). In summary, if you like bears you may want to consider a trip to Bern.

Here is the Bärenpark. You can see one of the bears is out, right in front of where all the people are crowded. Our Sunday lunch spot, the Altes Tramdepot, is right above it.

We took a walk up to the Rosengarten and took in a view of the city. On a clear day you are supposed to see the Bernese Alps from Bern, but it was too hazy during our visit to see.

The Film Festival: My parents first introduced me to the Banff Mountain Film Festival as they have gone many times at The National Geographic building in D.C.  They always raved about it but for some reason I never attended until I went two years in a row in San Francisco and loved it.  The film festival was a great show. It was much smaller theater than what we’ve experienced in SF but clearly has a good following. The films featured a wide variety of sports, including paragliding, skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, ultra marathoners and ice climbing. If you’re curious about the films, here is the link. Three of my favorites were 55 hours in Mexico – these guys were goofy and crazy for their stunt to do a weekend trip from Denver to Mexico to climb an 18k ft high mountain!; Denali  – a heart warming film about a man and his dog; and The Important Places – a film by a son about his father and rafting the Grand Canyon. Bern is a German speaking city, so while the films are in English, the presentation in between each of the films was 100% German.  During intermission I was chosen to go on stage to select raffle tickets for the presenter. I didn’t win anything, but fun to get up there! I stood on stage and tried my best to pronounce swiss german names – much to the crowd’s enjoyment 🙂

Sunday we got up, went for a run on the trails next to the Aare river and then took a stop at the Swiss Alpine Museum, which had a film exhibit that was a compilation of over a hundred Swiss film clips brought into one story that lead you from the city, up to the mountains for a hike and down again. The film took you through several rooms and different seating. It was a little unusual but a cool piece of Swiss film history featuring the Alps that we’ve come to love so much!

Andrew and I had the film tour to ourselves, which was great when we came upon this room where you lied down on a bed of fake grass and watched the film play on the screens above. This room featured films of mountain vistas – it was so relaxing!

Well, that’s a wrap! Bern was our first “touristy” trip in quite some time. It was fun to get to explore and learn a little more about our resident country and the capital. The March madness of weekend adventures continues … next up: Saas-Fee for Easter weekend!