Bern, the capital of Switzerland, has maintained its old-world charm–its Old Town is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site. It’s a city of cobblestoned streets and 15th-century houses. It has six kilometers of arcades, called “Lauben,” making it one of the longest shopping promenades that are sheltered from the elements in Europe.
It’s a city of fountains, sandstone building facades, narrow streets, and historic towers. The elevated Rose Gardens above the Bear Pits–Bern is named for bears and visiting the pits to see the bears eat carrots is a must-do–offer wonderful views of the Old Town and the River Aare, which flows around it. Another great spot for views and orienting yourself is the 101-meter-high cathedral tower. Old entrenchments and bastions drop down steeply to the river. There are chic boutiques, bars, old-world and cabarets in the hold town, some in vaulted cellars. Locals and visitors lounge at sidewalk cafes for refreshments and to watch passersby. The city maintains its old-world feel with colorful weekly markets in the city center.
The River Aare is very clean; some swimmers just drift down it in the summer. The Botanical Gardens are located along the river, as is the Dählhölzli Zoo and the old Matte district. As Bern is the capital of Switzerland, the Houses of Parliament (Bundeshaus) are on the Aare and also near the railway station. An important museum is the Paul Klee Center, which opened in 2005. The museum is a work of art itself, comprising three “hills” of glass and steel; it holds the largest collection of Klee’s works.
Bern has excellent public transportation but it is a city best enjoyed on foot. You will want to take time to enjoy its restaurants–traditional dining is a mix of Italian home cooking and German-style meat and potatoes. Two local specialties are Bernerplatte, slabs of salt pork, beef tongue, smoked bacon, pork ribs, and mild pork sausage cooked down in broth then heaped on top of juniper-scented sauerkraut, green beans, and boiled potatoes—and Berner Rösti, shredded potatoes pan-fried with onions, butter, and chuf bacon. There’s also fresh fish, vegetarian cuisine and seasonal specialties such as asparagus in the spring, berries in the summer and fresh game in the fall.