Before you rush off to sample the sightseeing attractions of the capital of Switzerland, stop in at the Brasserie zum Bärengraben, Muristalden 1 (tel. 031/331-42-18; www.brasseriebaerengraben.ch), immediately across the street from the Bear Pits, the town's major attraction. At a table here you can enjoy a slice of local life better than anywhere else. Many habitués settle down to read the morning news, ordering their favorite coffee, a beer, or a glass of wine.
The town's old but dignified Rathaus (town hall), on Rathausplatz, is still a center of political life. Built in 1406 in the Burgundian Gothic style and restored during World War II, the town hall has a double staircase and a covered porch.
The most panoramic attraction in the immediate vicinity of Bern is the belvedere atop Mount Gurten at 844m (2,768 ft.). At its summit, there's a children's playground, a network of hiking trails, and panoramas that sweep out over the surrounding mountains and valleys. The belvedere is accessible to Bern via the Gurtenbahn, a cable train that's one of the fastest in Europe. The train departs from a station beside the Seftigenstrasse, about a half-mile north from the center of Bern. To reach the departure platform, take tram no. 9, and get off at the Gurtenbahn station, for a cost of 4F each way. The trip takes 4 minutes each way. If driving, follow the road signs to Thun. A parking lot in the hamlet of Wabern is a short walk from the cable-train station.
Round-trip passage on the cable-train to the belvedere costs 11F. The train operates year-round daily from 7am to sunset (depending on the season). For information, contact Gurtenbahn Bern, Eigerplatz (tel. 031/961-23-23; www.gurtenbahn.ch).
Especially for Kids
Dählhölzli Tierpark, Tierparkweg (tel. 031/357-15-15; www.tierpark-bern.ch), is one of the most interesting zoos in Europe. It offers a complete range of European creatures, from the tiny harvest mouse to the mighty musk oxen. You can admire more than 2,000 animals, including exotic birds, reptiles, and fish in the vivarium. Admission is 10F for adults, 6F for children 6 to 16, and free for children 5 and under. The zoo is open April through September daily from 8am to 6:30pm; off-season hours are daily 9am to 5pm. A family ticket sells for 24F. Take bus no. 19.
Kids will also enjoy the Zytgloggeturm (Clock Tower) and the Bärengraben (Bear Pits). The Naturhistorisches Museum, Bernastrasse 15 (tel. 031/350-71-11; www-nmbe.unibe.ch), with its fascinating reptile collection and gallery of stuffed African beasts, is best for a rainy day, and a picnic at Mount Gurten is a good way to cap any child's visit to Bern.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.