We said our goodbyes to Julien, our couchsurfing host for the past couple of days in Lucerne, and made our way by rail to Bern. Our plans had changed a little as we were going to head to Basle before Bern, but the exorbitant costs of travelling in Switzerland dictated that we should visit less places, while trying to secure couchsurfing hosts along the way.
For our stay in Bern we found a lady who was going to accommodate us for a couple of nights, and we were very happy about it. Not only did it save us around 120 CHF per night minimum, but we also got to meet another local to swap stories with and get the inside scoop on what to do in Bern.
TRAIN FROM LUCERE TO BERN – GET A SUPERSAVER TICKET!
The train from Lucerne to Bern took around 90 minutes and cost us 27.20 CHF each, while Jack travelled free. Despite this being a little on the expensive side, if it wasn’t for our Supersaver tickets it would have cost us a lot more. I can’t stress enough how important it is to purchase Supersaver tickets while travelling around in Switzerland. This country is expensive enough as it is, so you need to find savings wherever you can, especially if you’re travelling indefinitely on a budget like us. To buy a Supersaver ticket, you must purchase them online and print them out yourself. Go to the Swiss Federal Railways website and you’ll save yourself up to 50% on the price of tickets, which adds up quick in Switzerland.
We arrived in Bern at 11.30am and made our way to the nearest cafe with wi-fi as Sarah had a lot of work to get done. I, on the other hand, had plenty of free time up my sleeve before we were to meet our couchsurfing host for the night. So Jack and I left Sarah to get on with her work and went to the tourist office to formulate a plan of attack for the next few hours. At the tourist office we were given a map with the recommended walking route marked on it, and the lady serving us pointed out a few landmarks in particular we should keep our eye out for.
From the moment we left the tourist office and turned left into Spitlgasse at the Church of the Holy Spirit, I instantly fell in love with Bern. It was vastly different to Lucerne, with cobblestone streets as far as the eye could see, and stone buildings made from a similar colour. There were colourful and wonderfully decorative water fountains dotted all the way down the middle of the street delivering glacier water for anyone wandering past who needs a drink. There were also a couple of clock towers at either end of Marktgasse that were particularly impressive, the Prison Tower (Kafigturm) and the imaginatively titled Clock Tower (Zytglogge).
As we made our way down the long street, made up of Optalgasse, Marktgasse, Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, we could tell we were in a city with a bit of style. There were top quality boutique clothing outlets and a lot of cafes and restaurants that looked like they served amazing food. At the end of the street we made our way across the smaller of the two bridges, Untertorbrucke, which gave us great views of the river and the main bridge, Nydeggbrucke, before making our way up the hill to the Rose Garden. It was hard work pushing Jack in his pram up the hill, particularly given the cobblestone path is incredibly rough. I advise anyone with a pram to climb the hill on the road at Alter Aargauerstalden, just beyond the cobblestone path, and enter the Rose Garden from the rear. It will only take a minute or two longer, but it will save your pram a whole lot of bumps and rattles!
At the Rose Garden there’s a kids playground which was the perfect opportunity for Jack to have a play and me to have a rest. It’s a great little park and there are plenty of locals with picnic lunches enjoying the grassy area by the side of the playground. There are also spectacular views of Bern from here, the best in town, so it is well worth a visit just for that reason alone. Even if you don’t have a child, make sure you come here to get that special Bern photo.
After Jack had finished paying in the park, or I’d dragged him away more to the point, we made our way down the hill and to the Bear Park right next to Nydeggbrucke. Here you can watch three big Brown Bears wandering about in their enclosure free of charge, and Jack got a real thrill out of it. He was running from spot to spot trying to find where the bears were at any given moment. Normally I think animals in captivity are generally dealt with pretty cruelly due to space restrictions and the close proximity of people viewing them, but these bears had a massive space to roam freely, along with a river to swim in, and people were looking over them from above rather than in their face at ground level. I’m still not a fan of wild animals in captivity, but these bears seemed to be well looked after.
After dragging Jack away from the bears he fell asleep in the pram and I carried on with our walking tour of the city. We headed down the quiet Junkerngasse before turning left at the Cathedral where there was a small park (great for kids), and an elevated viewpoint for more great views up and down the river. At this park there was a small children’s library where kids could stay and read a book, or if you were a member, borrow a book and take it home. They also had bikes and trikes for kids of all ages to ride around the park, while the parents could read a book or magazine, all free of charge. It’s another great place for kids to play and read, and we were soon beginning to find out Bern is not only a beautiful city, but probably the best city we’ve visited for children as well. The lady who ran the library made a little money from selling coffee, iced tea, and a few books, but she was more concerned with providing a fun learning environment for children which is really admirable.
We carried on with Jack still asleep in the pram as we made our way through Munsterplatz next to the Cathedral, along Munstergasse, left through Casinoplatz and in behind Parliament Building. Along the way we came across a bike rental place with a difference near Casinoplatz, at the entrance to Kirchenfeldbrucke – for the first four hours the bikes were free or charge! This city just gets better and better. Even after the first four hours it’s only 1 CHF per hour after that, so if we’d hired a bike for nine hours we’d have paid the same price as we did in Vietnam which was an absolute bargain. There was only one problem, there was no bike seat attachment for Jack, so if you’ve got a toddler this is bad news for you. However if you have kids older than say 10-years-of-age, they have small bikes for them as well. It’s a great way to spend half a day riding around town exploring this great city for free.
We came out from behind Parliament Building into Bundesplatz where kids were stripped down to their underway and playing in a square with water shooting into the air from holes dotted around the ground. Jack was awake by this stage and he was keen to get involved, but I didn’t have a change of clothes on me at the time and we still had a long time to wait before we were to meet our couchsurfing host. But if it’s a hot day, like it was for us, take your kids down there with a towel and change of underwear and let them run around with other kids in the water. There’s a great pedestrian thoroughfare here called Barenplatz where you can get some cheap food as well if you’re a little hungry. There was a crowd of older men watching a game of giant chess taking place, while there was a terrific singer playing guitar entertaining those in the area. It was a great place to hang out, have something to eat and enjoy the sun.
MAKING OUR WAY TO OUR COUCHSURFING HOST…ON FOOT!
It was about 3.30pm by this stage so Jack and I went and picked up Sarah, and despite having around two and half hours to go before meeting our couchsurfing host, we decided to make the 1.5km trek (according to Google Maps) on foot, stopping at parks along the way for a rest and to let Jack have a run around. Our first stop was really close at Kleine Schanze, and it had a nice grassed area to sit and rest, a few pieces of play equipment for children to enjoy themselves, a cafe if you wanted a bite to eat or a drink, and a pond filled with fish which Jack always enjoys. Our second stop was another 20 minutes away at Monbijou. By this time the packs were weighing a little more and it felt good to get them off our backs. This park was a lot bigger with much more play equipment. There was even a huge slide that I thought Jack might be a little afraid to go down, but he proved me wrong and couldn’t get enough of it. Our third stop was at the end of the street where we would be staying, and by this stage it was clear Google Maps didn’t quite get it right when predicting how far we’d have to walk. It was at least 2kms, and not a metre less, but we were here, Jack had enjoyed himself and we’d had some long overdue exercise following all the rubbish (but delicious) food we’d been eating so far.
Marianne, our couch surfing host for the next couple of nights, met us at around 6.30pm and right from the start we liked her a lot. She was a little older than us, had kids of her own (who had moved out of home) and lived in the prettiest suburb where all the local kids were playing in the street. It was perfect for us and we couldn’t have been happier. She had a really lovely two bedroom apartment in a nice old building, and she made us feel very welcome. After dumping our things in the room and a bit of chit chat, Sarah and I headed to the supermarket to get some supplies for dinner and food for the next day. It’s Switzerland, so if you want to save some money buy cereal, milk, bread and spreads to make breakfast and lunch, otherwise your money can go fast. Sarah whipped up a delicious prawn and pea pasta dish, and Marianne returned the favour the following night. We supplied the Swiss chocolate for dessert which, despite being incredibly expensive (surprise, surprise), was absolutely delicious.
The next day we did the same loop again with Sarah this time, and even though Jack and I had done it the day before, we enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Bern is a beautiful city, incredibly child friendly, and it seemed to be very liveable. It may be expensive for visitors to Switzerland, but if you had a full-time job earning Swiss Francs then Bern would be a great place to live.
Click below to see a photo gallery of our stay in Bern…