#1 Strolling along the Aare
Everyone knows that in Bern, times goes by just a little bit slower than in other places. And taking a stroll along the Aare is the perfect way to experience classic Bernese relaxation. Our favourite route? The five kilometres to Elfenau along the banks of the river. The walk begins at the BearPark and then leads through the Matte district, the oldest part of the city, all the way to the Marzili pool and then on across Schönausteg to the Dählhölzli Zoo, where you can stop for refreshments at the restaurant and wave hello to the ibex, wild boars and over 220 other types of animals that live here. The walk then continues upriver to Elfenau Park, a protected floodplain landscape, where you can relax on a bench amidst small ponds, extensive reed beds and gnarled old trees and enjoy the view of the Gurten mountain and the Aare river. If you don’t feel like walking back, you can take bus no. 19 in the direction of Bern’s main train station and you will be back in the city centre within 15 minutes.
#2 Dining on the Aare
If you work up an appetite from all that swimming, strolling and playing frisbee, you can find numerous places along the Aare river to grab a bite to eat. At Casa Novo, you can indulge in GaultMillau-recognised delicacies while sitting on an impressive terrace right on the edge of the Aare, with a view of the Untertorbrücke, the city’s oldest bridge. Modern Mediterranean dishes are served in the historical sandstone building, accompanied by wine from the restaurant’s own wine cellar. Between the BearPark and the Marzili pool and overlooking the river’s rushing rapids lies the Schwellenmätteli Restaurant. The food is delectable, and the view of the Old Town – and the baroque terraced gardens in particular – is especially impressive from here. A bit further upriver stands a building with a lively past. Put into operation in 1904 as the city’s first steam power plant, the Dampfzentrale has evolved into an important part of Bern’s cultural scene and is now home to a restaurant with a cosy garden terrace right on the banks of the river. On hot summer days, this is a prime spot to watch what seems like all of Bern walk by in their bathing suits from the Marzili to Eichholz, from where they jump into the Aare river and let it take them downstream again.
Exquisite food in Bern
#3 Ice-cream bliss
Salted caramel, chocolate sorbet or strawberry with balsamic vinegar? In summertime, Bern locals busy themselves with the truly important questions in life! In this capital of leisure, people love treating themselves to ice-cream delights – and innovative Bern flavours have really taken the level of deliciousness around the Aare river up a notch. According to the “SonntagsZeitung” newspaper, the "best ice cream in all of Switzerland" is produced in the creative kitchen of the Gelateria di Berna. You can get their ice cream right across from the main entrance of the Marzili open-air pool and from the mobile three-wheeled Gelateria at Bern’s Dälhölzli Zoo, among other places. Eiswerkstatt is no longer an insider’s tip, either. It offers 22 delicious homemade flavours and invites you to indulge right beside the BearPark (by the entrance of the Altes Tramdepot restaurant). It’s perfect for re-energising before you start your walk to Elfenau (see #1). And if you want to savour your ice cream overlooking the Aare river and Schwellenmätteli, stroll over to the Minster Terrace and get your hands (and tongue) on one of S-Enzen’s creations.
This way to Eiswerkstatt Bern
#4 The Scent of the Aare
"Aarewasser" (Aare water) is a drink containing Blue Curaçao, vodka and lemon juice – and is as blue as the Aare river itself. However, the Aare not only inspires bartenders, but also parfumiers. What does the most popular river in Bern smell like? According to parfumière Brigitte Witschi, it smells "light, airy, fresh, but at the same time intimate". The perfume created by this Bern local is not only called "aarewasser", it also magically conjures up an immediate vision of the river for you. The addition of the special ingredient hedione triggers feelings of happiness in whoever wears this unisex perfume and increases their motivation – just as our beloved river does! "aarewasser" is sold at the Art of Scent perfume atelier at Rathausgasse 49 and at the Tourist Information office in Bern’s main train station. For scent enthusiasts, we recommend taking the “aroma tour”, during which you will discover the city of Bern not only with your eyes, but also with your sense of smell.
To the aroma tour
#5 Flea market
If you think people "only" go to the Dampfzentrale cultural centre to dance, make music and eat, you should definitely stop by the Marzili neighbourhood on any last Sunday of the month (May to September). That’s when the centre turns into a charming marketplace set against a spectacular backdrop. What other flea market can boast of having one of the greatest – because it’s the closest – views of the Aare river? But the Dampfzentrale flea market has even more to offer. You can rummage through the stalls of private curio sellers and professional second-hand vendors – displaying a classy, select range of products is the most important prerequisite. No matter what you’re looking for, be it an elegant porcelain tea set or simple wooden toys, a Sunday trip to the "Dampfere" is always worth it. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, a taste of the legendary warm chocolate cake on the restaurant’s terrace is recompense enough. Including a view of the Aare river, of course.
Other flea markets in Bern
#6 Botanical Garden
A little slice of green heaven just a ten-minute walk from the main train station, Bern’s Botanical Garden lies on a slope running down to the Aare river between the Lorraine and Breitenrain neighbourhoods and is home to approximately 5,500 native and exotic plants. The shady and colourful parkland is a wonderful place to dream and relax – perfect for nature lovers, amateur biologists and anyone looking for a quiet oasis in the city. Café Fleuri, situated in front of the succulent collection and offering a sunny terrace and lovely view of the Aare river, is the insider’s tip among Bern’s cafés. Underneath palm trees and yellow sunshades, visitors can enjoy freshly baked cakes and pies, sip homemade verbena iced tea and watch the turtles sunbathe – it doesn’t get any better than that! From June to August, the Botanical Garden also hosts yoga classes on Monday and Tuesday mornings.
To the Botanical Garden
#7 Movies on the Aare
If it smells of popcorn in the front area of the Marzili swimming pool, it means that it’s time for the "Marzili Movie". On five evenings in July, the open-air cinema shows movies with a country-specific theme and serves food and drinks to match. The backdrop for this open-air event couldn’t be any more exclusive. The Aare river flows past the screen, and in the background, you can make out the illuminated silhouettes of the Parliament Building and the Bern Minster against the night sky. Our tip for rainy days (or any other day, for that matter): a visit to the legendary Cinématte a bit further downstream. This cinema shows only arthouse and studio movies and thus promotes Swiss and European cinematic culture. The theatre is equipped with couches, chairs and tables, so it’s not only the view of the passing river that creates a one-of-a-kind ambiance.
To Cinématte (in German only)
#8 Parkcafé Elfenau
Film fans are not the only ones who can find something to do along the Aare. Elfenau Park can be reached by walking 30 minutes upstream (see #1) or with a comfortable 15-minute bus ride from Bern’s main train station. A cosy café is located right next to the idyllic parkland, and its shady sun umbrellas and delicious treats provide a welcome break on a hot afternoon. Coffee and cake can be enjoyed from April to October on the grounds of the 19th-century former estate of the Russian Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna. The café's social project aimed at integrating adult job-seekers, migrants and unemployed welfare recipients into the workplace proves that they serve warmth and compassion here as well as tasty dishes.
Visit the Parkcafé Elfenau website (in German only)
#9 Culture along the Aare
There’s also an abundant offering of theatre and musical highlights associated with our favourite river. Every June to September, Elfenau Park is transformed into a large open-air stage with the theme "Concert, theatre and dance". During the summer weekends, free concerts, readings, and dance and theatre performances are held in the large Orangerie as part of the “Elfenau Kultursommer.” cultural event. If you're a theatre fan, we would also recommend Theater Matte – this iconic stage has been delivering performances in Bern's oldest, famously infamous district, the Matte, for the past ten years. The theatre is located right next to the Untertorbrücke, which was the city's only bridge crossing the Aare until the 19th century. Impressive plays are now staged regularly where skippers and raftsmen once docked with their goods and the legendary Casanova is said to have engaged in his dalliances in the bathhouses. Please keep in mind that all of the plays are performed in Swiss-German dialect.
Theater Matte programme (in German only)
#10 Ferry fun
No bridge in sight? No problem, because in certain places, the Aare river can also be crossed by ferry. In Bern, a ride of this type is not only a special experience, it can also be combined very easily with a culinary pit stop. The Fähribeizli, which you can reach with the Bodenacker ferry or on foot, is an ideal spot. This restaurant pub is the ultimate Bernese river bistro. It lies right on the banks of the Aare river in a meadow that is part of the protected Elfenau Park. It’s not far away from the city centre, but all the noise and traffic quickly fade away once you arrive. After taking bus no. 19 to Elfenau, a 15-minute walk will lead you to the Fähribeizli. Further down the river you will find the Zehendermätteli restaurant. Continuing along the Aare by foot or bus (take no. 21, the stop is called “Bremgarten, Schloss”), you can board the ferry that goes from Bremgarten to a little oasis known as “Zehendermätteli”. This restaurant on the Enge peninsula is a wonderful place to sit underneath the shady trees, drink coffee, have some cake and listen to the birds sing. FYI, Zehendermätteli is a restaurant as well as a garden centre, so it offers enough space for children who want run wild, try out the climbing wall or ride donkeys. Please keep in mind that the ferry only operates if the water level allows it.
#11 After-work beer
After work… comes pleasure! Bern locals love to spend their after-work hours on the banks of their favourite river. Relaxed aperitifs are, without a doubt, mandatory. Rumour has it that on warm summer evenings, the native population prefers clinking glasses filled with a ginger spritzer or a refreshing craft beer from one of the over 170 local microbreweries. And there are countless options as to where to do it. It could be in one of the laidback pop-up bars (the variety is impressive!), sitting around the campfire at Eichholz, or on a picnic blanket in a cosy spot – summer evenings in Bern are definitely best spent near the Aare!
Here’s where things are tapping
#12 "Grill’n’Chill" at Eichholz
Eichholz, around 30 minutes on foot from the city centre, is not only Bern’s most popular campsite – yes, even the locals pitch their tents here every once in a while – but also a meeting place for barbecues, playing frisbee and soaking up the sun. Next to the large sunbathing lawn you will find a beach volleyball court and a soccer field, slacklines that are set up between trees, and people playing the guitar while sitting around a campfire (firewood is provided). If you feel like taking just the smallest of dips, you’ve come to the right place. At Eichholz, the natural banks of the Aare are made up of a small gravel beach, which makes it ideal for slowly easing your way into the cold water – and it is also perfectly suited for soaking any tired feet. The Sarini campground restaurant will make sure you can get a refreshing aperitif or a bite to eat. Our favourite on the menu: the hand-cut fries with fresh fish from Lake Biel, paired with a homemade apple-quince spritzer.
Off to Eichholz
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