#1 Strolling along the Aare River
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 embodiment of the characteristic Bernese relaxedness. Our favourite route? The five kilometers to Elfenau along the banks of the river. The walk begins at BärenPark and then leads through the Matte neighbourhood, the oldest part of the city, all the way to Marzili and then on across Schönausteg to Bern Animal Park, Dählhölzli, where you can stop for a refreshment at the restaurant and wave hello to the ibexes, wild boars and over 220 other animal species. The walk then continues up the river 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 and the Aare river. If you don’t feel like walking back, you can take bus no. 19 in the direction of Bern main station and you will be back in the city centre within 15 minutes.
#2 Jogging along the Aare River
So close to Bern’s Old Town, but surrounded by nature: if you prefer a quicker pace, we have a (short) jogging route for you. The paths along the river are lined with shady trees – a little piece of heaven for runners. It becomes obvious why Bern is one of the 10 greenest cities in the world – pure "Urban Nature" on the banks of the river Aare. Jogging through Marzili towards the city centre, you get a spectacular view of the Old Town and the Parliament Building. There are four different-length routes, so there’s something for every fitness level: be it the short route to Schönausteg, a bit further to Elfenau park or even all the way to Auguet bridge. On our favourite routes, joggers will pass charming neighbourhoods, cool stretches of forest and unique wetlands – always accompanied by the burbling of the river! Our tip: during the summer, all of Bern gathers along the Aare river, so we recommend going for your jog early in the morning or avoiding the crowded path between Marzili and Eichholz.
#3 Dining by the Aare River
If you become hungry from all the running, strolling and playing frisbee, you will find numerous places along the Aare river to grab a bite to eat. At Casa Novo, you will taste GaultMillau-level delicacies while sitting on an impressive terrace right on the bank of the Aare river, with a view of Untertorbrücke (Untertor bridge), the city’s oldest bridge. In the historical sandstone building, modern, Mediterranean dishes are served, accompanied by wine from the restaurant’s own wine cellar. Between BearPark and Marzili, right on the roaring river threshold, lies the restaurant Schwellenmätteli. The food is great and the view of the Old Town, and particularly the baroque terraced gardens, is especially impressive from here. A bit further up the river 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 life and now accommodates 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 all of Bern walk from Marzili to Eichholz in their bathing suits to then jump into the Aare river and let it take them downstream again.
Exquisite food in Bern
#4 Ice Cream Bliss
Salted caramel, chocolate sorbet or strawberry with balsamic vinegar? In the summertime, the Bernese ask themselves the truly important questions in life! In the capital of relaxedness, people love treating themselves to some ice cream – and Bernese creations have taken the level of deliciousness around the Aare river up a notch: according to the newspaper SonntagsZeitung, the "best ice cream in all of Switzerland" is produced in the labs of the Gelateria di Berna. You can get it right across from the main entrance of the open-air pool Marzili and from the mobile three-wheeled Gelateria at Animal Park Bern, Dälhölzli, amongst other places. Eiswerkstatt is no longer an insider’s tip, either: it offers 22 delicious homemade flavours and invites you to indulge right by the BearPark (by the entrance of the restaurant Altes Tramdepot). It’s perfect for some energy before you start your walk to Elfenau (see #1). And if you want to enjoy your ice cream overlooking the Aare river and Schwellenmätteli, stroll over to the Minster’s terrace and get you hands (and tongue) on one of S-Enzen’s creations.
#5 The Scent of the Aare River
"Aarewasser" (Aare water): a drink containing Blue Curaçao, vodka and lemon juice – and as blue as the Aare river itself. But the river did not only inspire bartenders, but also perfumers. What does the Bernese people’s favorite river smell like? According to perfume maker Brigitte Witschi, it smells "light, airy, fresh, but at the same time intimate". The scent created by the Bernese local is not only called "aarewasser", it also miraculously makes you envision the river right away. The special component Hedione sparks joy in the woman or man wearing the perfume (it’s a unisex scent) and increases their motivation – just as our beloved river does! "Aarewasser" is sold at the perfume studio Art of Scent at Rathausgasse 49 and at the Tourist Information in Bern’s main station. For aroma enthusiasts, we suggest the scent tour, on which you will discover the city of Bern not only with your eyes, but also your sense of smell.
To the Scent Tour
#6 Flea Market
If you think people "only" go to Dampfzentrale to dance, make music and eat, you should definitely stop by the Marzili neighbourhood on a last Sunday of the month (May to September). That’s when the cultural centre turns into a charming marketplace in front of a spectacular scenery. What other flea market can boast about 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 stands of private kitsch sellers and professional second-hand vendors – presenting a classy, select range of products is the most important credo. No matter what you’re looking for, be it an elegant porcelain tea set or simple wooden toys: a Sunday trip to "Dampfere" is always worth it. In the "worst" case, all you will do is taste the legendary warm chocolate cake on the restaurant’s terrace. Including a view of the Aare river, of course.
Other flea markets in Bern
#7 Botanical Garden
A little slice of heaven only a ten-minute walk from the main station: Bern’s botanical garden lies on a slope adjacent 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 park is a wonderful place to dream and rest – perfect for nature lovers, amateur biologists and anyone looking for a quiet oasis in the city. Café Fleuri in front of the succulent collection, with its sunny terrace and great view of the Aare river, is the insider’s tip amongst Bern’s cafés. Underneath palm trees and yellow parasols, the guests enjoy freshly baked cakes and pies, sip homemade verbena iced tea and watch the turtles sunbathe – it doesn’t get any better than that! By the way: from June to August, the botanical garden hosts yoga classes on Monday and Tuesday mornings.
To the Botanical Garden
#8 Movies by the Aare River
If it smells of popcorn in the front part of Marzili, that means that it’s time for "Marzili Movie". On five evenings in July, the open-air cinema shows country-themed movies and serves matching food and drinks. 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 (but not exclusively): a trip to the legendary Cinématte a bit further downstream. The place shows only Arthouse and Studio movies and thus promotes Swiss and European movie 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.
#9 Culture along the Aare River
Movie lovers are not the only ones who can enjoy culture by the Aare, there are also various theatre and music events that take place along our favourite river: Elfenau park, only a stroll away from the city centre (see #1), welcomes its visitors into a enchanted paradise full of garden treasures. Every year, the "Elfenau Kultursommer" (Elfenau Kultursommer cultural series) takes place at the 19th century former estate of Russian grand duchess Anna Feodorowna: on every weekend between 26 May and 15 September 2019, free concerts, readings, and dance and theatre performances will be held at the Orangerie. For theatre fans, we can also recommend the iconic Theater Matte: the theatre has been around for 10 years and is situated in Bern’s oldest and most infamous neighbourhood, the Matte. It is located right next to Untertorbrücke (Untertor bridge), the oldest bridge of the city and, up until the 19th century, also the only one. Plays are performed regularly at this location where mariners and raftsmen used to land with their goods and the legendary Casanova is said to have been up to no good in the bath houses. What’s important to know is that all the plays are in Swiss German.
No bridge in sight? No problem, because in certain places, the Aare river can also be crossed by ferry. In Bern, this ride is not only a special experience, it is also very easily combined with a culinary pit stop. At Fähribeizli, for example, which you can reach by the Bodenacker ferry or on foot. The restaurant 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 are quickly forgotten. After taking bus no. 19 to Elfenau, you will arrive at the Fähribeizli after a 15-minute walk. Further down the river you will find restaurant Zehendermätteli. Continuing along the Aare river by foot or bus (no. 21, the stop is called Bremgarten, Schloss), you will reach the ferry that goes from Bremgarten to the oasis that is Zehendermätteli. The 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. By the way: Zehendermätteli is a restaurant and a plant nursery and offers enough space for children who want run wild and go climbing or ride donkeys. Just so you know: the ferry only crosses if the water level allows it.
#11 After-Work Beer
After work … comes pleasure! Bernese locals love to spend their after-work hours on the banks of their favourite river. A relaxed aperitif is, without a doubt, mandatory. Rumour has it that on warm summer evenings, the locals prefer clinking glasses filled with an Ingwerer Spritz or sparkling craft beer from one of the over 170 local (micro) breweries. And there are countless options as to where to do that: be it in one of the laid-back 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 river!
#12 "Grill’n’Chill" at Eichholz
Eichholz, around 30 minutes walking distance 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 there are a beach volleyball court and a soccer field, slacklines are set up between trees and people play 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 easy to slowly ease your way into the cold water – and it is also perfectly suited for a little footbath. The campground restaurant Sarini will make sure you get a refreshing aperitif or a bite to eat. Our favourite on the menu: the hand-cut fries with fish from lake Biel, paired with a homemade apple-quince spritzer.