13 Reasons to Spend a Day Shopping in Bern
#1 Bern’s Famous Arcades
How about visiting Bern’s many cozy shops? You can even leave your umbrella behind! Boasting six kilometers of charming arcades, dubbed the “Lauben” by locals, the Swiss capital offers one of the longest networks of covered shopping streets in Europe. Stretching from Bern’s main station to the Nydegg Bridge, the arcades will keep you covered practically the entire length as you stroll along the streets. For the ladies in the crowd, this means better chances of having a good hair day, not necessarily because of any product or prep, but rather thanks to the clever architects from the Middle Ages (thank you, thank you!). The arcades are also a godsend come the hot summer weather. They provide welcome shade and a pleasant cool temperature. Pretty convenient, right?
#2 Gems of the Lower Old Town
Like all big cities, the upper Old Town is home to many international retailers, such as Zara, Mango and The Body Shop. But if you only walk from the train station to the Zytglogge (Clock Tower), you hardly get an inkling of what it’s really like to shop in Bern. Exploring the lower Old Town offers a truly wonderful experience, boasting a great diversity of countless boutiques and studios of local artists and designers, along with gourmet treats and rare finds you’ll look long and hard for in other Swiss cities. If you want something original, unique, maybe even a little offbeat, the lower Old Town is sure to have the just the right thing. Many of the shops are exclusive to Bern, such as the Art of Scent studio from the Bernese perfumer Brigitte Witschi, where you can combine your own personal scent from the umpteen essential oils and aromas her store carries.
DISCOVER BERN’S SHOPPING GEMS
#3 An Open-Air Museum
What does Bern’s Old Town have in common with the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza? It, too, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strolling through the medieval narrow streets feels a little like walking through an immense, lively open-air museum. So much of the streetscape looks just as it did in the 12th century: sandstone facades, old vaulted cellars, enchanting alleyways, historic towers, well-preserved stately mansions and countless delightful fountains. Keep your eyes peeled during your shopping tour, and you’ll see all sorts of Bern’s most important attractions, such as Bern Minster, the world-famous Zytglogge (Clock Tower), and the Einstein House, where Albert Einstein lived during his years in Bern. Even most of the shops are located in buildings and vaulted cellars that were built in the Middle Ages, which are now listed monuments. We know you can shop everywhere in Europe, but that usually means in big shopping centers and along high-polished commercial boulevards. Only in Bern does shopping include a charming walk through one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
#4 Slow Shopping
Shopping sometimes means a lot of hectic and stress – but not in the capital of leisure! In Bern, the clock officially ticks slower than elsewhere – and in 2012, the cliché was scientifically proven. According to an ETH study conducted that same year, Bern’s residents cover an average distance of 1,354 meters per second when walking, compared to 1,422 meters per second for their neighbors in Zürich. Extrapolated to the minute, this means that Zürich’s residents cover an extra 5,3 meters per minute than their counterparts in the Federal City. The reason for this difference is the famous Bernese motto: “Nume nid gschprängt!” (take it easy). However, while many Swiss people might wink and tell you that the capital city dwellers themselves are slow, the Bernese simply like to take their time, ambling along, chatting and enjoying life. And the relaxed attitude is apparent on the street but also indoors – store clerks, too, like to take time and chat with customers. Slowing down with slow shopping – sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it?
#5 Parking Galore!
So let’s get one thing straight: point number five is for all the practical-minded who would rather forgo the perceived romance of toting all of their shopping bags through the city streets. Right in the middle of the Old Town of Bern, you'll find some 2'000 short-term parking spots in garages, such as near the Rathaus (Town Hall), the main station, and Casinoplatz (Casino Square). And what’s really convenient: as you approach the city from the motorway, you will see signs indicating which parking garages still have spaces available. The toll-free number +41 (0)800 727 536 also reports the current number of available parking spots. Now that’s what we call stress-free shopping!
Overview of the parking area
#6 Nice Size
Orienteering world champion Judith Wyder lives in Bern. But visitors need not bring maps and compasses to navigate a day of shopping here. The Old Town is situated on a peninsula, surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Aare river. And yet somehow, the Old Town’s arcades and passageways give it the feel of a gigantic shopping center where you can simply wander from shop to shop and never get lost. Bern’s old-world shopping district comprises many shops with everything close together, easy to find and very walkable. In fact, it takes just over 20 minutes to walk from Bern main station to the Nydegg bridge – pretty compact, right?
#7 Made in Bern
Where is my product from? Who produced it? What were the working conditions? In Bern, there are actually answers to these questions. Many of the shops in the streets downward from the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) do their own manufacturing, design or repair. Take, for example, the clothing store ooonyva (Münstergasse 35), where sewing machines can be heard rattling away in the back room. Some of the cheeses sold in the Chäshütte (Rathausgasse 82) have been carefully and expertly aged for months in the vaulted cellars just below the store. And bag designer Fiona Losinger (photo) is on hand to greet visitors in her shop at Münstergasse 48. The store is both a leather studio and sales location where you can peek over her shoulder while she stitches up one of her must-have leather bags. Sustainable, local, and a chance to get behind the scenes – we think that’s just great!
#8 Coffee Break
In our opinion, Bern as the capital of leisure is hands-down the best place to unwind and take your time. Cozy, charming, warm, authentic and sometimes just “small and adorable” – such are the words visitors from around the world use in TripAdvisor to describe the many cafés under the arcades and in the cellars of Bern’s Old Town. Nestled among the many boutiques and practically on every corner, these establishments offer shoppers and guests the chance to enjoy a frothy cappuccino or an elegant snack platter. And a big plus compared to other Swiss cities: Bern’s home-bred warmth along with the influence and savoir vivre lifestyle of nearby French-speaking Switzerland creates a truly relaxing atmosphere. So how about taking a coffee break that feels like vacation? Bern gives you that option.
Beautiful Cafés for Taking a Break
#9 Surprisingly Creative
Why are people always talking about Paris, Milan or New York? While the Bern fashion scene is somewhat an insider’s tip, it is also surprisingly creative, versatile and innovative. Events such as Loufmeter prove the point. This fashion show is staged in Bern’s narrow streets and unique the world over. Every May, the red carpet is rolled out in the lower Old Town and chairs set up for an audience that gets to see a 75-minute fashion show in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, complete with 40 models showing off the spring collections of Bern’s fashion designers. Fashionistas have good reason to pay a visit to Bern's Old Town.
#10 Easy to Get There
It takes just sixty minutes to (secretly) watch two episodes of the latest cult series; or solve a really tricky Sudoku. It also takes just sixty minutes to travel by rail to Bern from Basel, Lucerne, Zurich, Interlaken or Lausanne, direct, without changing trains. That’s pretty fast, right? And not only cities offer good connections. You can quickly get to Bern, the heart of Switzerland, from the mountains too. We did the math: if at noon you are drinking a schnapps somewhere between the cowbells and village idyll up on the Jungfraujoch, by 3:00 p.m. you can be strolling through the narrow streets of Bern.
In the Middle Ages, the architects of historic Bern included storage cellars underneath every house on both sides of the wide lanes. Today, these typical sandstone cellars make a stroll through Bern’s Old Town a very unique experience. These former spaces for storing grains, vegetables and wines now house myriad charming shops, boutiques and studios. Many a visitor is totally surprised to open what looks like a modest, unimpressive wood door, take a few steps down and discover a whole new universe. Shopping in Bern is simply full of surprises, which everyone likes!
Instagrammer Anna Stump (see photo) shows how it’s done. She posted a photo from Kramgasse, considered to be one of the most beautiful streets in the world, proving that shopping in Bern is “very instagrammable.” And it's not just her who thinks so: according to an evaluation of the London Evening Standard, Bern won the title of "the most instagrammable winter city" – even before places like Aspen or Zermatt! Bern is simply wonderfully picturesque! The labyrinth of narrow streets in the Old Town, the medieval sandstone buildings and the charming vaulted cellars of this UNESCO World Heritage Site have the makings of a Hollywood movie set, something the giant shopping centers and modern big-city shopping streets can hardly compete with. The streets of Bern are also perfect for hobby photographers, selfie fanatics, Instagram addicts and anyone who is looking to take a cool new profile pic with two cute shops in the background.
#13 Time Travel
During your shopping trip in Bern, you can even travel back in time! Traditional weekly markets are held Tuesdays and Saturdays on the Bundesplatz (Parliament Square), Bärenplatz (Bear’s Square) and along various narrow streets (Schauplatzgasse, Gurtengasse, Bundesgasse and Münstergasse). And they’re a feast for the senses! Amid the colorful tangle of market stalls, all manner of gourmands, nostalgics and connoisseurs will find fresh produce, the scent of flowers and herbs, and an assortment of savory meats and cheeses. Many of the goods have been produced in and around the city of Bern since the Middle Ages, always reaching the market fresh, thanks to short transport routes. The fourth Monday in November also offers a chance to travel back in time, when at 4:00 a.m. (!) the Zibelemärit (Onion Market), one of the most famous markets in all of Switzerland, transforms the streets of the upper Old Town into a huge outdoor market. Local farmers bring over 50 tons of onions and garlic into the capital, all artfully woven into braids and ropes, to hawk them in hundreds of stalls lining the city streets.
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