Opinion: 13 reasons why I love living in Switzerland's capital Bern
As an expat living and working in Switzerland, I am often asked why I live in Bern and not somewhere more international – usually Zurich.
It’s a fair question and I do find it difficult to put my finger on exactly why I like the city so much - even though I've been here for almost three years now.
So, I’ve been wracking my brains to put together a list of my favourite Bernese traits.
For the record, my name is Joe and I first moved to Switzerland from the UK for work. I started off living in Zurich but moved to Bern after a few months and never looked back.
I have nothing against Zurich - in fact, I think it's great and have spent lots of time there for work and social reasons - but there's a few things about Bern that really appeal to me...
Swimming or boating down the Aare river is the best way to spend hot summer days. Throw in some food and drinks and you’ve got a recipe for success.
It’s a gateway city
Bern is pretty centrally located and most other major Swiss cities are easily accessed.
You may have to spend a few hours seated on a train but when you have some gorgeous views for company this really isn't too bad.
There are lots of nearby towns to explore and, of course, those stunning Swiss mountains are very close as well.
The old town
The old town in Bern is quaint and charming. Craft shops selling luxury items, little trinkets and local specialities line both sides of the cobbled street.
The arcades date back to the 15th century and there are hundreds of fountains all over the place - so much so that Bern is apparently sometimes called the 'city of fountains'.
Strolling through the old town archways on warm summer evenings is lovely, and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to looking for a little bar or café for a sundowner.
Having spent nearly two years living in Bern but working in Zurich, I feel there is significantly less English spoken in the former. And, for me, this is great.
Many people in Bern don't automatically switch to English as soon as they hear that you aren't Swiss and I like this a lot.
It won’t be a plus for everybody and it can definitely make things more difficult than they have to be. But having to speak German now and then has definitely made me better at it.
Bern doesn’t get as much recognition on the food front as some other cities in Switzerland. I’m no expert so this could be fair enough but, at the same time, Bern has a few places that are definitely worth recommending.
Klösterli Weincafe, the Altes Tramdepot and Lötschberg all enjoy decent reputations here and, in my opinion, for good reason. They can be a little expensive and the service isn't always great but the food is usually very nice.
More generally, there are loads of little bars and cafés all over the city to enjoy. You can almost always find somewhere to enjoy a little snack or drink.
The hidden foodie gems
Many of the central, better-known restaurants are worth visiting but if you venture a little further outside of the city centre, you can find some lovely smaller places too.
This is not an advert but Grotto Ticino, Indian Kitchen, Hua Yann Fischermätteli, Punto, Pho Saigon are some examples of places that I like and are also a little off the beaten path. You get more bang for your buck and the atmospheres are friendly and welcoming.
By the way, the 'pizza carpaccio' at Grotto Ticino is well worth trying - if you eat meat.
Not everybody likes football but it can be a fun way to get up close and personal with lots of locals. Plus, my time in Bern has coincided with some pretty good times for the biggest football team here, Young Boys.
It has been great to see parts of it and to be in the city for the celebrations after the club won the league for the first time in 32 years. Check out the video above to see what it meant to those at the stadium.
The city really is gorgeous – night or day, rain or shine.
Sunsets overlooking the Aare. Clear days when you can see the mountains in the background. Even when it’s cold and miserable, the city just has a bit of a shine to it.
There are green spaces all over and you can almost always find somewhere nice to sit and watch the world go by.
Not too big, not too small: I feel Bern is a very good size. I've heard some people say it's like a big village but, for me, it's never felt like that.
You are never more than a public transport ride (maybe two) away from places. You can take a tram from one end of the city to the other in under an hour and yet there are plenty of areas beyond the heart of the city to explore.
Most people don’t even use cars in the centre because Bern is so heavily geared towards pedestrians – which is also great.
If you spend any time in Bern at all you will quickly realise that the city likes bears.
There’s one of the canton’s coat of arms, there’s a bear pit (with real bears) at the foot of the old town, there are bear statues all over town, the iconic Zytglogge display involves bears, even the ice hockey team badge features one.
There are bears everywhere. It doesn’t really impact my daily life, but it’s a nice and unique little trait!
I ride a bicycle most days and Bern is the ideal city for this. There are very few hills and the roads are usually quiet and wide enough to cycle carefree.
As above, the city isn’t very big so getting around is pretty straightforward and offers some stunning views that you won’t get sitting in a car.
If you’re more of an adventurous biker then there are numerous trails and paths that take you into the countryside that you can follow around the outskirts of the city too.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the Bernese people.
Having worked in international offices here, it's fair to say that the Swiss can have a reputation for being difficult to connect with. Truthfully, it’s not like I have made hundreds of new best friends since moving to Bern, but I definitely haven’t found the people here to be unfriendly either. They are open-minded and relaxed, and definitely like to have a laugh.
Whenever I speak my poor German, they are accommodating and appreciate the effort. When they can people swap between English and German/Bernese German to help me out when needed.
The markets and festivals
Photo: A musician performing in Bern for the Busker Festival
Bern has lots of markets and festivals to enjoy - from the more usual fruit and veg types to things like the Asian food festival.
Bern's traditional Zibelemärit (onion market) is well worth a visit, as is the Buskers Festival - which features around 150 street musicians and performers taking over Bern's streets.
If you look, there is lots to enjoy here.
Writing this article has reminded me that I could (and should) do more to enjoy and get to know the city I live in.
I could go to more events where I would have to mingle with people I don’t know; become part of a team, routine, group, or club and soak up the atmosphere. I suppose that’s true of most things though; you get out what you put in.
For me, Bern is a great place to live and I hope to stay here as long as I can. Having to commute every day is not ideal but it gives me time to unwind and, more importantly, lets me live here.