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Bern is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, so it’s not surprising that the city boasts Switzerland’s most beautiful shopping area: the longest covered promenade in Europe—with six kilometres of arched eaves set in the picturesque Old Town. In amongst medieval baroque houses and down cellar vaults you can find fashion boutiques, antiques, cafes and art.
Kitchener (Aarbergergasse 40, kitchener.ch) is THE spot for the city’s coolest urbanites, with a great selection of street fashion brands such as Duffer of St George and Stussy, eco-friendly underwear and cute felt toys. Look out for Swiss-born designer Stefi Talman’s unique line of stylish shoes and accessories here, as well as loads of cool magazines and books.
Moms take note: There’s very good drop-in child care at the train station called Chinderbahnbof (031 311 1401, chinderbahnbof.ch). The play centre will look after children aged 2-8 for a maximum of three hours, no reservation required, for CHF 8-10 an hour. Diaper changes are available, but they’ll cost you CHF 3 per change.
Another scene favourite is Olmo (Zeughausgasse 20, olmo.ch), a collection of shops near the Kornhauseplatz. Here you can get cool haircuts, funky t-shirts, trendy trainers and on Saturday afternoons there’s usually a local DJ playing.
For something a bit more off-the-wall check out KB Accessories (Münstergasse 12, 031 311 2808), a shop specializing in very unusual and hip millinery, plus fantastic hats–if you’re one who has occasion to wear hats.
Another shop worth checking out is Ciolina Modehaus (Marktgasse 51, 031 311 5481), where you’ll find luxury casual from Dries Van Noten and Dolce & Gabbana, LA names such as Humanoid and Velvet, and smart city collections from Burberry.
Bern boasts a fantastic selection of eateries, but the undisputed it-spot is Schwellenmätteli (Dalmaziquai 11, 031 350 5001, schwellenmaettli.ch) bar and restaurant, dubbed the “Riviera Restaurant” due to the ability of its location—literally on the riverbank near Kirchenfeld bridge—to transport you to a holiday-like state. During the day you can stretch out on wooden sun loungers on the terrace, which seems to float above the river. Afternoons bring cake and mint tea and it’s a don’t-miss late brunch on Sunday mornings. On weekends the venue features various live music bands and cultural events—and bonus: The food lives up to its surroundings.
To head further off the beaten path, follow the Bernese hipsters over to the Lorraine quarter, just a short walk north of the train station across the river. This old industrial area has been attracting a more alternative community, giving an arty, regenerated feel to the area, now home to a number of chill cafés, bars and restaurants.
Du Nord (Lorrainestrasse 2) is a funky mix of Mediterranean ambience and club culture with a nice tree-covered terrace—a cool summer spot where you can dine to a soundtrack of local DJs. Café Kairo (031 330 2625, cafe-kairo.ch), in the same area, is a bohemian mix of cabaret and café. Sofas, table football and poetry nights make it an essential stop for a slice of underground Bern café culture.
If you prefer fancy fine dining, Le Chariot at Belle Epoque hotel (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 18, 031 311 4336, bell-epoque.ch) is one of Bern’s best. Dine on saffron risotto whilst admiring the hotel’s art and antiques from the namesake period. Or La Terrasse in the lovely and rather grand Bellevue Palace (Kochergasse 3-5, 031 320 4545, bellevue-palace.ch) next to the Federal Parliament which offers five-star, statesmen-like luxury and great views over the river if you feel like splashing some cash.
Bern has a vibrant nightlife that offers a huge range of chic bars and cutting edge clubs with loads of different music styles, live bands and international DJ names. There is also a small but healthy underground culture which revolves around Bern’s very trendy community of graphic designers, music producers and DJs, many of whom are internationally acclaimed.
Wasserwerk (Wasserwerkgasse 5, wasserwerkclub.ch) is Bern’s most famous nightclub committed to cosmopolitan club culture. It has a wide range of musical genres and styles on the programme and attracts some big names in the industry. Also worth checking is Dampfzentrale (Marzilistr 41, 031 310 0540, dampfzentrale.ch), an old steam factory transformed into a culture and arts centre which always has great club nights and live gigs as well as dance, theatre and film events.
If you are looking for a more alternative cultural experience, Reitschule (reitschule.ch) is the focal point in Bern for underground arts and culture run by an activist collective. This old riding school near the train station has become the centre for the cities experimental scene. It has a chaotic programme of exhibitions and events as well as a bistro style restaurant. In the evening the area can seem a bit dodgy, but it’s worth checking out as you may discover some of the city’s coolest events and people.
In a stark contrast to the Reitschule, the chic Liquid Club (Genfergasse 10, 031 951 9826, liquid-bern.ch), is a relative newcomer to town. Your night out here evolves around a very high-tech clubbing experience—glass floors, a revolving stage and dazzling light installations. It’s a very glam, dressed-up crowd, but a progressive number of ladies end up dancing on the tables as the night wears on. A wee bit footballers’ wives, but great fun if you want a glam, disco-style night out.