Many visitors of Bern spend much of their time visiting the “must-sees”, like the beautiful natural parks, architecture and great museums the city has to offer. Nothing wrong with that of course, but you’ll spend much of your time queuing with fellow tourists.
Our team of Bern locals know the city well and share their favorite spots so others can experience a new and less-touristy side of the city. Whether you are a visitor looking to get off the beaten path in Bern, or a fellow local yourself, we hope their tips will lead you to new favorite spots in the city.
Here is a collection of 12 of the most unique hidden places our Spotters have found in the city. Enjoy culture, food, music and more, and fall in love with this city anew!
Public chess with a team of boozy coaches
Slightly hidden from the street in a central part of the city lies Schachspiel Bärenplatz, a public open air chess board and a nice spot to while the day away. Here you are just as likely to come across a beardy alcoholic playing against an honorable parliamentarian, or a match between an elderly chess master and an 8-year-old Asian tourist wunderkind. Everyone is equal once the game has started.
If you are a confident chess player and dare to join in, be prepared for two dozen (more or less) drunk people knowing every move better – and not keeping this to themselves. So good luck! And by the way: if this spot is too crowded for you, there are more than three dozen public chess and merel boards scattered around the city.
The school of every student’s dreams
No longer a room where teachers secretly forge conspiracies against helpless schoolchildren, the Lehrerzimmer (“teacher’s room”) in an old high-school-turned-cultural-center is now a giant open-air bar with good drinks and food all year round.
Other parts of former school building are filled with art galleries and exhibitions (the upper floors are private and home to a number of artists and performers), a concert bar in the old Turnhalle (“sport hall”), a DJ school, and a bookstore. There is a lot of fun stuff on offer here, and in the Lehrerzimmer especially you can hang out for a long time enjoying breakfast, local specialty foods and unique drinks.
Experience the path of life
The tour begins with birth. You land on the path of life, and follow it, learning about different aspects that affect a lifetime: abilities we lose or gain with age, or the desire for eternal youth. A highlight is a room that shows recordings of 100 different people aged between 10 and 100 answering the same set of questions.
Forever young – Willkommen im Langen Leben (“Welcome to the long life”) gives wonderful insights into life and aging, opening a conversation about the wishes and fears experienced by different generations. It’s an especially valuable experience to go with a family member of a different generation and discuss your impressions. The exhibition is beautiful and the stories are touching; it’s a place that everyone will be able to relate to.
Live music on a budget
Located on the 5th floor of a tall building, 5ème Etage isn’t a place you would bump into accidentally; a true hidden gem for culture and music lovers. This culture center regularly hosts events such as salsa dancing, world music performances and an adult disco with hits of the last decades.
Our Spotter Isabelle recommends the jazz jam sessions that take place on Tuesday nights. They begin with a scheduled band performance, then spontaneous jam acts (often music students) follow. Entry is free, but they pass a hat around to collect donations. There’s always a great vibe to which the passionate musicians, the atmosphere of the wooden room, and the good acoustics contribute.
Magical hidden garden
Tucked between the Münsterpflattform and some garden plots lies a little secret garden. Although it has no official name, our Spotter Sarah calls it a “magic garden” because of the curious decorations the owner puts there: shoes, doll heads, mirrors, dishes and much more. The little garden changes every time you go there, with decorations and even the flowers and plants changing from summer to summer.
Great beer in an old tram depot
If you’re searching for good beer in a unique venue, look no further than Altes Tramdepot. This huge restaurant used to be the place where the trams in Bern went to sleep. It features a gorgeous 1890s architectural style and an amazing view of the old town, situated on the other side of the river Aare.
As for the victuals on offer: all of their beers are produced without any additives, right in the restaurant itself. Every year, the local beer sommeliers create more than 30 new beer specialties. The menu provides great meal options, especially for meat lovers, and they also offer snacks such as warm homemade “Bretzeln” (pretzels).
Secret recipes from around the world
Gastwerk is a non-profit association that creates both jobs and the opportunity to share their culture for refugees and immigrants in Bern. Do you know about the national dish of Afghanistan? Or what people eat in Eritrea? What about delicious specialties from Syria? These are answers that you’ll find at Gastwerk.
While Gastwerk enables migrants to participate in different projects in the city, their most recent undertaking is a healthy takeaway stand that serves food out of a window. People from all over the world work in the kitchen, preparing their favorite dishes from back home. The menu varies daily with recipes that will transport you far away.
Egelsee, or Egelmösli, as it is affectionately known by locals, is a small lake on the east side of town. It is a bit hidden in a residential area, and you can’t see it from the road. Because of this, the spot has stayed relatively undiscovered and peaceful. Once you get there you’ll discover a very idyllic place to unwind and observe nature or read a book. It also has a great picnic spot on the shore.
If you understand German, the street names around the lake will make you smile. They were created by Swiss artist Paul Klee and are poetic and funny at the same time. If you are into painting and art, we recommend that you combine a stroll around the lake with a visit to the Zentrum Paul Klee.
Taking action against food waste
Petit Couteau is a bistro and concept store that is working to combat food waste. They serve portioned lunch menus with the option to get a second helping, while striving to use mainly organic, seasonal and regional ingredients. The are two options for lunch menus on most weekdays. On Fridays they then whip up a surprise menu with leftover ingredients from the week.
And luckily, the sustainable vision does not come at the cost of taste or presentation. All of their dishes are a feast for the eyes and the palate. For example, the “Sydney Brekkie” is served every Saturday, and you will have an agony of choice between six lovingly composed dishes: seasonal eggs Benedict, smoothies, a matcha coconut concoction…
Make the world go ’round
In Bern, sometimes it seems like the world has stood still for the past couple of centuries. In fact, the Bernese take considerable pride in being known as the slowest city in the country. According to some (yet to be confirmed) studies, we cross the street slower than anybody else, we talk slower than average, and our fellow citizens from Zurich and Geneva find it outrageous that we use escalators as a walking break instead of a walking velocity enhancer.
It’s our Spotter Sebastian’s own personal theory that the Globusbrunnen globe sculpture was built to bridge that deeply rooted national speed gap. Here, everybody can make the world go round at his/her preferred pace. Push it hard to make it move. Push it harder to make it go faster. Push it again and again to make the continents rotate as fast as the wheels of a race car.
A gym that pays back
What if the energy you put into fitness training could be transformed into something tangible? This was the idea that inspired a guy called Tom to create Gmüesesel, a gym where you don’t pay any entrance fees; instead, you get paid in natural produce. The energy you put into exercising helps to press or mill seeds and vegetables. You can row for polenta, run for sunflower oil and cycle for semolina. In the end, you get to keep one third of what you produced, and Tom sells the rest at the local farmers’ market.
Take a walk on the wild side
Reitschule is a place with a thousand names and a million faces. For some it is the single most important hotspot for alternative culture in the city, probably the county, maybe even the continent – a rare space without an urge for consumption and with the much-needed proof that young people still care about politics and a refuge for people in need.
For others it is an eyesore, a legal vacuum, a marketplace for illegal drugs, a theme park for bullies and the environment where their sons and daughters learn to smoke pot and break windows. Both views might be exaggerated, but either way, the old Tim-Burtonesque riding school is one of the most interesting spots in the city.
On the site you’ll find a hodge-podge of different establishments and events: it is a club, restaurant, cinema, demonstration site, printing facility, bookstore and theater wrapped into one. If you plan to go there – which is highly recommend – just stay cool, be prepared for anything, kindly refuse everything offered to you and enjoy Bern’s wild side!