Basel and Bern show off the best of Switzerland’s cities.
Posted January 13, 2012
No, not bed and breakfast. I’m talking about the Alpine country’s two delightful cities–Basel and Bern.
While Switzerland’s cities beckon business travelers from all over the world, vacationers are more likely to head to the quaint villages and ski resorts that are so justifiably well-known. But if you want a shot of history, culture, fine dining, and sophistication–with the warm friendliness of a small town–spend a few days in some of Switzerland’s cities. Basel and Bern are two of my favorites and here are just a few reasons why.
Dining at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. This historic Belle Époque hotel with its Rhine River-front location makes an ideal spot for a welcome-to-Basel lunch. I enjoyed an autumn specialty of caramelized pork…sublime! Take time to stroll through the hotel, if you’re not already a guest (Napoleon, Goethe, and even the Rolling Stones have been).
Jewish Museum of Switzerland. Switzerland has been home to a Jewish community for centuries. In this small but well-curated museum, you can see Judaica from Endingen and Lengnau, the “Jewish villages” in Switzerland. There are also medieval gravestones in the courtyard, Hebrew prints documenting the importance of Basel as a center of book printing from the 16th to the 19th century, and publications of Theodor Herzl and Zionism including the records of the Zionist Congresses of Basel.
Tinguely Museum. This museum is full of the life and work of the major Basel-born iron sculptor Jean Tinguely, who created a revolution with his kinetic works and moving objects. Tinguely is well-known for his “electromechanical” sculptures, which play music, paint, etc. The Tinguely fountain is also a well-known piece of art which consists of a series of individually moving water pipes in a large pool; the pipes spout out water as they move.
Rhine promenade. Basel’s waterfront promenade is an ideal spot for strollers, joggers, and passengers who wish to cross from one bank of the Rhine to the other on the iconic ferries that have been traversing the river for the past 150 years.
Basel’s fountains. No need to tote your own water bottle here! The water streaming into most of Basel’s 170 fountains—many bedecked with flowers and sculptures—is drinkable.
Bern cityscape. The capital of Switzerland, Bern was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, due in large part to its medieval landscape, which remains virtually intact today with its distinctive sandstone buildings, arcades, historic towers, and 11 unique Renaissance figure fountains (most of which are also filled with drinkable water).
BearPark. Bern is German for bear, and the iconic symbol is ever-present in the city. Don’t miss the BearPark, home to Bjork, Finn, and bear cubs Ursina and Berna. This bear-friendly landscape is located at the east end of the Old Town, and if you’re fortunate enough you’ll be able to see the bears in their man-made, yet natural (no cages here), environment, where they can climb, fish, play, or just sun themselves on a log. There is no admission to this open-air park, and whether you actually get to see the bears (we did) depends primarily on their mood.
Zytglogge Clock Tower. Every hour on the hour the astronomical clock atop this medieval tower (which was first mentioned in city documents in 1444) chimes and its carved wooden figures come out to herald the beginning of a new hour. Crowds gather on the plaza below to take pictures and videos. The tower is also open to visitors once a day or you can arrange a guided tour of the city that includes a climb up the tower (127 steps) through the excellent Bern Tourism Office.
Shopping. Truth be told, you may not actually buy much in Switzerland. Bargains are not exactly abounding in this affluent Alpine paradise. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun window-shopping (and wishing), especially in Bern. Four miles of historic arcades in the capital city offer an array of interesting boutiques and specialty stores housed in what is one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe. There are also vegetable, fruit, and flower markets and the town squares are a gathering spot for residents and visitors alike. For a more contemporary shopping experience, head out to Westside, the leisure and shopping experience designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. Sure, it’s a mall experience, with shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and even a spa and gym, but it’s an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours (and, if you’re in cyber-withdrawal, the Starbucks there has free wi-fi!).
Murten. OK, I’m cheating a bit here since Murten is not part of Bern. But it’s well worth the short train ride to pass even just a few hours there. Situated between Bern and Lausanne, this charming village is the capital of the Lake District of Fribourg. There’s a requisite fairy-tale castle, a ring wall, more covered shopping arcades, and sidewalk cafes galore in which to pass a sunny afternoon.
When You Go
You can start your trip planning at MySwitzerland.com. For additional information on Basel and Bern, visit www.basel.com and www.bern.com.
Hotel Krafft, Rheingasse 12, 4058 Basel, is located in the heart of Basel with an impressive view of the opposite bank of the River Rhine with its historic buildings and the cathedral.
Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. If your pockets are deep, this is the place to stay at Blumenrain, 4001 Basel. If not, it’s worth a visit and lunch or dinner at the Brasserie.
Hotel Innere Enge, Engestrasse 54, 3012 Bern, has been a popular excursion destination since the early 18th century. The hotel includes a park with a picturesque view of the old city center and the Alps, as well as mini-golf facilities and an international jazz room that hosts top musicians from all over the world.
Carol Sorgen is a nationally recognized writer, editor, and public relations consultant. Her articles have been published by WebMD, Today’s Diet & Nutrition, CNN.com, Men’sFitness.com, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Home, and Maryland Life, to name but a few. She is the executive editor of the travel site JustSayGo.com, and works as a writer, editor, and public relations consultant through her own site, CarolSorgen.com.