Last summer, I spent two days alone in Paris, and I learned so much about myself during those few days solo in the City of Light. After Paris, I flew to Milan and roamed the city alone. In both cities, I got lost, found my way, got lost again, yet managed to navigate on my own. Believe it or not, traveling solo has never been on my bucket list. In fact, if anyone had told me two years ago that I would go to a foreign country alone, I would never have believed it. But now, I realize how liberating it can be. When I was offered a solo trip to Switzerland, I thought about it, and then said, I can do this! I can get on a plane by myself (I’ve done that before). I can travel solo on a train from Zurich to Bern. I can get myself from the train to the hotel. And finally, since Bern is not that huge of a city, I can maneuver the streets of Old Town and stumble around alone. And so I did. And it was fantastic. Here are the highlights from my time traveling solo in Switzerland!
Old Town Bern was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and it’s easy to see why. Some of its medieval center is still intact, and several buildings date back as far as the 12th and 13th centuries. The city boasts more than 100 fountains, many crowned with decorative statues, and the water is clean, fresh, and drinkable. The footprint, although not a complete grid, is easy to navigate.
This vibrant city takes on a slower pace, and people are friendly and happy – I could so imagine living in a town like Bern. I spent three wonderful nights solo in Bern, Switzerland. Here are some of the highlights.
Since I stayed across the river from Old Town at the lovely Hotel Allegro in Kursaal (only a 10-minute leisurely stroll from town center), I walked over the Kornhaus Bridge many times during my stay in Bern. I so enjoyed this walk! The water in the Aare is an unusual shade of blue (much brighter and clearer than the Hudson 🙂 and locals swim in the river. It was about 85 degrees when I was there, and that’s very hot for Switzerland, so every day I noticed Bernese floating along in the Aare and cooling off. The river Aare surrounds Bern on three sides, so most everywhere you turn, you’ll see that sparkling clean aquamarine-colored water. Bern is already a picturesque town, but add the water views, and it resembles a postcard.
Live music at Mühle Hunziken.
What a welcome I had on my first night in Bern. Karin and Kevin, a husband and wife team and managers of Hotel Allegro, invited me to come along to a live concert at Mühle Hunziken. This funky music club is one of the most well known in Switzerland, and it was great fun my first night to hear blues musician Phillip Fankhauser and his band play. Everyone here was local – all friends and family – and inviting. They made me feel at home on my first night. I knew then that I loved Bern.
Dinner at Giardino.
After hanging with the locals and listening to live blues music, I ate a fantastic dinner with Karin at the Italian Giardino in Hotel Allegro. I ordered the beef carpaccio (yum!) and Dover sole with mashed potatoes and spinach and devoured it! We shared a nice local rosé. With a spacious patio and pond, the setting at this restaurant is exceptionally relaxing.
Old Town shops.
Bern has an excellent lineup of independent shops, and many are located in the ancient arcades. Here’s a fun fact: Bern has one of the longest covered shopping promenades in all of Europe. I spent several hours window browsing and admiring the buildings, many of which date back to the 15th century. My favorite discovery was Ooonyva. This fashionable shop is owned by three friends, Zara, Natalie, and Debora. The store sells locally designed men and women’s clothing, jewelry, shoes, handbags, fine textiles, and unique note cards, among other things. Many of the items are made right in Bern, and some of the pieces are produced in Poland, London, and France. I wanted to buy everything in that shop.
Local beer at Adriano’s.
Like other European cities, Bern’s coffee houses and bars are rolled into one. I love that you can grab an espresso or a beer at 10 a.m.! I recommend the former if it’s a work day. Adriano’s brews their own beer, so I stopped by one afternoon, sampled it, and ordered a glass. I’m typically not much of a beer drinker, but this brew sure hit the spot.
The Zytglogge (clock tower).
As one of Bern’s oldest structures dating back to 1220, the clock tower cannot be missed (literally)! It’s centrally located, and practically all streets in Old Town lead to the Zytglogge. I climbed to the very top (about 130 spiral steps) to catch spectacular views of the city. Note: I did this on my first full day in Switzerland, and I was super jet lagged. I recommend doing this climb after a good night’s rest if possible.
Centrum Paul Klee.
As a modern art fan, I had to set aside some time to visit the Paul Klee Museum. It’s just outside town, but the tram goes right to the museum and back to Old Town, so it was super easy to get to. I enjoyed viewing Paul Klee’s work, and the building itself – designed by Renzo Piano – is a work of art.
Bears have been at home in Bern since 1513, and since 2009, the critters have lived in the spacious Bear Park. The bears can romp and roam in the 600 square meter space, and gain access by tunnel.When I was there, I searched for the three bears currently living in Bären Park (Björk, Finn, and cub Ursina), but two must have been hiding because I only spotted one (not sure which). While this park is a major tourist attraction, it’s so beautiful that locals go here too. It’s situated along the water, and it’s a lovely spot for photos or even to relax for a short while and get your bearings before you continue touring the city. You can take the lift up and down to walk along the water, or if you’re more ambitious, use the stairs. Since I had already done the clock tower stairs, I opted for the lift. 🙂
Kornhaus (The Granary).
I dined one night at Kornhauscafe, part of a larger cultural complex that houses two restaurants, two libraries, a nightclub, and theater. Originally a grain store, Kornhaus was built in the early 1700s and is one of the grandest examples of Baroque architecture in Bern. I sat at a table outside under the arcade and savored my steak frites, which worked out perfectly because the rain came as soon as I arrived.
For a special meal, this restaurant overlooking Bern is a fantastic choice. The views are Instagram-worthy, and the vibe is laid-back. Most of the dishes are Mediterranean-inspired. I went with the tandoori chicken with jasmine rice and cucumber salad and paired it with a Swiss white wine. My lunch was flavorful (and pretty) and well worth the steep climb to get there. (I also did this climb while jet lagged. Be forewarned and do the climb after a good night’s sleep!) After dining, be sure to walk over to the adjacent rose garden. It’s an ideal spot to take pictures.
Dining with locals at Lotschberg.
Even if you take a solo trip to Switzerland (or anywhere) that doesn’t mean that you’ll be alone the entire time. On my last night, I went to this cute, casual restaurant that serves Swiss-German food and I sat outside at a table for four (it was the only table available). After hanging out for a few minutes, two women walked up to the table, and the one asked if anyone was sitting next to me. If I’m honest, I was shocked – in the states, no one would ask to sit at a table with a stranger (unless it’s a communal table). I’m not sure if this restaurant’s tables are communal or not, but these two locals joined me for dinner! They didn’t live in Bern, but outside the city and worked as nurses in town. They were enjoying a nice meal before heading home that evening. We chatted up a storm and had the best time. It was one of the most memorable moments of my trip.
Taking a solo trip to Switzerland….
Switzerland is an excellent choice for a woman traveling solo for the first time (or anytime). As a city, Bern is very safe. It’s not too big and not too small, and for those with limited navigation skills, traveling around Bern is straightforward. I rode the tram from the train station to my hotel and back to the train when I left Bern. I rode the tram two other times and walked everywhere else. (I put in some miles.)
Is there anything negative about Bern?
Bern is an expensive city, and Switzerland as a whole is more expensive than other countries in Europe, so you’ll have to plan in advance and get crafty to make your money last. Because I live in New York, I am accustomed to higher prices, so I wasn’t surprised. But, know that you will have to budget more per day for food, drink, and general travel expenses when you visit Switzerland.
It’s easy to see why the Swiss are incredibly proud of their country. It’s also easy to fall in love with Switzerland! I know I did.
Did you know that Travel & Leisure voted Switzerland one of the best countries for solo travelers?
Many thanks to Bern Tourism for hosting me, and to Karin and Kevin Kunz of Hotel Allegro for allowing me to tag along on my first night and hang with the locals. Also thanks to Beatrice Lang of Bern Inside for showing me the lay of the land.