As the Aare river works its way north through Switzerland to eventually join the Rhine, it takes many twists and turns. On a little peninsula formed by one of the river's sharper bends, the city of Bern came to be in the year 1191. Now, more than 800 years later, it is one of Europe's most charming and cosmopolitan towns.
While the pace isn't exactly feverish, even on a Saturday night, there's a lot going on in the Swiss capital, plus plenty of good restaurants, some special hotels and miles of narrow streets for strolling.
With a population of 130,000, Bern is neither village nor metropolis, though it has many of the advantages of both. It is large enough to support world-class museums and orchestras, while at the same time retaining a small town atmosphere. Every Tuesday and Saturday, for example, is market day. On these mornings the old town is packed with farmers and vendors selling all manner of food and other goods. Bern's sophistication comes in large measure from the influence of its university, its approximately 80 foreign embassies and consulates, and the fact that it is Switzerland's capital city. These institutions ratchet up considerably the demand for life's finer things such as top-notch restaurants, hotels, clever shops and cultural venues.
Bern has to rank near the top of any index of fascinating, mid-size European cities that get little attention in the North American press. Read our recommendations for sight-seeing, hotels and restaurants in the articles below.