Outside Berne’s Stade de Suisse stands a reconstructed version of the famous Longines clock that timed matches here when this was the Wankdorfstadion.
On one side the scoreline reads ‘Ungarn 2 Deutschland 3’. In the World Cup Final of 1954, West Germany created one of the biggest shocks in football history by beating a previously unbeatable Hungary one wet July afternoon. ‘Das Wunder von Bern’, ‘The Miracle of Berne’, made into a film on the 50th anniversary of the match, is said to have kick-started the post-war German boom – and led to the long, long decline of the game in Hungary. It all happened here.
Set in the middle of Switzerland, easily accessible from the main airports of Basel and Zürich, this charming, cobbled capital hosted three matches for Euro 2008, the Wankdorf being knocked down to make way for the eco-friendly Stade de Suisse.
A regular venue for the Swiss Cup Final. Berne is also home of BSC Young Boys. Thirteen times league champions, most recently in 2019, Young Boys are only one of two Swiss clubs to have reached the last four of the European Cup. The club is currently enjoying its first purple patch since the 1950s. Back then, Young Boys were pioneers in newly emerging European competition.
Back in the early 1900s, the recently founded club emerged to win four titles before World War I. The burgeoning local game also featured FC Bern. FCB still exist today, proud of their 1894 foundation.
The early histories of Berne’s two clubs intertwine. In 1897, students from Berne University were inspired when watching a match between Basel Old Boys and FC Bern. Copying the yellow-and-black colour scheme of the Old Boys, these students also agreed to combine forces with FCB and share players and infrastructure.
Nearly merging soon afterwards, the two clubs split and became bitter rivals. Games between them attracted relatively large crowds. After the turn of the century, Young Boys broke through, and began to win a string of Swiss titles.
Based in the city centre, Young Boys became the Berne’s most popular club, as well as its most successful.
FC Bern, playing at Neufeld north of town, enjoyed their best run after World War I. In 1923, FCB and Young Boys finished equal top of the Central Division of the three-region Swiss League but, for reasons lost in the mists of time, Young Boys withdrew from playing a decider. FCB went on to win the all-Swiss final table but had their only title withdrawn due to fielding an ineligible player.
Either side of this controversy, FC Bern twice won the Och Cup, forerunner of the Swiss Cup.
The same year as FCB’s last victory, 1925, Young Boys moved to a new stadium, the Wankdorf, and have remained well ahead of their former city rivals ever since.
Still at the Stadion Neufeld, where Young Boys played in the early 2000s while the Wankdorf was being converted to the Stade de Suisse, FC Bern are currently losing game after game in the fifth-flight 2.Liga Interregional.
To reach Neufeld, take bus No.11 for five stops from Bern main station to Brückfeld. The 14,000-capacity stadium is on nearby Neubrückstraße. At the stadium, the Calcio Bar serves supporters and players alike, with live matches screened.
Berne’s airport is 9km (5.5 miles) south-east of town, only used for a handful of charter flights. AirportBus Bern (No.334) or the Tangento (No.160) run every 30min to nearby Belp station (10min). From there, frequent S-Bahn trains run to Berne main station. Overall journey time is 30-40min, tickets SF3.70 through Swiss Rail.
Taxi Bern (+41 31 312 12 12) offers airport transfers for SF49 into town and accepts credit cards.
A direct train service runs regularly from Zürich Airport (1hr 25min) and from Basel main station (1hr) to Berne station, a shortish stroll to the city centre. The Stade de Suisse is over the river north-east of town.
Buses and trams form Berne’s transport network. A single ticket is SF2.60, SF13 for six journeys or a day pass. Those staying in certain hotels also receive a Bern Ticket allowing free public transport for the length of their stay.
The nearest hotel to the Stade de Suisse is the four-star, business-friendly Hotel Novotel Bern Expo, by the terminus of the No.9 tram. The more budget-friendly Ibis Budget Bern Expo, formerly the Etap, is alongside.
Also in the vicinity, the Hotel Jardin is a traditional, mid-range lodging with its own restaurant.
In the Old Town, equally traditional hotels include the historic Hotel Bern, now a Best Western four-star, the long-established Goldener Schlüssel and the more affordable Metropole. On Bundesplatz, the Hotel Bären dates back to 1850, its 69 rooms recently renovated.
Near the station, the Hotel City am Bahnhof offers modern if functional three-star lodging provided by a Swiss chain based in Geneva.
For those on a budget, the hostel-like Hotel Glocke does a mix of singles, doubles and multi-bed rooms with shared bathrooms, plus private doubles – as central as it gets and ideal for three or four of you on a budget.
Bars dot the Old Town. Many gather on the terrace of the Leichtsinn, a football haunt gone gastro – inside is an intimate, two-floor contemporary space. Round the corner, Rathausgasse is lined with bars, most only open after dark.
At the edge of the Old Town, GOAL at Junkerngasse 1 is a football venue with a YB focus. ‘Die Berner Fußball Bar’ is also home to the city’s only Werder Bremen fan club. Swiss, Italian, German, English and Spanish top-league matches are screened in a cellar that once hosted a Louis Armstrong aftershow in 1955.
For microbrewed beers, the Altes Tramdepot across Nydeggbrücke bridge is a quality spot with its own ales and a garden to enjoy them in.