Bern, Switzerland: A day at the zoo

 In Europe, Zoos and Aquariums

When the weather warms up in Bern, Switzerland it is time to get outside. Sunny days mean strolls outside and day trips with the kids. On one such gorgeous day in spring we decided to take our girls to the Bern zoo or as it is locally know, Tierpark Dählhölzli (Tier is German for animal).

It’s an easy day wandering through the newly renovated “Vivarium,” an indoor exhibit filled with species from warmer climates – monkeys, tortoise, tropical fish. It’s humid and a refreshing treat for this former Florida resident.

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Sophie, at 2.5 years old, was busy looking in all directions. One-year-old Olivia was a little zoned out in the stroller but was brought to quick giggles as soon as we pointed out the tiny monkeys bounding just feet in front of her and dangling overhead in the makeshift jungle. Sophie practiced her cackle. Over at the tropical reef, we spent plenty of time naming the colors of the rainbow in the gorgeous sea life.

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Once you tour the upper zoo, for which there is an entry fee, make sure you wander the lower path along the Aare river. It rages just feet from the walkway, some of which, by the way, has no rail. (This was terrifying for us last year as parents of a toddling 18-month-old. Sophie had zero concept of, or respect for, edges, barriers or sloped drop-offs down to the icy waters of this quick-paced river. I spent a good deal of time wondering what we would have to do in an emergency. But paranoia aside, it’s a nice walk with beautiful scenery.)

Here you’ll pass lagoons filled with pelicans and otters, a rocky ledge for Ibex and a rummaging land for boar. A walking path through some woods and downhill joins both sections. There are plenty of park benches to sit and eat your packed lunch or snacks throughout the zoo grounds.

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There’s also a sit-down restaurant and food stand. We opted to brave the lines at the cafeteria-style food stand. We had no problem finding a table in the outdoor seating. We nibbled schnitzel and fries and had we not run out of time on the parking meter, I’m sure we’d have sampled at least one type of ice cream treat.

If you have more time than we did and you want to give the kids a break from the animals, or you need to burn some extra energy before strapping into the car, check out the park’s two full-sized playgrounds plus a play area at the restaurant grounds.

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A side note: Trouble with bears

The zoo is (as of April 2014) center stage to tragedy and controversy over a pair of brown bears and their two cubs. Animal keepers hoped to minimize the animals’ stress and decided not to separate the papa bear from his mate and her cubs as it was causing severe stress for both adult bears, who had been raised together as orphans. The mother was not caring for her babies, choosing the affection of her mate instead.

So, to try to keep the bears in as natural environment possible, they left all four bears together. The papa bear, however, killed one cub and the other was eventually euthanized. The bear exhibit was blocked off from visitors, guarded by zoo staff and signs were posted to explain what had happened.

The issue sparked a conversation with me and Dom, as with many people worldwide, and an inner one for me as to the role of zoos. But this post isn’t meant to be about whether or not people agree or disagree with animals kept in captivity and on show for the public.

I’m glad the girls were too young to understand but I’m sure we will have a chance to talk about this when they’re older. Bears will be a part of my family’s life as long as we live in Bern. The city, almost 900 years ago, was named for bears, its flag carries the image of a bear and is the home to two separate bear exhibits as a tradition, loved or not.

Know before you go

  • Tierpark Dählhölzli, Tierparkweg 1, 3005 Bern (note that the website is in German)
  • Phone number:  +41 31 357 15 15 (If calling from the United States, call 011 41 31 357 15 15)
  • Strollers: Generally stroller friendly. We left the massive double kinderwagen (stroller) at home, and opted for the umbrella stroller. Yes, the monster off-road wheels would have handled the occasional dirt or brick paths better, but our little stroller managed. So did our 2-year-old’s feet.
  • Parking: Some spaces are available, pay at the machine and place your ticket in the window
  • Getting there by Bus: Take Bus 19 toward Elfenau (across the street from the Bern train station outside the Markthalle). Get off at the zoo and turn right at Thormannstrasse. Click here for a map.
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