As Switzerland's federal capital and gateway to the Alps, Bern impresses visitors with its relaxed atmosphere and wide range of cultural and leisure activities. Throughout the year, the city hosts many events, such as the country's third largest carnival and a magical Christmas market. However, in this article, we want to tell you about the Zibelemärit, a traditional onion market that colors and enlivens the city every year on the fourth Monday in November.
As Switzerland’s federal capital and gateway to the Alps, Berne knows how to impress first-time visitors. The city offers a relaxed and glamorous atmosphere: the narrow medieval alleyways invite you to stroll along, the open-air cafés provide refreshment after a long walk or a cool afternoon aperitif, and the numerous craft shops in the old town offer original and good quality products. But Bern is also home to many cultural and entertainment events, which throughout the year color and enliven the city. We decided to explore one of these very special events: the Zibelemärit (onion market), a strange combination of a traditional farmers’ market and a folk festival that, as is often the case in Switzerland, turns into an excuse to spend a few happy hours with friends and family. So here for you is all the information you need to plan your visit!
Arriving by train
As usual, we used public transport to get to Bern. From Lucerne, a train takes you directly to the city in just under an hour and a half, but Bern is also well connected to other major Swiss cities (such as Zurich, Basel, Geneva and Interlaken) and the major European cities. In both cases, you should always check the updated timetables and the different travel options through the SBB website or through the SBB app.
Arriving by car
Bern is of course also accessible by car through the excellent road network that connects it to Geneva, Zurich, Basel and the Bernese Oberland. But we don’t recommend arriving here by car: the historical centre has many limited traffic areas and in order to get around the city freely you will be forced to leave your car in one of the many paid car parks. Here you can find the list.
The History of the Zibelemärit
Although the Zibelemärit certainly has a long historical tradition, its origins over time are not at all clear and there are several theories about it. One of the most recent, dates the origin of this peculiar market in the 1850s, when Murten farmers’ wives began to come to Bern on St. Martin’s Day to sell their products. However, one of the best-known and most popular legends among the citizens of Bern claims that Zibelemärit is a much older festival and dates back as far as the 15th century, when the people of Bern allowed people from neighbouring Freiburg to sell onions in the city as a reward for their help after the devastating fire in Bern in 1405. Whatever the truth, today the Zibelemärit is certainly one of the most characteristic events in the federal capital!
When and where
The Zibelemärit traditionally takes place every year on the fourth Monday of November, so in 2022 it will take place on November 28th. This market has always represented for the population a divider between Autumn and the Christmas season – with its markets and colourful lights already in sight – as well as the last chance to celebrate before Winter. The sales Stands cover a rather large area of the Old Town, between Münstergasse, Waisenhausplatz, Münsterplatz and Bundesplatz. This last one is the beating heart of the event. And although the market officially starts at 6:00 a.m. and ends at 6:00 p.m., every year the citizens of Bern wake up very early and start their purchases at 4 a.m. to make sure they have the best selection of products and to best savour the atmosphere of the event before the city fills up with visitors and tourists.
To reach the city during this special event, our advice is as always to use public transportation. Although the city is in fact easily accessible by car, the historic center has many restricted traffic areas and in order to get around the city freely you will still be forced to leave your car in one of the many paid parking lots.
What to expect
Although Zibelemärit is a traditional market, it is also a true event for the city as well as a popular festival, a perfect opportunity to celebrate with friends and family. That is why it is so loved and appreciated by the people of Bern! Of course, the onion is the absolute star here: more than 200 stalls present tons of onions every year in the form of braids of all sizes, garlands decorated with dried flowers, puppets and other truly original creations that visitors can admire, photograph and buy. But the onion is not only the absolute star of the sales, but also the main ingredient of the dishes sold during this unusual autumn day: onion cakes of all sizes, onion soup or sausages roasted with onions are just some of the dishes offered by the stands and restaurants in the historic center. For the more cold-hearted, there is, of course, no lack of mulled wine, which perfectly matches the intense flavour of the onion. Finally, for the little ones and as with any true festival, the traditional fair treats cannot be missed: roasted almonds, magenbrot (something similar to gingerbread) and cotton candy. In short, everything you need for a boost of energy to get ready for the confetti battle – attended mostly by children – and which officially closes the market at four o’clock in the afternoon.
Have we intrigued you? To experience this event at its best, our advice is to travel to Bern a day in advance and stay overnight in the city so that you can enjoy the market early in the morning before the rush. If you want to learn more about this fascinating city, here are our tips on what you absolutely should not miss during your visit.
For an overnight stay in Bern, we chose the Goldener Schlüssel, a small hotel in the center just a few steps from the famous clock tower. It is one of the oldest hotels in Bern, completely renovated in 2008. It has friendly staff and clean, even if a bit small, rooms. However, its location in the center and its restaurant make it a good choice for a weekend in the city.
Water flows almost everywhere in Bern. There are more than 100 public fountains in the city and all of them spout fresh, drinkable water that is accessible to everyone free of charge. So bring a water bottle with you! What’s more, each fountain has its own charm. You won’t be able to stop photographing them and observing the colors and strange figures that are represented!
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