Biel/Bienne (Biel in German, Bienne in French) is the 10th largest city of Switzerland and is located on the northern edge of the canton of Berne. Famous for watchmaking, and home to Rolex, Omega and Swatch among other famous makers.
The city lies at the foot of the first mountain range of the Jura Mountains area, guarding the only practical connection to Jura in the area, and on the northeastern shores of Lake Biel (Bielersee, Lac de Bienne), sharing the eastern tip of the lake with its sister city, Nidau.
The city has more than 50,000 inhabitants and the agglomeration more than 100,000.
Biel/Bienne is one of the few places in Switzerland to be fully genuinely bilingual, with German as the majority language and French as the minority language, though in practice, Swiss German is the main language, with French being second. However, German is very widely spoken as it's used in lots of media and is taught in schools, even in French-speaking ones. English is also prevalent.
- 1 Biel/Bienne station. The current railway station was built in 1923 in a neoclassical style. A special highlight is the 1st class waiting room with frescoes by Philippe Robert.
Biel/Bienne has connections to many Swiss cities. All the fast trains stopping here are called ICN as instead of the normal inter city trains, special tilting trains are used on this stretch. The most important connections are:
- One hourly ICN from Geneva airport (1h 40min) and main station (1h 30min) via Yverdon (35 min) and Neuchatel (15 min)
- One hourly ICN from Lausanne (1h) via Yverdon and Neuchatel
- One hourly ICN from Basel (55 min) via Delémont (30 min)
- Two hourly ICN from Zurich (1h 10min) via Olten (50 min) and Solothurn (15 min). One of these comes from Saint Gallen (2h 30min), Winterthur (1h 50min) and Zurich airport (1h 30min) while the other one passes by Aarau (45 min)
- From Berne two RE (25 min) and two S3 (35 min) hourly
- One hourly RE (40 min) and R (55 min) from La Chaux-de-Fonds
- One hourly R from Delémont (30 min) and Saint-Ursanne (45 min)
Some more regional lines connect to surrounding villages.
Biel/Bienne is well connected with highways in each direction: To the east A5 starts just outside the city and connects to A1 near Solothurn, which comes from Zurich. The west A5 only continues at the end of the lake. It comes from Neuchatel and goes along the northern shore of lake Neuchatel from Yverdon where it joins A1 in direction of Lausanne. To the south A6 comes from Berne and the Bernese Highlands, while to the north A16 goes to Delémont and France.
As Biel/Bienne is located at the end of Lake Biel, it can be reached by boat from other villages along the lake with a handful of trips every day. There are also special trips which come from the Lake of Neuchatel and the Lake of Murten. A third option is to take the ship along the Aare river from Solothurn. The time tables for all boat trips change by season, with no boats running along the Aare during winter. Boats still run on the lake, but with very limited trips available.
The City has a highly efficient, clean and safe public transport system. It includes trams, buses, S-Bahn (local trains) and even boats for the lake and river. Tickets must be purchased from a ticket machine before boarding or from one of the ticket selling kiosks.
It is possible to visit the main touristic sights of Biel/Bienne on foot. It's safe and not far.
Biel offers quite a collection of architectural styles. The oldest buildings can be found in the historic medieval town centre (Bieler Altstadt / Vieille ville de Bienne). The newer town centre (Bieler Neustadt / Nouvelle ville de Bienne) offers international and Bauhaus styles, as well as the neoclassic style rail station. For a more modern Biel, you can head to the urban and busy squares of Zentralplatz and Guisanplatz.
- Église du Pasquart à Bienne (located at Seevorstadt). main French-speaking church
- 1 Stadtkirche Biel (located at the historic medieval town). main German-speaking church
- 2 Volkshaus, Aarbergstrasse 112. The 'house of the people' was built in 1929-1932 as a headquarters to the labour union. It is also a good example of the New Objectivity (Neues Bauen) architectural style. It now houses a restaurant and a congress centre.
- 3 Hotel Elite, 14 Bahnhofstrasse/rue de la Gare. The hotel was also built in the Neues Bauen style and as a symbol of the bourgeoisie it gives an interesting contrast to the Volkshaus opposite. Is still operated as a hotel today (see Sleep section).
- Lido at Lake Biel (Strandbad Biel). Bauhaus / International Style
- 4 Pasquart, Seevorstadt 71-73, ☎ . W, F 12:00-18:00, Th 12:00-20:00, Sa 11:00-18:00. Museum of contemporary arts, photography and cinema. Fr. 11/9.
- 5 Neues Museum, Seevorstadt 52, ☎ . Tu-Su 11:00-17:00. Over two buildings (Schwab and Neuhaus) this museum offers a variety of collections on art, watches, history, film and archaeology. Fr. 10/6.
- 6 Museum Omega, Stämpflistrasse 96, ☎ . Tu-F 10:00-18:00, Sa 11:00-17:00. This company museum on the famous Swiss watch brand is located opposite the factory. Free.
- 7 Centre Müller, Wydenauweg 34, ☎ . Opens on appointment only. An engineering museum. Fr. 8/3.
- 8 Castle museum Nidau, Hauptstrasse 6, 2560 Nidau (While this is in the town of Nidau, it is still just a 10 minutes walk from the station in Biel), ☎ . M-F 08:00-18:00, Sa 10:00-16:00. The museum explains the water corrections which took place in the Jura region. Free.
- Go swim in the Lake Biel (Bielersee)
- Take a look an stroll to the historic medieval town (Altstadt).
- Lake Promenade at the Strandboden.
- Do a cruise on Lake Biel.
- Go to the Taubenloch Canyon (Taubenlochschlucht) and explore the cascade.
- Pick up a bike and take a ride around the lake or the Jura mountains. If you can, take a look at the vineyards: you´re going to find many medieval constructions and some good restaurants serving fish from the lake and local wine.
- During ice-hockey season visit a game of the EHC Biel.
- August 1st is the national day of Switzerland, and watching the fireworks on a boat is a good experience.
- In the summer, there is a music festival at the old town.
The main shopping district is in the middle of the city. The main shopping streets are the Bahnhofsstrasse and the Nidaugasse. Both car-free! For example: Buy a watch made in Biel/Bienne (ex: Omega, Swatch, Rolex, Candino and a lot more)
You should definitely try some of the food sourced regionally, such as the freshwater fish (especially perch and luce) from the lake Biel, the cheese from the nearby Jura mountains and the vegetables from the Seeland region, which Biel is part of.
- 1 Restaurant du lac, Neuenburgstrasse 58, ☎ . Tu-F 08:45-23:00, Sa 10:00-23:00. The speciality of the house are the fish dishes, many of which are from the nearby lake. Fr. 40 for mains.
- Famous white, red and rose wine from the vineyards at lake Biel. Or taste one of the beers from the region.
- 1 Art Déco Hotel Elite, 14 Bahnhofstrasse/rue de la Gare, fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 200m from the train station. Great hotel bar "Baramundo". Single room from Fr. 205, double room from Fr. 297 (rates from February 2009).
- 1 Téléskis Les Prés-d'Orvin (7 km in winter, 5 lifts) (A bus leaves from Biel around 4 times a day (25 minutes)), ☎ . A small ski area close to Biel, makes a good day trip for skiing or snowboarding. Day pass Fr. 24/12 weekdays, more expensive over the weekend.