Bern, this beautiful Swiss town, has nothing to envy other European cities with its noble and elegant appearance. On the contrary, for those who don’t know it, it boasts a historical center which, due to its medieval appearance that it still preserves in many corners, has been defined as World Heritage by UNESCO. The old part, the most beautiful of this refined city, enchants thousands of visitors from all over the world; here you can get lost among the fascinating and long arcades of its streets, among the elegant and numerous fountains that furnish it, true works of art, in the magic that the clock tower gives every hour with its spectacle. Not to mention, then, the wonderful late Gothic Cathedral, the Federal Palace, or the house of Einstein. And let’s not forget that Bern is the home of the Emmental and other delicious cheeses and has a long tradition of handmade chocolate. On the other hand, its modern part is an active center of industry and home to various international structures. Thanks to its privileged location, around a peninsula bathed by the River Aare, its modern service center, and a sustainability policy, Bern boasts an excellent quality of life that makes its 130,000 inhabitants proud, making it a popular tourist destination for visitors.
Things to do in Bern
1. Altstadt – Old Town of Bern
The Old Town is the beating heart of Bern. The entire Altstadt district, the Old Town, stretches out on a narrow rocky promontory. The River Aare forms the backdrop to this picturesque setting and divides the old area from the more modern.
Spitalgasse is the first stretch of road that you take to cross the medieval town; here are 6 kilometers of elegant arcades. In bad weather conditions, or even to shelter from the shade, visitors can enjoy their visit. You will find several shops, art galleries, fashion boutiques, and small music rooms under the arcades. However, the arcades are not the only distinguishing feature of Bern’s Old Town; its old town is dotted with attractions: the Clock Tower, numerous 15th-century arcades, statues, colossal churches, monuments, and above all, many fountains. From the Old Town, you can easily reach all the things to see in Bern. Despite its special location on a peninsula, it is quite easy to find your way around on foot or by public transport.
2. Zytglogge – Clock Tower
Sooner or later, after Spitalgasse, you will find yourself on one of the most beautiful sections of the main street: Marktgasse, where the famous “Clock Tower” stands, one of the most characteristic symbols of Bern and representative of the punctuality that distinguishes all Swiss people. The Tower was erected in 1191-20 and was the main gateway to the city.
Today, its astronomical clock attracts visitors from all over the world for the spectacle it gives at the stroke of every hour. The last ten minutes before each toll, the area in front of the tower is filled with people with their noses turned up to enjoy the spectacle of bears, jesters, and other mechanical figures that come to life in a suggestive dance. While outside time passes and each show reminds us that another hour is over, inside the tower, instead, time seems to have stopped, between the wooden beams, thick stone walls, and the silence that surrounds this place, it seems to take a journey into the past. Therefore, the most curious should not miss a visit inside the building to discover what is behind the hands and browse the medieval mechanics of the clock. The visit lasts about an hour, during which you will discover curious details about the functioning of the clock and the history of the tower and its various functions. After the visit, you can climb to the highest part of the clock tower. There are about 130 steps to the top, but once up, the view of Bern with its roofs, alleys, and many attractions will surely pay off. A similar emotion can also be experienced in the wonderful Prague with its astronomical clock on the Old Town Square.
Opening hours and cost of the Clock Tower ticket
The visits occur throughout the year and start every half hour (the hour is defined individually).
Duration 60 minutes.
Price CHF 250.00 per group (max. 20 people per guide).
3. Bern Münster Cathedral
The silhouette of its bell tower, the tallest in Switzerland, rises majestically between the roofs of Bern’s Old Town. It is over 100 meters high; it is the unmistakable symbol of Bern Cathedral, the capital’s main Reformed Evangelical building dedicated to St. Vincent. The church’s foundation stone was laid in 1421 by engineer Matthaus Ensinger on a former medieval church called “Leutkirche.” This church remained virtually intact during the construction work, while the new one revolved around it in a clockwise direction. The cathedral walls have seen several generations of artists working on this masterpiece for almost 150 years.
During 1500 a part of the Cathedral construction was completed, but the bell tower was only 50 meters high at the time, and its appearance was different from what we see today. The construction sites, however, at a certain point were interrupted due to a disruption of the subsoil and for economic reasons. It was not until 1893 that the tower was rebuilt in the Gothic style in its final stature, and the largest late medieval church in Switzerland was completely restored to the City of Bern.
To appreciate the wonders of Bern Cathedral, the building should be divided into three parts: the portal, the interior, and the bell tower.
The central portal of the facade, the work of the sculptor and architect Erhart Kung, depicts the Last Judgement with 294 figures sculpted between prophets, martyrs, angels, and other figures to tell the heartbreaking scene of the day when those who were to live on and those who were not, settled.
The interior is majestic and demanding and has three naves divided by pillars and illuminated by 5 wonderful stained glass windows decorated by different authors, depicting scenes from the fifteenth century. The beautiful pulpit of the cathedral, surmounted by a small roof with splendid decorations by Swiss artists, certainly does not go unnoticed.
On the other hand, other decorations are to be found in the chapels of the cathedral, all financed by noble Bernese families. There are twelve chapels, and the decorations of each one reflect the taste of the respective client with the family coat of arms:
Gerwen Chapel, Schopfer Chapel, Bulzinger Chapel, Krauchral Chapel, Bubenberg Chapel, Matter Chapel, Brüggler Chapel, Lombach Chapel, Diesbach Chapel, Ringoltigen Chapel, Schüty Chapel and Erlach-Ligerz Chapel.
The bell tower has the largest bell in Switzerland and many curious details to discover. First of all, it is worth mentioning that for those who feel like it, the tower can be visited, climb about 312 steps to reach the viewing platform from which the view is immense.
During the visit to the tower, then, you can admire in the first part the sculptures of the eight architects who contributed to its construction.
Another highlight is the beautiful choir vault, decorated with frescoes by Niklaus Manuel, among which you can see three of the many things, the coat of arms of the city of Bern. Once at the top, you can enjoy a view as far as the peaks of the Bernese Oberland, a worthwhile experience.
Opening hours and cost of the Cathedral ticket
Winter 21.10.19-03.04.20 hrs. 12:00-16:00 hrs. 12:00-15:30 hrs.
Summer 06.04.20-16.10.20 hours 10:00-17:00 hours 10:00-16:30 hours
Winter 26.10.19-04.04.20 hrs. 10:00-17:00 hrs. 10:00-16:30 hrs.
Summer 11.04.20-16.10.20 hrs. 10:00-17:00 hrs. 10:00-16:30 hrs.
Winter 27.10.19-05.04.20 hrs. 11:30-16:00 hrs. 11:30-15:30 hrs.
Summer 12.04.20-17.10.20 hrs. 11:30-17:00 hrs. 11:30-16:30 hrs.
Cost of ticket
The ticket is only for the entrance to the tower; the visit to the cathedral is free. The full cost is CHF 5.00 (about 4 €), while the reduced cost is CHF 2.00 (about 1.60 €) for children from 7 to 16 years old.
4. The Minster Terrace
The view of the city of Bern can be enjoyed not only from the bell tower but also from the lower floors. Reach the terrace next to the cathedral for a breathtaking view of the Aare and the Matte district, the oldest district in the city, which can be reached from the terrace with a lift for CHF 1.20.
The Cathedral’s terrace, actually a former cemetery, with its green lawns and chestnut trees that shade it, is a trendy place, especially for the Bernese who do not miss the opportunity to enjoy a picnic with family or friends. And on colder or rainy days, rather than giving up, you can enjoy the view from the comfortable seats of the Café Einstein au Jardin. This terrace also regularly hosts the craft market. On the first Saturday of each month, if you’re lucky, you can peek into the over 100 stalls of handmade products that are set up. During the Advent period, however, the market turns into a magical Christmas version.
5. Kunstmuseum – Museum Of Fine Arts
The Bern Art Museum is a must for all art lovers. The Kunstmuseum, founded in 1809, is a world-famous institution with more than 50,000 works by leading Swiss and European artists, covering an artistic period of more than 8 centuries. A treasure chest of art in which the gaze is lost among the works of Durer, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, and many others. But let’s proceed in order; let’s start the visit from the ground floor, where we meet a valuable collection of Italian artists, including Duccio di Buoninsegna, Beato Angelico, Taddeo Gaddi, with masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. Then continues an exhibition of Swiss artists of a period ranging from 1400 to 1700, including paintings by the Bernese Albert Anker. Also on the ground floor, an entire area is dedicated to the French impressionists and post-impressionists, and here you can enjoy the works of Van Gogh, Manet, Cézanne as far as the international scene is concerned, while in other rooms, Swiss artists still stand out, among which the important collection by Ferdinand Hodler.
On the first floor of the museum, on the other hand, we move on to Cubist and contemporary art, with particular reference to artists such as Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. A splendid museum designed by the architect Enzo Piano is dedicated to the latter artist, but it is located 5 km outside the center and requires at least half a day’s visit. If you have the time, it is not to be missed. Open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 am-5 pm. Ticket 20 Swiss francs (19 euros).
Opening hours and cost of the Bern Museum of Art ticket
Address Art Museum Bern
Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Wednesday-Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed on Mondays.
For the cost of the ticket, we suggest referring to the official website of the museum
You can purchase the Museum Card, which gives you free access to all museums in Berne for 24 hours or 48 hours, at your own cost. For further information, please contact the following website, where you can also purchase the museum card online: https://www.bern.com/it/detail/museum-card
6. Kafigturm – The Prison Tower
A stroll along Spitalgasse leads to Barenplatz, the square dominated by the imposing Kafigturm, the so-called “Prison Tower.”This tower, built in 1256, is the old gate that gave access to the city of Bern. At one time, criminals and murderers were imprisoned here, but today it is a political debate. Since 1999, the Prison Tower has been the seat of the Political Forum of the Confederation and a venue for important events and exhibitions. If you are interested in visiting the Tower, the Bern Polit-Forum organizes guided tours to learn more about its history. This is a free 45-minute tour and can also be combined with a guided tour of the current exhibitions in the tower. You can register for the tour at the following link: https://www.polit-forum-bern.ch/fuehrungen/.
Opening hours and ticket cost
Address Prison Tower
Tel. 031 310 20 60
Einsteinhaus – The house of Einstein
7I wonder if there is a specific place in the city of Bern where Albert Einstein found inspiration for one of his formulas on relativity. We know for sure that the great scientist lived on the Kramgasse, the central section of the old city, where famous fountains meet, among others, including ZahringerBrunnen depicting the bear in armor and flag, the symbol of Bern.
But let’s go back to Albert Einstein’s house, exactly on the second floor of number 49, where he and his wife moved in 1903 and stayed there for a few years.
The apartment has now become a small museum. Einsteinhaus and it’s opening to the public offer visitors the opportunity to admire old photographs, notes, and various documents that reconstruct a part of the scientist’s life.
Opening hours and ticket price of the Einsteinhaus museum
Monday – Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00.
The full ticket (for adults) costs CHF 6.00;
Reduced price ticket (for children from 8 to 15 years) costs CHF 3.00;
for students and pensioners, the cost is CHF 4.50.
For further information, we recommend the official website http://www.einstein-bern.ch/.
8. BarenPark Bern – The Bear Park
From the cathedral of Bern, take Junckergass, the characteristic street with low arcades, to the Nydegg bridge, beyond which you will find the famous defense moat of the 15th century, where beautiful specimens of bears, the symbol of Bern, live.
This moat has now become part of the Bear Park, BarenPark, with an area of about 5,000 square meters; a unique recreation area in the lower part of the city of Bern open to all visitors free of charge. A small forest with caves and a pond has been recreated in the park to make the natural habitat as true as possible for the bear family living there.
Yes, because it is a real family, in 2009 mummy bear Bjork gave birth to two cubs: Ursina, who still lives with her parents today, and Bern, who has moved to Bulgaria. Watching their daily activities while daddy Fin watches Ursina bathing or mummy bear gnawing on a branch, watching them play, eat, fish, sleep under visitors’ eyes is a truly unique and original experience.
But why is the bear the symbol of the capital? Behind this question lies a legend about Berthold V of Zahringen, the founder of Bern who killed a bear here. The name Bern derives from Bär, which translates “bear” in German. Since then, the famous heraldic animal has been the symbol of the capital city and can still be found in the city’s coat of arms with its red tongue and nails.
Opening hours and cost of the Bear Park ticket
Bear Park is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day.
Admission is free. We recommend you contact the following number for guided tours: +41 (0)31 357 15 25.
Tierpark Dahlholzli – Zoological Park
Just a few steps from the Bear Park, directly on the River Aare, you will also find the Dählhölzli Zoological Park, an environment populated by over 200 different animal species. You can meet leopards, owls, wolves, squirrels, monkeys, and many other species during the visit. The park’s Vivarium is home to monkeys, snakes, turtles, and crocodiles, while the outdoor area leads to the bison park. The zoological park is open all year round, and part of it can be visited freely.
The children’s zoo is dedicated to children who can make friends here with goats and piglets. If you wish, you can also ride around the park in a horse-drawn carriage or ride a pony. In short, a fun experience suitable for the whole family.
Opening hours and ticket prices of the Bern Zoo
The zoo is open all year round at the following times:
-from March to October from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m;
-November to February from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Families: CHF 24.00
Adults: CHF 10.00
Children: CHF 6.00
9. The Fountains of Bern
Spread throughout the city, Bern’s fountains are a real attraction for tourists and the hub of public life for the citizens. They are true works of art that embellish the capital with their colors and give the old city streets a truly unique atmosphere.
The eleven fountains depicting allegorical characters and social values attract the eye, and most of them were made by a single hand, that of the sculptor Hans Gieng. Among these, not to be missed at all:
Pfeiferbrunnen – The Fountain of the Bagpipe Player: this is the first fountain you come across along the medieval street in Bern’s Old Town. It is one of the most famous fountains in the capital and the “child eater” that we will see shortly. The musician, on his pedestal, plays bagpipes together with a goose and a monkey with a flute in his mouth and wants to represent a happy life by celebrating music, play, and dance.
Kindlifresserbrunnen – The Children’s Eating Ogre Fountain: This is a popular carnival mask from the time of the Reformation that depicts the ogre sitting on a pillar in the act of eating a child. In contrast, others try to escape his clutches. Among other meanings, perhaps this frightening fountain from the 15th century is meant to be a lesson for all children who do not behave well. It is located on Kornhausplatz, where the Clock Tower meets.
The Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen – The Fountain of Justice: certainly less disturbing than its predecessor. This fountain stands beautiful and elegant on its column and embodies justice with blindfolded eyes, a sword on the right, and a scale on the left with two gold plates. At its feet are the pope, the sultan, the emperor, and the mayor, who impersonate the different types of power. The fountain is located on the last stretch of the old central street of Bern.
10. Bern Foods
Like all European capitals, Bern offers cuisine that ranges from classic Swiss traditional dishes to international cuisine. The influence of Bern’s three neighboring cantons must also be taken into account, which results in dishes with a mix of French, German, Austrian, and Italian influences. The whole historic center of Bern is full of restaurants, taverns or places where you can eat something; you have to pay attention to the cost of the menu that in Bern is a bit more expensive than in the other European capitals and the clock, remembering that we are in Switzerland and not in Italy, so lunch is roughly served at 12 and dinner at 19. But let’s find out now what we must not miss.
The Berner Platte, for example, is a typical dish that belongs to the canton of Bern and is a specialty not to be missed. The dish features various types of meat, both beef and pork: bacon, smoked ribs, pork tongue, slices of Bernese tongue sausage, ham on the bone, boiled beef, all on a green bean base during the winter and sauerkraut during the summer, as well as other vegetables such as boiled potatoes, pickled turnips and so on. The emblem of Bern’s cuisine can be found in this dish, complete with everything. To try!
Another dish that makes you fall into temptation is the Cheese Fondue, which we also eat in Italy, but here, being at home has a different connotation thanks to the typical cheeses on the Berne can count (Gruyère, Appenzeller, Emmental, and Tilsiter). Usually, a mix of hard or mixed cheeses is used to make it melted not in a pot but in a special container, the caquelon, made of cast iron, ceramic, or terracotta so that the fondue remains nice and warm. In this pot, each person soaks his or her piece of bread with a fondue fork. A real treat!
A typical side dish, on the other hand, to accompany various dishes, or even to be enjoyed as a main course, is the potato rosti, a dish that certainly agrees with everyone. It’s a mixture of grated potatoes, with the possible addition of onion, bacon, cheese, and various herbs, all passed in a pan as if to create an omelet.
Now let’s move on to what should never be missing, the dessert of course, and here we are lucky since Switzerland is home to one of the sweetest things ever, chocolate. Famous all over the world for its excellent quality, handmade Swiss chocolate is a true tradition. There are many different places to taste it; there are even real chocolate boutiques like the famous Casa Nobile, a paradise where gourmets’ dreams come true, and it’s just impossible to resist them! The chocolate shop is located at 45 Rauthausgasse.