When visitors first see Bern, they are delighted with the beauty of its views. The capital of Switzerland is built on a sandstone ridge, surrounded on three sides by the Aare River, which flows through the valley. High bridges link the city to the upland on the right bank of the river and to new urban areas.
The exterior décor of houses and shops has retained the splendor of 17th-18th century Bern, with arcades and protruding rooftops all around, which is also one of Bern’s landmarks. It is the way in which the city combined the delights of the past and the innovations of the present that allowed UNESCO to include it in the list of World Heritage Sites.
Altstadt (Old Bern)
Altstadt, or Old Bern, is one of the most enchanting places in all of Switzerland. Cobbled streets and sandstone arcaded buildings have not changed much in 500 years, so you can see many of Bern’s attractions in their original form. Its natural border is the Aare River.
The medieval Altstadt district boasts 16th century fountains and 15th century arcades. Of course, you can catch a glimpse of the beauties of the old town, passing through it on a tram, but it is best to take time for a walk and soak up as many views of this place as possible.
Address: UNESCO-Altstadt von Bern, Kramgasse 40, 3011 Bern, Switzerland.
Zytglogge clock tower
One of the most recognizable landmarks in Switzerland is the Zytglogge Clock Tower, an outstanding 13th-century building that rises in the heart of Old Bern. This clock tower is for greater and more wonderful purposes than just telling you the time.
Every hour, a few minutes before the complete revolution of the minute hand, the jester on the clock begins to drum, and music begins to sound. When the minute hand completes its circle, the main characters of the show – the king and his bears – are shown and captivate the audience.
For the most part, this performance is enjoyed by children, but any adult can appreciate the performance, durability and significance of the watch in the cultural history of Bern. The design itself is also amazing – on the dial you will see not only the current month, but also the zodiac sign.
Address: Zytglogge, Bim Zytglogge, Bern, Switzerland.
What else to see in Bern is definitely the Berne Cathedral. Although the construction of the cathedral was completed in the 15th century, the reformation of the Swiss Church took place only in 1893. This is the tallest cathedral in Bern, and perhaps in all of Switzerland.
The Gothic style of the building is emphasized by an incredible spire towering over the city. And the most beautiful thing in this cathedral is, of course, a portal with a detailed image of the Last Judgment.
Of course, it’s a great idea to see the masterpieces of the cathedral up close, but all the best photos of it were taken from the Kirchenfeldbrücke bridge.
Address: The Cathedral of Bern, Münsterplatz, Bern, Switzerland.
If you are planning a hike in Bern’s Old District, then you will definitely want to visit the Rosengarten Park. It is small and located on the top of a hill, which provides a special view of the city.
In this garden you will find over 200 varieties of roses, not to mention the almost equally rich collection of irises and even rhododendrons. There is also a playground and a cozy restaurant where you can have a cup of coffee, have a light snack and look at the bustle of the city from this secluded hill.
Address: Rosengarten, Alter Aargauerstalden, Bern, Switzerland.
The Bundeshaus, or Swiss Federal Palace, is where both the Swiss Federal Assembly and the Federal Council meet. Two different branches of government sit in different wings of the palace, which makes the building one of the most important in the entire country.
Built in the 19th century, the Bundeshaus is not only a beautiful and remarkable building, but also the place where one of the first modern democracies was born.
If meetings are not taking place at the Federal Palace, you can walk along it with a guide. Right in front of the Bundeshaus, on the Bundesplatz square, there is a chic fountain popular with tourists.
Address: Federal Palace, Bundesplatz 3, 3005 Bern, Switzerland.
Park Bear Pit
According to local legend, the city’s name comes from the word “bear”, while the animal itself has long played an important role in Bern’s history and cult. Bear’s Pit, or Berengraben, is far from just a pit where you can gawk at clubfoot. This is a real nature reserve where you can observe the full life of bears, see how they swim and cool off in the Aare River.
The original bear pit was installed here in the 16th century, and all the prominent people who visited Bern, from Einstein to Lenin, came here to admire the bears in their natural habitat.
Despite the fact that the bear pit has always been an important part of the urban heritage, now the animals living in it are treated much better than in past centuries.
Address: Bear Pit, Grosser Muristalden, Bern, Switzerland.
Albert Einstein House Museum
From 1903 to 1905, Einstein lived in the very center of Bern at 49 Kramgasse. He did not live there alone – his wife Mileva and son Hans lived with him. During his stay in this house, Einstein wrote physics-turned articles, combined in the Annus Mirabilis Papers, “Notes of the Year of Miracles.”
It was these articles that laid the foundations of the physics that we know and study now. The apartment is available for viewing, and its interior is selected in accordance with the fashion and trends of 1905. On the top floor, you will learn a detailed biography of Einstein, as well as how closely he is associated with Bern and Switzerland in general.
Address: Einsteinhaus, Kramgasse 49, 3011 Bern, Switzerland.
Locals know that Mount Gurten is one of the most picturesque, relaxing and scenic spots in the entire city, but for some reason many tourists ignore it. Gurten is located close to the city, thanks to which it offers a truly mesmerizing view. On the one hand, the wonderful city of Bern is spread out in front of you, on the other, the magnificent Bernese Alps rise.
There are many hiking trails winding around the mountain – a great way to whet your appetite for a delicious Swiss dinner! If you don’t want to go on foot, there is Gurtenbahn, a special tram, in which you can enjoy panoramic views of the mountain and the city for 5 minutes.
Address: Gurten, Könitz, Switzerland.
Bern History Museum
One of the largest museums in Switzerland is the Berne Historical Museum. The exhibits of the museum allow us to trace the history of the country from its prehistoric, ancient origins to the most impressive achievements of our time.
In addition to studying history, you can also experience an aesthetic pleasure by looking at the exquisite Burgundy tapestries and huge collections of silver and gold items from the 16th and 18th centuries.
The Historical Museum of Bern also houses the Einstein Museum – a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the great scientist.
Address: Bernisches Historisches Museum / Einstein Museum, Helvetiaplatz, Bern, Switzerland.
Paul Klee Center
Named after the famous German painter Paul Klee, the wavy shape of the exhibition center is impressive in itself. However, the inner component of the center will surprise you even more. The Paul Klee Center is the world’s largest collection of his works, real works of art.
Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism can be traced in his work, which is largely explained by the influence of the Bauhaus – the Higher School of Construction and Artistic Design.
Here are two exhibition halls containing such iconic masterpieces as, for example, “Park near Lou” – a colorful painting with an impressive contrast between the black lines of the tree and the bright and variegated leaves that surround it.
Address: Zentrum Paul Klee, Monument im Fruchtland, Bern, Switzerland.
The country’s oldest art museum opened its doors in 1879 in a purpose-built eclectic hall. The earliest works in the museum’s possession date back to the Middle Ages, and the museum tries to keep up with the times, carefully monitoring the development trends of contemporary art.
The collection includes 3,000 paintings and sculptures, as well as almost 50,000 photographs, prints, sketches and video graphics.
The museum displays a series of works by the Symbolist Ferdinand Hodler, while Expressionism is well represented by Paul Klee, Franz Mark, Kandinsky, August Macke, and Alexei von Jawlensky. More recently, the museum announced that the German collector Cornelius Gurlitt bequeathed his collection of 1400 works to him.
The only drawback of this gift is that, most likely, many of these paintings were stolen by the Nazis in the 30s and 40s of the last century.
Address: Museum of Fine Arts Bern, Hodlerstrasse, Bern, Switzerland.
Following the motto “The fewer animals, the more space they need”, the zoo acquired its uniqueness. It is located just 10 minutes from the Hauptbahnhof station.
The park is divided into free and paid sections: in the free enclosures along the Aare you can see wild boar, chamois and ibex, as well as a small farm with domestic animals such as horses and goats.
The paid enclosures contain more exotic animals with a predominant emphasis on European species. In the tropical home you will meet reptiles, birds and monkeys, and marvel at the beauty of the aquarium with the coral reef ecosystem. Outside, spacious open-air cages with leopards, wolves and even seals await you.
Address: Tierpark Bern, Dählhölzli + BärenPark, Tierparkweg, Bern, Switzerland.
Museum of Communications
Not far from Helvetiaplatz is the only museum in Switzerland specializing in communication. Its origins lie in the Postal Museum, founded in 1907, and the modern museum still has an exhibition on the history of the post, explaining the operation of the postal network and showing post carriages and postage stamps.
Another exhibition is entirely dedicated to “media” and is equipped with interactive audiovisual displays. And where without it – a huge exhibition of telecommunications, which includes models of early telephones, telegraphs, where you can try to decipher a message in Morse code, or send a message through a vacuum tube.
Address: Museum für Kommunikation, Helvetiastrasse, Bern, Switzerland.
City of fountains
There are many old public fountains scattered throughout the Old Town. Installed in the 16th century, the fountains were crowned with statues that recreate biblical stories such as Samson killing the Lion.
Other fountains are adorned with statues that praise and highlight Bern’s strength, such as the Zähringerbrunnen (bear in full armor) and Läuferbrunnen (track and field athlete).
These fountains replaced wooden ones at a time when the city was rapidly gaining power and wealth. There are a hundred such fountains in total. Eleven of these retain their original features and they are all meticulously maintained and refurbished.
Address: Zähringerbrunnen, Kramgasse, 3011 Bern, Switzerland.
Don’t even try to forget about the inimitable Bernese Botanical Garden. He will impress even those who are sure that they have absolutely no interest in flowers and plants. The garden is divided into several sections: the alpine includes mountain ecosystems with specimens from Europe, Asia and North America, but with particular emphasis on representatives of the Swiss flora.
There is also an entertaining exposition on extinct species. The other three sections cover desert, tropical and subtropical vegetation. Of course, the palm house is especially interesting – here you will see tropical fruit plants such as bananas, coconuts and coffee.
Address: Botanical Garden, 3013 Bern, Switzerland.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is part of the University of Bern. It was founded in 1832 and includes over 200 dioramas, including the 200-year-old remains of a St. Bernard’s rescue dog named Barry. Even outdated dioramas leave a lasting impression. It is also interesting to see how museums were built and organized in the middle of the 19th century.
Some of the surviving remains cannot leave visitors indifferent, such as the skeletons of giant inhabitants of the deep water.
Don’t miss the Natural Fossil Exhibition, where you can see Alpine gold, meteorite chunks and giant crystals. All exhibits are capable of enlightening both an adult and a child.
Address: Naturhistorisches Museum Bern, Bernastrasse, Bern, Switzerland.
This impressive multifunctional cultural space includes the Kornhausbünle City Theater; the Kornhouse library; design library; Forum for Media and Design; and two renowned restaurants, Kornhauskeller and Kornhauskafe.
You would never have guessed that the original building was nothing more than a granary. The interior is made up of 12 columns with images of 12 women in traditional Bernese clothing, as well as images of two dozen musicians dressed in Swiss Renaissance outfits.
Address: Kornhaus, Kornhausplatz 18, 3011 Bern, Switzerland.
Immediately behind the granary is the French Church, the oldest church in Bern, decorated with many frescoes. It was built from 1270 to 1285 on the foundations of an even older church and was originally part of the Dominican monastery. During the painful Reformation for the country, French-speaking Protestants took refuge here since 1623.
Address: French Church, Zeughausgasse 8, 3011 Bern, Switzerland.
Swiss Alpine Museum
The Helvetiaplatz in Bern houses the Swiss Alpine Museum, which opened in 1934 and presents a fascinating history of exploration of the Swiss Alps that encompasses scientific research, communication, mapping and climbers. It even includes a large relief model of the Bernese Oberland as well as a restaurant.
Address: Alpine Museum of Switzerland, Helvetiaplatz, Bern, Switzerland.