Bern is surprisingly green and picturesque city. A city that compensates for its grey and monotonous architecture with folklore inspired fountains and lush greenery surrounding the city. One might think when they’re in Bern that they are in a Swiss park with occasional trams passing by.
Below we list our impression of the city and why we think Bern is a great contender for your next city break.
- Travel to and Around Bern
- Where to Stay in Bern
- Things to do in Bern
- 1. Admire the views from Bern Rose Garden (Rosengarten Bern)
- 2. Take a photo with the Bears at the Bear Pit
- 3. Enjoy the views from Nydeggbrücke
- 4. Admire the Zytglogge Tower Clock
- 5. Take a moment at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
- 6. Check out the Cathedral of Bern
- 7. Have a Coffee with a View at Münsterplattform
- 8. Immerse yourself in history at the Bern History Museum
- 9. Visit the Einstein Museum
- 10.Check out the Alpine Museum
- 11. See the Käfigturm
- 12. Explore the Square of the Parliament Building
- 13. Go up to the Gurten Plateau
- 14. Chill with a view at Kleine Schanze
- 15. Enjoy the beautiful water fountains
- Other things to do in Bern
- Food and Drinks Highlights
- Final Thoughts
Located in Switzerland, Bern pronounced [bɛrn] is the capital city of the country and also serves as the de facto capital of the canton of Bern. Its history dates back to the 12th century, when it was founded by Duke Berthold V of Zähringen. The city was strategically established on a peninsula surrounded by the Aare River, providing natural defences.
Throughout the medieval period, Bern grew in political and economic importance. In 1353, it became a member of the Swiss Confederation, a group of alliances between various Swiss cantons. This elevated Bern’s status as an influential city-state within the confederation.
During the 16th century, Bern embraced the Protestant Reformation led by figures such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. The city played a significant role in spreading the Reformation to other parts of Switzerland. Consequently, Bern became an important centre of intellectual and religious reform, fostering the growth of education and the arts.
In the 18th century, Bern experienced a period of cultural enlightenment and architectural development. Many iconic landmarks, such as the Bern Cathedral and the Zytglogge Tower Clock, were built during this era, showcasing the city’s rich history and architectural heritage.
In the early 19th century, after the fall of the Old Swiss Confederation, Bern became the capital of the newly formed Swiss Confederation. This solidified its position as the political centre of the country.
Today, Bern is renowned for its well-preserved medieval Old Town, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city seamlessly blends its historical charm with modern amenities and a vibrant cultural scene, making it an enticing destination for visitors from around the world.
Travel to and Around Bern
The city itself is accessible by most means of transportation although flights to this destination tend to be fairly accessible especially out of season. On this occasion we travelled by train to Bern as part of our summer 2023 Interrail trip.
Bern also has a main airport called Bern Airport (BRN) which has arrivals from many European destinations. We’ve often seen well priced flights from London. If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.
Bern has a well-developed and efficient public transport network that makes navigating the city and its surrounding areas a breeze. Here’s a brief overview of the key modes of public transportation in Bern:
- Trams: Trams are the backbone of Bern’s public transport system. They provide extensive coverage throughout the city, connecting various neighbourhoods and attractions. Trams in Bern are clean, reliable, and offer a comfortable way to get around.
- Buses: In addition to trams, Bern has an extensive bus network that complements the tram lines. Buses cover areas that are not served by trams and provide convenient transportation options to reach different parts of the city.
- S-Bahn: Bern is a major transportation hub in Switzerland, and its central train station is well-connected to the national and regional rail network. The S-Bahn (suburban rail) system connects Bern with neighbouring towns and cities, making it easy to explore the surrounding areas.
- Regional Trains: Along with the S-Bahn, regional trains play a crucial role in Bern’s public transport network. They offer frequent services to destinations beyond the immediate vicinity of the city, allowing visitors to conveniently venture out and explore the picturesque Swiss countryside.
- Bicycles: Bern is a bike-friendly city, and cycling is a popular mode of transportation among both locals and tourists. The city has an extensive network of bike lanes and offers rental services, making it easy to hop on a bike and explore the city at your own pace.
- Bern Ticket: Don’t forget about the Bern Ticket! If you are staying in a hotel in Bern, you will receive a Bern Ticket, which allows you to travel for free on public transport within Bern and its surrounding zones. This makes getting around even more convenient and budget-friendly.
With its comprehensive public transport network and various options to choose from, getting around Bern is hassle-free, allowing you to make the most of your visit and explore the city’s many attractions with ease.
Where to Stay in Bern
In general, there are plenty of hotels and accommodation options, however, we would recommend staying somewhere as close as you can to the main peninsula. During our stay we stood at Prizeotel Bern and would recommend it to others.
The hotel was just above a large Coop store which was good in case you needed any supplies but was also across the road from a bus stop which took you straight into town.
We would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. Use the widget below to find the best accommodation in Bern for your specific dates.
Sure, like we say in our article on how to plan a holiday, do account for the overall cost as you have to factor in breakfast.
Things to do in Bern
The main old city centre of Bern (the peninsula area) is not a fairly large area to cover. If looking to do most of the things we list below you will notice that Bern can be easily done as part of a weekend city break or if ambitious like us, in a day!
I would advise you make use of the free public transport option (if staying in Bern) as this will really help you move much quicker.
We would suggest, you start early in the morning however, this may not be quintessential as the tourist population is much lower here than in other places. Overall, expect a pleasant time, you will also notice that there are no crowds for you to bump in, making the overall trekking experience a breeze.
1. Admire the views from Bern Rose Garden (Rosengarten Bern)
The Bern Rose Garden is an attraction not so much for the roses it boasts but more for the wonderful scenic views one gets once at the top. We were fairly fortunate to uncover that our hotel was just a few hundred meters away from the Rose Garden. This meant we didn’t have to climb to the garden itself but rather start our day from there.
The garden does have a nice collection of roses however, like we said earlier we believe you might want to come here to enjoy the scenic views of Old Bern whilst enjoying a coffee.
2. Take a photo with the Bears at the Bear Pit
The Bern Bear Pit, also known as Bärengraben, is one of the iconic attractions in Bern. It is a historic bear enclosure that has been home to bears for over 500 years. The pit is located near the eastern edge of the Old Town, just a short walk from the famous Zytglogge Tower.
The Bear Pit was originally established for the purpose of bear baiting, a popular form of entertainment during medieval times. However, the practice of bear baiting was abolished in the 18th century, and the focus shifted to providing a more suitable habitat for the bears. Over time, the Bear Pit has evolved into a symbol of the city and a beloved tourist attraction.
Today, the Bear Pit consists of a large park-like enclosure surrounding a naturalistic habitat where the bears can roam freely. The bears are well taken care of and provided with ample space to live and play.
We suggest you also take the short funicular ride/stairs all the way down to the river level as you will be able to see the bears much better from down. This is what we did and managed to be much more successful in spotting the bears.
You will often see locals also simply sitting by the river and enjoying the views and the quickly passing water.
3. Enjoy the views from Nydeggbrücke
Nydeggbrücke is a historic bridge. It spans across the Aare River, connecting the Nydegg neighbourhood on the eastern side with the Old Town on the western side. The bridge is known for its elegant design and stunning views of the surrounding area.
Nydeggbrücke was originally constructed in 1840 and underwent several renovations over the years to maintain its structural integrity. It features a stone arch design, adorned with iron railings and decorative elements.
Crossing Nydeggbrücke provides a scenic experience, as it offers panoramic views of the river, the Old Town, and the Bernese Alps in the distance. The bridge also serves as a starting point for leisurely walks along the Aare River or exploring the nearby attractions and neighbourhoods.
4. Admire the Zytglogge Tower Clock
The Zytglogge is an iconic landmark in the city. It is a medieval clock tower with an astronomical clock and a colourful façade adorned with intricate designs.
The tower was constructed in the early 13th century and served various functions over the years, including as a guard tower, prison, and clock tower. Its name, “Zytglogge,” translates to “time bell” in English, referring to its role in keeping time for the city.
The Tower’s most notable feature is its astronomical clock, which was added in the 15th century. The clock displays the time, the position of the sun and moon, the zodiac signs, and various other astronomical information. Every hour, the clock puts on a small show with animated figurines that move and chime the hour.
We suggest you make a stop and at least see the figurines how they come life every hours. Whilst not as impressive as the Prague astronomical clock it still makes you smile when looking at it.
If you wish, you can visit the Zytglogge, the famous clock tower, and experience a tour of the first Western city gate (1218 – 1256) in Bern’s old city. Book this Zytglogge – Tour through the Clock Tower here.
5. Take a moment at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
The Church of St. Peter and Paul is another example of Bernese gothic architecture. Its wonderful arches and masterfully decorated stained glass windows showcase excellent craftsmanship.
Entering the church is a great way to see these things for yourself. We suggest you go and visit it as it’s fairly close to the city centre.
6. Check out the Cathedral of Bern
The Bern Cathedral is an impressive Gothic-style cathedral that dominates the skyline of Bern’s Old Town. Construction of the cathedral began in the 15th century and took over 400 years to complete. Its stunning architecture, intricate details, and towering spires make it a visually striking masterpiece.
As you approach the cathedral, you’ll be greeted by the elaborately decorated main entrance. Step inside to discover the grand interior, adorned with beautiful stained glass windows, ornate fixtures, and intricately carved wooden pews.
Within the cathedral, you’ll also find the Chapel of St. Nicholas, which houses the stunning Last Judgment fresco painted by Hans Fries in the 15th century. This masterpiece depicts scenes from the Last Judgment and is a testament to the artistic and cultural significance of the era.
Overall, we enjoyed the cathedral and the adjacent square not to mention that not far from it you will find the Cathedral Platform (Münsterplattform) which is an amazing place to drink a coffee.
7. Have a Coffee with a View at Münsterplattform
Münsterplattform is a picturesque square located near the Bern Cathedral, it offers stunning views of the city’s skyline and the Aare River. The square is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
You can take a break from exploring the city and indulge in a cup of coffee or a delicious meal at the charming cafes and restaurants that line the square. The outdoor seating areas allow guests to soak up the atmosphere while admiring the historic architecture and the panoramic vistas.
In addition to its scenic beauty, Münsterplattform has historical significance as well. It is said to be the site where the first settlement of Bern was established. The square also features several statues and monuments, adding to its cultural allure.
We suggest you sit down at the local coffee shop and enjoy a delicious cup of coffee and sit down and watch the wonderful scenes unravel before your eyes. What’s not to like!
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8. Immerse yourself in history at the Bern History Museum
The Bern History Museum, also known as the Historisches Museum Bern, is a fascinating institution that offers visitors a glimpse into the rich history of Bern and the surrounding region. Housed in a splendid heritage building, the museum exhibits a diverse collection that spans from prehistoric times to the present day.
The museum’s extensive archaeological section showcases ancient artifacts, including pottery, tools, and artworks, providing insights into the early civilizations that inhabited the area. Moving through the various historical periods, visitors can explore exhibits dedicated to the Roman era, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, among others.
We really enjoyed learning more about the city’s political and social development over the centuries. Exhibits explore the emergence and growth of Bern as a powerful city-state, its involvement in the Swiss Confederation, and its evolution into the capital of Switzerland.
In addition to its permanent displays, the museum hosts special exhibitions that delve into specific themes, such as Bern’s role in the Reformation or the city’s cultural heritage. These temporary exhibits provide fresh perspectives and offer a deeper understanding of Bern’s historical significance.
9. Visit the Einstein Museum
In addition to this, we found that the Einstein Museum is housed in the same building. This allows for a seamless transition into the world of Einstein and his achievements.
We found it very interactive even the Einstein live avatar which tries to emulate a conversation with visitors. Curious by nature, I managed to discuss with Einstein’s avatar and get a deeper understanding about his past life.
10.Check out the Alpine Museum
The museum’s exhibits delve into various aspects of the Alpine region, including its geology, flora and fauna, climate, and human interactions with the mountains. One can discover the formation of the Alps over millions of years and the unique ecosystems that thrive in this mountainous landscape.
Additionally, the museum highlights the history of Alpine exploration and the challenges faced by mountaineers throughout the years. Visitors can learn about legendary mountaineers and their achievements, as well as the evolution of climbing techniques and equipment.
Furthermore, the Bern Alpine Museum is a place where one can deepen their understanding of the Alps, its beauty, and the people who call it home.
Overall, we found the museum to be lacking in many respects from the exhibits to the room décor itself. As it was just across the road from the Bern History Museum and we anyway had it included in the Bern Museum Card we decided to go for it anyway.
11. See the Käfigturm
The Käfigturm, also known as the Prison Tower, is a historic landmark located in Bern’s Old Town. It is a medieval tower that once served as a prison and watchtower. The tower was built in the 13th century and has a distinctive cylindrical shape.
Throughout its history, the Käfigturm has been witness to various events and has played a significant role in Bern’s political and social life. It served as a prison for criminals and political figures, and its name translates to “Cage Tower,” referring to the imprisonment of certain individuals.
Today, the Käfigturm houses a cultural and heritage center that showcases exhibitions on the history of Bern, including its political development, cultural traditions, and architectural heritage. Visitors can explore the tower’s interior, climb to the top for panoramic views of the city, and learn more about Bern’s fascinating past.
The Käfigturm is a must-visit for history enthusiasts and those interested in experiencing a glimpse of Bern’s medieval past. We had the pleasure of eating our Coop bought sandwiches right in front of this iconic symbol of the city. So we managed to inspect it thoroughly.
12. Explore the Square of the Parliament Building
The Parliament Building, also known as the Federal Palace, is a prominent landmark in Bern and serves as the seat of the Swiss Federal Assembly and the Federal Council. It is a magnificent edifice that showcases the country’s democratic governance and political system.
The building is situated in the heart of Bern, just a short walk from the Old Town, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and open spaces. Its grand architectural style and stunning design make it a visually striking structure.
We did try to get a tour booked however, tours get booked quickly and we didn’t get a chance to visit it on the inside. Having said this, we are told that visitors to the Parliament Building can take guided tours to explore its interior, learn about the Swiss political system, and witness the democratic process in action.
The exterior of the Parliament Building is equally impressive, featuring intricate details, decorative elements, and statues that represent Swiss history and values. It is a symbol of democracy, stability, and national pride.
Even if you don’t get booked on one of the tours, sitting in the outside square and enjoying and ice cream isn’t all too bad either! (which is what we ended up doing anyway…)
13. Go up to the Gurten Plateau
Gurten, located in Bern, is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. This beautiful mountain offers a range of activities and stunning views of the city and the surrounding Swiss countryside.
From the summit of Gurten, visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Bern and the surrounding Bernese Alps. On a clear day, you can see the majestic peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains in the distance.
The mountain is accessible by a cable car which is found at Wabern. Many trams or S-Bahns have their stations very close to the cable car station. Like we mentioned in the public transport section, the Gurten cable car is also included for free as part of your stay in Bern.
We suggest you dedicate half a day for this activity. We decided to go in the late afternoon and after exploring the plateau we sat down at Gurtners restaurant for a beer. A beer with a view indeed.
14. Chill with a view at Kleine Schanze
Situated near the city centre and offers a tranquil retreat from the bustling urban environment. The park is known for its lush greenery, picturesque landscapes, and stunning views of the surrounding area.
Kleine Schanze features well-maintained gardens, flower beds, and tree-lined pathways, providing a peaceful and serene atmosphere for visitors to enjoy. The park is an ideal spot for taking leisurely strolls, having a picnic, or simply relaxing on one of the park benches while enjoying the natural beauty that surrounds you.
In addition to its scenic beauty, Kleine Schanze also offers panoramic views of the Old Town of Bern and the distant Bernese Alps. From certain vantage points within the park, you can enjoy breathtaking vistas that showcase the city’s historical landmarks, including the Bern Cathedral and the Zytglogge Tower.
Whether you’re looking for a peaceful escape, a scenic spot for photos, or simply a place to unwind, Kleine Schanze is definitely worth a visit during your time in Bern.
15. Enjoy the beautiful water fountains
Bern is known for its iconic water fountains. These fountains are not just functional sources of drinking water; they are also beautiful and historically significant landmarks.
If you follow our suggested route, by now you would see a number of water fountains scattered throughout the city. Some of the most popular ones include:
- Zytglogge Fountain: This fountain is located near the Zytglogge clock tower, one of Bern’s most famous landmarks. The Zytglogge Fountain features a colorful, ornate structure with a central column topped by a statue of Samson, who is depicted slaying a lion.
- Child Eater Fountain (Kindlifresserbrunnen): This fountain is one of the more peculiar fountains in Bern. It features a statue of an ogre devouring a child. The exact meaning of this fountain is debated, but it is thought to symbolize the fear of the unknown or the consequences of sin.
- Moses Fountain (Mosesbrunnen): Located on Kramgasse Street, this fountain features a statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments. It was erected in the 16th century.
- Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice): This fountain is situated in front of the Federal Palace and features a statue of Lady Justice holding a sword and scales. It symbolizes the principles of justice and fairness.
Other things to do in Bern
Food and Drinks Highlights
Bernese cuisine is a delightful blend of traditional Swiss dishes with regional specialties. Here is a short overview of some key aspects of Bernese cuisine:
- Cheese Fondue: Switzerland is famous for its cheese, and Bern is no exception. Cheese fondue is a popular dish in Bern, where melted cheese is served in a communal pot and eaten by dipping bread into the cheese. It is a social and delicious dining experience.
- Rösti: Rösti is a Swiss potato dish, and in Bern, it is often served as a side dish. Grated potatoes are fried until golden brown, resulting in a crispy and savoury delight. Rösti pairs perfectly with a variety of main dishes.
- Berner Platte: Berner Platte is a traditional Bernese dish that showcases a variety of cured meats, including sausages, ham, and smoked meats, served with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. It is a hearty and flavourful dish that celebrates the region’s meat culture.
- Zopf: Zopf is a braided bread that is commonly enjoyed for breakfast in Bern and throughout Switzerland. It has a soft and fluffy texture, with a slightly sweet taste. Zopf is often served with butter and honey or jam.
- Mandelbärli: The locals are fans of the Mandelbärli, which are small teddy bears made of almonds paste and offered in different flavours. In 1989, for the 125th anniversary of the bakery, they wanted to create something special and the first Mandelbärli was born.
- Käseschnitten: Käseschnitten, also known as Swiss cheese toast, is a simple yet delicious dish. It consists of bread topped with melted Swiss cheese and often served with pickles or a salad. It is a popular choice for a quick and satisfying lunch.
These are just a few highlights of Bernese cuisine. The city offers a diverse dining scene with a mix of traditional Swiss dishes, international cuisine, and modern culinary creations. Below we explore the places we would recommend based on our experience.
Eat some Cheese topped Pork at Restaurant Anker Bern
After a hard day exploring Bern in 40 degrees Celsius we decided to end the day at Anker Restaurant. This is a restaurant part of a wider chain and seem to offer good value for money dishes. Within their menu they also offer many typical Swiss dishes also.
We decided to sample the fondue and the cheese topped pork fillet with rösti.
All of them were fairly good. Whilst the fondue wasn’t like the one we had in Zurich it still as pretty good. There was something about eating hot melted cheese on hot summer day drinking cold beer and watching people go by that made the experience complete.
The pork didn’t disappoint and was very well cooked and the cheese added extra decadence whilst the apple garnish was an inspired addition to the plate. The röstis were ok but nothing to write home about as we found them very greasy but still edible.
Try a Mandelbärli at Berner Mandelbärli Coffee Shop
As the name suggests they are the main producers of this mazing almond bear cake. The closest thing to this dessert would be a bakewell tart.
The bears come in all shapes and sizes with all possible glazings or addons you could thing. Try one, the world is yours!
We chose the standard one with almond filling and a chocolate chip filled one. Sadly the chocolate chip one got squashed on the way to Venice – it was still tasty even so!
Our final thoughts about Bern are that it’s an incredible place to spend a weekend. The wonderful surroundings, impressive nature and the overall good value for money touristic attractions make Bern an excellent contender for your next travel destination.
Contrary to popular belief, travelling in Switzerland doesn’t have to be expensive if you are on the lookout for some deals like the ones we described in our article.
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