Planning to visit Bern in the near future? Then you need ideas on how to spend your time in the Swiss city, and this detailed guide to all the things Bern is known for will provide you with all the information you need!
The top city attractions and landmarks, staple local dishes, and the city’s best museums are all covered in this visitor’s guide to Bern. Regardless of how much time you have in the city or if you’ve already figured out which attractions are a must-see, this guide to Bern will help you create a detailed itinerary for your trip!
Table of Contents
Bern Old Town
The old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and undoubtedly the highlight of this capital city. It’s bordered by the Aare river on three sides, which means the views are pretty amazing from most parts of the old town.
Most houses in Bern’s old town were constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries. During medieval times, wood was the most common construction material, so Bern was known for its many charming wooden houses. However, all of that changed in the early 15th century, when a deadly fire ravaged Bern’s old city.
More than 650 wooden houses were destroyed in the fire, and a hundred people lost their lives. A period of reconstruction followed this devastating event, and it was decided that the houses would be rebuilt from stone. Sandstone has dominated Bern’s old town ever since.
The Bern Cathedral – or the Berner Münster – is undoubtedly the most famous landmark in the city. It was founded in the 15th century, but the construction of the church lasted several centuries, with new elements being added to the cathedral as late as the 19th century.
It’s the tallest cathedral in the entire country, which makes it pretty special. The building is truly remarkable, and easily one of the most impressive landmarks in Bern City. Take some time to admire the intricate details of the Gothic architecture on the outside, and when you’re ready go inside the church.
The gorgeous stained glass windows and countless ornaments inside the church are even more impressive than its exterior. Oh, and did I mention that the entrance to the cathedral is free of charge? That’s right, this is also the best free thing to do in the city of Bern!
Don’t miss out on the bell tower either. There’s an entrance fee of 5 francs to get to the top of the tower, and it’s absolutely worth it. The view of Bern’s skyline from the bell tower is easily the best in town, and it might just be the highlight of your entire trip!
Einstein Museum & Bern Historical Museum
The Bern Historical Museum is one of the best attractions in the entire city. Everything about it is spectacular, from the stunning architecture of the building to the numerous exhibits inside the museum. The entrance is free for visitors with the Swiss Travel Pass, otherwise, it’s 18 francs for access to all the exhibitions.
Plan to spend at least a couple of hours at this museum. It’s a huge museum with many different collections, each of which tells a unique story. There’s even an Einstein Museum within the Bern Historical Museum, and it offers insight into both the private and professional lives of the famous scientist.
The Einstein Museum is one of the most popular collections in the museum, but it’s certainly not the only notable one. Other must-see exhibits include a detailed history of the city of Bern, an exhibit on ancient Egypt, and the Henri Moser oriental collection. Keep in mind that those are just some of the more popular permanent exhibits, plus there are temporary exhibits that change frequently.
Right next to Bern Historical Museum is the Bern Museum of Communication, another popular attraction in the city where you will see and discover different types of communication, from traditional letter writing to modern forms of communication like video calls.
Swiss Parliament Building
As the de facto capital of the Swiss Confederation, the city of Bern is officially the seat of the Swiss government, which means that all the important government buildings are in this city. The Swiss Parliament Building – or the Federal Palace – is the most important government building of them all, and an unmissable attraction during any tour of Bern.
Guided tours of the building are available Monday-Saturday, but only when the parliament is not in session. The tours are in four languages, but on weekdays the tours are only in German and French. If you want an English language tour, you will have to visit the palace on Saturday at 2 PM. All the tours are free, they take about an hour, and you have to reserve your spot at least three days earlier.
The Swiss Parliament Building isn’t the only government building in Bern worth checking out. The Bern Town Hall is also worth your time; it’s a very old building in the historic center of Bern, and it’s open for free guided tours only on certain days. You must reserve a spot in advance, so be sure to check whether there’s a guided tour during your stay in the city.
Zytglogge Clock Tower
Zytglogge Clock Tower is one of the many medieval landmarks in Bern that make its old town so special. The famous clock tower is situated in the heart of Bern’s old town, and it’s such a famous city landmark that it’s got tram stops and streets named after it.
The tower was built in the early 13th century and it is the oldest landmark in the city. It is one of those landmarks that will make you stop in your tracks as soon as you notice it, simply because it’s so impressive.
The clock tower has unique clock faces on both its eastern and western sides, so make sure to do a full circle around the landmark. Notice all the different clocks and pay special attention to the astronomical clock with its intricate detailing.
Not to be confused with the Einstein Museum in the Bern Historical Museum, Einstein House is the former residence of the famous scientist. It’s an apartment on Kramgasse street in the heart of Bern’s old town, which has been turned into a museum dedicated to Albert Einstein.
The apartment is decorated with period-style furniture and it tells the story of Einstein’s time in Bern. He spent about two years at this apartment with his wife Mileva, and it was here that he came up with the Theory of Relativity, which completely revolutionized our understanding of space and time.
The exhibits at this small museum offer great insight into the life and works of the famous scientist, and they include his work from 1905, which is considered to be the most prolific year of his entire career. Overall, it’s truly a fascinating tourist attraction, but likely a skippable one for travelers who have little to no interest in the personal and professional life of Albert Einstein.
Bernese Bear Pit
The Bernese Bear Pit is a famous city attraction that incorporates a 19th-century bear pit. There are living bears inside the pit, and you just need to walk across the Nydeggbrücke from the old town to reach it.
This is by far the most popular city attraction among animal lovers and kids. It’s also a free attraction, so one of the top things to do in Bern for travelers on a tighter budget. You can see the animals just going about their day, lounging, walking, or even swimming in their little pool.
You’ll also get a great view of Bern’s old town from Bear Pit park. This little park is truly an important symbol of the city, so it’s definitely an attraction worth checking out if you’re trying to explore as much of Bern as possible. It’s also such a unique attraction – how many other cities do you know of, that have a huge pit full of bears practically in the heart of the town?
The Aare River borders Bern Old Town on three sides, and it’s an iconic city sight. But, there’s more to the river than just pretty views – since it’s Bern’s main body of water, it’s the most popular spot for swimming and sunbathing in the summer.
A dip in the river is practically a rite of passage for tourists because it’s such a common thing in the lives of locals. However, it’s important to note that swimming in the river is recommended only for experienced and confident swimmers because of the currents. Rafting, kayaking, and even paddle boats are all also very popular water activities on the river Aare.
On top of that, Bern is also home to countless riverside outdoor pools that are free of charge to all visitors. If you’re in the mood for a swim but you’d rather not jump in the river, just visit one of the many pools in Bern – it’s what the locals do!
Kunstmuseum is the oldest art museum in Bern, Switzerland. If you’re an art-lover and you want to see some gorgeous paintings by some of the most famous artists to have ever existed, you should make this museum a top priority. But only if you’re passionate about fine arts because otherwise, this museum will be a bit underwhelming.
Let me put it this way – if you have limited time in Bern and you’re not jumping up and down at the chance to see an authentic Picasso painting, you can just skip this museum. It’s out of the way, it’s quite small, and it’s got a pretty modest collection of paintings. But the paintings that you can see inside the museum are absolutely magical, especially for people in the know.
The city of Bern has some excellent shopping opportunities thanks to its many markets. The city has countless markets that are open weekly or seasonally, and which are great for serial shoppers.
Saturdays are the best days for shopping in Bern because that’s when the weekly, farmer’s, and crafts markets are all open. The stalls are all over the old town, so you can just go for a walk and explore what’s on offer in all the different alleys.
Zentrum Paul Klee
Zentrum Paul Klee is a large art museum dedicated to the life and works of the Swiss-German artist. This museum houses around 40% of all the works ever created by Paul Klee, so it’s definitely the best place in the world for people who truly enjoy his work.
Even if you’re not a huge fan of Paul Klee but you love art, you can find something to like about this museum. The building was designed by a famous Italian architect and it alone is a work of art, plus there are all the actual artworks inside the museum building.
One of the things that the old town of Bern is famous for is the presence of numerous Renaissance fountains throughout the old town. There are more than 100 fountains in the old town alone, and trying to find them all on your own can be overwhelming. You will notice every fountain you walk by because the statues stand out.
These fountains aren’t just tourist attractions – for a long time, the locals depended on them to get running water. The many fountains of Bern still provide citizens and visitors with clean drinking water, so don’t hesitate to fill up your bottle at one of them.
Situated just a short walk away from Bear Pit, Rose Garden Bern is the prettiest and most famous park in the city. It’s named Rose Garden because there are hundreds of roses planted throughout the park, but they’re not the only flowers in the park. If you visit Bern in the spring you’ll get to see the park’s cherry blossoms in full bloom!
This landscaped park offers sprawling views of Bern’s rooftops and on a clear day, you can even see the Alps from here. It’s a very popular place among the locals, so don’t be surprised if you see people having a picnic or just hanging out after work.
The Gurten mountain is situated south of Bern and you can easily reach it by public transport. Ride the S3 or S31 trains from Bern to Wabern bei Bern, where you can get on the funicular that will transport you directly to the top of Gurten. The train from Bern travels for less than 15 minutes and the funicular ride is just 5 minutes, so in total it should take about 20 minutes to get to the top of the mountain from Bern.
There’s an observation deck at the top of Gurten, which offers mesmerizing panoramic views of the city of Bern. It should be your first stop when you get off the funicular, and then you can explore whatever you want in the area. Play some disc golf, have a drink at the mountaintop bar, explore the hiking trails, and most importantly, make sure you have fun.
The Emmental Valley is one of the best day trip destinations from Bern. It’s known for hilly landscapes, dairy farms, and tonnes of cheese. This is where the Emmental cheese comes from, which happens to be one of the best Swiss cheeses.
A trip to the valley is a great idea for anyone, no matter what exactly you’re interested in. The region is quite big and it offers a lot to visitors, so there are plenty of ways to spend your day. You can go hiking and explore nature, tour the dairy farms and see how cheese gets made, and even go cross-country skiing, provided you’re visiting in the winter.
Dairy farms are easily the highlight of the area, especially among the tourists who are visiting on a day trip from Bern. Meet the local farmers, learn more about the process of making the famous Swiss cheese, and see it all in action during your time in the valley!
Berner Platte is the signature dish of the city of Bern, and one of the first things you should try while you’re in the city. You can have this dish at any self-respecting local restaurant, but Della Casa supposedly has the best version of this dish in Bern. Berner Platte consists of meat, sausage, potatoes, mustard, sauerkraut, and a few other ingredients.
Bern’s staple dish is very similar in essence to Zurich’s staple dish – it’s some delicious meat with potatoes and a couple of other sides. But the Berner Platte has a very different history; the dish draws its origins from the late 18th century, more specifically from the Battle of Neuenegg.
The Bernese managed to defeat the French in this battle, and upon their return, a victory celebration was organized. Everyone from the community contributed the best of what they had in supply for the celebration, but it’s contextually important that this was happening during wintertime. Most people had stacks of preserved food that would keep well over the winter, which is how the different ingredients made it to the plate.
FAQ About Bern
What is the importance of Bern in Switzerland?
The city of Bern is the de facto capital of Switzerland. It is the seat of the legislative branch of government, as well as the headquarters of many international unions. In addition to the political importance of the city, there’s also the fact that its entire old town is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Is Bern worth visiting?
Absolutely. Bern is a beautiful city with a stunning old town and numerous interesting attractions. Whether you want to tour museums, shop at the city’s best flea markets, or just try to find as many fountains as possible, you won’t be disappointed.
Bern is also very close to other interesting cities (Lucerne, Thun, Neuchatel, etc.) you can easily explore on day trips, so it’s a great destination for longer trips as well.