Bern: The Complete Guide

Bern-complete-guide

Bern, the capital of Switzerland, remarkably preserves its historic features, including its UNESCO-listed old town. Known for its 6 kilometers of arcades, known locally as ‘Lauben,’ Bern offers one of Europe’s longest weather-sheltered shopping promenades. The city’s medieval ambiance is complemented by numerous fountains, sandstone facades, narrow streets, and historic towers. Noteworthy viewpoints include the elevated Rose Garden above the Bear Park and the 101-meter-high cathedral tower, offering panoramic views of the old town encircled by the River Aare.

The city’s vibrant old town is alive with boutiques, bars, cabaret stages, often in vaulted cellars, and quaint street cafes, drawing both locals and tourists. While Bern has an excellent public transport network, exploring the city center on foot is recommended. Cultural offerings include the Zentrum Paul Klee, which houses an extensive collection of works by Paul Klee, and the Albert Einstein House, reflecting his early 20th-century stay in Bern. Bern also features diverse museums like the History Museum, Art Museum, Swiss Alpine Museum, and Communication Museum.

As the seat of Switzerland’s government, the Houses of Parliament are a key attraction, closely situated to the railway station and often open to visitors. In summer, the clean Aare River invites experienced swimmers for a unique swimming experience with views of the Parliament.

Bern’s connection to bears is celebrated at the Bear Park, a must-visit attraction showcasing the city’s heraldic beasts. Seasonal markets, especially the Onion Market in November, offer a colourful array of local products.

History of Bern

The history of Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is rich and storied, characterized by its medieval origins and evolution into a cultural and political hub.

Foundation and Early Development

Bern was founded on the 12th of July, 1191, by Duke Berthold V of Zähringen. According to legend, the name was chosen after the first animal hunted in the area during a hunting expedition, which was a bear (“Bär” in German). This animal remains the symbol of the city today, depicted in its coat of arms. Bern was strategically located on a peninsula formed by the bends of the River Aare, making it easily defensible.

Expansion and Prosperity

After the extinction of the Zähringen dynasty, Bern became a Free Imperial City in 1218 under the Holy Roman Empire. Throughout the 13th to 15th centuries, Bern expanded its territory significantly, becoming one of the largest city-states north of the Alps. The city’s structure with its large sandstone buildings and arcades began to take shape during this period.

Membership in the Swiss Confederacy

In 1353, Bern joined the Swiss Confederacy, becoming one of the eight cantons. This alliance was crucial during the Burgundian Wars, where Bern played a significant role in defeating Charles the Bold of Burgundy, enhancing its influence and wealth.

Reformation and Culture

The Protestant Reformation reached Bern in the 16th century, led by reformers such as Berchtold Haller and Niklaus Manuel, which saw Bern adopting Protestantism and reforming its church and academic institutions. The city became a haven for refugees from religious persecution, enhancing its cultural diversity.

Modern Era Developments

In 1848, when the new Swiss Federal Constitution was adopted, Bern was chosen as the Federal Capital of Switzerland, a status that brought significant political and infrastructural development. The city saw the construction of the Federal Palace (Bundeshaus), and it became the political center of Switzerland.

20th Century to Present

Bern continued to grow and modernize through the 20th century. It preserved its historical architecture, which led to the Old City of Bern being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Today, Bern is known for its high quality of life, cultural richness, and as a hub for diplomacy and international cooperation.

Bern’s historical journey from a medieval city to a modern capital reflects its resilience and strategic importance in Swiss and European history.

Visiting Bern for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Bern on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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17 Best places to See in Bern

This complete guide to Bern not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Bern and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Zytglogge

Zytglogge Bern
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Daniel Schwen
The Zytglogge, literally “time bell”, is a medieval tower in Bern, Switzerland, renowned for its historical significance and its 15th-century astronomical clock. Constructed in the early 13th century, the Zytglogge has served multiple roles, including a guard tower, prison, clock tower, and civic memorial. Despite numerous renovations over its 800-year history, it remains one of […]
Location: Zytglogge, Bim Zytglogge, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: Monday to Sunday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM | Price: CHF 15.00 | Distance: 0.00km
Visiting Zytglogge

Explore Bern yourself with our self-guided walking tour!

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Bern Fountains

Fountains Of Bern
CC BY-SA 4.0 / JoachimKohlerBremen
Bern is home to an impressive 100 public fountains, many of which have fascinating histories and some that offer free, drinkable water to passers-by. Among these, the 11 Renaissance fountains in the city center are the most famous. Created by the Swiss sculptor Hans Gieng in the 16th century, these fountains feature polychrome sculptures on […]
Location: Zähringerbrunnen, Kramgasse, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free | Distance: 0.10km
Visiting Bern Fountains

Einsteinhaus 

Einsteinhausberne
Public Domain / Gerd Kortemeyer
The Einsteinhaus (Einstein House) is a museum and former residence of Albert Einstein, located at Kramgasse No. 49 in Bern, Switzerland. Einstein, his wife Mileva Marić, and their son Hans Einstein lived in a flat on the second floor from 1903 to 1905. It was here that Einstein wrote the Annus Mirabilis papers, which introduced […]
Location: Einsteinhaus, Kramgasse, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: Monday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Price: CHF 7 | Website | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Einsteinhaus 

Münster of Bern

Bern Munster
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Thomas Woodtli
Bern Minster, the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, is a Swiss Reformed cathedral located in Bern’s old city. Constructed in the Gothic style, the cathedral began its initial construction phase in 1421. Its striking tower, which reaches a height of 100.6 meters (330 ft), wasn’t completed until 1893. The Minster is a Cultural Property of National […]
Location: Munster of Berne, Münsterplatz, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: Church: Mon.–Sat.: 10.00 – 16.00, Su.: 11.30 – 16.00 Tower: Mon.–Sat.: 10.00 – 16.30*, Su.: 11.30 – 16.30* *last ascent | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Münster of Bern
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Bundesplatz & Bundeshaus

Bundesplatz & Bundeshaus
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Peter Gronemann
The Parliament Building in Bern stands as the heart of Switzerland’s democracy. Under its grand dome, the parliament convenes, while the west and east wings house various federal government offices and administrative functions. The adjacent large Parliament Square and extensive terrace are lively meeting spots. Up until 2003, Parliament Square (“Bundesplatz”) was a dull, grey […]
Location: Bundeshaus, Bundesplatz, Bern, Switzerland | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Bundesplatz & Bundeshaus

Käfigturm

Berna, Torre Dell’orologio
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Maksym Kozlenko
The Käfigturm is a Baroque tower in Bern, Switzerland. It is part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of the Old City of Bern and is recognized as a Cultural Property of National Significance. The original tower was constructed as a gatehouse during Bern’s second expansion in 1256 but was demolished and completely rebuilt […]
Location: Käfigturm, Marktgasse, Bern, Switzerland | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Käfigturm

Münsterplattform

Münsterplattform Bern
CC BY-SA 4.0 / H. Helmlechner
The Münsterplattform (Bernese: Pläfe [ˈplæfə]) is a rectangular terrace located in front of the Bern Minster, sloping towards the Aare River. The terrace runs parallel to the nave of the Minster, with a depth ranging from 66 to 70 meters. It measures 85 meters wide at the northern end near the church wall and 86 […]
Location: Münsterplattform, Bern, Switzerland | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Münsterplattform

Rathaus Bern

Rathaus Bern
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Nemo bis
The Rathaus Bern or Bern Town Hall is a significant landmark in Bern, Switzerland, housing the Grand Council of Bern (German: Grosser Rat, French: Grand conseil), the Executive Council of Bern (German: Regierungsrat, French: Conseil-éxecutif), and the Grand Council of the City of Bern. This building is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of […]
Location: Rathauspl. 2, 3011 Bern, Switzerland | Hours: 08:00-12:00 & 13:30-17:00 (Mon-Thur) & 08:00-12:00 (Fri) | Price: Public tours are free | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Rathaus Bern

Heiliggeistkirche

Heiliggeistkirche
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Absolutely new
The Church of the Holy Ghost (Heiliggeistkirche) is a Swiss Reformed Church located in the Old City of Bern. Recognized as a Swiss heritage site of national significance, it is one of the largest Swiss Reformed churches in the country. Historical Background The church’s origins trace back to a chapel first mentioned in 1228, built […]
Location: Heiliggeistkirche, Spitalgasse, Bern, Switzerland | Distance: 0.50km
Visiting Heiliggeistkirche

Einstein Museum and the Historical Museum of Bern

Historisches Museum
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Marianabeauty
The Bern Historical Museum (German: Bernisches Historisches Museum, French: Musée d’Histoire de Berne) is Switzerland’s second-largest historical museum. Designed by Neuchâtel architect André Lambert and constructed in 1894, the museum’s architecture was inspired by 15th and 16th-century historic castles, initially intended to be the Swiss National Museum, which was later established in Zurich. The museum […]
Location: Bernisches Historisches Museum / Einstein Museum, Helvetiaplatz, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10 am – 5 pm Monday closed | Price: CHF 16 | Website | Distance: 0.60km
Visiting Einstein Museum and the Historical Museum of Bern

Bern Botanical Garden

Bern - Botanischer Garten
CC BY-SA 3.0 / RicciSpeziari
The Botanical Garden Bern, also known as BOGA, is an integral part of the University of Bern in Switzerland, serving as both a center for research and education and a green haven in the city. It is an ideal destination for nature lovers and botany enthusiasts, offering the opportunity to explore a diverse array of […]
Location: Botanischer Garten der Universität Bern, Altenbergrain, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: April to October 08:00 – 21:00 November to March 08:00 - 17:00 | Price: Free | Website | Distance: 0.60km
Visiting Bern Botanical Garden

Untertorbrucke (Lower Gate Bridge)

Bern Untertorbrücke
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Daniel Schwen
The Lower Gate Bridge (Untertorbrücke) is a significant part of Bern, Switzerland’s architectural and historical heritage. This historic stone arch bridge, spanning the Aare River, was initially constructed in 1256, making it the oldest bridge in Bern. For centuries, it served as the sole connection between the Old City and the eastern bank of the […]
Location: Untertorbrücke, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free | Distance: 0.80km
Visiting Untertorbrucke (Lower Gate Bridge)

Nydeggkirche

Nydeggkirche Und Untertorbrücke
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Falk2
The Reformed Nydeggkirche, whose name derives from the Bernese German term for “Lower Corner,” is situated on the eastern edge of Bern’s Old City, in the Nydegg area. The Nydegg Castle The Old Town of Bern is located on a peninsula formed by a loop of the Aare River and developed in several stages. The […]
Location: Nydeggkirche, Nydeggasse, Bern, Switzerland | Distance: 0.80km
Visiting Nydeggkirche

Bärengraben

Bärengraben-Bern
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Patrick Nouhailler's
The Bärengraben, or Bear Pit, is a notable tourist attraction in Bern, the capital city of Switzerland. This bear enclosure is located at the eastern edge of Bern’s old city, adjacent to the Nydeggbrücke and the River Aar. Although the Bärengraben is still operational, it has been complemented since 2009 by the BärenPark, a larger […]
Location: Bärengraben, Grosser Muristalden, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free | Distance: 0.90km
Visiting Bärengraben

Rosengarten, Bern

Rosengarten Bern
CC BY-SA 2.5 / Mike Lehmann
Any lover of the great outdoors should not miss Rosengarten, Bern’s stunning Rose Garden. A visit to this Swiss city is worthwhile just to see the more than 400 varieties of roses and irises that adorn the park. In addition to roses, the garden boasts over 20 varieties of rhododendrons, a water lily pond, Japanese […]
Location: Rosengarten, Alter Aargauerstalden, Bern, Switzerland | Distance: 1.00km
Visiting Rosengarten, Bern

Zentrum Paul Klee

Le Centre Paul Klee
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
The Zentrum Paul Klee, located in Bern, Switzerland, is a museum dedicated to the renowned artist Paul Klee and was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. The museum houses approximately 40 percent of Klee’s entire pictorial oeuvre. In 1997, Livia Klee-Meyer, Paul Klee’s daughter-in-law, generously donated her inheritance of nearly 690 works to the […]
Location: Zentrum Paul Klee, Monument im Fruchtland, Bern, Switzerland | Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00–17:00 | Price: CHF 20 | Website | Distance: 2.00km
Visiting Zentrum Paul Klee

Reichenbach Falls

Reichenbach-falls Wetterhorn
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Juck He
The Reichenbach Falls are a stunning cascade of seven steps on the Rychenbach stream in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. These waterfalls drop a total of about 250 meters (820 feet), with the upper falls, known as the Grand Reichenbach Fall (German: Grosser Reichenbachfall), being the tallest segment at 110 meters (360 feet). This […]
Location: Reichenbachfall Reichenbach 3860 Meiringen Switzerland | Distance: 61.70km
Visiting Reichenbach Falls

Best Time to Visit Bern

Bern, with its well-preserved medieval cityscape and rich cultural offerings, provides distinct experiences in each season, making it a year-round destination. Here’s what you can expect when visiting Bern during each season:

Spring (March to May)

Spring in Bern is delightful as the city shakes off the chill of winter and bursts into bloom. This season is perfect for exploring outdoor attractions like the Rose Garden or the Bear Park. The weather is mild, ideal for walking tours around the historic old town and enjoying the open-air cafes. Spring also witnesses the return of vibrant markets and various cultural events as the city comes to life.

Summer (June to August)

Summer is a popular time to visit Bern due to the warm and pleasant weather, with temperatures typically comfortable for exploring. The River Aare becomes a focal point for activities, offering unique swimming experiences for skilled swimmers who can float along its clean waters enjoying views of the city. Summer in Bern is also filled with outdoor events, concerts, and festivals, including the Buskers Bern Street Music Festival.

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn brings a serene beauty to Bern as the leaves change colors, creating picturesque settings around the city and its many parks. The cooler temperatures make it great for hiking and enjoying nature. Autumn is also a time for cultural activities, with various exhibitions and performances in the city’s museums and theaters. The Onion Market (Zibelemärit), held in November, is a highlight, attracting visitors with its festive atmosphere and traditional onion-themed products.

Winter (December to February)

Winter in Bern is cold, but the city’s charm is amplified by festive lights and Christmas markets that warm the atmosphere. It’s a magical time to visit, especially when snow blankets the medieval rooftops and cobblestone streets. The Bundesplatz in front of the Parliament building turns into an ice-skating rink, offering a picturesque skating experience. Although the days are shorter, the cultural scene remains vibrant with events and activities suited for the indoor weather.

Average Temperatures in Bern

  • January 7°C 10
  • February 10°C 9
  • March 12°C 8
  • April 18°C 10
  • May 20°C 15
  • June 25°C 13
  • July 27°C 13
  • August 26°C 12
  • September 24°C 9
  • October 19°C 10
  • November 12°C 11
  • December 8°C 13

How to get to Bern

Getting to Bern, Switzerland’s capital, is straightforward thanks to its central location and well-developed transport infrastructure. Here are the main ways you can reach Bern:

By Air

The closest major airport to Bern is Bern Airport (BRN), which offers limited flights mostly within Europe. For international travelers, the more commonly used gateway is Zurich Airport (ZRH), which is about 130 kilometers away. From Zurich Airport, you can easily get to Bern by train or car in about an hour and a half.

By Train

Bern is well-connected by train to major Swiss cities and many European destinations, thanks to its position on the Swiss rail network. The Bern Railway Station is one of the busiest in the country and serves as a major hub. High-speed trains like the EuroCity and InterCity connect Bern with Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Lucerne, with frequent services throughout the day. International trains from cities like Paris, Berlin, and Milan also stop in Bern, making train travel a convenient option.

By Car

Driving to Bern is relatively easy due to the excellent road network in Switzerland. Bern is well-connected by motorways A1 and A6, which link it to other major Swiss cities and neighboring countries. Renting a car or driving your own vehicle can offer the flexibility to explore the picturesque Swiss countryside at your own pace.

By Bus

Long-distance buses also connect Bern with other Swiss cities and some European destinations. The bus network can offer a more economical but slower alternative to train travel. Major bus companies like Flixbus operate routes that include Bern as a key stop.

Local Transportation

Once in Bern, the city boasts an efficient public transportation system managed by Bernmobil, which includes trams, buses, and local trains (S-Bahn) that can get you around the city and to nearby regions easily.

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