Park in 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 and more natural enclosure along the River Aar.

Both the Bärengraben and BärenPark are managed as part of the city’s Dählhölzli Zoo. The Bärengraben is a Swiss heritage site of national significance, particularly important in Bern due to the bear’s status as a symbol of the city and canton, featured prominently on their coat of arms.

History of Bärengraben

The bear has long been a symbol of Bern. According to legend, Duke Berthold V of Zähringen vowed to name his new city after the first animal his hunt encountered in the forest being cleared for the city. The chronicle of Konrad Justinger recounts:

“Then they caught a bear first, which is why the city was called Bern; and so the citizens had their coat and shield, which was a black bear in a white shield, going upright.”

The earliest records of bears in Bern date back to 1513, when chronicler Valerius Anshelm described the Bernese returning from the Battle of Novara with captured standards and a live bear as war spoils.

The original bear pit was located at what is now Bärenplatz (Bear Plaza). The current pit, the fourth iteration, was opened in 1857. A smaller adjacent pit for raising bear cubs was added in 1925.

From 1994 to 1996, the Bärengraben underwent major renovations to improve conditions for the bears. Despite these efforts, keeping bears in a pit remained controversial, leading to numerous complaints and new legal requirements.

In response, the BärenPark was established in 2009 on the steep slope between the Bärengraben and the River Aar. A tunnel links the original bear pit and the BärenPark, allowing bears to use both areas. The smaller pit is now used for access to the Bärengraben’s shop and as a performance space.

In 2015, the Schräglift Bärenpark (“Bärenbähnli”), an inclined lift, was installed to improve accessibility to the park.

The Bärengraben appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Bern!

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Visiting Bärengraben


24 Hours



Address: Bärengraben, Grosser Muristalden, Bern, Switzerland
Duration: 20 minutes

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