- Switzerland’s capital city
- The stunning Old City is surrounded on three sides by the River Aare
- Has maintained its central street plan since medieval times
Metro Population: 660,000 (#3 in Switzerland)
When To Visit: March-October
Climate: Warm in the summer, cool in spring and fall, cold with some rain and a small amount of snow in winter
Bern (known as the City of Bears) is one of the most historic cities in the world, and its Old City is filled to the brim with significant and gorgeous sights to see – so many in fact that the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It feels like a much smaller city than Zurich or Geneva and doesn’t take too long to explore, but its unique setting around the crook of a river and stately architecture make it a very unique and memorable place to visit.
Photo: River Aare from Munsterplattform
Where To Go in Bern
Bern Old City
Church of the Holy Ghost (Heiliggeistkirche): One of the most stunningly gorgeous churches in Switzerland, this cathedral is built on the site of a historic Roman temple and has an ornate white and pink ceiling. Free. Spitalgasse 44, 3011 Bern. +41 31 370 15 52
Kleine Schanze: This park has sweeping views of Greater Bern and the River Aare and hosts the award-winning Universal Postal Union Monument, which was erected in 1909. Free. Taubenstrasse 6, 3011 Bern. +41 31 321 72 57
Kafigturm: This tower dating back to Medieval times was built as a gate house in 1256 and used to serve as a prison. Free. Marktgasse 67, 3003 Bern. +41 58 462 75 00
Ogre Fountain (Kindlifresserbrunnen): There’s ornately decorated fountains on practically every block of Bern that you can use to fill a water bottle; this silly one pays ode to the fictional ogre creature. Free. 3011 Bern. +41 31 328 12 12.
Bundesplatz: Bern’s largest plaza which faces the Federal Palace has lovely outdoor patio restaurants, fountains, and excellent people watching. Free. Predigergasse 5, 3011 Bern. +41 31 321 52 20
Federal Palace: This beautiful building is “new” by Swiss standards (built in 1902) and hosts Switzerland’s legislative and executive branches of government. There’s great views of the River Aare by the rear entrance and you can explore inside on weekdays. Free. Bundesplatz 3, 3005 Bern. +41 31 322 87 90
Zytglogge: Perhaps Bern’s most significant landmark, Zytglogge is one of the oldest clocks in Switzerland, dating back to 1191. It’s been used as a guard tower and a prison and proudly stands in the center of the Old City. Free. Bim Zytglogge 3, 3011 Bern
Bern Munster: The city’s most famous cathedral and the largest Christian church in Switzerland. Climb to the top of the tallest church tower in the country and get great views of the Old City. Free cathedral admission, 5 franc for tower admission. Münsterplatz 1, 3000 Bern. +41 31 312 04 62
Munsterplattform: A park between the Bern Munster church and the river with more great views. Münsterplattform 9, 3011 Bern
Bärengraben: Opened in 1857, this riverside enclosure that pays ode to the city’s bear symbol hosts bears who live in hilly enclosures with water, trees, and hiding spots, an improvement over the apparent small pits they used to live in but still a damn shame that they aren’t free to roam the wilderness as bears should be. Enjoy free wifi at the neighboring Altes Traindepot at the tourist info booth. Grosser Muristalden 6, 3006 Bern. +41 31 357 15 25
Rosengarten: This rose garden up a short hill from Bärengraben is the place to go to get the iconic Bern view of the River Aare wrapping around the Old City. Alter Aargauerstalden 31B, 3006 Bern. +41 31 331 32 06
Town Hall (Rathaus): You can’t go inside but the outside view with twin staircases going up from each side and a cool clock in the center is worth a visit. Rathausplatz 2, 3011 Bern. +41 31 633 75 50
Blutturm: Walk across the Lorrainebrucke Bridge to get a view of this small riverside tower located in a quiet forest that used to be part of Bern’s city wall. You can also take a steep walk down to see it up close. Uferweg 42C, 3013 Bern
Freibad Marzili: In Bern on a hot day? Go enjoy these free public pools right on the edge of the River Aare! Marzilistrasse 29, 3005 Bern. +41 31 311 00 46
Gurten Mountain: Bern’s little mountain offers wonderful views of the city, countryside, and Swiss Alps. A red funicular train takes you to the top, where there’s a free observation tower you can ascend as well as a restaurant, playground, and hiking trails. You can also skip the train and hike uphill or downhill if you have time. Funicular rail: 10 franc round trip OR free with a 13 franc Bern transport day pass
What To Eat in Bern
You’ll find Switzerland’s food to be exorbitantly expensive ($30+ for a meal that would be $10 in the U.S.), but it is possible to nourish yourself without breaking the bank. It may seem strange to eat ethnic food rather than local dishes, but it tends to be significantly cheaper. Here are a few of the most affordable yet still high quality eats in Bern.
Le Mazot: A very Swiss/German-feeling restaurant with rustic decor and mostly German-only speaking servers. The most affordable item on their menu happens to be one of Switzerland’s most famous dishes: raclette, a glob of melted cheese with small sides of mini potatoes, onions, and pickles for only 11 franc. Bärenplatz 5, 3011 Bern. +41 31 311 70 88
Ham Ham Take Away: This take out-only eatery has hearty sandwiches for under 10 franc, very cheap food for Bern! There’s some great vegetarian options. Zähringerstrasse 35, 3012 Bern. 031 301 71 01
Tab Tim: Right in the Center of the Old City, this tiny Thai restaurant has rotating daily dishes to choose from and is vegetarian-friendly. Münstergasse 55, 3011 Bern. +41 31 311 67 01
Sky Terrace: Located in the Old City just across from the train station, the Hotel Schweizerhof has this lovely rooftop bar with excellent views and a casual, by-the-sea vibe. Bahnhofplatz 11, 3001 Bern. +41 31 326 80 80
Turnhalle: This gym turned bar has a great outdoor patio and frequent live music in a fittingly casual environment. Speichergasse 4, 3011 Bern. +41 31 311 15 51
Comeback: This small gay bar located in a cellar in the center of the Old City has a classic, old-fashioned vibe and great DJs on weekends. Rathausgasse 42, 3011 Bern. +41 31 311 77 13
Click here to read my blog from my day exploring Bern’s Old City and heading up to Gurten, Bern’s “Little Mountain.”
Nearby Side Trips from Bern
Interlaken and the Jungfrau Region: A resort town sandwiched between two large lakes and just below a gorgeous portion of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken (45 minutes away) is perfectly positioned to allow exploration of quaint towns and stunning mountain peaks. Read more.
Lucerne: This mid-sized city 1.5 hours east of Bern has incredibly well-preserved history, including a 700-year-old wall with several towers, covered bridges with centuries-old murals, and a small but charming Old City. Read more.