Bern is a capital city like no others: it merges with natural sights and fills you with the inner peace and calm. Let’s start with a few interesting facts about it.
Bern was founded by Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen, in 1191 and he chose the symbol for it: a mighty bear. And you can see this animal everywhere in the city!
Also Bern is probably a birthplace of Theory of Relativity (Einstein lived here for 7 years and developed the theory in free time in Bern) and of modern chocolate that melts in your mouth because Rodolphe Lindt’s first chocolate factory was built here, in Matte District.
And finally, if you notice street signs in different colours, know that this is Napoleon‘s invention: when the French occupied the city, they couldn’t read the street signs – so it was decided to mark them in different colours!
Here you’ll find main landmarks of Bern you won’t be willing to miss during your trip!
1. Bern Cathedral
Bern Cathedral is one of the main landmarks you cannot miss, it has the highest spire in the whole Switzerland! Its construction started in the early 15th century while smaller churches stood on this site since the very beginning of Bern.
First of all, explore its magnificent facade representing the Last Judgement: this could be oneof the most magnificent Late Gothic portal you’ve ever seen with 47 large figures and 170 small ones!
Walk inside to see the organs, the stained glass – don’t miss the bear in the vaulted ceiling of the altar area – and you can also climb the tower too! By the way, the most famous bell of the cathedral is nicknamed ‘Weighty Suzanna’!
Just behind the Cathedral you can find the Minster Terrace, or the Münsterplattform, a park with a beautiful observation deck overlooking the Aare river and Kirchenfeldbrücke bridge: it’s almost 230 metres long and dates back to 1883.
The Old Town of Bern is very unusual: it is made out of houses forming long walkways of merged arcades, and no surprises it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Many buildings date to the 15th century and later as the earlier buildings were destroyed by fire in 1405.
Cafes and shops frequently occupy the ground floor. Believe me, walking along Kramgasse with those arcades following the tramways with gorgeous sandstone buildings on both sides decorated with flags is a must when you’re in Bern!
4. Bern historical fountains
Another important feature of Bern are its fountains. In total, there are over 100 fountains with fresh drinking water, however look for the colourful Renaissance fountains dating to the 16th century.
They were the replacement for the older wooden fountains. There are 11 of them in total named after the figure topping it: The Child-eater (or Ogre Fountain) on Granary Square; Lady Justice on Gerechtigkeitsgasse,
Moses on the Minster Square; Zähringen (with a large bear) and Samson fountain on Kramgasse;
Banneret on the Town Hall Square; Anna Seiler fountain and Marksman Fountain on Marktgasse;
Bagpiper Fountain on Spitalgasse; legendary hero Ryffli Fountain on Aarbergergasse; and finally Messenger on Messenger Square.
You can read more about each fountain here.
Zytglogge Clock tower is another landmark of Bern you cannot miss! Now people gather there to see the astronomical clock which shows not only time but also days, months, phases of the moon, zodiac signs and many more!
The musical mechanism shows Chronos, the god of time, bears, rooster and jester. However, the clock was installed only after the great fire of 1405: before that the tower was a part of city fortifications and briefly served as a women’s prison! If you walk under the arch, there are also four large paintings to explore.
BärenPark, or Bear Pit, might sound confusing but actually this is one of the oldest attractions of Bern. There is a historical pit where bears have been held since the 16th century – those animals are the symbols of the city since the 12th century, and you can see the emblems with bear images everywhere.
Now the pit is connected to a large green area on the slips of Aare river, and three bears live there now: Finn, Bjork and Ursina. And I must admit that I’ve never seen such healthy and good looking bears before!
You can also take a small cable car if you want to go up and down this bank area and the posters will educate you about bears!
Did you know that Albert Einstein spent seven years in Bern, from 1902 to 1909? And there are a few locations in the city looked to him.
The Einstein House museum on Kramgasse is a real house where he lived and where he worked on the Theory of Relativity! His most precious works were published exactly in 1905 while he resided here.
The collection is not very vast, however you can familiarise yourself with some personal belongings of the physicist and learn more about his family, especially his first wife Mileva Marić.
Do you still remember that Bern is the capital city of Switzerland, The Federal Palace, or Bundeshaus, is the most prominent reminder of that. This Neo Renaissance building is quite recent: it dates to 1894-1902 and you won’t miss its 64 m high dome.
There’s a nice promenade just behind the Federal Palace, and the views from it are astonishing – I’d advice to see it too!
You might wonder why this church is on my list? Actually, it stands on the site where the Nydegg castle that belonged to Berchtold, the founder of Bern once stood, and you can still see the Zähringerdenkmal monument dedicated to him! From this point, the city expanded to the Clock tower. First church on this site dates back to the 1340s. You can still explore the well at the back of the courtyard that provided the water to the castle.
10.Nydeggbrukke and Untertorbrücke
Nydeggbrukke and Untertorbrücke are the famous bridges of Bern. Untertorbrücke is the oldest bridge of the city: its stone constriction dates back to 1461–1489 (before that it was wooden), and for a few centuries it’s been the only bridge of the city! You can easily observe its stone arches from Nydeggbrukke (erected in 1840), the neighbouring bridge beside Nydeggkirche which you should take if you head to the Bear Pit!
The Käfigturm, or a Prison Tower, is another part of UNESCO heritage in Bern. Originally the tower on this site was erected in the mid-13th century and served as a city gate and as a prison after the fire of 1405. However in 1640 it was rebuilt from scratch to have more space for prisoners and served as a larger prison again. Now it’s a home to Polit-Forum Bern.
12. Bern Town Hall
The Rathaus, or the Town Hall, of Bern is a gorgeous governmental building where the sessions of Cantonal Parliament, City of Bern Parliament (Stadtrat) and the Canton and City’s youth parliaments take place.
The building dates to the late 14th century and still has a beautiful mediaeval vibe although it’s been remodelled in the mid-20th century.
What else to see in Bern?
First of all, go to the Rosengarten, a famous rose park opened a century ago. You can also visit the museums such as Bern Historical Museum, Zentrum Paul Klee, Museum of Fine Arts and Tierpark Dählhölzli Bern Zoo if you have time.
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