Switzerland · Travel

Distinctively Bern: Things to see and do in the capital city of Switzerland

A unique medieval look, cobbled streets, clock towers and multiple fountains are just some of things that you first notice as you take a walk along the streets of Bern, the capital of Switzerland.  Built originally on a hilly peninsula around the river Aare, the city dates back to the 12th century but was destroyed later by a ravaging fire in 1405.

View of the city of Berne
View of the city of Bern

While most of the original buildings were destroyed, the city was rebuilt with several half-timbered and sandstone buildings.  Most of the latter are intact even today and it is little wonder that the entire old town has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983.

Another view of Bern city
Another view of Bern city

Easily accessible by road, rail and flights including carriers like Emirates airlines, Bern has to be on your “to-do” list when in Switzerland.

View of the city of Bern
Another view of the city of Bern

Bear connection

The city of Berne has always been intrinsically associated with bears and one can witness images of bears on flags, fountains and of course the city’s coat of arms.  The bear park is a key site of tourist interest and houses a large bear pit which is adjacent to the Aare river.  The three live bears which roam freely in this area are a great draw with locals and visitors alike.   The pit is also connected to the river via a tunnel and the entire area is known as the Barenplatz or the bear plaza.

Bear pit: Bern
Bear pit: Bern

Old town

Arguably the most famous of all the heritage sites in Bern is the old town or Altstadt, an area replete with quaint cafes, narrow streets, boutiques, shops and restaurants.  The entire area encompasses a stretch of up to 6 km and houses some eclectic Renaissance fountains.  Do not miss tracing each of them on your walking tour of the old town.

A view of the old town in Bern
A view of the old town in Bern

Attractions galore

Bern is home to a number of interesting sites that make for an engaging experience.  Dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the Bern cathedral or Bernmunster is a majestic Gothic structure that has a spire that is the highest in Switzerland.  The Zytglogge is a spectacular clock tower that dates back to 1530.  One of the oldest in the country, the clock tower is famous for an extraordinary display of early animatronic technology that takes places 3 minutes prior to every hour.

A view of the Zytglogge
A view of the Zytglogge

The Zentrum Paul Klee shaped like an oscillating wave is a modern museum and is a treasure house of Klee’s paintings that are displayed thematically such that no two shows are identical.

A view of the Zentrum Paul Klee
A view of the Zentrum Paul Klee

The most important site is of course the Parliament building which is open to visitors.   It is recommended that you pre book tours that are available online.  Do not miss the market that is hosted in front of the parliament every weekend where everything from fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, chocolate and Knick knacks are available.  You can catch live music performances too.

A view of the Parliament building on a weekend
A view of the Parliament building on a weekend

Bern is also the place where the famous scientist Albert Einstein lived for some time.  You can visit Einsteinhaus aka Einstein House that is located on 49, Kramgasse.  He lived here between 1903 and 1905 and is now converted to a museum.  It was in the year 1905 that the scientist developed the famous theory of relativity.

Inside Einsteinhaus
Inside Einsteinhaus

Einstein museum is located within the Bern Historical Museum and houses important displays relating to the life and times of Albert Einstein.

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