Bern was declared a Free Imperial city in 1218 as part of the Holy Roman Empire. It is currently known as a Swiss Federal city and is the capital of Switzerland. The old city was built on uneven ground, on a peninsula in the crook of the River Aare. In 1406 many of the wooden buildings were destroyed by fire and replaced by sandstone and half-timber framed structures. There are 114 Swiss heritage sites in the city and the old town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Approximately half a million people live in Bern and the surrounding areas, a large percentage of which are foreigners. There are 6 km of arcades and undercover shopping in Bern.
The availability of abundant water supplies has played a significant role in the development of Bern. There are more than 100 public fountains in the city, once the main source of household water and social interaction. Today, the fountains provide free drinkable water to residents and visitors. Originally the fountains were made of wood but were replaced in 1550 by stone works of art. Many of them depict allegorical figures such as Justice and the Ogre. Others depict biblical figures, for example, Moses and Samson. Some are in the middle of busy streets and act as traffic calmers. Water-themed walking tours are available.
This cathedral is the largest and most important late medieval church in Switzerland. It is a functioning parish church and dominates the landscape of Bern. In 1421, when Bern was on the ascendancy as a city state, the current church was built around the existing church, which was then torn down. The stained glass windows, depicting the Passion, date back to 1441. During the Reformation, in 1528, most of the décor was removed and destroyed. Statues that were used as filler when the terrace was built were rediscovered in 1986. The organ was silent for 200 years after the Reformation but has been restored to working order.
Münsterplatz 1, 3000 Bern, Switzerland, Phone: +41-3-13-12-04-62
Einstein, a German-born theoretical physicist, lived and studied in Bern from 1902 to 1909. Einstein House is a joint initiative between the American and European Physical Societies, and was declared an Historic Site in 2015. He and his wife and son occupied the second floor apartment for 2 years. It was there that he developed his Theory of Relativity. The apartment and the spiral stairs leading to it have been restored to reflect the period. On the third floor, is an exhibition of Einstein's life and works. A tour of the Zytglogge clock tower, with its 15th century astronomical clock, explores Einstein's concept of time.
Kramgasse 49, 3011 Bern, Switzerland, Phone: +41-3-13-12-00-91
© Kunstmuseum Bern
The Museum of Fine Art is housed in a late 19th century Renaissance Revival building. There are more than 50000 items in the museum's collection. The permanent exhibition chronicles Swiss and international art from the Middle Ages to the present. There are works from Cezanne, Matisse, Chagall, van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Monet and others. In May 2014 the museum was offered the controversial Gurlitt Collection, parts of which were thought to have been looted during Hitler's regime. Approximately 1500 works, including old masters and examples of Expressionism, Impressionism and Cubism, were accepted and exhibited in 2018.
Hodlerstrasse 8-12, 3011 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-28-09-44
Four years after Bern was declared the capital of Switzerland, work began on the parliamentary buildings. The 300 meter complex was built in three phases. In 1852, work on the west wing began and in 1884 the mirror image on the east wing was completed. The central section with its 64m high copper dome was completed in the early 1900s. Thirty-eight artists contributed to the interior and exterior decoration. In 2018, the Swiss Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired donated a 1:130 scale model of the building to the city, for the public to touch. The bronze cast model is situated behind the buildings.
Bundesplatz 3, 3005 Bern, Switzerland
© Kunsthalle Bern
This large art exposition hall, on Helvetiaplatz, was established in 1917 by the Bernese Artists' Society. The aim of the institution is to forge new paths in art by exhibiting contemporary art and stimulating discussion on social issues and aesthetics. It came to prominence in 1969 due to a themed exhibition, entitled, 'When Attitude Becomes Form'. There are between six and seven group and individual exhibitions per annum, featuring well-known and new Bernese, Swiss and international artists. The Kunsthalle Bern Foundation was formed in 1988 by collectors of contemporary art, in order to purchase relevant artworks. The Kunsthalle offers public tours, lectures and debates.
Helvetiaplatz 1, 3005 Berne, Phone: +41-31-3-50-00-40
The Historical Museum was built in 1894 but modeled on castles of the 15th and 16th centuries. A glass fronted extension was added in 2009. The museum seeks to present the grand sweep of history from the Stone Ages to the present day. More than half a million objects chronicle world history, inter alia, through archaeological finds, ethnography and numismatics. Permanent exhibitions focus on Bern's highs and lows, its captured treasures and its current status. Temporary exhibitions include diverse themes such as man's migration and Nativity scenes from around the world. A 1000 square meter space is devoted to the life and work of Einstein.
Helvetiaplatz 5, CH-3005 Bern, Phone +41-3-13-50-77-11
The bear is the symbol of Bern and the origin of its name. The first bear was brought to the city in 1513 as the spoils of war and kept on display for all to see. The Bärengraben, a concrete bear pit, is the fourth in a series to have occupied the site. It was built in 1857. In 2009, the pit was linked via a tunnel to the new Bärenpark, to create a more natural environment for the bears. The park is on a sloped, terraced piece of grassland on the Aare River, overlooking the old town. There are three occupants, namely, Bjork, Ursina and Finn. Guided tours are available.
Tierparkweg 1, 3005 Bern, Switzerland, Phone: +41-3-13-57-15-15
© Altes Tramdepot
As its name suggests, this brewery and restaurant are housed in a former tram depot. The building dates back to 1889 and is situated on the Aare River, with views of the Bärenpark from the summer terrace. The brewery is in the center of the restaurant and brews several times a week. It produces more than 3000 hectoliters of perennial and seasonal beers each year. The restaurant can seat 500 people in four sections, including a hall and a beer garden. There are guided tours daily, with more in-depth information sessions on Saturdays. Regular talks on Swiss beer and other spirits are held at the brewery.
Grosser Muristalden 6, CH-3006 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-68-14-15
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10.Zentrum Paul Klee
© Simon Ebel/stock.adobe.com
Paul Klee was an artist in the Expressionist, Cubist and Surrealist genres. He was an avid reader of literature and studied fine art. He was commended on his line work but felt that he struggled with color. He wrote books on aesthetics, color and art theory, and taught design and architecture at the Bauhaus School of Art. Paul Klee kept a diary from 1897 to 1918 which reveals his dry, often childlike, humor. The Center has more than 4000 of his paintings, aquarelles and drawings, spanning his entire career. There is a creativity area for children, an auditorium for musical events and various venues for seminars.
Monument im Fruchtland 3, 3000 Bern 31, Phone +41-3-13-59-01-01
There is seating for 700 people in this urban Grand Café. It is located in an underground sandstone cellar, that was formerly used as a granary. It has unusually high vaulted ceilings and is entered via an impressive staircase. Traditional, Bernese, Swiss and Mediterranean cuisine is served. In the Kornhaus Café, lighter meals and homemade patisseries are the main attraction. The Galerie Bar is on the upper level which offers a selection of wines from the vinetheque, and a range of Swiss whiskeys and other spirits. Bartending courses are run from time to time at the Kornhaus.
Kornhausplatz 18, Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-27-72-72
12.Café Della Casa
There has been a restaurant on the site of the Café Della Casa since 1862. The name dates back to 1892 and it has been run by one family since then. It has been a gathering place for politicians, scholars, artists and captains of trade and industry. There are several venues in the four story, half-timbered building which can seat between 10 and 60 people. Traditional Swiss fare, including tripe and calf's head, is on the menu which changes seasonally with the availability of locally sourced ingredients. Every Tuesday, a pork roast is prepared and various pork dishes appear on the menu.
Schauplatzgasse 16, 3011 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-11-21-42
13.Scneizerhof - Jack's Brasserie
© Aerial Mike/stock.adobe.com
Hotel Schneizerhof was established in 1859, as Bern's first luxury hotel, and boasts a celebrity list which includes Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Albert Schweitzer, Diego Maradonna and the Manchester United football team. Jack's Brasserie is the principal restaurant at the newly formed Schneizerhof Hotel and Spa. The restaurant serves classical regional, national and European cuisine in its elegant alcoves. The signature dish is Wiener Schnitzel with warm potato salad. The restaurant is open from 06:30 to 23:00 and serves, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Bahnhofplatz 11, 3001 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-26-80-80
This gourmanderie is located in a 17th century townhouse in the historic center of Bern. It is situated in a traffic free zone, five minutes from the Bundeshaus and the train station. They serve traditional Swiss and European cuisine, including cheese fondues, veal cordon bleu, rack of lamb and Scottish salmon. The menu is adjusted every six weeks. Vegan, low carbohydrate and allergy specific meals are available. All food is prepared on the premises using organically farmed and ethically sourced ingredients. There are three dining areas indoors and café style seating outside. The restaurant can seat a total of 65 people.
Aarbergergasse 24 / Speicherergasse 21, 3011 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-11-44-63
© Klösterli Weincafe
This wine and coffee bar is situated in an historic 13th century building, on the River Aare, adjacent to the bear park. They serve quick lunches, cheese and ham platters and cozy dinners. Traditional Swiss dishes include ingredients such as truffles and wild boar. These are complemented by a selection of rare wines and choice coffee blends. The 4 meter wine rack holds some of the more than 100 wines on the list, 20 of which can be purchased by the glass. Klösterli beer has been brewed especially for the restaurant and is available on tap.
Klösterlistutz 16, 3013 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-50-10-00
This relatively new, tavern-like restaurant and bar is listed on the Michelin Guide and has scored 15 Gault Milan points. There is a choice of a 3-course or 7-course set menu, with or without meat or fish. All the ingredients for the seasonal gourmet dishes are sourced in Switzerland and the wines come from European wine-producing countries. The wines are kept in catacombs underground. The bar also serves cocktails, aperitifs and a range of spirits. There are 34 seats inside and 34 outside. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Münstergasse 50, CH-3011 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-11-98-44
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© Lötschberg AOC
This restaurant is a laid-back eatery in a rustic setting near the center of the city. It serves Swiss specialties such as cheese fondues, röstis and raclettes, with wine and craft beers. It is an urban venue with a cosmopolitan clientele and is a popular venue for business meetings. They serve breakfast until noon on weekdays and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Snacks include a range of salads and sandwiches.
Zeughausgasse 16, 3011 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-11-34-55
The Meridiano is a starred Michelin hotel restaurant, with 16 Gault Milan points. It is set in a terrace above the old town of Bern which affords panoramic views of the Bernese alps. Chef Fabian Raffeiner and his team prepare authentic Swiss, Alpine and Mediterranean food. There are 4- to 8-course set menus for lunch and dinner, complete with wine pairing. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Dogs are welcome. There are another two restaurants in the hotel, serving Italian and Asian cuisine. The hotel regularly hosts conferences, seminars and private functions.
Kornhausstrasse 3, 3013 Bern, Phone: +41-3-13-39-55-00
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La Terrasse restaurant is situated in a capsule that overhangs the River Aare. The water can be seen flowing past, through the glass barriers and openings in the floor. The small restaurant seats 24 and is a sunny, outdoor eatery in summer. In the evening, from October to February it is transformed into a fondu chalet. The restaurant is renowned for its fish dishes but also serves Mediterranean specialty dishes, warm and cold snacks, coffees and pastries. The menus are seasonal and there is a Sunday brunch offered. La Terrasse is open 7 days a week, from 09:00 to 23:30.
Dalmaziquai 11, CH-3005 Bern, Phone +41-3-13-50-50-01
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19 Best Things to Do in Bern, Switzerland
- Bern’s Fountains, Photo: Pietersma/stock.adobe.com
- Bern Cathedral, Photo: Pietersma/stock.adobe.com
- Einstein House, Photo: Krisztian/stock.adobe.com
- Kunstmuseum Bern, Photo: Kunstmuseum Bern
- Bundeshaus, Photo: eyetronic/stock.adobe.com
- Kunsthalle Bern, Photo: Kunsthalle Bern
- Historical Museum, Photo: schankz/stock.adobe.com
- Bärenpark, Photo: OliverFoerstner/stock.adobe.com
- Altes Tramdepot, Photo: Altes Tramdepot
- Zentrum Paul Klee, Photo: Simon Ebel/stock.adobe.com
- Kornhauskeller, Photo: Kornhauskeller
- Café Della Casa, Photo: kichigin19/stock.adobe.com
- Scneizerhof - Jack's Brasserie, Photo: Aerial Mike/stock.adobe.com
- Moleson, Photo: Moléson
- Klosterli Weincafe, Photo: Klösterli Weincafe
- Wein&Sein, Photo: Wein&Sein
- Lötschberg AOC, Photo: Lötschberg AOC
- Meridiano, Photo: BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com
- La Terrasse, Photo: kichigin19/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Scanrail/stock.adobe.com