Switzerland’s capital city is small and compact, with a lovely atmosphere, picture-perfect cobblestone streets and beautiful views of the river Aare. The Old Town is where you will find all the main sights. Most of it is pedestrian-only and the distances are short, making it a paradise for those who like to explore towns on foot. Here are the top 10 things to see and do in Bern, Switzerland.
Discover Bern’s quirky fountains
Bern is famous for being home to some very peculiar fountains, attributed to 16th-century artist Hans Gieng. Scattered around the Old Town, you will find more than 100 fountains, 11 of which are topped with these distinctive looking allegorical sculptures. From Justice and Moses to an ogre with a bag of children ready to be eaten, you will easily spot them in the streets and squares of the town centre.
Bern’s Gothic cathedral, or as the locals call it, Münster, was built in the 15th century and it’s the town’s most impressive church. Its spire, at 100 metres, is the tallest in Switzerland and it is well worth walking up the steps to get a fabulous view over Bern, the Aare and the Alps in the Bernese Oberland. The construction of this massive edifice started in 1421 and the spire was only finished 400 years later, in 1893. There’s also a portal with a depiction of The Last Judgement.
Not everyone knows that Albert Einstein lived in Bern, but he did, and the house he rented from 1903 to 1905, turned into a museum, is worth a visit. Located in one of Bern’s most charming streets, Kramgasse, the house has been carefully refurbished so that it’s a copy of the great physicist’s home. This is where Einstein developed his famous Theory of Relativity and it goes without saying that it is one of the highlights of any trip to Bern.
The Kunstmuseum in Bern is Switzerland’s oldest fine art museum with a wonderful permanent collection. It houses artwork from the Middle Ages to the present day and is home to pieces by Swiss artists from the 15th century onwards. Works by renowned masters, such as Botticelli, Manet, Picasso, Van Gogh and Wassmer, can also be viewed alongside over 3,000 paintings and sculptures by other Swiss and international artists.
The Bundeshaus in Bern is home to the Swiss Parliament as well as the Federal Government. Both the exterior, with its large domed roof, and the interior are dramatic works of art. In the central hall, there are beautiful paintings that illustrate pivotal moments from Swiss history and all the government rooms are equally interesting to see. The building is open to the public as part of a one-hour guided tour in different languages, depending on the time of day.
Established in 1918, Kunsthalle Bern has been receiving global recognition ever since. Showcasing regional, national and international art, Kunsthalle organises new exhibitions each year, featuring either individuals or groups of around six or seven artists. Solo exhibits by contemporary artists, such as Paul Klee in 1935 and Christo in 1968, brought the gallery to the world’s attention, making it one of Switzerland’s liveliest cultural hubs.
The Historical Museum of Bern is Switzerland’s second-biggest history museum. It holds one of the most important and fascinating collections, which showcases the life of the Swiss from the Stone Age up until the 1900s. One of the highlights here is “Bern’s Silver Treasures”, where the historic silverware of the city’s rich and famous is on display. The museum also features interesting temporary exhibits that change several times a year.
Bern’s relationship with its heraldic animal, the brown bear, is centuries old. Bears have lived in the city since as far back as the 1500s and to this day, they can be seen in their new riverside “home”, an open-air park with access to water, which was built in 2009. Three bears live here at the moment, Finn, Björk and Ursina, and they can be seen eating, sleeping and playing from a short but safe distance.
Located near Barenpark, Altes Tramdepot is a site of gastronomic and natural interest. With views of the park, Bern’s Old Town and the beautiful Aare river from its beer garden and front terrace, the restaurant is highly rated by visitors. The menu is eclectic, offering both Swiss dishes, traditional French cuisine and Asian plates. However, the main attraction here is its integrated brewery – copper vats are situated in the middle of the restaurant behind the bar – in which the house beer is produced.
Dedicated to Bern’s Paul Klee, who is regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Zentrum Paul Klee holds 40 percent of the work he completed during his lifetime, which amounts to around 4,000 paintings. Around 120-150 paintings are shown at any given time, with the paintings and themes changing regularly. The undulating museum building is a curious work of art in itself. It was built by Italian architect Renzo Piano to mimic the surrounding hilly terrain and it’s one of the most photographed buildings in town.