As far as European capital cities go, Bern is one of the smallest and quaintest. Nevertheless, with traditional buildings, more than one hundred fountains, an Old Town that is UNESCO-listed and the crystal-clear river Aare running through it, there are many stunning details worth stopping for.
Walking around downtown Bern is a real pleasure, especially as the city centre is a car-free zone. Marktgasse is the town’s main artery; a street lined with pretty houses, small stores, cafés and restaurants. As the name suggests, this is where Bern’s market took place in past centuries. Today, the street is lively and perfect for a stroll – just watch out for the red trams that run up and down the street.
Marktgasse and nearby Spitalgasse merge into Bärenplatz, one of Bern’s most famous squares. This area is home to Käfigturm: built in 1644 on the site of an earlier structure, this 49-metre-tall Baroque tower looks out on the outdoor cafés in the square and features a clock and a bell.
The Berner Münster, the city’s cathedral, is a must-see while in town. This incredible church took about 400 years to finish, but if you look at the intricate detail of the facade and door, you will easily see why. This Gothic beauty holds the record for having the tallest bell tower in Switzerland, being a little over 100 metres high.
All around the centre of Bern, you can find allegorical statues – 11 of these are mounted on top of fountains, while some others can be found on pedestals and walls. These statues were created in the 1600s by Fribourg artist Hans Gieng and include scenes like Samson killing a lion, Lady Justice and an ogre eating children. Try to find all of them as you wander around the town.
The Bundeshaus, with its imposing facade and elegant lines, is home to the Swiss Parliament and is one of Switzerland’s most beloved buildings. The palace can be visited by taking part in a guided tour, which gives an interesting insight not only into the architecture, but also into the ways of the Swiss political system.
Bern is small enough to be toured entirely on foot in a few hours. One of the best ways to discover its beauty is wandering through the streets and alleys of the Old Town, which are all pedestrian-only and perfect for walking.
The river Aare is Bern’s pulsing heart and it holds a very special place in locals’ hearts. With its crystal-clear waters, it hugs the Old Town, separating it from the rest of the city. Looking out over the river from one of the pretty bridges or from the riverbank is always a pleasure.
Alongside the river runs a beautiful promenade, perfect for strolling and taking in stunning views of the Aare and the Old Town. In summer, some cafés and restaurants set up tables and chairs here, which are ideally located for a leisurely coffee or lunch break.
For the best views of the Old Town, the Rosengarten is the right place to go. Located on a hill, this rosarium was opened a little over 100 years ago on the site of an old cemetery. Thanks to its position, it offers sweeping, uninterrupted views of Bern’s city centre, as well as the chance to stroll surrounded by roses and other beautiful flowers.