Bern Travel Guide: 20 Best Things to Do

Bern, the charming capital of Switzerland, is a mix of medieval architecture, vibrant culture and youthful energy. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie or an adventurer, Bern has something for everyone. Let’s dive into the coolest places and experiences Bern has to offer.

What are the Best Things to Do in Bern, Switzerland?

Imagine a city that combines medieval charm with modern flair. Surrounded by the majestic Alps and crossed by the emerald green river Aare, Bern offers a unique mixture of historical treasures and contemporary culture. Whether you stroll through the UNESCO-protected Old Town, admire the majestic Zytglogge clock tower or jump into the refreshing Aare in summer, Bern offers a lot things to do to. Find out in this travel guide how beautiful Bern is and why it’s is far more than just an insider tip.

1. Explore the historic Old Town

The Old Town of Bern is an absolute must-see when you are in Bern. Bern’s Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. Besides, it’s considered a great example of a progressive city foundation. The Old Town is a charming labyrinth of medieval alleyways and sandstone façades that will transport you back in time.

Bern’s Old Town is divided into the “Lower Old Town” and the “Upper Old Town”. The Lower Old Town covers the area from the Matte quarter to the Zytglogge clock tower. The Upper Old Town lies between the Zytglogge clock tower and the Bollwerk-Hirschengraben.

The six kilometers of arcades, known as “Lauben”, offer one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe and invite you to take a relaxed stroll. Small, trendy boutiques and cozy cafés line the arcades, giving the old town a modern twist in a historic setting.

2. Stroll through the famous Kramgasse

Forget boring shopping streets – Kramgasse is the heart of Bern’s Old Town and your place-to-be! Under the kilometer-long arcades, you’ll find everything from stylish cafés to cool boutiques. Here you can browse in a relaxed atmosphere and discover stylish souvenirs. With its well-preserved medieval buildings and characteristic arcades, Kramgasse also offers countless photo opportunities.

Kramgasse is also home to a variety of restaurants and food spots that promise culinary adventures. From traditional Bernese dishes to international cuisine – you will be spoiled with culinary delights here. Kramgasse is also the venue for numerous events and festivals throughout the year. From street food festivals to cultural events – there’s always something going on here.

3. Watch the chimes of the Zytglogge clock tower

The iconic Zytglogge clock tower is not only historically fascinating, but also the perfect spot to take great pictures. The medieval clock tower is one of Bern’s most famous landmarks and is definitely one of the best things to do in Bern.

The Zytglogge was originally built in the early 13th century as a watchtower. It’s one of the oldest and most important buildings in Bern. It served as a city gate, prison and finally as a clock tower. The astronomical clock, which was added in 1530, not only shows the time, but also the signs of the zodiac, the day of the week, moon phases and much more.

Tip: Every hour on the hour, the moving figures bring the clock to life. A fascinating spectacle that you shouldn’t miss!

Instead of just looking at the Zytglogge from the outside, you can book a guided tour to get to know the fascinating mechanics behind the clock. You get exclusive insights into the inside of the tower and can see the impressive cogwheels and mechanisms up close. What’s more, after climbing 130 steps, the view from the top offers a fantastic view over the old town of Bern. You can book a public tour from CHF 10 (USD 11) or a private tour from CHF 250 (USD 282).

4. Discover the artistic fountains in Bern

Bern is home to a total of 100 public fountains, many of which date back to the 16th century. You will find colorful historic fountains all over the Old Town. The colorful water fountains are not only historical gems and colorful water dispensers, but also tell exciting stories from Bern’s past. They depict scenes from Bern’s history, myths and legends, and many of them are decorated with allegorical figures.

The Kindlifresserbrunnen fountain, with its depiction of an ogre devouring a child, gives goosebumps and is a popular photo opportunity. The Zähringerbrunnen fountain honors the city’s founder Berchtold V von Zähringen and proudly displays an armored bear, the symbol of Bern. Particularly impressive is the Schützenbrunnen fountain, which depicts an armed warrior and commemorates the city’s brave marksmen. A walk to these fountains is like a journey through Bern’s eventful history and offers plenty of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities.

6. Feel the political power in the Federal Palace

The Federal Palace Bern is the political heart of Switzerland and impresses with its magnificent architecture and historical significance. This imposing building, built in the neo-Renaissance style, houses the Swiss parliament and the Federal Council. Moreover, it’s a symbol of the country’s direct democracy.

Particularly worth seeing is the impressive domed hall with its ornate frescoes and mosaics depicting the history and diversity of Switzerland. In addition, you can take part in free guided tours. They offer fascinating insights into everyday political life and the history of the building.

The one-hour tour takes place every Tuesday to Saturday at 11:30 am (in French) and 3 pm (in German), as well as on Saturdays at 2 pm (in Italian) and 4 pm (in English). The tour can be booked online at least three days in advance. You should be there at least 20 minutes beforehand due to security checks.

In front of the Federal Palace is the Bundesplatz. It’s a popular meeting place with a modern water fountain that provides cooling in summer and is atmospherically lit up at night. The area around the Federal Palace is full of trendy cafés and restaurants. They invite you to linger and are a perfect starting point for exploring the old town.

7. Enjoy the panoramic view from the Bundesterrasse

Directly behind the impressive Federal Palace is the Bundesterrasse. It offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Aare and the Bernese Alps. This expansive balcony is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists to relax and enjoy the view. Numerous benches invite you to linger, while street musicians and artists create a lively atmosphere.

8. Enjoy the view from the Bern Minster

Bern Minster is the largest and tallest church in Switzerland. It towers majestically over the old town and is an absolute must-see for architecture and history lovers. The imposing tower, which rises a proud 100 meters into the sky, offers a breathtaking view over Bern and the surrounding Alps – the climb up the 344 steps is well worth it!

The tower is open daily. The exact opening times can be found on the Bern Minster website depending on the season. Tickets can be purchased on site at the cathedral.

Besides, the magnificent main portal with its intricate biblical sculptures, which are among the most important late Gothic works of art in Europe, is also particularly impressive. Inside, the impressive stained glass windows and the huge, intricately carved choir stalls reflect the spiritual and artistic wealth of the 15th century. The cathedral is not only a religious site, but also a cultural center that regularly hosts concerts and events.

9. Picknick at Münsterplattform

The “Münsterplattform” in Bern is a relaxed, green retreat right next to the imposing Bern Cathedral and offers a magnificent view of the Aare and the surrounding Alps. This historic square was once the cathedral’s cemetery and was converted into a public promenade in the 18th century. Today, the cathedral platform is a popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike, ideal for picnics, walks or simply relaxing.

In summer, cultural events and open-air concerts often take place here, giving the platform a lively flair. The old chestnut trees and historic fountains are particularly charming and lend the place a nostalgic atmosphere. A café with an outdoor area invites you to linger and offers the perfect place to enjoy the view and the cozy ambience.

10. Dive into the life of Albert Einstein

Visit the Einsteinhaus and dive into the life of the brilliant scientist. Did you know that Einstein developed his theory of relativity here? This small museum is an absolute best thing to do in Bern and a surprisingly cool stopover in the Old Town.

The charming apartment on the second floor, lovingly restored, offers an authentic insight into Einstein’s life and working environment during his Bernese years. Albert Einstein lived here from 1903 to 1905 and wrote some of his groundbreaking work. Visitors can marvel at original documents, photos and personal items belonging to the physicist. The small but informative museum attracts science and history enthusiasts alike and conveys a special connection to the city of Bern, which played a key role in shaping Einstein’s career. It’s well worth a visit – and not just for science nerds!

11. Admire the red roofs of Bern from the Nydegg Bridge

The Nydegg Bridge in Bern is a charming historic bridge that crosses the River Aare and is a popular photo motif for visitors exploring the city. With its elegant arch construction and the stone figures at the ends of the bridge, it embodies traditional Bernese craftsmanship and 19th century architecture. The bridge offers an impressive view of Bern’s picturesque Old Town with its red-tiled roofs and the towers of the cathedral.

The Nydegg Bridge not only connects the two banks of the Aare, but also the Nydegg and Matte districts, which are known for their cozy alleyways and historic buildings. A walk along the bridge is particularly charming in the evening, when the sun sets over the Bernese Alps and bathes the scenery in warm colors. There are also cozy cafés and restaurants along the Nydegg Bridge that invite you to linger and enjoy local specialties while enjoying the river and the Old Town scenery.

12. Watch Bern’s heraldic animals at the Bärengraben (Bear Pit)

A visit to Bern would not be complete without a detour to the Bärengraben. The modern bear park, which adjoins the Bärengraben, extends the area and and offers the bears a spacious, natural enclosure. The park is accessible free of charge and you can watch the bears playing and swimming in the river Aare.

The Bärengraben has a long tradition: Bernese people have been keeping bears, the city’s heraldic animal, here since the 16th century. Originally, the moat was a classic bear enclosure. Today, however, it is part of a modern bear park that offers the animals more space and more natural living conditions. After the visit, the surrounding cafés and restaurants invite you to linger and enjoy local specialties with a view of the picturesque scenery of the Old Town.

13. Relax with a view in the Rosengarten

The Rosengarten (Rose Garden) in Bern is an idyllic retreat high above the city, known for its breathtaking views of Bern Cathedral and the Old Town. With over 200 different varieties of roses, this public garden offers a colorful backdrop that is particularly impressive in summer. You can stroll through the well-tended beds and admire the variety of flowers, which are in full bloom from June to September. In addition to the roses, the rose garden also offers shady spots under old trees, ideal for relaxing and enjoying the spectacular view.

Another highlight is the Rosengarten restaurant, which not only serves regional cuisine, but also offers a great terrace to enjoy the view over a drink or snack. The Rosengarten is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike who are looking for a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle to experience the beauty of nature and the history of Bern.

14. Refresh in the river Aare

Swimming in the Aare is an incomparable experience. The river is known for its crystal-clear water, which is refreshingly cool in summer and flows through the city. Many locals use the Aare as a natural swimming pool and let themselves drift with the current while enjoying the picturesque backdrop of Bern’s old town. Floating in the current is called “Bööteln” in Switzerland and is a popular summer experience.

Before venturing into the cool water, however, you should observe the safety precautions, as the Aare can have a strong current. Popular entry points are the Schwellenmätteli and the Marzili, from where you can let yourself drift and enjoy your time in nature.

15. Visit the innovative Zentrum Paul Klee

The Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern is an innovative art museum dedicated to the famous Swiss artist Paul Klee and houses an extensive collection of his works. The futuristic building, designed by star architect Renzo Piano, combines art and architecture in perfect harmony and is itself a work of art. In addition to Klee’s masterpieces, the museum also offers changing exhibitions of contemporary art, which provide an exciting contrast to the artist’s work. It is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm.

The adjoining park with its sculptures and art installations invites visitors to linger and explore, while the Café Luma offers a culinary break with a view of the Alpine scenery. The Zentrum Paul Klee is not only a place of art, but also a cultural hotspot in Bern that attracts art lovers from all over the world and offers an unforgettable insight into the work of one of the most important artists of the 20th century.

16. Discover the Historical Museum Bern

The Historical Museum in Bern is a fascinating destination for history buffs. The museum is housed in a magnificent 19th century building and offers a deep insight into the city’s and Switzerland’s past. Particularly impressive is the collection of Bern’s medieval treasures, including valuable paintings, craftsmanship and historical treasures. The museum also offers interactive elements and multimedia presentations that bring history to life and appeal to visitors of all ages. It is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm. The idyllic museum garden invites visitors to linger and offers a relaxing retreat in the middle of the city.

17. Visit the Museum of Fine Arts Bern

The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern is a cultural gem that presents an impressive collection of works of art from the 19th century to the present day. The historic building itself is an architectural masterpiece that impresses visitors with its elegant façade and modern exhibition rooms. The collection includes works by important artists such as Ferdinand Hodler, Albert Anker and Paul Klee. The Kunstmuseum Bern is also known for its temporary exhibitions of internationally renowned artists, which offer a contemporary view of the art scene.

You can enjoy interactive guided tours and workshops that provide deeper insights into the world of art and bring the creative atmosphere of the museum to life. A visit to the Kunstmuseum Bern promises not only artistic inspiration, but also an insight into the rich cultural history of Switzerland and its capital.

18. Hike Gurten

The Gurten in Bern is a popular excursion destination for locals and visitors alike, offering spectacular views of the city and the Bernese Alps. At 858 meters above sea level, the Gurten is Bern’s local mountain and offers numerous hiking trails and viewpoints to explore. One highlight is the Gurtenbahn, a nostalgic funicular railroad that takes visitors comfortably from the valley station to the summit.

Once at the top, not only a breathtaking view awaits you, but also a wide range of leisure activities with an adventure playground, barbecue areas and an animal park for the little ones. The Gurten is also known for its live music events in summer, which take place in the open air and offer a relaxed atmosphere with a view of the city. For active vacationers, the Gurten also offers cross-country skiing and snowshoe hikes in winter, providing a welcome change from the city.

19. Try Swiss Chocolate

Bern is not only known for its picturesque old town and historical sights, but also for its delicious chocolate. Swiss chocolate has a worldwide reputation for the highest quality and craftsmanship. Bern has a long tradition in the production of chocolate and is home to some of the oldest and most renowned chocolate manufacturers in Switzerland.

In Bern you will find numerous confectioners and chocolatiers who produce their own specialties. Many stores also offer guided tours and tastings where you can learn more about the production and history. You also have the opportunity to taste and discover chocolate on a culinary chocolate tour of Bern.

20. Nightlife

The nightlife in Bern is lively and diverse, ideal for anyone who likes to party late into the night. The Old Town, especially the alleyways around Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, offers a wealth of bars, clubs and cozy pubs with a relaxed atmosphere. Here you can enjoy local beers and fine wines or indulge in creative drinks in hip cocktail bars. Besides, there are rooftop bars, offering spectacular views of the Old Town and Bern Cathedral and providing the perfect setting for sociable evenings.

The “Dachstock” cultural venue is a hotspot for alternative music and live concerts that is popular with locals and tourists alike. For dance enthusiasts, the city has a number of clubs offering everything from electronic music to rock and pop. Bern’s nightlife is characterized by a relaxed atmosphere, friendly people and a variety of events that make the city an exciting destination even after the sun goes down.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Bern depends on your personal preferences and the activities you want to experience.

The most popular time to visit Bern is in summer (June to August), especially for outdoor activities such as swimming in the Aare, walking through the old town and trips up the Gurten. The temperatures are pleasantly warm and there are many festivals and events that enrich the city’s cultural life.

The seasons of spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) offer mild weather and are ideal for exploring the city without the crowds of summer. The parks and gardens begin to bloom or show autumnal colors, which is perfect for relaxing walks and photo opportunities.

Although it can be chilly in Bern in winter (December to February), this time of year has its own charm. The Old Town is festively decorated and the atmosphere is cozy. Skiing and other winter sports in the nearby Alpine regions are also easily accessible.

Overall, Bern is a delightful destination all year round, offering different experiences depending on the season.

How many days should you spend in Bern, Switzerland?

We recommend spending at least 3 to 4 days in Bern to fully experience the many facets of the city. During this time, you can explore the charming old town, visit cultural highlights, enjoy nature and experience the vibrant nightlife. Every day offers exciting opportunities for new discoveries and experiences, whether it’s a stroll through historic alleyways, a visit to renowned museums or an adventure in the surrounding countryside. This way you can gather authentic impressions and give your readers a vivid picture of Bern.

However, Bern is also perfect for a day trip if you are already in Switzerland or even live here.

Where is Bern in Switzerland?

Bern, the charming capital of Switzerland, is centrally located in the heart of the country in the canton of the same name. Bern is located in the Mittelland, one of the three major geographical regions of Switzerland. Its central location makes Bern an ideal hub for discovering the country’s diverse landscape and culture. Whether you want to explore the Alps or enjoy the lakes – all destinations are easily accessible from Bern. What’s more, Bern is located in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

How to get to Bern in Switzerland?

There are several practical options for getting to Bern. We’ll show you a few:

By train: Bern is an important rail hub in Switzerland and is well connected with international trains as well as national connections. Bern main station is centrally located and is ideal for travelers arriving by train. From here, you can easily reach your destination on foot or by public transport.

By bus: Buses are another option to get to Bern, especially for traveling within Switzerland or from nearby cities and regions. The bus stations are located near the main train station and offer good connections to the city center.

By car: Bern is connected to the European road network via a well-developed highway network. There are several highways leading into the city and parking is available in and around the city center, although parking in the old town is limited.

By air: Bern has a small airport. However, it offers hardly any international connections. If you want to travel from abroad, it is best to fly via Zurich or Geneva and continue your journey from there by train.

Regardless of the chosen travel method, Bern is well connected and offers various options for a comfortable and convenient journey to the charming capital of Switzerland.

How to get around in Bern, Switzerland?

In Bern, you can get around easily and efficiently thanks to a well-developed public transport network and the compact size of the city, which is ideal for exploring on foot.

On foot: Bern’s Old Town is a car-free zone and perfect for walking. Discover the historic alleyways, squares and sights at your own pace.

Public transportation: Bern has an excellent streetcar and bus system that covers the entire city and surrounding suburbs. Tickets can be purchased from ticket machines or online and are valid on all public transport.

Bike: Bern is a bike-friendly city with numerous cycle paths and bike rental stations. Rent a bike to explore the city on two wheels and commute faster between sights.

Cab and ride-sharing: Taxis are available in Bern and can be hailed directly on the street or ordered by phone. Ride-sharing services such as Uber are also a convenient option for flexible transportation.

Car: Although Bern is easily accessible by car, driving in the Old Town is rather difficult due to the narrow streets and limited parking options. However, parking garages are located on the edge of the Old Town for longer stays.

Where to stay in Bern, Switzerland?

In Bern, you will find a diverse selection of accommodation to suit every taste and budget, from charming boutique hotels to cozy guesthouses and modern hostels.

Old Town: Bern’s Old Town is the ideal place for visitors who want to experience the city’s historic flair. Here you will find traditional hotels in historic buildings, which often boast views of Bern Cathedral or the River Aare.

Railroad station district: There are numerous hotels and guesthouses around Bern’s main railway station, which offer convenient public transport connections and are ideal for travelers who are dependent on mobility.

Länggasse and Breitenrain: Popular with locals and visitors alike, these neighborhoods offer a relaxed atmosphere and a wide selection of hotels, bed & breakfasts and vacation apartments. You will also find many trendy cafés, bars and restaurants here.

Gurten: For a quieter atmosphere outside the city center, head to the area around Gurten, where you’ll find hotels with panoramic views of the Bernese Alps and surrounding countryside.

Hostels and budget options: Bern also has a number of hostels and budget accommodation options that are ideal for young travelers and the budget-conscious. These often offer shared rooms, free Wi-Fi and a relaxed, international atmosphere.

Where to eat in Bern, Switzerland?

In Bern you will find a wide-ranging culinary scene, from traditional Swiss dishes to international specialties. Here are some recommendations for restaurants and cafés:

This historic restaurant “Kornhauskeller” in the heart of the Old Town offers an elegant atmosphere and serves classic Swiss cuisine with a modern twist. Perfect for an upscale dinner.

Located near the Bundeshaus, this “Restaurant Harmonie” offers a cozy atmosphere and seasonal Swiss dishes. Ideal for lunch or dinner after a visit to the Federal Palace.

Located on the Gurten, the “Restaurant Rosengarten” not only offers delicious food, but also a spectacular view of the city of Bern and the Bernese Alps. Perfect for a romantic dinner at sunset.

Located in Länggasse, the Mösching Restaurant & Bar offers a relaxed atmosphere and modern European cuisine. Perfect for a casual evening with friends.

If you are looking for something quick and tasty, visit the weekly market on the Bundesplatz or the Food Truck Festival Bern, where you will find a variety of street food stalls ranging from local specialties to international delicacies.

Bern offers something for every taste and budget, from traditional Swiss cuisine to global flavors. Whether you’re looking for a special culinary experience or simply want to enjoy something delicious and uncomplicated, you’re sure to find it in Bern.

How expensive is Bern, Switzerland?

The cost of a stay in Bern can vary greatly depending on your travel budget and personal preferences. Here is a rough estimate of the average expenditure per day:

The cost of accommodation in Bern varies depending on the type of accommodation. In a simple hostel or guesthouse, you can expect prices from around 40 – 80 CHF (45 – 90 USD) per night. For mid-range hotels, prices are typically between 100 – 200 CHF (110 – 230 USD) per night. Luxury hotels can cost more than CHF 300 (340 USD) per night.

The cost of food and drink also varies greatly. A simple lunch in a café or restaurant costs around 15 – 25 CHF (17 – 28 USD). A dinner in a mid-range restaurant can cost between 30 – 50 CHF (34 – 57 USD), while an upscale dinner in a high-end restaurant can cost more than 100 CHF (113 USD) per person. Snacks and drinks cost between 5-10 CHF (6 – 11 USD).

Using public transportation in Bern is efficient and costs around 4 – 8 CHF (5 – 9 USD) per trip within the city. Day passes are available for around 9 – 14 CHF (10 – 16 USD) and offer unlimited travel.

Many of the main attractions and sights in Bern are free or have moderate entrance fees. Some museums and attractions offer special combined tickets, which can cost between 15 – 30 CHF (17 – 34 USD).

In summary, an average daily requirement for a budget traveler is around 80 – 150 CHF (90 – 170 USD), while mid-range travelers should expect to spend around 150 – 300 CHF (170 – 340 USD) per day. For luxury travelers, daily expenses can of course be correspondingly higher.

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