Bern: Switzerland’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Many people think that either the business city Zurich or the international city Geneva is Switzerland’s capital. Although these cities are of great importance to the country, they do not bear the title because Switzerland does not have a capital city in legal terms. Bern assumes this role under the name of “Federal City”. Strange, isn’t it? However, Bern isn’t only important from a political point of view, but it’s also a beautiful and multifaceted travel destination.
In this article, we’ll tell you about the most exciting facts and things to do in Bern. Since there are countless places to explore, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 sights worth visiting during your stay. Let’s go!
Bern in a Nutshell
Cheese, chocolate, watches, money, and much more – that’s what Switzerland is known for. It is home to about eight million people and borders on Italy, Germany, Austria, France, and Lichtenstein. Besides German, there are three more official languages: French, Italian, and Rhaeto-Romance.
And don’t be alarmed if you’re walking through the streets and notice people speaking in a strange way ─ that’s just the Swiss German dialect. However, if you speak German, you might be able to understand a few words since the dialect is sometimes similar to standard German.
Switzerland’s climate is influenced by the Alps and the Atlantic Ocean: Summers are warm and humid to hot, winters are mild. In spring and autumn, daily temperatures are between 8 and 15 °C. The best time to travel is all up to you, depending on your preferences for the weather!
No matter when you decide to travel, there will be no shortage of things to do. The country is as beautiful in the sun as it is in the snow. And the same counts for Bern!
Bern has a population of more than 130,000 people and lies west of Switzerland’s center. Because of its location, it is easy to reach any other Swiss city by public transport. In Bern, you’ll also be able to reach every sight by bus, tram or on foot.
Visiting a lot of places will naturally make you hungry. That’s why we will tell you all about the typical Bernese dishes that you should try. Rösti make a great side dish or main course. They are shortly cooked potatoes with bacon and onions, sautéed in butter.
Another specialty is the Bernese Platte – a meat dish prepared with sauerkraut and beans. A delicious traditional pastry to go with coffee and tea is called Meitschibei. In Bernese German, it means “girl’s legs”. It is a finger-thick, horseshoe-shaped yeast pastry with a nut filling.
Speaking of food, we also have to mention the Zibelemärit (Onion Market). It takes place every fourth Monday in November, and the market stalls sell onion figures, onion wreaths, and onion braids. Another tradition is confetti-throwing.
If you’re more interested in music and concerts, go to the Buskers Street Music Festival. More than 150 artists, musicians, dancers, and comedians from all over the world liven up the city during those days. The festival has no entrance fee, but if you want to support the organizers you can buy a Buskers- “Bändeli”, a wristband, and give the artists some coins.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Bern
Of course, the Federal Palace had to be mentioned first! It was built using materials from all Swiss cantons, and 39 local artists decorated it to show Switzerland’s diversity. Its construction was finalized in 1902.
Book in advance and take a guided tour through the parliament building. Otherwise, just take a walk on the Bundesterrasse located on the southern side of the building to the Federal Terrace. From there, you’ll have a great view of the city and the surrounding mountains.
During summer, there’s a water show at the Bundesplatz. Kids often play in the water to cool down. In November, a music and light show is projected on the main façade of the parliament building at the Parlamentsplatz. Every year, there’s a new theme and this unique event is free of charge too!
The Käfigturm is a 13th-century medieval watchtower in the old town. Since the city was built and expanded in four phases, the Käfigturm was used as a defense line after the third expansion in 1345. It was a prison until the end of the 19th century.
In 1641, it was completely renovated and brought into the architectural shape we can see today. Nowadays, political meetings take place here. The Käfigturm is a historical place really worth visiting!
Old Town of Bern
Bern’s old town is the heart of the city, and it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. It is made up of two parts: the lower old town extends from the Matte-Quarter to Zytlogge, while the upper old town lies between Zytlogge and Bollwerk-Hirschengraben. The main train station is located in the upper old town.
Walking under the old town’s Laupen (arcades), you’ll not only be protected from sunlight and rain but also see a lot of unique “Lädeli” (shops), boutiques, and specialty stores. Here’s where Bernese life takes place.
Take a break at one of the many restaurants, bars, and cafés. Moreover, you’ll come across a lot of landmarks, like the eleven 16th-century fountains. The most famous are the Kindlifresserbrunnen and the Zähringerbrunnen, named after the city’s founder.
The river Aare surrounds the old town. It served as a natural protection from invaders at the time when Duke Berthold V founded Bern here. Nowadays, the river is a great place to spend your free time and take a swim on hot summer days. Try out one of the famous Aareböötle (inflatable boats) and just float on the water.
During winter, you may see people ice swimming at a water temperature of about 6 °C. If you want to try that too, be sure to properly prepare beforehand to have a safe and fun experience.
You’ll often spot the Zytglogge due to its location at the border between the two city districts. Take the chance to admire the unique show when the astronomical clock rings out every full hour.
The Bern St. Vinzenz Minster is an impressive late gothic building and not only the biggest but also the most important late-medieval church in Switzerland. It’s Bern’s tallest building at a height of over 100 meters. From the top you’ll have an amazing view of the city, the Bern Mittelland region, and the snowy peaks of the Bern Oberland region. Take part in a guided tour or admire the majestic church from outside at a café.
Museums in Bern
If it happens to be a rainy day, what about visiting a museum? Bern has a large selection of museums on various topics. We recommend a combination of the following four museums: the Museum of Communication, the Natural History Museum, the Alpine Museum, and the Bern History Museum/Einstein Museum. On the museums’ official websites, you’ll find out which exhibitions are currently being held.
In May, the blooming roses in the Rosengarten Park make for a unique spectacle. Among the 400 different rose varieties, you’ll also get an amazing view of the whole city. Moreover, you can enjoy the sunset at the park’s restaurant with a cup of coffee or a meal.
As you may have seen on the canton’s coat of arms, Bern’s symbol is a bear. Therefore, a visit to the Bärengraben – meaning Bear Pit – is an absolute must on your trip. The brown bears Björk, Finn, and Ursina are happy to meet you! The park is also wheelchair friendly.
Since 2009, the bears have had access to a modern, 6,000 square meters wide area. On the circular route, you can see the old enclosure, where the bears have used to live since 1513, as well as the new enclosure with its hilly landscape, the caves and the “bear bath” in the river Aare.
There are also guided tours to learn more about the history, the Bärenpark and its inhabitants. The bears can only be seen from spring to autumn, since they hibernate during the remaining months. So, come and say hello!
Bantiger and Gurten
If you want to escape the city and enjoy some nature in the woods, we recommend two excursions in Bern’s surroundings.
The 9.4 kilometers long hiking circuit starts in Bollingen and will take you up to the 947 meters high Bantiger. Once at the top, go up the 155 meters high radio tower and enjoy the beautiful view of Bern and the Bernese Alps.
The 860 meters high Gurten, Bern’s local mountain, also offers a stunning view of the city. Sports lovers can reach the top by bike or on foot in 40 to 60 minutes. But if you want to take your time, the cableway is a great alternative.
At the top, there are many activities: the 500 meters long toboggan run, the miniature railway, relaxing picnics, or the restaurant. If you happen to be in Bern in July, you’ll maybe get some tickets for the famous Gurtenfestival. But be sure to plan it in advance since the tickets sell out fast!
The capital, while not actually a capital, offers many entertainments. There is a wide range of activities to choose from – a peaceful stroll through the old town, an exciting museum visit, or a refreshing dip in the Aare. Sounds nice, right?
But the city has much more to offer. If you’re interested in historical architecture, go visit the Minster, Zytlogge, or Käfigturm. The old town never gets “old” with its shops under the Laupen and the many curious fountains.
If you want to escape the city, go hiking on the Bantiger or the Gurten. Bern has so much to offer that we could write a book about it. So, go see for yourself and let this multifaceted city enchant you!