Best things to do in Bern
Find out more about those top places in Bern
Bern, Switzerland’s capital, is one of Europe’s most beguiling cities. Centered around a UNESCO World Heritage listed Altstadt and backed by a series of glacial peaks, Bern is a microcosm of Switzerland itself. Spreading out around the stately Spitalgasse are the cobbled lanes, medieval sandstone tenements, covered arcades and flag bedecked plazas of the old town, which is undoubtedly Switzerland’s best preserved. The centerpiece of Bern’s historic core is the gothic splendor of the Münster, a 15th century cathedral with the tallest spire in Switzerland. Beyond the Altstadt, Bern is a typically Swiss city with excellent public transport and groundbreaking contemporary art, which is on full display at the architecturally mesmerizing Zentrum Paul Klee. Typically, bypassed by tourists traveling around Europe, Bern is one of the continent’s true hidden gems and showcases the best Switzerland has to offer.
Bern’s UNESCO listed old town is one of the best preserved in Europe having scarcely changed since it was rebuilt in the 13th century following a devastating fire. To see the area’s historic sites, take a walking tour of its many cobbled streets, covered arcades and flag bedecked squares, where you will see the famed Zytglogge, one of Europe’s most iconic clock towers, and the decorative fountains erected in the 16th century.
The heart of the Altstadt is the 15th century Münster, which is Switzerland’s tallest cathedral. The gothic spire rises 100 meters above the city and for vertigo-free visitors a trip to the top provides impressive views of the not-so-distant Alps. The interior of the Münster is also spectacular with the highlight being The Last Judgement, which is located at the main portal.
Housed in one of Switzerland’s most daring pieces of modern architecture, the Zentrum Paul Klee is Bern’s standout museum. The gallery plays host to a rotating selection of the Swiss-born artist’s iconic works and details his prodigious life working with other masters at the Bauhaus School of Art. Guided tours of this remarkable museum are available throughout the day and are one of Bern’s most rewarding experiences.
It is popularly thought that the name Bern derives from the German word for bear (bär), as the Duke of Zähringen trapped one on a hunting trip near the location of the future city. Today, the Bären Park is home to three bears that roam the park’s wooded landscape freely and if you are lucky you will catch a glimpse of them from the observation deck.
One of the best day tours from the Swiss capital is to the picture-perfect resort town of Zermatt, which is famous the world over for glacier capped Matterhorn mountain. Once in the town you can immerse yourself in its glitzy atmosphere, soak up some history at the Matterhorn Museum or the Mountaineers’ Graveyard or go on an alpine adventure by taking the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cable-car to nearly 4000 meters above sea level.
Housed in the famous physicists’ former apartment, the Einstein-Haus tells the often-poignant story of his personal and scientific lives through a number of permanent displays and temporary exhibitions. Most interesting are those detailing the development of Einstein’s famed E=mc² equation.
Reopened in 2017 after extensive renovations, Bern’s Museum für Kommunikation is the city’s most hi-tech museum. With a plethora of hands-on exhibits that explore how and why humans communicate with one another and the role of technology in this process, you are sure to learn something new at this one of a kind museum.
Bern’s museum of fine art is home to Switzerland’s most famed collection of works by great masters, including the world-famous Madonna and Child produced by Fra Angelico during the Renaissance. While the gallery does focus on the early modern period, it also encompasses 20th century works by Picasso and Monet that are not to be missed. For the best experience, book a guided tour that will take you to the gallery’s must-see pieces.