As the fourth-largest city in Switzerland, Bern is a relatively small destination in a picture-perfect setting. With historic Old Town architecture surrounded by the stunning Aare River and the snow-capped Bernese Oberland mountains nearby, it’s easy to fall in love with the beauty of Bern.
Although most tourists would think of Zurich or Geneva as the country’s capital, Bern is actually the unofficial capital city of Switzerland. It’s also the home of the famous Toblerone chocolate! From fascinating museums to year-round cultural events and festivals, you’ll be surprised at what this quaint city has to offer.
Ready to find out the top Bern, Switzerland attractions and activities? Here are 16 things to do in Bern, Switzerland.
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One of the best things to do in Bern is to wander the medieval Old Town. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of pedestrian-only cobblestone streets and tall sandstone buildings. Surrounded by the aquamarine River Aare on three sides, the Old Town includes over six kilometres of arcade shopfronts, restaurants, cafes, fountains, and 11 unique Renaissance sculptures. With many other popular attractions in the area, you could easily spend an entire day walking around here.
The Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen, meaning the Fountain of Justice, is the most well-known and artistically-impressive fountain in the Old Town. At the top stands a life-sized statue of the graceful Lady Justice. It was installed in the 16th-century by Swiss Renaissance sculptor Hans Gieng. Unfortunately, the statue was stolen in 1986 and replaced in 1988. Regardless, it’s still worth seeing the copy outside the Berner Puppentheater on Gerechtigkeitsgasse.
The Zähringerbrunnen is another fountain in the Old Town worth stopping to marvel at. It was created in 1535 in memory of Berthold V von Zähringen, the founder of Bern. The eclectic statue at the top is of a bear wearing full armour, with a bear cub perched in front of him. You can find this one as you approach the Clock Tower on Kramgasse.
An iconic landmark in Bern’s Old Town is the Zytglogge. Built in the early 13th century, the medieval clock tower is one of the city’s oldest and best-known structures. The tower’s internal layout has changed significantly throughout its 800-year history, reflecting its former use as a guard tower and even a small prison.
Once every hour, figurines emerge from the tower and perform a dance. In addition to the enormous eastern and western clock faces, the Zytglogge also has an astronomical clock known as an astrolabe. Take an informative private or group tour inside to learn about the mechanisms and historical significance of the Zytglogge, ending up at the top viewing platform.
Zentrum Paul Klee
One of the most impressive modern museums in Bern is the Zentrum Paul Klee. Dedicated to Swiss artist Paul Klee, the museum began with a donation of almost 700 pieces by his family and has since grown to over 4,000 artworks.
Although associated with various art styles like expressionism, cubism and surrealism, Klee used a range of mediums and techniques to create truly unique and fascinating pieces. Throughout his life, he produced over 10,000 paintings and drawings. The pieces on display rotate regularly with different themes, so no two visits will be the same.
The unusual building housing Klee’s work was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and is known for its wave-like metal roof. The Zentrum Paul Klee is open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday, and a standard entrance ticket will set you back 20 Swiss francs (CHF).
The tallest cathedral in Switzerland is found right here in Bern. The Bern Cathedral (Berner Münster) is an impressive late-Gothic gem from the Middle Ages and perhaps the most well-known building in the city.
Although constructed in the early 1400s, its 100-metre-high spire was only added in 1893. If you’re not afraid of heights, it’s worth climbing the 350-or-so steps to the very top of the tower. For only five CHF, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views across the snowy Bernese Highlands.
The cathedral features beautiful stained glass windows, sculptures depicting the Last Judgement, and other intricate details you’ll love uncovering for yourself.
Bern Historical Museum
Bern’s Historical Museum is the second-largest museum in Switzerland, holding more than half a million ethnographic and historical artefacts. The collections held within the Neo-Renaissance building range from prehistoric treasures from the Stone Age to the 13th-century Konigsfelden diptych and intricate 15th-century tapestries. There are 10 permanent exhibitions, as well as a few new rotating exhibitions each year.
The Historical Museum is open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day except Monday. The cost of admission depends on which parts of the museum you want to see, from 13 CHF for the permanent collections only to 36 CHF for every exhibition in the building.
Did you know that Albert Einstein lived in Bern between 1902 and 1909? In fact, it was here that he came up with the theory of relativity and the famous E = mc2 formula. In the same building as the Historical Museum is the Einstein Museum, full of photographs and objects from his time in Bern. With impressive exhibits, you’ll discover more about Einstein’s life and theories. Afterwards, sit on the bench outside and take a photo with the bronze figure of Einstein himself.
One of the most peaceful and beautiful public spaces in Bern is the Rosengarten (aka Rose Garden), known for its diverse flora. In addition to over 250 species of roses, there are also more than 200 types of irises, rhododendrons, azaleas and other vibrant flowers found here. In the spring, gorgeous Japanese cherry blossoms are in bloom.
The area is large enough to stroll through and enjoy a picnic, even containing a large pond and a pavilion with a reading garden. Located atop a hill, there’s an incredible view over the Old Town, offering an unforgettable photo opportunity.
Swiss Federal Palace
A grand architectural attraction in Bern is the Federal Palace of Switzerland on the bank of the Aare River. Known as Bundeshaus, the Renaissance-style parliament building is over 300-metres long and is easily identified by its gigantic domed roof.
To take a look at the spectacular sculptures and stained glass windows, you’ll need to book a guided tour (available in English). If parliament is in session during your visit, your access inside may unfortunately be limited. Every Tuesday and Saturday until midday, a farmer’s market is held in the square in front of the building.
Natural History Museum
A must-visit cultural attraction in Bern is the Natural History Museum. Established in 1832 at the University of Bern and publicly opened over a century later in 1936, the museum showcases over 200 life-sized dioramas. Learn about the fascinating evolution of natural history, from gigantic crystals and meteorites from the Middle East to ancient sea creatures and beetles.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekends, and from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Mondays. Entrance costs 10 CHF, with discounts for concession holders.
Brown bears are the symbol of Bern, so naturally, you’ll have the opportunity to meet some at Bärenpark. Bears have been living in the city since the 1500s, and Bear Park is currently home to three named Finn, Björk and Ursina. The large open compound is on the opposite side of the Old Town by the Aare River, giving the bears plenty of room to roam and allowing them to easily access the water. Observe them playing, eating and sleeping at a safe distance from one of the walking paths.
Church of the Holy Ghost
Bern’s Church of the Holy Ghost (Heiliggeistkirche in German) was first mentioned in 1288. At the current location on Spitalgasse, two former churches stood before the one you see here today. Earlier findings also indicate that the structure sits on the site of a previous Roman temple. After more than a decade of planning, the second church was demolished and construction of the third church began in 1726. Consecrated in 1729, the Swiss Reformed Church is one of the largest in the country.
There are regular choir concerts and classical music performances held here too. If you want to take a look inside, stop by between 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday or between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Museum of Communication
A unique museum to check out in Bern is the Museum of Communication. The interactive exhibits and modern design earned the museum a distinguished Council of Europe Museum Prize in 2019. Across three levels, learn about the history of communication technology through engaging games and screens, and gain insights into other ways we might communicate in the future. Try your hand at deciphering morse code and send messages via vacuum tubes.
Come by from Tuesday to Sunday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Entrance costs 15 CHF per adult or 10 CHF for concession holders. Particularly if you’re travelling with kids, it’s a fantastic place to spend a few hours.
Bern Botanical Garden
If you’re in Bern while the weather is nice, you’ll want to spend as much time in nature as possible. Don’t miss spending a few hours in the Botanical Garden, owned by the University of Bern. Wander amongst the exotic flowers and tall trees or peacefully unwind on the green lawns. Even if you visit on a cold winter day, the heated greenhouses make the gardens an ideal year-round attraction.
Each of the six main greenhouses focuses on plants from various climates and regions of the world, including the Mediterranean, Alpine, central-Asian and more. The central Alpinum contains over 1,500 species from the Rocky Mountains, the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Balkans and the Himalayas. There’s also a section for Swiss fauna. Make sure you check out the Palm House, which covers plants that provide us with food essentials like coffee beans and bananas.
Between April and October, there’s also a cosy eatery called Café Fleuri with indoor and outdoor seating. Open 365 days a year with free admission, you can stop by between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. for some peace and serenity.
If you have a particular interest or area you want to learn more about, a Bern city tour is perfect for you. There are dozens of specialised tours to go on organised by the city, from your standard Old Town walking tour to the “Lust and Vice in Bern” experience.
Discover Bern’s darker side at dusk with a 90-minute Spooky Bern tour. Visit some eerie locations with less-than-pleasant histories as you hear about the terrifying tales of the city. You’ll stop outside the haunted house at Junkerngasse 54, which has been uninhabited since the tragic death of its residents.
Another special tour is the Gourmet Tour. Take an hour-long trip around Bern in a fancy rickshaw while enjoying a light lunch and a glass of wine. Or perhaps a beer tasting tour is more your thing. In this case, you will definitely have fun trying the local Bernese beers at four separate breweries and beer cafes.
Audio guides and city tours for the blind and visually-impaired are also available. Check the official Bern Tourism website to book.
Museum of Fine Arts
Open since 1879, Kunstmuseum Bern (aka the Museum of Fine Arts Bern) is the oldest museum in Switzerland. The permanent collection features works from the Middle Ages until the 2000s, with over 50,000 drawings, photographs and videos, plus 4,000 paintings and sculptures. Internationally-renowned artists like Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky and Ferdinand Hodler are on display inside the impressive hall.
Bern’s Museum of Fine Art is open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday and until 9 p.m. on Tuesday. Entrance to the permanent exhibition costs only 10 CHF.
Church of St Peter and St Paul
A wonderful religious structure in Bern is the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Located next to the town hall in the north of the Grünes Quartier, this impressive Roman Catholic church will capture your attention. Built in the mid-1800s, it is a great example of Swiss Neo-Gothic architecture.
It seems a little small from the outside, yet the interiors are surprisingly spacious. You may be able to catch an art show here, or you can simply admire the paintings on the ceiling and the incredible stained-glass windows.
Recommended tours in Bern
- Bern Like a Local: Customized Private Tour
- Discover Bern with a Local for the afternoon
- Skip the Line: Schloss Thun Entrance Ticket
- Pilatus golden tour & lake boat cruise with private tour guide from Bern
- Glacier Express one day round trip with private tourguide – starts in Bern
- Private Photo Session with a Local Photographer in Bern
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