Bern is a laidback charmer with medieval history, beautiful architecture, and an abundance of natural appeal. Get the most out of the Swiss capital with our guide to the best things to do in Bern.

By: Paul Healy | Published: 10 Aug 2023

Tucked away in the centre of the country, Bern is a vibrant city with a host of wonderful things to do.

The charming capital of Switzerland is blessed with medieval architecture in a beautiful setting. Embraced by a curve of the Aare River, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town is an aesthetic delight.

Flag-dressed cobbled streets, miles of covered walkways, and quirky fountains add to the laid-back charm.

In our opinion, it’s one of the most underrated cities in Europe and one of the best places to visit in Switzerland.

Our guide to the best things to do in Bern covers the most important attractions in the city. We also have some local experiences to help you get the most out of this cool capital city.

1 – UNESCO OLD TOWN (ALTSTADT)

The Old Town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The compact design has remained unchanged since its construction between the 12th and 15th centuries.

Encased by a curve of the Aare River, the old town is a pocket of sandstone architecture with colorful tiled roofs.

Many of Bern’s main attractions are in the Old Town.

  • Visit the Zytglogge, Bern Cathedral, and the Swiss Parliamentary.
  • Walk Bern’s picturesque main street, Marktgasse which runs between the city’s two clock towers, Käfigturm and Zytglogge.
  • Stroll the 6 kilometres of covered arcades filled with vintage shops and hidden wine bars.

Marktgasse Orientation // Marktgasse extends east to west changing its name to Kramgasse, then Gerechtigkeitsgasse.

GUIDED TOUR | BERN OLD TOWN


The Old Town is compact and easy to explore on foot. But if you’d like to learn more about this picturesque centre, here are 2 guided walking tours we recommend.

Customized private tour with a local guide – Book with Viator

A 90-minute walking tour of the old town with a local guide – Book with GetYourGuide

2 – CLOCK TOWER (ZYTGLOGGE)

Zytglogge is the Medieval clock tower in the heart of the old town, and Bern’s most famous landmark.

From its construction in the early 13th century, it formed part of the city’s western fortifications. Over the years, the tower has served as a guard tower, a prison, and a fire tower.

Today, it’s most notable for the unique astronomical clock that has been keeping time in the city for over 600 years. Four minutes before the hour, moving figures put on a mini performance ahead of the chimes on the hour.

Zytglogge is a must-visit attraction in Bern and a popular spot to photograph.

GUIDED TOURS | ZYTGLOGGE


The only way to get inside the tower to see behind the workings of the clock is on a guided tour.

It’s 130 steps to the top but the views are stunning. Tours last 60 minutes, starting at 2:15 pm and cost CHF 20 for adults, CHF 10 for children, and CHF 18 for seniors/students.

Tours run daily from April to October, and from 26 December to 31 December. From November to March, tours run on Saturdays only.

BOOK WITH GETYOURGUIDE

3 – CATHEDRAL (BERNER MÜNSTER)

The Bern Cathedral is a grand example of Gothic architecture in the heart of Bern. As the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, the 100-meter spire stands proud over the old town. This crowning jewel is a key feature of Bern’s skyline.

One of the most distinctive features of the cathedral is the Last Judgement, an elaborate sandstone sculpture on the main portal.

This magnificent work contains 294 sculptures of profits, angels, martyrs, and the dammed. It depicts the mayor of Bern going to heaven and the mayor of Zurich going to hell.

Bern Cathedral Tower Views — It’s free to enter the church, but one of the best things to do in Bern is to climb the 344 stairs to the tower for a panoramic view of the city.

Stop at the two bell rooms on the way down. The Grand Bell is a whopping 10.5 tons and it’s the largest in Switzerland.

DETAILS | BERN CATHEDRAL


hours – 10 am to 5 pm (Monday to Saturday) / 11:30 am to 7 pm (Sunday) | tower hours – 10 am to 4:30 pm (Monday to Saturday) / 11:30 am to 4:30 pm (Sunday) | tower tickets – CHF 5

4 – BERN HISTORICAL MUSEUM (BERNISCHES HISTORISCHES MUSEUM) / EINSTEIN MUSEUM

The Bern Historical Museum is the 2nd largest historical museum in Switzerland. It contains a vast collection of artifacts that showcase the history of the city.

Take a fascinating exploration from prehistory through to modern times. There are four categories to the collection: archaeology, history, currencies, and cultures.

The museum also boasts a large collection of Swiss art.

EINSTEIN MUSEUM

The Einstein Museum makes up a large and important section of the Bernisches Historisches Museum. Delve into the personal and professional life of the Nobel-prize-winning physicist.

There are over 550 objects that explore his exceptional discoveries. It’s also a sobering reminder of the history of his time.

DETAILS | BERNISCHES HISTORISCHES MUSEUM


hours – 10 am to 5 pm (Tuesday to Sunday) | cost – CHF 18 including the Einstein Museum. Free with the Swiss Museum Pass or the Museumscard Bern 24h

Bern Historical Museum
BERN HISTORICAL MUSEUM

5 – ROSE GARDEN (ROSENGARTEN)

The Rose Garden is a beautiful park with an excellent view overlooking the Old Town and the Aare River curving around it.

There are over 220 different types of roses on display as well as a vast collection of irises and plenty of other plants to admire. The garden is a great place to unwind with lots of green spaces.

Spend some time strolling around, and don’t miss the ornate fountains, the pavilion, and the reading garden.

Tip // Have lunch with a view at Restaurant Rosengarten overlooking the old town.

6 – EINSTEIN HOUSE (EINSTEINHAUS)

Einstein House is the former residence of Albert Einstein and his family, who lived in Bern from 1903 to 1905 while he worked at the Swiss Patent Office.

While living in Bern, Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity which laid the foundation for modern physics. It also gave the world his most famous equation, E-mc2.

The 2nd floor remains furnished as it was during Einstein’s time with exhibits and memorabilia from his life. The 3rd floor contains a biography of his life through multimedia exhibits and a 20-minute film.

DETAILS | EINSTEIN HOUSE


hours – 10 am to 5 pm (daily, 1 February to 20 December) | cost – CHF 7 Adults / CHF 5 Students, Pensioners / CHF 4 youth | websiteeinstein-bern.ch

7 – KINDLIFRESSERBRUNNEN & BERN’S FOUNTAINS

Bern is known as the City of Fountains with over 100 of them in the Old Town.

The fountains are a part of Bern’s rich history, and a public water supply has been available in the city since the Middle Ages. Many of the fountains feature eye-catching allegorical figures.

Most are on Marktgasse as it becomes Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, but here are some of the best:

Kindlifresserbrunnen // Bern’s most famous fountain, Kindlifresserbrunnen features a man eating a child. There are also several other victims in a bag next to him. LocationKomhauspt

Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen // 16th-century fountain featuring a blindfolded Lady Justice. She’s holding a sword in one hand and golden sales in the other. LocationGerechtigkeitsgasse

Zähringerbrunnen // Located near the Zytglogge Clock, this fountain from 1535, features an upright bear. As the symbol of Bern, it’s also holding a shield and a flag. LocationKramgasse

Simsonbrunnen // This statue features the biblical hero Samson defeating a lion with his bare hands. The butcher’s tool on his belt suggests it was possibly donated by the Butcher’s Guild. LocationKramgasse.

8 – PAUL KLEE CENTRE (ZENTRUM PAUL KLEE)

The Paul Klee Centre is a museum dedicated to the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee who was born in Bern in 1879.

He was a prolific artist who produced over 10,000 works of art during his lifetime. The Paul Klee Centre displays over 4,000 drawings, sculptures, prints, and other media produced by the artist on a rotating basis.

While it may not be for everyone, it showcases a wide selection of modern art. There is also a temporary exhibition space.

Designed by Italian architect Enzo Piano, the building features a 150-metre wave-like structure.

DETAILS | PAUL KLEE CENTRE


hours – 10 am to 5 pm (Tuesday to Sunday) | cost – CHF 20 Adults / CHF 10 Students / CHF 7 Children. Free with the Swiss Museum Pass or the Museumscard Bern 24h

9 – SWISS FEDERAL PALACE (BUNDESHAUS)

The Swiss Federal Palace is the seat of the Swiss Federal Assembly (legislature) and the Federal Council (executive). It’s also one of the most impressive buildings in the city and a must-see attraction in Bern.

The building was constructed between 1894 and 1902. It resembles the palaces of the Italian Renaissance period in Florence (read our guide to Florence for more information).

A 64-metre dome tops this beautiful building and the façade features statues of the nation’s founding fathers. Inside the dome, beautiful stained glass and an ostentatious 214-bulb chandelier, complete the grandeur.

Visiting the Swiss Parliament Building – While parliament is sitting, you can watch all the action from the public gallery. When it’s not sitting, guided tours are a great way to learn about the building. All the details are on the official Bern website – bern.com

swiss federal palace bern switzerland
SWISS FEDERAL PALACE

BUNDESPLATZ & BUNDESHAUSTERRASSE

The plaza in front of the Swiss Parliament Building, Bundesplatz, is another great place to visit in Bern. It has a water fountain with 26 illuminated jets and it’s a popular way to cool off in summer.

Behind the building, Bundeshausterrasse is a fantastic terrace with a few cafes and wonderful views of the Bundeshaus, the Marzili public baths, the Aare River, and the mountains.

10 – BEAR PARK (BÄRENGRABEN)

Bern has a close association with bears. The name comes from the Germanic word bären meaning bear and you’ll find them popping up all over the city. The city crest has a bear image, plus you’ll find them on sculptures, fountains, and decorations throughout the city.

Since 1513, captive bears were kept on display in the city. The first bear pit established in 1515 was a small, dark, and cramped enclosure.

Legislation providing more protection for captive animals came into effect in 2009. From then on, the dismal 3.5-meter pit underwent a transformation, culminating in the park you see today.

Bear Park mimics the typical habitat of bears as much as possible. The green, hilly terrain is 6,000 square meters with a swimming pool and plenty of trees to play with.

There are 2 adult bears, Björk and Finn who are mother and father to twins Ursina and Berna.

There is an upper viewing platform and a promenade along the river at the bottom of the hilly enclosure.

Visiting the Bear Park — It’s free to visit the bear park and it’s open 24 hours a day. Bears will be hibernating in winter, so you’ll only see them during the summer months.

11 – MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATION (MUSEUM FÜR KOMMUNIKATION)

The Museum of Communication is an interactive space, opened in 2017, that showcases all things communication.

Over 2,000 square meters, experience various facets of the analogue and digital world in an engaging and fun experience.

The main exhibition space features cutting-edge interactive exhibits. Try hands-on experiments, watch fascinating visual displays, and learn about interesting communication methods.

Besides the ultra-high-tech, there’s also a cool display of retro phones and computers.

The Museum of Communication is an excellent thing to do in Bern regardless of the weather.

DETAILS | MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATION


hours – 10 am to 5 pm (Tuesday to Sunday) | cost – CFH 15 Adult / CHF 5 Children / Free for kids under 6

museum of communication bern switzerland
MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATION

12 – NYDEGGBRÜCKE & UNTERTORBRÜCKE

Nydeggbrücke is the main bridge in Bern connecting the new part of the city with the Old City. It was constructed in 1840 and runs parallel to another charming bridge in Bern, Untertorbrücke.

It’s located near the Bear Park with a lovely view in both directions down the River Aare. As a popular tourist attraction in Bern, Nydeggbrücke is a Swiss Heritage Site of National Significance.

It’s the perfect spot for photographing the Old Town, particularly in the late evening light. The smaller Untertorbrücke makes a nice focal point on the river.

13 – NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM (NATURHISTORISCHES MUSEUM)

The Natural History Museum is one of the best nature museums in Switzerland with around 6.5 million objects. As a place of research, many of the animals, fossils, and minerals in the collection are inaccessible to guests.

But the Cabinet of Curiosities displays over 19,000 objects in 15,000 jars stacked to the ceiling. In this permanent part of the collection, you’ll find exotic animals, rare fossils and other curiosities.

The museum also features temporary exhibitions. These usually include artists of the natural world and items from other galleries.

One of the most famous exhibits is Barry, the 19th-century rescue dog from the Great St Bernard Hospice. He is credited with saving over 40 people, although there may be some embellishments to his legendary status. It’s located on the Great Saint Bernard Pass, one of the unique places to visit in Switzerland.

DETAILS | NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM


hours – 2 pm to 5 pm (Mon) / 9 am to 5 pm (Tue, Thu, Fri) / 9 am to 6 pm (Wed) / 10 am to 5 pm (Sat, Sun) | cost – CHF 12 Adults / CHF 10 Students, Seniors/children under 16 free.

14 – MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS (KUNSTMUSEUM)

The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern contains the oldest permanent collection of art in Switzerland. It was established in 1879 and includes works ranging from the Middle Ages through to the Present.

Arranged thematically rather than chronologically, you’ll see art by Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Jackson Pollock.  

Styles represented include everything from early Renaissance, through to Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism.

DETAILS | MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS


hours – 10 am to 9 pm (Tue) / 10 am to 5 pm (Wed-Sun) / Closed Monday | permanent collection – CHF 10 Adults / CHF 7 pensioners / CHF 5 Students | temporary collection – CHF 18 / CHF 14 pensioners / CHF 10 students.

museum of fine arts bern
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

15 – LOCAL BREWERIES

Bern has a rich tradition of brewing beer. There are over 200 breweries and microbreweries in the Bern area. Here are some of the great beer experiences in Bern.

Bern Beer Tour – Get the lowdown on the beer capital of Switzerland on this Beer Tour where you learn about production and visit a few great bars.

Oberaargau Beer Path – Visit 5 beer stops on this hike through the picturesque hilly landscape outside Bern. Food stops and beer included.

ZAPF! Craft Beer Festival (August 26, 2023) – Taste the best of Bernese beer at the annual craft beer festival. The open-air festival has a tasty selection of regional food stalls.

Brauerei Felsenau – The oldest independent brewer in Bern offers tours of their factory. Learn about their vintage machines, current high-tech processes and try a beer tasting.

Bierecafé Au Trappiste – A cozy café with an excellent selection of local beers including 70 guest beers and 40 regulars.

bern beer cafe

16 – AARE RIVER

The River Aare performs a graceful arc around 3 sides of Bern, nestling the city in a bewitching embrace. The river is the focal point of the city with plenty of things to do around it.

River Safety – It’s important to have a healthy amount of respect for the Aare. It’s a very fast-flowing river and is only recommended for experienced swimmers. The water can be very cold, so it’s also recommended to acclimatize yourself before jumping in.

OUTDOOR SWIMMING POOLS

Bern has several outdoor swimming pools on the banks of the Aare that are a wonderful way to cool off when the temperature starts to climb.

  • Marzili – The most beautiful riverside pool in Bern, right under the Parliament Building.
  • Lorraine – Enjoy a relaxing soak with graffiti-covered walls, retro loungers, and cozy charm.
  • Wyler – The best option for family-friendly swimming in Bern with volleyball courts and ping-pong tables.

FLOATING DOWN THE RIVER

Floating down the Aare is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Bern. You can start from any of the riverside swimming pools, or selected entry points.

Entry and exit points are marked by red poles or with steps to help you get in and out.

If you need a dry bag to transport your stuff with you, you can hire one from Kanuladen.

  • Eichholz to Mazili – Two kilometers upstream from Mazili, the gravel beach at Eichholz is the perfect place to enter the river. Get out at Mazili for a great day out in Bern.
  • Altenbergsteg to Lorraine Pool – From the pedestrian bridge at Altenbergsteg the current is not as strong. This is a great section of the river for beginners.
  • Bremgarten Loop – Take bus 21 to Bremgartan Schloss then walk to the riverbank through the Zehendermätteli tunnel. It takes around 20 minutes to float around this tranquil curve of the river, back to the other end of the tunnel.

17 – GURTEN PARK

Gurten Park is a popular outdoor destination 3 kilometers south of Bern. This mountain area is easily accessible by a funicular leaving from the city center.

There are a range of activities including hiking trails, an observation tower, kids’ playground, a mini-railway, and a lake.

During winter you can try tobogganing and there are regular open-air festivals in the summer.

It’s a nice outdoor area when you’re looking to get out of the city. You’ll also enjoy great views of Bern.

How to get there? – Take Tram 9 towards Wabern then get off at Gurtenbahn. Then take the funicular from the station to the top. Cars are not permitted at the summit, but there are 200 free parking spaces at the funicular station.

How to get back? – One of the best things to do in Bern is the hike from the summit of Gurten back to Bern. It’s a clearly marked path and should take around 1 hour.

DETAILS | GURTEN FUNICULAR


hours – 7 am until 11:30 pm (Monday to Saturday) / 7 am to 8 pm (Sunday) | cost – CHF 6 adult one way, CHF 11 adult return / CHF 3 children one way, CHF 5.50 children return

view of bern old town

WHERE TO EAT IN BERN

While Swiss food doesn’t appear on many menus outside the country, there are tasty delicacies worth trying.

The city has a love affair with Fondue, possibly due to the nearby Emmental and Gruyère which are both seductively melted en mass. The Berner Platte is Bern’s most famous dish comprising meats and sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes. And of course, you can’t leave without trying a Rösti.

Here are some of our favorite restaurants in Bern.

  • Kornhauskeller – Kornhauskeller is a beautiful historic restaurant in Bern and an unmissable thing to do. Try a variety of Swiss dishes in a grand setting.
  • Altes Tramdepot – Try the hearty Swiss fare with popular favorites including sausage and rösti at Altes Tramdepot. They also brew their own beer.
  • Restaurant Della Casa – This is a traditional staple in the Old Town with a variety of Swiss dishes specialising in cheesy fondue.  
  • Moment – A contemporary restaurant where seasonal products are given the star treatment with few distractions. It’s one of the best dining experiences in Bern.
  • Volver Bar & Tapas – Off the main street, Volver prepares excellent dishes that could compete with some of the best tapas in Seville.
restaurant in bern
MOMENT, BERN

WHERE TO STAY IN BERN?

Bern is a compact city that’s very easy to get around on foot. So, no particular area is better than any other. Even in the surrounding neighborhoods, you could be no more than a 20-minute walk into the Old Town.

  • Altstadt (Old Town) – The old town is a popular area to stay in Bern with all the historical attractions and charming streets on your doorstep.
  • Kirchenfeld – The museum district is a great area to stay in Bern if you’re interested in seeing the museums. The Historical Museum, the Museum of Communications, the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Fine Art are all in this area.
  • Surrounding Neighbourhoods – With a short stroll into the Old Town you could be staying in a quieter residential area at much better value.

OUR PICK

OUT OF TOWN

PRIZEHOTEL BERN

This great value property has bold colours, well-equipped rooms, plus a roof terrace for relaxing sundowners. Paid undercover parking is available.


OLD TOWN

NH BERN THE BRISTOL

In the heart of the Old Town, this elegant property has comfortable yet quirky interiors. It’s 5 minutes from the main train station.


KIRCHENFELD

LUXURY APARTMENTS JUSTINGERWEG

These Art Nouveau-style apartments are just 10 minutes from the Old Town. All the rooms are spacious and stylish. Free parking is available.


where to stay in bern switzerland

MAP | BERN ATTRACTIONS

Bern sits in the central part of Switzerland. The Old Town nestles within a crook of the Aare River, which encircles the city in a horseshoe shape.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


DAY TRIPS FROM BERN

With a central location, Bern is perfectly located to take advantage of some interesting day trips in the area. Here are a few recommendations from us.

  • Interlarken – Take the scenic train ride to Interlarken for some great day hikes in the popular tourist hub framed by snow-capped mountains. It takes 55 minutes to travel to Interlaken from Bern by Train.
  • Gruyères – The picturesque cheese town has a couple of great things to do such as the HR Giger Museum. It’s 1.5 hours by train from Bern.
  • Lucerne – Set on the banks of a lake, Lucerne is a charming historic town, framed by snow-capped mountains. More details are in our guide to visiting Lucerne
  • Oeschinensee – Visit this beautiful lake around 1.5 hours from Bern. The setting is stunning and the panorama hike unforgettable. Read more in our guide to Oeschinen Lake.

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN BERN

While we’ve covered all the top attractions in Bern you shouldn’t miss, there are a few others that you might want to check out if you have the time.

The first is the Spa Oktogen Hammam. This unique octagonal-shaped hammam offers all the usual rituals in an interesting space.

The second is one you’ll probably walk past many times. The Käfigturm is a historical clock tower which makes a nice photo spot in the old town.

Finally, the Bern Symphony Orchestra is known for working with a wide range of conductors and soloists. It’s worth seeing what’s on during your visit.

bern attractions

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