Bern tourist attractions, activities, sightseeing, travel guide.
The Old Town
Wandering through Bern’s UNESCO-protected Old Town can be a great experience – few cities in the world are so visibly related to their distant past, with architecture unchanged since ancient times. The busiest shopping goes on in the western part of the Old Town, especially on Marktgasse and Spitalgasse. The older, eastern section is slow paced magically tranquil. However, not for nothing does the tourist office praise the renowned arcades, lining both sides of every street in the Old Town, as being “the longest covered shopping promenade in the world”. The places one should not miss to visit in the Eastern half include Kramgasse, Einstein House, Rathausplatz, Rathaus, St Peter und St Paul-Kirche, Nydegg Castle; and from the Western Old Town: Kindlifresserbrunnen (Ogre Fountain), Französische Kirche, Käfigturm, Heiliggeistkirche.
Kunstmuseum (Fine Arts Museum)
Cathedral of St. Vincent
The Münster is one of the many impressive Gothic churches in the country, dating back to 1421. However, its belfry was completed as late as in 1893. The most remarkable feature of this three-aisle, pillared basilica is the tympanum over the main portal, depicting the Last Judgment with more than two hundred figures! One will find a huge fifteenth century stained-glass windows in the chancel, however the most exceptional window - the Dance of Death, can be seen in the Matter Chapel. The cathedral’s ninety meters belfry dominates Bern and offers a majestic panoramic view of the Bernese Alps. However, to reach the viewing platform, one must climb 270 steps to it. The beautiful view also includes the old town with its bridges, and the picturesque Aare River. Outside the basilica on Münsterplatz is located the Moses Fountain, constructed in 1545.
Bernisches Historisches Museum (Bern Historical Museum)
This majestic neo-Gothic castle is constructed in the Swiss fortress style of the sixteenth century. Bern Historical Museum houses historical relics, as well as ethnographic, archaeological, and numismatic collections. The main highlight is a series of 7 fifteenth century tapestries; a tapestry called “The Thousand Flowers”, and four others narrating the story of Julius Caesar, once owned by the dukes of Burgundy. Also many rural and urban rooms, containing period furnishings and artifacts are open to the public.
Botanischer Garten (Botanical Garden)
This Renaissance edifice, the Federal Palace, houses the two chambers of Switzerland’s Parliament. Inaugurated in 1902, the Parliament building has a glass dome that displays the coats of arms of all the twenty-two Swiss cantons. Also very interesting are the stained-glass windows, symbolizing education, public works, defense, and justice. In the ground-floor rotunda a relief represents the legend of the origin of Switzerland as dramatized in Schiller’s saga of “Wilhelm Tell”. Also of interest is the Chamber of the National Council, dominated by a large fresco by Gyron, and the Chamber of the Council of States, adorned with a mural painting by Albert Welti.
Zytgloggeturm (Clock Tower)
The Clock Tower, on Kramgasse was erected in the twelfth century and restored later in the sixteenth century. Four min. before every hour, crowds gather for the world’s oldest and biggest chorological puppet show. Various mechanical bears, buffoons and emperors put on a great animated performance. Staged in 1530, this is one of the longest running performances in show business.
If looking for the most panoramic views in the adjacent vicinity of Bern, head to the belvedere atop Mount Gurten at 844 meters. There’s a kids' fairyland and a walking area as well as the lookout point. The belvedere is linked to the capital by the Gurtenbahn - a cable-train that is one of the fastest on the Old Continent. The train leaves from a station beside the Monbijoustrasse, less than a kilometer from Bern’s downtown. The trip to the top takes four minutes each way; and if driving, follow the road signs to Thun.
Bärengraben (Bear Pits) is a deep, moon-shaped den where the bears, Bern’s mascots, have been housed since 1480. According to the legend, when the duke of Zähringen established the town in 1191, he sent hunters out into the near woods and promised to name the city after the first animal slain - a bear, hence the name of the present city - Bärn (Bern). Now the bears are beloved, greatly pampered, and fed by city residents and visitors. The Bear Pits is located on the opposite side of the Nydegg Bridge (Nydeggbrücke) from the rest of Old Town.
The majestic bridge was constructed over one of the gorges of the Aare River. Its central stone arch has a span of fifty-four meters and offers a beautiful view of the capital. Just below the Bärengraben, one can visit the Rosengarten (Rose Gardens), with its magnificent view of the medieval area of the city.