The capital of Switzerland, Bern has a very cozy feel to it.
Unlike some big European cities that might overwhelm you with their hustle and bustle, Bern is more reminiscent of a quaint town with its leisurely pace and cobble-stone medieval streets that make you feel like you were transported into the 15th century.
Bern – The City of Bears
The city was named after the bear when one was found roaming the nearby forest.
Today, you can find bears in the city’s Bärenpark (Bear Park) along the Aare River. What’s cool about this place is that it has been created in a way where bears can swim, fish, and walk around the large area of 5,000 square meters on the bank of the river.
A bear is an official symbol of the City of Bern and the Canton of Bern. You can find this animal gracing flags and emblems throughout the city.
PRO TIP: Want to save money while while visiting Bern? Read my article that covers the worst tourist mistakes that many tourists make while visiting Switzerland.
Where is Bern located?
Bern is located in west central part of the country.You can get to Bern from all major cities in Switzerland such as Zurich, Geneva and Basel.
The best way to get around Switzerland is by train. It’s quick, efficient and far less expensive than renting a car. If you plan on traveling in Switzerland by train and stopping in Bern, you should buy the Swiss Pass.
This pass will allow you to get on a train, bus and tour boats. Another perk that this pass provides is the free admission into many museums in Switzerland, including those in Bern.
How to get around Bern
Bern is a small city, and thanks to its compact size you can easily tour it foot. Public transportation is available, and you can take it to popular landmarks in Bern, but you can see most things in Old City Bern just by walking around.
Renting a car for your Bern trip
If your Switzerland itinerary includes other places and you want to be flexible and visit them at your own pace, renting a car in Switzerland is a good idea. I recommend Discover Cars, one of the best car rental companies with tons of cars available in many parts of Switzerland.
Here’s my overview of the top things to do in Bern:
1. Stroll through Old Town Bern
The city has a charming Old Town (Altstadt) that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the most notable features of the old town is the arcade-style buildings that stretch for almost 6 kilometers. In these arcades you can find stores, restaurants, cafes, and shops with souvenirs.
Bern has four main streets, Marktgasse, Kramgasse, Spitalgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse that run in the eastward direction from Bern’s central station. Although these streets are pedestrian-friendly like the rest of the city, they also have some car traffic.
The city was built from the 12th through the 15th century, and its layout remained virtually the same.
After a big fire in early 1400 destroyed much of the city’s wooden architecture, most of its buildings were built in sandstone.
While the Swiss capital offers many things that deserve your attention, walking along the old city’s cobble stone streets is one of the best things to do in Bern, because it will allow you to feel the true magic of this place without having to spend money on tours. Rathaus Platz is a good place to start your walking tour of Bern Switzerland. Here you will find the church of St. Peter and Paul, a fountain and Bern Town Hall.
2. Take a day trip from Bern
Bern is located at the foothills of Bernese Oberland – one of the most spectacular regions of Switzerland that boasts incredible mountain views and is home to some of the most popular ski resorts in the country. You can easily take a day trip from Bern to the nearby mountains to explore this wonderful scenery.
3. Swim in the Aare River
The area along the Aare River is perfectly safe for swimming during summertime.
When you walk along the riverbank, you will find designated spots for swimming, rafting, river surfing and paddle boarding. Like many other cities in Switzerland, Bern offers a combination of culture, history and proximity to the outdoors, which is why I recommend about 2 days to enjoy some of the best things to do in Bern!
Keep in mind that the current is strong in parts of the river, and there are also several dams, so if you want to swim in the Aare, make sure you do so ONLY in designated areas marked by signs.
4. Check out Zytglogge
Bern’s historic clock tower is one of the city’s main highlights.
Built in the 12th century, Zytglogge is located on Marktgasse, and is one of the oldest pieces of architecture in this city. What makes it famous is what happens when the astronomical clock added to the tower in the 16th century begins to strike every hour and the mechanical figures show up for a mini show.
PRO TIP: I recommend booking a highly-rated clocktower tour that will show you the mechanism controlling the historic cook and the figurines. Many travelers say that it’s one of the best experiences in Bern!
During the tour, you can climb the 130 stairs leading to the top of Zytglogge’s tower to enjoy the view of Bern’s rooftops.
5. Take a guided tour of Bern
If you are short on time, take a city tour around Bern that will show you some of the city’s top highlights before you continue your trip to other places in Switzerland. Taking a guided tour is one of the best things to do in Bern if you are in the city only for a short time and want to learn the city history on the go.
A parade of mechanical figurines including bears, a rooster, and a jester come out to do their performance as groups of tourists who gather in front of the Clock Tower. Watching this colorful spectacle is one of the most popular things to do in Bern among tourists.
6. Walk on Nydeggbrucke
The Nydeggbrucke is a bridge that connects the Old City Bern with the new part. It’s pretty hard to miss and it’s the best spot from which you can get a good viewpoint on the entire city. Come here to snap a photo of the turquoise Aare River flowing along the fairytale-like row of colorful houses.
From here, you can also see the older stone bridge of Untertorbrucke, which was the only original bridge crossing the Aare River.
While the Swiss capital is not a cheap place to visit, enjoying the city views is one of the best free things to do in Bern!
7. Say hi to the bears in Bärenpark
Walk across Nydeggbrucke and you will arrive at the Bärenpark, home of the famous Bernese bears. Here you can see the three bears, Finn, Bjork, and Ursina walking around and playing. Walk to the lower bank of the river to see the area where bears roam free!
8. Get scared by The Child Eating Fountain
Bern has over 100 mountains many of which date as far as 500 years back.
The 11 Renaissance fountains created by the Swiss sculptor Hans Gieng in the city center are some of the most famous Bern fountains.
Other notable fountains in Bern including Lauferbrunner (Runner Fountain), Zahringerbrunnen and Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (the Justice Fountain). One of the most famous fountains is Kindlifresserbrunnen, which translates as “the child-eating fountain.”
The unsettling figure depicts a man that snacking on a bunch of children out of a sack and according to history, it dates back to the 16th century.
There are several theories about how the Child Eater of Bern came to be. Over the years, the fountain has become one of the city’s most famous sites with many tourists coming here to snap a picture.
Kindlifresserbrunnen is located at Kornhausplatz in Bern.
9. Tour Einstein House
Not many people know that Albert Einstein lived in Bern from 1903 to 1905.
The house that he rented is located along Kramgasse and it has been refurbished to resemble the original atmosphere and turned into a museum. If you are not sure whether you should stop there, I will only say that this is the house where Einstein has developed his Theory of Relativity, so that alone makes it worth a visit.
Einstein House is open every day from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. except for major holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
PRO TIP: This is one of the most popular museums in Bern, and since the museum is essentially a small apartment, it can get pretty crowded here. For better experience, arrive by the time museum opens.
10. Einstein Museum
Want to learn more about Einstein?
Head to Einstein Museum that celebrates the connection between the famous scientist and the city of Bern. On top of developing the Theory of Relativity in Bern, Einstein has also taught in the University of Bern and published some of his most important papers while living in this city.
The museum includes a collection of artifacts such as his school items, letters and reports. It also showcases major historic events that took places during Einstein’s life.
GOOD TO KNOW: Although it’s not one of the most popular things to do in Bern, Einstein Museum is a great place to add to your itinerary if the weather calls for rain or colder temperatures. You can easily spend 1,5-2 hours here learning all the cool facts about Einstein that you had no idea about!
The Einstein Museum is open every day except for Mondays.
11. Climb to the top of Bern Münster
Bern Münster also known as Bern’s Gothic Cathedral might remind you of other Reformation churches built in the 15th century in Europe. It’s the tallest church in Bern, thanks to the big spire at the top that was completed in 1983.
Inside the cathedral you can see beautiful stained glass windows and sculptures as well as the Baroque organ that dates back to the 18th century.
Climb 254 steps to the top of the cathedral to get a bird’s eye view of Bern and the surrounding area called the Bernese Oberland, the higher part of the Canton of Bern that has scenic landscapes with mountains, lakes and small picturesque villages tucked between the green hills. Inside the tower, there’s the largest bell in Switzerland (Grosee Glocke or the Big Bell) that weighs a whopping 10 tons!
On a clear day, you can even see Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in the distance.
Touring the Bern Cathedral is one of the best things to do in Bern if you love history!
Right in front of Bern Münster you can find a nice park overlooking the Aare River. It’s a perfect place to sit down and relax after a long day of sightseeing.
12. Get a tour of The Bundeshaus
Home to the Swiss Parliament, the Bundeshaus sits in the main square of Bern, where you can also find farmers’ markets during summer.
The Bundeshaus is open to the public when the Parliament is not in session and offers guided tours in different languages. Here you can learn about some of the most important moments in Swiss history, however, make sure to reserve your spot online at least 3 days ahead of your visit.
13. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon at Rosengarten
Located on the right bank of the Aare River, Bern’s Rose Garden is a perfect spot to visit during warmer months. Situated at the top f the steep hill, it has gardens, fountains, neat lawns and ponds. Come here to relax and take in the views of the Old Town.
14. Make your way to the top of Gurten
Gurten is a picturesque hill on the slopes of the Swiss capital and you can get there by catching a cable car in Waben.
It’s one of the most popular outdoor spots near Bern with green spaces, trails and gorgeous meadows that are perfect for take picnics and casual strolls through the area. If you need a break from the touristy Old Town, visiting Gurten is one of the best things to do in Bern, because you will find more locals than tourists here.
To get to Gurten, you will need to catch Gurten funicular that runs from 7 a.m. until late in the evening. You buy tickets on the spot the you arrive.
GOOD TO KNOW: In mid-July, you can come here for the famous Gurtenfestival that has been steadily growing in the last couple of years. The area gets busy during this time, so be prepared, if you decide to visit Bern during this time.
15. Visit Zentrum Paul Klee
Visiting Zentrum Paul Klee is one of the best things to do in Bern for culture buffs. Bern’s native Paul Klee, a painter known for his abstract and surrealist works is one of the city’s most celebrated figures.
Zentrum Paul Klee was opened in 2005 and has about 4,000 paintings of the famed artist which were donated to the museum. This modern museum is also famous for unique architectural style which looks like a wave – a neat design created by the Italian architect Renzo Piano.
Zentrum Paul Klee is located outside of the city, so you will have to get on public transportation to get there. You can catch Line 12 Bus from Old Town Bern in the direction of Paul Klee or Line 7 Tram.
16. … or Bern Historical Museum
The second biggest history museum in Switzerland, the Historical Museum of Bern is has a mix of temporary exhibits and classic staples that show various stages of Swiss history. If you have some spare time before moving to your next destination, stopping here is one of the best things to do in Bern!
Bern Historical Museum is located at Helvetiaplatz 5.
17. Take a helicopter tour of the Alps
There’s nothing like taking a helicopter tour of the stunning Alps, and you catch catch a ride directly from Bern! Since the city is located near the Swiss Alps, taking a helicopter tour a must, if you are looking for a truly unforgettable experience while visiting Switzerland.
One of the best tours of the area begins in the Bern airport and takes you to the Eiger North Wall and the Jungfraujoch. Some of the highlights of the flight include the rugged valley walls of the Lauterbrunnen and the Schilthorn, as well as the flyover of Lake Thun and the Guerbetal.
Other popular flights of Bern
- A scenic flyover tour of Bern is another popular option, and it’s a bit cheaper than a scenic tour of the Swiss Alps.
- Matterhorn helicopter tour from Bern is one of the best experiences. You will get a bird-eye view one of the most iconic mountains in the world and also enjoy the views of the Swiss landscapes with stunning alpine valleys and lakes.
Why visit Bern Switzerland?
While the Swiss capital might not be one of the most famous European capitals, it has a unique atmosphere and a lot of charm to it.
Many travelers stop here for a day during their Switzerland itinerary before going to nearby mountains. Bern has a lot to offer, and if you want to do something beyond visiting Old Town Bern, consider visiting at least a couple of museums in the city.
Whatever you choose to do, you will have a great time because the Swiss capital is true magic, so make sure to spare a couple of days to enjoy some of the best things to do in Bern!
Best hotels in Bern Switzerland
Bern offers tons of great hotels for different budgets. Since hotel standards are pretty high in Switzerland, even cheaper hotels typically nice and clean. And because the city is compact, there are many hotels within walking distance of Old Town, so you don’t necessarily need public transportation to get around.
One of the best hotels in Bern is the historic Hotel Schweizerhof with gorgeous rooms and central location. Travelers love hotel’s proximity to some of the best things to do in Bern as well its friendly staff!
For budget accommodations in Bern, try Hostel 77 Bern across the street from the bus stop.
This hostel is not in Old City Bern, but it’s close enough where you can get there by public transportation. The hostel is 2.9 miles from Bärengraben and 3.2 miles from Bern Clock Tower. It has a shared kitchen, and luggage storage for guests.
A classic hotel with no frills and basic amenities is Best Western Plus Hotel in the heart of the city near Zytglogge and other landmarks in Bern.
Another option is Bed and Breakfast Rose that boasts central, yet quiet location in the heart of Bern and a super friendly host. Delicious breakfast and lunch are offered at the property.
How to get around Bern?
When you check into your accommodations in Bern, you will get a free travel card that is called Bern Ticket.
And since the city is generally on the pricey side, Bern Ticket comes in very handy. It allows you to use public transportation within zones 100/101 that is operated by the LIBERO Association. In addition, it includes transport to and from the airport as well as cable car to Gurten and Bern Munster.
Aside from using the pass, the best way to get around this city is by train and bus.
PRO TIP: If you plan on visiting other places in Switzerland, check my guide on how to plan your Switzerland itinerary.
How many days do you need in Bern?
Bern is pretty compact, and unless you plan on taking a day trip to the nearby mountain town Grindelwald, or visiting other scenic places in the area, you can explore some of the best things to do in Bern in 2 days. If you want to take a trip to the nearby mountains, plan 2-4 days in the region.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article.