Bern is my favorite city in Switzerland. It’s small, covered in cobblestones streets and medieval buildings, set along a beautiful river, and close to the mountains. I loved it. You could just wander the city for days feeling like you’re back in the 1600s. Because it is so small, you only really need a few days here but, while you are here, be sure to try some of the international food, chocolate (Toblerone was started here), and all the craft beer popping up at the new bars through the city.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Bern
1. Visit Einstein’s home
2. Hike the Gurten
3. Visit the Bern Historical Museum
4. Visit the Kunstmuseum
5. Visit the Old Town
Other Things to See and Do
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1. Take a walking tour of Bern
Although many activities in Bern are expensive, taking a self-guided tour won’t be. In the old town, you will find some wonderful bakeries and markets where you can cheaply taste the local cuisine. Take your picnic to Gerechtigkeitsgasse and see the Bear Park for a little bit of history while you eat. If you hit the right time of year stroll through one of many free concerts, parades, and festivals.
2. Stroll through Bern Cathedral
Take the tram and admire its Gothic architecture at night along the skyline. This is one of the best Gothic cathedrals in Europe and is very detailed.
3. Tour the Swiss House of Parliament
The Swiss House of Parliament, known as the Bundeshaus, lies on the main square of Bern. When parliament is not in session, you’re welcome to take a free tour of the premises.
4. See the Zytglogge
The clock tower near the center of the old town (built around the turn of the 13th century) is a great thing to see. Every hour on the hour, there is a stunning display of early animatronic technology. The clock tells time as well as the month, day, zodiac sign, and phase of the moon. There are guided tours inside the tower that will let you have a look at the clockwork.
5. See the bears
Bern’s name has been historically linked to “bears.” One existing legend says that the city’s founder, a duke, named Bern after the first animal hunted and killed in the area. In any case, the bear became a symbol of the city, and the first “bear park” opened in the 19th century. At the moment, four brown bears live in the bear park.
6. Learn to communicate
The Bern Communications Museum traces the history and patterns of human interaction, as expressed through written and verbal communication. It also has exhibits on computers and the digital age, and Swiss stamps. This is a good place to visit with children, as it’s pretty interactive.
7. Stop to smell the roses
East of the historic center lies the Rosengarten, the city’s beautiful rose garden. There are over 200 varieties of roses to admire, and you can also get a good view of the city from here.
8. Swim in the river
The great thing about Switzerland is that even urban rivers are clean enough to swim in! In the summer, swimming in the River Aare is a popular activity. Check with your hostel or hotel to find out where the best and safest spots are before heading out. Pack a picnic, and make an afternoon of it!