Bern: Top 10

(continuer en français) – Published: February 12, 2023

The Swiss federal capital is a medieval town dating back to  1191, built on a rocky ridge, surrounded by the river Aare, which forms a natural protection. The historic quarters are well-preserved, making it a beautiful and easy destination for visiting on foot. There is no need to roam far around, as the city centre groups the main sights of Bern.

01. Federal Palace

Built in several stages since 1857, the Palace now houses the executive and legislative powers of the Swiss Confederation in one building, they were previously located in separate locations. All the decoration revolves around the events and characters that have shaped the country, and together they form an overview of the federal history.

02. St. Vincent Cathedral

The tower of the cathedral rises to more than 330 feet, 100 metres, and dominates the whole old town. Originally Catholic, it became Protestant in 1528 with the development of the Reformed religion. The accompanying large platform above the banks of the Aare was originally a cemetery, and is now a park with children’s playgrounds and a café terrace in summer.

03. Streets

In 1405, a fire destroyed most of the city. It was then rebuilt in a uniform style along beautiful streets lined with galleries and decorated with fountains. This layout was retained for the first districts built beyond the old town. Car traffic is reduced, mainly limited to trolleybuses.

04. Fountain of the Ogre

There would be more than one hundred public fountains in Bern, the oldest dating back to the Middle Ages and having kept the style with their colourful characters. The most famous is the Fountain of the Ogre devouring children, which must have traumatised more than one generation of Bernese children. The water flowing from the fountains is drinkable and deliciously cool in summer, so bring a bottle.

05. Zytglogge

The old fortified gate from 1191 became a prison before being converted into a belfry announcing the time to the inhabitants of the town. Each hour is accompanied by a show of animated figures, which tourists love. There is also an astronomical clock and under the vault the standard measurements are embedded in the wall. The distances of the canton of Bern start from here.

06. Einstein House

Bern is very proud of the fact that Albert Einstein lived here for two years. A modest civil servant at the patent office, he is said to have had the foresight to develop the theory of relativity which led to the famous formula E=mc2. His house has been turned into a museum. In several places, he can be found on a bench, available for selfies.

07. City Hall

This is where the city and canton parliaments meet, a little off the main street. Then the five members of the Bern City Council take care of the day-to-day running of the city. The first building dates back to the 15th century and was subsequently remodelled several times. Other buildings also house some of the municipal business.

08. Bear pit

One of the most unusual sights in Bern is the bear pit, where three large bears live. They also have an extension of their territory on the bank of the Aare, which was created under pressure from animal rights activists. The tradition of bears in the city may date back to the founding of the city, when a bear was captured by the first lord of the place in 1191.

09. Aareschwumm

Let’s keep its local name for this other unusual tradition which consists in letting oneself be carried by the current of the river Aare, thus floating around the city centre in clean and fresh water. A summer pleasure for many, a more sporting practice for some during the rest of the year. The less adventurous will be satisfied with the pools, without the risk of the current.

10. Rose Garden

More than 250 species of roses and many other flowers offer a beautiful summer composition. This former cemetery also has lawns and ponds, as well as a restaurant for a meal or a drink. The main reason it’s worth the effort to climb the slope to get there is to enjoy the bird’s-eye view of the old town, from which the cathedral tower rises.

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