The next time you are visiting Switzerland, I highly recommend you take some time to stay in its capital city, Bern. While there, one of the best ways to see the city is by taking part in a Bern Walking Tour. The old city of Bern, Switzerland is very walkable with many great sights. There are daily paid walking tours offered at the train station, though advanced booking is recommended to ensure the guide speaks English.
Self Guided Walks
If touring the city at your own pace is more your speed, here is a great self guided Bern walking tour that my wife and I took when we visited this great city. You will see all of the major places to visit in Bern, including the Clock Tower and Bear Park!
Bern Walking Tour
This city walking tour will take you through the beautiful old city of Bern, Switzerland. It was adapted from a walking tour found in Rick Steves’ Switzerland, which i also highly recommend for your travels through Switzerland. You will start the tour at the train station (or Bahnhof Bern, on the left side of the below map) and weave your way through the city, ending at Bear Park (or BärenPark on the right side of the map). Along the way you will find many of the gems that Bern has to offer!
1. Train Station (Bahnhof)
Our Bern Walking Tour begins at the train station (or bahnhof in German) or Switzerland’s capital city. The station itself is bright and airy with many great shops and a very helpful tourist information booth. Walk outside of the station into a big square called “Bahnhofplatz” – you guessed it, this means train station plaza. This is where the old city of Bern was once bounded by a fortified wall, replaced when the train station was built in the 19th century. You’ll notice many of the new tram lines, built for Euro 2008 as part of Bern’s vision for a car-free city. You can even find free loaner bikes and skateboards, provided by the “Bern rollt” program.
Across the square you’ll find the Holy Ghost Church (Heiliggeistkirche). As you walk toward it, notice the oversized eaves characterizing the buildings of Bern’s old city. These are used because the buildings are made of Bernese sandstone, which is porous and easily erodes. Even newer buildings are mandated to follow these building techniques to maintain architectural harmony. Turn left around the church onto Spitalgasse to see the first of Bern’s trademark 11 colourful 16th century fountains, the Bagpiper.
Continue walking along Spitagasse until you come to Bärenplatz, home to a daily market. Standing in front of you is the Prison Tower (Käfigturm), built c.1256 and renovated from 1641-1644. This tower gets its name from having served as a prison until 1897. If you look closely at the clock you’ll notice that it contains only an hour hand (a sign of a slower-paced era), and that it really is a hand!
Bärenplatz is one of a number of squares created as the old walls and moats were removed around Bern. These squares are very popular today for outdoor markets and cafes, especially in the evenings.
Turning right, stroll to the end of Bärenplatz where you’ll come to Bundesplatz (or Government Plaza). Facing the square on the left is the Swiss National Bank, with half of the Swiss gold stock buried under the square (the other half is in Zürich). Directly in front of you is a granite plaza, built in 2004 to replace a parking garage – now often used as a market or for demonstrations. The plaza contains a 26-squirt fountain (one for each canton), which is great on a hot summer day, especially for kids.
4. Bern DMB (Drahtseilbahn Marzili-Stadt Bern)
Directly in front of you, beyond the square is the Parliament building (Bundeshaus). If you walk through the passageway to the right you’ll find the welcome center at the back of the building. When parliament is in session you are welcome to watch the action for free, otherwise you are able to take a free, hour long, guided tour. Reservations are strongly advised, especially for English tours.
From the back of the Parliament building, you are greeted with a great view of the Aare River. On a clear day you may even be lucky enough to see the highest peaks in the Berner Oberland: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. To the right you will see the Bern Drahtseilbahn Marzili-Stadt Bern (DMB), a short funicular built in 1885 and rising 31 metres (34 yards) from the Marzili neighbourhood to the old city of Bern.
Follow the terrace walls to the left to the Kirchenfeld Bridge. You will find some great river views from the center of the bridge, and many great museums are located just across the river.
After enjoying the river views, backtrack back across the bridge to the parliament side of the river to enter the Casinoplatz. The plaza is named for the Kulture Casino; home to Bern’s Symphony Orchestra (not the gambling kind of casino!). The building was finished in 1909 after 2 years of construction, then renovated between 1979 and 1991 to return it to it’s original glory.
Walking past the Casino and following the tram tracks will lead you to Kornhausplatz and its colourful Ogre fountain. The building behind and to the left of the fountain is the location for the public library and Kornhauskeller restaurant. It’s highly recommended that you head inside the restaurant (even if you aren’t eating there) to check out what was once a vast city wine cellar, built in 1718.
From Kornhausplatz, step under the clock tower (where Marktgasse becomes Kramgasse) and turn back to see the famous Zytglogge (the fancy, ornamental clock on the downhill facing side of the tower). This clock dates back to 1530 and performs four minutes before each hour. Notice that once again the hour hand is literally a hand. Also, for half of the year the clock will display the time one hour behind because of the modern addition of Daylight Savings Time.
Located under the clock you will find some of the old medieval measurements used in the region such as the Swiss foot, the larger Bernese foot, the Elle or elbow (a measurement running from the elbow to the fingertip), the meter and the double meter. Running daily at 2:30pm from April to October you have the ability to take a 50 minute tour of the clock’s mechanics.
8. Kramgrasse 49 (Einsteinhaus)
Continuing along Krangrasse, enjoy the wide street and many shops that line your journey. You’ll notice many cellars, accessed by old-time hatches on the main road. These cellars are generally used for storing household goods, though for a while they were famously used for storing wine (which was “liberated” in 1798 when Napoleon’s soldiers invaded).
When you arrive at Kramgasse 49, you’ll be standing outside the apartment used by Albert Einstein from 1903-1905. This building now houses an Einstein museum celebrating some of the most productive years of his life. 1905 is known as Einstein’s “Miracle Year”, during which he developed his Special Theory of Relativity (E = mc 2) as well as 5 other papers that changed the face of physics.
9. Berner Münster
Just beyond Einstein’s apartment, turn right at the Samson Fountain and travel through the narrow Münstergasschen to the Berner Münster. Bern’s once-Catholic-now-Protestant Cathedral dates from the 15th-century and contains the highest tower in Switzerland at 330 feet (finished in 1893). As you can see from the picture to the left, the tower was being restored while we were visiting, but this did not take away from our appreciation of the cathedral’s ornate details. It’s free to enter and tour the main level of the cathedral, and only 5SF should you decide to climb the 344 steps to take in the great city views and see Susanne, the largest bell in Switzerland at 10.5 tons.
Venture around the back of the Cathedral to the Münsterplatftorm for some more great views over the Aare River, and perhaps stop for lunch at the Pavilion Cafe.
Turning away from the river, exit the Cathedral grounds to the right along Junkerngasse. After about 50 yards, turn left down an alley called Obere Gerechtigkeitsgässchen to the main street, now called Gerechtigkeitsgasse. See another of Bern’s great fountains, the Fountain of Justice, as well as the grates running the length of the street. A small stream used to run along this stretch providing people with a handy disposal system. Turning right, you are now walking through the oldest part of town to the Nydegg Bridge.
11. Wasserwerkgasse 2 (Lindt Factory)
As you begin to cross the Nydegg Bridge, look to your right to find the original Lindt Chocolate Factory from 1879 – now converted into apartments. You can still make out the company insignia on the side of the building. This area now routinely floods when the Aare River runs high.
Crossing the street to look downstream you will find a church now residing on the site of the original town castle. Below you is the oldest bridge in Bern (and until 1844 the only crossing at this point).
12. Bärengraben (Bear Park)
Once you have crossed Nydegg Bridge you will find the Bärengraben or Bear Park, commemorating the symbol of Bern – the bear. This newer park, built in 2009 replaced the older concrete bear pits, which had been housing bears since 1857. Enjoy watching the bears frolic along the terraced hillside from any of the great viewing points surrounding the park.
After you’ve had your fill of the bears I’d recommend visiting the Old Tram Depot, which is home to a brewery, cafe, and tourist information branch. Now that you have completed your Bern walking tour, you could catch the #12 bus back to the train station, or weave your way back through town by exploring some of the many shops and eateries located along the side streets.
I hope you have enjoyed taking this virtual Bern walking tour as much as I have! Bern is well worth a stop the next time you plan a trip to Europe.
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Here is a list of the resources mentioned in this post:
Rick Steves’ Switzerland – Everything you need to know when planning your next trip to Switzerland. Rick Steves is the foremost authority on experiential, off-the-beaten-path travel throughout Europe.
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