Planning a trip to Berne, Switzerland

Why Bern?
  • Shop under the city's arcaded streets and many tiny medieval malls
  • Float down the Aare River
  • Climb the cathedral tower for a view
  • See the house where Einstein came up with his most famous theories

Bern's historic center is comfortably scenic and walkable with low-key sights such as the Zutgloggeturm (Clock Tower), which has treated Bern to a mechanical puppet show four minutes before every hour for over 460 years (on Kramgasse at the corner with Bäurenplatz). There's a 45-minute tour of the clock's inner workings daily May to October at 4:30pm; it costs 6 SF ($4) adults, 3 SF ($2) kids.

Münsterplatz boasts both a 16th-century Moses fountain and the Münster (cathedral), a Gothic structure from 1421. An elaborate Last Judgment is carved over the main door and enormous stained-glass windows await inside. The biggest draw of the cathedral, though, is its 300-foot belfry the highest in Switzerland, which offers a great panorama across Bern and its river with the Alps in the distance. The cathedral is open Tuesday to Friday 10am to noon and 2 to 4pm, Saturday 11am to noon and 2 to 5pm, Sunday 11:30am to 2pm.

Of Bern's museums, the best is the Kunsthaus, or Fine Arts Museum (tel. 031/311-0944) at Hodlerstrasse 12, a little ways north of the train station on the banks of the Aare. It has the world's largest collection of Paul Klee works, and is also particularly strong in late 19th- and early 20th-century art, from the impressionists and surrealists to Kadinsky, Modigliani, Matisse, and Picasso. Admission is 6 SF ($4) adults, 4 SF ($2.65) students. It's open Tuesday 10am to 9pm, Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm.

How Bern gots its name
In 1191, the Duke of Zähringen decided to expand one of his castles at a strategic spot on a bend of the Aare River into a full town. Since the new city had no name, he promised to call it after the first animal slain by his hunters in the surrounding woods. When they killed themselves a Bär (you know, like Davy Crockett, when he was only three), he dutifully christened the town "Bärn," or Bern. I've always wondered if he would have stuck to his word had they returned with a chipmunk.
Bern's most unique sight has to be the Bärengraben (Bear Pits), just on the other side of Nydeggbru[um]cke bridge from the Altstadt, and roving with up to 12 live, very well-fed examples of Bern's civic symbol.

Bern has had bear pits since at least 1441—formerly on the square still named Bärenplatz, here since 1875. The bears are out daily 9am to 4pm (until 6pm in summer); the keeper sells baggies of fruit to feed them for 3 SF ($2)—these hairy fellows will ham it up to get you to drop them a piece of apple or carrot, but remember they are strict vegetarians, so please respect their diet.

To the Bear Pits' left, a long path leads up the hillside to a ridge planted with Bern’s Rosengarten, a fragrant flower garden with killer views over medieval Bern.

Tips & Links

How long should I spend in Bern?

One day is really enough, though you can easily occupy yourself for two days or three.

Berne is really more of a central jumping off point to explore the Berner Oberland and other bits of the Alps.

Useful links & resources


Tourist info:,

Sightseeing passes: Swiss Museum pass (470 sights in Switzerland), Swiss Pass (rail pass; includes the Museum Pass)

Tours & activities:


Hotels:,, Priceline.comPartner,


Apartments:,,,,,, Homeaway.comhomeaway






Rail pass: Swiss Pass (comes with Swiss Musuem Pass)

Public transport:

Car rentals:
  • Car resources
  • Emergency service/tow: tel. 803-116
  • Highway agency: (traffic info, serivce areas, toll calculator, weather)
  • Italian automotive club (~AAA):
  • ZTLs: (lightly outdated, but handy, links to cities' traffic-free zones)


Get the Swiss Pass

Yes, Switzerland can be an explensive place—but you can make it less so by spluring just once, on the mighty Swiss Pass, a rail pass than covers most of Switzerland's extensive, amazing train network (save a few private lines)—and if you are going to explore Switzlernad, you will find yourself taking a lot of trains.

What's more, the Swiss Pass also comes with the incredible Swiss Museum pass, which covers free admission to more than 470 sights all across Switzerland–that's nine museums in Bern itself, and another 35 in the Berne Canton alone.

Basically this Swiss Pass lets you wander into probably 90% of the museums in Switzerland for free—and ride 90% of the trains as well.

Bern tours

The City of Berne itself sponsors an assortment of walking tours around town, as well as guided outdoor activities, like river rafting and bike tours.

Find out what's being offered when you visit at


Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in December 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.