See the best of Bern in three hours or less on this walking route

Discover the beauty of Bern, Switzerland with this free and easy walking trail through the Swiss capital.

Built around the curve of the Aare River, Bern is a beautiful little city filled with historic buildings, cobblestone streets, picturesque alleys and fairytale squares. What the Swiss capital lacks in size – it’s just 51 square kilometres – it makes up in charm. The city is easily walkable and can be seen in just a few hours, or you can extend your day trip into an overnight stay to visit the many shops, museums, restaurants and bars. If you happen to be taking the train from Zurich to Interlaken, it’s worthwhile getting off at Bahnhof Bern, storing your luggage at the station, and taking a scenic walk through Bern, Switzerland. 

Welcome to Bern, Switzerland 

Bern, Switzerland is a medieval city founded in 1191 and serves as the administrative capital of Switzerland. The Old City area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts six kilometres of arcades, one of Europe’s longest weather-sheltered shopping walks. The ‘lauben’, as they are known by locals, are filled with all the usual high street fashion brands, and plenty of unique local businesses selling sustainable fashion, cuckoo clocks, watches and homewares. The Old City area is split into two parts: upper and lower. The lower Old City can be found between the Matte area to the Zytgloggle, while the upper section is from the Zytgloggle to the Bollwerk-Hirschengraben. 

There are more than 100 public fountains in Bern, Switzerland – many of which spout clean, drinkable water – but the 11 Renaissance fountains by Swiss sculptor Hans Gieng are the most famous. They date back to the 16th century and are sprinkled throughout the city. Some of the most notable are: Mosesbrunnen of Moses and the Ten Commandments; Anna Seiler Brunnen, the founder of Bern Hospital; and Kindlifresserbrunnen, an ogre eating a child. 

Bern Old City; The view into Old City from Nydeggbrücke. Photography by Laura Barry
Bern Old City; The view into Old City from Nydeggbrücke. Photography by Laura Barry

Why is Bern, Switzerland famous? 

There are a few reasons why Bern is well known. It is believed that Albert Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity while in the city. Bern is famous for its bears that live in the Bear Pit within Old City. Bern is also the capital of Switzerland. 

Is Bern, Switzerland worth visiting? 

Bern is a fantastic stopover city for travellers interested in shopping, dining, architecture and history. Bern is a photogenic city with terracotta roofs, towering spires, aquamarine waters and gracefully curving bridges. Given that many trains traversing routes between Zurich and the Swiss Alps go via Bern, it’s easy to stop over in this city on your way to places such as Interlaken and Grindelwald. 

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Free self-guided walking tour of Bern 

The best way to see the landmarks, historical buildings, heritage-listed streets and viewpoints in Bern is by walking it. We’ve mapped the best path from Bahnhof Bern to Rosengarten so you can start seeing the sights from the moment you step off the train. It only takes around an hour to complete the route without stops. 

Travel tip: If you need to store luggage, look for the tourist information desk on the City Level (0) of Bern train station. Behind the desk are escalators that will take you to street level where you’ll find the luggage storage area. Look for signs with a suitcase and key on them. The luggage deposit area is cheap, safe and fits large luggage easily. 

Map

Stop 1: Spitalgasse

Spitalgasse is one of the main streets in Bern Old City. Trams run through this thoroughfare and some of Bern’s famous water fountains are on this stretch of road. Expect to find tourists snapping photos, buskers, shoppers and cyclists filling this street. Christmas markets are also held in this area during December.

Stop 2: Käfigturm on Marktgasse 67

Marktgasse is another picturesque street in Bern Old City where you’ll find Käfigturm, a 13th-century baroque clocktower that once made up part of the city gate. It was originally a prison tower, but today it is a historical landmark with trams passing beneath its archway. 

Bern; Käfigturm.
Bern; Käfigturm. Photography by Laura Barry

Stop 3: The Parliament Building and Federal Place, Bundesplatz 3

Home to the Swiss Federal Assembly and Federal Council, Parliament Building (Bundeshaus) is the heart of Switzerland’s democracy and opened in 1902. 

Mosesbrunnen; The Parliament Building.
Mosesbrunnen; The Parliament Building. Photography by Laura Barry

Stop 4: Zytglogge, Bim Zytglogge 1

The next stop is Bern’s claim to fame, the Zytglogge. Dating back to the 12th century, this clock tower has served as both a guard tower and a prison. The astronomical clock was added in the 16th century, and if you happen by it on the hour you can enjoy a little show of mechanical characters are they dance about its face. Tours are available to those who wish to go inside and climb the 130 steps for a view of the rooftops of Bern, Switzerland. 

Cathedral of Bern; Zytglogge.
Cathedral of Bern; Zytglogge. Photography by Laura Barry

Stop 5: Kramgasse & Einstein House at Kramgasse 49

Once known as the ‘Grocers Alley’, Kramgasse is another major street in Bern Old City and is filled with boutiques, art galleries and eateries. Along this street, you’ll find Einstein House, the museum and former residence of Albert Einstein and his family in the early 1900s. 

Stop 6: Cathedral of Bern and Münsterplattform, Münsterpl. 1

The Cathedral of Bern, also known as Bern’s Minster, is a 15th-century Gothic sandstone building with the highest church spire in all of Switzerland, standing more than 100 metres tall. Those willing to climb the 344 steps can see the city from the viewing deck. 

The view of Old City, Aare River and Kirchenfeldbrücke from Münsterplattform.
The view of Old City, Aare River and Kirchenfeldbrücke from Münsterplattform. Photography by Laura Barry

Outside, Münsterplattform is a delightful green square where locals gather to sip coffee at the cafe, play games and take in the spectacular view of the Aare River and Kirchenfeldbrücke. Münsterplattform is hidden away behind the cathedral but has some of the best views of the city and its buildings. There are plenty of trees and benches, making it the perfect place to stop and have a snack or mid-morning caffeine hit. 

Münsterplattform
Münsterplattform. Photography by Laura Barry

Stop 7: Bern City Hall & Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Rathausgasse 2

Make your way towards Rathausplatz and you’ll be rewarded with three historical landmarks. The Vennerbrunnen fountain, Bern City Hall and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul which was built in 1864. 

Vennerbrunnen and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Bern
Vennerbrunnen; the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Bern. Photography by Laura Barry

Stop 8: Gerechtigkeitsgasse

The Kramgasse leads on to Gerechtigkeitsgasse to form a principal street in the medieval centre of Bern, Switzerland. On this street, travellers can snap a photo of the Zytgloggle and one of the 11 Renaissance fountains in the same frame – great for those holiday selfies. 

Stop 9: Nydegg Bridge (Nydeggbrücke)

Connecting the eastern section of Old City to the newer part of Bern, crossing Aare River via the Nydeggbrücke offers views of the 14th-century Nydeggkirche and original 1840 Untertorbrücke on the left and the waterfront greenery of Bärengraben to the right. This bridge will take you directly towards Bärengraben, the famous Bear Pit of Bern, Switzerland. 

The view of Untertorbrücke from Nydeggbrücke.
The view of Untertorbrücke from Nydeggbrücke. Photograpy by Laura Barry

Stop 10: Bear Pit (Bärengraben), Grosser Muristalden 4

Bern is famous for its bears; one even appears on the city’s coat of arms. As the legend goes, bears were first brought to Bern, Switzerland as the spoils of war centuries ago and kept in the moat. The bears were moved to the much more hospitable Bear Pit in 1857. The Bear Pit, or Bärengraben, is a 500-square-metre green stretch of enclosure filled with trees and pools and home to three brown bears, Björk, Finn and Ursina. It’s free to visit, but the bears do hibernate in winter, so be sure to visit during warmer months if you want to catch a glimpse of them. 

Stop 11: Bern Old Town View Point, Grosser Muristalden 6

Less of a destination and more of a hidden vantage point, Muristalden is a viewpoint for Bern Old City at the top of a grassy hill further on from the bear pit. 

Stop 12: Bern Rose Garden (Rosengarten), Alter Aargauerstalden 31B

Keep walking on the incline and you’ll come across Bern’s Rose Garden. It’s a tranquil park with views over the city and a bench dedicated to Einstein – complete with a lifesize statue. There are more than 400 types of roses on display here along with a water lily pond and fountain. This space was once a cemetery until it was repurposed in 1877, opening as a public park in 1913. There’s a cafe here for refreshments before you make your way back towards the train station, or onwards to explore more of Bern, Switzerland. 

Bern Historical Museum
Bern Historical Museum. Photography by Laura Barry

11 things to do in Bern, Switzerland

Arrived in Bern, Switzerland early and have some more time on your hands? Add these attractions to your itinerary.

  • Zentrum Paul Klee Art Museum  
  • Albert Einstein House 
  • Kunstmuseum 
  • Bern Historical Museum & Einstein Museum 
  • Alpine Museum of Switzerland 
  • Museum of Communication
  • Swim in the Aare River 
  • Take the funicular to Gurten Mountain 
  • Relax at Hammam & Spa Oktogon
  • See the animals at Bern Animal Park 
  • Natural History Museum of Bern 

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