5 tips for Bern

Aerial view of Bern old town
©Peter Stein/stock.adobe.com

Among the capitals of Europe, Bern is certainly one of the most livable and also worth seeing vacation destinations. The Swiss are justifiably proud of their Bern and vacationers also realize that there is much more to see here than just the expected. However, you should know what treasures are lurking here before taking a trip to Bern.

Bern’s architecture moves across eras and purposefully follows a tasteful line. Medieval buildings such as the Bern Cathedral, Bern City Hall or the famous Time Bell Tower blend perfectly with architecture and design right up to the present day. Early on, Bern set high standards for its citizens. So you can get through the old town dry even in bad weather. The medieval arcades stretch for a whole six kilometers. Thanks to such improvements in the quality of life, Bern is today one of the most livable cities in the world. The long arcades also form the longest covered shopping arcade in the world. In the evening hours, a romantic stroll through the streets and alleys of Bern is a great way to end the day, not only for vacationers but also for the Swiss.

Tip 1: Zytglogge

It is one of the most famous sights of the city of Bern. The Zytglogge (Time Bell Tower) in the middle of the UNESCO-protected old town. There has been a tower on this spot since 1191. Originally, it was a defense tower of the city walls of medieval Bern. However, the town continued to expand, so that the former defense tower is finally found in the center of the town. At times it was used as a prison. But then, during a major fire, almost the entire town was destroyed. Surprisingly, the useless defense tower in the city center was the first building to be rebuilt in 1405. It was given a new function. A clockwork that shows the time. After the great fire, this tower was the symbol of Bern, which was built in the center to create a new self-confidence after the catastrophe. Clocks were at that time, the latest modern technology.

Astronomical clock on the medieval Zytglogge clock tower in Bern, Switzerland

Until today this building is a crowd puller. At the top of the hour, mainly tourists gather to watch the unique spectacle that the Zytglogge prepares. The gears inside the clock tower not only turn the hands of a clock, but also individual figures begin to move. Since 1405 there is the function that a bell is struck. Mechanically, and no longer as before by hand. Then in 1530 comes an installation with a golden rooster that crows three times on the hour. Also, the figure of a man holding an hourglass in his hand, which he turns around. Since 1610, below the man, some bears dance in a circle on the hour. Bears are the heraldic animals of Bern, they are particularly revered in this city. And since 1642, above the whole spectacle sits another little jester, who on the hour begins to live as if by magic, and wiggles his arms and legs merrily.

Tip 2: Bern Cathedral

The largest and most important church in Switzerland is the Bern Cathedral. The Gothic building was not completed until 1893, although the foundation stone was laid as early as 1421. The reasons for this lay in recurring architectural problems. In 1521, for example, it was recognized that the stability of the foundations was not sufficient for the planned construction of the tower to its full height. Today, the Bern Cathedral has a maximum height of 100.6 meters.

Panoramic view of Berne city, Switzerland
©Mara Zemgaliete/stock.adobe.com

The cathedral’s portal features 234 sandstone figures depicting the Last Judgment and is world famous for this. The interior of the church shines with its splendidly decorated chancel, which bears the name “Heavenly Court”. Also, impressive choir windows provide an equally interesting, as well as beautiful play of colors. Visitors are given the opportunity to climb the tower of the Bern Cathedral to a height of 64 meters. From there you get an impressive view over the River Aare, the old town and the Bernese Alps.

Tip 3: Paul Klee Center

The Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, built to plans by Renzo Piano, was officially opened on June 20, 2005.

The new cultural institution, donated by art patron Maurice Müller, focuses on Paul Klee (1879-1940), one of the most important artists of the 20th century. The center gives Paul Klee a monument with international appeal in the city where he spent a good half of his life. Of his œuvre of almost 10,000 works, a good 40 percent, or around 4,000 paintings, watercolors and drawings, as well as archival and biographical materials, have been brought together at the Zentrum Paul Klee. Previously, Klee’s estate had been stored at the Kunstmuseum Bern 23.

The Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern
© Simon Zenger | Dreamstime.com

The Zentrum Paul Klee is not a traditional art museum. It is intended to be an international center of excellence for the research, mediation and presentation of the person, life and work of Paul Klee as well as his reception. With reference to Paul Klee’s multifaceted artistic activity, the center is therefore not limited to the presentation of Klee’s pictorial work, but is also a platform for music, theater, dance, literature and interdisciplinary forms of artistic expression. A special feature is the children’s museum Creaviva in the center.

A total of 4.2 km of steel girders were required for the construction of the Paul Klee Center.

Tip 4: Käfigturm

The Käfigturm (Cage Tower), along with the Time Bell Tower (Zytglogge), forms the second western gate of the city. The tower was built from 1256 – 1344. Later, the briefly served as a prison from 1641 – 1643. This function was then retained and was only abolished in 1897. This is where the current characteristic name comes from.

The Käfigturm (Cage Tower) in Bern
© Chris Rinckes | Dreamstime.com

It was not until 1961 that the clockwork was added. In the years 1977 – 1979 the tower was completely renovated both inside and outside on the facade. In 1999, the Cage Tower was given a new purpose. It is now the seat of the Federal Political Forum. Exhibitions and other events on political topics are held here on a regular basis.

Tip 5: Bundeshaus

Another landmark building is the Bundeshaus (Federal Palace), which serves as the city’s government and parliament building and whose history of construction records three independent construction phases. The current “Bundeshaus West” was built in 1852, followed by the mirror-image “Bundeshaus East” in 1888. The completion of the new main building in 1902 also meant the completion of the entire structure. It was erected as a missing link directly between the already existing buildings and is particularly eye-catching due to its three copper domed roofs. Nowadays, the Federal House of Parliament houses both the Swiss Federal Council at the government level and the National Council and the Council of States at the parliamentary level.

Bundeshaus at Bern
© Blitzkoenig | Dreamstime.com

In front of the building is the Bundesplatz (Federal Square), which was completely redesigned by 2004. This is not only available to Bern for state receptions and rallies, but also symbolizes Swiss unity and is a popular meeting place that is often used to host various events. The main attraction of the 1800m² Bundesplatz is a water feature consisting of 26 fountains, representing the 26 cantons and half-cantons of the Swiss Confederation.