The origins of Bern date back to the 12th century, and much of the city’s medieval architecture remains well-preserved today, giving the Swiss capital the feeling of a lovely provincial town. Terraced arcades and buildings line the curving and cobbled streets, creating a captivating city that beautifully mixes the past and the present and earned the distinction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
The Altstadt, or “Old Town,” of Bern is the city’s historical heart. After fires destroyed most of the original structures, locals rebuilt the area using sandstone, and the neighborhood still exudes a medieval appeal throughout its arcaded, cobblestone streets. The Aare River wraps around three sides of the Old Town, and its layout is nearly the same as it was in the 12th century. The highlight of the area is the Munster of Bern, a Protestant Gothic Cathedral that sits on the peninsula’s south side. The landmark is hard to miss because it boasts the tallest bell tower in Switzerland, reaching over 300 feet. The cathedral’s exterior portals, marked with hundreds of detailed sculptures, are more impressive than the fairly empty interior, but a visit inside is worth it to see the colorful stained glass windows.
The Old Town is also home to the Federal Palace, used by both the Federal Assembly of Switzerland and the Swiss Federal Council, a landmark medieval clock tower and the city’s oldest bridge. Constructed in 1256, the bridge is still crossed by foot traffic and offers a beautiful view of the Old Town.
The areas of Bern outside of the Old Town are no less historic or interesting. The world’s most famous scientist, Albert Einstein, lived in the city for two years before developing his special theory of relativity there in 1905. Visitors can explore his house, situated in the humble apartment where he stayed from 1903 to 1905. Multimedia displays explain his general equation while a biographical film offers insight to his fascinating life story.
The museum district of Kirchenfeld is just south of the Old Town, marked by quiet, tree-lined streets and unexpected vistas. After its construction in 1881, the area filled with consulates, embassies and many remarkable museums. The Bern History Museum, for instance, is packed with an exquisite collection of lavish church treasures, bold tapestries, magnificent silver, armor and arms. The Bern Art Museum is loaded with contemporary masterpieces from artists like Christo, Grandma Moses, Jasper Johns, Wassily Kandinsky and more. Kirchenfeld even has an entire museum dedicated to the Swiss Alps. Visitors to the Swiss Alpine Museum leave with an appreciation for Swiss tenacity after viewing exhibits detailing mountain life and the country’s relationship with the range.
Don’t leave the city without sampling the Bernerplatte, the capital’s most famous dish. Hearty and wonderfully flavorful, the dish is a mishmash of salt pork, smoked bacon, broth, green beans, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, beef tongue and pork rinds. You can also find more refined gastronomic delicacies throughout the city at its many international restaurants.
The Bernese love a good party, and nights are often spent at sidewalk bars or in lively clubs where DJs spin the latest hits and locals dance until the wee hours. Do not be surprised if the sophisticated restaurant you had dinner at transforms into a rollicking bar as the sun sets and the locals come out to play. The art scene is also well-developed, and visitors can attend everything from fine operas and symphony concerts to contemporary theater performances within the city.
Bern Geographical Location
Bern is located in western central Switzerland on the Aare River.
The approximate population of Bern is 125,000 and is the fourth most populated city in Switzerland.
Switzerland has four national languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh. Romansh is not considered an official language and is spoken by the smallest population while the majority of Swiss speak German.
Bern Predominant Religion
- 42% Roman Catholic
- 35% Protestant
- 11% None
- 6% Other
- 4% Muslim
- 2% Orthodox
There is no official religion in Switzerland although some religious groups are permitted to officially tax their members.
The official currency of Switzerland is the Swiss Franc.
Bern experiences moderate rainfall throughout the year and cool temperatures. The winter can become quite cold but summers generally don’t become hot.
Bern Main Attractions
- Clock Tower (Zeitglockenturm)
- Old Town
- Bear Pits and Parks
Other Attractions in Bern
- Prison Tower (Kafigturm)
- Berne Historical Museum
- Albert Einstein’s Home