The Old City of Bern is one of 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in Switzerland. Journey with us as we expand our curiosity and discover this unassuming medieval city founded in 1191 that is a cultural gem bustling with modern activity. Go beyond the guide books and discover Bern for yourself. The city is an official UNESCO World Heritage property since 1983 and here are our Top 5 sights to explore in Bern beyond the Clock Tower (Zytglogge) and Prison Tower (Käfigturm):
The main boulevards of Bern are filled with 6 kilometers of arcades or “Lauben” and are considered one of Europe’s longest covered shopping promenades. Stroll past traditional and modern boutiques filled with everything from restaurants and delicatessens to clothing. A few of our favorites include: The Einstein Cafe (located in Albert Einstein’s old apartment!), Chäsbueb Specialty Cheese Shop, Confisserie-Tschirren for original Bernese chocolate, Terravigna for local wines, Restaurant Kornhauskeller, and you cannot leave Bern without some original Berner Mandelbärli.
With over 100 bourgeoisie fountains to admire while refilling your water bottle, such as the joyful bagpiper at Spitalgasse, or beautiful Justice fountain at Gerechtigskeitsgasse… it is the “Child Eater” at Kornhausplatz that caught our attention. Almost too intriguing to avoid getting a closer look, we just could not understand why the artist felt compelled to design a fountain with an ogre eating babies…there are a few answers explored here. The city’s oldest display of water art, the Len Fountain “Lenbrunnen” is only accessible as part of a guided tour.
You may have expected us to highlight Bern’s most iconic Cathedral, the Münster, which is an impressive example of Late Gothic architecture and Switzerland’s largest ecclesiastical building (shown in the photos below)…the depiction of the Last Judgement at the entrance is worth a close look. However, it was the Heiliggeistkirche, just steps away from the Hauptbahnhof with it’s Bernese Baroque interior. The pastel interior paintings on the barrel vaulted ceiling are cheerful, dare we say the appearance reminded us of a delightful Fabergé egg. It was impressive to see their dedication to featuring the works of local artists, and to helping the city’s poor residents with a dignified soup kitchen.
Converted cellars bring the historic charm of this city to life. Where the sidewalk ends, there is an inviting stairwell leading you underground to discover bars, cultural venues and specialty shops. Considered one of Bern’s most unique features, the old storage cellars built in the Middle Ages are now home to some of the most hip urban fashion boutiques, art galleries and wine shops…these fab cellars are worth an article dedicated entirely to them!
The Bern Bears and River Aare
Say hello to the Bern Bears at the Bärengraben before heading to the restaurant and brewery, Altes Tramdepot. The legend goes, the city founders wanted to name the city after the first animal they killed…which ended up being a hare. These men did not want to be called along the likes of “Rabbit City” so they went out and captured a bear and placed him in the moat surrounding the city. The moats were expanded and moved numerous times, but the bears always remained a focal point of the this unique city which feels as though it is on an island protected within a loop in the River Aare. During summer, bring your swimsuit and towel to enjoy one of Switzerland’s cleanest rivers where even motor boating is not allowed…if you need another reason to jump in just watch this great instructional video created by Swiss Watching.
Zuri Girl Tip: If you would like to book a unique and affordable hotel in Bern, we really enjoyed the Alpenblick*** in the Breitenrain residential district. Their urban bee farm was cool, the breakfast was exceptional and it was just a short tram ride into the city center.
This article was created in collaboration with World Heritage Experience Switzerland to highlight Switzerland’s UNESCO sites where, “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.”
Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List in Switzerland and the date of their inscription:
World Heritage Experience Switzerland: Cultural & Natural Sites
Bern: Old City (1983)
St. Gallen: Abbey of St Gall (1983)
Graubünden: Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair (1983)
Neuchâtel: La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning (2009)
Vaud: Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces (2007)
Various Locations: Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps (2011)
Graubünden: Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes (2008)
Various Locations: The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement (2016)
Ticino: Monte San Giorgio (2003)
Bern-Valais: Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch (2001)
Glarus-Graubünden-St. Gallen: Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona (2008)