Bern’s cobbled streets and red-roofed houses on the banks of the Aare River give it a small-town charm.
Its UNESCO-listed old town has a medieval look and feel, but the stylish cafes and designer shops hidden in its pretty arcades offer a very modern distraction. With brilliant museums, a dynamic nightlife and 100 striking – sometimes macabre – fountains make it a must-explore city.
Compact and very walkable, Bern has many of its biggest sights within a 30-minute stroll. But there are other ways for getting around, too.
Bern has an extensive public transport network with its trams, trains and buses. Get your tickets in the Libero shop at the main train station or from machines at stops.
If you’re staying overnight visitors, you’ll get a Bern Ticket when you check-in, giving you free travel on LIBERO-operated trains, buses and trams in zones 100/101, as well as on the Marzilibahn and Gurten funiculars and the lift to Bern’s cathedral platform.
Bern’s taxi cabs have a high per-kilometre price, so they aren’t the most affordable way of getting around. Legally, drivers must display their tariff inside and outside the car.
There are a few places to hire a car at Bern Airport, and you can pick one up at the main train station, too. You’ll find it easy to find parking around the city, but parts of the old town are car-free.
If you’re in Bern between May and October, you can pick up a bike for four free hours from Bern rollt near the station.
Many of Bern’s attractions are in two areas of town, Altstadt and Kirchenfeld, making it easy to pack in lots of sightseeing in just a few hours.
Altstadt - For atmosphere
Surrounded by the banks of the Aare River, Bern’s UNESCO-listed Altstadt, the old town, oozes Medieval character. But, the sandstone buildings with their arcaded façades aren’t actually original. Most of the old town was ravaged by fire in 1405, so what you see today is a town rebuilt, a pretty replica mimicking the style and layout of the original town.
Adding beauty and the bizarre to everyday life, 16th-century artists created statues around town fountains, and today, you can spend a good few hours exploring over 100 fountains dotted around the old town. Should the weather take a turn, you can visit Switzerland’s tallest cathedral, erected in Altstadt in 1893, or potter around the shops in nearly four miles (6km) of 500-year-old arcades.
Kirchenfeld - For history
You could easily fill an entire day visiting Kirchenfeld’s attractions as it’s home to most of Bern’s museums. From the old town, cross the Kirchenfeld Bridge, and you’ll be greeted almost immediately by the castle-like Bern Historical Museum. Within its turrets and towers is a vast collection of objects stretching from the Stone Age to now. You’ll also find the Einstein Museum – and be able to snap a selfie with a statue of the man himself.
Another short walk will land you at the Swiss Alps Museum, the Natural History Museum or the Museum of Communication. Hire a bike or wander further through the tranquil neighbourhood, past the grand buildings of international embassies and consulates, to the Tierpark Dählhölzli, the city’s zoo and aquarium.
Currency: Swiss Francs (CHF)
Time zone: Central European Time (CET)
Languages: Bernese German or German are most common, but French, Italian and Romansh also spoken.