Bern Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Bern

The de facto capital of Switzerland and the eponymous German-speaking canton, Bern is commonly referred to by the Swiss as their "federal city". Built around a crook in the Aare River, it traces the origins back to the 12th century. According to the local legend, Berchtold V, Duke of Zähringen, founder of Bern, vowed to name the city after the first animal he killed on the hunt, which happened to be a bear (“Bern” in German). Consequently, the bear has been the heraldic animal of the seal and coat of arms of Bern from at least the 1220s.

In 1353, Bern joined the Swiss Confederacy, becoming one of the eight cantons of the formative period of 1353 to 1481. In 1848 it was made the Federal City (seat of the Federal Assembly) within the new Swiss federal state.

The historic old town in the heart of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Replete with historical architecture, here you can find a plethora of fascinating attractions, such as the centuries-old medieval clock tower known as Zytglogge, the Neo-Renaissance Bundeshaus (Federal Palace), numerous water fountains with beautifully decorated statues, and more. Take this self-guided tour to explore the most notable sights of Bern; you won't be disappointed!
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Bern Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Bern Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Switzerland » Bern (See other walking tours in Bern)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: ChristineS
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Bundeshaus (Federal Palace)
  • Bundesplatz (Federal Square)
  • Käfigturm (Prison Tower)
  • Marktgasse (Market Street)
  • Kindlifresserbrunnen (Child Eater Fountain)
  • Zytglogge (Clock Tower)
  • Zahringerbrunnen (Zahringen Fountain)
  • Einsteinhaus (Einstein House)
  • Berner Minster (The Cathedral of Bern)
  • Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice)
  • Nydeggkirche (Nydegg Church)
  • Untertorbrucke (Lower Gate Bridge)
  • Rosengarten (Rose Garden)
1
Bundeshaus (Federal Palace)

1) Bundeshaus (Federal Palace) (must see)

In the heart of Federal Place stands the Bundeshaus, or the Federal Building. Home of the Swiss Parliament since 1902, this beautiful building is home to the government of Switzerland. The porch on the south facing side has the most stunning views of the Alps on beautiful sunny days while the front of the building has beautiful sculptures depicting the origins of the Swiss Confederation. The Latin phrase "Confoederatio Helvetica" is also inscribed on the front of the building indicating the Confederation of Helvetian states and is also the origin of the CH as seen on license plates and internet sites.

The two chambers where the National Council and the Council of States meet are separated by the Hall of the Dome. The dome itself has an external height of 64 m, and an internal height of 33 m. The mosaic in the center represents the federal coat of arms along with the Latin motto "Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno" (One for all, and all for one), surrounded by the coat of arms of the 22 cantons that existed in 1902. The coat of arms of the Canton of Jura, created in 1979, was placed outside of the mosaic.

Why You Should Visit:
During the week, you can book a guided tour inside the building to learn more about the Swiss Federation's history and how it all started. The view over Bern from the terrace is alone worth the visit!

Tip:
The front side of the building is where you'll find a flea market and cafés, while the back side has a magnificent view perfect for sunset.
Tours run twice a day, with reservation required at least one day before. Languages are German, French, Italian, Rhaeto-Roman, English.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Bundesplatz (Federal Square)

2) Bundesplatz (Federal Square) (must see)

Bundesplatz, also known as Federal Square, is an old plaza in the center of Bern. Bundesplatz is part of the medieval city center, which is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site.

As a landmark, Bundesplatz is important to see because it is an excellent starting point for any walking tour of Switzerland's capital city. From Bundesplatz, visitors can easily view Bundeshaus, the Swiss Parliament Building that is otherwise known as the Federal Palace. It is also a short walk to such sites as Kafigturm, Hollanderturm and Kleine Schanze park.

Bundesplatz is meaningful in its own right as well. As the central location of the Old City, visitors can walk on the land that was first settled in the 12th century. Duke Berchtold V of Zahringen chose the area because it was encased on three sides by the Aare, a tributary of the Rhine. The first expansion of the city began in 1191 with several more taking place over the next 300 years.

As traffic grew in Bern, so did the need for parking. Bundesplatz was used as a parking lot from 1945 through 2003. At that time, the site was redesigned with natural stone slabs and 26 fountains that represent the 26 cantons. At dusk, a light band is illuminated that guides a curved path to the parliament building.

Visitors should consider spending an evening at Bundesplatz where they can enjoy the light show at different points throughout the year. Dancing lights are projected onto the Federal Palace three times in the evenings with a fourth performance on weekends.

Why You Should Visit:
More than just a nice place to walk around, there is usually some form of activity going on such as a festival with crafts and food being sold and, weather permitting, you can sit outside and watch the bustle.

Tips
Those who aren't in the city during the light show can still enjoy the illuminated beauty of the Federal Building and the 26 fountains.
3
Käfigturm (Prison Tower)

3) Käfigturm (Prison Tower) (must see)

The Old City of Bern has countless sights to see. Among those landmarks is Kafigturm, the medieval prison tower. This must-see spot is a short walk from Bundesplatz and only minutes from numerous historical sites, statues and fountains.

Käfigturm as it stands today was built in 1640. The original tower, which was built in 1256, was demolished as it had fallen into disrepair. The replacement was built by Joseph Plepp, Antoni Graber and Hans Stähli to hold about 60 to 70 prisoners.

The tower was used as a prison through the late 19th century. Once prisoners were no longer held in the Käfigturm the role of the tower changed. It was, at different times, used to store state archives and court records. It held a wine shop. It was a library and an exhibition center.

Käfigturm isn't the only clock tower in Bern. However, it may be the most striking. The bell dates to 1643 and still functions today. Originally, the bell was struck by hand. A mechanism for striking wasn't added until the 19th century, but it still rings as long as the clock is tightened. An inscription on the bell, which was made in eastern France, reads, "May my voice be a terror to all evil spirts."

Serving a dual purpose as a prison and a city gate, visitors can still walk through the tower or ride a trolley that travels along Marktgasse. Tourists can also enter the building, though tours often focus on the building's exterior rather than its interior.

Why You Should Visit:
To see a tower where prisoners were once held in the Old City.
To admire the historic clockwork, bell and city gate.

Tip:
If you plan your walking tour around Marktgasse you will easily reach Käfigturm. Don't be afraid to linger as the streets are made to be friendly to pedestrians.
4
Marktgasse (Market Street)

4) Marktgasse (Market Street)

The Old City of Bern is at its most lively on Marktgasse, or Market Street. This street runs from between the clock towers of Käfigturm and Zytglogge, making it a short but important street in the center of Bern.

Visitors to Marktgasse will find numerous points of interest as they walk along the paved street. Old world charm is alive in the buildings that now house retailers and restaurants. In the midst of the street tourists will see Schützenbrunnen, a 16th century fountain featuring a rifleman who carries a sword and a banner honoring the Gesellschaft zu Schützen.

Schützenbrunnen was originally a wooden fountain, which was replaced by stone and repaired many times over the course of its life. The fountain's water is said to be tested regularly so that it may remain suitable for drinking.
5
Kindlifresserbrunnen (Child Eater Fountain)

5) Kindlifresserbrunnen (Child Eater Fountain)

The Kindlifresserbrunnen, or Child Eater Fountain, can be found in the Old City of Bern at the Kornhausplatz. Like other fountains in the city, Kindlifresserbrunnen was once wooden but converted into a stone statue for longevity. The replacement, which stands today, was crafted by Hans Gieng in 1545.

The fountain depicts an ogre eating a child with a bag of children at his side. There has been speculation over the years that the ogren in question may be a representation of either a fable, myth or real person. There are several interpretations of what the statue represents. It has been suggested that the ogre is a Jew with a pointed Jewish hat or perhaps the Greek god Chronos. However, the most likely explanation is that the statue represents a figure from folklore that scares disobedient children.

The ornate Kindlifresserbrunnen is easy to spot in Bern. Tourists can be found snapping photos of the fountain 24 hours a day in the midst of the walking path of the Old City. Though Bern has no shortage of beautiful fountains, the Child Eater is arguably the most grotesque and the most memorable.
6
Zytglogge (Clock Tower)

6) Zytglogge (Clock Tower) (must see)

Built in the early 13th century as a gate tower for the city's western fortifications, Zytglogge has served over the years as a guard tower, prison, clock tower, center of urban life and civic memorial. Despite the many renovations it has undergone in its 800 years of existence, Zytglogge is one of Bern's most recognizable symbols and, along with its 15th-century astronomical clock, a major tourist attraction.

Like any similar clock throughout Europe, the one at Zytglogge has moving pieces that go through a small routine every hour. Father time flips the hourglass, the carpenter strikes the hammer on the bell, and several other small animations make their hourly dance; however, this dance does not start at the top of the hour! In order to see the animations, make sure you arrive at least five minutes before the hour as the dance starts four minutes prior and a crowd will gather.

Why You Should Visit:
To experience a wonderful example of the Swiss tradition of timekeeping – how often do you see an 800-year-old clock?

Tip:
The animation is best seen during the higher numbered hours (e.g. 12 at noon), but keep in mind that mass transit (buses & streetcars) does not stop during that time so beware of traffic at the intersection.
There's also a daily tour (except in winter months) at 2:30pm provided in English, German and French – pre-book it online! They take you up inside the tower to the different levels and explain the history and inner working – very interesting!
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Zahringerbrunnen (Zahringen Fountain)

7) Zahringerbrunnen (Zahringen Fountain)

It should not surprise anyone that there is a fountain dedicated to the founder of Bern, Berchtold von Zahringer.

The Zahringerbrunnen (Zahringen Fountain) was built in 1535 as a memorial to Berchtold von Zahringer. According to legend, Zahringer was searching for a site to build a city and said he would name the city after the first animal he killed during a hunting expedition. He killed a bear on the Aare peninsula where he later built the city and named it Bern, or Bear in German.

The statue is a bear in full armor, with another bear cub at his feet. The armored bear carries a shield and a banner, both emblazoned with the Zahringen lion.

The basin below the fountain bore the date 1542 until 1889. 1889 was the year when the entire basin was replaced, and the column and figure were repainted. The current basin is an exact replica of basin under Pfeiferbrunnen (Bagpiper Fountain).
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Einsteinhaus (Einstein House)

8) Einsteinhaus (Einstein House) (must see)

Located on Kramgasse No. 49 in Bern, the Einsteinhaus (Einstein House) is a museum and a former residence of Albert Einstein. A flat on the second floor of the house was occupied by Einstein, his wife Mileva Marić, and their son Hans Einstein from 1903 to 1905. The Annus Mirabilis papers, which presented Einstein's theory of relativity and contributed substantially to the foundation of modern physics, were written here and published in the Annalen der Physik. During this time Einstein worked at the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property.

The living conditions of Einstein and his family are shown accurately in the apartment on the second floor with furniture from that time. Einstein's biography and his life's work are presented on the third floor. A smaller permanent exhibition is located at the Bern Historical Museum.

Why You Should Visit:
If you don't expect huge, interactive exhibitions, this tiny museum is a very enjoyable, informative visit – also inexpensive and not crowded.
There is also a small coffee shop by the same name on street level which is quite convenient for a break in the city walk.

Tip:
Be sure to watch the 20-min video upstairs as it supplements the rear of the exhibits. Then there's a lot of reading – but it's quite fascinating.
This place is not at all accessible for anybody with any difficulty walking – the stairs are spiraled but difficult to walk up and down.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Berner Minster (The Cathedral of Bern)

9) Berner Minster (The Cathedral of Bern) (must see)

The Münster of Bern is a Swiss Reformed cathedral (or minster) located in the Old City of Bern. Built in the Gothic style, its construction started in 1421 although its tower, with a height of 100.6 m (330 ft), was only completed in 1893. It is the tallest cathedral in Switzerland and is a Cultural Property of National Significance.

The Münster was built by the city of Bern as a symbol of the growing power of this city-state. The interior was therefore designed to awe the citizens as well as foreign visitors. The central nave was built in a lacy gothic style with enormous stained glass windows and numerous altars in side chapels. The Gothic style allowed a taller central nave and larger windows than had been possible before, creating an impressive and light and airy structure.

The most beautiful aspect of the Münster is the main portal. 47 large free-standing statues and 170 smaller figures depict the Last Judgement where the righteous are separated from the wicked. This is perhaps the best depiction of the Last Judgement in all of Europe. Interestingly enough, the sculptures of the Last Judgement were the only statues in the Minster to survive the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation.

Tip:
If you are so inclined on a beautiful day, climb the steeple. There is a charge for access but if the weather is nice, you get a very nice view of Bern and the Alps. Be cautious of your time as you can be right next to the ten-ton bell (the largest in the whole of Switzerland) when it rings at 6pm. While it is possible to stand near the bells when they are rung, it is necessary to cover ears to prevent hearing damage.

Opening Hours:
[Church] Mon-Sat: 10am-5pm (Apr 10-Oct 20); Sun: 11:30am-5pm (Apr 26-Oct 22) // Mon-Fri: 12-4pm (Oct 21-Apr 9); Sun: 11:30am-4pm (Oct 23-Apr 25)
[Steeple] Mon-Sat: 10am-4:30pm (Apr 10-Oct 20); Sun: 11:30am-4:30pm (Apr 26-Oct 22) // Mon-Fri: 12-3:30pm (Oct 21-Apr 9); Sun: 11:30am-3:30pm (Oct 23-Apr 25)
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice)

10) Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice) (must see)

In a city of over one hundred fountains, the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen ("Fountain of Justice") in the Old City of Bern is most definitely one to see. It is the only Bernese fountain to retain all of its original design elements, and it is listed as a cultural heritage site of national significance.

Due to Hans Gieng's famous statue of Lady Justice, the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen surpasses all other Bernese fountains in artistic merit. The iconic figure was copied throughout Switzerland up until the middle of the 17th century. At the feet of Justice, four smaller busts crowd the pedestal: a Pope, an Emperor, a Sultan and a Schultheiss, whose golden chain of office is believed to have originally borne the Bernese arms. All figures have closed their eyes as in submission. They represent the Four Earthly Powers, the four forms of government according to Renaissance humanism: theocracy (the Pope), monarchy (the Emperor), autocracy (the Sultan) and the republic (the Schultheiss).

The statue represents the supremacy of Justice over all Earthly authorities; a variant of the medieval pictorial formula of virtue defeating vice. Divine Justice was a frequent element of political discourse in Reformation-era Bern. In the view of the reformators, doing justice according to God's word was the highest duty of all authority, superseding feudal rights. Such arguments were used, among others, to justify Bern's conquest of Vaud in 1536 from the dukes of Savoy.

While the sword and scales are traditional attributes of Lady Justice, the Bernese statue's blindfold is a novelty; only later did it become a common element in personifications of Justice and a general symbol for the principle of equality before the law. The blindfold implies that justice ought to be done without respect to rank or standing; that a just verdict is arrived at through introspection rather than with a view to outward looks. Gieng's Lady Justice is a symbol of republican justice and was a forceful public reminder of the Bernese Republic's authority through law.
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Nydeggkirche (Nydegg Church)

11) Nydeggkirche (Nydegg Church)

At the eastern edge of the Old City of Bern lies Nydeggkirche, or the Nydegg Church. This church was built in 1341 and completed in 1346. The original tower replaced an old fortress in the city, but it was refurbished over the years once it was sanctified to the Mary Magdalene Brotherhood. A tower and new nave were added in the late 15th and early 16th centuries to complete its renovation.

Nydeggkirche suffered its share of losses. The Protestant reformation caused the church to be used as a warehouse for a brief time. A fire caused significant damage to the bell tower, roof and clockwork. Luckily, repairs were possible and the church has been in service for more than 400 years.

Today, the Nydeggkirche is a part of the Reformed Churches of the Canton Bern-Jura-Solothurn. Visitors are welcome to take part in services or to admire the Gothic architecture. They may also wish to view the church to pay homage to one of the first European churches to perform a same-sex union.

Tip:
From the banks of the river, you can take a photo of the Nydegg Church and the Nydegg Bridge.
12
Untertorbrucke (Lower Gate Bridge)

12) Untertorbrucke (Lower Gate Bridge)

Untertorbrücke (Lower Gate Bridge) is a historic stone arch bridge connecting the Old City to the eastern bank of Aare river. Initially built in 1256, it is the oldest of Bern's Aare bridges and was the city's only bridge up until the middle of the 19th century. For centuries, the bridge served as a vital link between Bern and the territory east of the Aare.

The need for a river crossing became urgent soon after the founding of Bern in 1191. The young city-state's first attempt at building a wooden bridge over the Aare triggered a war with Count Hartmann of the powerful House of Kyburg that controlled the territory east of the Aare. Thanks to a peace mediated by Savoy, the first Untertorbrücke could be completed in 1256. In 1288, it survived a heavy attack during King Rudolph of Habsburg's second siege of Bern.

The bridge was built from oak wood and is believed to have been at least partially covered. It was protected by a fortified tower to the east, carried a guard house in its center and may also have been built over with other houses or shacks.

A 1460 flood of the Aare caused severe damage to the bridge, and the city government decided to rebuild it in stone, requesting the services of a work master from Zürich who had then recently completed a bridge over the Limmat in Baden. The piers appear to have been complete and the bridge largely usable by March 1467, when the bridge chapel was consecrated. The construction was then halted because of massive cost overruns and intermittent wars. It resumed in 1484–87 with the completion of the fortifications, the bridgehead drawbridge and the access roads.

Up until the 1750s, the bridge's fortifications were repeatedly improved. The parapet was strengthened with crenellated stone walls in 1517, and the northern parapet was expanded to a covered battlement with a double layer of embrasures in 1625–30.

In the 18th century, the medieval fortifications of the Untertorbrücke had lost their military value and increasingly became an obstacle to traffic. In 1757, the bridge was thoroughly renovated and a competition was held for a remodeling of the bridge and its surroundings. The city councils, however, rejected all the fanciful plans that were submitted and settled on a cheaper option: all fortifications, including battlements and pillar gates, were removed and new decorative gates were built at the bridgeheads, including a baroque triumphal arch at the eastern end.

From 1818 on, more changes were made to the bridge's superstructure. The sandstone parapets were replaced with iron railings, the inner gate (now isolated) was removed and the eastern moat was filled with earth, obviating the outer drawbridge. The last substantial change to the bridge's appearance was made in 1864, when the eastern gate was pulled down because it inconvenienced the residents of the medieval guard tower, the Felsenburg, which had since been converted for residential purposes.

In its current form, the bridge is reduced to the medieval construction core, with no traces of the once extensive system of fortifications or imposing baroque gates.

Today no longer a bridge with active usage, with grace and dignity, Untertorbrucke silently serves as a witness of Bern's development and progress.
Sight description based on wikipedia
13
Rosengarten (Rose Garden)

13) Rosengarten (Rose Garden) (must see)

Any lover of the great outdoors should not miss Rosengarten, Bern's beautiful Rose Garden. It is worth a trip to the Swiss city just to see the more than 400 varities of roses and irises that populate the park.

In additional to roses, there are over 20 varieties of rhododendrons. There is also a water lily pond, Japanese cherry trees and 12 linden trees.

In addition to the flora, the park has space for lounging, walking or simply enjoying the city. Visitors can sit on park benches, read at the pavilion and attached library, explore the playground or even build a sandcastle. Rosengarten offers excellent views of Bern, which makes it the perfect spot for photographers.

Tourists can also stop to eat at the Rosengarten restaurant or have a picnic lunch within the garden itself while spying the banks of the Aare or admiring one of the park's statues. A recent tribute to Albert Einstein is one such statue that is often appreciated by visitors.

This park was turned into a recreational public space in 1913. Prior to that, it served as a cemetery from 1765 to 1877.

Why You Should Visit
To get some of the best views of Bern
To give children a safe and open place to run and play

Tips
Visitors can Rosengarten any time of the year. While the roses bloom in the summer months, changing fall leaves and spring cherry blossoms are beautiful sights. Even the winter offers views that cannot be replicated anywhere else in Bern.

Walking Tours in Bern, Switzerland

Create Your Own Walk in Bern

Create Your Own Walk in Bern

Creating your own self-guided walk in Bern is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Bern's Historical Churches

Bern's Historical Churches

Bern has an impressive number of historical churches that span several centuries, each featuring a unique architectural style, beautiful paintings and interior decorations. Take this self guided walking tour to visit the most important historical churches and cathedrals where Bern residents go to pray and express their religious beliefs.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Fountains and Statues Walking Tour

Fountains and Statues Walking Tour

With over 100 public fountains in its Old City alone, Bern has a well-deserved reputation as the "City of Fountains". During the medieval time, the local life revolved around fountains since they provided water to residents and served as public places for news exchange and social gatherings.

Bernese used to decorate their fountains and built elaborate statues in the middle of them....  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles

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