City Orientation Walk (Self Guided), Bern

Bern is the capital of Switzerland, and here you can find many fascinating attractions, such as the century clock tower, The Münster of St. Vincent, the Historical Museum of Bern and the Bundeshaus. Take this tour to explore the most notable sights in Bern; you will not be disappointed.
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City Orientation Walk Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walk
Guide Location: Switzerland » Bern (See other walking tours in Bern)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: ChristineS
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Bundeshaus (Federal Palace)
  • Bärenplatz
  • Käfigturm (Prison Tower)
  • Pfeiferbrunnen
  • Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts)
  • Franzsische Kirche
  • Kornhausforum
  • Kindlifresserbrunnen
  • Zytglogge (Clocktower)
  • Zähringerbrunnen
  • Einsteinhaus (Einstein House)
  • Berner Münster (Cathedral of Bern)
  • Old City of Bern
  • Nydeggkirche
  • Nydeggbrücke
  • The Barengraben (and BarenPark)
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 the 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
Bärenplatz

2) Bärenplatz (must see)

The Bärenplatz (Bear Plaza) in the Old City of Bern is part of the Innere Neustadt which was built during the second expansion from 1255 to 1260 and, as such, it is part of the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site that encompasses the Old City.

While in 1256, the area that became Bärenplatz was a ditch that was part of the second city wall, in 1513 the northern section was walled off to become the Bärengraben (Bear Pits). In 1578 the bridge into the Käfigturm was demolished and in the next year, the southern section was filled in. The southern part of the plaza was used for the hay and wood market, as well as for the Rossmarkt or horse market from 1668/69. When the Bärengraben were moved, the northern section was filled in and came to be known as Holzmarkt (Wood Market). The middle section was then known as Viehmarkt (Cattle Market). The plaza was first mentioned as Bärenplatz in the mid-19th century.

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.
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Käfigturm (Prison Tower)

3) Käfigturm (Prison Tower) (must see)

This medieval tower is part of the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site of the Old City of Bern and a Cultural Property of National Significance. Originally built around 1259 as the main gate of the second city wall, the tower served its purpose as a prison. The tower was demolished in 1640 and completely rebuilt immediately thereafter.

The current clock tower bell was added to the tower in 1643. The history of the bell is a bit unusual. When the town decided to add a bell, the Thirty Years War was still raging in Europe. Due to the war, it was very difficult to buy metal to cast a bell. So, the town council chose to buy a bell that had been captured near Vesoul and was being shipped as war booty to Freiburg.

Why You Should Visit:
Fairly unassuming and not appearing to attract as many tourists as the 'Zytglogge', but it's still an attractive tower and stands in photogenic surroundings.

Tip:
Just watch out for the trams when you're trying to photograph the tower.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Pfeiferbrunnen

4) Pfeiferbrunnen (must see)

Located in the Old City of Bern, this 16th-century fountain is on the list of Swiss heritage sites of national importance. The Pfeiferbrunnen was built in 1545/46 by the Swiss Renaissance sculptor Hans Gieng, based on the 1514 Albrecht Dürer woodcut of the Bagpiper. Originally, it stood in front of the Gasthaus (hotel and restaurant) zum Kreuz, which was a hotel for traveling minstrels. In 1594 the building was renamed to Gasthof zum Storchen. Which led to the alternate name for the Pfeiferbrunnen, the Storchenbrunnen. This alternative name was popular until the end of the 19th century. During the renovation of 1874, an inscription was placed on the back of the statue, and the figures on the pillar were damaged. The current basin was built in 1889. Then, in 1919 the fountain was moved to the east from its original spot between Ryffli- and Storchengässchen, to its current location in front of Spitalgasse 21.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts)

5) Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts) (must see)

Established in 1879 in Bern, Kunstmuseum is the oldest art museum in Switzerland with a permanent collection. Its holdings run from the Middle Ages to the present. It has internationally-recognized masterpieces by artists such as Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Ferdinand Hodler, Meret Oppenheim, Ricco Wassmer and Adolf Wolfli. The collection consists of over 3,000 paintings and sculptures as well as 48,000 drawings, prints, photographs, videos and films. The artwork at the museum is displayed not in chronological order, but by the theme of the piece. For example, the museum groups paintings depicting nature scenes together in one section.

Why You Should Visit:
The permanent collection is rather limited but of high quality – you can always check out the special exhibitions online and see the whole museum, however.
Labels are sparse but the staff has put books in English/German on the couches in many of the rooms that describe each painting very clearly and authoritatively.

Opening Hours:
Tue: 10am-9pm; Wed-Sun: 10am-5pm
6
Franzsische Kirche

6) Franzsische Kirche

The Französische Kirche, also known as the French Church, was built from 1270-1285 in the Romanesque style. It started as a Dominican monastic church, but since 1623, it has served as a place of worship for French-speaking Protestants. It is the oldest church in Bern and is famous for its rood screen located behind the alter, which is decorated with Dominican pictures.
7
Kornhausforum

7) Kornhausforum

Kornhausforum is an exhibition hall located in central Bern. Exhibitions held here are typically organized by artist or theme. Many forms of art are represented, including design, music, literature and photography. Exhibition programs vary and may include presentations, performances, parties, festivals etc.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Wednesday, Friday: 12 pm - 5 pm; Thursday: 12 pm - 8 pm; Saturday - Sunday: 11 am - 5 pm
8
Kindlifresserbrunnen

8) Kindlifresserbrunnen

One of the most interesting statues in Bern is Kindlifresserbrunnen, which translates to "Child Eater Fountain" or "Ogre Fountain." The fountain was built in 1545-46 on the site of a 15th-century wooden fountain. Originally known as Platzbrunnen, the current name dates back to 1666. The statue is of a seated giant or ogre swallowing a naked child. Several other children are visible in a sack at the figure's feet. 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 above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Zytglogge (Clocktower)

9) Zytglogge (Clocktower) (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
10
Zähringerbrunnen

10) Zähringerbrunnen

The Zähringerbrunnen fountain is a Swiss Cultural Property of National Significance and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City of Bern.

The Zähringerbrunnen was probably built in 1535 as a memorial to the founder of Bern, Berchtold von Zähringer. The statue is a bear in full armor, with another bear cub at his feet. The bear represents the bear, that according to legend, Berchtold shot on the Aare peninsula as he was searching for a site to build a city. The armored bear carries a shield and a banner, both emblazoned with the Zähringen lion.

The basin below the fountain bore the date 1542 until 1889 when the entire basin was replaced. At the same time the column and figure were repainted. The old basin was octagonal. On one face it had the inscription Protege Nos Domine and on another Soli Deo Gloria. Another face had the date 1542 in Roman numerals and the fourth had an inscription that was unreadable in the 19th Century. The current basin is an exact replica of the Pfeiferbrunnen's basin.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Einsteinhaus (Einstein House)

11) 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 cheap 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
12
Berner Münster (Cathedral of Bern)

12) Berner Münster (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 (for the time) 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
13
Old City of Bern

13) Old City of Bern (must see)

The medieval city center of Bern is home to Switzerland's tallest cathedral as well as other churches, bridges and a large collection of Renaissance fountains. The buildings in the Old City, dating from a variety of periods, include 15th-century arcades and 16th-century fountains. Most of the medieval town was restored in the 18th century but it has retained its original character. Beautiful and clean, not too busy and there are plenty of information plaques attached to many of the buildings giving their history. The lovely little cafes, pubs and restaurants will welcome you on one of your tour breaks.

Tip:
Explore the "gasses" – the name for the alleys between the streets. Also, make sure to go down to the river level and casually stroll along the river (there are some great restaurants you'll find, including the "zum Zahringer" – a bit pricey but special) and remember to notice the unique statues on the fountains in the main street down towards the bear pits – they all have a special place in Bern history.
Don't miss a visit to the Bundesplatz, especially Saturday mornings until noon for the farmers market. Finally, by going to the Rose Garden, you get great views over the city and wonderful roses, too – a nice place to hang out on a sunny day.
14
Nydeggkirche

14) Nydeggkirche (must see)

The Reformed Nydeggkirche (from the Bernese German expression for "Lower corner") is located on the eastern edge of the Old City of Bern, in the Nydegg section. It sits on the grounds where Duke Berchthold of Zahringen founded the city of Bern in 1191. Legend states that Berchtold would name the city after the first animal he killed during a hunting expedition, hence the name Bern, or Bear in German.

The original castle was destroyed in the mid-13th century and replaced by the Nydegg church. After the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and the Thirty Years War (1614-1648), many of the churches within Bern became Protestant congregations. When this happened, many of the ornate chapels within churches and cathedrals were removed.

The Nydegg Church is not ornately decorated; however, the outer doors along the Nydegg bridge are very beautiful with depictions of Bible passages. This is a great place to start your tours of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Old Town Bern.

Tip:
From the banks of the river, you can take a photo of the Nydegg Church and the Nydegg Bridge.
Sight description based on wikipedia
15
Nydeggbrücke

15) Nydeggbrücke

Nydeggbrücke Bridge connects the new and the old part of eastern Bern. Construction on the bridge began in 1840 and continued for three years. It was built simultaneously with another bridge – Untertorbrücke. The bridge spans 190 meters and has vertical columns supported at each end by piers.
16
The Barengraben (and BarenPark)

16) The Barengraben (and BarenPark)

The Bärengraben, is a bear pit, or enclosure housing bears, situated at the eastern edge of the old city of Bern, next to the Nydeggbrücke and the River Aar. Although still in use, the Bärengraben has been supplemented since 2009 by the adjacent BärenPark, a larger and more natural enclosure alongside the River Aar. The Bärengraben is a Swiss heritage site of national significance, and is of particular significance in Bern because the bear is a symbol of both the city and surrounding canton, and is featured in their coat of arms.

The Bear Pit, situated near the Rosen Garten, is the place to see bears (or Baren in Swiss) right in the heart of the city.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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.
Museum and Gallery Tour of Bern

Museum and Gallery Tour of Bern

Bern has an amazing array of museums and galleries to visit. Learn about the culture of the Swiss Alps. Check out what's new in contemporary art. View historical photos of Bern. Take this tour to do all this and more as you visit Bern's most famous museums and galleries.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Specialty Shops Tour of Bern

Specialty Shops Tour of Bern

Bern has an amazing range of shops where you can find great gifts and souvenirs. Take this tour to discover Bern's best wine shops, watch stores, bookstores and more.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Places of Worship Tour of Bern

Places of Worship Tour of Bern

Bern has an impressive number of worship places that span a range of architectural styles. Take this tour to visit the churches, cathedrals and synagogues where Bern residents go to pray and express their religious beliefs.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Architecture Tour of Bern

Architecture Tour of Bern

Bern has a very interesting and storied history. The city is the cultural center of Switzerland and has a wide range of architectural monuments and buildings to explore. Some of them will impress you with their unusual style, while others will amaze you when you learn how they were constructed. Take this tour to visit Bern's architectural highlights.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Fountain Walking Tour of Bern Part II

Fountain Walking Tour of Bern Part II

Bern is famous for its 16th-century fountains, many of which include impressive original statues. Today these fountains tell us stories about events and heroes from Bern’s past. Take this tour to explore the historical fountains of Bern.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Fountain Walking Tour in Bern Part I

Fountain Walking Tour in Bern Part I

Bern is famous for its 16th-century fountains, many of which include impressive original statues. Today these fountains tell us stories about events and heroes from Bern’s past. Take this tour to explore the historical fountains of Bern.

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

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