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Bern, Switzerland - 7 things to see and do

In co-operation with Switzerland Tourism

Did you think the capital of Switzerland is called Zurich? Or maybe Geneva? If so, you're not alone! Many tourists coming to Bern are surprised to hear that this lovely little town is the capital of Switzerland, but that's exactly what it is. Here we took a refreshing swim in the river Aare, which surrounds almost the entire city.

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Bern is the capital of Switzerland!

Bern is the fourth largest city in Switzerland, after Zurich, Geneva and Basel. Perhaps it's not surprising that many people think one of the larger cities is the capital of Switzerland, but that's not the case. The country's government building is located in Bern.

Schweiz regering

Where is Bern in Switzerland?

Bern is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and most people living here speak Swiss German. There is also a French-speaking part of the city, which explains why the police here are called 'Police' (French) instead of 'Polizei' (German). It's simply a concession to the French-speaking part of the city's population!

Bern

It was raining when we arrived in Bern, so the city was not really showing its best side. Nevertheless, we experienced this city as extremely green. If the government cuts down a tree, they have to plant a new one to replace it. Good, isn't it? We also saw many houses with grass-covered roofs. This should be the case in more cities!

Bern Switzerland

1. Experience 100 fountains

Bern in Switzerland is truly the city of fountains! Throughout the city there are around 100 fountains, 11 of which are decorated in different ways. The water is drinkable in all fountains, so you don't need to buy water when you visit Bern. Bring a bottle instead and fill it up!

Bern fontän
One of the 11 decorated fountains in the city
Bern fontäner
The water in the fountains is perfectly drinkable!

2. look into Bern's clock tower - Zytglogge

One of the most fascinating buildings in Bern is the city's clock tower, the Zytglogge. Every hour on the hour, the clock strikes, while the carillon figures move according to predetermined rules. The best time to watch the spectacle is at 12 o'clock, when there is a bit more going on than at the other times.

Bern klocktorn
Bern klockspel

The machinery behind it was built in 1530, by a local man called Kasper. The amazing thing is that this machine still works! Every day the machinery has to be cranked up manually, requiring about 15 minutes of heavy physical cranking to get a 200kg weight to the top.

In fact, it's the world's oldest still functioning, manually operated carillon. Isn't that fascinating? Imagine if machines produced today had a 500-year shelf life! If you visit Bern, there are guided tours to visit the clock tower.

Bern klocktorn
The machinery moves constantly, with an almost meditative sound.

3. Review Bern from the bell tower

As well as being interesting to see the machinery in the bell tower, the top offers great views of the city. The tall church tower you see rising is the Basilica of Bern Minster. This is Switzerland's tallest church and if you walk the 312 steps to the top you may get an even more magnificent view. We were on this day too tired, so we settled for the view from the bell tower ...

Bern utsikt
Schweiz huvudstad

4. visit the Albert Einstein house

Another attraction in Bern is Albert Einstein's housewhere Albert lived with his wife Mileva between 1903 and 1905. In fact, it was here that he developed the theory of relativity! You can see the rooms where the couple lived, and there is also a film about Einstein.

Einsteins hus
Einsteins hem
Albert Einstein's home in the Swiss capital

5. Take part in The Rose Garden

Another place to visit in Bern is The Rose Garden, located on a hill in the city. We weren't insanely impressed by the roses, but this is a quiet part of town, with a restaurant and a nice view of the houses and river below.

WIFI.se
Rosenparken
Schweiz Bern

At Rosenparken there is also a park bench with a statue of Albert Einstein. We did like many other tourists and took the classic sit-next-to-Einstein photo!

Einstein parkbänk

6. Swimming in the River Aare

The city of Bern is surrounded on three sides by the River Aare, which in the past provided excellent protection from enemies. Today the river is not as important in this respect, but the people of Bern love their river. Swimming in the river is very popular with the locals and you can also go rafting, taking the train a few stations to Uttigen and then rafting back to Bern.

Aare river

We met a guide who took us for a swim in the river Aare. This was a refreshing and interesting experience! The river is fast-moving, so you have to know where to swim and where to get out of the river again.

You jump in at one point and then float with the currents of the river, without actually having to swim, until you reach a ladder where you can get out. You then walk back to where you left your clothes. This is something Bern residents do all the time, both on their days off and perhaps on their lunch break.

Simma i floden Aare
Swimming through the river Aare, taken with a Gopro camera from the water.

7. stay at Camping TCS Bern-Eymatt

When we visited Bern we stayed at camping TCS Bern-Eymatt. This is a large and well-run campsite with excellent pitches, fresh service buildings, good WiFi and a restaurant. The campsite is located right next to the river, and there is, among other things, the possibility of renting stand up paddle boards. Getting to Bern by bus is super easy!

Camping i Bern
Bern camping
The kayak club launches its kayaks in the river Aare, outside the campsite.

Videos from Bern, Switzerland

Peter put together two films from our visit to Bern. Feel free to check them out!

See more in Switzerland

Are you able to travel around and see more in Switzerland? Here are three great places not too far from Bern:

  • Interlaken is less than an hour's drive from Bern and offers lakes and beautiful scenery.
  • Lucerne is a beautiful city, where you can also experience the dramatic Mount Pilatus. Less than two hours from Bern.
  • Gruyere is just over an hour away and here you'll find both a charming town and great cheese.
All our top tips about Switzerland. Click on the image!

Facts about Bern

  • Country: Switzerland
  • Language: The official language of Berne is German, but Bernese, the local variant of Swiss German, is the actual local language.
  • Currency: Schweizerfranc
  • Price mode: More expensive than Sweden
  • Residents: Bern ca 133 000 (2017)
  • Getting around: Walk, cycle or tram
  • Time difference: None
  • Emergency number: 112
  • Religion: Christianity
  • El: Like Sweden
  • Water: Drinking beard
  • Tourist OfficeAmthausgasse 4

Travelling to Bern

  • Flight: SAS from Arlanda Airport to Zurich direct takes about 2 h 30 min. Swiss air from Landvetter in Gothenburg to Zurich takes about 2 hours.
  • Car: Rent a car at Zurich Airport and drive via the A1, it takes 1 hour 21 minutes and is 128 km.
  • Local trains: From Zurich airport to Bern takes 1h 13 min.

Restaurants

  • Gmüesgarte on Marktgasse for fast food when you're in a hurry but still want something tasty.
  • We haven't visited the Kornhauskeller at Kornhausplatz 18, but our guide says it's good.
  • Restaurant VUE at Kochergasse 3-5 comes highly recommended.

Accommodation

  • Booking.com has many options in different price ranges.
  • Kreuz Bern city hotel at Zeughausgasse 41
  • Hotel baren am Bundesplatz at Schauplatzgasse 4 is a mid-range hotel.

Camping

  • Camping TCS Bern-Eymatt at Wohlenstrasse 62c. The bus stop is 200 metres from the campsite and it takes 12 minutes to reach the city centre.

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