Switzerland is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Nevertheless it is not yet known as a destination for citytrips. Most tourists flock to the beautiful and lavish resorts in the high Alps for mountain walking in summer and great skiing in winter. But the country has a few additional hidden gems: its cities. Swiss business capital Zürich and United Nations city Geneva are among the most visited, mostly by business travelers. But from a cultural and historic point of view you should definitely consider visiting the ‘other’ cities in this small mountain country. These gems include Luzern, Basel and the even lesser known capital city of Bern.
Small enough for a daytrip from the nearby Interlaken-Jungfrau tourist region, and big enough for a nice long weekend, Bern boasts several great sites within its Unesco World Heritage-listed old city. The Unesco listing refers to Bern as: “Founded in the 12th century on a hill site surrounded by the Aare River, Bern developed over the centuries in line with a an exceptionally coherent planning concept. 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”. I visited this elegant city in the summer of 2013. Please join me on a virtual tour:
One of the stories on the origin of the name ‘Bern’ stems from the founder of the city, who around 1190 said he would name the city after the first animal he would meet on one of his hunting trips. This turned out to be a bear. The Bärengraben bearpit in the middle of the city was mentioned as early as in 1440.
Until today several brown bears roam the large pit, forming a great visitor attraction and a great start of your visit to Old Town Bern.
Even simple kiosks are beautifully maintained and perfectly fit the old city style. This is Switzerland!
The cold blue waters of the Aare river surround the hill on which the old city is built. A highly defendable place. Although very close to the high peaks of the Alps, Bern is situated in a landscape of green hills.
The Nydeggbrücke bridge leads from Bärengraben into the old city. As one of the highest bridges in the city it offers great views over the Aare river and the city.
Kramgasse is one of old town’s main streets. The 13th century ‘Zytglogge’ clocktower at the end of the street marks the heart of the city. Medieval arcades line both sides of this beautifully decorated street, featuring luxury shops.
These arcades line many of the streets in the old city. In fact, Bern has 6 kilometers of these arcades, making it one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe. This is also a shopping destination!
The Swiss national and the Bern provincial flag are visible everywhere. The Swiss are clearly proud of their country and their highly independent cantons.
The May-Haus in the Münstergasse was built in 1514, by a rich Bernese tradesman, who is said to have brought the first bear into the city. This house is just one of many as-new medieval houses that line the streets of city center.
The Holländerturm on Waisenhausplatz is thought to have been part of the 1255-1260 city walls. It was later converted to a house.
The Bärenplatz is a large market square lined with nice restaurants. The square ends at the dome of the Swiss national parliament building on Bundesplatz.
Next to the 15th century Cathedral, the Münsterplatform offers a beautiful view over the river and down to the streets at the bottom of the steep slopes of city center. There is an old elevator that you can take down to the riverside.
Bern remains a hidden gem to most visitors to Switzerland. Unesco has discovered its true beauty a while ago and the Bernese are proud of this listing among the world most historically relevant cities. It deserves to be on every traveler’s bucket list!