🇨🇭 Old city and the Aare

Old city and the Aare, Bern

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Old Town in Bern is well worth its place on the Unesco World Heritage List. The old town has preserved much of its medieval character and is perched on a kind of cliff surrounded on three sides by the azure waters of the Aare. Fun activities are often organised in and around the Aare, in which you can participate as a visitor, or go swimming in the fresh water yourself on a hot summer day!

The old town has many shops, restaurants, cafés, lovely bridges, fountains and the Zytglogge (clock tower).

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🇨🇭 Bundeshaus

Bundeshaus, Bern

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A visit to Switzerland’s capital calls for a visit to the Swiss parliament building. On Bundesplatz, you will find the Bundeshaus where the Swiss parliament is located. The square in front of the Bundeshaus has many fountains that you will see many children playing in on hot summer days. On Saturdays, the place is full of cosy market stalls.

Bern’s parliament has the privilege of meeting in a 64-metre-high Renaissance building, which stands head and shoulders above the city. The Bundeshaus is known for its green dome on top with the two smaller green domes on the sides. The entire building is open to visitors and is fully accessible on some days. Except on days when parliament is in session, when some rooms are closed. Besides the two chambers of parliament, the Bundeshaus is also home to the Swiss Council of State.

Inside, it is even more impressive than the dominant neo-Renaissance façade on the outside and it is full of sculpture, stained glass, wood carvings. It is a beautiful setting and should definitely not be missed on your visit to Bern.

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🇨🇭 Bärengraben

Bärengraben, Bern

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One of the city’s most iconic landmarks are the former Bärengraben or bear pits. According to a legend, the town of Bern owes its name to Duke Berthold V of Zähringen, said to have been founded in 1191 when the duke had killed a bear in this area. The new branch was then named Bern. To this day, the bear is also the city’s mascot and you can see this reflected throughout the city, literally and figuratively.

Bears have been kept in the city since 1441. It was a centuries-old tradition in Bern to keep bears trapped in a pit at this location. Fortunately, today bears are no longer held in small, concrete enclosures. A modern bear park has been built since 2009 along the banks of the river where the bears live in a giant park. The bears can roam freely among the various landscaped areas and you can see them from above.

Although the bears have a wonderful enclosure where they also have the opportunity to swim in the Aare, like most people, we are not in favour of bears in captivity. Still, it remains impressive and special to be able to admire these animals up close.  

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🇨🇭 Spotting fountains

Spotting fountains, Bern

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If you are in Bern, you are sure to come across them, the many extraordinary fountains that dot the old town. In the old town you will find 11, but the city of Bern has 102 fountains in total. The fountains all look different, consisting of the most striking and sometimes lurid images you, can imagine. The images often consist of depictions of stories from the Bible, from the Bear as a symbol of the city, to the ‘child eater’.

It is a fun way to explore the Old Town in an alternative way.

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🇨🇭 Bern Minster

Bern Minster, Bern

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Bern Minster, also known as Bern Cathedral or St Vincent Cathedral, is the largest and most important ecclesiastical building in Switzerland. You can see Bern Minster standing from a great distance and it adds character to the old town. Construction began in 1421 and took centuries before the church was fully finished. The spire was not completed until 1893.

The Cathedral consists of beautiful stained-glass windows and inside you can marvel at the many Gothic images. Through a staircase with 344 steps, you will reach the top of the tower. Once at the top, you will be well rewarded. From the top point of this gothic cathedral, you have a great view of the old town and, if you are lucky, the snow-capped mountain peaks of Bernese Oberland. Highly recommended!  

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🇨🇭 Zytglogge

Zytglogge, Bern

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The Zytglogge (clock tower) is one of Bern’s main attractions and is located in the old city centre. The 23-metre-high tower itself used to be part of the western defence wall and was once Bern’s western city gate. Because the city has grown a lot over the years, the Zytglogge now stands in the city centre. Since 1985, it has been part of the historic city centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

An ornate astronomical clock was installed in the tower in 1530. Make sure you are near the tower around the full hour, because every three minutes before the hour, various mechanical characters appear and perform a little show. You will see the madman, the knight, the fox and the bagpiper, among others. You can also visit the tower inside and learn more about its history. There are also fun and interesting guided tours.  

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