Bern, Switzerland is one of the (if not the) best preserved medieval cities in the world. Centered on a peninsula on the River Aare, Bern is full of historic sites that range from the 12th century to the present day. Bern is where Albert Einstein lived as his career was starting, it's where the wonderful Toblerone chocolate is made, and it's known as the home of Emmental cheese, which you probably know as Swiss Cheese.
The city proper, or Bundesstadt, has a population of almost 123,000 and is Switzerland's fourth most populous city. The Bern metro area, including 43 municipalities, has a population of nearly 344,000. It is the capital of the Canton of Bern, and the capital of Switzerland, where the functions of the federal government are carried out.
German, specifically the dialect of Swiss German, is the official language of Bern. The city is home to two mountains: Gurten, 858 meters high, and the Bantiger, 947 meters high. Over the centuries as the city began outgrowing the peninsula on the Aare, many bridges across the river were constructed. Through several centuries, and in an array of architectural styles, the bridges themselves are attractions. Bern's oldest bridge is in the eastern part of old town. the Untertorbrucke was originally constructed between 1451 and 1489.
Bern is hilly, with dozens of changes in altitude between the quarters on the river and the ones higher up. Of the 52 square kilometers that make up Bern, 20% of the land is agricultural. 33.5% is forested. 44.2% is settled with buildings and roads, and the remaining 2.1% consists of rivers or glaciers. In Bern, almost 73% of the population have finished either the upper secondary education, which is not mandatory, or additional higher education at a university. The unemployment rate in Bern tends to remain very low.
If you are visiting Bern, you should have no trouble getting around the city. The public transit service, Bernmobil, buses, trams, and a free bike service are some of your options. And Bern is a delightful city to explore on foot. The Swiss capital is filled with some of the most beautiful medieval architecture on earth. The ancient buildings of sandstone, with bay windows and gables, the arcades, beautiful fountains and towers preserve the look of the Bern of 1200s, soon after the city was founded. Because of its brilliant city layout and its well-executed preservation efforts, in 1983 Bern became one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.
Cultural offerings abound, such as the Historical Museum, the Bern Museum of Fine Arts, the Einstein House, the Paul Klee Center, and the House of Parliament. Just a few paces from the main station, the House of Parliament looms over the city. On most days it is open to the public, who are permitted to view the proceedings of parliament. Bern also is home to two excellent examples of 18th century Protestant church architecture, with the Munster-Cathedral and the Heiliggeist-Kirche. Munster-Terrasse, which is the square in front of Munster-Cathedral, is one of many popular meeting places in the city.
Just before ringing out the hour, the Clock Tower in Bern has puppets that pop out and perform. The Swiss Alpine Museum shows visitors the history of the Alps, and the Paul Klee Center has the largest collection in the world of Klee's 20th century artwork. And Bern is as known for the glimmering river, the Aare, which runs alongside the old town. Bern has plenty of green spaces near the river, which has clean water and is a popular place for getting your feet wet in the hot summer months. It is not difficult to see why Bern is considered one of the 10 best cities in the world for quality of life.
While it is a difficult task to list the "top 10" sights in Bern, here are some of the most popular and appealing, in alphabetical order:
Some other sights that may be of interest include the Rosengarten, which affords a panoramic view of the medieval town center, the newest fountain, which was opened in 2004 in front of the Federal Building, the Kirchenfeld mansion district of the late 19th century, the Federal Mint, the Swiss National Library, and the Museum of Communication. Bern is the home of many festivals throughout the year. BeJazz is a Summer and Winter Festival, there is a Buskers Festival, the Gurtenfestival, the International Jazzfestival Bern, the Queersicht Queer Filmfestival in November, and the Taktlos-Festival, another jazz festival. The Zibelemarit, or onion market (a huge folk festival featuring onions and cheese) is held on the fourth Monday in November. So regardless of the time of year you visit Bern, you're certain to find plenty of excitement.
- Bern Cathedral (16th century cathedral with a 328 foot tall spire)
- Bern Historical Museum
- Cathedral at Munsterplatz
- Clock Tower
- Einstein Museum (where he lived 1903-1905, and published the famous Annus Mirabilis Papers)
- Federal Building
- Gurten (a mountain in Bern!)
- Museum of Fine Arts
- Natural History Museum of Bern
- Zentrum Paul Klee