Okay, two questions: do you like beautiful places? Do you like cheese? Then you will like Switzerland. And if you said no to the above then I’m not sure we can relate. But I’ll try to get over it and maybe convince you with this post on the best things to do in Bern, Switzerland. Because, like Regina George says, it’s like really really pretty, y’all! (I added the y’all. I am from Texas after all.)
Based on images I saw online, I knew I needed to get to Bern. The capital of Switzerland, this picturesque medieval city captured my heart instantly. On my recent visit, the beautiful snow-covered buildings that flank the river match the fascinating history and people of Bern (hint: Einstein). It was super cold, but with so much to see and do it didn’t stop us from exploring. Add this one to your travel list. I’ve compiled a run-down of things we did on our two-day trip. But there is so much more.
Why go to Bern?
UNESCO named Bern a world heritage site in 1983 because it’s meticulously preserved and well, lovely. We marveled at the view around every corner. Navigating the city is easy, with trams that run throughout. It’s also very walkable.
If you go in the winter there are tons of things to do inside — literally MILES of covered shopping, museums, and more. During the summer you can lounge near the river and watch bears roaming the park. Bears have been a Bern tradition since its founding in the 12th century.
Where we stayed:
What we did:
Note: Switzerland is expensive, so while we did eat out, we also stopped at the grocery store. We went to the popular “Migros” Market for sandwiches, cheese, chips, water, and wine.
If you arrive by train, I suggest taking the tram to the city center. Here, you will find the tourist office where you can pick up a map with a great walking tour of the city. On our walk we saw people taking horse and carriage rides — another transportation option to make you feel like you’re taking a step back in time.
Our first stop was the 16th-century Zytglogge Astronomical Clock — a Bern landmark since around 1530. It still works (!!), in keeping with Switzerland’s reputation for classic, well-made clocks and watches.
Legend has it that Albert Einstein, who lived near the clock, was watching the buses come around the tower and wondered what would happen if they moved at the speed of light. This, they say, led to his theory of relativity!
We walked through the covered shopping area featuring many (expensive) shops and restaurants. You’ll see fountains everywhere — over 100 throughout the city. Apparently, you can drink out of all of them. Which Michael did, often.
For a bite to eat, we found an ADORABLE restaurant called Zunft zu Webern. Too cold to eat outside, despite the cozy setting.We strolled by Einstein’s house where Michael attempted his best impersonation. It was closed that day, so we went to the Einstein Museum which also provides a great history of Bern. More about that on day two!
After lunch we toured the incredibly gorgeous Bern Minster Cathedral. This is one of the most magnificent Gothic cathedrals I have every seen. Dripping with history, this tall fortification is an ornate masterpiece inside and out.
We were thrilled to stumble on some of my family history inside the cathedral! My mother’s maternal great-grandparents lived in Bern, Switzerland, which is why she insisted on going here. Lo and behold as we were walking through the cathedral we found our ancestors name, “Holzer,” etched into the marble plaque commemorating Bern military leaders who fought Napoleon. It was pretty cool, as an American, to actually connect with my old-world heritage.
Through the heavy snowfall, we trudged to the river, stopping on a bridge for view the city. And what a view!!
As the snow slowly fell, collecting on the ground, it felt magical standing in this lovely, historic city.
Bern got its name from the bear that the founder of the city saw when he first arrived. To this day, bears roam the sanctuary grounds next to the river called Bärengraben (contained of course). They hibernate during the winter but can be seen during the warmer months. From there, you can walk to the rose garden for another spectacular view of the city.
The view also makes for perfect Christmas cards. Or mom and daughter pics.
We lingered over the MOST incredible three-course meal at Brasserie Bärengraben. A little overpriced, but very good, this French fare with a Swiss flair included decadent pork schnitzel (a German dish) covered in creamy gravy and potatoes. This was among my Mom’s favorite restaurants on her three-week trip to Europe!
The next day we toured the Bern Historical and Einstein Museum. This is a MUST. The museum creatively relays the life of Einstein, his childhood, education, his many lovers (who knew?), and incredible discoveries that shaped our world. Other areas of the museum are devoted to the history of the region. Equally fascinating, so be prepared to spend some time in this huge museum. Totally worth it!
And on top of that, the museum itself is exceptionally gorgeous.
Walk by the Federal Palace of Switzerland —stunning architecture and a cool library.
We enjoyed exploring this snow covered town — not crowded at all and no lines for museums.
We walked around the Nydeggkirche near the eastern part of Bern, where we found many bronze reliefs around the church and another amazing view of the city.
You can also walk the Nydegg bridge and see this delicious Chocolate factory (pictured below in faded lettering).
After a long day of exploring and walking, we went inside to thaw out. We ate at Chez Edy, another Brasserie.
Truly a fascinating city to explore on foot. I’m already planning to go back.
Here’s a handy map of all the places listed above: