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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bern

Bern is the capital of Switzerland. The old town, dominated by the Minster (or basilica), is built on a sandstone ridge encircled on three sides by the Aare, flowing in a valley 35-40 m/115-131ft deep. High-level bridges link it with the high ground on the right bank and with the newer parts of the city. The charming older part of Bern still preserves its original layout. The houses, with their arcades on street level (6km/ 4mi of arcades altogether) and their projecting roofs, reflect the prosperity of the citizens of Bern in the 18th C. Most of the attractive fountains, painted in lively colors, were the work of Hans Gieng (1540-45).

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Around Bundesplatz

Parliament BuildingParliament Building View slideshow
On Bern's Bundesplatz a vegetable and flower market takes place on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Sights on the square include the Renaissance-style Bundeshaus and a Banknote musuem.

Parliament Building

Bundeshaus in Bern.
Bern's Renaissance-style Bundeshaus (Parliament building), stands on the edge of the high ground above the Aare river. The domed central block (by H. Auer, 1896-1902) contains the two chambers of the Swiss Parliament (open to visitors), the meeting-places of the National Council and the Council of States; in the east wing (also by Auer, 1888-92) and west wing (by F. Studer, 1851-57) are various Federal agencies and the Federal library.
From the Bundesterrasse, which rests on massive retaining walls, there are fine views of the river Aare 48 m/157ft below (funicular into valley) and of the Alps beyond.
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Banknote Museum

In the Banknote Museum in Bern can be seen Swiss and foreign banknotes and also forgeries.
Address: Bundesplatz 1, CH-3011 Bern, Switzerland

Little Redoubt

A popular viewpoint in Berne, with an orientation table, is the Kleine Schanze (Little Redoubt), a relic of the old fortifications. In the gardens are a monument to Oskar Bider, who made the first flight over the Alps in 1913, and a monument (1909) commemorating the foundation of the Universal Postal Union.

Between Theaterplatz and Münsterplatz

The Theaterplatz is to the east of the Bundesplatz in Berne. Sights on this square include:
Hôtel de Musique, the Assembly and Concert Hall, and the Municipal and University Library.

Hôtel de Musique

To the east of Bern's Bundesplatz in the Theaterplatz are the Hauptwache (Guard House), a small pillared hall of 1767, and the Hôtel de Musique (1771), once the fashionable assembly rooms of Berne.

Assembly & Concert Hall

On the southeast corner of Theaterplatz, at the end of the Kirchenfeld bridge, is Berne's (1906-09), an assembly and concert hall with a restaurant and large lookout terrace.

Municipal and University Library

To the north is the horseshoe-shaped site of the Berne Municipal and University Library (Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek), which was built in 1755 as the Corn Exchange but renovated in 1787-92 as the library by Sprüngli and Schmid.

Meat and dairy market

Münstergasse is Berne's market for meat and dairy produce on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, and every first Saturday in the month a craft market of handmade goods. It leads to the Münsterplatz, where stands the Moses Fountain (ca.1545). The so-called late Baroque Stiftsgebäude (Albrecht Stürler, 1748) is the seat of the Cantonal government.

St Vincent Minster

Portal Detail, St Vincent MinsterPortal Detail, St Vincent Minster tomislav medak
Berne's Late Gothic Minster (dedicated to St Vincent), a three-aisled pillared basilica without transept, was begun in 1421 to the design of Matthäus Ensinger of Ulm, but the tower was not completed until 1893, with the addition of the octagonal upper section and the open-work spire.
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Minster West Doorway

The west doorway of the Berne Minster is richly decorated with sculpture (now copies); in the tympanum is a Last Judgment (originally 1495) containing a large number of figures, and on the side walls are paintings (1501, restored) of the Fall and the Annunciation.

Minster interior

The nave and the choir of Bern's St Vincent Minster have reticulated vaulting with fine 16th C. bosses (coats-of-arms). The finely carved choir stalls (1523) were the first Renaissance work of art in Berne. In the apse are a Gothic font (1524), sedilla (15th C.: on right) and beautiful stained glass (1441-50). At the end of the south aisle is a monument to Berchtold von Zähringen (1601), incorporating a coat-of-arms; at the end of a marble memorial to the 702 men of Bern who died fighting the French in 1798. In the Matter chapel (seventh bay in the south aisle ) can be seen the Dance of Death window (1917), with 20 scenes from the "Dance of Death" (1516-19) by Niklaus Manuel-Deutsch. There is a magnificent Baroque organ (1726-30) with 5,404 pipes and fine modern stained glass (1947) in the south aisle.

Minster Tower

From the tree-planted Berne Minster terrace there is an attractive view down into the Aare valley; and there are fine panoramic views of Berne from the gallery on the Minster tower (254 steps).

Junkerngasse to Bärengraben

NydeggbruckeNydeggbrucke
Sights in this area of Bern include Erlacherhof (seat of the State President), Nydeggbruücke (a bridge over the Aare river), and Bärengraben (the bear pits).

Seat of State President

From the Bern Minster, Junkerngasse, lined with arcaded houses once occupied by the old patrician families of Bern, runs towards the east end of the old town. At No. 47 is the handsome Erlacherhof (1749-52), now the seat of the State President.

Nydegg bridge

Berne's Junkerngasse joins the wide Nydegg-Gasse, at the far end of which is the Nydegg bridge (1840-44) over the Aare gorge; the principal arch of stone has a span of 55 m/180ft and stands 26 m/85ft above the river. On the left, just before the bridge is the little Nydegg church, built in 1494 on the site of an Imperial stronghold (restored 1956).

Bear Pit & Surrounding Sights

On the far side of the Nydegg bridge is one of Bern's great popular attractions, the Bear-Pit (Bärengraben), a deep circular den in which bears, the heraldic animal of Berne, have been kept since 1480.
From the road running up to the right (Muristalden) there is a fine view of the Minster and the old town. Above the bridge to the left is the beautiful Rose-Garden (Rosengarten), with views of the Aare and the old town. Just downstream from the Nydegg bridge at the end of the old Untertorbrücke (1461-87), in Läuferplatz are Bern's first town hall and the Läuferbrunnen ("Runner Fountain", 1543).
This is now an historic monument. The bears have been moved to a park along the River Aare.

Nydegg bridge to Bubenbergplatz

ZeitglockenturmZeitglockenturm View slideshow

Kornhausplatz to the railroad station

Cheese Market, BernCheese Market, Bern Andrew Nash
This line of streets (from Kornhausplatz to the railroad station) cuts across two of Berne's principal squares. In front of the Clock tower is the Kornhausplatz, in which stands the curious Kindlifresserbrunnen ("Child Eater Fountain" or Ogre Fountain, with the figure of an ogre devouring a child) of about 1540.

Swiss Industrial Museum

On the west side of the Kornhausplatz is the handsome Kornhaus (1711-16), with high-vaulted cellars (restaurant); on the first floor are the Industrial Museum and the Swiss Gutenberg Museum. The Kornhaus was recently made into an "open house" for cultural and social purposes.
Address: Zeughausgasse 2, CH-3011 Bern, Switzerland

French Church

Behind the Kornhaus is Bern's French church (Französische Kirche), originally a Dominician foundation (13th C.), has frescoes by the Bern "Master of the Carnation". In the northwest corner of Kornhausplatz, at the end of the iron bridge called the Kornhausbrücke, is the Municipal Theater (Stadttheater, 1903).

Flower & Vegetable Market

To the south of the Käfigturm in Berne the charming little Bärenplatz (pedestrian precinct: flower and vegetable market Tuesday and Saturday mornings) was once a bear-pit.

Waisenhausplatz

To the north of Käfigturm is the large Waisenhausplatz (partly pedestrianized), at the far end of which stands the elegant old Orphanage (Waisenhaus) of 1782, now the police headquarters.

Museum of Art

To the west of Waisenhausplatz, in the Hodlerstrasse (No. 12), the Bern Museum of Art (Kunstmuseum), built in 1879, with a plain windowless extension of 1935, contains a large collection of Swiss art, pictures by Italian masters of the 14th-16th C. and works by French artists of the 19th and 20th C. Among the older Swiss masters represented are the "Master of the Carnation" (Paul Löwensprung d. 1499) and Niklaus Manuel-Deutsch (1484-1530), one of the leading Swiss painters of the Early Renaissance: among modern artists Karl Staufer (1857-91) and Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918). Notable also are the Paul Klee Collection with over 2,500 of Klee's works, and the Rupf Collection of Cubist art (Braque, Gris, Léger, Picasso, Kandinsky, Feininger, etc.). The Print Cabinet contains works by both Swiss and foreign artists.
Address: Hodlerstrasse 8-12, CH-3000 Bern, Switzerland

Railroad Station

Bern's main railroad station, in Bahnhofplatz, below the Grosse Schanze, was completely rebuilt between 1957 and 1974, with the tracks running underground for a distance of 200 m/656ft (tourist information office, shopping, restaurants, cafe, parking, bus station). In the Christoffel underpass are remains of the fourth medieval defensive system (foundation of walls, round towers, remains of a bridge).

Old fortifications

Elevators and flights of steps lead up from Bern's main railroad station to the Grosse Schanze, the principal bastion in the old fortifications (built 1634, demolished 1834), now a park commanding extensive views.

University

On the northwest side of Grosse Schanze in Berne are the University, founded in 1834 (present buildings 1899-1930, with a monument to the Berne doctor and poet Albrecht von Haller (1708-77) in front of it, and the headquarters of the Swiss Federal Railroads (SBB-Direktion). To the left, beyond Schanzensrasse, is the Supreme Court (Obergericht, 1909).

Kornhaus bridge

From Kornhausplatz, the Kornhausbrücke (1898, a graceful iron bridge 48 m/157ft high with a span of 115 m/377ft, leads over the Aare into the newer part of Bern.

Schänzli

On a little hill immediately beyond Kornhaus bridge, on the left, is the Schänzli, once an outer work in the Bern's defenses, now occupied by the Kursaal (cafe-restaurant and concert hall), from the terrace of which there is a magnificent view of Berne and the Alps.

Botanic Garden

Below the hill to the west of Schänzli are Bern's Botanic Garden and the Lorraine bridge, a concrete structure of 1928-29 which links the Lorraine district of the town with the area around the station.
The gardens are open year-round.
Address: Altenbergrain 21, CH-3013 Bern, Switzerland

South of the Old Town

Kirchenfeld bridgeKirchenfeld bridge
Sights in the area south of Berne's Old Town include: Kirchenfeld Bridge, Swiss Alpine Museum, Swiss Postal Museum, Historical Museum of Berne, Natural History Museum, and the Swiss National Library.

Kirchenfeld bridge

From the south side of Bern's old town the Kirchenfeld bridge, a two-arched iron bridge built 1882-83, crosses the Aare to the residential district of Kirchenfeld, the central feature of which is Helvetiaplatz, a large square around the Telegraph Union Monument (1922) and surrounded by museums.

Art Gallery

On Helvetiaplatz is the Bern Art Gallery (Kunsthalle, 1918), which puts on special exhibitions of contemporary art.
Address: Helvetiaplatz 1, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Swiss Alpine Museum

On Bern's Helvetiaplatz are the Berner Schulwarte (1933), with a rich collection of teaching material and a library on education, and the Swiss Alpine Museum (1934), which presents a fascinating picture of the Swiss Alps, covering their scientific study, communications, mapping and climbers (large relief model of the Bernese Oberland).
Address: Helvetiaplatz 4, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Swiss Postal Museum

The Swiss Postal Museum, illustrating the history of the Swiss postal service, with a large collection of stamps, is found in the same building as the Swiss Alpine Museum.
Address: Helvetiastrasse 16, CH-3030 Bern, Switzerland

Historical Museum

On the south side of Helvetiaplatz the Historical Museum of Bern (1892-94) is built in the style of a 16th century castle, with collections of prehistoric material, folk art and traditions, ethnography and various types of decorative and applied art. Of particular interest is the Burgundian room, with trophies won at the Battle of Grandson in 1476 (weapons, tapestries, embroidery), the Henri Moser Charlottenfels Collection (weapons and objets d'art from the Islamic East), the Lausanne cathedral treasury and late medieval tapestries.
An important collection of military uniforms includes the Landesknecht (Swiss mercenary soldier) costume of Andreas Wild of the 16th century. This colorful garment is a unique survival from the time when soldiers were as decorative as they were fierce.
Address: Bernastrasse 15, Postfach 3000, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Swiss Rifle Museum

Beyond Berne's Historical Museum, in Bernastrasse (No.5), is the Swiss Riflemen's Museum.
Address: Bernastrasse 5, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Natural History Museum

Beyond Berne's Historical Museum, in Bernastrasse (No. 15), is the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum, 1933), with excellently displayed collections of geology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology (series of dioramas of African mammals in the B. von Wattenwyl Collection; dioramas of the animals of other regions; collection of rock-crystal; collection of antlers; zoological laboratory).
Address: Bernastrasse 15, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Swiss National Library

South of the Natural History Museum of Berne rises the massive building occupied by the National Library (Landesbibliothek, 1929-32).
Address: Hallwylstrasse 15, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Municipal Zoo (Dählhölzli)

From the Swiss National Library in Berne, Thormannstrasse runs south to the Dählhölzli, in a bend of the Aare, with the Tierpark (nature park and zoo, restaurant).
Address: Tierparkweg 1, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Elfenau Nature Reserve

From the Dählhölzli Zoo in Bern there is a footpath along the Aare river (15 minutes) to the Elfenau nature reserve (opening times of indoor houses given).

Museum of Communication

The museum covers three main areas: history of the postal service, history of telecommunications, and philately, with a very extensive stamp collection. History if brought alive by modern displays and collections in surroundings from that period of time.
Both children and adults are fascinated by the many attractions in this hands-on museum.
Address: Helvetiastrasse 16, CH-3000 Bern, Switzerland

Surroundings

InterlakenInterlaken View slideshow

Interlaken, Switzerland

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