Close

UNESCO World Heritage

Welcome to Bern!

Swiss capital , city of gardens, riverside city, shoppers’ para-dise – and a city alive with cultural surprises from the past to the present day. A good place to be. There is so much to discover here – even for long-standing residents of Bern.

The Old Town of Bern: a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The City of Bern and the Egyptian Pyramids have one thing in common: they are among the 753 sites all over the world which have been placed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. The Old City of Bern was included as far back as 1983. There are good reasons for this: few city centres have remained as intact as Bern, round which the River Aare flows on three sides. The sandstone facades and the landscape of roofs overtopped by the Gotic Cathedral (Münster) radiate the charm of a mediæval city. 6 km / 4 miles of arcades, known as the «Lauben» shelter passers-by from the sun and rain. Exceptional museums display cultural treasures giving an insight into history from the distant past to the present day.

800 years of history in brief
Bern was founded in 1191 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen. Legend has it that the new city took its name from a bear, which was killed on a hunting expedition. Some of the city’s symbolic animals can still be seen in the BearPark today. As early as 1220, Bern was a free imperial city. After the devastating city fire of 1405, the houses were rebuilt in sandstone. The city quickly grew. It was extended in two phases until it reached what is now the Bahnhofplatz or Station Square. In 1415, Bern conquered the Aargau, and in 1536 the Vaud, to become the biggest city state north of the Alps. 1528 saw the Reformation. The 17th and 18th centuries were the golden age of Bern during which many facades were redesigned in an understated baroque style. The patrician rule ended in 1798 when the French revolutionary army marched in. Bern has been the capital of the Swiss Confederation since 1848.

Three hours: a stroll down the ages
After setting out from Bahnhofplatz, a short walk takes you past the Church of the Holy Spirit, built in the 18th century, to the Bundesplatz or Federation Square with its ever-popular fountains. You are now standing in front of the Parliament Building, the seat of the Swiss Parliament and the Federal Government. This eminently symbolic monumental structure was built in the second half of the 19th century. Via the Federal Terrace with its extensive Alpine panorama you reach the Cathedral (Münster). This cathedral of Bern, on which construction work began in 1421, is the biggest sacred building in Switzerland. Despite the efforts of the iconoclasts in the age of the Reformation, the impressive Last Judgement and the colourful stained glass windows have survived.

A climb up the 100 metre high tower, which was not completed until 1893, is well worth the effort; here a magnificent view awaits you. Next you cross the Platform with a view of the Aare and the former craft workers district of Matte before reaching the Erlacherhof via Junkerngasse. With its open indoor courtyard, this baroque palace is the most imposing private building in this Old Town. Today it is the seat of the mayor.

The BearPark are of course a sight not to be missed. In the adjacent Tourist Information you can enjoy the BernShow with an animated model of the city and an introduction to the history of the City of Bern. You will certainly also want to walk up to the Rose Garden or Rose Garden to enjoy a panoramic view of the Old Town of Bern; this has inspired painters for centuries.

Crossing Nydegg Bridge you now walk under the arcades of Gerechtigkeitsgasse and Kramgasse to reach the Clock Tower (Zytglogge). This former City Gate with its astronomical clock is one of the true symbols of Bern. Four minutes before the hour, the mediæval figures are set in motion: Chronos, the god of time, together with the Fool, the Cock and the Bear, begin to move. Nearby you will come across the Ogre Fountain (Kindlifresserbrunnen). This is just one of more than 100 mediæval fountains. 

Length of the walk: 2–3 hours

Guided tours:
• A stroll through the Old Town: 031 328 12 12, Öffnet ein Fenster zum Versenden der E-Mailcitytours@remove-this.bern.com
• Clock Tower (Zytglogge): Bern Tourism, 031 328 12 12, Öffnet ein Fenster zum Versenden der E-Mailcitytours@remove-this.bern.com
• iPod AudioGuide: Bern Tourism, 031 328 12 12, Öffnet ein Fenster zum Versenden der E-Mailcitytours@remove-this.bern.com