As fifth largest city and the de facto capital of Switzerland, Berne is absolutely worth a visit on any trip to the country. It is, quite frankly, difficult to miss; with many of the trains for Zurich passing through the city on their way South.
As our first stop after arriving in the country, we still had our luggage on us and had to wander around a bit until we found the nearby luggage lockers! Ostensibly, they were simple enough to find, but we still managed to walk right past them at least twice- its always a good idea to ask for directions!
Bags secured, we spent much of our time wandering around Old Town. There’s pretty much a straight walk down the city with a ton of really cool statues and historical buildings, but we got quickly turned around by our habit of seeing something interesting down an alley and immediately wandering over it. The Visitor’s Center was a super helpful starting point and they helped us figure out which sights we wanted to see in our limited time.
We zigged one way to explore one of the weekly markets that Berne hosts to check out their wares and then zagged another to check out the Kindlifresserbrunnen (The Child Eater Fountain)- which is just as crazy as it sounds.
I really liked the Zytglogge which is nearly 800 years old. The Zytaglogge has been used for a multitude of different purposes though the centuries, such as a guard tower and a prison, but I was particularly taken by it’s beautiful astronomical clock. While it is not quite as famous as the astrological clock residing in Prague, it is still really cool to see.
My favorite stop of our visit was Berne Minster, the tallest cathedral in Switzerland! The gothic style cathedral had some beautiful stained glass- some of the glass dates back to the 1400s, but my favorite part was getting to climb up to the top of the Bell Tower. There is a small fee for the climb, and the stairs really give you a workout, but the view from the top is spectacular. The entire city and well beyond was visible from the top and I loved seeing the combination of bright orange tiled roofs with the bight blue of the Aare river that runs through the city.
Right outside of the Cathedral, the Münsterplattform is a wonderful place to relax for a time. The terrace has grassy fields and plenty of tables at which visitors can sit and enjoy a coffee or a picnic just to relax for a time.
While my favorite spot in the city was definitely Berne Minster, the most unique attraction of the city by far is absolutely the Bear Pit. You heard me- the Bear Pit. This attraction has a long history in the city- Berne is said to be named after a bear and the creatures have been kept in the city since as early as 1513 and are even featured on their coat of arms. Though this pit used to be more of a sad cage for these animals, these days the bears have the run of a large enclosure along the river Aare. When I visited, the bears were completely asleep in one of the shaded corners of the park, but it was exciting to see them at all!
I didn’t find it necessary to stay overnight in this city, though I’m sure we would have found plenty to do, but I highly recommend this as a brief stop on a tour through the country. It’s easy enough to visit as a day trip from most of Switzerland’s major cities and definitely worth a stop even if it’s just for lunch!