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Bern may not be as big as other cities in Switzerland, such as Geneva or Zurich, but the Swiss capital has more than enough charm within its borders to place it towards the top end of any Switzerland itinerary. Despite its city status, Bern has a small town feel to it, with its beautifully preserved old town gaining the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. For those of you spending only 2 days in Bern, there’s quite a lot to see, but it’s easily doable as many of the main attractions in Bern are within walking distance or a short tram ride away from one another.
With a rich history dating back to the 12th century, Bern is a paradise for history lovers. But the areas outside of the old town are also worth exploring, with plenty of modern museums, spots for nature enthusiasts, and a growing food scene to discover. And let’s not forget about the bears either. Whether you’re planning a day trip to Bern or are spending a few days in this incredible city, you’ll soon realize that Bern is definitely worth visiting.
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Things To Do in Bern
It may be small compared to other cities in Switzerland, but there are many great things to do in Bern that should be on anyone’s itinerary, especially if it’s your first time in the capital. Here are some of the top attractions in Bern’s old town, as well as further afield, to help you plan your trip.
One of the top places to visit in Bern is the Zytglogge, also referred to as the clock tower. The Zytglogge was initially built in the 13th century as part of the city’s defensive structure, and has undergone a lot of changes in the past 800 years to make it what it is today. The astronomical dial really is spectacular to look at in person, and every hour there’s a movement of the characters on the front of the tower which is a unique experience, though it doesn’t last very long. The Zytglogge is one of Bern’s most recognizable landmarks so you can’t miss it.
No 2 days in Bern are complete without visiting the Berner Münster. The cathedral dates back to the 15th century and is the tallest and most important late medieval church in the country. It sits in the centre of the old town, towering over the other historic buildings, and is one of the many free things to do in Bern. I would highly recommend purchasing a ticket to climb up the tower, because the views are incredible and definitely worth the effort on a clear day.
Shop along the arcades
If you’re spending 2 days in Bern, you’ll have plenty of time to go shopping along Bern’s famous arcades. The old town is lined with 6km of unique shopping arcades that are unlike any other city. Even the medieval storehouses located under the shops have been turned into modern boutiques and art galleries. The two main streets in Bern’s old town are Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, but you’ll no doubt enjoy exploring the other nearby streets as well. This is one of the best things to do in Bern when it’s raining, so take full advantage of it.
Wrapping around Bern’s old town is the Aare River. If you have time during your 2 days in Bern, and the weather is nice, taking a stroll along the banks of the river is a must. It's also one of the top photo spots in Bern. During the summer months it’s not uncommon for residents of Bern to take a dip in the river to cool down, and that includes the city’s famous bears as well. Crossing the river are two important bridges, the Nydeggbrücke and the Kornhausbrücke, which are also worth walking across for scenic views.
Go fountain hunting
Bern is often referred to as the City of Fountains, with over 100 public fountains available in the old town alone. These aren’t just your average fountains though. Many are beautifully decorated with different characters and vibrant colours, telling a story as people drink directly from them or fill their bottles up.
Fountains have played an important role in Bern since the medieval period, when they used to be a meeting point to have conversations and exchange news. The Ogre Fountain is one of the most photographed, but others such as the Justice Fountain and the Bagpiper Fountain are two personal favourites of mine so don’t forget to locate them too.
Did you know that Einstein once lived in Bern from 1903-1905? Bern is where he developed his Theory of Relativity, and visitors to the city have the chance to go inside his small apartment in the old town. Many websites will claim that this is one of the best things to do in Bern, but we were left feeling a little disappointed since only one room of the apartment had been recreated, and the upstairs was a modern exhibition which was mostly text that you can find online.
But it’s still a unique thing to do in Bern and something you won’t find anywhere else. The house is located on Kramgasse, costing CHF 6 to enter, and there are student discounts available too.
The Zytglogge is the most famous clock tower in the city, but the Käfigturm is also a must-see in Bern. The tower was originally built in 1256 as a city gate and defense tower, and after the city began to expand in the 14th century it took on the role of a prison and interrogation space. Today it acts as an archive for the canton of Bern and is home to the country’s political forum.
Just south of Bern’s old town is where you’ll find Bern’s local mountain - the Gurten. The quickest way to get to the top of the Gurten is by funicular, which is included in your Bern transportation pass that you’ll receive when you check in to your accommodation. There are a lot of activities to do at the top, and the view of Bern is supposed to be one of the best.
Unfortunately we went to the top on a very foggy day, so we couldn’t see anything at all, but the funicular ride up and down was fun at least! Make sure you add this to your Bern itinerary if you’re spending more than a day in the city.
Sit with Einstein in the Rosengarten
If you only have 1 day in Bern to spare, you may not be able to make it up to the famous Rosengarten, but with 2 days in Bern you’ll definitely have enough time. The Rose Garden is considered to be one of the city’s most beautiful parks, and offers visitors breathtaking views over the old town and Aare River. We visited in October so we didn’t get the chance to walk among the beautiful roses and other flowers, but we were able to sit down with Albert Einstein and enjoy the view.
Visit Bern's Bear Park
The bear is the symbol of Bern, and can be found everywhere. Bern even has its own family of brown bears located at the edge of the old town, which is one of the most popular attractions in the city. The Bear Park is free of charge for visitors, and is made up of the famous bear pit as well as a modern open space along the Aare River for the bears to enjoy. Bears have been on display in Bern since at least the 16th century, and were meant to symbolize the fierceness of the Bernese people. Ever since the bear has become synonymous with the city.
Where To Eat in Bern
Whether you’re looking for traditional Swiss food or modern fusion dishes, Bern has it all. We mostly stayed within the old town during our 2 days in Bern, but we did manage to explore a few areas outside of it too. Here are some recommendations for the best places to eat in Bern.
This may surprise you, but there are some great places to eat in Bern’s main train station that are also very budget friendly. Rice Up! is one of these places. This Asian street food fusion takeaway restaurant serves up a tasty and fresh selection of rice bowls. You can either opt to build your own or choose one of their menu options, but either way you’re going to love it. The Tofu Cashew Bowl is a great option for vegetarians, or if you want something without a rice base the Chicken Satay Bowl is very popular. We took our rice bowls to a viewpoint behind the parliament buildings and loved every bite - and the view. Who doesn’t like rice bowls?
If you’re looking for the best vegan café in Bern then you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to dine at Bakery Bakery. They have a couple of locations across the city, but we chose to eat at Bern Breitenrain. They have everything from vegan pastries to drinks to full meals, and you can also purchase some of the packaged vegan food from them as well. We tried their vegan brunch, which is massive and definitely good value for money if you’re feeling hungry. Most of the ingredients are sourced from Swiss producers so you’re getting only the highest quality.
Our brunch included a hot drink and a fruit juice, with a plate of bread and croissants paired with vegan spreads. There was also a very tasty yogurt and granola bowl to start things off. The main plate came with vegan bacon, cheese, salmon, sausage, and two savoury spreads. There were quite a few items we hadn’t tried before but we were blown away with how similar the flavours were to the real thing. Bakery Bakery is the perfect healthy food option, so make sure you visit during your 2 days in Bern.
Mexican street food has never tasted so good. Burrito Bandito is located at the entrance of Bern’s main train station, and as the name suggests they serve up some epic burritos. They also have the option of burrito bowls and quesadillas though. To go with our margaritas we chose a pair of burritos, the Bomb Ass Beef Burrito and the Chicken Al Pastor Burrito, which were grilled to perfection and tasted amazing.
We also tried out a variety of their dips which are all made in house, and a portion of the loaded nachos which I’d also recommend. Burrito Bandito is a cool place to eat in Bern if you like Mexican food, so come with an empty stomach because the burritos aren’t small!
Vierte Wand was one of my favourite places to eat during our entire trip to Switzerland. This unique theatre bar is located behind the Kornhausplatz, and is home to the original floor of the city’s theatre in 1903. The restaurant itself offers a very chilled atmosphere, but I did spot a disco ball on the ceiling so they know how to throw a party too. The menu is small, but the dishes are quite unique and bursting with flavour, so you won’t be disappointed with whatever you choose.
Their menu is based on regional and seasonal ingredients, and we had the pleasure of trying their autumn inspired dishes. To start things off we went with a delicious carrot soup and a flambéed goat cheese. For the mains we chose the Black Salsify dish, which is difficult to describe but is worth ordering to try the unique combination of flavours, and the Hokkaido Ravioli which was presented beautifully and tasted incredible. The desserts are also seasonally based, so don’t miss out on them! As you can see, Vierte Wand is the perfect restaurant in Bern for vegetarians and is ideal for a sophisticated yet unique dining experience.
Where To Stay in Bern
With so much history surrounding the city of Bern, it’s only right to stay in an accommodation that has a bit of history of its own. B&B Wildrose is located a short tram ride south of Bern’s old town, and is situated within an art Nouveau villa that’s more than a century old. The neighbourhood is very quiet, so it’s a nice and tranquil place to relax after what’s sure to be a busy day in Bern.
We had the pleasure of staying in the Belle Epoque room with a large and modern external private bathroom, 2 single beds that can be pushed together to make a double, a TV, plenty of light coming through the large windows overlooking the garden, a built-in closet, and beautiful antique furnishings. WiFi is also included free of charge, and you may be lucky enough to find a mini Toblerone on your pillow too!
You’re in for a real treat when it comes to breakfast. Served in a gorgeous dining room, the breakfast is made up of fresh seasonal products as well as delicious homemade bread that you’ll be able to smell as you make your way down the stairs. There’s even a fresh smoothie made every morning to help you get your daily fruits. Everything is presented beautifully on antique plates and dishes, and there’s no detail left unturned. If you’re on the hunt for the best places to stay in Bern, then B&B Wildrose should be at the top end of the list.
>> Click here for the most up to date prices at B&B Wildrose <<
Spending 2 days in Bern is enough to see the main points of interest in the city, but hopefully you’ll be able to stay a little longer and enjoy walking around the Swiss capital at a leisurely pace. Getting to Bern from Geneva or Zurich couldn’t be more convenient by train, so it’s very easy to add Bern to your Switzerland itinerary. If you love walking through history and exploring cobbled streets, then Bern is probably going to be your favourite city.
Have you been to Bern before? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below, or ask any questions you have about visiting Bern. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for more travel tips!