The 10 Beautiful Landmarks of Bern (Free DIY Walking Tour)

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As a wanderer and a fan of old-world architecture, I find Bern to be one of Switzerland’s most beautiful cities. Particularly its UNESCO-Heritage-Site-listed historic center, or the “Old City of Bern”—it’s sure to keep its visitors pleasantly exploring for hours. It seems like everywhere you look, there are picture-perfect scenes or impressive landmarks to draw you in and marvel at. Yes, the historic center of Bern is well-designed; a perfectly architected medieval city.

When it comes to architecture, the most notable feature of the Old City of Bern is the arcades, which stretch for 6 kilometers. However, there’s more you might like to see if you’re looking for a visually satisfying visit to the city. The Old City of Bern boasts marvelous landmarks in high medieval architecture. There’s Neoclassical, Gothic, Baroque, and more. Today, I’ll help you find them.

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Map of the most beautiful landmarks in Bern
Map of the most beautiful landmarks in Bern
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If you’re planning to explore Bern on foot to see its beautiful landmarks, here’s something good to know: the Old City of Bern is compact and very walkable. It also has covered walkways, making exploration delightful even during inclement weather. And what’s even better? Bern’s most stunning viewpoints are also in a walking distance from the historic center. If you suddenly feel thirsty from walking, the old city of Bern has beautiful fountains. And fresh, natural, drinkable water flows from them! You can drink directly from the fountains if you wish.

Should you need guidance on exploring the Old City of Bern, you can use my list of beautiful landmarks in Bern. The landmarks are arranged in an easy-to-follow manner, ensuring the shortest possible route. Check out my other guides in exploring Bern if you need more ideas regarding this matter: Half a Day Bern Itinerary, Exploring Bern in One Day, and Two Days in Bern.

For a more insightful visit, consider joining this short 90-minute walking tour. You’ll discover more than just the city’s architectural features! If you prefer a private exploration with a local unveiling even the city’s hidden gems, this private walking tour with a local might be just what you’re looking for.

1. Heiliggeistkirche

I’m not an expert on architecture, but I’m certainly a fan! I marvel most at the buildings constructed before the era of Modern architecture. Do we share this interest? Yes? Well… assuming that you’ll also be traveling to Bern by train, the first sight you’ll see upon exiting the station is a delightful welcome! It is Heiliggeistkirche first beautiful building you can see in Bern.

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View of Heiliggeistkirche from Bahnhofplatz in Bern, Switzerland
View of Heiliggeistkirche from Bahnhofplatz
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More Information about Heiliggeistkirche + walking tour tips

Heiliggeistkirche, or the Church of the Holy Ghost, is an early-18th-century structure with baroque architecture. It’s also considered Switzerland’s largest baroque reformed church. And I believe the imposing northern facade and castle-like eastern facade of Heiliggeistkirche might catch your eye as soon as you emerge from the train station. Not to mention Heiliggeistkirche’s 62.25-meter-tall clock tower and sandstone pillars on its southern facade (seen from Spitalgasse).

Come inside to see more stunning scenes. Heiliggeistkirche’s interiors may not be as stunning as the interiors of the churches in Rome, Venice, or Paris. However, you might also find some of its parts remarkable, like the heavily ornamented halls, fourteen Corinthian columns, not-so-classical-style altar, and the pulpit in the northern part of the central nave.

Seeing different parts of Heiliggeistkirche may only take 10 to 15 minutes.  After visiting Heiliggeistkirche, let’s proceed to Bundeshaus. Take Christoffelgasse, the wide street opposite and south of the train station. Once you reach the intersection, turn left, and you shall see Bundeshaus. The walking time is 3 minutes.

2. Bundeshaus

Of all the beautiful landmarks in Bern, Bundeshaus is the largest in terms of land area. For me, it’s also the most elegant in the city—thanks to its neoclassical architecturemodest and symmetrical. Bundeshaus, or the Federal Palace of Switzerland, as its name suggests, is the center of Swiss Democracy. This is where the parliament sessions take place.

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View of Bundeshaus in Bern, Switzerland
View of Bundeshaus
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More Information about Bundeshaus + walking tour tips

The various parts of the Bundeshaus attest to the fact that it’s also the heart of Swiss unity. Inside and outside, there are other symbols that provide insight into the history and foundation of Switzerland.

Bundeshaus is a colossal building. It consists of three parts. But the one you should really see is the Parliament Building. The Parliament Building is the one in the middle and the most elaborate. You should stand at Bundesplatz—the square in front of the Parliament Building—to see its full glory. Move away from the facade, and you’ll see the magnificent turquoise dome and the symbolic statues on top of the roof. If you see something gleaming on top of the dome, it’s the cross covered in gold!

If you think there’s more to see in the Bundeshaus aside from its facade in Bundesplatz, you are right! Proceed to the archway between the West Bundeshaus and the Parliament Building for a picturesque scene. The archway will lead you to Bundesterrasse, a scenic promenade on the other side of the Parliament Building. It’s the vantage point for the Aare River, with views reaching the snow-capped mountains of the Bernese Oberland. The visitor’s entrance to the Parliament Building is also located here.

You should know that you can also go inside the Parliament Building. However, exploring it on your own isn’t possible; you’ll need to join a tour organized by the Parliament Building officials. I have an article that provides more insight into the things you can see inside and outside Bundeshaus. Check it out!

You should allocate only 30 to 45 minutes of your day to see the best part of the Bundeshaus. However, the educational tour of the Parliament Building lasts for 60 minutes. Bundesplatz, the square in front of the Parliament Building, is just one of the squares between Aussere Neustadt and Innere Neustadt.

After visiting Bundeshaus, proceed to Barenplatz (the square north of Bundesplatz). From there, you’ll see Käfigturm—the next place to visit.

3. Käfigturm

I love medieval cities because they satisfy my escapist desires. They consistently transport my imagination centuries back when life was leisurely and relaxed, aside from the hustle and bustle. Medieval cities also bring my daydreams to reality, particularly castles and towers like Käfigturm. They appear as if they’ve stepped right out of the films and TV shows set in the Middle Ages that I’ve watched.

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Eastern facade of Käfigturm in Bern, Switzerland
Eastern facade of Käfigturm
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More Information about Kafigturm + walking tour tips

So, what’s Käfigturm all about? Käfigturm, also known as the Prison Tower, is a 13th-century tower located along Marktgasse and is one of Bern’s most historic sites. Since its construction, it has served many purposes—from a defensive tower to a city gate, and even a prison. It is now the home of the country’s political forum.

Despite being surrounded by 4-story buildings, finding Käfigturm is quick and easy. This 49-meter baroque tower, adorned with a gold-plated clock and five smaller early-baroque towers on top, is a real eye-catcher! In fact, you can spot Käfigturm from Bundesplatz.

I’m unsure if regular tourists can enter Käfigturm. However, according to my sources, you can still see the prisoners’ scribbles on the tower’s dungeon doors. Regardless, Käfigturm is best admired and photographed from the outside, along with other city landmarks.

Käfigturm is only a quick stop. Perhaps you will only need a few minutes to appreciate its entirety. Taking pictures can also snatch a little of your time. But if you are into photography, you might want to check out the fountains, Anna-Seiler-Brunnen and Schützenbrunnen, in Marktgasse on the other side of Käfigturm. You can photograph these fountains with Käfigturm as the backdrop. The arcades along Marktgasse will make your shot of Schützenbrunnen and Käfigturm look epic!

From Schützenbrunnen, at the eastern end of Marktgasse, you can also photograph Zytglogge. Together, they make for great photos!

4. Zytglogge

Zytglogge is the highlight of every walking tour in Bern. It’s the city’s most iconic landmark, particularly with its two large clocks, astronomical clock, and story-telling murals and paintings! I even regard Zytglogge as the must-see spectacle in Bern due to its moving parts. The action takes place every hour on the hour.

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Eastern facade and astronomical clock of Zytglogge in Bern, Switzerland
Eastern facade and astronomical clock of Zytglogge
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More Information about Zytglogge + walking tour tips

Today, Zytglogge serves as a clock tower. However, if you think it had as many purposes as Käfigturm did, you’re correct. It also served as a prison tower, a guard tower, and of course, the entrance to the old city (Zahringerstadt). Nevertheless, it’s a magnificent building that turned out to be a baroque and gothic masterpiece. (Though it has undergone a few renovations since it was built in the 13th century.)

What’s inside Zytglogge can be as interesting as what you can see outside. You cannot enter the clock tower by yourself, but you can join a tour of the tower’s interiors. It provides insight into the history of the clock tower and the simple yet fascinating science of how Zytglogge’s clock works. I believe the tour inside Zytglogge can also be fun for people wanting to see panoramic views of the old city. But you should expect to climb around 100 stairs!

However, don’t worry if you missed the tour inside Zytglogge. There are more places in Bern where you can see stunning views. An alternative is the spire of the Bern Cathedral, which is also one of the most beautiful landmarks in Bern.

If you want to see all the beautiful landmarks in Bern, I suggest not visiting Bern Cathedral immediately after Zytglogge. Instead, you should proceed to the Stadttheater, which is only a minute away from Zytglogge. Stadttheater, like Zytglogge, is one of the buildings you can see from Kornhausplatz.

5. Stadttheater

Among the beautiful landmarks in Bern, Stadttheater, or Bern Theater, is the least visited by tourists. However, Stadttheater boasts an elegant neoclassical architecture that is hard not to marvel at. I believe Stadttheater’s elaborate facade can rival that of the Bundeshaus. It’s also an excellent example of Switzerland’s beautiful early 20th-century buildings.

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Southern and eastern facade of Stadttheater in Bern, Switzerland
Southern and eastern facade of Stadttheater
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More Information about Stadttheater+ walking tour tips

What’s fascinating about the facade of Stadttheater is its details. Try looking at the relief ornamentations between the 1st and 2nd and the 5th and 6th Ionic columns.

From afar, they seem to depict plants and flowers. But when you get closer, you’ll realize they’re actually musical instruments and props used in plays and dramas. You can also try looking at the sculpture of the heads above the 3rd and the 4th Ionic column—they depict the two genres of literature: Comedy and Drama. I’m not sure if you can see them clearly, but you can try using your phone’s camera to zoom in and see them vividly.

Today, Zytglogge serves as a clock tower. However, if you think it had as many purposes as Käfigturm did, you’re correct. It also served as a prison tower, a guard tower, and of course, the entrance to the old city (Zahringerstadt). Nevertheless, it’s a magnificent building that turned out to be a baroque and gothic masterpiece. (Though it has undergone a few renovations since it was built in the 13th century.)

What’s inside Zytglogge can be as interesting as what you can see outside. You cannot enter the clock tower by yourself, but you can join a tour of the tower’s interiors. It provides insight into the history of the clock tower and the simple yet fascinating science of how Zytglogge’s clock works. I believe the tour inside Zytglogge can also be fun for people wanting to see panoramic views of the old city. But you should expect to climb around 100 stairs!

However, don’t worry if you missed the tour inside Zytglogge. There are more places in Bern where you can see stunning views. An alternative is the spire of the Bern Cathedral, which is also one of the most beautiful landmarks in Bern.

If you want to see all the beautiful landmarks in Bern, I suggest not visiting Bern Cathedral immediately after Zytglogge. Instead, you should proceed to the Stadttheater, which is only a minute away from Zytglogge. Stadttheater, like Zytglogge, is one of the buildings you can see from Kornhausplatz.

6. Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

Like most cities established during the Middle Ages, Bern also has more than one church in its old city. In addition to the Bern Cathedral and the Heiliggeistkirche, there is the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. This church is the first Catholic Church in Bern built after the Reformation. It was constructed in the mid-19th century in response to the requests of Catholics who were left without a place of worship.

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Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Bern, Switzerland
Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul
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More Information about the Church of St. Peter & Paul + walking tour tips

If you’re coming from Stadttheater or Ringgepark, the north side of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is what you’ll see first, assuming you pass by Brunngasshalde. From Brunngasshalde, it might look like an ordinary church. That’s the impression until you see the east facade.

You should stay in Rathausplatz for the best view of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. The entire facade of the church, including its spire, is visible from there. When you see it—that’s when it can get so interesting, especially for architecture enthusiasts.

With the flying buttresses and rose windows of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, you might think this church has a gothic style. But if you look closely or enter the church, you can also find elements of Romanesque architecture (i.e., arches) and Art Nouveau. That said, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is simply unusual, and that makes it beautiful in its own way.

Visiting Rathausplatz, where the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is located, is like hitting three birds with one stone. You’ll get to see the church, Vennerbrunnen, a beautiful fountain, and Bern Rathaus, another stunning landmark in Bern.

7. Bern City Hall

Whenever I gaze upon the facade of Bern Rathaus, or City Hall, I can’t help but imagine scenes from the Middle Ages, such as town criers announcing new laws and proclamations from city rulers and officials. Seeing its facade from Rathausplatz should also spark your imagination. The elaborate staircase, loggia, ironwork, and the 26 shields of the former districts flanking the main entrance all contribute to a vivid picture of scenes straight out of the medieval ages.

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More Information about Bern City Hall + walking tour tips

As its name suggests, Rathaus is the center of democracy for both the city and canton of Bern. This is where the city’s parliaments conduct their meetings and conferences. If you see the coat of arms of Bern hoisted in the Rathaus, it signifies that the politicians are in session. You can picture-out a time-lapse of politicians moving back and forth to and from the Rathaus, engaging in governmental activities, since the 15th century when the Rathaus was constructed.

From my readings, I learned that the Rathaus was more elaborate in the past. Despite being renovated and modified several times, its Gothic style remains. I am uncertain if visitors are still allowed inside the city hall. When I checked the official website (sources linked at the end of this post), the page about the tour inside the city hall had been taken down.

You can stay at the cafe in Rathausplatz to eat, relax, and feast your eyes on the two architectural attractions in the square.

An alternative to Rathausplatz is Münsterplatz, where the Bern Cathedral is located. To get there, walk south along Kreuzgasse (the street beside Rathausplatz). After the first intersection (Kramgasse and Kreuzgasse), turn right, and you will arrive at Münsterplatz. The walk takes 2 to 3 minutes.

8. Bern Cathedral

In my opinion, Bern Cathedral is the most beautiful landmark in Bern. It’s an architectural masterpiece that will undoubtedly captivate history and architecture enthusiasts with its elaborate portals and intricate spire. Among the churches in Bern, Bern Cathedral is the oldest, dating back to the early 15th century.

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View of the imposing facade of Bern Cathedral in Bern, Switzerland
View of the imposing facade of Bern Cathedral
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More Information about Bern Cathedral + walking tour tips

Bern Cathedral is worth visiting because it’s a four-in-one destination:

  1. It’s an oasis of quiet and peace in the middle of the city. If you travel for introspection, you’ll love hanging out inside the church or in the garden beside it.
  2. This cathedral has stunning and unique artworks. The tympanum at the main portal is overwhelmingly decorated with colorful, storytelling statues and figures. It has stained glass windows inspired by the black death.
  3. Indeed, an architectural masterpiece. You must see the ceiling of the Bern Cathedral. Its lace-like vaulted ceiling is a feast to the eye. 
  4. It is the best place to appreciate the old city of Bern. You can climb to the highest vantage point of the cathedral for a breathtaking panoramic view of the old city. 

Among the sights you can see at the cathedral, nothing is more impressive than the elaborations of the main portal. It features more than 200 statues and small figures in the tympanum and archivolt. As you might guess, these elaborations depict biblical characters and stories. The most prominent is the scene of the Last Judgment, where the holy and sinners are separated to the left and right. You’ll see the image of Jesus, Saint Michael the Archangel, wise and foolish maidens, and more.

You can check my post about the things you can expect to see in the Bern Cathedral to learn more about this marvelous church. In that article, I’ll show you what awaits you inside, outside and on top of the cathedral.

Entry to the Bern Cathedral is free, but there is a small fee to ascend to the top. To reach the viewing deck on the spire, you must climb a spiral staircase with 312 steps. It may sound daunting, but the view should be worth it.

A visit to Bern Cathedral can take up to 1 hour. It can be shorter if you don’t plan to climb the tower and rest in the garden beside the cathedral afterward. From the top of the Bern Cathedral, you can see every beautiful landmark in Bern, including the Bern Casino, which I suggest you visit next after Bern Cathedral. The Bern Casino is only a 2-minute walk from Munsterplatz. You should choose Herrengasse as a shortcut.

9. Bern Casino

Bern Casino is another beautiful landmark in Bern that rivals the beauty of the Bundeshaus and Stadttheater. Like these two landmarks, the Bern Casino graces the eyes of the wanderer with its neoclassical elegance. The most notable characteristic of the Bern Casino is its “Bernese style” architecture, which was intentionally showcased by its architects.

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View of Bern Casino from Kirchenfeldbrücke in Bern, Switzerland
View of Bern Casino from Kirchenfeldbrücke
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More Information about Bern Casino + walking tour tips

If you’re coming from Munsterplatz, don’t be immediately disappointed by how Bern Casino appears from Herrengasse. The most beautiful parts of Bern Casino’s exteriors are its western and southern facades, which were built to impress. When you emerge onto Casinoplatz from Herrengasse, you’ll see the casino’s western facade. Its style is very much similar to Stadttheater. The relief depicting “rich people playing in the casino” above the windows should catch your eye.

However, the truly impressive beauty of Bern Casino can be seen from the Kirchenfeld bridge. Somewhere in the middle of the bridge, assuming you are facing the old city, you should see almost the entirety of its southern facade. From the bridge, I think you’ll also find Bern Casino’s tiled roofs punctured with small windows fascinating. And the two towers flanking the central part of the facade—their elegantly curved roofs make the building look like a castle.

Let’s say you’re already on the Kirchenfeld bridge, marveling at Bern Casino. Turn around, and you’ll see a building that also looks like a castle. It is the Bern History Museum, and it is another beautiful landmark you can visit next and the last on this list.

10. Bern History Museum

The tourist attractions in Bern aren’t confined to the old city. You can find museums, historic sites, and parks that offer fantastic views of the old city. One such attraction, which is also a beautiful landmark in Bern, is the Bern History Museum. This museum, housed in a castle-like structure built at the end of the 19th century, is Switzerland’s second-largest.

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Facade of Bern Historical Museum in Bern, Switzerland
Facade of Bern Historical Museum
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More Information about Bern History Museum + walking tour tips

From Kirchenfeld bridge, one of the best vantage points of the old city of Bern, you can spot the Bern History Museum, which resembles a Disney castle, thanks to its towers with pointy witch-hat-shaped spires!

I’m positive that you’ll also find the Bern History Museum castle-like because the architect of the museum used 15th and 16th-century castles as inspiration for its construction. The historicist style of the building perfectly complements the historical collections it houses, in my opinion.

Come closer to the northern facade of the Bern Historical Museum to clearly see the glass mosaic above the main entrance. It is the building’s most notable artistic architectural element, depicting scenes from various periods of history.

What’s fantastic about the Bern History Museum is that although it talks about history, another part of it is very futuristic. The newer part of the museum, called Kubus, was added to the museum in 2009. The northern facade of Kubus is a photography spot. It is a solid glass facade which, if viewed from a certain angle, reflects the castle-like museum building opposite it.

Of course, you should visit the exhibits inside the Bern History Museum if you love history. The museum has exhibits detailing the history of Bern down to prehistoric times. It also has artifacts from different parts of the world, as far as Oceania and America. The Einstein Museum is also within the compound of the Bern History Museum.

It’s a modern museum that provides insightful details about Einstein’s private and professional life. Some parts of the museum tackle different world events during his life, like the Holocaust and the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

To explore Bern Historical Museum, you must allocate 3 to 4 hours (half a day) to see the museum. But it should only be a quick visit if you’re only into architecture and sightseeing.

Sources & Attributions

So, there you have it! That’s my list of the most beautiful landmarks in Bern. If you’re interested in further exploring these landmarks, please feel free to check out the sites I’ve linked below. Happy planning!

Sources:

Attribution:

Are you considering a visit to the charming city of Bern and still in search of a place to stay? I would be grateful if you could take a moment to explore the hotel search and booking platform of my partner. They are known for offering some of the most competitive hotel deals across Europe. Their intuitive map feature allows you to effortlessly find a hotel that best suits your needs and location preferences.

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If you’re on a quest for stunning landmarks not just in Bern, but throughout Switzerland, I highly recommend exploring the charming city of Lucerne. I’m particularly fond of the Jesuit Church, Chapel Bridge, Musegg Wall, Lion Monument, and Hofkirche there. I believe you’d find them quite captivating as well. Plus, if you visit Lucerne, you’ll be near a breathtaking alpine destination known as Mount Pilatus, widely regarded as one of Switzerland’s most beautiful mountains.

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