Visiting Zytglogge in Bern (Expectations, Viewpoints, Tips)

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In every beautiful city in Europe, there’s always one iconic landmark that makes the city easily recognizable. In Lucerne, it’s the Chapel Bridge. In Salzburg, it’s the Hohensalzburg Fortress. In Innsbruck, it’s the Golden Roof. In Bern, it’s the Zytglogge.

This is the Swiss capital’s most recognizable and one of the most beautiful landmarks in the city. What makes it even more interesting is that it’s a giant automaton, an astronomical clock, and simply a work of art. It’s an amazing landmark! Anyone visiting Bern, whether it’s just a quick half-day visit, a one-day tour, or a 2-day stay, should make Zytglogge their priority.

The landmark is very photogenic, too, especially when viewed from Kramgasse, one of Bern’s picture-perfect viewing spots. If you’re a photographer, you can be more creative with your shot — include both Zytglogge and Bern’s cute fountains in the picture! Curious about Zytglogge’s details? Let me give you a glimpse and share some interesting facts I discovered about it. I’ll also give you some tips for your visit.

My overall impression from Zytglogge

As an engineer and wanderer, I’m fascinated by this giant mechanism from the middle ages. It makes me wonder about the ingenuity of the medieval craftsmen. They were able to make spectacular things move and work using just basic science. But then again, Zytglogge is more than just a medieval mechanical masterpiece. For wanderers, it is a gem in Switzerland. With the details that you can see from it, this clock tower is sure to satisfy your wanderlust as you stumble upon it while wandering in the old town!

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How to get to Zytglogge

Getting to Zytglogge should not be a problem. It’s conveniently located in the heart of Bern’s old city, specifically at the west end of Kramgasse, the main street of the old city. You’ll surely find it without much trouble!

If you’re outside the old city, consider using public transportation. Tram #9 and buses #10 and #12 can take you to Zytglogge quickly. The clock tower even has its own stop, just a few steps away. And suppose you’re already exploring within the old city. In that case, you might not need to use public transportation to get to Zytglogge. My estimate is that you can reach Zytglogge within 10 minutes from anywhere in Bern’s old city. However, you can reduce the walking time by taking trams and buses.

Lastly, Zytglogge is at the center of the tourist attractions in the old city of Bern. To give you a better idea, here is the location of Zytglogge relative to different landmarks in the old city:

  • It’s located southeast of the Bern Museum of Fine Arts. (8-minute walk)
  • Northeast of the Federal Palace. (4-minute walk)
  • Northwest of Bern Cathedral. (4-minute walk)
  • West of Einstein House. (2-minute walk)
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What to Expect

Zytglogge features two intriguing facades. However, I believe you’ll spend more time at the east facade, which faces Kramgasse. Approach the east facade of Zytglogge to clearly see its beautiful elements:

  • Giant Clock — This is the largest element on the east facade of Zytglogge. Its elegant appearance, with golden hands and a face painted in white and black, catches the eye even from the far end of Kramgasse.
  • Astronomical Clock — This is one of the most vibrant astronomical clocks I’ve ever seen. Located just below the giant clock, Zytglogge’s astronomical clock can display the current zodiac sign, day of the week, and hour of the day. Interestingly, it also features a planisphere, which indicates whether it’s night, dawn, or daylight.
  • Frieze — Situated between the giant clock and the astronomical clock, the frieze depicts Greek/Roman pagan gods, including Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. It’s intriguing that the male gods are faceless while the female gods are not.
  • Bellwork — Located next to the astronomical clock, the bellwork is the most spectacular part of Zytglogge. It features figures of Chronos, a jester, and bears (the symbol of Bern). I’ll tell you more about it later!

The western facade of Zytglogge also features a giant clock, but this one is adorned with a fresco titled “Beginning of Time.” The mural depicts an angel banishing Adam and Eve from Paradise, with the devil lurking behind them.

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As you may notice, Zytglogge has a small arch on its lower part. I can compare the arch to a time portal that allows you to glimpse into different scenes in Bern during the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Walk through it, and you might find four pieces of art or paintings placed on the upper portion of the arch. They’re the small yet surprising things you can discover while exploring Bern. I believe these paintings narrate the important events or characters in Bern’s history.

Here are two of them:

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A painting of the kings of Bern placed under Zytglogge's arch in Bern, Switzerland
A painting of the kings of Bern placed under Zytglogge’s arch
History of Bern depicted by a painting under Zytglogge's arch in Bern, Switzerland
History of Bern depicted by a painting under Zytglogge’s arch
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Best Time to Visit

One of the mistakes you could make when in Bern is visiting Zytglogge at the wrong time! Zytglogge looks impressive all the time with its large clocks and murals, but it can be even more breathtaking. So, when should you visit Zytglogge? You should get to Zytglogge 5 minutes before the hour. A minute after you get there, you’ll see the mechanical human and animal figures of Zytglogge move and put on a mini-show that lasts for 4 minutes.

I recommend you arrive early, especially during the peak season, to choose the best spot in Kramgasse to watch Zytglogge. You can expect to be among a crowd during that time. At exactly 4 minutes before the hour, the tower’s rooster figure will crow, signaling the start of Zytglogge’s spectacle. The bears beneath Chronos will then begin their procession. You’ll see the jester ringing the smaller bells. At this point, I believe you’ll also wonder how it’s possible.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, there’s a mechanism inside. But the synchronization and design of the clock—it’s incredible. The mini-show concludes when Chronos flips the hourglass and swings his scepter, indicating the exact hour. At this point, you will also hear the bell at the top of the tower ring.

Best Views

Admiring Zytglogge’s large clocks, murals, and paintings can be one of your most memorable experiences in Bern, especially if you’re the wanderish type of traveler like me. By appreciating its appearance and watching its spectacle, your imagination is transported back centuries into the past. But that’s not all! You’ll also uncover pieces of Bern’s history and culture.

Although it’s great to see Zytglogge up close, you should also try viewing it from different locations. Zytglogge’s appearance, location, and size perfectly blend with other buildings in Bern’s old city. Trust me, the scene where you can see Zytglogge with other buildings in Bern will inspire you to take photos! It’s like something out of a fairytale. There are three places in Bern to view and photograph Zytglogge: Kramgasse, Marktgasse, and Bern Cathedral.

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View of Zytglogge from Bern Cathedral in Bern, Switzerland
View of Zytglogge from Bern Cathedral
West and east facade of Zytglogge from Marktgasse and Kramgasse in Bern, Switzerland
West and east facade of Zytglogge from Marktgasse and Kramgasse
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More Information: Viewing Zytglogge from Kramgasse

Kramgasse is the main street of the old city of Bern, situated east of Zytglogge. If you’re currently in Bern and can see Zytglogge’s astronomical clock, then you’re in Kramgasse. It’s the most popular place to photograph Zytglogge.

In Kramgasse, you can see the uniform arcaded buildings lining the street, creating beautiful proportions and leading lines toward Zytglogge. Kramgasse offers a few additional ways to photograph Zytglogge. You can use the colorful water fountains (Zahringerbrunnen and Simsonbrunnen) and include them in the frame for a more creative shot.

More Information: Viewing Zytglogge from Marktgasse

Marktgasse is the street west of Zytglogge. It connects Zytglogge with the newer defensive clock tower in Bern, Kafigturm. From Marktgasse, you should see the west facade of Zytglogge with the fresco “Beginning of Time.”

The view in Marktgasse looks very similar to that in Kramgasse. Both sides of the streets have arcaded buildings and houses, which look picturesque with Zytglogge at the center. Marktgasse also has a fountain (Schützenbrunnen) that you can include in your shot when photographing Zytglogge.

More Information: Viewing Zytglogge from Bern Cathedral

Bern Cathedral is the place to go if you want to see Zytglogge from a unique perspective that is not commonly seen by most tourists. You can climb the spire of Bern Cathedral to see Zytglogge along with the rest of the panoramic old-world cityscape of Bern’s UNESCO heritage site.

Zytglogge will appear small from the spire of Bern Cathedral (as they’re not very close to each other). So, you might want to bring a high-powered camera or smartphone with a strong zoom feature to photograph Zytglogge.

The Tour Inside

For history enthusiasts and curious travelers like me, I bet you’ll also enjoy seeing what’s inside Zytglogge. If you do, I have good news: you can go inside Zytglogge. However, there’s a catch: you can only go inside with a tour. During a tour, you can expect the following:

  • Learn the history of Zytglogge. During the tour, you might also be impressed with Zytglogge when the tour guide mentions it is more than 800 years old and has served several other purposes.
  • See the mechanism that powers the clock on the first floor.
  • View the astronomical calendar clock (the Astrolabium).
  • Discover how these clocks work. As an engineer, I’m quite fascinated by how the creators designed the mechanism. The clock’s mechanism is powered by a stone that can make Zytglogge work for 24 hours if raised to a certain level. Yes, Zytglogge harnesses and utilizes potential energy and gravity to work! Also, the mechanism has a pendulum that looks like a mini wrecking ball synchronized with the clock’s ticking every second.
  • See the panoramic views of the Bern UNESCO heritage site on the 6th floor. The tower is 54.5 meters or 179 feet tall; expect around 100 stairs to climb. It may sound tiring, but it’s worth it! (The view from Bern Cathedral is better)
  • Feel like it’s the olden days. The masonry walls and the old wooden trusses inside Zytglogge will definitely send your imagination back to medieval times.

You can learn more about the Tour in Zytglogge here. Alternatively, if you want to be guided to different places of interest in Bern (not only Zytglogge) in the way you prefer, you should check out this customizable guided tour. It’s a private tour with a local, who can also give you insider tips about the city. It’s worth considering if you don’t have time to prepare for your trip. Just tell your guide where you want to go, and he/she will take care of the rest.

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Astronomical clock and the mechanism inside of Zytglogge in Bern, Switzerland
Astronomical clock and the mechanism inside of Zytglogge
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More Information

That concludes my post about Zytglogge. If you’re interested in learning more about this landmark, please check the links below.

  1. Zytglogge (Official website of Bern)
  2. Dates and other facts (Wikipedia)

If you’re planning a visit to Bern soon to explore the Zytglogge and other attractions, and you’re still in search of accommodations, might I suggest using my partner’s hotel search and booking platform? They provide some of the most competitive hotel deals in Europe, and their map browser feature makes it a breeze to find a hotel in a location that suits you best. Please be aware that this is an affiliate link. This means that I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, when you book through this platform. Your booking would be a wonderful way to support me in creating more content like this. I truly appreciate your help and thank you for your support!

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Did you know that Zytglogge isn’t the only clock tower in Switzerland that’s part of a medieval fortification? Another is Zytturm in Lucerne. It’s part of the Musegg Wall — an impressive landmark that’s unique in all of Switzerland. The wall boasts 9 towers and measures approximately 900 meters long! You’ve got to check it out when you visit Lucerne and take a walking tour of its old town.

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