Bern is one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland for a few good reasons. However, for me, it’s the old city of Bern that bears the most credit. Why? Because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which basically explains everything.
Also, the Old City of Bern is one of the most superbly architected medieval cities I know. Believe it or not, it has more than 6 kilometers of arcades! Strolling along its streets can already transport you centuries back to the middle ages.
If you are a fan of old-world architecture like me, I’m sure you’ll enjoy exploring Bern. When you visit, you can also expect to see marvelous landmarks and buildings with high medieval architecture, neoclassical, gothic, baroque and more! And for today, I will help you find them.
Based on my observation, the old city of Bern is compact and is a very walkable place. It also has covered walkways, making exploring so lovely even during unpleasant weather.
Do you know what’s nicer? If you suddenly feel thirsty from walking, the old city of Bern has beautiful fountains. And fresh/natural drinkable water spouts out from them! You can drink directly from the fountains if you want.
This is why, if you visit Bern, there’s little to no problem when exploring it on foot. That means it is also possible to see every landmark and architectural attraction in Bern by walking—and that’s how I’ll discuss the most beautiful landmarks in Bern.
You can treat this post as a DIY Walking Tour of the different landmarks in Bern. Their sequence in this post is in the order of how I suggest you must visit them on foot.
I optimized the route as much as I could to save you time and reduce the walking distance. I added suggestions about how much time you may need to appreciate the architecture of the landmarks. Links to the official websites of each landmark are located at the end of this post.
We’ll begin at the western part of Bern’s old city, where Bern’s train station is.
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I am not an expert on architecture, but I’m definitely a fan of it! I marvel the most at the buildings built before the era of Modern architecture.
Are we the same? If yes, the first scene you’ll see after you emerge from the train station is a pleasant greeting! I assume that you’ll also be traveling to Bern using the train.
Why is it a pleasant greeting? It is because in front of the train station is Bahnhofplatz, where Heiliggeistkirche is—the first beautiful building you can see in Bern.
Heiliggeistkirche, or the Church of the Holy Ghost, is an early-18th-century structure with baroque architecture. It is also considered Switzerland’s largest baroque reformed church. Around 2000 people can fit inside.
The imposing northern facade and castle-like eastern facade of Heiliggeistkirche might also catch your eyes as soon as you emerge from the train station. Well, 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 may 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.
Are you looking for ways to visit Bern? Do you want to know how much time you must spend in Bern? My posts below can help! (Links open in a new tab)
Not sure how many days to visit Bern? Check my article How Long To Spend In Bern
Of all the beautiful landmarks in Bern, Bundeshaus is the largest in terms of land area. For me, it is also the most elegant—thanks to its neoclassical architecture—modest and symmetrical.
Bundeshaus, or Federal Palace of Switzerland, as its name suggests, is the center of Swiss Democracy. It is here where the parliament sessions take place.
The different parts of the Bundeshaus speak for the landmark that it’s also the heart of Swiss unity. Inside and outside, are the other symbolisms that give insight into the history and foundation of Switzerland.
Bundeshaus is a colossal building. It has 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 the Bundesplatz—the square in front of the Parliament Building to see its full glory.
Move to a distance from the facade, and you shall 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 is the cross covered with gold!
You are right if you think there’s more to see in the Bundeshaus aside from its facade in Bundesplatz. 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 flip 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.
Know that you can also go inside Parliament Building. However, exploring it DIY is impossible, but you have to join a tour organized by the Parliament Building officials. Check my article about Bundeshaus; I’ll show you what’s inside and outside Bundeshaus and explain why you would not like to miss seeing it.
You should allocate only 30 to 45 minutes of your day to the Bundeshaus to see its best part. However, the educational tour of the Parliament Building lasts for 60 minutes.
The Bundesplatz, the square in front of the Parliament Building, is only one of the squares between Aussere Neustadt and Innere Neustadt. After visiting Bundeshaus, proceed to Barenplatz (the square north of Bundesplatz). From there, you shall see Käfigturm—the next place to visit.
I love medieval cities because they satisfy my escapist desires. They always send my imagination centuries into the past when life was slow and chill—apart from the hustle and bustle.
Medieval cities also make my fantasies come to life, especially castles and towers like Käfigturm. They are straight out of the movies and series set in the middle ages I watched.
So, what’s Käfigturm all about? Käfigturm, or the Prison Tower, is a 13th-century tower along Marktgasse and one of Bern’s most historical sites. Since it was built, it has served many purposes—from a defensive tower to a city gate to a prison. Now the home of the country’s political forum.
Although it is flanked by 4-story buildings, Finding Käfigturm is effortless and fast. This 49-meter baroque tower has a gold-plated clock and five early-baroque smaller towers on top—it is an eye-catcher! In fact, you can already spot Käfigturm from Bundesplatz.
I’m not sure if ordinary tourists can enter Käfigturm. But, according to my sources, you can still see the inmates’ scribbles on the tower’s dungeon doors.
Nevertheless, Käfigturm is best admired and photographed from the outside, together with other city landmarks. You can try checking the fountains in the Marktgasse: Anna-Seiler-Brunnen and Schützenbrunnen. You can photograph these fountains with Käfigturm as the backdrop.
I honestly think that you’ll love taking photos of Schützenbrunnen and Käfigturm. 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 also fit to make great photos!
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.
Wandering in the arcade streets of Bern is simply “happiness” for people like me. There’s something for your eyes to feast on for every road you stroll. However, I think the most spectacular you can find is Zytglogge—the most famous landmark in Bern.
There’s no doubt about that, especially with Zytglogge’s two giant clocks, astronomical clock, and storytelling murals and paintings! Actually, it’s a real spectacle because of its moving parts. The action takes place every full hour.
Today, Zytglogge serves as a clock tower. But you are right if you think it had many purposes as Käfigturm did. 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 which turned out to be a baroque and gothic masterpiece. (It has undergone a few renovations since the 13th century, since it was built, though.)
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 is insightful into the history of the clock tower and the simple yet fascinating science of how the clock of Zytglogge works.
You should check my post about Zytglogge & what you can expect outside and inside it when you visit it. There, I also mentioned the best spots to see and photograph Zytglogge.
I think 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 100-ish-step stairs!
However, you should not 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 don’t suggest 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.
Among the beautiful landmarks in Bern, Stadttheater or Bern Theater is the least visited by tourists (based on Google Maps rating count). And unless you want to watch an opera or drama, Stadttheater will also be a quick stop on your trip to Bern.
Nevertheless, Stadttheater has an elegant neoclassical architecture that is hard not to marvel at. I think Stadttheater’s elaborate facade can parallel what the Bundeshaus has. That said, it’s also an excellent example of Switzerland’s beautiful early 20th-century buildings.
What’s fascinating about the facade of Stadttheater are 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 drama.
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 clearly see them, but you can try your phone’s camera to zoom in and see them vividly.
If you want to take photos of the Stadttheater, I suggest you shoot from Ringgepark. It’s the park opposite the Stadttheater.
From Ringgepark Bern, you can take a photo of the Stadttheater framed by the trees. Also, the park has the statue of Reiterstandbild Rudolf von Erlach (a horseman), which you can include in your photographs. Capture it like “Reiterstandbild Rudolf von Erlach with his horse galloping towards Stadttheater!”
The last time I checked, there was a cafe with alfresco seating in Ringgepark. If the weather is pleasant, you can sip hot coffee while admiring the view of the Stadttheater.
An alternative to the Ringgepark is Rathausplatz. You can also relax and appreciate beautiful landmarks from there—Bern’s City Hall and the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
To get there, start walking to the east along Brunngasshalde from Ringgepark. Turn right on the second corner after passing by the church.
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. Aside from Bern Cathedral and the Heiliggeistkirche, there is the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is the first Catholic Church in Bern built after the Reformation. It was constructed in the mid-19th century after the requests of the Catholics left without a church for worshiping.
If you are from Stadttheater or Ringgepark, it’s the north side of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul you’ll see first (assuming you pass by Brunngasshalde). From Brunngasshalde, it may 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 whole facade of the church, including its spire, is visible from Rathausplatz. When you see it—that is the moment 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 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 a way.
Going to Rathausplatz, where you can find the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, is hitting three birds with one stone. You’ll see the church, Vennerbrunnen (a beautiful fountain), and Bern Rathaus (the next beautiful landmark in Bern).
Bern is Switzerland’s city of fountains, and Vennerbrunnen is one of the most beautiful fountains you must see when you visit Bern. You can check my post about the most beautiful fountains in Bern to know where they are.
7. Bern City Hall
Whenever I look at the facade of Bern Rathaus or City Hall, I can imagine the scenes from the middle ages. Like town criers announcing new laws and announcements from the city rulers and officials.
It should also spark your imagination once you see its facade from Rathausplatz. Its elaborate staircase, loggia, iron ages, and the 26 shields of the former districts flanking the main entrance should help you picture scenes straight out of the medieval ages.
As its name suggests, Rathaus is the center of the democracy of Bern (city and canton). It is here that the parliaments of the city conduct their meetings and conferences. If you see the coat of arms of Bern hoisted in the Rathaus, it means these politicians are in session.
You can imagine a time-lapse of politicians coming back and forth to and from the Rathaus, doing governmental activities, since the 15th century, when Rathaus was constructed.
From the books, I learned that the Rathaus looked more elaborate in the past. Although it was renovated and modified several times, its gothic style remains.
I am not sure if visitors can still enter 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 was taken down. Nevertheless, you can stay at the cafe in Rathausplatz to eat, relax, and let your eyes feast on the two architectural attractions in the square.
An alternative place to Rathausplatz is the Münsterplatz, where Bern Cathedral is. To get there, walk south along Kreuzgasse (the street beside Rathausplatz). After the first intersection (Kramgasse and Kreuzgasse), turn right, and you shall arrive at Münsterplatz. The walking time is 2 to 3 minutes.
8. Bern Cathedral
Bern Cathedral is the most worth visiting beautiful landmark in Bern. It’s an architectural masterpiece. And, I guess, history and architecture enthusiast travelers will marvel at it, from its elaborate portals to its intricate spire.
Of the churches in Bern, Bern Cathedral (other people call it Bern Minster) is the oldest, dating back to the early 15th century.
Bern Cathedral is worth visiting because it’s a four-in-one destination:
- 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.
- 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.
- Indeed, an architectural masterpiece. You must see the ceiling of the Bern Cathedral. Its lace-like vaulted ceiling is a feast to the eye.
- 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.
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.
Anyway, among the things that you can see from the cathedral, there’s nothing more impressive than the elaborations of the main portal. There are more than 200 statues and small figures in the tympanum and archivolt.
As you may have guessed, the elaboration depicts biblical characters and stories. The most obvious is the scene of the Last Judgment, where the holy and sinners were separated to left and right. You will see the image of Jesus, Saint Michael the archangel, wise and fool maidens, and more.
Entering the Bern Cathedral is free. However, you have to pay a small fee to get to the top. And to reach the viewing deck on top of the spire, you must climb a spiral staircase with 312 steps. It may sound exhausting, but the view should be rewarding.
Visiting 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 after.
From the top of the Bern Cathedral, you can see every beautiful landmark in Bern. Including the Bern Casino, the next I suggest you visit after Bern Cathedral.
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 to match the beauty of the Bundeshaus and Stadttheater. Like the two landmarks mentioned earlier, the Bern Casino blesses the wanderer’s eyes with neoclassical elegance.
The most notable characteristic of the Bern Casino is its “Bernese style” architecture, which its architects intended to showcase.
If you are from Munsterplatz, don’t be disappointed immediately by how Bern Casino appears from Herrengasse. The most beautiful parts of Bern Casino’s exteriors are its western and southern facades. They were built to impress.
When you emerge to 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.
The real impressive beauty of Bern Casino can be seen from the Kirchenfeld bridge, however. Somewhere in the middle of the bridge, you should see almost the entirety of its southern facade (assuming you are facing the old city).
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.
Kirchenfeld bridge is only one of the places in Bern where you can see panoramic views of the old city. I have another post to tell you where you can find all the places with the most beautiful views in Bern. You should watch the sunset from one of those spots.
10. Bern History Museum
The tourist attractions in Bern aren’t only found within the old city. You can find museums, historic sites, and parks which are fantastic vantage points of the old city.
One of these tourist attractions, which is also a beautiful landmark in Bern, is Bern History Museum. It is Switzerland’s second-largest museum that is housed inside a castle-like structure built at the end of the 19th century.
From Kirchenfeld bridge, one of the best vantage points of the old city of Bern, you can spot Bern History Museum like a Disney castle. Thanks to its towers with pointy witch-hat-shaped spires!
I’m positive that you’ll also find Bern History Museum like a castle because the architect of the museum used the 15th and 16th-century castles as the inspiration for its construction. The historicist style of the building perfectly fits with the historical collections that it houses, in my opinion.
Come closer to the northern facade of the Bern Historical Museum to see clearly 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 Bern History Museum is that although it talks about history, another part of it is very futuristic. The newer part of the museum is called Kubus, which was just added to the museum last 2009.
The northern facade of Kubus is a photography spot. It is a solid glass facade which, if you view it from a certain angle, you can see it reflecting 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 within the compound of the Bern History Museum too. It’s a modern museum to give you 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 both parts of the 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.
So, that’s it! My list of most beautiful landmarks in Bern. If you know something that should be included in the list, post them in the comments section. I’ll appreciate it very much.
- Art and Architecture (Bern Official Website)
- Heiliggeistkirche official website
- Kafigturm (Wikipedia)
- Bern City Theater
- Town Hall of Bern (Bern Official Website)
- Bern Town Hall (Wikipedia)
- Bern Casino (EMCH Magazine)
- Bern Historical Museum
- Heiliggeistkirche Bern – Spartanbu (Diskussion), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Filter applied.
- Bern Historical Museum – Nikolai Karaneschev, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Filter applied.
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