Among the landmarks in Bern, the one I find most spectacular is Zytglogge! For me, a visit to Bern is incomplete without seeing it.
So, what is Zytglogge all about? Zytglogge, or the ‘clock tower,’ is a structure from the 13th century. It once served as the gate and defensive tower of the old city of Bern. Today, it stands as one of Bern’s best-known landmarks, attracting countless spectators who come to witness its spectacle.
In this article, I’m going to share some of the fascinating things I discovered about Zytglogge. You will also find tips on exploring Bern and visiting Zytglogge.
I’ll cover what you should not miss when visiting Zytglogge, the best time to see it, the best place to view it, and more! So, let’s get started.
As an engineer, I marvel at mechanisms from the medieval ages. I can’t imagine how ingenious the craftsmen of the middle ages were. They could make spectacular things move and work using just basic science.
What’s an excellent example of these mechanisms? Zytglogge, of course!
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What To See In Zytgloggle
Zytglogge is more than just a medieval mechanical masterpiece, as I have mentioned. It is a gem in Switzerland that feeds your wanderlust as you stumble upon it while wandering in Bern.
Needless to say, you must see Zytglogge—it’s one of Bern’s primary landmarks! However, I think it would be wise to know what awaits you in Zytglogge to spark curiosity and excitement to see the clock tower. By knowing these, you may not miss anything interesting about Zytglogge during your visit.
Zytglogge has two interesting facades. However, it’s the east facade, facing Kramgasse, where I think you’ll spend more time. Come close to Zytglogge’s east facade to see its beautiful elements clearly:
- Giant clock: It is the largest element in the east facade of Zytglogge. Its elegant appearance (golden hands, painted white and black) is an eye-catcher even at the far corner of Kramgasse.
- Astronomical clock: It’s one of the most colorful astronomical clocks I’ve ever seen. It is located just below the giant clock. Zytglogge’s astronomical clock can tell the current zodiac, day of the week, and hour of the day. Fascinatingly, it also has a planisphere, which can tell if it’s night, dawn, or daylight.
- Frieze: It is located between the giant clock and the astronomical clock. Come closer and see it depicting Greek/Roman pagan gods, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. It’s intriguing why the male gods don’t have faces while the female gods do.
- Bellwork: You can find it beside the astronomical clock. It is the most spectacular part of Zytglogge with the figures of Chronos, the jester, and bears (symbol of Bern). I’ll tell you more about it later!
The western facade of Zytglogge also has a giant clock, but the clock is decorated with a fresco, “Beginning of Time.” The mural depicts an angel evicting Adam and Eve from Paradise while the devil is behind them.
As you may notice, Zytglogge has a small arch on its lower part. I can liken the arch to a time portal that lets you peek into different scenes in Bern during the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Walk through it, and you may find four artworks/paintings placed on the upper portion of the arch. They’re the little yet surprising things you can discover while wandering in Bern.
I believe these paintings tell about the important events or characters in the history of Bern. Here are two of them:
How To Go To Zytglogge
Reaching Zytglogge should not be a concern. It is conveniently located at the heart of the old city of Bern, specifically at the west end of Kramgasse, the central street of the old city. You will surely find it without much difficulty!
If you are outside the old city, consider taking public transportation. Tram #9 and buses #10 and #12 can get you to Zytglogge quickly. The clock tower even has its own stop, just a few steps away.
Suppose you are already exploring within the old city. In that case, you might not need to use public transportation to reach Zytglogge. My estimate is that you can reach Zytglogge within 10 minutes from anywhere in Bern’s old city. However, you can shorten the walking time by riding 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 the different landmarks in the old city:
- It is located southeast of the Bern Museum of Fine Arts. (8-minute walk)
- Northeast of Bundeshaus. (4-minute walk)
- Northwest of Bern Cathedral. (4-minute walk)
- West of Einsteinhaus. (2-minute walk)
Do you want to learn more about Bern Cathedral and Bundeshaus? Check out my articles about visiting Bern Cathedral and visiting Bundesaus. I’ll show you the things you might not like to miss when you visit them.
When To See Zytglogge
One of the biggest mistakes you might make when in Bern is visiting Zytglogge at the wrong time!
Zytglogge looks imposing all the time with its giant clocks and murals, but it can be even more spectacular. So, when should you see Zytglogge? You should arrive at Zytglogge 5 minutes before the hour.
A minute after you arrive, you’ll see the mechanical human and animal figures of Zytglogge move and perform a mini-show that lasts for 4 minutes. I suggest you come early, especially during the peak season, to pick the best spot in Kramgasse to watch Zytglogge. You can expect to be among the 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 under Chronos will then start their procession. You’ll see the jester chiming the smaller bells. At this point, I believe you’ll also wonder how it is possible. Don’t get me wrong, of course, there’s a mechanism inside. But the synchronization and design of the clock—it’s amazing.
The mini-show ends when Chronos flips the hourglass and swings his scepter, indicating the exact hour. At this point, you will also hear the bell on the top of the tower ring.
Best Views of Zytglogge
Marveling at Zytglogge’s giant clocks, murals, and paintings can be one of your most beautiful experiences in Bern, especially if you’re the wandering 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 discover pieces of Bern’s history and culture.
Although it’s nice to see Zytglogge up close, you should also try seeing it from different places. Zytglogge’s appearance, location, and size perfectly harmonize with other buildings in Bern’s old city.
Believe me, the scene where you can see Zytglogge with other buildings in Bern will compel you to take photos! It’s straight out of a fairytale.
There are three places in Bern to view and photograph Zytglogge:
- Bern Cathedral
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
Kramgasse is the main street of the old city of Bern, located east of Zytglogge. If you are now in Bern and can see Zytglogge’s astronomical clock, then you are in Kramgasse. It’s the most frequently visited place to photograph Zytglogge.
In Kramgasse, you can see the homogeneous arcaded buildings flanking the street, creating beautiful proportions and leading lines toward Zytglogge. Kramgasse offers a few more 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.
Marktgasse is the street west of Zytglogge. It connects Zytglogge with the younger 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 appear picturesque with Zytglogge at the center. Marktgasse also has a fountain (Schützenbrunnen) that you can include in your shot when taking photographs of Zytglogge.
Bern Cathedral is the place to be if you want to see Zytglogge from a whole new angle 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 powerful camera or smartphone with a strong zoom feature to photograph Zytglogge.
Tour Inside Zytgloggle
“For history lovers and curious travelers like me, I bet you’ll also like to see 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 says 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 makers 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 100-ish-step stairs to climb. It may sound exhausting, but it’s worth it! (The view from Bern Cathedral is better)
- Feel like it’s the bygone 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 from GetYourGuide.
- Zytglogge (Official website of Bern)
- Official website of Zytglogge
- Dates and other facts (Wikipedia)
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