City guide: Bern, Switzerland | Private jet charter
The Swiss capital of Bern, in western Switzerland, is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 12th century. Located in the canton of the same name, Bern’s old and new town are linked by bridges traversing the mighty river Aare, creating a dramatically beautiful setting.
Bern is renowned for its rich cultural offerings and festivals, its iconic cathedral, fountains and Bundeshaus Federal Palace – home to the Swiss Parliament. Bern’s medieval Altstadt has been well preserved – don’t miss the mechanical clock – and offers visitors historic architecture as well as many specialty shops, bars and cafes to explore.
Outside of Bern, visitors will find superb hiking and river activities, including the Gurten – Bern’s local mountain.
Top five must-see sights and attractions
Bern Old Town
Well deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status, Bern’s medieval Altstadt or Old Town is in a dramatic setting on a hill, surrounded by the river Aare. Wander along the cobbled streets under the incredible 6km of covered arcades, then head for the lower slopes where you’ll find numerous bookstores, cafes, restaurants and shops. Many of Bern’s most famous tourist attractions are here, including the Renaissance fountains, Bern’s Gothic cathedral and the famous clock tower, known as Zytglogge.
Visit the Gurten
Head to the top of the Gurten – Bern’s local mountain – for the best views over the Swiss capital. Take the vintage funicular, bus – or walk – up the 864m for panoramic vistas of the city and the Alps. Once at the summit, climb to the top of the Gurten observation tower for a view of the Jura mountains.
Hikers will enjoy the meadow and forest walking trails, while skiing and tobogganing are popular in winter. Refuel at one of the Gurten’s two restaurants before taking in a show at the open-air Theater.
In July, the Gurten reverbs to the sound of the Gurten Festival. Founded in 1971 as a folk festival, today up to 80,000 visitors make their way to the three stages for a mix of Swiss and international music.
Paul Klee centre
The Swiss-German artist Paul Klee has an entire centre dedicated to his work located on the outskirts of Bern in an extraordinary building designed by Renzo Piano. Opened in 2005, the wave-like steel and glass structure was created to look like an undulating landscape and is a light-filled work of art in itself, surrounded by fields and a park.
The Centre houses the world’s largest collection of Klee’s artwork: around 4,000 paintings, watercolours and drawings, including the Houses of St Germain, Death and Fire, and Woman with Parasol. Klee was notable for his use of mixed media. The current exhibition here is entitled Klee and Friends, and runs until 1st September 2019 showcasing work from Surrealists, Dadaist and Cubists.
Bern Minster and Parliament Building
Bern Minster is Switzerland’s largest church dating from the Middle Ages and built in Gothic style with a stunning basilica and three naves. Construction began in 1491 and the spire was completed in 1893. Climb the 312 steps into the spire – located above the entrance – for superb views of the Bernese Oberland. Of its many priceless relics the magnificent Baroque organ is a standout. The tree-covered terrace outside offers beautiful views into the Aare valley.
Bern’s Parliament Building, known as Bundeshaus, is recognisable from its domed centre that houses the Swiss Parliament. Open to visitors, the views of the Aare from here are unmissable. Head to the Bundesplatz outside the Parliament Building for a vegetable and flower market held every Tuesday and Saturday morning.
Bern is encircled by the mighty river Aare which flows 288km from its origin in the Bernese Alps, alongside the Reuss and Limmat and finally into the river Rhine near Koblenz. It’s the longest river within the borders of Switzerland. Both locals and tourists use the Aare as their playground and float or raft down the river in summer, and often well into autumn. The rafts can be hired locally and make a great group day out.
Choose from four routes: the Classic “good time” route from Thun Schwäbis to Bern. The quieter Bern Schwellenmätteli to Felsenau/Lake Wohlen, known locally as Wohlensee, or the more energetic (for experienced rafters) leg from Lake Wohlen to Aarberg.
Taxis operate outside the Old Town, and you can also use trams and buses – and of course pedal power. You can leave your car and explore the compact city on foot, as the Old Town is car free. Your hotel will give you a free Bern Ticket on arrival, which gives visitors free travel on Bern’s public transport in zones 100/101. The Bern Ticket also gives you a free ride on the Gurten funicular, the Marzilibahn funicular and the elevator to the Minster Terrace, as well as free travel to and from Bern airport.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Bern is probably late spring to early autumn when the days are long and the sun is pretty much guaranteed. July and August are high season with traditionally the warmest weather, but this also means crowds. Bern’s summer weather can be changeable so wear layers and bring raincoats and umbrellas.
Switzerland’s charming German-speaking capital city boasts a stunning location on the river Aare and is also compact enough to explore in a long weekend. Take the funicular up Bern’s very own mountain, the Gurten; swim in the Aare, immerse yourself in Bern’s cultural scene, explore the city’s car-free medieval quarter, and savour local and international cuisine in its many fine restaurants and cafes.
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