Rooftops in the old town district of Bern.

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Berner Altstadt

Top choice in Bern

Bern’s flag-bedecked medieval centre has 6km of covered arcades and cellar shops and bars descending from the streets. After a devastating fire in 1405, the wooden city was rebuilt in today’s sandstone. Bern’s clock tower, Zytglogge, is a focal point; crowds congregate to watch its revolving figures twirl at four minutes before the hour, after which the actual chimes begin. Tours enter the tower to see the clock mechanism from May to October; contact the tourist office for details.

Equally enchanting are the 11 decorative fountains (1545) depicting historical and folkloric characters. Most are along Marktgasse as it becomes Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, but the most famous – the Kindlifresserbrunnen, a giant snacking on children – lies in Kornhausplatz. Inside the 15th-century Gothic Münster, a 344-step hike up the lofty spire – Switzerland’s tallest – is worth the climb for its impressive views over the Aare river and the terraced rooftops of the medieval town.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Bern attractions

1. Kindlifresserbrunnen

0.09 MILES

Bern is home to 11 decorative 16th-century fountains depicting historic and folkloric characters. The most famous is Kindlifresserbrunnen (Ogre Fountain),…

2. Zytglogge


Bern’s most famous Old Town sight, this ornate clock tower once formed part of the city’s western gate (1191–1256). Crowds congregate to watch its…

3. Bundeshaus

0.14 MILES

Home of the Swiss Federal Assembly, the Florentine-style Bundeshaus (1902) contains statues of the nation’s founding fathers, a stained-glass dome adorned…

4. Einstein-Haus Bern

0.21 MILES

Housed in the humble apartment that Einstein shared with his young family while working at the Bern patent office, this small museum includes a 20-minute…

5. Kunstmuseum

0.21 MILES

Bern's Museum of Fine Arts houses Switzerland’s oldest permanent collection, ranging from an exquisite early Renaissance Madonna and Child by Fra Angelico…

6. University Botanical Garden

0.25 MILES

A flight of steps leads from the northern end of Lorrainebrücke to the University Botanical Garden, a riverside garden with plenty of green specimens to…

7. Münster

0.28 MILES

Bern’s 15th-century Gothic cathedral boasts Switzerland’s loftiest spire (100m); climb the 344-step spiral staircase for vertiginous views. Coming down,…

8. Schweizerisches Alpines Museum

0.33 MILES

The Swiss Alpine Museum hosts special exhibitions; its permanent collection of relief maps and Alpine mountaineering exhibits are kept under wraps.