Things to Do in Bern
The soaring Gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline of Switzerland’s capital city is dedicated to St Vincent, the patron saint of Bern; work began on the church in 1421 but the spire was not completed until 1893. At 84 meters (275 feet) long, it is the biggest religious building in Switzerland, designed in true Gothic style with flying buttresses, gargoyles and dramatic, highly painted carvings of the Last Judgment above the main portal.
Designed by master craftsman Matthäus Ensinger from Strasbourg, the interior is laid out as a three‐aisled basilica and is filled with light filtering through the glorious stained‐glass windows. The choir stalls are a later addition and are decorated with Renaissance carvings of religious scenes; the organ dates from the 1930s and is played in concerts throughout the year. The cathedral also has the tallest tower in Switzerland at 100 meters (330 feet); visitors can climb the 344 stone steps inside the spire to the lookout point for outstanding views over the rooftops of the city and across the River Aare to the snow‐capped peaks of the Bernese Oberland.
This mountain pass in the Bernese Oberland may be best known as the starting point for the scenic Jungfrau Railway, but it's also a hiking hub: several trails from here offer stunning mountain views. From an elevation of more than 2,000 meters (6,560 feet), you can marvel at the peaks of Jungfrau and Mönch, and the stark Eiger North Face.
With its original knights’ hall and Romanesque towers, 12th-century Thun Castle is among Switzerland’s best-preserved medieval landmarks. Now a national heritage site and museum, the hilltop fort offers immersive insight into the region’s far-reaching history, as well as panoramic views of Lake Thun and the Bernese Oberland beyond.
Bern’s closest mountain sits some 856 m (2,804 ft) above the city’s southern suburbs and enjoys 360° views across the Bernese Alps and the Jura, across to the Jungfrau and Eiger on clear days. Accessed by the Gurtenbahn funicular railway – first opened in 1899 – the slopes of the mountain became parkland in 1999, and on summer weekends the residents of Bern decamp there en masse for family-friendly days out in the sharp, fresh Swiss air. Gurten’s amenities include playing fields, an observation tower, a miniature railway and play areas for kids as well as picnic spots, BBQ grills, an hotel and two panoramic restaurants; the mountain is also a springboard for signposted walks and cycle rides in the Alpine foothills.
The four-day Gurten Music Festival takes place annually in mid July and when there is a covering of snow in the winter, a toboggan run opens down to the funicular’s Grünenboden middle station, a bunny tow operates for children and cross-country
trails open for Nordic skiers.
Nobel Prize-wining physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955) resided in a sandstone-fronted second-floor apartment in Bern between 1903 and 1905 while working at the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. Although he lived and worked in the city for seven years, 1905 was pivotal to his life as he developed his Theory of Relativity, turning scientific perceptions on their heads and laying down the foundations of modern physics. His modest two-room apartment in the heart of Bern’s UNESCO-listed Old Town (Altstadt) is now a museum showcasing his family life with wife Mileva Marić and son Hans Albert.
To celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s life in Bern, the apartment was restored in 2005 to feature period furniture and décor. The suite of rooms feature original family photographs and permit a sneaking glance into the private life as well as the unorthodox genius of one of the world’s brightest intellectuals. On the third floor of the townhouse is an exhibition celebrating Einstein’s many achievements in physics plus a 20-minute video detailing his life in Switzerland.
The best known biscuit maker in Switzerland, Kambly was founded in 1910. The first Kambly bakery is recreated as part of the Kambly Experience at Trubschachen, not far from Bern and Lucerne. At the Kambly Experience, visitors learn all about fine biscuit making and have the opportunity to try more than 100 types of biscuits, including the Bretzeli, a fine, crepe-like biscuit that is one of the most popular of Kambly’s biscuits. For children over age six, a “make your own biscuit” class is available on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
Another way to enjoy the Kambly Experience is through the Kambly e-bike tour. The 30-kilometer tour begins and ends in the town of Langnau, stopping at 14 stations along the way, including a local museum, pottery works, a mill, a dairy and the Kambly Experence. A smartphone app is available to lead the way.
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