Bern has a long love affair with bears – local legend has it that the city’s founder Duke Berchtold V named the city after a bear he had killed and the city now includes a bear on its coat of arms. From 1513-2009, Bern kept a family of bears in a bear pit for public display, but a new enclosure along the river called the BärenPark (Bear-Park) was recently opened to give the bears a more humane habitat. The historical Bärengraben (Bear Pits) are still accessible and are considered a National Historical Site.
The brilliant mathematician whose work led to the creation of nuclear reactors and the atom bomb lived in this tiny apartment overlooking the old town. A tour will show you the desk where Einstein first worked out his theories of relativity.
Eight centuries of art are showcased at the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Art), Switzerland’s old permanent art gallery. Highlights of its collection include masterpieces by Picasso and Oppenheim.
The influential Swiss expressionist and surrealist painter Paul Klee has a gallery dedicated to his works, the Zentrum Paul Klee, housed in a beautiful building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The building takes the shape of three undulating waves that blend into the surrounding landscape. It’s really worth a visit to this museum, which houses more than 40 percent of Klee’s artistic output.
The Gurten is a beautiful hillside park that takes you 864 meters above sea level for stunning views of the city, the Jura Mountains, and the distant Alps. The park features hiking paths, an old wooden look-out tower, a restaurant, and a venue for cultural events on weekends. You can reach the top via a fantastic panorama funicular service called the Gurtenbahn.
Bern’s city center contains many exquisite medieval buildings and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some key buildings include the 15th-Century town hall and the cathedral. The old town also boasts 6km of covered shopping arcades. The most popular medieval site in the city is the 13th-century Zytlogge (Clock Tower), featuring animatronic puppets that sing and play instruments every hour on the hour. Dials on the clock face tell the time, day, month, zodiac sign and lunar phase, and you can even book a tour inside to see how all the mechanical parts work.