From the time it was built on a high, narrow peninsula above the rushing Aare, Bern's streets have followed the river's flow. The original town began by what is now the Nydegg Bridge—it controlled the ferry crossing there—and spread westward, uphill to the Zeitglockenturm (known locally as the Zytglogge), a clock tower constructed in 1191 to mark Bern's first significant western gate. Further expansion in 1256 stretched the city to where the Käfigturm now stands; one last medieval growth spurt, hot on the heels of a resounding victory over the Burgundians in 1339, moved the city walls west yet again to the present-day train station, the Hauptbahnhof.

The bustling, commercial city center radiates out from that train station. To get to the Altstadt, follow the trams across Bärenplatz and through the Käfigturm. Marzili and Matte, former working-class and still flood-prone neighborhoods, lie together along the riverbed of the Aare. All these areas are easily explored on foot, but in Marzili and Matte you may want to take your cue from the locals: walk down, ride the funicular up. The cluster of museums in Kirchenfeld, on the south side of the river, is a short (spectacular) walk or tram ride away.

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  • 1. BearPark

    Altstadt | Zoo/Aquarium

    Bern almost certainly gets its name from the local contraction of the German Bären, because of Berchtold V's supposed first kill in the area...Read More

  • 2. Kunstmuseum

    City Center | Museum/Gallery

    The permanent collection here, one of the largest and most diverse in Switzerland, begins with the Italian Trecento (notably Duccio and Fra...Read More

  • 3. Münster

    Altstadt | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Master builder Matthäus Ensinger already had Strasbourg's cathedral under his belt when he drew up plans for what became the largest and most...Read More

  • 4. Museum für Kommunikation

    Kirchenfeld | Museum/Gallery

    This resolutely interactive museum keeps its focus on the act of communication rather than the means. Exhibits examine body language across...Read More

  • 5. Zentrum Paul Klee

    Schöngrün | Museum/Gallery

    Engaged creativity are the watchwords in this undulating, light-filled complex inspired by the life and art of Paul Klee and designed by Renzo...Read More

  • 6. Bernisches Historisches Museum

    Kirchenfeld | Museum/Gallery

    Indonesian shadow puppets, Japanese swords, Polynesian masks, Indian figurines, and Celtic jewelry fill the ground floor, and the Islamic collection...Read More

  • 7. Bundeshaus

    City Center | Government Building

    Conceived as a national monument and the beating heart of the Swiss Confederation (the seven-member Federal Council, the 46-member Council of...Read More

  • 8. Christoffelturm

    City Center | Transportation Site (Airport, Bus, Ferry, Train)

    The 14th-century maps, 19th-century photographs, and St. Christopher's huge limewood head give context to the thick stone foundations of Bern...Read More

  • 9. Einsteinhaus

    Altstadt | Historic Home

    This genteel little apartment has been lovingly re-created to evoke the world of 1905, the miracle year in which then-tenant Albert Einstein...Read More

  • 10. Gurten

    City Park

    Bern's very own hill rises 1,000 feet above the city and presents a delightful alternative to the city on clear afternoons. The view moves from...Read More

  • 11. Heiliggeistkirche

    City Center | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Built in the shadow of the huge Christoffelturm on the site of a disused monastery hospital, this baroque church, laid out like a Huguenot temple...Read More

  • 12. Käfigturm

    City Center | Notable Building

    This tower, completed in 1643, served as the city's prison until 1897. Reconfigured as the Confederation's Political Forum in 1999, it now hosts...Read More

  • 13. Kornhaus

    Altstadt | Museum/Gallery

    Wine stocked the cellar and grain filled the top three floors of this granary for 100 years during Bern's golden age. Then the 1814 Vienna Congress...Read More

  • 14. Kunsthalle Bern

    Kirchenfeld | Museum/Gallery

    A completely different animal from the Kunstmuseum across town, this groundbreaking contemporary art venue built in 1918 by and for artists...Read More

  • 15. Naturhistorisches Museum

    Kirchenfeld | Museum/Gallery

    The biggest draw here is the stuffed body of Barry, a St. Bernard who saved more than 40 people in the Alps between 1800 and 1812. But start...Read More

  • 16. Nydeggkirche

    Altstadt | Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    A plaque on the outside wall of the church indicates where vestiges of Duke Berchtold's 12th-century Nydegg Castle (destroyed about 1270) still...Read More

  • 17. Rosengarten

    Altstadt | Garden

    The lower Altstadt's hilltop cemetery was converted into a public park in 1913, and today, its lawns, arbors, playground, and formal gardens...Read More

  • 18. Schweizerisches Alpines Museum

    Kirchenfeld | Museum/Gallery

    This is the place for an in-depth look at the world of mountaineering and its passionate participants and followers. Regularly changing exhibitions...Read More

  • 19. Zytglogge/Zeitglockenturm

    Altstadt | Historic District/Site

    Though its exterior dates from 1771, the internal walls of Bern's first western gate reach back to the 12th century and represent the city's...Read More

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