Burgdorf, or “Burglef”, as the locals say, is a charming city with a long history on the banks of the Emme river, surrounded by magnificent forests and an idyllic landscape. The city’s landmark is visible to visitors even from a distance: Burgdorf Castle, which sits enthroned on a hill above the city. Thanks to excellent transport connections, Burgdorf can be reached quickly and easily, so if you have never been here before, you should definitely add this romantic little city to your list. You can visit its many sights, relax and rejuvenate during a walk through the picturesque surroundings, or stop at one of the welcoming restaurants for a break. Sports enthusiasts can also choose from a wide range of activities such as fishing, horseback riding and swimming.
The history of the city of Burgdorf can be traced back a long way. In 1175, when it was still called "Burtorf", the castle complex was expanded and the settlement developed into a town. The name "Burtorf" was a linguistic compound based on "Burg Bertolfs", because the castle fortress (Burg in German) once belonged to Duke Berchtold of Zähringen. Through the marriage of one of his daughters to Count Ulrich von Kyburg, ownership of the property was handed over to the Kyburg family. The lower part of the town was developed during this period. After the "Burgdorf War" in 1384, the town was sold by the Kyburgs to Bern, and the successive Bern mayors used the castle as their residence.
When the Olten-Bern railway line was installed in 1857, local industry and trade were given a significant boost, helping to develop Burgdorf into a modern city. A more detailed history of Burgdorf can be found here in German. Even though the literal translation of “Burgdorf” is “fortress village”, Burgdorf today is the largest city in the Emmental valley and boasts an impressive castle that is well worth a visit.
What do Bern and Burgdorf have in common? They are both one of the twelve Zähringer cities in Switzerland. This refers to cities that were founded or built by the aristocratic Zähringer family. The cities are still linked with each other today with the aim of preserving the cultural heritage of their founders. The dynasty of the Zähringer nobles dates back to the 11th century.
An Old Town with Charm
The Old Town of Burgdorf, a jewel of historic town planning, lies in the heart of the city center. It consists of the Upper and Lower Towns, with the two parts connected by 81 steps. The Old Town is still the center point of the city today, a place for both young and old to meet, take a stroll, shop or stop in at one of the cozy street cafés. The Upper Town is the city district situated between the castle and the church hill, where various guildhouses, the Kronenplatz square and the market arcade can be found. The Lower Town, located at the foot of the hill leading up to the castle and known as the “Granary District”, used to be home to the city’s craftspeople, and many historical buildings can still be found here today. The centerpiece of this district is the “Kornhaus” (granary), built in 1770 and where the well-known Burgdorf beer is brewed today. If you stop and consider the medieval town planning, the quiet location and the sandstone arcades, you will quickly understand how the Old Town earned its nickname "Bijou” (jewel).
The largest church building in Burgdorf is the Stadtkirche (City Church), which stands on the hill to the west of the city and is also the highest point of the Old Town. At the end of the 12th century, the church known as the “Liebfrauenkirche” and originally erected by the Zähringers was replaced by a late Gothic church and declared a parish church by the bishop of Constance. The 72-m tower is visible from afar, and the rood screen separating the area for the priests’ college from the rest of the church is regarded throughout Switzerland as one of the most spectacular examples of stone-masonry workmanship. Our tip: When the light is just right, the glowing colors of the stained-glass church windows are enchanting.
Burgdorf “Solennität” City Festival
This annual school festival, known as the “Solennität” or "Solätte" in Bernese German dialect, is a tradition dating back to the 18th century and takes place on the last Monday in June. Originally a school and children’s festival, the event has transformed into a popular city festival over the course of its more than 280-year history.
Another highlight is the Bartholomew Chapel, also known as the Quarantine Chapel, just outside the city. Located on the banks of the Emme river, it is protected from the hustle and bustle of the city by a forest. The path to the chapel leads over the Wynigen wooden bridge. The chapel once served as a church for lepers and was restored in 1955. Today, church services and concerts are held here regularly.
The 800-year-old Burgdorf Castle is not only the city’s landmark but also the largest and best-preserved Zähringer castle complex in Switzerland. The original castle fortress was replaced with the present castle by Duke Berchtold of Zähringen in the 12th century.
The castle served as the duke’s base until 1218, when it was handed over to the count of Kyburg, and was used as the ruling count’s residence until 1383. After defeat in the Burgdorf War, the county had to be sold to the City Republic of Bern. From that point – and up until 1798 – the castle was inhabited by a Bern “Schultheiss” (acting president of the government council). After the demise of the Old Confederation, the castle stood empty until Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi arrived in 1800. He wanted to become a teacher, and during his time at Burgdorf Castle he developed an innovative teaching method. The publication of his book on teaching, “How Gertrude Teaches her Children”, made him a very well-known figure. From 1804 to 2012 the castle was used by the canton of Bern for administrative purposes, after which the historic building was opened to the public.
The castle still has a lot to offer today. The museum provides visitors with an exciting glimpse of the castle’s past and everything to do with the history of Burgdorf, while the restaurant invites you to dine in style with a view over the Emmental hills. In addition, anyone wishing to spend the night inside the ancient walls can stay at the castle youth hostel. The castle also rents out 13 rooms for private celebrations and conferences.
Activities at Burgdorf Castle
Brew Your Own Beer
Ever wonder how they brewed beer in the Middle Ages? You can try your hand at brewing inside the historic walls of Burgdorf Castle. While the malt and yeast simmer in the vat, experienced master brewer Üelu will share exciting facts and anecdotes about this malted beverage.
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Activities in and Around Burgdorf
Bored? Not in Burgdorf! There’s something interesting around every corner, and we can offer inspiration for a variety of activities and experiences.
The FoodTrail is a great way to discover Burgdorf using your palate. During this culinary scavenger hunt you will encounter fine specialties from the Emmental valley and interesting facts about this Zähringer city. Does anybody have an appetite for puzzling their way through the charming lanes of the Old Town?
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Exploring by Bike
The Emmental valley is ideal for exploring on two wheels. Coast along the Herzroute (Heart Route) as it leads through lovely areas and landscapes, or choose to ride the Emmental Käseroute (Cheese Route) and discover fascinating stories about the region’s famous cheesemaking tradition.