The city of Bern was founded in the year 1191 by Berchtold V, duke of Zähringen on a peninsula in the bend of the Aare river. From 1200 on, the city was expanded step by step: first from Nydegg Castle to the Zytglogge (Clock Tower), then all the way to the Käfigturm (Prison Tower), and later on the Nydeggstalden and Mattenenge were added. After the third expansion, the Christoffelturm (Christoffel Tower) became the city gate, and since the last expansion in the year 1360, the Matte neighbourhood has been part of Bern's Old City.
On 12 May 1405, a fire started in what today is Brunngasse alley, spreading rapidly across the entire city due to the strong north wind. The large fire destroyed 650 wooden houses and took the lives of over 100 people. Due to fire safety and protection regulations, it was ordered that the new houses were to be made of stone. So ever since, sandstone has been dominating the city scape. The arcades were built after the fire as well, for the handymen and craftsmen who were working on the houses. Today, the arcades protect the people of Bern from sun and rain and it’s impossible to imagine the city without them.
The colourful street signs (red, yellow, green, white, black) stem from 1798, when Bern was occupied by the French: the colour-coding helped soldiers find their way back through the city after a night of drinking.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Bern's Old City has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983 and is perceived as a great example of a clear and progressive urban planning creation. Thanks to the office for monument preservation, whose job is to preserve the historical interior and exterior structures of the buildings, the city’s structures are respected and maintained. A great success! Because the unmistakable charm of the Old City never ceases to wow people, whether they’re visitors or locals.
UNESCO World Heritage
The goal of UNESCO is to preserve the things that nature has created over millions of years and humanity has built over the centuries. The city of Bern is one of Switzerland's 12 World Heritage sites and one of almost a thousand worldwide, alongside sites like the Great Barrier Reef or the pyramids in Egypt.
Upper and lower Old City
Bern's Old City is divided into two parts: the lower part of the Old City (which is commonly what people are referring to when they say “the Old City”) comprises the area from the Matte neighbourhood to the Zytglogge (Clock Tower). The upper part of the Old City lies between the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) and Bollwerk-Hirschengraben. The two areas are subject to different protection regulations: the lower part is protected in its entirety, while the upper part has different provisions depending on the building.
Sights and monuments in the Old City
The UNESCO Stroll
Albert Einstein, Paul Klee, Friedrich Dürrenmatt: they all strolled beneath Bern’s arcades and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the Minster terrace. Whether it’s luminaries, visitors from all over the world, or locals – Bern’s UNESCO-listed Old City with its distinctive sandstone buildings, charming alleys, and impressive monuments fascinates anyone who sees it. The UNESCO Stroll shows off Bern’s historic side and takes you to its most famous landmarks: from the city gates, the Parliament Building and the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) past the beautiful fountains to the Bern Minster.
Zytglogge (Clock Tower)Bern’s typical streets, lanes and buildings have exciting stories to tell, and in the midst of them all in the Old Town one of the city’s best-known landmarks stands high above the rest: the Zytglogge (Clock Tower). Once a city gate, the Clock Tower now attracts spectators from all over the world.AttractionsZytglogge (Clock Tower)More
Bern’s MinsterThe Bernese Minster has the highest church spire in all of Switzerland and is one of the most important landmarks of the capital. There are 312 steps to reach the viewing deck – but the wonderful panorama from the Old City to the peaks of the Bernese Oberland is absolutely worth it.AttractionsBern’s MinsterMore
Minster TerraceThe Minster terrace with its large chestnut trees is perfect for picnics, playing and relaxing. The breathtaking view of the Aare river, the Alps and the Matte neighbourhood make the old churchyard a popular place to meet and hang out.AttractionsMinster TerraceMore
Parliament Building and Parliament SquareThe Parliament Building in Bern is at the heart of Swiss democracy. The parliament meets under its mighty dome, while the west and east wings are home to parts of the Swiss federal government and the federal administration. Outside, the expansive Bundesplatz (Parliament Square) is a lively meeting place for young and old alike.AttractionsParliament Building and Parliament SquareMore
Bern, City of FountainsColourful figures, skillfully crafted pillars and detailed decorations – those are the characteristics of Bern’s fountains. The medieval works of art were once important meeting points for locals and still form an essential part of Bern’s image.Attractions, Trips & RecreationBern, City of FountainsMore
Shopping in the Old City
Boutiques, ateliers, shops – shopping in Bern's Old City is a unique experience. There’s countless hidden gems to discover below the arcades and in the characteristic vaulted cellars.
Did you know? Thanks to its six kilometres of arcades, Bern is home to the longest covered shopping street in all of Europe.
MarketsA stroll over the markets is exciting – each small street and square has its own little scene. The unique scenery of the UNESCO world heritage in Bern is truly something to see.ShoppingMarketsMore
Bernese TreasuresShopping in Bern’s Old City is a unique experience. Countless quaint shops, elegant boutiques and creative studios can be found below the historic arcades. Here are some of our favourites!Bernese TreasuresMore
Culinary delights in the Old City
Cozy old-town cafés, elegant restaurants, and trendy bars – Bern's gastronomic scene leaves nothing to be desired. Beer fans are also in for a treat: Bern is known as Switzerland's beer capital. With its many breweries and countless beer bars in the city centre, brewed happiness is just a short walk away.
Eat and DrinkBern is a city for gourmets: Whether you want to relax at a cozy café in the Old City, discover Bern’s beer culture or visit the newest pop-up bar – here’s what Bern has to offer when it comes to the culinary arts.Eat and DrinkMore
Beer CapitalCan you hear it bubbling and fizzing? Fermenting and brewing happens everywhere in Bern, including in basements, garages and even in laundry rooms. 200 breweries and microbreweries – more than anywhere else in Switzerland – are registered here. It’s no wonder that locally brewed craft beer and Bern go together just like hops and malt do!Beer CapitalMore
Events in the Old City
Every so often, the alleys of Bern's Old City turn into a stage or runway! Here are our event highlights:
Due to the current situation, some rules and restrictions apply. Further information can be found on the website of the Federal Office of Public Health. The organizer will also provide information on whether or not the event will take place.
During the advent season, candles, fairy lights, and bright paper stars light up Bern's alleys and squares – and the Minster terrace. On the Christmas market in front of the impressive Bern Minster, you can browse through the stalls and get beautiful and unique hand-crafted treasures while sipping some hot punch or mulled wine.
More Christmas markets
On the day of the Loubechehr (“arcade stroll”), charming stores and unique boutiques as well as trendy bars and snug restaurants under the arcades and in the vaulted cellars of the Old City's medieval alleys – from Brunngasse through Junkerngasse, Kramgasse and Herrengasse all the way down to Rathausgasse – invite visitors to explore, discover, linger and enjoy.