Bern’s historic Unesco World Heritage-listed center, with its medieval buildings, 6km of covered arcades (known by locals as lauben), cobblestoned streets, riotously weird statues and multicolored flags, is a beautiful place to explore, with cellar shops, cute cafes and quaint bars at every turn. Many visitors to Switzerland think it’s the country’s most charming city center, and it certainly wears its ‘national capital’ status lightly.
Medieval Bern was founded in 1191 but rebuilt after a serious fire destroyed many of the city’s wooden buildings in 1405, paving the way for the use of the city’s signature verdigris-hued sandstone.
Major sights to visit include the Zytglogge, which used to be a part of the city’s western gate and the 11 fountains (most created by Hans Gieng) that dot the city center. They date from 1545 and depict folkloric and historic characters, such as the infamous Kindlifresserbrunnen (Child Eater), a depiction of an ogre eating a naked child, with a bag containing other children at his side. It can be seen at Kornhausplatz, a busy junction with cafes and the 18th-century site of what used to be the Kornhaus (granary).
The main thoroughfare is Marktgasse, leading off from Bärenplatz, and its continuation Kramgasse, which has three of the city’s famous fountains and Einstein’s former residence.
Parallel Münstergasse has a twice-weekly (Tuesday and Saturday mornings) market and is also the location of the city’s famous Münster (cathedral). The Rathaus (town hall), with its twin staircase entrance, stone relief sculptures and beautiful Gothic loggia, lies on Rathausgasse.
At the easternmost point of the Old Town you’ll find the quiet streets of Postgasse, Gerechtigkeitsgasse and Junkerngasse, which all flow into the impressive Nydeggbrücke, connecting the Old Town with the Bear Park on the other side of the fast-moving Aare River.
The city’s tourism authority organizes worthwhile Old Town guided strolls in English, German and French, covering the Zytglogge, Münster and other important sights. Book in advance if