Bern is the de facto capital of Switzerland and one of the most beautiful cities in the entire country. It’s the seat of the Swiss government buildings, but did you know that it’s not actually a capital city because Switzerland doesn’t have one? Or that it was named after a bear and that they still live practically in the city center?
Read on to see our top 20 facts about Bern – some might surprise you!
Bern is technically the capital city of Switzerland and Bern canton, which is surprising to most people. It’s neither the most populated nor the largest city, but it’s the seat of the government, parliament, and most foreign embassies. It’s officially a Federal city and not a capital city, but since all the government buildings are situated in Bern, most people just call it Switzerland’s capital city.
The official language in Bern is German, more specifically the Bernese German, a dialect of Alemannic Swiss German. Italian and French are also spoken among some 10% of the population.
The time zone in Bern is CEST (Central European (Summer) Time), GMT+2.
Bern has around 144,000 residents (as of 2020), making it Switzerland’s fifth-largest city. Around 20-25% of Bern residents are foreigners, and most of them are from Germany and Italy. The Bern canton is the second most populous canton in the country, with more than a million residents.
The city of Bern lies on the bank of the Aare River. It flows around three sides of the city, and it’s an iconic sight in the picturesque landscape of Bern Old Town. Old Bern is connected to newer parts of the city with several bridges, most of which are considered architectural landmarks.
Bern sits at an altitude of 542 meters, which makes it the third-highest capital in Europe – although it’s not actually a capital city. The only two higher capitals are Andorra la Vella at 1023 meters and Madrid at 667 meters.
Bern is home to one of the weirdest monuments you’ll ever see. Kindlifresserbrunnen is a statue depicting a monster eating children out of a bag. It’s creepy, ugly, and one of the most famous landmarks in all of Switzerland!
The city of Bern was founded in the 12th century as a military post because of its strategic location on the frontier between the French-speaking residents Burgundy and the German-speaking Alemanni.
The historic old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bern’s old town lies on a peninsula surrounded by the Aare river. It’s connected to other parts of the city with several bridges, most of which offer some truly spectacular views of the city’s old town.
If you take a stroll through Old Bern, you’ll notice that the street signs are different colors – yellow, green, white, and burgundy. This is a remnant of Napoleon’s times – his troops were mostly illiterate, so signs of different colors were used to help the troops navigate the area.
Bern is commonly known as the city of fountains. There are more than 100 fountains throughout the city, most of which are located in the historic old town. A lot of the fountains are several centuries old, but they remain as functional as ever. The water from most of Bern’s fountains is safe (and free) to drink.
The Zytglogge is perhaps the most famous landmark in the city of Bern. It’s a medieval clock tower from the early 13th century, and since its original construction, it has served as a guard tower, civic memorial, clock tower, and prison. Nowadays it’s just a clock tower and it’s possible to go on a guided tour inside the Zytglogge and see the mechanism in action.
Bern is known for bears. Legend has it that the city was named after a bear. Duke of Zähringen was the founder of the city, and he supposedly vowed to name the city after the first animal he encountered on the hunt. That turned out to be a bear, and so the city of Bern was born. The namesake residents can be found in Bärengraben, Bern’s most iconic city park.
Albert Einstein lived in Bern for a while, and his old apartment has been turned into a museum. The second-floor apartment is well preserved, with furniture and decorations from the 1900s. Einsteinhaus is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bern and a must-stop on any proper tour of the city.
The city of Bern is home to Switzerland’s tallest cathedral, Bern Minster. Although the construction of the cathedral began in the early 15th century, the tower wasn’t entirely completed until the late 19th century. It’s a gothic-style cathedral with a clock tower that’s 100.6 meters tall, and it’s the best place in the city for panoramic views.
Switzerland’s oldest museum is situated in Bern. The Bern Museum of Fine Arts was opened in the late 19th century and has since remained one of the best museums in the country. With artifacts that date back to the Middle Ages, a collection of works from Pablo Picasso, and many other spectacular exhibits, the museum is easily one of Bern’s top sights.
Theodor Tobler, the inventor of the famous Toblerone chocolate was born in Bern. He trademarked the brand in 1909, and Toblerone was officially the first-ever patented milk chocolate made with almonds and honey. Not to mention it is now one of the most famous Swiss chocolates!
In addition to being the seat of government buildings, Bern is also home to the headquarters of the Swiss National Bank as well as the Swiss National Library.
Swimming is a very popular pastime in Bern. The city is home to many pools, and the River Aare becomes a popular swimming hole every summer.
Bern hosted the 1954 FIFA World Cup finals, a match that is still cited as one of the greatest football matches in World Cup history. In fact, some historians go as far as to say that the outcome of the match has a lasting impact on the postwar history of both Germany and Hungary. West Germany won the match although Hungary was heavily favored, and in Germany, the match is often called the Miracle of Bern.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.