Founded just over 800 years ago Bern, the capital of Switzerland, might not be the oldest city in Europe but it is, certainly, one of the best-looking and best-preserved.
Start exploring the city from the Old Town (Altstadt), awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for its unique medieval features. Rows of arcaded old buildings form almost four miles of covered-shopping promenades (“lauben”), some of the longest in the world. Here you can find couture boutiques, fragrant coffee shops, up-market antiques. There are many magnificent 16th century fountains in the Old Town. Each one more ornate than the other, they are topped with statues of Samson killing a lion, a bear in full armour, child eating ogre.
In the heart of Altstadt stands Gothic Bern Cathedral (Berner Münster). It is filled with treasures: over 200 wood and stone 15th century sculptures depicting the Last Judgment, stained glass windows dating back to the 1400s. Climb up 254 steps to the upper viewing gallery for spectacular views of the city a the Swiss Alps.
The 13th century Clock Tower (Zytglogge) is one of Bern’s iconic symbol. Its large astronomical clock displays fascinating dancing mechanical figures at three minutes to the hour.
No visit to Bern would be compete without spening some time at The Einstein Museum. The famous scientist lived in the city for six years during which he published some of his most important works. In the museum you can see Einstein’s school reports, letters, his Nobel prize certificate and many other interesting objects, films and interactive displays.
Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunstmuseum) with its excellent collection of 3000 painting, which include works by Picasso, Monet, van Gogh, Cezanne.
Bern has had a special connection with bears since the animal became part of the city’s coat of arms in Middle Age. The legend also has it that the Swiss capital was named after a plantigrade who lived in the forest nearby. Today, a family of bears lives in a large enclosure in the Bear Park (BärenPark) which attracts many curious visitors.
Photos via Flickr by: Martin Abegglen, Heinz-Eberhard Boden, Andrew Nash.