The old town of Bern is more than worthy of its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated on a cliff surrounded on three sides by the stunning aquamarine waters of the Aare River, the old town has preserved much of its medieval character. The streets are cobbled and bordered by covered, arcade sidewalks that snake on for miles. On the lower levels of the buildings are shops, cafés, bookstores, and restaurants, while the upper floors are apartments.
This old area is where many of the best tourist attractions and things to do are located, including all of the bridges across the Aare, public fountains, old statues, towers, and the famous Clock Tower. Several days can be passed quite happily just strolling around the old town.
To the west of Waisenhausplatz, on the Hodlerstrasse, is the famed Kunstmuseum (Museum of Art). This massive and impressive art museum is home to more than 51,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and films. It is the oldest art museum in Switzerland, built in 1879, and holds an international reputation.
The Einstein Museum and the Historical Museum of Bern
Housed in a 130-year-old Andre-Lambert-designed building based on 15th-century castles, the Historical Museum of Bern combines with the Einstein Museum to form the second largest museum in Switzerland. Displays encompass more than half a million objects dating from the Stone Age through the Celts, Romans, Middle Ages, Napoleonic era, and into the 19th and 20th centuries. Objects from Alpine Stone Age burials are as impressive as 15th-century Flemish tapestries and the famous Königsfelden diptych painted for the King of Hungary.
The 800-year-old Clock Tower (Zytglogge) is one of the most famous of Bern's landmarks - and is well worth the visit (the clock dates to 1530). Just above the western gate tower in the old section of town, this 23-meter tower is decorated with an immense astronomical clock.
Beginning at just three minutes before every hour, a circus of mechanical creatures (The Fool, The Knight, The Rooster, The Piper, and more) come out to put on a little show. Inside, you can see the popularity of this ancient structure from the 130 worn stone steps. Visitors are welcome to climb to the observation platform, which sports some impressive views. Guided tours are excellent and informative.
Paul Klee Center
German-Swiss painter Paul Klee's work is perhaps some of the most recognizable and famous of all paintings from the first part of the 20th century. Transcending the zeitgeist of his age (surrealism, cubism, abstraction) Klee regularly combined various media into his works. His Writings on Form and Design Theory is considered one of the most important theoretical works on art ever written.
The center contains about 4,000 works by Klee including the famous Dame mit Sonnenschirm (Woman with Parasol), In den Häusern von St. Germain (Houses of St. Germain) and Tod und Feuer (Death and Fire). The building itself is outstanding. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, it takes the form of a rolling, hilly landscape. It is wide and open, light and airy, and a work of art in and of itself.
The Communication Museum
Founded in 1907, this unusual museum offers permanent exhibitions that showcase the history of human communication through the centuries. It comprises everything from sign language and speaking to postal services, the telegraph, telephone, and Internet. This isn't so much a museum about technological advances in communication, but a museum about the relationship between men and how different cultures handle forms of communication.
Interactive displays, games, and workshops make the museum accessible and interesting for both children and adults.
The Bear Park
Since the bear is the symbol of Bern, it's perhaps no surprise that the city has kept bears in a large compound for years. The area around the bears' compound is graced by an array of walking paths, many of which lead down to the river, and an inclined elevator now connects the lower area by the river to the top of the enclosure.
The bears' habitat was modernized in 2009 with the addition of a second, larger green enclosure that connects to the original one through a tunnel. The second enclosure also includes a section of the river, where the bears can safely take a dip when temperatures go up.