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Bern's Old City

Bern’s Old City has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, wowing visitors with its impressive sandstone buildings and incomparable charm. Also typical for the city are its quaint alleys and the six kilometres of arcades

Useful information

  • City of Bern
  • Landmarks
  • Historic sites

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.

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

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.

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.

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:


Bern's Old City
3011 Bern

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