By Briana Seftel
The Swiss capital is full of surprises. Set in the heart of Switzerland, Bern is the gateway to the Alps and one of the most liveable cities in Europe. Nestled along the Aare River, Bern oozes charm and culture. If you're visiting Bern on a budget, here are ten free things not to miss!
1. Altstadt (Old Town)
The historic heart of Bern is the Altstadt (Old Town), designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. With its medieval flair, wandering this area with or without a map is the way to go. Don't miss Bern Minster, the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, the Federal Palace, Munster Square and Town Hall. Within the Altstadt is the Laubengange, a network of covered arcades that's the longest covered shopping promenade in Europe.
2. Rose Garden
Offering beautiful views over Bern, the Rose Garden is the perfect place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing. In addition to being a mecca for flower lovers, the park also has a restaurant, plenty of picnic space, a water lily pond, pavilion and children's playground.
3. Zytglogge (Clock Tower)
The heart of the Altstadt is the Zytglogge, a medieval clock tower that once formed part of the city’s western gate. Four minutes before the hour, crowds gather in front of the astronomical clock to watch the mechanical figures do a little dance.
On a hot day, you'll likely need water to stay hydrated and keep sightseeing. Luckily, Bern has over 100 fountains that offer ice-cold drinking water that's perfectly safe to drink! Cup your hands below a spout and sip away or bring a reusable bottle and fill 'er up.
5. Bear Park
Watch Finn, Björk and their daughter Ursina frolick at the Bear Park situated along the banks of the river. Opened since 2009, this open-air park continues the tradition of brown bears in Bern, which have been kept in the city since 1513. Bears are the symbol of Bern and can be seen on the city's coat of arms.
6. Weekly Market
Held every Tuesday and Saturday at the Waisenhausplatz, the Bern Weekly Market is a great place for browsing local goods and sampling tasty treats. If you plan on visiting in November, don't miss the delightfully wacky Onion Market (Zibelemärit). On the fourth Monday in November, this traditional market showcases 50 tons of onions and garlic woven together in appealing braids.
7. House of Parliament
Headquarters of the Swiss Federal Government, the House of Parliament is an impressive 19th-century building in the Altstadt. Free guided tours are available several times throughout the day.
8. Botanic Gardens
Established in 1860, the Bern Botanic Gardens invite visitors to discover native and exotic flora. Nestled along the Aare River, the gardens are spread out over five acres with over 6,000 species of plants.
9. Aare River
If you're visiting Bern in the summer, join the locals for a swim in the Aare River. Flowing around three sides of the city, the Aare is Bern's pride and joy. You'll be amazed by how clean and clear the water is!
10. Day Trips
Because of its central location, Bern makes the perfect base for exploring the cities and countryside of Switzerland. About an hour and a half away by train is Lucerne, a lovely lakeside city that's beautiful 365 days of the year. About an hour away is Interlaken, an Alpine resort town nestled at the foot of the Bernese mountains. While you'll need to pay for transportation, strolling through these cities is completely free!
Bonus: Selfies with Einstein
You'll find Albert Einstein all over Bern! The famed physicist spent several years living in Bern and created his theory of relativity here. You can find Bern’s famous resident on benches in four different locations in the city: the Rose Garden, the Bear Park, Bern Historical Museum and the University of Bern.