Old City - Altstadt
Walk though the Altstadt - Here's our favorite walk through the Old City. Start at the Clock Tower, called the Zytglogge. Tower dates back to the 13th century; the 24 hour clock was made in 1530, and has worked ever since. Come at a few minutes before noon to see figures on the clock move - bears going round and round are fun.
Walk down Kramgasse, which turns into Gerechtigkeitsgasse, stopping to look at fountains, especially the fierce looking bear fountain - the helmeted bear is standing up, holding a shield, at his feet, a tiny bear is eating grapes.
Continue across the Nydegg Bridge, (Nydeggbrucke), turning right to visit the live bears at the Bear Park (see below). From the lower level of the park by the Aare River, go north under the bridge. Cross back over the river on the Untertor Bridge (Untertorbrucke) to Nydegg Square (Nydeggstalden).
In the square next to the church is a bronze statue of the Duke of Zahringen, founder of Bern, and a bear. The duke is dressed in armor, holding a sword, looking very knightly, but the bear holds the duke's helmet and looks like he's going to eat it!
From the square, walk back up Postgasse, to Rathausgasse, turn left at Kornhausplatz, and you're back where you started at the Clock Tower.
Barenplatz - In the center of the plaza, May to October, is an outdoor market (similar to a farmers market), vendors selling delicious bread, cheese, charcuterie, fruits, and pastries - stock up for your picnics.
Bundesplatz fountains - Kids will have fun with the fountains in front of the Bundeshaus, home of the Swiss parliament. The fountains might seem like a delightful water play area, but there's more - 26 water jets stand for each of the 26 cantons (provinces) of Switzerland.
Berne Cathedral (Bern Munster) - The Gothic Berne cathedral, was originally a Catholic church, built in 1421 in honor of St. Vincent. Before you enter the church through the main portal, look up at the dramatic scene above the door, the Last Judgment. In the center, the Archangel Michel wields a golden sword, on one side of people are going to heaven, on the other, those headed to hell.
Climb up the tower, 222 steps to the first level. It's a climb inside a Gothic spire, narrow stairs going round and round, with no stopping spots until you reach the first level. From the gallery are glorious views of the roofs of the old city below and snow covered Alps in the distance! The way down is through a different tower, where you'll see a four hundred year old bell, the largest bell in Switzerland. Tip: The huge church bells ring at 11am and 3pm, and on Sunday before services.
On the south side of the cathedral is a terrace, with views of the Aare River below, a children's play area with bouncy horses and bouncy things, table and chairs, and a great place to relax. Look down into the river, where you'll see a statue of a bear on the locks.
Bern Animal Park - On the east side of the Nydegg Bridge is the Bern Animal Park, right along the river. Bears have a lovely big grassy hill, trees to climb and their own pool. The day we visited, bears were napping at the edge of the pool, while the younger bears played on the logs.
Bear play area - Before walking down the hill to see the live bears, kids will have fun climbing on the adorable life-size carved wooden bears in the play area. The Bear Park is free, and open all the time.
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