Bern Europe Switzerland Travel

Bear Pits of Bern: Bärengraben and Bärenpark


Bern’s Bear Pit or Bärengraben in Switzerland has long been a tourist attraction that draws mixed reactions. The bear is the city’s mascot, an emblem that features prominently and is represented in the coat of arms.

In 1911, Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen founded Bern and named it after the first animal that was killed in a hunt. It turned out to be a bear and consequently, the animal became the symbol of the city.

From 1857 to 2009, the bears were kept in a bear pit, Bärengraben, a concrete enclosure that was more a hole in the ground than a place which represents the Swiss canton. Feeding the bears was allowed, provided you bought carrots from the store next door and threw them into the ground.

In reality, the bear pit was a pitiful enclosure in which the adorable animals were kept. Although they were looked after, we found it a sad site when we visited Bern on a day trip from Luzern.

In October 2009, Bärengraben was closed down and the bears were relocated to BärenPark, a more natural environment along the river Aare. Their new home is a lush 6000 m2 park where the ursine population can roam freely instead of being trapped in a concrete prison.

The photographs below were taken at the original bear pit, Bärengraben.

In the bear pit, waiting to be fed

Bear doing push ups

Bear gesturing people to be fed

BärenPark Berne

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.


  • Wow, I wouldn’t have guessed such a thing could exist in a country like Switzerland. Great news that it’s now closed & the bears relocated to a better home.

    • Nicole, we love teddy bears so we went to Bern just to see the bears and were disappointed at the conditions they lived in. The new park sounds like a much better way to celebrate the mascot of the city.

  • Great post – I haven’t been to Bern in ages. And I always felt like Bern doesn’t get enough attention (lots of people don’t even realize it’s the capital of Switzerland!) The last time I went there, the bears were still in the pit – i’m glad to hear they’ve been relocated to something that’s more comfortable for them. Also, i always think it’s a bit touch and go when you let the tourists feed the animals. Even though you’re only supposed to feed them carrots, I’m sure other non-bear thing inevitably end up in their diet.

    • I’m sure people throw in all sorts of food that the bears shouldn’t eat. Although I remember that the rangers were quite strict at the time but who knows… We found Bern to be a lovely city although we only visited for the day. It makes Geneva look so bland.

  • Thanks for the little bit of history on Bern and its name. I’m so glad that the bears have a better place to live and roam now. I love the photo of the bear doing sit ups.

    • That bear loved to exercise, unlike another who just flopped on his back and bared all his rude bits for all to see. (I didn’t post that photo, of course!)

  • Oh how interesting! Reminds me of Czesky Krumlov. As my brother and hiked up to the castle we saw people peering down into the moat. As we got to the wall we were startled to see a moat with a BEAR in it! 🙂

    • How nice! They’re cute animals but also scary to encounter in the wild. I often have to remind myself that they’re not teddy bears!