Planning a trip to Switzerland and wondering if you should visit the capital city of Bern? No worries! This comprehensive travel guide will help you make an informed decision. Although small, Bern has quite a few amazing things to do that can fill your day and is perfect for both nature and culture lovers. So is Bern worth visiting? Let’s find out!
Is Bern worth visiting? Here are 10 reasons
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Bern is the capital city of Switzerland, located in the heart of central Europe. It is a place steeped in history and culture with its medieval old town being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is a vibrant destination offering visitors breathtaking panoramic views of the Aare River and surrounding mountains as well as unique shops, restaurants, galleries, and nightlife.
Bern was on our radar as it is the capital city, and we love visiting UNESCO world heritage sites (so this was an extra push to plan a trip there). After visiting we fell in love with the old town lanes and the views of Aare River – they were just gorgeous!
There is an array of cultural attractions, and outdoor activities in the nearby lakes, hills, forests, and vineyards. With its picturesque scenery, vibrant culture, and unique attractions, Bern is a must-see destination for all visitors.
Plus a quick train ride from Zurich is always a convenient way.
Here are our 10 reasons, why we LOVE Bern so much and why we think this stunning city is worth visiting!
Bern Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The medieval old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the city’s most popular attractions.
Switzerland has 11 natural and cultural sites that are recognized by UNESCO, but there are not a lot of towns/cities listed on it. So visiting Bern will definitely check off a UNESCO World Heritage Site from your list!
Bern was founded in the 12th century (1191), and the old city is filled with beautiful 15th and 16th century Renaissance architecture with sandstone facades and turrets reaching up to 15 stories in height.
The winding cobblestone lanes are full of colorful buildings and shops, restaurants, and galleries.
At the center of it, all is the Zytglogge clock tower, a landmark symbol of Bern, which is as old as the city itself.
Since the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has been well preserved over time to maintain its traditional charm. A lot of the buildings you see today were restored in the 18th century to its near-original condition.
You can easily walk and explore all the historical sites in Bern Old Town. If you prefer you can also book a guided tour here!
Bern has pretty cobblestone lanes and fewer crowds
Bern doesn’t get a lot of tourists as compared to other Swiss cities like Zurich, Geneva, or Interlaken. But this means that you can expect fewer crowds, and get to enjoy the pretty Old Town without feeling rushed.
The cobblestone lanes are picturesque with charming buildings. The old town is also home to some of Bern’s most important cultural attractions.
The Albert Einstein House is one of the most popular sites, where you can learn about the life and work of the famous scientist who lived here for many years.
The Zentrum Paul Klee is another popular attraction, with its collection of works by artist Paul Klee and other 20th century artists.
Other cultural institutions such as the Bern Museum of Fine Arts and Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum Bern) are also located in the old town.
There are also plenty of cafes, pubs, and restaurants to enjoy a meal or drink in one of the oldest parts of the city. Whether you’re interested in art, science, or simply taking a stroll through history, Bern’s old town is an enchanting destination worth visiting.
Prefer to stay overnight in Bern? Here are some of our favorite hotels,
- Hotel Bellevue Palace: Stay at this luxurious 5-star hotel that oozes stunning details and amenities from a restaurant, and bar, to a spa on-site. Find more details here
- Hotel Belle Époque: Another luxury hotel is the Belle Époque, located in the Old Town of Bern. They have an amazing staff and also offer free breakfast. Book your stay here
- Swissôtel Kursaal Bern / Hotel Allegro Bern: Another Old Town favorite, this 4 star hotel offers panoramic views of the Aare River and its cityscape. We recommend booking a suite with a balcony to have access to uninterrupted views! Click to view photos and availability
Bern is the capital city of Switzerland
Bern is the de facto capital city of Switzerland. The city has a long and fascinating history, dating back to 1191 when it was founded by Duke Berthold V of Zähringen.
The city of Bern was built on a peninsula covered by an oak forest. This forest was cut down to make way for the Old Town, and the Clock Tower that you see today was the city gate!
As one of the most culturally rich cities in Switzerland, Bern boasts some incredible attractions for visitors to explore. We have already listed a few attractions above, and here is another one that is must visit.
Swiss Parliament, the central government of Switzerland, is located in Bern and it has been the capital since 1848.
The National Council and the Council of States elected the city of Bern as the federal seat of Switzerland on 28 November 1848.
You can take guided tours of the parliament building for free. These tours last one hour, and are conducted in 4 different languages. You can book a tour here at the earliest three days before your scheduled visit.
Bern is compact, full of culture, and cute
Bern is a small city, it is compact and super easy to explore on foot. The city also boasts some fascinating museums and galleries for culture lovers.
The Bern Museum of Fine Arts showcases a plethora of local and international art. The Zentrum Paul Klee is another popular attraction, with its collection of works by artist Paul Klee and other 20th century artists.
Other cultural institutions – are the Bern Natural History Museum, Swiss Alpine Museum, and Einstein Museum.
Bern hosts several festivals throughout the year that showcase music, art, film, theater, dance, and more. The GurtenFestival is a popular music festival held each year in July, featuring both international and local artists.
The Bern International Jazz Festival takes place for 2 months from March to May.
The Bern Norient Film Festival is held annually in January, showcasing the best of world cinema from all over the globe.
You can also fill your days with seasonal and traditional events as well. The Bern Carnival (Berner Fasnacht) kicks off in February or March and it brings in lots of people on the streets with music and colorful attire.
Museum Night is amazing and you can visit museums for free late into the night.
There is the Zibelemärit (onion market) – a traditional folk festival that takes place in November. And in the winter, you can enjoy festive Christmas Markets!
If you’re looking for an adventure, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in Bern. The city is surrounded by the beautiful Alps and Aare River, offering opportunities for hiking, biking, rafting, and skiing nearby.
The city is home to several parks and gardens to explore such as the Rose Garden, Bear Park, and Old Botanical Gardens.
Bern is the perfect base to explore more of Central Switzerland
Keeping Bern as a base, you can explore the beauty of Switzerland beyond the capital city.
There are plenty of day trips and excursions that you can embark on. The Bern train station is located near the Old Town, and you can walk there to catch a ride.
Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or cultural discovery, these 8 destinations make great day trips from Bern.
Take day trips from Bern
The Emmental Valley
The Emmental Valley is one of the most popular day trips from Bern.
Located just 50 minutes drive away, this fabulous valley is known for its lush green hills and stunning landscapes. You can go for a walk or ride a bike along the many trails or explore the charming villages of Burgdorf and Langnau.
Travel by train: 1 hour 30 minutes
The nearby town of Thun is another fascinating destination filled with history, culture, and stunning views. Just 20-30 minutes away by train, Thun is a beautiful city situated beside Lake Thun in the Bernese Oberland region.
You can enjoy boat tours of the lake as well as explore some of the city’s historic sites.
Travel by train: 20 – 30 minutes
The charming village of Gruyeres is another top day trip from Bern.
Located in the Fribourg canton, Gruyeres is known for its cheese production and beautiful medieval architecture. It’s also home to the world-famous Château de Gruyères, a stunning castle with ancient ramparts surrounding a cobblestone courtyard.
Travel by train: 1 hour 45 minutes
The Aletsch Glacier is another must-visit destination for visitors to Switzerland. Located in the canton of Valais, this magnificent glacier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s largest valleys.
From Bern, it’s about two hours away by car or train and is well worth a visit. By traveling by train you have to change in Brig. This area is great for hikes and scenic views of the Swiss Alps.
Travel by train: 2 hours
The picturesque town of Interlaken is also a great day trip from Bern. Just an hour away by train, Interlaken sits on the banks of Lake Thun and Brienz and offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Travel by train: 50 minutes (Bern OST to Interlaken West)
For those looking for a unique cultural experience, a visit to the City of Basel is an absolute must.
The city has a rich history and culture and hosts some of the largest art collections in Europe (at the Kunstmuseum). It’s just an hour’s drive or train ride away from Bern and is well worth seeing.
Travel by train: 1 hour
Lucerne is located just two hours away from Bern. This beautiful city on the banks of Lake Lucerne offers stunning views of Mount Pilatus and is home to many historic sites such as the Chapel Bridge and Water Tower.
Travel by train: 1 hour+
Finally, don’t miss out on a visit to Montreux, located in the Swiss Riviera region. This picturesque town is home to beautiful lakeside promenades and majestic castles perched on the mountainside.
There are also many outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, and biking.
Travel by train: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Meet bears at the BearPark or Bear Pit
Located in the heart of the city, BearPark is home to an impressive collection of bears that are free to roam and explore the park’s lush green grounds.
You can take a stroll through the park, enjoying up-close views of these majestic creatures from within the safety of their enclosures.
Bear Park is a great place to spend an afternoon in Bern and it is unique to the city.
According to a legend, the city’s founder, Duke Berthold V von Zähringen, promised to name the city after the first animal he managed to hunt down during his visit. As luck would have it, he killed a bear, which became the city’s symbol and name.
Visit the Swiss Parliament Building
It’s only in Bern that you can visit the Parliament Building of Switzerland.
The Swiss Parliament Building is a great place to visit if you’re looking to learn more about the country’s political system.
Located in the Old Town of Bern, this impressive building was inaugurated in 1902 and features stunning architecture including ornate stonework and intricate carvings.
You can take a guided tour of the building for free, which includes a visit to the Parliament Chamber and the chance to learn more about Switzerland’s government.
The Parliament Building is also known as the Federal Palace of Switzerland or Bundeshaus (German).
Take in picturesque views of the Aare River and mountains
The stunning views of the Aare River and surrounding mountains make Bern one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
There are bridges from where you can see its deep blue waters while also taking in views of some of the city’s architecture and mountains far away!
There are trails where you can enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, and biking. If you wish to hit the slopes, you can do so by embarking on a day trip to nearby ski resorts.
To get the best views of the river and mountains, you should make sure to visit one of the many lookout points scattered across the city. These spots offer spectacular panoramic views that are sure to take your breath away.
So make sure to take some time out from exploring Bern’s attractions to take in the majestic views of the Aare River and mountains.
Bern is perfect for nature and culture lovers
Bern is the perfect destination for those looking to explore both culture and nature. The city itself is full of historic attractions such as the Clock Tower, the Bern Historical Museum, and the Federal Palace of Switzerland – so, all the historical goodies!
There are also plenty of restaurants in this area where you can sample some delicious Swiss cuisine.
For nature lovers, there are numerous outdoor activities to enjoy in and around Bern. Hiking and biking trails can be found throughout the city, offering stunning views of mountains and lakes along the way.
And don’t forget the BearPit, which is located in the heart of the city and showcases an impressive collection of bears that are free to roam.
Visit Bern: Enjoy this Swiss city and the countryside
In conclusion, Bern is a stunning destination full of vibrant culture and unique attractions. It is small, charming, and laid back. Many visitors to Switzerland skip their capital city – but it is 1000% worth a visit, even if it’s for one day.
If you are planning for an overnight stay or more, Bern’s location makes it an ideal base for exploring the rest of Switzerland. From stunning mountain vistas to historic castles and bustling cities, there’s no shortage of great day trips from Bern.
When planning a trip to Bern, it is recommended that you fly to Zurich from North America (thanks to flight connectivity), and then take a train to the capital city. It will take an hour to get there. The train station in Bern is located very close to the Old Town.
Whether you are looking for an unforgettable cultural experience or simply want to relax and take in stunning views, Bern is sure to provide an unforgettable experience, so don’t forget to add it to your Switzerland itinerary!
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- Is Lucerne worth visiting