If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, there’s no doubt that the country has so much to offer: gorgeous alpine scenery, stunning views of majestic mountains, and some of the most exquisite regional cuisine in the world. But when it comes to selecting a city to visit, two stand out above all others: Zurich or Bern.
In this post, we will cover the different factors, attractions, budget, accommodation tips, and more so that you can make an informed decision. In this tug-of-war between Zurich vs Bern, we hope our recommendations will help you craft the perfect Switzerland itinerary.
Zurich or Bern: Which Swiss City to Visit?
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Both of the Swiss cities are remarkable in their own ways. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, located on the shores of Lake Zurich. It’s known for its sophisticated shopping and dining options, luxurious hotels, and vibrant nightlife.
In contrast to Zurich is Bern, which is the country’s capital. It’s a compact and charming city that is beloved for its blend of old and new. From the picturesque medieval buildings to contemporary art galleries and stunning views along the river Aare, Bern will melt your heart.
As you weigh your options between Zurich and Bern, there are a few key factors to consider. Each city has its own unique charm and attractions, so your decision will depend largely on your specific interests and preferences.
Things to consider when choosing between Zurich vs Bern
Are you a history enthusiast or a luxury shopper? A food connoisseur or an outdoors adventurer? Let’s delve into how each city might cater to different tastes and interests, and guide you towards making an informed decision.
Zurich or Bern: Transportation and connectivity
Zurich is well-connected to other Swiss cities and international destinations. It has an extensive public transportation system, including buses, trams, trains, and boats.
The city is served by the Zurich International Airport, which offers direct flights to a number of European cities as well as further afield in North America and Asia.
You can easily find direct flights from the USA, Canada, and India to Zurich, and then make connections to other cities in Switzerland.
Bern is equally well connected to other Swiss cities and the rest of Europe. It has a comprehensive public transport network and is served by Bern-Belp Airport, which offers direct flights to some countries within the Schengen Area as well as other destinations such as London.
Bern’s public transportation network consists of bus and tram lines to serve the city! Trains are handy to get to nearby places in the canton and the rest of the country.
Between Bern and Zurich, the latter is a better option while flying from outside the European continent. SwissAir (and other Star Alliance partners) make it easier to travel in and from Zurich.
Zürich Hauptbahnhof or Zurich HB stands as Switzerland’s largest railway station and one of Europe’s busiest. Serving as a major railway hub, Zürich HB connects travelers to destinations across Switzerland and neighboring countries like Germany, Italy, Austria, and France.
Zurich or Bern: Accommodation
When it comes to accommodation, both Zurich and Bern offer a variety of options. In Zurich, you will find everything from luxury 5-star hotels to budget hostels. Many of the city’s hotels also offer stunning views of Lake Zurich and the surrounding mountains.
Meanwhile, in Bern, there are plenty of hotels and guesthouses, as well as Airbnb options. Being a smaller city though, your selection will be limited.
For visitors looking for a luxurious stay in Zurich, the Storchen is an excellent option. This 5-star hotel offers top-notch amenities, world-class dining options, and breathtaking views of the city and lake. It’s also conveniently located near some of Zurich’s most popular attractions.
Alternatively, those seeking more budget-friendly accommodation should consider staying at the Hotel Adler. This charming 3-star hotel provides comfortable rooms and a convenient location just a short walk from Zurich’s bustling city centre.
For those looking for an unforgettable stay in Bern, the Bellevue Palace is an excellent choice. This 5-star hotel offers lavish accommodation, fine cuisine at its signature restaurant and breathtaking views of the city and surrounding mountains.
If you are in search of more affordable accommodation you should check out the 3-star Hotel La Pergola which offers single rooms to large family suites!
Is it cheaper to stay in Zurich or Bern?
Zurich is expensive in terms of accommodation as compared to Bern. The city is also popular and usually the first point of entry to the country making hotel rates skyrocket during the peak tourist seasons.
You can, however, find hostels and cheaper options to stay near the Zurich airport, but overall it is pricier than Bern.
Zurich or Bern: Which has a more picturesque Old Town
When it comes to picturesque old town streets, Bern takes the cake. The Swiss capital is home to some of the most charming cobblestone streets in Europe, boasting a delightful blend of history and architecture.
Walking along these enchanting streets, you’ll be greeted by a kaleidoscope of colorful buildings adorned with intricate details. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafts from cozy cafes, inviting you to take a moment to savor the atmosphere.
As you stroll, you might encounter talented street musicians serenading passersby, adding a musical charm to the already vibrant ambiance.
Whether you’re exploring the hidden alleyways or enjoying a meal at one of the many inviting restaurants, Bern’s old town streets offer an unforgettable experience that captures the essence of European charm and allure.
Zurich, although not boasting as many ‘old town vibe’ streets as Bern, still offers a plethora of delightful sights waiting to be discovered.
As you wander through the city’s historic core, you’ll find yourself enchanted by river views, cute cafes, luxury shops, and hotels. The view of the Limmat River from Lindenhorf is one to behold forever.
And when the winter chill sets in, imagine yourself cozying up at one of the many quaint outdoor cafes, indulging in a steaming cup of rich Swiss hot chocolate or fondue at night!
Note that both Zurich and Bern have an Old Town (or Altstadt as it’s called). Bern’s Altstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bern or Zurich: Food & Restaurants
Both Zurich and Bern are renowned for their culinary offerings, making them ideal destinations for foodies.
In Zurich, be sure to check out the gourmet restaurants dotting the Bahnhofstrasse such as Michelin-starred Widder Bar & Restaurant or Kronenhalle. For more casual dining, head to Viadukt Market, where you can try tasty local dishes like Swiss cheese fondue and Raclette.
In Bern, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from ranging from traditional Swiss eateries to trendy hipster joints. Be sure to stop by Altstadt for some delicious raclette or Rosti and wash it down with a local beer at the cozy old city pubs such as Kornhauskeller.
For an unforgettable dining experience, try Michelin-starred Restaurant Wein & Sein Bern for exquisite cuisine crafted with the finest local ingredients.
Bern or Zurich: Which city is touristy
Both Zurich and Bern are great destinations for first-time visitors. Statistically, Zurich is more touristy with lots of things to do and see.
The airport and the main train station in Zurich welcome millions of people to Switzerland every year.
In Zurich, the beautiful lake, cobblestone streets of the old town, and bustling shopping district make it a popular destination for tourists. The city is also home to some of Switzerland’s most iconic attractions such as Lake Zurich, Grossmunster Church, and the Lindenhof hill.
Read: 2 day Zurich itinerary
Bern or Zurich: Which city has more things to do
It’s hard to say which city has more attractions as both offer a wealth of cultural and historical sights.
Zurich is a thriving city with plenty to do for all kinds of visitors. From exploring world-class art galleries and museums to indulging in luxury shopping, there’s something for everyone here.
Zurich has the famous Bahnhofstrasse shopping district, the Zurich Opera House, and a range of art galleries and museums such as the Swiss Transport Museum, FIFA Museum, History Museum, and more.
Not to forget the Limmat River views and the views from Lindenhof Hill.
Bern is also popular with tourists who seek city and cultural activities. The city’s old town streets are full of historic buildings such as the famous Zytglogge clock tower, the Bern Cathedral, and the cute Bern bears sculptures. This charming city also has plenty of museums, galleries, and outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy.
Bern is home to the Federal Palace and various other attractions such as parks like the Rose Garden. Beyond the cultural attractions, the beautiful parks and the access to the Bernese Oberland make Bern an amazing Swiss destination for frequent travelers.
Bern vs. Zurich: USP for each city
We have already covered attractions in both cities. You may want to consider the uniqueness that each of the cities brings to the table.
Zurich’s most popular sights is the Bahnhofstrasse shopping district--a long, elegant shopping street lined with luxury stores and cafes (one of the MOST expensive streets in the world).
For stunning views, head to Lake Zurich or nearby Uetliberg Mountain for breathtaking views of the city below.
Recommended Sightseeing Attractions in Zurich:
- Bahnhofstrasse: This upscale shopping district is home to designer boutiques, luxury stores, and various other attractions such as the Lake Promenade
- Grossmünster Church: This iconic Romanesque-style church stands tall on top of Zurich’s old town, offering breathtaking views of the city
- Uetliberg Mountain: This popular hike offers stunning panoramic views of Zurich and the nearby Alps that can be enjoyed from various lookout points
In Bern, you can enjoy a mix of old-world charm and modern attractions. The Swiss capital is home to some of the most charming cobblestone streets in Europe, boasting a delightful blend of history and architecture. It is the home to one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Switzerland, the Old Town of Bern.
The city is also well known for its many museums such as the Einstein Museum and Swiss Alpine Museum.
At the same time, Bern also has plenty of well-known natural spaces such as Aare River View, the beautiful Rose Garden, and Bear Park.
Recommended Sightseeing Attractions in Bern:
- Old City of Bern: One of the most popular attractions is the old town with its medieval buildings, cobblestone streets, and picturesque arcades
- Bern Münster Cathedral: This impressive cathedral is the highest church in Switzerland and offers stunning views of the city from its elevated viewpoint
- Bear Park & Zoo: The Bear Park located near the Aare River is home to six European brown bears, making it a great place for animal lovers to explore
Bern vs. Zurich: Best for Christmas and winter trips
Although Bern and Zurich both host Christmas markets and light events, they are not typical of old-world winter vacations.
Depending on the activities you are after, either city will be able to keep you entertained, however, keep in mind that events and restaurants will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
So if you love to shop – Zurich is an excellent choice. The city lights up with festivities and Christmas Markets (particularly at the Sechseläutenplatz and Zurich HB). Plus you can also visit churches in Old Town at this time.
You can also hit small-town Rapperwil for Christmas fun.
Christmas in Bern is also special as the city hosts many festivals and markets. The most popular one is the Berner Sternenmarkt, known for chalet-style souvenir shops, kids’ play/carousel, and amazing views of Parliament Square.
Other markets are set up by the Bern Cathedral, and at the Orphanage Square. For stunning views of the city, take a cable car ride up Gurten Hill and admire the snow-covered streets below.
Both cities are not super cold in the winter (and White Christmas is not 1000% guaranteed, but it is winter so you will have to bundle up). If you wish to indulge in outdoor activities like skiing or just soak in the snowy mountain views then ski resorts like Kleine Scheidegg and Grindelwald or car-free towns like Zermatt are great options.
Bern vs. Zurich: Which is better for couples
When it comes to romance, both Zurich and Bern have their unique appeal.
If you love bigger cities with tons of nightlife, shopping, restaurants, and spa options then pick Zurich. Zurich Old Town, with its picturesque lakeside setting, and elegant boulevard also offers a classy and sophisticated experience for couples.
A boat ride on Lake Zurich or a candlelit dinner in one of the city’s gourmet restaurants can make for a memorable date night. The city’s cultural life, with theaters, concerts, and art exhibitions, adds to the romantic ambiance.
Bern, on the other hand, exudes a quiet, old-world charm. Couples can take a romantic stroll along the cobblestone streets of the Old Town or take in the views from one of its iconic towers such as the Cathedral Tower.
For an extra special date, couples can enjoy a ride on the funicular up to Gurten Hill for incredible views of Bern and beyond.
Zurich vs. Bern: Which is better for families
For families, both Zurich and Bern present an array of family-friendly attractions, but they each have their distinct advantages.
Zurich, being a larger city, offers more variety in terms of recreational areas and entertainment options for children. The Zurich Zoo, with its impressive ecosystem replicas like the Masoala Rainforest, is a must-visit.
The Swiss Museum of Transport is another attraction that will captivate children’s interest with its fascinating display of various modes of transport.
The city’s numerous parks and Lake Zurich offer plenty of picnic spots and outdoor activities for a fun-filled family day.
Bern, on the other hand, offers a more relaxed atmosphere, ideal for families looking to immerse themselves in Swiss culture and history. The Bear Park, housing the city’s symbol, the Bernese bears, is a hit among children.
Also, the Gurten funicular ride and the Federal Palace tour offer both adventure and educational experiences.
The Einstein Museum in Bern is also a popular stop for curious kids.
Zurich vs. Bern: Which is affordable to visit in Switzerland
In terms of affordability, Bern generally tends to be a more budget-friendly destination than Zurich.
Zurich, renowned as one of the world’s most expensive cities, is famous for its luxury shopping, upscale restaurants, and high-end accommodations, which can significantly increase travel expenses.
The costs of attractions, meals, and public transportation are generally higher in Zurich compared to Bern.
Bern presents a more affordable option while still offering a rich trove of cultural and historical experiences. Accommodations, dining, and entertainment in Bern are relatively less expensive.
Moreover, the city’s main attractions like the Bear Park, Federal Palace, and the Museum of Fine Arts Bern are either free or have nominal entrance fees, enabling you to explore the city without breaking the bank.
However, it’s worth noting that travel costs can vary widely depending on personal preferences and travel habits. Budget-conscious travelers can find affordable options in both cities by prioritizing free activities, choosing budget accommodations, eating at local markets, and using public transportation.
Zurich vs. Bern: Which is best for visiting other European countries
Both Zurich and Bern offer excellent connections to other European destinations, making them ideal for travelers looking to explore the continent.
Zurich is well-connected to neighboring countries via direct rail links. Trains depart from Zurich Main Station bound for cities like Paris, Venice, Milan, Munich, and Vienna.
The city also has an international airport with flights departing to over 130 different destinations.
Bern, while smaller than Zurich, also offers convenient access to the rest of Europe. The Bern-Belp airport offers direct flights to cities like Geneva, Cologne, Amsterdam, and Barcelona.
Additionally, there are regular trains from Bern Hauptbahnhof departing for various European countries including Italy and Germany.
Bern vs Zurich: Choose Bern or Zurich based on your travel style and interests
When it comes to choosing between Zurich and Bern, we recommend considering your itinerary plans and your personal travel style and interests.
- If you’re a fan of bustling city life, luxury shopping, and vibrant nightlife, then Zurich might be the perfect destination for you. The city is known for its upmarket boutiques and upscale restaurants. Zurich also has a rich cultural scene, with numerous art galleries and museums to explore.
- On the other hand, Bern, the capital city, offers a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. It’s ideal for travelers who enjoy history and culture. The city’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting beautiful medieval architecture, charming cobblestone streets, and the iconic Zytglogge clock tower.
- Bern is also perfect for nature lovers, with its scenic parks and the tranquil River Aare.
- Want to visit more of the Swiss cities? Consider Zurich as a base as it is perfect for day trips. Yes, you can check off Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Chur, and others, on a day trip from Zurich.
- Prefer a quiet getaway and an offbeat destination? Choose Bern. Although it is the Swiss capital city, it is not an obvious pick by first-time travelers to Switzerland.
The best way to experience both cities is by taking a multi-day trip. This gives you plenty of time to explore both Zurich and Bern, making sure that you don’t miss out on the best attractions each city has to offer (more on that below)!
Things To Do In Zurich City
Zurich offers a plethora of activities that cater to different preferences and interests.
- Visit the Old Town (Altstadt): Traverse the narrow, winding lanes of Zurich’s Old Town to get a glimpse into the city’s rich history. Here you’ll find remarkable landmarks such as the Grossmünster and Fraumünster churches, and the Rathaus (Town Hall). We highly recommend embarking on a walking tour of Old Town to check out all the primary attractions.
- Explore the Swiss National Museum: Delve into Switzerland’s cultural history at the Swiss National Museum. The museum houses a comprehensive collection of artifacts spanning from prehistoric times to the present.
- Relax by Lake Zurich: Spend a leisurely day at Lake Zurich. You can enjoy a serene boat ride, have a picnic by the lakeside, or simply admire the stunning view of the surrounding Alps.
- Stroll Along Bahnhofstrasse: This world-renowned shopping street is a paradise for shopaholics. Lined with high-end boutiques, Bahnhofstrasse offers everything from luxury fashion labels to Swiss watches and chocolates.
- Discover the Flavors of Zurich: Try out local specialties such as Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, a creamy veal dish, and Zurich Eintopf, a hearty stew. Don’t forget to indulge in some Swiss chocolate and cheese fondue!
- Visit the Zurich Zoo: With over 350 different animal species, the Zurich Zoo is a delightful place for families. The zoo’s Masoala Rainforest Hall, a mini rainforest ecosystem, and the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park are particularly popular.
Remember, Zurich is a city that’s best explored at a leisurely pace, so take your time to soak in the charm and beauty of this Swiss city.
Where to Stay in Zurich
In Zurich, you have a world of options when it comes to choosing a place to stay. The city offers a blend of high-end luxury hotels, mid-range accommodations, and budget-friendly hostels to cater to the diverse needs of travelers.
Here are three recommendations, each offering unique experiences to visitors.
- Storchen: Storchen is an upscale hotel offering a luxurious stay in Zurich. Overlooking the Limmat River and the city’s architecture, this hotel boasts opulent rooms, renowned restaurants, and exceptional service. Its location in the city center makes it a convenient choice for exploring Zurich’s prime attractions. Click to book a stay here
- Radisson Blu Hotel, Zurich Airport: Located near Zurich Airport, Radisson Blu Hotel is an excellent option for those in transit or on a short visit. It offers comfortable rooms, a spa, and a pool. Despite its proximity to the airport, the hotel ensures a tranquil environment for a restful stay. Check availability here
- 25hours Hotel Langstrasse: Finally, visitors looking for something more unique should check out the 25hours Hotel Langstrasse. This chic design hotel offers trendy yet cozy rooms, as well as an enviable rooftop pool and bar with stunning views of the city. It is located near the Zurich HB and the Red Light district. Book your stay here
Things To Do In Bern
Like Zurich, Bern is packed with attractions that cater to different preferences. Here are some of the must-do activities in this Swiss city.
- Climb to the Bern Cathedral: Located on a hilltop in the Old Town, the Bern Cathedral is the tallest cathedral in Switzerland. Climb up its bell tower for spectacular views of the city and surrounding green hills.
- Take a leisurely stroll around Zytglogge: The iconic clock tower of Bern, Zytglogge, is a symbol of the city. Take a leisurely stroll around the old cobblestoned square and admire its 13th-century architecture.
- Explore the Bear Pit: Home to Bern’s beloved bear sculptures, the Bear Park lets you get up close and personal with these furry creatures. Enjoy the picturesque views of the city from the park’s overlook.
- Visit Old Town Bern: Wander through the narrow streets of Old Town Bern to get a glimpse into local life. Here, you’ll find outdoor cafes, street musicians, and some of Europe’s oldest fountains. You can also book a walking tour here
- Visit the Parliament Square: The Parliament Square or the Bundesplatz is one of Bern’s most iconic landmarks. It houses the Swiss Parliament Building and Federal Palace, and you can join a guided tour here (for free).
- Discover Bern’s Art Scene: With its numerous art galleries, museums, and theaters, Bern is a great city for art enthusiasts. Don’t miss the Kunstmuseum and Zentrum Paul Klee, two of the city’s most renowned art museums.
Where to Stay in Bern
Bern has a range of accommodation choices to suit all budgets. From luxury hotels located in the heart of the Old Town, to cheaper options on the outskirts of the city, there’s something for everyone.
Here are our top picks,
- Schweizerhof Hotel: Schweizerhof Hotel is one of the most luxurious accommodations in Bern. Its prime location, close to the Bern railway station and the Old Town, makes it a convenient choice for travelers. The hotel features elegant rooms, a spa, and a restaurant serving exquisite Swiss cuisine. Click to book a stay here
- Swissôtel Kursaal Bern: Situated on the outskirts of the Old City, Swissôtel Kursaal Bern offers stunning views of the Swiss Alps. It houses two restaurants, a fitness center, and a casino. The hotel’s location provides easy access to Bear Park and other main attractions. Check availability here
- Ibis Styles Bern City: For budget-conscious travelers, Ibis Styles Bern City is a great choice. This hotel provides comfortable, modern rooms at affordable rates. Despite being a budget hotel, it does not compromise on amenities and services. It is a short walk away from the city center, making it an ideal base for exploring Bern. Book your stay here
- Hotel Bären am Bundesplatz: This charming 4-star hotel is located near the Federal Palace, and Old Town and provides cozy rooms and a (paid) breakfast buffet to start the day. Book your stay here
How to add Zurich and Bern to your Switzerland Itinerary
No matter which city you choose to visit, Switzerland offers a wealth of activities and attractions in Zurich and Bern that are sure to make your Swiss adventure an unforgettable one.
What’s more, Zurich and Bern are easily accessible from each other, so it’s easy to explore both in one trip!
With direct train connections between the two cities, traveling from Zurich to Bern or vice versa could not be simpler. So why not make the most of your Swiss getaway and explore the best of both cities? Here is a sample itinerary for 7 or 10 days in Switzerland,
7 days in Switzerland Itinerary
- Day 1 – 2: Spend days in Zurich exploring the Old Town area and Rhine Falls day trip
- Day 3: Spend a day in Bern (or two)
- Day 4: Take a day trip to Lucerne from Zurich
- Day 5 – 6: Visit Interlaken and Jungfraujoch, spend 2 days here
- Day 7: Return to Zurich. Or extend your trip to Basel
10 days in Switzerland Itinerary
- Day 1: Arrive and explore Zurich
- Day 2: More sightseeing in Zurich, starting for Basel in the evening
- Day 3: Explore the City of Culture on the Rhine – Basel
- Day 4: More of Basel, and ‘Three Countries’
- Day 5: Take a train to Zermatt and explore later in the day
- Day 6: Explore more of Zermatt (hikes or mountain excursions)
- Day 7: Spend the day at the Glacier Express from Zermatt to Chur (return to Zurich)
- Day 8:Take a day trip to Lauterbrunnen from Zurich (with a stop in Thun)
- Day 9: Explore Lucerne and Mount Pilatus from Zurich
- Day 10: Travel to Bern on a day trip from Zurich
How far apart are Zurich and Bern?
Zurich to Bern is about 121 km (75.1 miles), and it will take about one hour and 30 minutes to cover the distance by car. By direct train, it takes an hour.
Travel Tips for Zurich and Bern
Whether you’re visiting Zurich or Bern, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your trip:
- Book in advance: Hotels and tickets for attractions tend to get booked quickly, so book well ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
- Try out the transport system: Taking public transit is an efficient and cost-friendly way to explore Zurich or Bern. Grab a Swiss Travel Pass here that offers unlimited rides on the public transport system in Switzerland.
- Get a travel insurance policy: Traveling with an insurance policy is always a good idea, so make sure you get one before your trip.
- Bring a good camera: Make sure you bring a good camera so you can capture all your memories of Switzerland!
- Carry an umbrella: The weather in Switzerland can be unpredictable, so carrying an umbrella is always a good idea.
- Credit cards and Swiss Francs: Switzerland uses CHF or Swiss Francs as its official currency. We recommend paying for tours, passes, etc. prior to your trip in local currency and then using your credit cards to pay for expenses there
- Stock up on some Swiss chocolate and cheese: You can’t leave Switzerland without tasting the local delicacies, so make sure to stock up on some Swiss chocolate and cheese before you go!
These tips should help you get the most out of your trip to Zurich or Bern.
Zurich vs Bern: The Verdict
We personally enjoyed our time in both cities. We have visited Switzerland multiple times, and Zurich always has a place in our itinerary – it is perfect to get in and out of the country, pick up souvenirs, and more.
Salil loves the BIG city vibes and I adore their Old Town cafes and walks by the promenade. We could spend days exploring the city’s museums, go on cruises, or try new restaurants.
Visiting Bern is easy. The city is compact, and we covered a lot on a 2 day trip. Most of the major attractions in Bern can also be explored in a day. So we feel you can surely cover both cities on your itinerary. And you won’t regret it!
No matter which city you choose to visit, you’re sure to be mesmerized by Switzerland’s spectacular beauty and charm.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get ready for the Swiss adventure of a lifetime in Zurich or Bern!
Read more posts from Switzerland:
- 2 days in Switzerland itinerary
- Is the Swiss Travel Pass worth it?
- Where to stay in Switzerland
- Switzerland Packing List