What to Do in Bern, Switzerland – Top Activities & More
If you are planning a trip to Bern and wondering about the best things to do in Bern, Switzerland, then this post is for you.
The Swiss capital of Bern is a picturesque city filled with Medieval structures, cobblestone streets, limestone arcades, and lush greenery. With its eclectic mix of culture, history, nature, and breathtaking scenery, it is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Switzerland. I would actually even say, it is the most beautiful city in the country. And there are quite some gorgeous Swiss cities Bern has to compete with.
Bern is in close proximity to some of Switzerland’s most iconic and stunning destinations. The majestic Alps, Gothic castles, and charming vineyards are just a few of the spectacular sights you can expect to see in the area.
Bern is an amazing city for many reasons – here, we are focusing on the famous Bern attractions and also some lesser-known Bern sights that are well worth a visit – so, let´s find out about the best things to do in Bern.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product (at no extra cost to you) after clicking on my link. More about it here.
THINGS TO DO IN BERN, SWITZERLAND
In this post, I am focusing on the best Bern activities, a few day trips, as well as some travel tips. Let´s start with what to do in Bern.
Explore the Old City of Bern
Perched high on a hill overlooking the Aare River’s turquoise waters, this medieval gem lies within a spectacular location. With its sandstone buildings, historic fountains, and many popular attractions it is a landmark of Switzerland. The Old City is a breathtaking destination for a delightful getaway.
The town embodies several key historical eras, with structures dating as far back as the twelfth century. Beautiful arcades from the fifteenth century and fountains from the sixteenth century have been maintained and well-preserved over time, evoking the atmosphere of the Middle Ages.
In 1983, the Old City was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical and cultural significance.
The town has many remarkable structures and attractions that are worth visiting. With so much to see, taking a guided tour is a great way to experience the history and culture of the Old City.
Below, I am discussing some of the highlights of Bern´s old town.
Admire the Cathedral of Bern.
Also known as Berner Münster, the Cathedral of Bern is located in the heart of the Old City. The magnificent Gothic-style building is one of the most significant structures in the town.
It boasts the highest church spire in Switzerland at 350 feet. The construction of the structure started in 1421, and the iconic spire was completed in 1893. Over the centuries, the building has been well-preserved and maintained, keeping the quiet, sacred ambiance, and illustrious history of the Münster intact.
The statuesque depiction of the Last Judgment is perhaps the most spectacular. It is a sandstone masterpiece with more than four hundred sculptures, including angels with trumpets, prophets, and martyrs.
The interior of the Cathedral has many antique artifacts and artistic aspects to discover. The Cathedral is an active place of worship, with Protestant services being held over weekends.
- It is open to visitors year-round, but be sure to check the schedule in advance as it is closed during religious ceremonies and holidays.
Discover Bern’s Famous Fountains
The Old City is home to more than 100 public fountains, many with acclaimed sculptures, interesting history, and traditional folklore attached to them. These ornate stone fountains were constructed to replace the city’s wooden fountains dating back to the fourteenth century.
The wooden fountains not only provided drinking water but also served as a gathering spot for locals to meet and share news and gossip. The fountains continue to be an important part of Bern today, with some serving as sites for marketplaces and others as locations for events such as political rallies
- Normally, you can drink from the fountains. Look out for a sign that tells you if not.
Visit Zytglogge Clock Tower
Built in the early thirteenth century, the Zytglogge Clock Tower is one of Bern’s most famous medieval landmarks. The tower has served as a city gate, prison, guard tower, and civic memorial throughout the ages. For more than 600 years, the clock has chimed on the hour.
Like a cuckoo clock, the chiming is accompanied by a mechanical parade of figurines, including bears, jesters, and a golden rooster.
Climbing the 130 steps up the structure’s spiral staircase to the lookout platform at the top is well worth it. Here, you can experience sweeping views of colorful terraces, beautifully tiled rooftops, and the lush green valleys surrounding the city.
On a clear day, you can gaze out and spot the soaring heights of the Bernese Oberland mountains – take in their majestic beauty from the comfort of the clocktower!
Visit Bern’s Town Hall
Bern’s Town Hall is a Gothic structure dating back to the fifteenth century. During renovations in the 1940s, the original columned hall in the basement was revealed, regaining the structure’s medieval appearance.
Over the centuries, the building has served numerous purposes outside of politics. This includes housing the country’s printing press, and being used as a mint, national archive, and treasury.
It currently serves as the state’s administrative center and hosts dinners, receptions, and other high-profile political gatherings. During the week, visitors are welcome to view the municipal hall’s interior, which features some exquisite sculptures and paintings.
The square outside Town Hall is one of the many peaceful havens where you can sit back and admire the art and architecture of a city that appears to have come straight out of the Middle Ages.
Walk Along Aare River
At just over 180 miles, the Aare River is the longest river that rises and ends in Switzerland. It flows through natural mountain landscapes, and magical canyons, and gracefully curves around the Swiss capital.
The Green Aare Walk is a popular trail for the perfect stroll along the river. On this four-mile walk, you will have a great view of many of Bern’s celebrated attractions, including Bear Park and large parts of the Old City.
The appealing azure waters of the Aare are perfect for a swim, float, or quick dip during summer. For those who prefer to stay dry, a leisurely walk is excellent for soaking up the spectacular views.
Float in the Aare River
Aside from crisp, clear waters and scenic views, the Aare River also offers fun water activities. This includes swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and rafting. Floating down the Aare river on an inflatable raft is one of the most popular attractions on offer.
During the Swiss summertime, locals and tourists flock to the waters to enjoy a relaxing float along the river. An added benefit is that the activity is free, and the experience of floating past lush green trees and listening to the chorus of birds is priceless.
If you prefer a lido, then head to Marzilibad which is also free. This feels safer for some, as the Marzili has a paddling pool for younger guests and a sports pool with lanes, a non-swimmer pool, and a diving pool with 1m and 3m diving platforms.
See the Swiss Parliament Building
Switzerland is widely recognized as one of the oldest democracies in the world. The stately Parliament building, also known as the Bundeshaus or Federal Palace, houses the Swiss Federal Assembly which is also in the old town.
Built between 1894 and 1902, the spectacular Renaissance-style building has a dome in the center that houses the parliament chambers. It also has adjacent wings used for various federal agencies and the national library.
The structure’s interior features exquisite stained glass, tastefully carved wood, and magnificent sculptures and is equally as stunning as its exterior. The outside terrace is a lovely place to sit, enjoy the beautiful views, and meet friendly locals. Traditional Bernese markets and seasonal events, such as Christmas festivals, are also hosted on the terrace.
Take a Break at the Bundeshaus Terrasse
The Bundeshausterrasse is one of my favorite places in Bern. It is a charming terrace just outside the Parliament Building (Bundeshaus). Locals regularly meet up here to play a game of chess at one of the park’s large, popular chess boards.
Another great feature of the park is the three-dimensional model of the Bundeshaus, where you can orientate and familiarize yourself before entering the building. There is also a sign that points out the distant mountain peaks you can observe from the terrace.
It is a fantastic viewpoint (including of the Aare River) where you can sit on a bench and unwind while taking in the scenery.
Learn at the Albert Einstein Museum
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) lived in the city for several years while writing some of his most famous published papers. He also developed the influential Theory of Relativity that altered the understanding of the universe, space, and time while living in Bern.
Over 550 artifacts are on display, including his 1921 Nobel Prize certificate, school reports, personal letters, and photo albums. The exhibit allows the opportunity to explore Einstein’s background and discover the brilliant physicist from every angle. His personal and professional life are featured at the museum, revealing the person behind the intellectual.
- The Einsteinhaus is located on Kramgasse No. 49.
- Opening hours in 2022: 1 February – 20 December 2022.
- Monday – Sunday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Entrance fee: CHF 6 for adults, a reduced price for Swiss Travel Pass holders and children or pensionaries.
See the Bears of Bärengraben
For centuries, bears have played a role in Bernese culture and are even featured on the city’s coat of arms. According to local legend, the strong connection between the town and bears dates back to 1191. After a successful bear hunt, Duke Bertold V. von Zähringen allegedly named the city after the German term bären, which means bear.
The Swiss capital is locally referred to as the City of Bears, and one of the top attractions is the Bärengraben/Bear Park. It is a large, forested enclosure that stretches along the Aare River, and the Nydeggbrücke Bridge provides a great view from the top.
Currently, the large enclosure is home to three well-known majestic brown bears – Ursina, Finn, and Björk. On a sunny day, you might be lucky enough to spot them lounging in the sun while you stroll along the river.
- The park is free to visit – keep in mind that the bears do hibernate from October until spring.
Stroll Around Rose Garden Park
Within walking distance of Bear Park lies Bern’s delightful Rose Garden Park, known locally as Rosengarten. This tranquil city park is renowned for its variety of flowers, panoramic views of the city, and colorful playground.
One of the highlights of Rosengarten is the open-access library. It allows you to borrow a book to read in the park and return it at the end of the day, free of charge. There is also a lovely pond covered in waterlilies, beautiful fountains, and sculptures to enjoy.
The park has a beautiful view of the Old City and Gurten Mountain, and both young and old love its laid-back atmosphere. There are many great spots to have a picnic, read a book, or simply relax.
Also, you will find Albert Einstein here – if you remember Albert Einstein used to live and work in Bern and the locals have never forgotten his prominent resident.
Walk Across the Nydeggbrücke Bridge
The famous Nydeggbrücke is an iconic Swiss bridge that connects the Old City to the newer eastern parts of Bern. The freestone structure is easily identified by its three glorious arches that cross the Aare River.Construction of the bridge started in 1840 and was concluded in 1844. Remarkably, only minor changes and repairs have been made since. Due to its distinctive architecture, the bridge received the honor of being named a Swiss Heritage Site of National Significance.
Nydeggbrücke is a definite must-see for anyone interested in architecture. It is also worth visiting for the picturesque views of the city and the Bärengraben enclosure alone.
Relax at Hammam / Spa Oktogon
For a day of relaxation, indulgence, and pampering, Hamman and Spa Oktogon is a treat well worth experiencing. The Bernese Hammam was constructed inside an old octagonal building that housed the first gas boilers in Switzerland during the nineteenth century.
The unusual building has four distinctive floors, each of which offers its own unique oriental spa experience. The soothing ambiance is completed by accents like colorful pillows, ornate lanterns, decorative silver bowls, and daybeds.
Guests can enjoy a variety of luxurious treatments, such as warm baths, Moroccan clay masks, herbal steam rooms, and natural full-body exfoliation.
Whether you’re looking for a place to unwind after a long day or you want to treat yourself to a luxurious spa experience, the Hammam & Spa Oktogon Bern is a perfect choice. Check out prices here.
Enjoy the Outdoors at Gurten Mountain
There are many, many stunning mountain peaks in the Bernese Oberland area, but did you know that Bern has its own “local house mountain“? At 2,800 feet above sea level (860 meters) Gurten Mountain south of Bern is one of the smaller mountains in the Bernese Oberland. Despite its low elevation, it provides excellent panoramic views of the city and the magnificent Swiss Alps.
There is a wide variety of outdoor activities to enjoy, including hiking trails that pass through flowery meadows and dense forest terrains. For the more adventurous traveler, there is also the Gurten Observation Tower to climb, with a viewing platform at the top.
Another popular attraction is the charming miniature railway and playground for kids to enjoy. During winter in Bern, the snow-capped Gurten Mountain offers even more family-friendly activities, such as toboggan rides and sledding.
You cannot visit Bern and skip the old town – but why not visit at night and do a night watchman tour, which is a popular activity?
Spooky Side of Bern
If you are into spooky little stories and like to get some goosebumps, you can head to listen to some horror stories while doing a scary tour and learn about the spooky side of Bern.
DAY TRIPS FROM BERN
Here are some of the gorgeous, gorgeous places near Bern.
A day trip to Jungfraujoch is the perfect way to experience all that the Swiss Alps have to offer. Located in the Bernese Oberland region, Jungfraujoch is one of the highest mountain peaks in Europe, making it the perfect place to enjoy all kinds of winter sports. The views from the top are simply breathtaking – looking down at the Aletsch Glacier, the biggest glacier in the Alps, is just… WOW!
This is one of the most popular day trips in summer and winter – one of the reasons is that there is always snow on the mountain peak. And in winter, there is basically snow everywhere. From sledding and skiing to snowboarding – there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
But so are the other activities – some of them even indoors, like the Ice Palace or the Alpine Garden, and the view from the Sphynx Platform of the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the Alps, is unmatched.
The best part about Jungfraujoch is that it’s easily accessible by train, so you don’t have to worry about renting a car or driving in the snow. Just hop on the train and enjoy the ride – it is a long ride but still worth the time.
Here is my guide with more amazing day trips from Bern.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR BERN TRIP
But before talking about the best places to visit, here are some quick tips for your one-day trip to Bern.
Where to Stay
If you can, book your hotel in the old town. From there, you can get to all (or most) attractions in Bern within minutes.
- Luxury Hotel: If you are looking for a 5-star luxury place to stay, Bellevue Palace is probably the best place choice. It is centrally located and is great for those who like to indulge in luxury. To check out rates, click here.
- Mid-Range Hotel: I stayed at the 3-star hotel Goldener Schlüssel for 1 night, located in the city center/old town. Though my hotel room was pretty small though, with no direct (and free) parking options and the breakfast was simple, the location was perfect and made up for it. It was also pet-friendly (I had my dog with me). Check out rates here.
- Budget Hotel: Switzerland is no budget-friendly place, and Bern is no exception. Bern Youth Hostel is located in the city center. It offers affordable dorm beds but also private rooms with private bathrooms. Check out rates here.
How to Get to Bern
If you fly into Switzerland, Zurich Airport or Basel Airport would be the best choice. From there, it takes about one hour (by car or train) to get to Bern.
How to Get Around
- Most places mentioned on this Bern itinerary can easily be reached on foot. You do not need to travel long distances and if you are used to walking, then bring comfy shoes and discover Bern on foot. For the day trips, I recommend using public transportation.
- As basically in all of Switzerland, Bern has a pretty great public transportation system. Getting around by bus and tram would be the best option if you want to visit places further away or if you cannot/do not walk anymore. If you book a hotel, you will get a card that allows you to use public transportation for free (Bern Ticket).
- If you travel around Switzerland by public transportation, I highly recommend getting a Swiss Travel Pass. I visit Switzerland often, and most of the time I get one. It allows you to use trains and buses without any extra costs and you can do day trips without any extra costs (including boat trips on Lake Thun in Interlaken e.g.). Check out prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here.
- If you get around by car you should know that parking in the old town is difficult and pricey. Also, most attractions are so close by and there really is no need to get around by car.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE TOP BERN ACTIVITIES
So there you have it—an awesome list of things to do in Bern! From exploring historic sites to taking a leisurely stroll through the charming cobblestone streets – Bern is packed with activities that are guaranteed to make your visit an unforgettable one.
Bern is one of my most favorite cities/towns in Switzerland – it might become one of your favorites, too!