BEST WINTER ACTIVITIES IN BERN
If you’re looking for a winter getaway with stunning scenery, look no further than the city of Bern. As the capital of Switzerland and Bern Canton, this city received an influx of 478,000 travelers in 2018, with an expectation of increased tourist activity in the following years, especially during the winter months.
And Bern in winter is definitely worth a visit. This charming medieval town nestled in the heart of the Swiss Alps offers plenty of winter activities to keep you and the family entertained, making it a great base for day trips! From ice skating at Rathausplatz to sledding at Gurten mountain, there is something for everyone in Bern during winter.
Bern is also home to a number of historical must-see sights – with attractions like the Gothic Cathedral and the Zeitglockenturm clock tower, there’s also plenty to see even in the cold winter months. So if you’re looking for a memorable winter getaway this year, be sure to add Bern to your Switzerland list!
While many of the following tips can be done at any time of the year, there are a few things you can only do in the winter.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my link (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR BERN WINTER TRIP
Let´s start with some tips for your Bern winter trip.
How to get to Bern
If you fly into Switzerland, Zurich Airport or Basel Airport would be the best choices. From there, it takes about one hour (by car or train) to get to Bern.
How to get around Bern
For your winter trip, I recommend getting around public transportation. It will allow you to get an excellent impression of this country, and even in the winter months, public transportation in Switzerland is superb.
If you stay in an official accommodation in Bern, you will get a Bern Ticket. Bern itself is small, and you can easily walk, but sometimes being able to hop on a bus or tram and take advantage of the excellent Swiss public transportation comes in handy.
The Bern ticket allows you to use public transportation in the city of Bern for free.
- Public transportation in Bern is fast, reliable, and on time.
- However, the ticket is only for Bern. You cannot use it to get to some of the places I mention here.
- In those cases, you need to buy a ticket. So, please check the validity of the card for each location.
If you are a non-Swiss resident, you might want to look into a Swiss Travel Pass. I often, even if I road trip, buy them and use them for long distances, my boat cruises (I might have a slight obsession with boat rides), and even mountain rides.
You have unlimited bus, train, and boat rides with the Swiss Travel Pass.
The Swiss Travel Pass gives you a 50% discount on most of the mountain excursions and the Mount Rigi train ride is even included. Check out prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here. Check out prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here.
DRIVING IN BERN
Parking in the town center will make your travel costs explode – so make sure to book accommodation with (free) parking. Also, many winter activities mentioned here are within the town center of Bern, so a car might be unnecessary.
Keep in mind that driving in the snow might be challenging. While there will be hardly any snow in Bern, it might be different if you visit attractions like Engelberg because there will be – most likely – snow in higher altitude places.
Where to Stay in Bern
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.
Weather in Winter
Between the months of December and February, you can expect the weather to be the coldest compared to the other monthly average temperatures.
- The average expected temperature when visiting around Christmas time in December is 1.2 degrees Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit)
- January has proven to be the coldest month of the year in Bern with temperatures usually lingering around 0.6 degrees Celsius (33 degrees Fahrenheit).
- And if you’re visiting in February, you can expect temperatures to be settled at around 1.7 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit).
With temperatures this low, it’s important to pack to stay warm. Here are some essential items you should bring along with you:
- Snow or winter boots
- Thermal undergarments
- A thick winter coat
- Winter gloves
- A warm hat
- A scarf
- Warm, full-coverage garments
THINGS TO DO IN BERN IN THE WINTER MONTHS
Okay, here are the top winter activities for Bern.
Bern Christmas Market
- Location: Old town in Bern
- Cost of entry: Free
Visiting the Christmas Markets, at least if you visit during December, is a must-do. Switzerland is known for its Christmas Market and Bern is home to several markets.
My favorite Christmas Market in Bern is the Sternenmarket – the Stars market is located at the “Kleine Schanze“ park. Why the name you might wonder?! Well, it is about the star decoration but you will also find 80 stalls that offer food and products – from traditional craftsmanship and lifestyle items to modern design.
- This Christmas Market is open from 23rd November until the 31st of December.
The Minster Christmas Market in Bern is one of the most popular winter attractions in the city. Visitors can stroll through the artisan market, soaking up the festive atmosphere while browsing the stalls selling everything from handmade crafts to winter clothing. There are also plenty of food and drink options available, making it the perfect place to take a break from exploring the city.
The market is located in the heart of Bern, in the midst of some of the most beautiful historic buildings – including the impressive Cathedral of Bern.
This means, that even if you only have a few hours to spare, you can easily fit in a visit to the Christmas Market. With its beautiful setting and array of vendors, the Christmas Market in Bern is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city during winter.
- This Christmas Market normally opens in the first few days in December and closes on the 24th of December.
Explore The Old Town
- Location: Bern Old Town
- Cost of entry: Free
Bern is a magical place all year round, but there’s something extra special about visiting during the winter. The snow-capped mountains and twinkling lights create a scene that is straight out of a fairytale. And while the skiing and sledding are certainly enticing, sometimes it’s nice to take things at a slower pace.
That’s where the charming old town of Bern comes in. Strolling through the streets, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. The beautiful buildings and quaint shops are the perfect backdrops for some winter shopping. And be sure to stop by the Zytglogg clock tower for a wonderful tour!
And when you’re done, you can conveniently grab a drink at any of the nearby Swiss cafes to keep warm.
Ice Skating at Bundesplatz (Parliament Square)
- Location:Bundesplatz, Bern
- Cost of entry: Free of charge
- Costs: CHF 10.00 for skate rentals (adults), CHF 7.00 (children up to 15 years)
- Open from mid-December until mid-February from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
One of the best winter activities to do in Bern is ice skating at Bundesplatz – the rink is centrally located and surrounded by some of the city’s most iconic landmarks It’s the perfect place to visit with friends or family!
The big artificial ice rink in front of the Swiss Parliament Building is popular with locals and guests alike. Thousands of visitors come here to enjoy a few rounds of ice skating on the 600 m2 illuminated ice rink. You will also find a restaurant just at the ice rink where you have Swiss cheese fondue – make sure to make a reservation if you want to dine there.
- Cost of entry: Free
Located in the heart of Bern, Bundesterrasse offers sweeping views of the Bernese Alps and the River Aare. It is an elevated promenade that you can easily access from Parliament Square – by just walking through the arcades to the other side.
It’s the perfect spot to come here with a warm drink and sit down on one of the numerous benches or enjoy a winter stroll. Also, you have some nice views of the Swiss Parliament from here. So whether you’re looking for winter fun or just a relaxing place to take in the sights, Bundesstrasse is definitely worth a visit.
New Year’s Eve
- Location: Bern, Switzerland
- Cost of entry: Free
New Year’s Eve in Bern is sensational! The city comes alive with twinkling lights and festive decorations. There’s a special feeling in the air as people celebrate the coming of the New Year.
If you find yourself in Bern for New Year’s Eve, you might be surprised to see people gathered in the city center with their own drinks in hand. This is because every New Year’s Eve, the people of Bern travel to Münsterplatz, a plaza in the center of the old city, to celebrate a toast to the New Year.
The practice has become something of a tradition more recently, with hundreds of people coming together to cheer one another at the dawn of every new year. If you’re interested in joining in on the fun, simply grab some refreshments and head to Münsterplatz on New Year’s Eve!
Another popular place to watch the fireworks and celebrate the new year is the Bundesterrasse!
- Location: Rathausgasse 20, Bern, 3011 Switzerland
- Cost of entry: CHF 15 and up (Price varies based on tickets.)
Stadttheater, a beautiful theater located in the city of Bern, is the perfect winter destination for those looking to enjoy some relaxing entertainment.
The theater has a wide range of performances, from musicals to ballets to plays regularly scheduled which are great for all ages. The theater is located in a historic building and has been modernized making it accessible for all.
- Location: Münsterplatz 1, 3000 Bern, Switzerland
- Cost of entry: Free but CHF 5 for the tower
The Bern Cathedral, or as it is formally called the Münster of Bern, is a beautiful Gothic-style cathedral that was built in the 15th century (though only completed in the 19th century) on the southern side of the Aare peninsula. It is one of the most iconic buildings in Bern and it dominates the skyline of the city’s old town.
It is situated on top of a hill that offers stunning views of the city and the snow-capped Alps.
Even before you enter the Cathedral you get to see some stunning art – on the main portal you can admire the depiction of the Last Judgment – the only image that was spared the iconoclasm of the Reformation. While the cathedral is always worth a visit, the festive season makes this place even more special.
If you do enjoy more great views and do not mind climbing stairs (344 stairs to be precise), head to the tower of the Cathedral. From this highest church tower in Switzerland, you can enjoy some phenomenal views of the city, the Aare River, and the snow-covered mountains of the Bernese Oberland.
- Location: Alter Aargauerstalden 31B, 3006 Bern
- Cost of entry: Free
Rosengarten is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bern. Situated atop a hill in the Old Town, Rosengarten offers stunning views of the city and the Alps.
Visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, enjoy a meal/drink at the cafe in the park, or simply take in the panoramic views.
Though Rosengarten is in full bloom during the summer months, the gardens offer breathtaking views year-round. If you are lucky, you might see the old town covered in snow from the Rosengarten – but even without the snow, the views from here are splendid.
It just takes a 5-minute uphill walk to get here from the Aare River (and if you do not want to walk at all, you can get up by taking a local bus).
Sledding at Gurten Mountain
- Location: 3084 Wabern
- Cost of entry: CHF 5 for wooden sled rentals
In Switzerland, each city has a local mountain. This mountain is easily accessible and popular amongst locals and visitors alike. In Bern, this local mountain is Gurten. Normally, it is a great place for nice hikes, picnics, and great views – in winter, Gurten mountain is perfect for some winter sports activities near Bern.
Sledding at Gurten Mountain is an experience like no other. It offers stunning views of the city below as you sled down its snow-covered slopes. You can access the slopes via the Gurten funicular, which runs every 15 minutes and only takes five minutes to reach the «Güsche». The funicular ride up there is free with the Swiss Travel Pass or the Bern Guest Card, which you will get as an overnight guest.
Best of all, the sledding area is open till 7:00 pm, so you can enjoy the exhilarating experience of sledding under the stars if you wish. Whether you’re looking for a thrilling way to spend an afternoon or an unforgettable way to experience Bern’s winter season, Gurten mountain is the perfect spot for sledding.
A Day in The Spa: Hammam & Spa
- Location: Weihergasse 3, 3005 Bern
- Cost of entry: CHF 60 and up (Price varies based on services).
The cold winter months are perfect for spending a day in a spa. Plan a day at the spa to unwind and visit one of the best-known spas in the area.
The Hammam & Spa Oktogon Bern is located in a beautiful Art Nouveau building from 1902, and it has been carefully renovated to preserve its historical character. The hammam itself is inspired by traditional Middle Eastern bathhouses, and it features a heated marble platform, a plunge pool, and a steam room. There are also two massage rooms, where you can enjoy treatments inspired by both Arabic and Swiss traditions.
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.
A Day Trip to Jungfraujoch
- Cost of entry: Prices depend on many factors – including whether you have a Swiss Travel Pass or a Jungfrau Pass or not. A ticket without any discount is about CHF 200 and up per person for a round trip ticket + cost of activities
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.
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!
Whether you’re looking down on the valley below or gazing out at the snow-capped peaks in the distance, a day trip to Jungfraujoch is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Lucerne – LULU Festival and Mount Rigi
If you make Bern your base, make sure to add the gorgeous town of Lucerne to your Switzerland itinerary. Lucerne is always worth a visit, but in mid-January, there is one more reason to visit.
The Lulu Light Festival will take place for about 10 days in January and There are around 20 special places/installations/projects lit up from 6 pm to 10 pm. These installations are spread all over the city of Lucerne and some even further away and are free to admire.
Since this takes place in the afternoon, make sure to explore the gorgeous old town in the morning, then head to gorgeous Mount Rigi (and combine it with a boat trip on Lake Lucerne).
Mount Rigi is a mountain massif of the Alps – at about 1,800 meters above sea level – and it is almost entirely surrounded by the water of three lakes: Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug, and Lake Lauerz.
Mount Rigi is actually one of the best spots to enjoy the sunset. The colorful sunset against the white snow…drop-dead gorgeous! The pictures do not do it any justice. I recommend arriving at the top before sunset. Then watch the sunset from the summit. If you get a chance to visit Mount Rigi on a nice day… Just do it! But you could also go sledding or do other winter sports, like snowshoe hiking or sledding, here as well.
Then spend the rest of the evening in the old town and admire the light installations at the LULU festival.
- Tip: The whole Mount Rigi excursion from Vitznau station (including the Lake Lucerne boat trip) is free with your Swiss Travel Pass. Also, the train ride to Lucerne is free with a Swiss Travel Pass.
- The train ride to Lucerne is free with a Swiss Travel Pass. You will get a 50% discount with your Swiss Travel Pass.
Mount Pilatus stands at 2,132 meters above sea level and thus offers great views – really great views. In winter, it is also a perfect spot for some winter sports activities. I visited Mount Pilatus in the summer – and totally loved it! It became one of my favorite mountain peaks in Switzerland also in winter.
Of course, Mount Pilatus is completely different in the winter months from what I had known before – it is perfect whether you want to enjoy the fantastic views or prefer to do winter sports. Skiing, snowshoe hiking, snowboarding, and sledding – you can do all this on Mount Pilatus.
TIP: In the winter months, the cogwheel train ride is not available, so you can only go up via cable car.
- You will get a 50% discount with your Swiss Travel Pass. The train ride to Engelberg is free with a Swiss Travel Pass.
Mount Titlis in winter is fun! It is one of the highest mountain summits – standing at 3,238 meters above sea level – in Switzerland that is easily accessible via cable car/funicular. So, buckle up for a unique experience.
To enjoy a day at Mount Titlis, hop on a train at Lucerne train station, and head to Engelberg train station, and then get up in a gondola.
While getting up in a gondola, you can already enjoy the beautiful scenery but once at the top, you will be blown away.
And then, there is a lot to do at Mount Titlis in the winter: You can go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoe hiking, sledding, and more. You can rent tubes, mini bobs, or balancers without any extra charge at Trübsee Alpine Lodge and then go whizzing down the slopes.
You can also walk in the Glacier Cave (a 150-meter-long walkway below the glacier’s surface) or enjoy a walk over the Titlis Cliff Walk (a suspension bridge that is 3,041 meters above sea level).
FINAL THOUGHTS ON A WINTER TRIP TO BERN
With towering mountains as your backdrop and medieval architecture dotting the landscape, Bern as a winter destination is one for the books.
Whether you’re looking for a place to spend an extended vacation or just a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Bern is the place to see. From theatrical plays at Stadttheater to shopping at The Minster Christmas Market, there is something for everyone to do for winter in Bern.
Make sure to add it to your list of must-see places in Switzerland.
- Check out my post on the best things to do in Bern in 1 day
- Check out the Swiss Travel Pass for your trip to Switzerland here.