A lot of people who head to Switzerland on vacation will see Geneva, Zurich, or go to the Swiss Alps. However, Bern is a beautiful city that often gets overlooked, even though it’s the capital of the country. It’s quite small and located right in the middle of the country, so it’s perfect for a day trip as you explore the country. There’s a lot to love about this beautiful place, and you can easily see all the top attractions in one day, and by spending a night there you can enjoy the Old Town vibe without all the day tourists.
What’s the best time to visit Bern?
The best time to go to Bern is during the summer months, from April to September. Late spring is a great option for cooler weather, whereas in mid-summer from July to mid-August some of the restaurants may be closed for the vacation season. It all depends on what you’re looking for, though.
A few facts about Bern
Bern is an extremely accessible city in Switzerland and Europe in general. It’s only two hours from Geneva and one hour from Zurich, Interlaken or Basel. Because Bern’s in the middle, it’s a great place to stop from one major city to another. The town was founded in 1191, and its population is currently at about 130,000 people. That’s actually Switzerland’s fourth largest city, but interestingly almost a quarter of the population is made up of foreigners (Germans and Italians mostly). There are also nearly 2000 diplomats due to its key location in Europe. Switzerland has no capital, but Bern is the seat of the parliament and government.
Bern is perhaps most well-known for inventing Toblerone, all of which worldwide is still made in Bern. The main languages are German (81 percent) then Italian and French at just over 3 percent each. The majority of the Old Town is a UNESCO heritage site that draws in a lot of European tourists.
One Day in Bern Itinerary
Bern is a great city for day trips because most of the top attractions are all within walking distance from each other and you don’t really need to take any transportation to see the city. If you have just one day in Bern, you can see all of the top attractions if you’re up for some walking. The top eight attractions are all located in Altstadt or in the Old Town of Bern, and just wandering the streets of the Old Town between attractions will give you stunning and unforgettable views of architecture and historical landmarks.
Start with the Parliament
You’ll want to begin your day with the Parliament Building, which is home to the Swiss Federal Government. It’s one of the most striking landmarks in Bern and quite noticeable. You can have great views from behind it of the river and the town, so be sure to explore that area. Then, you can head to Zytalogge, the Clock Tower. Even if you’re not planning to see it, you’ll be sure to walk by sooner or later if you’re walking the main streets of the city. It’s the most famous clock tower in Bern, built in 1530. If you are interested in the clock, you can even tour inside the tower and learn all about the functioning of this historical clock.
Visit Einstein’s house…
Once of the most famous residents that ever lived in Bern, from 1903 to 1905, was Albert Einstein. He came up with the theory of relativity in this city, and you can actually go visit the Einstein House, his residence and witness where the genius was at work. It’s important to look at their official site first to get up to date opening hours.
…and go to the Cathedral
After popping in at Einstein’s House, you can head to the Bern Cathedral and Munsterplattform. On the way, keep your eyes out for the famous fountains of Bern. There are a series of ornate and beautiful fountains lining the main streets with great architecture as well as clean and fresh drinking water when you get thirsty.
Once you arrive to the famous Bern Cathedral, you can spend some time enjoying its stunning Gothic architecture. In front is an amazing square where you can get a great view of the whole cathedral. One the way out, you can head towards the Munsterplattform for some great views of the city and the river winding below you.
Sit down for lunch near the Aare
If you find yourself in need of a destination for lunch, there are several very interesting choices in the city. Kornhauskeller is certainly one of them, not just because of the local food, but because of its spectacular interior. A bit on the pricey side, but well worth it. Treff Cafe Restaurant is much more affordable, combining Italian and Asian food on the menu. Tibits is a vegetarian and vegan buffet restaurant, so if the meat is not your thing Bern has something for you, too.
Meet some bears in Barengraben
At this point in your day, you should head to the other side of the Aare River to get to the Barengraben. This is an area with some enclosures where there are a few of the famous bears of Bern. You can visit the whole area and see the bears roaming their habitat, snap some pictures of them, and learn more about bears in general and their history in the area.
View the city from the Rosengarten
Then, you can keep walking past that to the Rosengarten. This is the place to go to get the absolute best views of the city of Bern. You can see the whole city and the Aare River winding around it. There are a few different viewpoints at Rosengarten as well as a really lovely park you can have a picnic in or simply relax and take a break from walking.
Once you’re done with all of those sights, you can head back down to the Aare River where you can sit by the water and enjoy the peacefulness. In the summertime, it’s a great place for locals and tourists to hang out so you can get some good people watching there.
Where to stay in Bern?
Hotel Allegro Bern
Kornhausstrasse 3, Breitenrain-Lorraine, 3000 Bern
One of the top spots to stay on the pricier side of the spectrum is the Hotel Allegro Bern. It has some incredible panorama rooms with stunning views of the whole city and balconies. It’s large and luxurious and will make you feel completely comfortable.
Bern Backpackers Hotel Glocke
Rathausgasse 75, 3011 Bern
If you’re on a budget, consider the Bern Backpackers Hotel Glocke, right in the heart of Old Town by the clock tower. It’s very popular and affordable, and you won’t need to worry about public transport to go visit any of the attractions.
Family and Groups
Day trips from Bern
If you’re staying a bit longer in Bern, there are a ton of excellent day trips just a short train ride away, from Vevey, Montreux and Chateaux de Chillon to Fribourg, Grindelwald and Bernese Oberland.
Extra tips for visiting Bern
– Although you can walk everywhere in Bern, the city also has an excellent public transportation system that’s easy to use. You can get a public transportation card (complimentary in some hotels like the Hotel Allegro Bern) and simply hop on and off wherever you want.
– Note that in the Old Town, the street signs are all different colors: green, white, yellow and burgundy. It’s from the Napoleonic era when his troops needed to find their way around the city – most of them were illiterate! If you find that you’re lost, the best tip is to look for the cathedral spire, the tallest point in the city and actually the tallest cathedral spire in Switzerland.
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