When travelers plan a trip to Switzerland, they often focus more on the country’s iconic mountains and less on its cities. Visiting Switzerland’s cities though can be a great way to dig into the country’s history and culture, something that the city of Bern has in abundance. Even though Bern is the capital of Switzerland, it’s a far less prominent destination than places like Zurich and Geneva, making it a great pick if you want to go somewhere a little different.
This Bern itinerary will help you understand what to expect from Bern and how long to spend in the city. You’ll be able to find all the best places to visit in Bern and have an understanding of why they’re important.
Best Time to Visit Bern
One of the nice things about traveling to Switzerland and destinations like Bern is that understanding the seasons is quite straightforward. Visit in winter and you’ll have cold weather and snow, go in summer and you’ll have warmth and sunshine. As such, sightseeing around Bern is at its most pleasant in late spring and summer, between May and September.
One thing to watch out for though is the spring months of May and June when Bern is at its wettest. August and September don’t have this problem, which is why many consider these months to be the best time to visit Bern. It should be no surprise then that it is also the busiest time to visit and when you’ll find hotel rates at their highest.
If you’d prefer to avoid the high season, look instead at March, April, or October which are Bern’s low season. Winter is a good time to visit if you will otherwise be in Switzerland skiing or want to visit the Christmas market.
How to Get Around Bern
Since Bern isn’t a very big city, you shouldn’t find it very difficult to get around. While visiting Bern, you could easily get to a lot of places on foot but there are also public transport options for your 48 hours in Bern.
The city’s trams and buses provide access to the Inner City and Kirchenfeld, and as far out as the mountain of Gurten. The Marzilibahn funicular saves you having to walk up from the riverfront, and the Gurten funicular gets you up the summit of the Gurten mountain. All are part of the same ticketing system. Tickets are sold in machines at stops and at LIBERO shops. However, the city of Bern has a special scheme for overnight visitors, in which they give out a free public transport ticket as part of their tourist accommodation reservation.
Where to Stay in Bern
Typically, the biggest problem that travelers have when planning a visit is figuring out where to stay in Bern. You don’t want to choose somewhere that’s not comfortable, bad value, or located somewhere impractical. The best places to stay in Bern won’t have any of these issues.
If you’re after one of Bern’s most luxurious options, the Hotel Schweizerhof Bern is the way to go. This central 5-star hotel boasts elegant and spacious rooms, decked out with amenities like Nespresso coffee machines and rain showers. It also features a sky terrace and spa wellness center.
If you’re looking for both comfort and affordability, Habsburg B&B is a great option for your visit. Located in a quiet part of the city a short walk from the city’s museums, this cosy B&B offers guests spacious rooms and a nice complimentary breakfast.
Of Bern’s few budget options, one you can’t look past is Bern Backpackers Hotel Glocke. Perfectly located right in Old Town, this hostel has a big common room, plus kitchen and laundry facilities.
For more accommodation options in Bern check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Bern Itinerary
The city of Bern may not be one of Switzerland’s most popular destinations to visit, but there’s certainly enough to do in the capital to keep you busy for a day or two. This guide will show you all the best things to do in Bern in 2 days and take you beyond the Inner City to neighborhoods like Kirchenfeld and other spots across the River Aare.
However, before we get to our Bern itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Now that we’ve touched on that important subject, let’s have a look at our Bern travel itinerary which will take you through what to do in Bern in 2 days to get the most out of your time there.
Day 1 in Bern
Upon arriving in Bern, there’s no better way to start your visit than in the heart of the city. Then continue on to some cultural icons and some of Bern’s best views.
Recommendation: If you want to learn a little bit more about Bern’s 800 years of history, consider booking a walking tour with a local guide. The walking tour covers many of the spots listed below, so you are not missing out on anything.
Like with many European cities, the natural place to start in Bern is in its Old Town. Recognized by UNESCO for its exceptional history, the Old Town has bits and pieces from different eras throughout the city’s history. Two features you’ll find quite a lot of as you explore the charming Old Town streets are arcades and fountains. The arcades, many of which date back to the 15 century, run down the sides of the city streets and house all sorts of shops and restaurants. As for the fountains, over 100 can be found distributed across the historical center, each topped with its own unique statue.
Within the historical center, a landmark that no tourist will want to miss is the lovely Zytglogge clock tower. This was the city’s western gate from the 12th century, but the astronomical clock wasn’t added to it until 1530. The clock provides a little show on the hour to those amassed in Marktgasse, but if you get there several minutes beforehand you’ll see a little revolving parade of the figurines beside the clock. It’s also possible to take a tour inside the Zytglogge tower, where you’ll see how the clock works and learn about the tower’s history. You can book your Zytglogge tour here.
The other major landmark of Bern from the Middle Ages is the city’s cathedral, the Berner Münster. Although built as a catholic church it was converted into a Swiss Reformed church in the 16th century. The cathedral took centuries to complete after construction began in 1421, with its tower being the last part to be completed in 1893. The wait was worth it though as it is now Switzerland’s tallest cathedral and the views from the tower are especially magical. The masterful Gothic architecture and artwork includes various sculptures and many stained glass windows.
Bern is the capital of Switzerland so it is home to the Bundeshaus, aka. the Federal Palace of Switzerland. Completed in 1902, this Neo-Classical building has a powerful presence as it watches over the Bundesplatz square. It’s possible to take guided tours of the parliament, on which you’ll see the official chambers and the central Domed Hall with decorations full of national symbolism. On the riverside of the building sits the Bundesterrasse, a large terrace with views of the Aare River below.
For centuries the bear has been the symbol of Bern and appeared on its coat of arms. That relationship eventually led to the city keeping bears and establishing a city bear pit where locals and visitors could see them. In 1857 the Bärengraben, or Bear Pit, was moved to the banks of the Aare, where it remains to this day. That being said, the animal enclosure was expanded and modernized in 2009 to provide a new green space for the three resident bears, as well as access to the river. Nowadays it’s no longer really a bear pit and much more of a bear park.
Bern Historical Museum
Bern is home to a superb collection of museums and one that can’t be missed is the Bern Historical Museum. It is the second largest museum in Switzerland and one of the country’s most important. The exhibits found inside cover an immense span of history, from the Stone Age right up to the 20th century. There’s simply too much inside this huge museum to list out in detail, but the breathtaking 15th century Flemish tapestries are usually a favorite. Besides visiting for the displays inside, you’ll also want to see the splendid architecture of the building itself which is that of a Neo-Renaissance castle.
While technically part of the Bern Historical Museum, the Einstein Museum is a fantastic place to learn about one of the city’s most famous residents. The museum was originally meant as a temporary exhibition when it was put up in 2005 – but it continues to be on display. The museum’s focus is of course on physicist Albert Einstein, but more specifically, his development of the Theory of Relativity while living in Bern. Among its displays are letters, items, photos, and film which document the genius’ life and work. There is another Einstein attraction in Bern at the Einstein House, where he lived from 1903 to 1905.
To finish your day, head to one of Bern’s best viewpoints which let you take in the city’s picturesque riverfront. You actually have several good options on the eastern bank of the Aare River, one of which is the Rosengarten park. Not only is this one of Bern’s most peaceful places to unwind, it also boasts some nice views down across the river to the historical center. The only problem with this viewpoint is that there are trees that can block out parts of the view. For an unobstructed view of the city, head down to Grosser Muristalden street near Kollerweg. From there you’ll get a truly spectacular view of Bern, especially if you stick around for sunset.
Day 2 in Bern
With your second day you have a few different options of how you want to spend it. Rather than a long list of attractions, the following are different types of activities to fill part or all of your day, allowing some flexibility in what you choose to do.
1. Museum Quarter
Bern is home to many museums. Most of these are clustered around the Bern Historical Museum on Helvetiaplatz, making it a great part of the city to visit if you’re into museums.
Some of the main museums in this part of the city are the Kunsthalle Bern, the Museum of Communication, the Alpine Museum of Switzerland, and the Natural History Museum of Bern. The Kunsthalle Bern is an art museum focusing on regional, national, and international art from newcomers to veterans of the art world. The only one of its kind in Switzerland, the Museum of Communication focuses on topics like post, media, and the history of telecommunications. As its name suggests, the Alpine Museum of Switzerland showcases culture and the nature of life in the Swiss Alps. The Natural History Museum of Bern explores the animal world in great depth.
The one major museum that’s not in this part of the city is Bern’s excellent Museum of Fine Arts. Switzerland’s oldest art museum, it holds an enormous collection of celebrated art, dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. The collection is too vast to go into detail, but it includes works by such names as Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, and Pollock.
If you’re itching to escape the city and go exploring somewhere a little higher, the mountain of Gurten is your closest option. Measuring 864 metres tall, it may be small compared to the mighty Alps, but it’s more than enough for a short trip in the outdoors. The mountain is located due south of Bern, just beyond the outskirts and has both trains and trams that can take you there.
What you get up to on Gurten will highly depend on what time of year you visit. Go in winter and you’ll have the ideal place for snowball fights and toboggan rides. Visit during summer and hiking is the way to go. Either season though you can take a ride on the historic funicular which will take you most of the way up the mountain. If the weather is clear you should have a perfect view of Bern, especially from the top of the Gurten Observation Tower.
3. Freibad Marzili and Aare Swimming
If you’re visiting in summer and looking for a place to cool off, do as the locals do and head down to Freibad Marzili. This large outdoor swimming complex is located by the Aare river south of the city center and is a hive of activity come summer. It features three swimming pools: a 50 meter pool, a diving pool, and a kiddie pool. There’s also access to the Aare river, where plenty of people go swimming. Out of the water visitors have plenty of lawn to lounge out on, as well as beach volleyball courts and table tennis tables.
Beginning at Eichholz park even further upstream, you’ll see people jump into the river and let the current bring them back towards Bern. Every summer you’ll see people swimming, or on inflatable pool toys taking a ride down the river, some even take a leap off the low bridges over the river. Once they reach Marzili, they’ll get out and walk back to Eichholz to go again. Note that with the speed of the river’s current, this is only suitable for strong swimmers.
You now have everything you might need to spend 2 days in Bern exploring the city’s sights. Hopefully, that’s given you a better idea of how to plan your visit to Switzerland’s capital city.