“It’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland” ~ Michelle Bachmann.
Wondering if spending one day in Bern is worth it? As I’ve visited this fascinating medieval city twice now, my answer to that is an overwhelming yes! Often confused with Zürich as Switzerland’s capital, Bern’s winding cobbled streets lined with iconic outdoor arcades are bursting with hidden history and charm.
Surrounded on three sides by a stunning turquoise river, the entire Aldstadt (Old Town Bern) is a beautifully preserved UNESCO World Heritage site, the perfect addition to any Switzerland itinerary. Due to its compact size, I can understand why one would day trip to Bern from other cities, however I have a better idea.
Rather than undertaking a day trip to Bern from more popular cities such a Zürich, Lucerne or Geneva, I prefer to set up a home base here and use it as a gateway to the Bernese Oberland region and more. This saves having to hotel-hop all around the country!
If you’re wondering about the interesting things to do in Bern in one day, as well as recommendations for where to eat, how to get there and even where to stay if you decide to base yourself there during your time in Switzerland, read on for more!
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How to get to Bern
Located in the central west of Switzerland, Bern can easily be reached by train within a few hours from major cities using SBB Rail. I recommend downloading the SBB train app to your smartphone, as the timetables are available offline and make planning your trips a breeze.
- Geneva to Bern Hauptbahnhof – 1 hour 45mins, St Gallen direction
- Lucerne to Bern Hauptbahnhof – 1 hour 30mins, Genève-Aéroport direction
- Zürich to Bern Hauptbahnhof – 1 hour, Genève-Aéroport direction.
TIP: These journeys are covered under the Swiss Travel Pass, or at half price if using the Swiss Half Fare Card (which works out to be better value for me personally for reasons I explain in my guide to 7 days in Switzerland). Take a look at which will best suit your trip if you’re hoping to save a few hundred francs.
Itinerary of things to do in Bern in one day
Welcome to Bern! Its origins firmly rooted in the Holy Roman Empire during the 13th century, Bern emerged as an independent city-state. Most of the earthy-green buildings lining the narrow streets and laneways are over 800 years old. Imagine the stories they could tell!
If you prefer, you can take this private history tour with a local guide to see the following locations. Otherwise, from Bern Hauptbahnhof station, let’s start this one day Bern itinerary by exploring the Old Town.
TIP: Bern is primarily a German-speaking canton, however you can still expect to hear locals and service people speaking English, French and even Italian.
Explore the gorgeous Old Town
On exiting the station, head east towards Marktgasse. This is one of the main streets in Bern and will take you to most of the city’s top attractions.
Walk beneath the winding medieval arcades and maybe do a spot of shopping. Bern is the place to shop after all, with over six kilometres of covered arcades to shield you from any harsh winds and snow!
While there are a few international stores you’re sure to recognise such as H&M, Vero Moda, Sephora, Lush and more, the majority of stores are little boutiques by locals. Specialising in homewares, clothing, children’s toys, bookstores and more, the shopping scene maintains a very local Swiss feel.
Look for the spires of Kafigtürm
As an emerging city in the 13th century, Bern was externally defended by a natural moat and tall castle walls, its original three guard towers were built as inner defences.
Marked as a Cultural Property of National Significance, Kafigtürm is one of two remaining today (Zytglogge is the other). Its thin spires reaching high and decorated with a red clock face, the tower was converted to a prison in 1402 when fire tore through the city.
TIP: Barenplatz, an outdoor plaza beside Kafigtürm, is lined with good quality restaurants. More about these down the page.
Be left in awe by the Zytglogge
No travel guide to Bern would be complete without this. You won’t be able help but stare in awe at the delicate old details of Zytglogge. Its dark blue face adorned with gold hardware in the shape of a sun and moon, this 15th century astronomical clock tower has played important roles in Bern’s history.
Throughout the centuries, the structure has served as a guard tower, watch tower for fires and even a prison. Featuring medieval character sculptures on its exterior as well as a zodiac dial, Zytglogge very much reminds me of its similar counterpart in Prague.
TIP: It’s possible to take a guided tour inside Zytglogge and learn about its mechanism behind the scenes.
Admire Bern’s beautiful bridges
Surrounded by the Aare river on three sides, the Aldstadt of Bern is well connected to outer suburbs by iconic arched bridges.
Nydeggbrücke in the east will take you to the Rosengarten; Kornhausbrüke in the north outskirts provides great views over snow capped rooftops in winter; while Kirchenfeldbrücke in the south will offer panoramic views back over the river to the Casino and green domes of the Parliament Building’s rear side.
TIP: Be careful of the wind gusts on these bridges. I saw a lady’s hat blow off into the water when she was having her photo taken on Nydeggbrücke.
Don’t miss the Rosengarten (especially in spring)
The Aldstadt’s winding, terracotta roof lined streets clearly visible from this vantage point, the Rosengarten (Rose Garden) is a must if you love sweeping views.
As the name suggests, during the warmer months the garden boasts 400 colourful rose varieties. It’s also a great spot to see autumn leave change as the weather cools.
During spring, the steep hillside pathway to reach the garden is lined with gorgeous Japanese cherry blossoms. I was so fortunate to see them in peak bloom, absolutely stunning on a clear spring’s day!
TIP: Head to the Rosengarten in the early morning or late afternoon, as the city becomes backlit during the day and you’ll have to squint in the sun’s glare.
Pay a visit to the city’s bears at Barenpark
Pay a visit to the city’s living emblems at Barenpark (Bear Park or Bear Pit). Located right by Nydeggbrücke, the views across the river to the old buildings are hard to beat from here!
Bears have been residing in Bern’s city centre since 1513 and are now icons of the city. You may notice bear regalia on the sides of buildings and on flags waving throughout the streets.
Today, the three small black bears who call this park home have been there since 2009. It’s possible to enter the park and take a guided tour, although I have been lucky enough to see the bears from the bridge and viewing platform. The best part is it’s free!
Find the Einstein Statues
Albert Einstein called Bern his home from 1903 – 1905, writing his first document on the Theory of Special Relativity during his time in the city. His previous residence, now called Einstein House & Café, displays various documents and artefacts from his time here.
To honour this scientific genius of the 20th century, the city of Bern has created sculptures of him and dotted throughout the city.
TIP: Need a hint? The four bronze versions of Einstein can be found in the Rosengarten, by the Barenpark, by the Bern Historical Museum and at the University of Bern. I managed to come across two during my more recent visit.
Check out the architecture of significant buildings
Admire the grandeur of the ritzy Bellevue Palace Hotel, Bern Cathedral and Parliament (Bundenhaus) buildings. It’s possible to take a free guided tour of the Parliament Building, more info here.
As mentioned earlier, the best view of their exteriors can be seen from the south bridge named Kirchenfeldbrücke, looking back towards the Old Town. If you ‘d like to see rooftops dusted in snow during your one day in Bern in winter, this is the spot to go!
Find a lucky streak at Grand Casino Bern
If you’re feeling lucky and pop in for a game or two and the Grand Casino Bern. The ornate establishment boasts a deck with amazing views of the city below. (Cost: Entry CHF 10 each for over 18’s and includes a welcome drink).
Go on a 16th century fountain hunt
Did you know Bern is also known as the city of fountains? Dotted throughout the old town are eleven interesting fellows in medieval costume standing above water fountains, all doing something different.
Each statue depicts a character from Swiss folklore, one is even eating a baby! The fresh water flowing from these fountains is great for refilling your water bottle.
Visit one of the many museums
If it’s rainy during your Bern day trip, you may wish to spend some time indoors until it clears. See if the following museums take your fancy:
- Kunstmuseum Bern – Modern art museum
- Bernisches Historisches Museum – Museum of the city’s history
- Schweizerische Theatersammlung – Swiss Theatre Collection
- Antikensammlung – Bern Collection of Classical Antiquities
- For the full list, click here.
Where to eat in Bern
Like the rest of Switzerland, there is good quality food to be found in Bern. You’ll find most staff speak English to some degree, or German, Italian and French. I can recommend these options for restaurants and eateries as I enjoyed them all during my visits:
- Restaurant Anker – Great for delicious Swiss cuisine such as fondue, rösti and schnitzel. I tried the rösti with veggies and it was so filling!
- Spaghetti Factory – One of my old favourites serving up authentic, quality spaghetti.
- Piazza Italia – Delicious Italian food, pizzas were great.
- Confiserie Eichenberger – One of the oldest of its kind in the city, hand-select some authentic and delectable Swiss chocolates, or visit their tea room. You’ve deserved it after all that walking!
- Coop – Local supermarket great for snacks. I went here each morning to pick up fresh pastries for breakfast.
- Einsteinhaus & Café – Einstein’s old residence mentioned earlier.
Concluding this one day trip to Bern itinerary
From scenic walks and sweeping vistas to medieval architecture and historical museums, Bern is a compact, walkable city with enough to see in one day. Why not spend at least 24 hours in Bern, or use it as your home base to explore further afield?
What do you think of this one day itinerary for Bern Switzerland? Are you planning on visiting Bern soon? Take a look at my Switzerland travel blog for more travel guide and itineraries to get you started.
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Until next time,
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