For most first-time visitors in Switzerland Bern is usually not the top choice for a day trip. I totally understand it. In the country famous for its beautiful nature, why should you waste your precious vacation time to visit cities? That’s exactly the reason why Bern wasn’t on my bucket list as well. But one time when I was looking for day trips to take from Zurich I googled the photos of Bern and decided that it was time to go there. And the city didn’t disappoint me. In fact, I managed to come back three times already and will definitely visit again in the future.
There are lots of things to do in Bern and the area around and you can easily stay 2-3 days here. But even if your time is limited, one day is enough to get an idea about the city and see the main tourist attractions. Bern is easy to reach by train or car from almost every part of Switzerland. If you travel by car, the day trip from France and Germany is also possible.
Here are some things to do in Bern if you only got one day to explore the city. And the best part? Most of them are free!
Free things to do in Bern
The Old Town of Bern
The Old Town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best preserved medieval sights in Europe. It was built on the peninsula and is framed by the Aare river. All the sights listed below are located not far from each other and are easy to reach on foot. I didn’t take a single tram on my visit to Bern but if you don’t like walking, trams will take you almost anywhere you want in Bern.
The Arcades in Old Town
A unique feature of the Old Town is six kilometers of arcades with all kinds of shops – from boutiques to traditional markets. The arcades are the perfect cover in rainy weather and in hot summer. You can enjoy the walk in the Old Town of Bern without getting wet even when it is raining.
Fountains in Old Town
As you walk through the Old Town, you will notice numerous fountains with statues. Each fountain is unique so take a closer look at them. Water from fountains is completely safe and free to drink.
House of Parliament
The Parliament building is impressive from outside but what if I tell you that you can even go inside? The guided tours of the Parliament building are free of charge but you need to book a spot in advance. The tours are available in 4 languages and you are lucky if you can speak German: there are 2 tours available every day. Unfortunately, there was only one tour available in English once a week at the time of writing this post.
The Clock Tower (Zytglogge)
The Clock Tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Bern. Every hour people gather to watch the little figures move but don’t expect too much. The clock is really old so the most amazing part of “performance” is that it is even working being so old.
Bear Park is a popular tourist attraction in Bern. The bear is a symbol of Bern and animals has been kept in the city for a long time. In 2009 the new BearPark was opened on the banks of the Aare river. Now bears live in much better conditions and have bigger space for themselves than before. They are not always easy to spot but if you are lucky, you will love them!
Even if you not so interested in seeing bears, Bear Park is worth visiting as it is one of the best spots for taking photos in Bern. From the bridge that leads to the Bear Park and from the lower and upper terrace, you get one some of the best classical views of Bern.
A Rose Garden, as a name suggest, will be especially interesting for flower lovers. But even if you arrive in the off-season, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Old Town and Aare Loop. Locals like to chill here and if you want to save money on food, Rose Garden is a great place for a picknick. You can check the live webcam to see the view from the restaurant Rosengarten.
More fun things to do in Bern
Climbing a cathedral tower is one of my favorite activities to do in every European city. Entering the cathedral is free, but you need to pay 5 CHF to climb the tower. For a small fee, you can climb around 300 steps of the Bell Tower (the highest church tower in Switzerland, by the way) for a unique view over Bern. If you are lucky, you can even see the Alps on a clear day. I won’t lie, the climb is a bit tough if you are not in a good shape. But the views are worth it.
Albert Einstein lived in Bern for 2 years and developed his Theory of Relativity here. His apartment on the second floor is open for the public to visit for a small fee(4-6 CHF). This is one of the most popular things to do in Bern but I didn’t go there myself. From the photos on the Internet, it looks just like an apartment with old furniture and seems not very interesting to me unless you are an Einstein fan. There is also a separate Einstein Museum that you can visit in Bern as a part of Bern historical museum.
The best thing about visiting Bern is that its main attraction – The Old Town – is completely free to see. You can stroll through the Old Town and admire the unique architecture at no cost. However, if you want to get a deeper knowledge of the history of the city, you can to take guided a tour. All of my trips to Bern were spontaneous and I didn’t have time to plan a tour but I feel like I missed a lot of interesting facts and history behind the facades. Bern Tourism offers a few different types of tours so you can choose the best way for you to discover the city.
Best time to go to Bern
Bern is nice to visit in any season. If you don’t mind cold weather, you might want to go to Bern in December, when Christmas markets take place. In winter you have a chance to see Bern covered in snow.