Bern, the capital of Switzerland and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, is a city with a rich history and a perfect place to visit for a short trip. It is home to excellent museums and some interesting attractions, including the Einstein Museum, the Rosengarten, and the Bear Park.
My recent post highlights some of the key things to see and do.
Bern is also an excellent base for exploring all that Switzerland has to offer. There are plenty of places to travel to within an hour or two away: places with historical sights, natural beauty, fascinating museums, and world-famous festivals.
Read on to discover 12 top day trips from Bern.
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The top day trips from Bern
Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland
Zurich is the country’s largest city and its financial capital. It sits on Lake Zurich, in the canton of Zurich. It is one of my favourite European cities.
The city is beautiful. It has a chocolate box old town, a crystal-clear river that runs through the historic centre, and a glacial lake surrounded by mountain peaks.
If you visit on a day trip, you should initially focus on exploring the historic old town. This covers two districts that straddle both sides of the Limmat River that flows through the city. It leads to the start of the lake.
The old town itself contains a number of things of interest. Aside from its small cobbled streets and pretty squares, there’s the 17th-century renaissance Rathaus (town hall) and several striking churches. One of these – St. Peter’s Church – has Europe’s largest church clock face.
To get some fresh air, take a boat trip on Lake Zurich. You can get off at Zurichhorn Park and see its pretty Chinese Garden, or head over to the lake and take a dip in the city’s waters.
Or, if plunging into the river or lake is not your thing, a visit to a thermal spa bath might suit you better.
Geneva, home of the Red Cross and United Nations
Geneva, the second-largest city in Switzerland, is located on the shores of Lake Geneva, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It is another beautiful city with a historic old town.
In the old town, you will find the Place du Bourg-de-Four. This square is the oldest in the city and has some great bars and restaurants.
There is also the Cathedrale St. Pierre. You can climb to the top for great views across the city and part of Lake Geneva.
Geneva is a world centre for diplomacy and international organisations. It has the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, and is the home of the Palais des Nations, the European site of the United Nations.
Science buffs can visit CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research Museum). This fascinating museum tells the story of the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, that includes the Large Hadron Collider.
Other museums in the city include the Patek Phillipe Museum, which details the history of watchmaking, the Musee Ariana, a museum dedicated to glass and ceramics, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
You can also take a boat ride on Lake Geneva and walk around its shores. You’ll see the Jet d’Eau, a 140-metre plume of water that periodically spurts up into the air.
So if you’re looking for a day trip from Bern, Geneva is definitely worth considering. It’s a great city with so much to see and do.
Basel, where three countries meet
Basel is another attractive Swiss city on the River Rhine in the northern part of the country. It has a medieval old town and a grand gothic cathedral, the Munster.
The Munster is worth visiting when you’re here. If you do, make sure you pop behind to the Pfalz, a terrace with some stunning views across the area.
In the old town, Basel’s town hall, where the city’s parliament sits, is of particular note with its distinctive red brick design and tower.
Likewise, there is the 15th-century Spalentor (Gate of Spalen). It is one of the three city gates that still stands in the city.
There are apparently over 300 fountains in the old town, one of the most famous of which is the Tinguely Fountain. Named after the artist who designed it in the 1970s, this unique fountain has metal mechanical figures that move around in the water.
You definitely should take a trip to Basel if you love art. The city is home to famous art museums, including the Kunstmuseum Basel, and the Fondation Beyeler. The Art Basel exhibition will take place in the city in June 2023.
Basel’s location is also unique in that it is close to the border with France and Germany. So if you fancy having a drink on the spot where three countries converge, head to the border triangle building.
Basel is around an hour by train from Bern.
Lucerne, a city on Lake Lucerne with the famous Kapellbrücke
Lucerne is a city on Lake Lucerne. It is home to several historical sights, including the Lion Monument, a sculpture dedicated to Swiss guards killed during the French Revolution, and the Glacier Garden, a park with a series of glaciers.
However, the most famous sight in Lucerne is undoubtedly the wooden Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). It was originally built in the 14th century, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can walk across the bridge and over the River Reuss. Take a look at the series of paintings and sculptures inside the walkway.
On a day trip to Lucerne, you can visit the Swiss Museum of Transport, Switzerland’s most visited museum. As its name suggests, it is dedicated to the history of transportation. It features displays and interactive exhibits on topics such as automotive history, rail transport, aviation, and space technology.
While in the museum, it’s possible to book on to a “Swiss Chocolate Adventure”. This is a 20-minute foray into the creation and production of chocolate. Naturally, it ends with the chance to taste some.
Other things to do in Lucerne include a boat cruise on the lake, and a wander around the attractive buildings in the old town (which includes the eye-catching Jesuit church).
There are several ways to reach Lucerne from Bern, including by train, bus, and car. The journey by train takes around an hour and a half.
Schilthorn, with its James Bond connection
The Schilthorn mountain is in the Bernese Alps, overlooking the valley of Lauterbrunnen. At 9,744 feet (2,970 meters), it is the highest peak in the range.
It was made famous by the 1969 James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and is another of the top day trips from Bern.
The summit can be reached by this cable car from the village of Stechelberg. There are two cars an hour, and the journey takes just over half an hour. You can also reach it on foot via several hiking trails.
When you reach the top, you are rewarded with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, including the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains, as well as the valley below.
There is a revolving restaurant here and an interactive exhibition about the 007 film.
To get to Stechelberg from Bern, you can take the train via Interlaken West, a journey of just over an hour.
Gruyères, a medieval town famous for its cheese
Gruyères is a medieval town in the canton of Fribourg. It is most famous for its namesake cheese.
Gruyères is only tiny and can’t compete with the big cities in terms of the number of sights it can offer. But what is here is worth making the trip for.
It has a pretty town centre with a 13th-century castle. The castle sits in a beautiful garden that you can wander around.
You can also visit the H.R. Giger Museum, dedicated to the work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. Giger was famous for his dark and surreal art and work on the film ‘Alien’.
And if you want to learn more about the cheese the town is famous for, visit La Maison du Gruyère. Try the cheese here or buy some for later.
It is less than an hour to drive from Bern to Gruyères. The train journey is around an hour and a half.
The Lauterbrunnen valley, the place of ‘many fountains’
Lauterbrunnen is a village in the Lauterbrunnen valley in the Swiss Alps. It is only a small place, with a few chalet buildings and a small church, but is surrounded by stunning alpine greenery and mighty rockfaces.
Lauterbrunnen is named because of its 72 waterfalls. The Staubbach waterfall gushes almost 300 metres from a rockface from the end of the main street.
You can also take a walk (around half an hour) to the Trummelbach Falls, “the world’s only glacier waterfalls that are accessible underground by lift, galleries, tunnels, paths and platforms”.
In addition to its waterfalls, Lauterbrunnen is home to a number of hiking trails and mountain biking trails. The village also has a mini-golf course and an open air heated swimming pool.
So if your choice of day trips from Bern is about wanting to breathe in some alpine fresh air and see some stunning Swiss landscape, then Lauterbrunnen is a perfect choice.
It is around an hour and a half by train from Bern.
Rapperswil, the city of roses
Rapperswil-Jona is on the north side of Lake Zurich. Famous locally for its rose gardens, it is ideal for a short excursion.
The historic centre is charming, with a smattering of cafés, restaurants, and cultural landmarks. These include the Rathaus (town hall), the Breny house and Breny tower (both are remains of the town walls), and the Unties Curtihaus, a beautifully decorated building dating from the 1890s.
The town’s most prominent landmark, however, is the Schloss Rapperswil. This is a huge gothic castle with three towers that loom over the old town. You can wander around the area and climb the steps to the ramparts for incredible views over the lake.
The famous rose gardens are located nearby in the Schlossberg (the southern edge of the castle grounds). The area has several walled gardens, housing some 16,000 roses.
Rapperswil also has a small waterfront and marina that you can wander along. There are a few cafes and restaurants on the promenade here, with outdoor seating for the summer months. You can look out onto the lake or hop onto one of the boats moored here for a trip.
Bern to Rapperswil is less than two hours by train.
Thun, where you can access the Bernese Oberland
Thun is a city in the canton of Bern, located in the Swiss-German speaking region of Switzerland. It sits on the banks of Lake Thun, with the River Aare flowing through it.
Thun is a popular destination for tourists, in part because its location means it is a “gateway to the Bernese Oberland” and all this has to offer.
As with all of the entries in this list of day trips from Bern, Thun has a small, charming old town to explore. Sitting above this is the 12th-century castle with its four white towers.
If you walk up to the castle during your visit, you’ll get some amazing views down below to the city centre and its medieval streets and squares. You can also see across the lake to the mountains. Go in and explore the castle and its museum.
If you want to see more of Lake Thun, take a boat trip and see some of the surrounding scenery. Some of the trips go to Spiez, a nearby town with its own castle.
Oberhofen also has a gorgeous castle that sits right on the water.
Thun is around half an hour away from Bern by both train and car.
Lausanne, home of the Olympic Museum
Lausanne is a city in Switzerland’s French-speaking region, located on the shores of Lake Geneva. It is split between the old town, situated on the hill, and the lakeside resort of Ouchy-Olympique.
The old town has several historical sights of interest. This includes the 17th-century City Hall in the Place de la Palud and the 13th-century cathedral. There is also the Palais de Rumine, which houses five museums.
If you day trip to Lausanne, take the short metro ride down to Ouchy. You can walk along the promenade beside the lake and take boat trips from here to various places, including Geneva.
The Lausanne Olympic Museum is also in Ouchy, set in a stunning location overlooking the lake. The museum is a reminder of the city’s role in housing the official Olympic Committee’s headquarters.
Laid out over three floors, the museum traces the history of the ancient Olympic Games up to the modern day in painstaking detail via a series of displays and interactive exhibits.
Lausanne is around 1 hour and 20 minutes away from Bern by train, or around 1 hour by car.
Montreux, site of the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux sits beside Lake Geneva, and is famous for its annual jazz festival that takes place in July. It is another stunning place to visit, which probably explains why a lot of famous people have in the past made it their home or become regular visitors.
When visiting Montreux, take a walk around the lakeside promenade to get a snapshot of the beautiful scenery.
The promenade stretches for over three kilometres and, in one part, will take you to the Château de Chillon, a medieval castle that sits right on the water. According to this website, it is the historic building in Switzerland that is the most visited.
Montreux is around 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Bern by train or car.
Vaduz, capital of Europe’s 4th smallest country
If you fancy popping into another country and don’t mind a slightly longer day trip from Bern, you can take a trip to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. Trains via Zurich take around two and half hours, after which there is a 30-minute bus ride into Vaduz from Sargans.
This might seem to bit long for a day trip, but Vaduz is very small for a capital city so you’ll only need a few hours here. It makes it a more feasible choice for a day trip.
You can walk to the 12th Century castle on the hill, explore the centre and see the pretty Rotes Haus (Red House).
As you wander, you can also admire the street art positioned throughout the city’s streets.
Liechtenstein apparently has over 100 winegrowers, some of which have won awards. So, if you like your wine, head to The Prince of Liechtenstein Winery. You can sample some of their wine and look at their vineyards. Although do book in advance if this interests you to avoid any disappointment (when we visited, it had closed for the afternoon).
12 top day trips from Bern
So there you have it – 12 top day trips from Bern. Whether you’re looking to explore Switzerland’s natural beauty, sample its delicious food or learn about its history, there’s something for everyone.
So what are you waiting for? Get planning your next trip today!
Other ideas for day trips and short breaks in Europe
My website has a range of posts on other places to give you more ideas for day trips and short breaks in Europe.
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