Bern, Switzerland’s understated capital city, is enchanting.
Encircled by the turquoise waters of the River Aare it boasts a perfectly intact medieval centre with cobbled streets of grey sandstone buildings. But as well as being a destination in its own right, Bern is also a perfect base for exploring more of Switzerland.
Its central location and excellent railway links mean that visiting the surrounding area is a breeze, with the bonus of travelling through some of the most stunning scenery to be found anywhere.
With this in mind, Bern is one of the best European solo travel destinations if you are looking for stunning scenery and easy train travel.
To help you make the most of your time there, here are the very best day trips from Bern by train.
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Travelling in Switzerland by Train
Thanks to Switzerland’s efficient and highly integrated transport system, doing these day trips by train is easy. However, as Swiss rail travel does not come cheap, a Europe rail pass is worth considering.
However, if most of your travelling is within Switzerland it is worth considering a Swiss Travel Pass, which comes with extra benefits, or even a regional pass. Just do your homework before you travel.
Considering the high cost of rail travel in Switzerland, an Interrail / Eurail Pass or a Swiss Pass (or regional travel pass) is a gift that keeps on giving.
Planning train travel in Switzerland
Packing a good guidebook to help you to plan train travel in Switzerland, and to explore the country whilst you are there, can be a smart move. I can recommend this excellent Bradt guide which I used when I was visiting Switzerland. This is easily the best guide to exploring Switzerland by public transport on the market.
The Best Day Trips from Bern by Train
Switzerland’s efficient and integrated public transport network means that you don’t need a car to visit these wonderful places as day trips from Bern:
- Montreux and Chateaux de Chillon
- Grindelwald & Bernese Oberland
- Lake Brienz
All of these places are within a 1hr 40min train journey from Bern; some are only half an hour away.
Each of these day trips can be done individually or grouped together. It depends entirely on how much time you have, and on how long you wish to spend exploring each destination.
For example, you could group these destinations into two long day trips:
- Bern -> Vevey -> Montreux (Chateaux de Chillon) -> Fribourg -> Bern
- Bern -> Thun -> Grindelwald -> Lake Brienz -> Bern
Map of day trips from Bern
To help you make up your mind, let’s now take a closer look at these destinations
Although Vevey may not be as firmly on travellers’ radars as its better-known neighbours, it was a town that I found beguiling. This is what the author Edward Lear had to say about it:
Vevey is … Paradise, and I don’t see how people there … can have the impudence to suppose that they can then go to Heaven.
Vevey’s literary and artistic associations don’t end with Edward Lear. Its location on the shores of Lake Geneva and Alpine views have attracted W M Thackeray, Graham Greene and Charlie Chaplin to name but a few.
Nowadays, Vevey is more well-known as the headquarters for Nestlé, who have been in town since 1814. Don’t miss the gigantic fork poking out of the water in front of its museum, the Alimentarium.
I thought that Vevey was special. It’s a small, friendly, laid-back town which also had a great local lakeside market.
My motivation for visiting the town was Images Vevey, an outdoor photography festival. Every other year, Vevey becomes an outdoor art gallery with works showcasing national and international artists, displayed throughout the town. The next festival is due to take place in 2022.
Montreux and Chateaux de Chillon
From Vevey, Montreux is less than ten minutes by train. Therefore, it is easy to visit both towns as one day trip from Bern.
Bigger and brasher than Vevey, Montreux is best known for its annual music festival. Held between June and July, the Montreux Jazz Festival attracts the good and the great from the world of jazz.
But, for me, Montreux’s main attractions were the Chateaux de Chillon and the flower-lined footpath that winds its way south along the lakeside to the castle.
The Chateaux de Chillon is straight out of central casting for a fairy-tale castle. Although it has undergone several centuries of adaptations, restorations and renovations, the castle’s original structure dates from the House of Savoy in the 12th Century.
It is striking for its position on a small rock island jutting out from the banks of Lake Geneva and for its state of preservation (probably due to those centuries of tinkering). Little wonder that it is the most visited historic building in Switzerland.
Leaving the castle, take a gentle walk back to Montreux along the Chemin Fleuri, Montreux’s lakeside promenade, which is framed by flowerbeds exploding with colour.
Don’t miss the 3m-tall statue of Freddy Mercury in front of the covered market on the shoreline. Queen’s charismatic frontman was a frequent visitor to Montreux, recording many of the band’s hits at the Mountain Studios in Montreux Casino and owning an apartment in town.
To get to Chateaux de Chillon from Montreux, take to the water. The dock at Montreux is five minutes on foot from the railway station.
In peak season, an elegant, wood-panelled boat will bring you from Montreux to Chillon in 15 minutes. There are also sailings from Vevey, Villeneuve and Lausanne. There is a 50% reduction on fares for Interrail pass holders.
Alternatively, bus #201 will bring you there.
Located just over 30 km south-west of the Swiss capital, Fribourg is a very easy day trip from Bern.
Its position, straddling the French-German language border, is reflected in its linguistic divide. Residents on the west bank of the Sarine River, which divides the city into two, speak French. Those on its east bank speak German.
Although it is a dramatically handsome, historic city with a lively student buzz, it did leave me a little cold.
But it’s hard not to appreciate the medieval architecture rising out of the gorge carved by the Sarine River. Wander through the 12th Century Old Town and then head to Pont du Mileu for great views.
Also, stop by the 13th Century Gothic Cathedral of St Nicolas. A day to trip to Fribourg is worth it for the cathedral’s exceptional sculpture depicting Christ’s burial.
Encircled by mountains and with the turquoise vein of the Aare River running its historic centre, the city of Thun is a delight.
Dominating the city is the Oberhofen castle, built by the Dukes of Zähringen around the turn of the 12th and 13th Centuries, which houses a museum celebrating the history of the region.
If time is limited you can do worse than wander Thun’s old town or stroll along its riverside promenade, perhaps stopping at one of the cafes. If you’re lucky, you may catch surfers valiantly attempting to keep upright in the fast-flowing waters by the Untere Schleusenbrucke, Thun’s 300-year-old covered, wooden bridge.
If you are travelling around Switzerland armed with the Lonely Planet guide, it urges you to walk up the 400+ steps to Jakobshubeli viewpoint for “a magical 360-degree view.”
I say don’t bother. When I visited in September, any view was blocked by trees. However, it did seem to be a popular spot for kissing couples.
And did I mention that there are over 400 steps?
Grindelwald & the Bernese Oberland
South-east of Thun, continuing on the same train line from Bern, is Interlaken, from where you can catch a train to Grindelwald. To get close up and personal with the Bernese Alps, this is one of the very best day trips from Bern.
Grindelwald is in a swoon-worthy setting. Nestled in a valley between the peaks of the mighty Eiger, the sparkling slithers of the Oberer and Unterer Glaciers and the Wetterhorn, and studded with Alpine chalets and pastures, Grindelwald is like a film set.
However, its real treasures lie in the peaks and hiking trails that surround it. Therefore, resist the urge to linger in Grindelwald and take the cable car to First, a minor summit at an altitude of 2167m.
This is prime hiking territory. Pick up a map at Grindelwald’s friendly tourist information office en route to the cable car station.
Stroll around the summit, take some photos and, if you have a head for heights, do the cliff walk. This is a platform that dangles precariously over the valley below. And the summit’s restaurant is a perfect stop for a cup of coffee, or a glass of something stronger, whilst taking in the 360-degree panorama.
To reach the cable car station for First, turn right out of Grindelwald’s train station and walk for 15 minutes along the town’s main street.
The 25-minute cable car ride costs 64 CHF for the return trip; 25% reduction with Interrail / Eurail pass (2021 prices).
Lake Brienz boat trip
A list of day trips from Bern wouldn’t be complete without including a leisurely boat trip on a Swiss lake.
As Interlaken straddles Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, you have a choice. I opted for Lake Brienz as I had travelled alongside Lake Thun on the journey from Bern. But whichever lake you pick, you will not be disappointed.
You will need to retrace your steps to Interlaken Ost to board the boat for Lake Brienz. One of the many wonderful things about the Swiss transport system is how integrated it is. Ten minutes after getting off the train from Grindelwald, I was embarking on a leisurely cruise on Lake Brienz.
If you are lucky, your boat will be an old paddle steamer. This is the epitome of understated elegance with wooden panelling and theatrical bursts on the whistle as it approaches its stops.
Where to Stay in Bern
The prime location for accommodation is Bern’s Aldstatdt, for which you will pay a premium. Cheaper alternatives can be found a little further out on the banks of the River Aare.
The Bristol – I stayed at this 4-star hotel in the Old City, a few minutes stroll from the railway station. Perfect for those day trips! Newly refurbished with coolly efficient staff, a comfortable bed and a great location. Not cheap but recommended.
Here are some other hotels that I have found in Bern that may suit other budgets:
Habsburg B&B – A short walk from the Old City, this bed & breakfast has excellent reviews.
Bern Youth Hostel – Budget options are thin on the ground in Bern. This is a centrally located option at a bargain price by Swiss standards.
Solo Travel in Switzerland
It is one of the most dramatically beautiful countries in Europe and is home to some of the most scenic train rides on the planet, including the famous Glacier Express.
Each of the country’s regions has its distinct identity and language, so much so that you feel that you are visiting there or more countries for the price of one. From the Italian character of the Ticino region to the elegant lakeside towns of the French region, there’s something for everyone.
Public transport in Switzerland is world-renowned for its cleanliness, efficiency and punctuality. However, trains and cable cars in Switzerland aren’t cheap. To reduce costs look into buying a Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail / Eurail Pass.
And if that’s not enough, there are multiple opportunities to gorge on excellent Swiss chocolate, cheese and fondues. This is is not a place to diet.
Day Trips from Bern: Final Thoughts
Taking these day trips from Bern by train is easy. The hard bit is narrowing down the choices available to you.
Although a tricky decision, if I had limited time and had to pick one of these day trips, it would be Grindelwald, First and Lake Brienz (or Lake Thun) in the Bernese Oberland.
This region is nature at its biggest and best. Picture soaring mountains, vast glacier fields, turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls and verdant valleys dotted with Alpine resorts.
But what if you are lucky enough to have more time in Bern?
Taking a peek at the Aletsch Glacier from Europe’s highest train station, Jungfraujoch, is an obvious contender. However, this is a long day trip from Bern and it is eye-wateringly expensive, even by Swiss standards (it is not included in the Interrail / Eurail pass). Also, as you are at the mercy of the elements, making this journey is only worthwhile on a clear day.
Whatever you choose, I hope that you have a fantastic time and come back with stunning photographs.