10 Fabulous Free Things to Do in Bern in One Day

UNESCO-listed Bern seduces you with its medieval centre, a profusion of fountains and 6km of arcades lining cobbled streets of grey sandstone buildings. It is encircled by the turquoise waters of the River Aare and, on a clear day, the Alps are visible in the distance. 

Although it’s a gorgeous city, like the rest of Switzerland, it is pricey. But did you know that you can spend a day in Bern without handing over any Swiss Francs?

I know because I did it.

Whether you are visiting Switzerland’s capital on a day trip or staying a few nights, save money with these ten best free things to do in Bern in one day.

panoramic view of the city of bern with pea green river buildings and rolling hills

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Top 10 Free Things to Do in Bern in One Day

1. Explore Bern’s Old Town

The Alstadt, or Old Town, is Bern’s historic heart. The best way to explore this medieval core is to wander its cobbled streets without a plan.

main street in the old town of bern with fountain and red flower in centre

2. Count Bern’s 11 decorative fountains

Although Bern has over 100 fountains, eleven of these retain their 16th Century folkloric and historical figures. You will find most of these along Marketgasse where it becomes Gerechtigkeitgasse and Kramgasse.

The best-known of these fountains is the Kindlifresserbrunnen on Kornhausplatz, which depicts an ogre snacking on a child.

statue of ogre eating a child which is one of the best things to see in bern in one day
The Kindlifresserbrunnen, Bern

3. Watch the Astronomical Clock

The Clock Tower, or Zeitglockenturm, is the focal point of the city. Once forming the main gateway of the city, this ornate 16th Century astronomical clock is one of Bern’s biggest draws.

At four minutes before the hour, crowds of visitors gather to watch its performance. This starts with a rooster and continues with a procession of bears, a jester, Father Time, a knight in shining armour and a lion.

In all honesty, I found it underwhelming and I could see some of those gathered turn to each other as if to say “Is that it?” That said, a visit to Bern would not be complete without watching this show.

To save money on lunch, do as the locals do and pick yourself up a freshly made baguette or salad at the Migros supermarket in the city centre.

4. Visit Bern’s Munster

Before entering Bern’s 15th Century Gothic cathedral take time to examine its main portal. The awe-inspiring collection of 238 individually sculpted figures over the entrance portrays The Last Judgement, with Bern’s mayor ascending to Heaven and his counterpart in Zürich condemned to the fiery depths of Hell.

Inside, it’s all soaring arches and lofty stained glass windows.

For a fee, it is also possible to climb the 344-step spiral staircase of the Munster’s 100-foot spire for panoramic views over Bern and the surrounding area.

5. Take a free guided tour of the Swiss Parliament Building

Bern is home to the Parliament Building, an impressive late 19th-century building in the Altstadt, which is the seat of the Swiss Federal Government.

FOUNTAIN IN FRONT OF parliament-house-bern

Free guided tours in four languages are available from Tuesday to Saturday. Tours last a maximum of 60 minutes and should be booked online no sooner than three days before your intended visit.

6. Explore the hiking trails of the Gurten

The Gurten is a small peak, 3km south of the city centre, that offers a semi-rural escape from Bern. It is reached by a funicular and is a fabulous free thing to do in Bern if you crave outdoor spaces.

Firstly, take tram #9 which leaves every four minutes from the city centre towards Wabern. Alight at Gurtenbahn and the funicular station is a steep five-minute uphill walk.

PATH WINDING ACROSS ROLLING FIELDS
The Gurten, Bern

Before you board the funicular, make sure you pick up a leaflet at the station listing the walks available, which range from 3 – 6km in length.

I chose the Gurten Classic, a hike of just under 4km across alpine meadows and forest trails to Walbern below. The clanging of distant cowbells was as Swiss as cheese and chocolate.

7. Take a spin on the shortest funicular in Europe

The Marzilibahn links the railway station with the Aare.

There is a train every few minutes and the journey takes less than a minute. The station is on the terrace of the Bundeshaus, within a five-minute walk of the railway station.

funicular train going up a hillside in bern switzerland
Marzilibahn, Bern

8. Relax in the Bern Botanical Garden

Spread out over five acres along the Aare River, the Bern Botanical Garden is home to almost 6,000 species of plants, both native and exotic. 

orange and yellow tulips

9. Watch frolicking bears in Bern BearPark

Bears are the symbol of Bern and have made the city their home since 1513.

Firstly they roamed the town itself, moving to the bear pit in 1857. Since 2009 they have had their own spacious park, Bern BearPark. The bear pit still exists and remains at the bears’ disposal.

10. Smell the roses at the Rose Garden

Occupying a prime location overlooking the city, Bern’s Rose Garden is a perfect spot to unwind after a day’s sightseeing.

bright pink roses

This public park is home to 220 different varieties of roses, 200 types of irises and moor beds with rhododendrons.

Stay overnight in Bern to get your free Bern Ticket!

Here’s my top money-saving tip; stay overnight to get your Bern Ticket.

This gives you free use of public transport within the city centre and its immediate surroundings for the duration of your stay. All of the transport mentioned in this guide is included in the Bern Ticket.

To maximise its benefits, activate your Bern Ticket in the Bern Welcome app before your stay.

fountain gushing water next to red flowers
sculpture of saint holding a book

Where to stay in Bern

Staying in Bern not only gives you your golden city ticket but will also allow you to enjoy the Old Town at night after the day-trippers have left.

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.

SplurgeThe Bristol  

I stayed at this 4-star hotel in the Old City, a few minutes stroll from the railway station, perfect for taking day trips. It had coolly efficient staff, a comfortable bed and was in a great location.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Mid-rangeHabsburg B&B  

A short walk from the Old City, this bed & breakfast has excellent reviews.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Budget 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.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

How to Get to Bern

woman walking across road junction next to a red tram in bern switzerland

Most visitors arrive in Bern by train. From the city’s Bahnhof there are connections to towns and cities in Switzerland and beyond, courtesy of the country’s efficient rail network.

  • Zurich – 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Basel – 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Paris – 4 hours
  • London – 7 hours 30 minutes

Zurich is the nearest major international airport, 1 hour 10 minutes by train. Other airports that are within easy reach of Bern are EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg (one hour by train) and Geneva Airport (around two hours by train).

Solo Travel in Switzerland

Switzerland is one of the best solo destinations in the world, especially for mature solo travellers or if you are taking your first solo trip.

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 its 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 dramatic Alpine vistas of the German region, there’s something for everyone.

Female solo travel safety is a prime concern of women travelling alone, and Switzerland is the second safest country in the world.

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 not a place to start a diet.

view of pea green river running through bern with church spirr

How I Visited Bern

I visited Bern as part of an Interrail itinerary through Switzerland, which also included riding the Glacier Express, maxing out the Ticino Ticket in Locarno and exploring Zermatt. I stayed four nights in The Bristol hotel and used Bern as a base for day trips to Montreux, Vevey, Grindelwald and Thun.

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.