One Day in Bern Itinerary: A Day Trip from Zurich

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by Audrey Webster

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Should you find yourself with time for only a one day in Bern itinerary, don’t fret. With a single day in this Swiss city, you can see the major highlights and get a good sense of what the Swiss capital is like.

Due to its small size and efficient train system, getting around Switzerland is simple, so a day trip from Zurich to Bern is a great option if you’re using Zurich as your Swiss home base.

Keep in mind that this city is quieter than Zurich, but comes with no shortage of activities. Here is everything you should know when planning to spend a day explore beautiful Bern.

How Many Days in Bern?

When determining how many days to spend in Bern and time is a limiting factor, you can see much of it in just a single day.

Many of the top things to do in Bern, like the Bern Cathedral, Rose Garden, bears, and Zytglogge, are located in and around Bern’s Old Town, which makes seeing it all within a handful of hours easy.

And even though it is the capital of Switzerland, it is so compact that it is entirely possible to see Bern in one day – or certainly the highlights.

However, in an ideal world where you have an infinite number of days to spend, 2 to 3 days are best. More than one day grants you ample time to explore the city at your own pace and have some time to spare for a quick day trip out of the city.

You could spend a day or afternoon visiting Interlaken, Grindelwald, Thun, Lake Brienz, or any other natural wonder nearby. If you find yourself more drawn to Bern than Zurich, you could even use Bern as your homebase to explore Zurich for a day.

Church, bridge and houses with tiled rooftops, Bern, Switzerland
Bern, Switzerland

Getting To & Around Bern

The train ride from Zurich to Bern is about 60 miles and takes just over an hour to get between the two cities. There are over 50 trains that go between Bern and Zurich each day.

If you’re opting for a Bern day trip from Zurich, try to book your train ticket in advance. The train ride through Switzerland is beautiful, so try to get a window seat on the train. Consider purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass if you intend to travel by train frequently.

You’ll arrive in Bern at the central train station. It’s located near the city center, so you’ll have no trouble finding your way to your accommodation or to your first landmark.

Bern is a relatively compact city, which makes it ideal for exploring on foot. You can easily walk between major attractions and along the Aare River during your one day in Bern.

If you’re venturing further away from the city center or prefer not to walk, there is a good public transit system with buses and streetcars to get you where you need to go.

You can purchase single-ride or multi-trip tickets through the kiosks at stops or using the SBB-App. Keep in mind that tickets cannot be purchased on the buses and trams. 

If you prefer to go on an organised trip, there are several options such as this full-day guided tour that goes to Bern and some of the surrounding countryside in the Bernese Oberland or this full-day guided tour to Bern from Zurich that includes a cheese tasting.

Exploring Bern's Streets
Exploring Bern’s Streets

1-Day Bern Itinerary

Add these sites to your trip to Bern for a well-rounded experience of the city’s history and culture.

Wander the Old City 

Your first stop when you visit Bern should be to Bern’s Old Town. This pocket of Bern has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and you’ll quickly see why upon arrival.

Bern was originally founded in 1191, and from 1200 on it slowly expanded to encompass the space it takes up today. The Old City is divided into two parts: the Upper and Lower Old City.

The Old City you’ve most likely seen photos of is the lower section. It also includes many of the Old City’s most famous landmarks, like the Zytglogge.

Bern’s Old City is unique with its sandstone buildings and charming alleys–it’s the perfect spot to kick off as you spend one day in Bern. You can organise a walking tour here to learn more about the history of the city.

Explore the Zytglogge 

The Zytglogge is perhaps the most iconic landmark in Bern. At one time, this intricate clock tower served as the city gate, but today it serves as an eye-catching reminder of the city’s long past.

When the clock hits each hour, mechanical figurines including bears, roosters, jesters, and Chronos, the god of time, parade from its front. Visitors can venture into the clock tower to learn about its construction and the role it played in the history of Bern.

Climb the 130 steps to the top of the tower for the best view of Bern and the surrounding area. You can organise a tour through the Clock Tower here.

Zytglogge clock tower
Zytglogge clock tower

Visit the Bear Pit

Did you know that the bear is the symbol of Bern and the surrounding canton? If you look closely at the region’s coat of arms, you’ll notice a bear standing tall. That said, it should come as no shock to learn that bears live within the city at the Bern Bear Park.

The Bear Park is open 24/7 and free for visitors. It opened in 2009 and encompasses more than 6,000 square meters of park that the bears can get between using a tunnel. It’s a large enclosure along the banks of the Aare River.

Bears aren’t new to Bern–they have been living in the city since 1513. Up until 1857, the bears simply lived in the town itself before being transitioned to an expansive bear pit. Remember that if you visit in the winter, you most likely won’t see the bears as they’ll be hibernating in their dens. 

See Bern’s Minster and Minster Terrace

Continue your exploration of Bern’s iconic landmarks by paying a visit to Bern’s Minster. The Bernese Minster boasts the tallest church spire in all of Switzerland. Inside this gothic sandstone building you can admire the intricate architecture and artwork that fills the central hall.

You can climb the 312 steps to reach the viewing deck for an exceptional view of Bern. Before or after you step inside the Minster, take a stroll along the Minster Terrace. On a clear day, visitors to the terrace can look out over Bern to get excellent views of the Aare River, the Matte neighborhood, and the Alps.

Tall chestnut trees, walking paths, benches, and soft green grass make it a great place for a lunchtime picnic or a break during your day trip to Bern. The terrace frequently hosts events, so check the schedule before you visit. 

Bern Cathedral
Bern Minster

Visit the Bern Historical Museum

Lovers of museums will be excited to know there is a famous and impressive Bern Historical Museum located in the heart of the city. There are ten permanent exhibits throughout the museum that detail parts of Bern’s history from artefacts, interactive mediums, and detailed recountings of history.

Integrated within the museum is the Einstein Museum which shows an in-depth look at the life of the scientist.

The history to be discovered here goes beyond Bern as well, showcasing artefacts and art dating all the way back to the Stone Age. There are around 500,000 pieces of historical significance. Rotating exhibits frequently make an appearance, so make sure to check the calendar prior to your visit.

Parliament Building and Parliament Square

You might not normally find yourself drawn to government buildings when visiting new cities, but the Parliament Building in Bern is unique.

Here, you can learn about one of the oldest democracies in the world and admire the building’s impressive architecture. Its green dome dominates the Bern skyline along with the spire of the Bern Cathedral.

Parliament Square sits directly in front of the Parliament Building and has become a popular place for locals to pause, relax, and enjoy a nice sunny day. The interior of the building is filled with stunning artwork while the outside is a peaceful slice of the city.

Stop in to learn about the history of Swiss democracy or just to admire the beauty of this building.

Swiss Parliament
Swiss Parliament

Have 2 Days in Bern?

If you find yourself with 2 days, you have a few options for places to visit and how to spend your additional time.

You can explore the city at a slower pace, making sure to stop in local cafes for a snack and drink, or lounge in local parks. You can also see more of what the city has to offer in terms of its history, museums, and unique culture. 

If you’re seeing Bern in 2 days, consider spending an afternoon at the Bern Rose Garden, or Rosengarten.

This is hands-down one of the best parks in Bern, especially on a warm and sunny day. Stroll through the park along its paths to admire the trees, flowers, and fountains or sit back in the grass to enjoy an afternoon picnic.

The park is located high above the city, so prepare for a climb to reach it. However, once you arrive, you’re rewarded with the garden itself as well as stunning views over the city.

On clear days, you can see across Bern’s Old City and all the way to the Alps in the distance. There are over 400 types of roses and irises with 28 other flower species in the garden. 

One of the most famous museums in Bern is the Zentrum Paul Klee. If you have an extra day to spend in Bern, you should visit it. Its wavy exterior design pays homage to the artist Paul Klee and was designed by architect Renzo Piano.

Within the museum, you’ll find nearly half of all Klee’s artwork that was donated by his daughter-in-law in 1997. There are 18 paths surrounding the museum, each named after one of Klee’s art pieces.

If you have some time to spare after viewing the exhibit, stop at the cafe and restaurants for a lovely cup of coffee and slice of cake while overlooking the garden. 

The famous physicist Albert Einstein lived in Bern from 1903 to 1905. It was here that he developed his renowned Theory of Relativity. You can visit Einstein’s former home to see where this great scientist came up with one of his most famous concepts that changed how we viewed space, time, and our place in the universe.

The apartment exists on the third floor above the patent office where Einstein worked. It’s styled as it would have been while Einstein lived there. You can receive free entry to this museum, as well as several others, by purchasing the Museum Card for the city of Bern. 

Finally, before you conclude your time in Bern, make sure to taste a Berner Platte–a platter with a variety of meats and sausages that are cooked with juniper-spiced sauerkraut and other flavorful ingredients. Swiss chocolate and cheese fondue are another two famous kinds of food in Switzerland. 

From Bern, you can reach virtually anywhere else in Switzerland – from Basel to Geneva to Lucerne and beyond.

Zentrum Paul Klee
Zentrum Paul Klee

Where to Stay in Bern

Hotel Landhaus – This mid-range hotel is an excellent option for those looking for a cosy, clean and comfortable place to stay in the Swiss capital. They have a range of rooms available and also happen to be pet-friendly for those travelling with a furry companion.

The Bristol – Luxury visitors to Bern will love this plush hotel in the center of the city. They have a number of wonderful rooms to choose from and a location that is perfect for seeing all this lovely town has to offer. There are also countless great amenities for guests to enjoy.

da Maurizio Suites – Those who prefer to have their own apartment while traveling will love these fully-furnished flats in the center of Bern. They have both one- and two-bedroom options available and a great location for exploring the city.

Bern Backpackers – Budget and solo travelers will love this highly-rated backpacker’s hostel. They offer both dorms and private rooms and also have great common areas and self-catering facilities.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Bern hotels!

Bern is a charming city. Whether you have one day or more in Bern, you’ll find a plethora of landmarks, history, and cultural sites that will have you wanting to learn more. Use our suggestions here to create a Bern itinerary that is perfect for you.

Are you planning to visit Bern? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Audrey Webster is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an Oregon native who has visited countries across the globe and currently spends her weekends exploring the Pacific Northwest and surrounding states. Her approach to traveling combines exploring famous tourist sites and wandering off the beaten path to discover new destinations.

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