Updated post: 14/04/19 | April 2019
The Bernese Oberland is nature at its biggest and best. Picture soaring mountains, vast glacier fields, turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls and verdant valleys dotted with Alpine resorts.
Visiting this part of Switzerland as a day trip from Bern by train is easy. The hard bit is choosing a Bernese Oberland itinerary that will be manageable in a day and that won’t break the bank.
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.
Bernese Oberland Itinerary
Instead, why not head to Interlaken and then make the short train journey to Grindelwald? From there you can take the cable car to First for sweeping mountain views.
Retracing your steps to Interlaken, you have plenty of time to take a leisurely cruise on Lake Thun or Lake Brienz before returning to Bern. You may even be able to squeeze in the town of Thun on the return journey.
Bernese Oberland Map
Train from Bern to Grindelwald via Interlaken Ost
From Bern, it’s an easy one-hour train ride to Interlaken, the heart of the Bernese Oberland. If possible, sit on the right-hand side of the train carriage for the best views until Thun. After Thun, switch sides for lakeside views all the way to Interlaken.
If you are travelling on an Interrail / Eurail ticket, you will need to buy a ticket for Grindelwald at Interlaken Ost. This 30-minute train journey is not included in the pass, although you will get 25% off the ticket price.
Grindelwald is in a swoon-worthy setting. Set 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, it is like a film set.
However, its natural beauty notwithstanding, there is not much to detain you in Grindelwald. The real treasures lie in the peaks and hiking trails that surround it. Not least of these is First.
Cable car from Grindelwald to First
By Swiss standards, First is a minor summit, rising to an altitude of 2167m. However, the views from here are first-rate – pun
not intended – and, time permitting, it is a great base for hiking.
First is reached by cable car. From Grindelwald’s train station, turn right and walk for 15 minutes along the town’s main street. You will pass the friendly tourist information office on the right where you can pick up hiking maps.
The 25-minute cable car ride costs 79 USD for the return trip (25% reduction with Interrail / Eurail pass).
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.
Taking a boat trip on Lake Brienz
As Interlaken straddles Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, unless you have time to explore both lakes, you will need to make a difficult choice. Interrogating on-line forums, Lake Brienz came out as the marginal winner. Also, as I had travelled alongside Lake Thun on the journey from Bern, this put its rival in pole position. 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.
The vessel was an old paddle steamer, all understated elegance with wooden panelling and theatrical bursts on the whistle as the ship approached its stops. And all of this enjoyed whilst sipping on a cheeky glass of Brienzer Wysee Blanc de Chamoson. Mmm.
Better still, boat trips on both Lake Thun and Lake Brienz are free with an Interrail / Eurail pass.
Train from Interlaken Ost to Thun
If time and energy permit, on your return journey why not stop off at Thun, 20-30 minutes by train from Bern? Thun, the largest town on Lake Thun, is straight out of casting central for the role of ‘pretty Swiss town.’ Encircled by mountains and with the turquoise vein of the Aare River running its historic centre, it is a delight.
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. 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?
Bernese Oberland itinerary – practical tips
- To be honest, I made up this Bernese Oberland itinerary as I went along. But it turned out to be pretty much a perfect day. I liked the contrast of the mountain scenery, a spot of gentle walking, a leisurely cruise on a boat with stacks of character and exploring a town with a great laid-back vibe.
- I caught a train at 8.30 in the morning and arrived back to Bern at around 6.30 that evening. Not an overly long day and at no point did it feel rushed.
- My base in Bern was the Hotel Bristol, a few minutes stroll from the railway station. It’s not cheap but is in a great location and the rooms are all newly refurbished. Recommended.
- To get some ideas of what to do In Bern, check out this blog post.
- I travelled around Switzerland by rail on a Global Interrail Pass. This cost approx 600 USD for ten days first-class travel within a month. With 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.
- Updated prices for Interrail 2019: A ten day first-class travel within a month pass is no longer available. A pass giving you seven days first-class travel within a month will cost approx.890 USD; ten day first-class travel within two months 1070 USD.