Bern, Switzerland’s understated capital city, is enchanting. Encircled by the turquoise waters of the River Aare and boasting a perfectly intact medieval centre with cobbled streets of grey sandstone buildings, it is a destination in its own right.

Furthermore, Bern is a perfect base for exploring more of Switzerland. Its central location and excellent railway links mean that visiting the surrounding area is a breeze. And you get the bonus of travelling through some of the most stunning scenery to be found anywhere.

On a day trip from Bern by train, you can take a look at Switzerland’s best-preserved castle, explore the mountains of the Bernese Oberland, take a leisurely boat trip on an Alpine lake and visit one of the country’s most interesting university towns.

Day trips from Bern (with map)

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:

  1. Bern -> Vevey -> Montreux (Chateaux de Chillon) -> Fribourg -> Bern
  2. Bern -> Thun -> Grindelwald -> Lake Brienz -> Bern

The choice is yours! To help you make up your mind, let’s now take a closer look at these destinations

Vevey

Although Vevey may not be as firmly on travellers’ radars as its better-known neighbours, it was a town that I found beguiling. If you don’t believe me, then 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.

vevey-fork-in-lake
The Fork, Vevey

I thought that Vevey was quite 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 2020.

Images Vevey 2019
Images Vevey 2019

Visiting Vevey from Bern

  • The train journey from Bern to Vevey takes 1 hr and 30 minutes with a change of train at Lausanne.
  • On the journey to Lausanne sit on the left-hand side of the train for views of the vineyards tumbling down to the shores of Lake Geneva, bursting with plump grapes, ripe for harvest.
  • Vevey train station is an easy ten-minute walk to the lakeshore

Montreux and Chateaux de Chillon

From Vevey, Montreux is less than 10 minutes by train. Therefore, it is easy to visit both towns in one day.

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.

chateux-de-chillon
Chateux de Chillon

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.

After you have finished admiring the castle, take a gentle walk back to Montreux along the Chemin Fleuri, Montreux’s lakeside promenade, which is framed by flowerbeds bursting worth colour.

Chemin Fleuri, Montreux
Chemin Fleuri, Montreux

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.

freddy-mercury-statue-montreux
Freddy in Montreux

Visiting Montreux from Bern

  • The quickest train journey from Bern to Montreux takes around 1 hr and 40 minutes, with a change of train at Lausanne.
  • As before, sit on the left-hand side of the train for those lake and vineyard views.
  • Montreux train station is practically on the lakeshore.

Visiting Chateaux de Chillon from Montreux

  • To reach Chateaux de Chillon, take to the water. The dock at Montreux is five minutes on foot from the railway station.
  • An elegant, wood-panelled boat will bring you from Montreux to Chillon in 15 minutes for 10 CHF (10 USD) or 14 CHF in 1st Class on the upper deck; 50% reduction with Interrail Pass. There are also sailings from Vevey and Lausanne.
  • Alternatively, bus #201 will bring you there.

 

Fribourg (Freibourg)

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.

fribourg-switzerland - view from Pont Mileu
Fribourg, View from Pont Mileu

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.

Visiting Fribourg from Bern

  • The train journey from Bern to Fribourg takes from 21 minutes.
  • Fribourg train station is on the western edge of the old town

 

Thun

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.

However, you can do worse than wander Thun’s old town or stroll along its riverside promenade. 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.

thun-wooden-bridge
Thun

Visiting Thun from Bern

  • The train journey from Bern to Thun takes 20 – 30 minutes.
  • If possible, sit on the right-hand side of the train carriage for the best views.
  • The Aare River and historic centre of Thun are within easy walking distance of its train station.

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, you can’t go far wrong with a day trip to Grindelwald.

Grindelwald

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, 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, with its – ahem – first-rate views. Time permitting, this is prime hiking territory. Pick up a map at Grindelwald’s friendly tourist information office en route to the cable car station.

Cliff Walk, First, Bernese Oberland
Cliff Walk, First, Bernese Oberland

Visiting Grindelwald from Bern

  • First, catch a train from Bern to Interlaken Ost, which will take one hour.
  • 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.
  • 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 cost 60 CHF (60 USD) for the return trip (45 CHF with Interrail / Eurail pass).

 

Lake Brienz boat trip

No trip to this region would be complete without taking a leisurely boat trip on one of its lakes.

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.

If you are lucky your boat will be an old paddle steamer, which is the utmost in understated elegance with wooden panelling and theatrical bursts on the whistle as it approaches its stops.

Lake Brienz
Lake Brienz

Visiting Lake Brienz from Bern

  • First, catch a train from Bern to Interlaken Ost, which will take one hour.
  • 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.
  • The boat terminal is adjacent to Interlaken train station and boat departures are timed to coincide with the trains’ scheduled arrival times.
  • A one-way ticket from Interlaken to Lake Brienz costs 35 CHF (35 USD). Free with Interrail / Eurail pass.
  • You can then catch the train back from to Bern from Brienz station
READ MORE: The Bernese Oberland: A Perfect 1-day Itinerary from Bern, Switzerland
   One Day in Bern, Switzerland: 5 Free Things to Do

How to explore Switzerland by train on day trips from Bern

Staying in Bern

  • I stayed at the Hotel Bristol, a few minutes stroll from the railway station. Newly refurbished with coolly efficient staff, a comfortable bed and a great location. Not cheap but recommended.

Travelling from Bern

  • Getting to these places is easy thanks to Switzerland’s efficient and highly integrated transport system. However, Swiss rail travel does not come cheap.
  • I travelled on an Interrail pass which was the best option for me based on the number of trips I was planning to do. For those living outside Europe, the Eurrail pass is its equivalent.
  • 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.

Are there other day trips from Bern that you can recommend?  I’d love it if you could share your experience by leaving a comment below. And if you have found this post useful, please share via social media or pin to your board for future reference.

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