Visiting Bern, Switzerland (and a side trip to Thun!)

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Switzerland’s capital city of Bern is known for its historic downtown and arcades of shops. While it’s not the most bustling town (think more strolling), I could spend an entire day wandering around looking for all 11 medieval fountains, scoping out the clock tower on the hour, and walking along the Aare River. If you’re up for some exercise, take the uphill walk to the Rose Gardens. Not only are the flowers beautiful but you get a great view of the old town rooftops (see the photo above).

This is Bern’s clock tower, known as the zytglogge. A small crowd gathers at the hour to see a little gold figure ring the bell.

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The Ogre, or Child-Eater fountain, is used to scare children into being good. You can find 10 similar (but less creepy) statues throughout the historic downtown streets:img_0918

Above are images taken while on a walk along the Aare River. The water is gorgeous and clean, and not pictured were a number of locals and tourists swimming in it.

The rose garden (rosengarten) is a free park that’s home to over 450 types of flowers, along with views of Old Town Bern and beyond. A lot of people were picnicking, reading, or just sitting on a bench to enjoy the view. Give yourself at least an hour to explore, particularly since there are some nice walking paths.

The Swiss Alpine Museum is a nice, brief stop if you have a Swiss Travel Pass (which grants you admission). You can learn about the history, culture, and natural environment of the alps. While I enjoyed this museum, however, if I didn’t have the Swiss Travel Pass I probably wouldn’t pay the CHF 16 entrance fee. To learn more about the Swiss Travel Pass and how to save money in Switzerland, check out my previous post, “Switzerland on the Cheap.” Also, there are two affordable grocery stores, Migros and Coop, conveniently located in the Bern train station for a low-budget meal.

Unfortunately, when I was in Bern, Bear Park was closed. However, you should go because 1) I’ve heard this is a highlight of Bern, 2) Who doesn’t want to see bears roaming around? and 3) It’s free! Read more about it here: http://www.tierpark-bern.ch/

For vegetarian and vegan travelers, I highly recommend eating at Tibits. It’s a self-service buffet with items labeled according to dietary concerns. There is a wide variety of foods, including a number of veg takes on classic Swiss dishes. Go on a Vegan Tuesday and all buffet items are vegan! Even on normal days though, about 80% of the options are vegan. As with most dining options in Switzerland, however, Tibits is pricey. Don’t overload your plate TOO much and you can get lunch for about CHF 20.

Depending on your travels, Thun is an easy distance from either Bern (less than a 20 minute train ride) or Interlaken (less than 40 minutes by train). I made it a day trip from Bern, with my primary plan being to get on a boat and explore as many of Lake Thun’s castles as possible. As you might expect with a boat and castle combination, it was amazing and well worth the short train ride. I was able to see four of the five castles over the course of the day: Schloss Thun, Schloss Schadau, Oberhofen Castle, and Schloss Spiez. The one I missed due to time constraints was Hunegg Castle. Read about all five castles here: http://www.interlaken.ch/en/activities-excursions-adventure-festivals/culture-customs-traditions/castles-in-the-region-interlaken.html  You can purchase a “lake and castle” package (2nd class for CHF 73), or use your Swiss Travel Pass if you have one (which covers the boat rides and the majority of castle admissions).

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If you were to only have time for one of these castles, the clear choice is Schloss Thun (Thun Castle). Built at the end of the 12th century, it has all your standard castle elements: four lookout towers with beautiful views, dungeons, and stories of murder and deceit. It’s also the natural starting point when you’re taking a boat trip from the northwestern part of the lake.

Views from Schloss Thun’s lookout towers, as well as a Swiss game similar to chess:

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If you have time to continue beyond Schloss Thun, the next closest stop is Schloss Schadau. The architecture is a nice contrast to many of the other castles since it was built in the 1800’s, but the best part is the park and views behind it. This would be a great place to bring a picnic lunch if you’re on-the-go all day.

Schloss Schadau and the park behind it:

Next up would be Hunegg, though I skipped this one due to time constraints. I opted to go straight to Oberhafen Castle, with highlights including flower gardens and an unexpected oriental smoking room with beautiful views of the lake and mountains. I also personally liked the architecture and taking pictures of the window views (see below). There’s also a restaurant attached if you need to stop for lunch.

Lastly, Schloss Spiez is a little farther boat ride across the lake. This one includes a rose garden and the castle church pictured below, both of which are particularly impressive. Some skip this one since it’s relatively out of the way, but I do recommend ending your day of castles with Schloss Spiez if you have time.

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Have more Bern or Thun travel tips? Have you gotten to visit Bear Park? Post in the comments below!

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