Half a day won’t be enough to see every beautiful part of Bern. But you can already visit every unmissable attraction and landmark in Bern, like Bundeshaus, Zytglogge, Bern Cathedral, and Rose Garden, within that short period of time.
However, having the unmissable things to do in Bern isn’t the only way to enjoy the city in half a day. If you love exploring and sightseeing, Bern can offer something you will like. In its old city alone, imposing landmarks, cute fountains, scenic views, and, most importantly, picturesque arcade streets await!
For wanderers and city explorers, you can try visiting Bern’s architectural attractions or beautiful fountains. If you love taking pictures, you can go to the places with the panoramic views and capture lovely scenery while relaxing on the viewing decks. There’s more I can suggest, so let’s get started!
For today, I’m going to share with you first what I think is the best way to spend half a day in Bern. Then after that, I’ll give more suggestions as to how you can spend half a day in Bern in a more specific way.
Best Way To Spend Half a Day In Bern
Did you know Bern is considered one of the smallest capital cities in Europe?
Although true, it does not mean Bern has very few attractions, and visitors have a few things to do when they visit.
In fact, Bern has several landmarks, scenic parks, and exciting museums, which can quickly consume your time in a day. For architecture enthusiasts, history lovers, or wanderers like me, picking which places to visit can be pretty challenging.
But, regardless of what kind of traveler you are, if you plan to spend only half a day in Bern, thinking about how you will visit Bern ends at this moment. Because now, I tell you that the best way to see Bern within a very short time is by going to the city’s most unmissable and iconic landmarks, which are:
- Bundeshaus — the remarkable landmark in Bern
- Zytglogge — the most spectacular place in Bern
- Bern Cathedral — the most imposing architectural attraction in Bern
- Rose Garden — a beautiful place with panoramic views of Bern
*attractions are arranged according to their distance from Bern train station. I suggest this as the sequence of your visit to Bern if you are not joining any tours.
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They sound interesting, right? Yes, they are! We’ll talk about each attraction in the following sections. But first, here is the map and summary of a half a day trip to Bern:
Basically, we’ll focus on Bern’s attractions within the old city of Bern. Rose Garden is an exception, but the focus of your visit will still be the old city from it.
Looking for different ways to travel in Switzerland? Check my itineraries below.
Destination 1: Bundeshaus
For me, one of the reasons why people must travel to Bern is to discover new things about Swiss history.
Bern is the capital of Switzerland. And being the heart of the nation, it is sure to find places here where the foundations and history of the country are documented or commemorated.
The Bundeshaus, or the Federal Palace of Switzerland, is the best example of these places. It is also the most beautiful landmark you can visit right after arriving at Bern by train. Most importantly, it’s in the Bundeshaus where you can find some insightful things about Switzerland’s history.
So, where is the Federal Palace?
It is located in the southwest portion of the old city of Bern, 400 meters (0.25 miles) southeast of the train station (Bahnhof). From Bahnhof, The Federal Palace is only a five-minute stroll through Christoffelgasse and Bundesgasse.
Bundesgasse will lead you to Bundesplatz, where you can see the imposing north facade of the Federal Palace (specifically the Parliament Building). On the front are statues and elaborations, symbolizing different values that the Swiss people and government live by.
So, what else can you see in the Federal Palace?
The facade of the Parliament building is only the tip of the iceberg of the overall experience you can have in the Federal Palace.
You can go inside the Federal Palace and see interesting artifacts like the exact copy of the first constitution of Switzerland, the first map of Switzerland, and more. You may read my post about Bundeshaus to see what else awaits inside and outside the landmark.
You might like to join the free 1-hour tour inside the Federal Palace for a more comprehensive experience (links to more information at the end of this post). Only by joining a tour can you enter the chambers where the parliaments conduct their session.
When you visit, do not forget to download the “Federal Palace Audio Guide Bern” app on your smartphone. It will help you understand the meaning of the building decoration, the statues, artworks, and functions of the palace’s chambers, and so on.
The app is handy if you plan to go inside the Bundeshaus and there are no English tours available. The last time I checked the official website, English tours were only available once a week, only on Saturdays.
Aside from the tour, here are some of the things that you might like to do when you visit the Federal Palace:
- See Bernabrunnen at the West Wing.
- Have a slow stroll while admiring the neoclassical architecture of the Federal Palace.
- Take pictures at the archway between the West Wing and the Parliament Building. The archway is the most picturesque part of the Federal Palace, in my opinion!
- Stroll at Bundesterrasse and admire the south facade of the Federal Palace. Bundesterrasse is a small promenade which is also an excellent vantage point of the River Aare. The view extends up to the snowy peaks of the Bernese Oberland.
Okay! How much time is needed in the Federal Palace?
Overall, it can take 1.5 to 2 hours to get a whole experience of the Federal Palace. That includes the tour, sightseeing, and relaxing on the scenic terrace of Bundesterrasse. It can be as quick as 15 to 30 minutes if you only wish to appreciate Federal Palace’s architecture and have sightseeing in Bundesterrasse.
Destination 2: Zytglogge
Zytglogge is one of the two remaining defensive medieval gate towers in Bern, which now serves as a clock tower providing time guidance to the city. You should visit Zytglogge because it is the most spectacular landmark in Bern.
I think Zytglogge is spectacular because it is simply a spectacle to watch. I am fascinated by its automatons that start moving 4 minutes before the full hour, in sync with the ringing of the bells.
At the same time, Zytglogge is spectacular as it is also an architectural attraction—a mix of baroque and gothic styles! Not to mention the two giant, gorgeous clocks decorated with storytelling murals and its colorful astronomical clock capable of telling the current zodiac, day of the week, and hour of the day.
How can you get to Zytglogge?
Zytglogge lies at the heart of Bern, connecting the two most picturesque streets of the old city, Martkgasse and Kramgasse.
From the train station, Zytglogge is a 7-minute walk through Spitalgasse and Marktgasse. Let’s say you’re already in Bundeshaus or Bundesplatz; going to Zytglogge will be a 6-minute walk via Barenplatz and Martkgasse.
If you follow the routes I mentioned above, you will see other landmarks in the old city, such as Kafigturm, Anna-Seiler-Brunnen, and Schützenbrunnen. They are the clock tower and beautiful fountains of Bern’s Innerestadt in the Marktgasse.
How much time is needed in Zytglogge?
There is nothing much to do in Zytglogge but admire its architecture and be amazed by its automaton’s spectacle. Unless you want to join the 60-minute tour inside the clock tower, a visit to Zytglogge may only last for 15 minutes.
For photography enthusiasts, I’m sure that you’ll spend more time in Zytglogge because it lies in a very picturesque location. The beautiful fountains in the arcaded streets of Kramgasse and Marktgasse offer great photo opportunities.
You can check my other post about Zytglogge to learn more about the tour and the best views of Zytglogge.
Destination 3: Bern Cathedral
Among the tourist attractions in Bern, it’s the Bern Cathedral which I find the most worth visiting. Not only because I love appreciating elaborate buildings. Most importantly, the Bern Cathedral is a four-in-one destination.
When you visit Bern Cathedral, you can expect to:
- Be captivated by its beautiful architecture.
- Get fascinated by its unique artworks.
- See one of the best views in the city.
- Have a refreshingly quiet and peaceful stay inside the church and in the garden beside it.
Bern Cathedral is not as stunning as the churches of other great European cities. Although that is the case, it is still a unique place with marvelous architecture. I must mention its majestic gothic spire—an aesthetic blessing to the skyline of Bern.
Your eyes will surely feast on the facade of the Bern Cathedral, especially at the main portal. It has an intricate tympanum decorated with hundreds of statues. The front of the Bern Cathedral is just the start of your amazement, though.
Come inside the Bern Cathedral to see a mesmerizing lace-like vaulted ceiling, kaleidoscopic stained glass windows, and impressive furniture in renaissance style.
Another part of the church you must visit is the viewing deck at the top of the spire. Climb the spire to see the “rewarding” time-transporting panoramic views of the old city of Bern. And then, on your way down, you can enter the room where the centuries-old bells are installed.
Climbing the spire of the Bern Cathedral can be exhausting with its 300-step stairs to the top. So, you may want to go to the Munsterplatform (the park beside the church) after. The park has lovely views of the Aare River and a cafe with alfresco seating, perfect for resting after visiting the spire.
If you wonder what you can see inside and outside the Bern Cathedral, check my post about Bern Cathedral.
How can you get to Bern Cathedral?
Bern Cathedral is the tallest structure in Bern. You should be able to spot it right away, especially on the streets in the southern part of the old city. You can even see it peeking on top of the beautiful buildings!
To be specific, Bern Cathedral is found in Munsterplatz. From Zytglogge or Kramgasse, going to Munsterplatz would only require a 3 to 4-minute walk.
The shortest path from Zytglogge to Bern is through Hotelgasse (the street to the left of Zytglogge when you are facing Zygloggle from Kramgasse) and then Munstergasse (turn left at the end of Hotelgasse).
How much time do you need in Bern Cathedral?
45 minutes to 1 hour should be enough to visit the Bern Cathedral. That includes checking the features of the church and sightseeing at the spire. You may want to add more minutes if you plan to relax at the park beside the church for some refreshments.
The length of time you may spend in the Bern Cathedral may differ depending on the time of the day and the season of your visit. Please consider checking the opening hours of the cathedral and its spire, indicated on Bern Cathedral’s official website, linked at the end of this post.
Since Bern Cathedral usually opens late morning (lunchtime during winter), you might like to put the Bern Cathedral at the last part of your itinerary if you want to visit Bern during the morning.
Destination 4: Rose Garden
Although a compact city, Bern has blue and green spaces, and tourists and locals enjoy hanging out. Among these parks, Rose Garden is the one you can’t just miss even on a half a day trip to Bern.
Why can’t you miss visiting the Rose Garden in Bern? Well, simply, it has the best views of the old city of Bern. From its terraces, overlooking views of the old city and Aare river await you. The scenery stretches as far as the newest districts of Bern and Gurten, which is Bern’s own mountain.
Aside from being a scenic destination in Bern, did you know that the Rose Garden is also one of the most romantic places in the city?
As its name suggests, Rose Garden is a promenade with thousands of colorful flowers (not only roses)! Imagine you and your partner, surrounded by flowers and then seeing the best view of the old city. Isn’t that moment perfect for a proposal?
The scene in the Rose Garden gets lovelier during the sunset. As the terrace of the Rose Garden faces to the west, you can see the sun literally setting behind the old city of Bern. The silhouette of the towers and domes of the buildings within the old city will be picturesque!
I think the best moment a couple can have in the Rose Garden is a wine date at the restaurant beside the garden. As the visitors can also see the sunset over the old city from the restaurant, dining can be one of the most special memories a couple can create in Bern.
Lovely views, romantic scenes, happy tummy—what else?
Anyway, solo travelers can also enjoy visiting the Rose Garden. Try going to Einstein’s bench. The bench has the sculpture of Einstein; sit beside it and take a selfie with Einstein!
The view behind Einstein’s bench (the old city’s skyline) is fantastic! That is why I consider it another unmissable photo souvenir spot besides Kramgasse or Zytglogge.
Alright! How can you get to the Rose Garden?
The Rose Garden, located on a hill on the other side of the Aare River, can be reached on foot from the old city. However, I would not recommend that, if you visit Bern on a half day.
Instead, ride buses #10, #40, or #M73. They’ll bring you to Rose Garden’s dedicated bus stop along Laubeggstrasse.
How much time do you need in the Rose Garden?
Visiting the Rose Garden would take a little bit of time, especially if you are not going there for the sunset or eating in the restaurant. Like 30 minutes or so—that includes picture taking, a quick rest on the benches, and a short stroll in the garden.
If you plan to watch the sunset here, you may spend an hour or more in Rose Garden. I suggest you come early to the Rose to find a good spot to watch the sunset. It’s a famous vantage point of Bern’s old city, so you may expect a crowd, especially during the peak season.
More Things To Do In Bern
For me, Bundeshaus, Zytglogge, Bern Cathedral and the Rose Garden are unmissable attractions in Bern. But, as I have already mentioned, the city has many attractions, and you are not limited to visiting these four.
Let’s say you want an alternative to Bundeshaus; you can find a few landmarks in the city that match its architectural beauty.
You can try Stadttheater or Bern Casino. The Church of Saint Peter & Saint Paul and Bern’s Town Hall can also be good alternatives.
If you like, you may also visit the most beautiful fountains in Bern! There is more to see than Anna-Seiler-Brunnen and Schützenbrunnen.
As Bern is known to be Switzerland’s city of fountains, we can consider these beautiful fountains like the little gems that you can pick up as you wander in Bern.
You might also want to go to the places where you can find the most scenic and picturesque views of Bern. The Bear Pit or Bear Park is an alternative to the Rose Garden discussed previously in this post.
If you are curious about what and where these places I’m talking about, you may check the links below.
You might also want to see this list of things to do in Bern. From this link, you can see insightful tours, helpful guides, skip-the-line entry tickets, and beautiful day trips that can make your trip to Bern more fun and worth it.
If you have noticed, most of the attractions in Bern I have mentioned so far are nice to visit when the weather is pleasant. So, what if it’s raining? Where should you go?
Well, Bern has several fascinating museums, and they can save your day when it rains in Bern. You can see the link to the list of the best museums in Bern at the end of this post.
Among the museums, it’s the Museum of Communications I find most fascinating. It’s an interactive museum with exhibits that includes all forms of communication. Like from paper to feature phones and some of the most futuristic gadgets.
You might also want to check the Alpine Museum, especially if you are going to have a trip to the Jungfrau region and Bernese Oberland after visiting Bern.
It’ll give you a unique perspective of the alps besides being a spectacular tourist attraction. The exhibits inside the Alpine Museum tackle different issues that our mountains are currently facing.
Should You Visit Bern In The Morning Or Afternoon?
For me, Bern is one of Switzerland’s most beautiful cities, no matter the season and time you visit.
But if you plan to visit Bern in half a day, I strongly suggest you do it in the afternoon for one beautiful reason: the golden hour. Bern looks incredibly stunning hours before the sunset. I think you will love the scenery in the city, having warm colors and high contrasts, especially in the Rose Garden!
You might also want to visit Bern in the afternoon because it’s the time when the Bern Cathedral has more open hours. In some seasons (last time I checked, it’s winter), Bern Cathedral is closed until noon.
Sources: Half A Day In Bern
- Visiting Bundeshaus in Bern (parliament.ch) – this includes the schedule of the tours.
- Visitor’s information of Bern Cathedral
- Rose Garden Restaurant
- List of the best museums in Bern
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