As the nation’s capital, this was my favorite city in Switzerland. It’s small, covered in cobblestones, filled with medieval buildings, set along a beautiful river, and close to the mountains. I LOVED Bern. Because it’s so small, you only need a few days here but while you are here, be sure to try some of the international food, chocolate (Toblerone was started here), and craft beer popping up at the new bars through the city.
Hostel prices – There are only a few options here, and prices are very high. Dorm rooms are 40 CHF per night while private rooms start at 140 CHF per night for a double room. These prices sometimes include breakfast, sheets, and towels, but check the website beforehand to be sure. Alternatively, you can camp out for as little as 15 CHF per night at one of the two campgrounds on the outskirts of Bern.
Budget hotel prices – Most budget hotels are under 120 CHF per night for a double room. Book in advance to find the best price.
Average cost of food – Eating in Bern can be expensive. You’ll spend between 50-100 CHF a week for basics like pasta, sandwich ingredients, sauce, rice, eggs, and fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets also sell pre-made meals for between 5-9 CHF. Bars and cafés are the cheapest food option, cost about 9-15 CHF for a lunch special. Restaurants with table service are around 20 CHF for lunch and 40 CHF for dinner (starter, main, and drink).
Transportation costs – A single journey ticket on the metro/bus is 4 CHF and lasts for 90 minutes, and a daily pass is 12.40 CHF. This ticket is valid for both the bus and the train during that time period. If you want to ride around for free, book at least one night’s accommodation in Bern. Since 2014, tourists that book accommodation receive a Bern Ticket that offers free public transportation for their entire stay. In the summer, free bikes are available to use too.
Money Saving Tips
Use Couchsurfing — With dorm rooms starting at 30-40 CHF per night, you need to lower your accommodation costs. Couchsurfing is the way to do it. It’s a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free (more on it here). It was a lifesaver that allowed me to keep my costs down the most. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
Camp out – There are two campsites on the outskirts of the city. You can park your motorhome, pitch a tent, or rent a cabin for very cheap, sometimes as little as 15 CHF. Then feel free to use their showers, kitchen, washing machine, etc. This is a great option for families, groups, nature lovers, people traveling with pets, and budget travelers.
Book an apartment — Airbnb is also a good deal if you’re traveling with someone, as most private rooms are around 65 CHF per night, but you can find many for as little as 25-40 CHF. Split two ways, that’s much cheaper than a hostel dorm!
Travel around Bern for free – Since 2014, f you book at least one night’s accommodation (hotel, hostel, apartment, boarding house, etc) in Bern, you can travel on public transportation around zones 100 and 101 (basically all of Bern) for free! Be sure to have a printed booking confirmation. When you arrive in Bern, show your accommodation confirmation so you can travel from the rail station or airport to your accommodation for free. Upon check-in, you will get a Bern Ticket that’s valid for your entire stay. This ticket includes a free ride up to the popular viewing point, Gurten.
Bike for free – Visiting Bern anytime from May to October? Take advantage of the free Bern Rollt bicycle rentals in Bern. You can rent bicycles, children’s bicycles, e-bikes, scooters and skateboards. All you have to do is present a valid ID and a deposit of 20 CHF at one of the bike pick-ups in the city. Rentals are free for the first four hours (two hours for e-bikes), then 1 CHF for each additional hour. This is a great way to experience Bern on a budget.
Book your trains early – While a train ride is a cheaper way to travel than the plane, you can get even cheaper rates by booking your train ticket early. Swiss Rail also offers one-day and weekend group passes to look into.
Don’t drink — Drinking is not cheap here. Most beers are around 8 CHF. (Plus, who wants to hike while hung over?) Most wines are between 10-25 CHF a bottle. If you must drink, stick to hostel bars where you can enjoy 2-for-1 happy hours and cheap drinks for around 5 CHF or buy your beers at grocery stores for as little was 2 CHF.
Cook — With sit-down restaurants costing around 40 CHF per meal per person, eating out in Switzerland can be very costly, so buy your groceries. A week’s worth of food (bread, pasta, rice, eggs, vegetables, cheese, deli meats for sandwiches, and some assorted fruit) will cost you 75-100 CHF. The major supermarkets are Migros, COOP, and Spar. COOP is the most expensive.
Go veggie — Meat is expensive in Switzerland. Every Swiss resident or expat I talked to told me about how they limit their meat consumption because it costs so much. Stick to veggies and avoid buying meat for your meals (especially beef). While I was trolling supermarkets and butchers for grocery prices (travel writing is glamorous, huh?!), I found a pound of meat was 12-14 CHF. At that price, stick to deli meats for protein!
Use lunch specials — If you are going to eat out, do so during lunch, when most lunch specials at cafes and restaurants cost around 10-19 CHF. Moreover, stick to the ethnic restaurants like Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, or Thai for the best deals and biggest portions (and closer to that 10 CHF price). Lunch specials are a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck and to enjoy the dinner menu but at a cheaper set menu price.
Top Things to See and Do in Bern
Visit Einstein’s home – This was Einstein’s apartment while he came up with the Theory of Relativity. While it has a museum-type feel, you can learn about Einstein, his life, and about his time in this city. It provides an interesting look at the man who changed science.
Stroll through Bern Cathedral – Take the tram and admire its Gothic architecture at night along the skyline. This is one of the best Gothic cathedrals in Europe and is very detailed.
Visit the Old Town – Go antique shopping, dine at a variety of restaurants (and there are plenty of cheap eats as well) and bask in this unique neighborhood’s bars and taverns. This was the historic area of the city and you’ll be able to walk down tiny cobblestone streets and see houses hundreds of years old.
Take a walking tour of Bern – Although many activities in Bern are expensive, taking a self-guided tour won’t be. In old town you will find some wonderful bakeries and markets where you can cheaply taste the local cuisine. Take your picnic to Gerechtigkeitsgasse and see the Bear Park – a little bit of history while you eat and, if you hit the right time of year stroll through one of many free concerts, parades and festivals.
Check out the Bern Historical Museum – Switzerland’s second largest historic museum, combines one of the country’s most important ethnographic collections together with the Bernese historical collections from prehistory to the present day. It’s closed on Mondays.
See the Zytglogge – The clock tower near the center of the old town (built around the turn of the 13th century) is a great thing to see. Every hour on the hour, there is a stunning display of early animatronic technology. The clock tells time as well as the month, day, sign of the zodiac and phase of the moon. There are guided tours inside the tower that will let you have a look at the clockwork.
Hike the Gurten – The Gurten is a lovely hill just outside the city. It features a park and great view over the city on one side and a nice panorama of the Bernese Alps on the other. The park is visited heavily by locals, who come to play ball, barbecue or to just lie in the sun. Tourists are not an unusual sight, though this small attraction is missed by most of the many that visit the city. Hiking paths lead in all directions and you will almost certainly stumble across some cows when walking around.
Tour the Swiss House of Parliament – The Swiss House of Parliament, known as the Bundeshaus, lies on the main square of Bern. When parliament is not in session, you’re welcome to take a free tour of the premises.
Visit the Kunstmuseum – Bern’s Museum of Fine Arts contains over 800 years of artwork, and the institution itself is the oldest art museum in the country. Here you can find paintings by masters such as Picasso, Klee, and Oppenheim. There are more than 3,000 paintings and sculptures here.
See the bears – Bern’s name has been historically linked to “bears.” One existing legend says that the city’s founder, a duke, named Bern after the first animal hunted and killed in the area. In any case, the bear became a symbol of the city, and the first “bear park” opened in the 19th century. At the moment, four brown bears live in the bear park.
Learn to communicate – The Bern Communications Museum traces the history and patterns of human interaction, as expressed through written and verbal communication. It also has exhibits on computers and the digital age, and Swiss stamps. This is a good place to visit with children, as it’s pretty interactive.
Stop to smell the roses – East of the historic center lies the Rosengarten, the city’s beautiful rose garden. There are over 200 varieties of roses to admire, and you can also get a good view of the city from here.
Swim in the river – The great thing about Switzerland is that even urban rivers are clean enough to swim in! In the summer, swimming in the River Aere is a popular activity. Check with your hostel or hotel to find out where the best and safest spots are before heading out. Pack a picnic, and make an afternoon of it!