“Swiss cities remind me of the kid at high school who’s great at sports, has perfect hair, the best girlfriend, and the teachers all love him. He’s just too perfect.”
A 3-day Switzerland trip from the city of Bern
I know you have, like me, been lusting after the dream that is Switzerland. Rolling green fields, uniform chalet-style houses, perfect snow-laden majestic mountains, sparkly massive lakes… its attributes are many. Added to all that, the Alpine country was selected as “the best country in the world” by the 2018 Best Countries report.
So much to lust after.
It’s on top of every tourist’s list.
Err… and that’s what also makes it super expensive.
How can I see Switzerland for cheap, you ask? It’s possible. I give you a 3-day itinerary with Bern as a base to see the best of Switzerland for as cheaply as you can.
I was very happy to make Bern my base for a short Switzerland trip this July. You might think since Bern is the capital it’ll be boring but as the locals vehemently deny, it’s not the capital, it’s merely the ‘Federal Seat’ of Swiss power. So no, not boring at all.
In fact, Bern is not only cheaper than Geneva, Zurich, Interlaken, and Zermatt but also superbly connected to any place you want to go to in Switzerland. I LOVED the charming, little city. Also, I rarely got lost, and had the best fondue!
Exchange rate: When I traveled, 1 CHF equaled 0.90 Euro, so almost the same. Most establishments accept Euro but will return CHF.
Here’s the 3-day Switzerland itinerary from Bern.
How to get to Bern
From the airport: The airport bus (bus line 334), which runs once every fifteen minutes or so, takes passengers from the airport to the Belp train station. The journey takes ten minutes. From there, you can take an S-Bahn (S3, S31, S4 or S44) to Bern main station. The distance from the airport to the center of Bern (Bundesplatz) is 10 kilometers.
By bus: If you are landing or exiting from Frankfurt or Zurich, then swinging by Bern is a good option. Use the overnight Flixbus from Frankfurt or Zurich airport to go straight to Bern Neufield. After a 3 min walk downhill, take bus 11 from Neufield stop (next to Cafe Neufield) to go into the city.
If you are staying in Bern, you are eligible for free transport within the city. Usually, your hotel/ hostel will give you a card you can use. Until you get that, you can show a copy of the hotel reservation to get a free ride. In any case, no one asks for your ticket. But we are honest, no?
Where to stay in Bern
Hotels are expensive, so I stayed in a hostel: Bern Youth Hostel. Five stars for its location, right by the gorgeous Aare river. Also, the hostel provides a fantastic breakfast and has a lovely open area outside to lounge in. Rooms are decent. I stayed in the four-bed mixed dorm. Cost me €45 per night.
And now for the 3-day itinerary from Bern.
To buy the Swiss Pass or not
Okay, so I debated it long and hard, and ultimately decided not to buy one. I spent about 220 CHF on my train and boat travels, museum entries, etc. which was just a tad lesser than the 3 day Swiss Pass cost of 232 CHF. Consider purchasing the Swiss Pass or at least the Swiss half fare card. The website Myswissalps has a useful article on the benefits.
The 3-day Switzerland itinerary.
Day 1: Thun, Interlaken Ost, and Grindelwald
The Berner Oberland is one of the most gorgeous regions of Switzerland, comprising the upper valley of the Aare river. It is surrounded by towering mountains and sparkling lakes. The train journeys along these regions are spectacular. Whip out your cameras, sit on the right side of the Berner Oberland Bahn (BOB), in the direction of your journey (usually), and click all the postcard-pretty pictures of Switzerland you have been lusting after your entire childhood.
Buy a return ticket from Bern to Grindelwald and break your journey in Thun and Interlaken (Bern-Grindelwald 1.35 hours, 79 CHF or €71.3). I have to warn you though, this route is tourist-laden.
Grindelwald (1 hour 35 min from Bern) is a village in the Bernese Alps and a popular gateway for the Jungfrau Region. While going to Jungfrau itself is very expensive, the minor summit of First is accessible by ski lift from Grindelwald.
Interlaken (Train from Grindelwald takes 40 min, get down at Ost station, not at Interlaken West). Interlaken is located on a narrow stretch of valley, between the emerald-colored waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. A cruise is the best way to see the entire stretch. On summer months, there are usually two tours: at around 2 p.m. and around 5 p.m. The entire round trip takes about 3 hours. Food and drinks are served on board.
You can hop on and off on stops along the way such as Iseltwald, Geissbach, and Brienze, and join the latter cruises to return to home base. The Interlaken cruise is free with the Swiss Pass. Here is the cruise timetable. Discounted price on Mondays at CHF 39 for an adult, full-price at CHF 70 rest of the days.
Optional: Trip to Harder Kulm. Located at an altitude of 1,322 m, it offers the best view of Interlaken, Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau, Thun and Lake Brienz.
Thun (35 min from Ost, 20 min from Bern) Thun is a pretty town with a population of around 45k. A castle, the Rathaus, Lake Thun and a sweeping view of the valleys on either side are its main draws.
Alternative: Take a 60-minute train ride to Lauterbrunnen, an immensely pretty town, also less tourist infested. Lauterbrunnen is set amidst rocky cliffs and boasts the massive 300m-high Staubbach Falls and the glacial waters of Trümmelbach Falls.
All in all, I felt staying overnight at a hotel in Interlaken, Thun or Grindelwald was a better thing to do rather than visit the cities in passing. The views are spectacular, yes, but with the number of tourists around you during the summer months, the experience of ‘passing by’ can be underwhelming. And God forbid, you venture out on a cloudy day.
Day 2: Lausanne and Montreux
The return ticket from Bern to Montreux via Lausanne costs CHF 84 or Euro 76. As before, you can stop in Lausanne on your way to or back.
Lausanne is about minutes from Bern. You can stop here on your way to Montreux or on your way back. The city is quite small and can be covered by a DIY walk. Or you could do a guided walking tour that takes place at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (Mon-Sat from May to Sept). Starts from the Town Hall i.e. Place de la Palud. Costs CHF 15 per person. Another site of interest is the Olympic Museum. Open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Take the metro M2 from the station. Buy tickets from the Information Center at the station. CHF 3.50 one way.
Montreux is a lovely piece of the Swiss Riviera, largely as tourist-free as a Swiss city can be. When I visited, it was warm and the promenade was bursting with every kind of flower imaginable. Lush was the word that came to my mind: Lush waters, lush greens, lush flowers, lushness everywhere.
What you can do in Montreux. Take the walk along the promenade (starting from the Tourist Information Center, 200 meters or so downhill from the station). A large part of the walk is along Quai des Fleurs (‘Flowered Embankment’, and flowers there were for sure!) until you reach the end of your goal: Chateau de Chillon. Alternately, you can take bus 201 from ‘i’ at Grand-Rue to the Chateau (costs CHF 3.50 one way to ride). You will also pass the imposing Freddie Mercury statue on your way and can also take a quick detour to visit a studio experience/museum dedicated to him. It is free. If you are so inclined, change into swimwear and jump into Lake Geneva.
Chateau de Chillon is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Free guided tours in English take place every Sunday. Costs CHF 12.50 to enter, additional CHF 6 for an audio guide.
Day 3: Bern
- A Free walking tour: Note that these don’t take place every day and the meeting point and times differ from tour to tour
- (or) Get an audio guide at Bern Tourismus (The rental period is 6 hours, to be returned by 6 p.m.)
- Get the museum card if that’s on your agenda. For 24 hours, it costs CHF 28 or 25 Euro
Some free things to do in Bern
- Altstadt (Old Town) The historic heart of Bern
- Heiliggeistkirche-Church of the Holy Ghost
- Rose Garden
- Zytglogge (Clock Tower)
- Bear Park
- Marktgasse Weekly Market
- Bern Parliament House
- Botanic Gardens
- Bern Cathedral
Some unusual things to do in Bern
- Visit the Psychiatrie-Museum – a small psychiatric museum displays a collection of outsider art and scale models of past “treatments” for mental illness such as “centrifuge therapy.”(Monday-Friday: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.)
- Visit the Museum of Communication which explores the history of communication through modern displays. Everything starting from vintage postal trucks to modern video games (Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- Einsteinhaus: Albert Einstein lived in the flat at Kramgasse №49 for just two years between 1903 and 1905, however in these short years he would make some of his most important breakthroughs. (Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- Bärengraben or beer park, operational since 16th century. The number 12 bus will bring you right to the front of the bear park.
Where to eat in Bern
I had a delicious meal of fondue and swiss wine at Lötschberg. Set me back by 32 CHF but was totally worth it. Skipped dinner too. Try going during off-peak hours to snag a free table. Otherwise, it usually runs busy and needs a reservation.
Extension: Day 4: BASEL
Basel is Switzerland’s third-most-populous city, after Zürich and Geneva. It is located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet. The city is primarily known for its 40 odd museums, the University of Basel—Switzerland’s oldest university (founded in 1460), and the Rhine River. I didn’t think it was worth spending more than a day in, and not worth a visit if you have limited time, but there are a few interesting things to do.
Train from Bern to Basel (takes 55 minutes from Bern, costs €12 or 13 CHF)
- Get a day transport pass worth CHF 9.9 or €8.9, if staying for less than a day. Need to validate before you ride
- You will get a free BaselCard when you check-in to a hotel in Basel. It offers discounts on local attractions and unlimited transport through the city, including a trip to the airport (Needs to have ‘Mobility Ticket’ on the card to enable this).
- Visit the Tourist Information Center at the Basel train station to know how to go to places you want to. They were very helpful. Note that, Basel SBB is the main train station. Basel Bad Bf in the north of the town and only runs a few trains
- If you’re arriving in Basel and want to store your luggage for a few hours, head over the luggage storage section at the ground level. Divided into Small, Medium, Large and XL, prices start at 5 CHF for 6 hours.
Top 5 things to do in Basel
- Do the Free walking tour (2:30–4:30 p.m.). The meeting point is usually at Tinguely fountain by the Theater Basel. Tours don’t take place every day. Another option is to do paid city tours. Details here.
- Go to the Paper Museum. Set in a very quaint, green part of town, the erstwhile paper mill (from the 1450s) was converted to a working museum in 1980. The museum is unique in its displays and the way it’s been set up. Imagine spending 2-3 hours amidst the smell of books and parchment. You can make your own paper here and do some quilling, and marbled paper art too. The gift shop has beautiful reams of paper to shop from. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue-Fri and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, closed Mondays. Costs 15 CHF or €13.5 as admission fees. There are 4 floors to explore covering the history of paper, of writing, of printing presses, bookbinding, etc.
- Visit the Basler Münster: With red sandstone walls and a glazed patterned roof, Basel’s main catholic cathedral is a great spot to spend an hour in. It is one of the main landmarks and tourist attractions of Basel and beloved to locals. The hill on which it is located was once a Celtic fortified city. The square around it is a pleasant place to spend some time in as well.
- Click pictures with the 500-year old, Basel Town Hall, arguably the best-looking building in Basel. Saunter around Marketplatz after that.
- Visit Museum Tinguely. You might have already seen the curious Tinguely fountain, also known as the Carnival Fountain. Know more about the creator, Jean Tinguely, and view his other artwork at this quirky museum. Timings: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays closed. More info here
Other things to do in Basel
- Climb up the Basler Münster for awesome views of the city
- Walk down Steinenvorstadt or Cinema Road
- Buy a Wickelfisch. Designed by Tilo Ahmels, this waterproof bag is iconic to Basel
- Go to the zoo, located close to the main train station
- Visit Kunstmuseum Basel (Museum of Art)
Exit from Basel
If going to other parts of Europe from Switzerland, consider the Nightjet out of Basel, a sleeper train that costs just under €59.
A list of walking tours in Swiss cities