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Bern and Interlaken are two of Switzerland’s most popular tourist regions. On the one hand, Bern is a sprawling city located in the heart of the country. Conversely, you have Interlaken, close to some of Switzerland’s most picturesque landscapes. The two are close to each other and located in the same canton, but they could not be more different.
This article focuses on both Bern and Interlaken. So which is the better place to stay while traveling in the canton of Bern? Is it better to stay in Bern or Interlaken?
Key Differences: Bern vs. Interlaken
The key differences between Bern and Interlaken are as follows:
|Population: approx. 130,000||Population: approx. 5,600|
|Total Area: 51.62 km2 (19.93 mi2)||Total Area: 4.4 km² (1.7 mi2)|
|Elevation: 540 m (1,770 ft)||Elevation: 568 m (1,863 ft)|
|Switzerland’s fifth-most populous city, Switzerland’s de facto Capital||Main transport gateway to the Bernese Oberland Region|
|Highlights: Historic Old Town, Zytglogge, Parliament Building, Historic Museum, Bear Pit||Highlights: Harder Kulm Mountain, Heimwehfluh|
|No Lake||Lake: Thun and Brienz|
|River: Aare||River: Aare|
Bern is the fourth-largest city in Switzerland after Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. It is located west of central Switzerland and 20 kilometers north of the Bernese Alps. It is also the de facto capital of Switzerland and is sometimes referred to as the federal city of Switzerland. Bern is also the home of the international postal, telegraph, railway, and copyright unions.
Bern has a beautiful old town founded in the 12th century. Its 15-century arcades and 16th-century fountains add to the medieval town’s charm. As the beautiful old city of Bern managed to retain its original character, it has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The old town is full of colorful figures, crafted pillars, and medieval fountains. As a matter of fact, Bern has over 100 fountains. These medieval works of art were once important meeting spots for locals, and they remain an integral part of Bern’s character.
Notable buildings and landmarks in Bern include the Zytglogge, the Parliament Building, the Cathedral, the Historic Museum, the Bear Pit, and the Zoo.
Bern is surrounded by the River Aare with crystal-clear turquoise waters. Overlooking Bern is Gurten Park. Jegensdorf Castle is also nearby.
There aren’t as many high mountains nearby in Interlaken as in the Jungfrau Region. However, if you reach a good viewpoint like Harder Kulm or Heimwehfluh, you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views. You can also easily visit Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Grindelwald, and Mürren within a day from here.
Places to Visit: Bern vs. Interlaken
There are many attractions in both Bern and Interlaken that can be visited from either. Nevertheless, Interlaken is closer to the Jungfrau Region and the mountains. On the other hand, Bern is a city full of things to see and do.
Here are some of the places that you can visit easily from both places:
- Thun – Thun is a breathtaking lakeside town on the banks of Lake Thun. In Thun, you will find two castles (Thun and Schadau), a picturesque old town, museums, and places to bathe in during summer.
- Spiez – A gorgeous lakeside town near Interlaken with several beaches and a castle.
Places to Visit Near Bern
- Old City of Bern – Old City refers to the medieval city of Bern, Switzerland, which is surrounded by the river Aare on three sides. Several historic buildings dating from the 12th to 15th centuries can be found here. As a result of the number and well-preserved buildings from the medieval ages, the site was honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1983.
- Zytglogge – In Bern’s Old City, the Zytglogge is a prominent medieval clock tower. One of the most recognizable symbols of the city, the clock dates back to 1218 to 1220. You can find it right at the entrance of the old town. Every full hour, the clock rings, and some characters emerge. It is absolutely fascinating to watch, especially for history buffs and those who are fascinated by its age.
- Federal Palace – The Swiss Federal Assembly and Swiss Federal Council occupy the Federal Palace in Bern. Various government departments, as well as a library, are also housed in its two wings (eastern and western wings).
- Rosengarten – Bern’s Rose Garden is a beautiful park perched on a hill overlooking the entire historic center. It is just 5 minutes away from Bear Park. If you are lucky, you can see it when the roses are in bloom. It is a beautifully maintained and well-kept garden. There are benches and walking paths, as well as a great assortment of roses.
- Einstein Museum – Did you know that Albert Einstein, one of the world’s most brilliant physicists, lived in Bern at the time when his theory of relativity changed the world? Within the Historical Museum of Bern, approximately 1,000m² of exhibition space focuses on both his life and work, as well as the era when he lived. So while it might seem random at first glance, but the Albert Einstein Museum remains an interesting place to visit in Bern.
- Historic Museum of Bern – Over half a million objects from various cultures worldwide are housed in the Bern Historic Museum, the second-largest historical museum in Switzerland. The museum has many exhibits, including Bern and its history, art and silver, and even Asian history (India, Tibet, China, Japan). The building was opened on Helvetiaplatz back in 1894 after two years of construction. The museum looks like a castle; André Lambert designed it this way after studying several castles. After 80 years, it was expanded to include Kubus, a more modern-looking building, to accommodate more exhibition halls.
- Gurten – Gurten Park, located at 858 meters, offers spectacular views of the Bernese and Jura Alps. Take the tram and funicular (18 minutes to Gurten Kulm) to get there faster than on foot. Among the park’s amenities are playgrounds for kids, walking paths for everyone, and restaurants. If it’s a sunny weekend, expect to see a lot of people. You’d be better off going during the week. Walking and cycling here are also possible all year round.
Places to Visit Near Interlaken
There are many places to visit near Interlaken. There are many tourist attractions nearby, such as those around Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
- Harder Kulm – Harder Kulm can be reached from Interlaken by walking through the English Garden and crossing the bridge to the Interlaken Harderbahn. It is located 1,321 meters above sea level and provides fantastic views of Interlaken. Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Lake Thun, and Lake Brienz can be seen from Harder Kulm, too.
- Iseltwald – Iseltwald with its peninsula, the Seeburg castle, and its lakeside promenade is a peaceful little village to visit near Interlaken. Boats stop here in summer.
- Lake Thun – The bigger of the two lakes beside Interlaken, you can cruise around Lake Thun, swim, or try one of the water sports.
- Lake Brienz – Lake Brienz is great for sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, wakeboarding and more. Take a ride on the Brienzer Rothorn to get some great photos of Lake Brienz.
- Giessbach Waterfalls – Giessbach Waterfalls get their water from the high Faulhorn-Sagis Valley. From there, it flows into Lake Brienz
- Rosenlaui Valley, Glacier, and Gorge – An absolutely beautiful and peaceful pocket of land in the Reichenbach Valley. The gorge has thundering waterfalls and bizarre cliff formations. It is definitely worth visiting.
- Reichenbach Falls – Beautiful waterfalls famous for being featured in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem.
- Aare Gorge – Known for its limestone formations, Aare Gorge is a large piece of bedrock that stretches 1,400 meters long and 200 meters deep between Innertkirchen and Meiringen.
- St. Beatus Caves – The caves and the museum are located inside the Niederhorn Massif. Outside, you can walk around a garden with beautiful waterfalls. Take good walking shoes and bring a jacket since the cave can get chilly.
- Bönigen – Bönigen is a traditional village with wooden houses and chalets from the 16th century. You can find the village of Bönigen on the lower shore of Lake Brienz.
- Axalp – Axalp, right above Lake Brienz at 1,535 meters above sea level, is the starting point for a lot of hiking trails from spring until autumn. In winter, it is transformed into a small ski resort with 15 kilometers of slopes for young and old alike.
- Ballenberg Open Air Museum – This open-air museum features various centuries-old buildings from the different cantons of Switzerland. They have typical farm animals such as donkeys, cows, chickens, rabbits, and cats. In some houses, you will learn about specific trades or you will be able to interact with musical instruments or handicrafts.
Places to Visit Near Interlaken – Jungfrau Region
It takes only a short train ride from Interlaken to reach the Jungfrau region. From Interlaken Ost train station, many of these places are accessible in an hour.
- Staubbach Waterfall – The Staubbach Waterfall is a waterfall in Switzerland located just west of Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Highlands. It falls 297 meters from a valley overhanging the Weisse Lütschine, before the end of the overhanging cliff.
- Trümmelbach Waterfalls – There are ten glacier-fed waterfalls in Switzerland’s Trümmelbach Falls. It is accessible by a tunnel-funicular built back in 1913.
- Wengen – Wengen is 1,274 meters above sea level. On a terrace with a spectacular panorama, Wengen offers views of both Lauterbrunnen village below and the surrounding high mountains above.
- Mürren – Mürren is positioned a bit higher than Wengen, at 1,645 meters above sea level. There are also spectacular views of the bottom of the valley, and the town is quiet and car-free. It is smaller than Wengen.
- Schilthorn – This is the summit above the village of Mürren and the highest mountain north of Sefinenfurgge Pass. It is around 2,970 meters above sea level.
- Stechelberg – Stechelberg is a small village located at the base of the Schwarzmönch mountain in the Bernese Alps.
- Mürrenbach Waterfall – In five cascades, Mürrenbach Waterfall drops 417 meters to the ground, making it Switzerland’s highest waterfall.
- Gimmelwald – A small car-free village, Gimmelwald is located between Stechelberg and Mürren. It is 1,363 meters above sea level.
- Kleine Scheidegg – Kleine Scheidegg is a mountain pass at an elevation of 2,061 meters. It is located between Eiger and Lauberhorn. Kleine Scheidegg makes a great starting point for excursions to Jungfraujoch and Lauberhorn. It is also the meeting point of two rack railways.
- Männlichen – Männlichen is a 2,343-metre mountain easily accessible from Wengen and Grindelwald. From Männlichen, you get a fantastic view of Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau.
- Eiger Glacier – The Eiger Glacier lies on the northwest side of the Eiger mountain.
- Jungfraujoch – The saddle between Jungfrau (at 4,158 m above sea level) and Mönch (at 4,110 m above sea level). It is also the location of the highest mountain railway in Europe at 3,454 meters above sea level.
Advantages: Bern vs. Interlaken
Advantages of Staying In Bern
- Bern offers a broader selection of hotels, museums, and restaurants compared to Interlaken. They also offer a range of hotels from five-star hotels to inexpensive hostels.
- With its combination of city life and mountain living, Bern has the advantages of both worlds. Many mountains can be reached within an hour of Bern. The closest, Gurten, is just a tram ride away.
- Bern is closer to Zurich (approximately 1 hour) and Geneva (approximately 2 hours) compared to Interlaken. There are also direct trains from Zurich Airport and Geneva Airport to Bern.
- Trains run frequently between Bern and other cities. The cities and towns in Switzerland are also worth seeing if you want to see more than mountains.
- Bern has a healthy mix of indoor and outdoor activities. Especially on rainy days, you will have more options in Bern compared to Interlaken.
Advantages of Staying in Interlaken
- Compared to Bern, Interlaken is smaller. This is a great place for people who like a smaller, quieter place.
- A variety of hotels are available in Interlaken, ranging from luxury hotels to hostels that are more budget-friendly.
- Interlaken is located near two beautiful lakes. You should choose it over Bern if you plan to do a lot of swimming. Aside from wakeboarding and sailing, you can also do SUP.
- Interlaken is closer to the mountains in the Jungfrau Region. Choose it if you want to visit the mountains near and around Jungfraujoch.
- It’s better to go to Interlaken if you want to spend more time outdoors and enjoy nature. From Interlaken, you’ve got the highlights of the Bernese Oberland right at your fingertips.
Hotels: Bern vs. Interlaken
Hotel options in Bern are more extensive compared to Interlaken. Listed below are some recommended hotels in both places:
Hotels in Bern
- Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & Spa (5-star) – A well-established hotel, Schweizerhof Bern & Spa offers luxurious, sleek rooms with elegant decor. This well-known and highly-rated hotel enjoys a great location in the heart of Bern.
- Hotel Savoy Bern (4-star) – This elegant hotel is located in the old town of Bern. It is just a few steps away from the train station as well as the famed arcade streets.
- Best Western Plus Hotel Bern (4-star) – Boasting a prime location at Bern’s Old Town, the hotel offers exceptional affordability coupled with a range of amenities including a rooftop bar boasting breathtaking views, an on-site restaurant, round-the-clock front desk services, complimentary Wi-Fi, and well-maintained, cozy accommodations. This establishment is a highly recommended choice for a fulfilling stay in Bern.
- Kreuz Bern Modern City Hotel (3-star) – With its ideal location in the heart of Bern, Kreuz Bern Modern City Hotel is just 5 minutes from the train station. Modern rooms, a restaurant, fitness facilities, and an infrared cabin are available at the hotel. The hotel is also reasonably priced.
- Ibis Styles Bern City (3-star) – Ibis Styles Bern City stands as a contemporary and tasteful hotel conveniently situated close to Bern’s train station. It offers exceptional value for money, features a delightful breakfast spread, and has the bonus of a compact play area by the entrance, complete with a table football setup.
- Hostel 77 Bern (Hostel) – Located near Gurten, this charming hostel is easy to reach from Bern’s Main Train Station with public transport. This affordable accommodation offers male, female, and mixed dorm beds and lockers. They also offer free breakfast and free public transportation tickets.
Hotels in Interlaken
- Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa (5-star) – A luxurious and elegant hotel with distinctive design and decor, marble bathrooms, and views of the Jungfrau mountain.
- Swiss Hotel Apartments (5-star apartments) – With spacious rooms equipped with a kitchen, balcony, dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker, it’s the most affordable and convenient place to stay in Interlaken. It’s also just 80 meters from Interlaken Ost train station, so you can easily get there from Zurich and Geneva airports.
- Hotel Royal St Georges (4-star superior) – Close to the Harderbahn Funicular and Interlaken’s center, Hotel Royal St. Georges has a large, elegant lobby, restaurant, spa, and relaxing rooms. Personally, I loved staying here.
- Hotel Bellevue (4-star) – This boutique hotel is near Interlaken West train station. Each room has a balcony with a view of the mountains.
- Hotel Bernerhof (3-star) – The Hotel Bernerhof is an affordable, central hotel right opposite Interlaken West train station. It has modern rooms and a restaurant that serves Swiss food.
- Interlaken Youth Hostel (Hostel) – A convenient hostel located near the Interlaken Ost train station. They have clean and basic accommodations, plus breakfast is included.
Final Thoughts: Bern vs. Interlaken
If you’re looking for a place in the heart of Switzerland that’s close to nature, both Bern and Interlaken are excellent options. As each place has its own advantages and disadvantages, it is difficult to recommend one over the other.
Interlaken will be a better choice if you plan to do more outdoor activities, exciting adventures, hiking, or skiing. A more laidback person, who enjoys history and museums, shopping and restaurants, and visiting cities, yet wants the flexibility to visit the mountains for a few days, will love Bern.
Due to their variety, I tend to alternate between visiting them several times. Your trip will be a blast, no matter where you go.
TIP: For a couple of days in the Jungfrau Region, consider buying an unlimited transportation ticket so you can travel by train, boat, bus, gondola, and gondola on all the valid routes. You can get your ticket from GetYourGuide here – Jungfrau Travel Pass: Unlimited Transportation Ticket. The ticket covers Interlaken Ost, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Kleine Scheidegg, Grütschalp, Winteregg, and Mürren. Jungfraujoch tickets aren’t included, but you can get them at a special price.
Related Posts: Bern
- Zurich to Bern Train: All You Need To Know
- Geneva to Bern Train: All You Need To Know
- How to Spend 1 Day in Bern, Switzerland
- Zurich to Bern Day Trip: A Complete Guide
- 7 Top Things To Do in Bern When It Rains
- Visiting Gurten? 8 Reasons To Love It
- Rosengarten Bern: A Stunning Garden with Unparalleled Panoramic Views
- 10 Mountains Near Bern, Switzerland
- 10 Beautiful Towns Near Bern, Switzerland
Related Posts: Interlaken
- Zurich to Interlaken Train: All You Need To Know
- Geneva to Interlaken Train: All You Need To Know
- Interlaken, Switzerland: An Excellent Base in Bernese Oberland
- Top 12 Stunning Places Near Interlaken
- 8 Beautiful Towns Near Interlaken, Switzerland
- Mountains Close to Interlaken Worth Visiting
- Giessbach Falls Near Interlaken, Switzerland
- Exploring St. Beatus Caves Near Interlaken, Switzerland. Plus 7 Tips!
- Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge – One of Switzerland’s Most Beautiful Gorges
- Harder Kulm, Interlaken
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.