Are you deciding between a visit to Bern or Lausanne in Switzerland? These two beloved Swiss cities offer a wealth of historical landmarks, shopping districts, hotels, museums, and dining establishments. Furthermore, both cities boast ample green spaces and recreational opportunities. As you weigh the options between Bern and Lausanne, you may be wondering which city would be a better destination for your trip. Which is the better choice, Bern or Lausanne?
This article compares and contrasts Bern and Lausanne, two of Switzerland’s largest cities. Let’s find out.
Overview: Bern vs. Lausanne
The key differences between Bern and Lausanne are as follows:
|Population: approx. 130,000||Population: approx. 140,000|
|Switzerland’s fifth-most populous city||Switzerland’s fourth-most populous city|
|Elevation: 540 m||Elevation: 526 m|
|Area: 51.6 km²||Area: 41 km²|
|Highlights: Switzerland’s Federal City, |
Historic Old Town, Gurten, Historic Museum
|Highlights: Lausanne Cathedral, Olympic Museum, Ouchy|
Plateforme 10, Lausanne Old Town
|River: Aare||Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)|
|Canton: Bern||Canton: Vaud|
Cities: Bern vs. Lausanne
Bern – The Federal City
Switzerland’s de facto capital is Bern. This city near the Aare River is not the official capital as one might think. Unlike most countries, Switzerland does not have an official capital. Nevertheless, Bern is the seat of the Swiss Federal Government. So you’ll find a lot of government workers here – including members of the Swiss Federal Council. In Bern, the Federal Palace is home to the Swiss Federal Council, an executive council of seven members of the Swiss federal government.
Bern is not only Switzerland’s de facto capital. UNESCO has designated its old town as a world heritage site. The old town is full of colorful figures, crafted pillars, and medieval fountains. 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.
Lausanne – The Olympic Capital
Lausanne has a pretty old town and cathedral, an Olympic Museum, and a beautiful lake promenade. There are also lots of interesting, historic buildings, an aquarium, and access to the lake. The city is full of history; it was ruled by the Celts and the Romans.
Lausanne is the second most populous city in French-speaking Switzerland after Geneva. It’s also the capital of Vaud, its canton.
Lausanne also has a major student population along with restaurants, bars, and hotels all over the city. Due to its young residents, this city built on three hills has a young, international, and busy vibe.
Things to Do: Bern vs. Lausanne
Things to Do in 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 Cultural 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 from 1218 to 1220. Every full hour, the clock rings, and some characters emerge. You can find it right at the entrance of the old town. It is 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 – The 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 – It might seem random at first glance, but the Albert Einstein Museum remains an interesting place in Bern. 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 his life and work, as well as the era when he lived.
- Historical Museum of Bern – Over half a million objects from various cultures worldwide are housed in the Bern Historical Museum, the second-largest historical museum in Switzerland. After two years of construction, the building was opened on Helvetiaplatz back in 1894. André Lambert designed the castle museum, which was influenced by various historic castles. After 80 years, it was expanded to include Kubus, a more modern-looking building, to accommodate more exhibition halls. The museum has many exhibits, including Bern and its history, art and silver, and even Asian history (India, Tibet, China, Japan).
- Gurten – Gurten Park, located 858 meters above sea level and offering stunning views of the Bernese and Jura Alps, is worth a visit. On foot, it takes about an hour to reach it, but taking the tram and funicular (18 minutes to Gurten Kulm) is faster. Walking and cycling are possible all year round. Park amenities include playgrounds for kids, walking paths for people of all ages, and restaurants. If it’s a sunny weekend, expect to be quite busy. It would be better to visit Gurten on a weekday.
Find out what else there is to do in Bern on GetYourGuide.com.
Things to Do in Lausanne
While there are many things to do and places to visit in Lausanne, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:
- Old Town – to visit the old town and possibly do a bit of shopping, go to Rue de Bourg, St-François, Flon and Place de la Palud
- Gothic Cathedral – one of Europe’s most magnificent Gothic Cathedrals. This 12-century cathedral attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year
- Market – Every Wednesday and Saturday morning from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm, there is a local farmer’s market around Rue de Bourg to Place de la Riponne
- Ouchy – the relaxing, lakeside Ouchy can be a destination for walks and in summer can be combined with a swim in Bellerive
- Bellerive Plage – the swimming pool in Bellerive near the lake has 3 large swimming pools including an Olympic-sized pool. It also has a supervised lake beach, beach volleyball courts, basketball courts, tennis tables, and an aquatic park on the lake.
- Olympic Museum Lausanne – the Olympic Museum guides visitors through the history of the Olympics, the sports equipment of various athletes, interactive multimedia and games, and more. The TOM café is also perfect for hanging out as it gives a magnificent view of the lake and the Alps from its terrace.
- MCBA Art Museum – the MCBA at Plateforme 10 showcases thousands of works of art. It covers visual arts and works such as those by Degas, Cézanne, Denis, Rodin, Giovanni Giacometti, and many more.
- Aquatis Lausanne – Aquatis is not just an aquarium. It also features a Komodo dragon, a poisonous snake, and other terrestrial animals.
Find out what else there is to do in Lausanne on GetYourGuide.com.
Day Trips Nearby: Bern and Lausanne
While Bern is centrally located in Switzerland, Lausanne also provides great proximity to various interesting places to explore. Both cities have easy access to many other nearby destinations, making these excellent hubs for day trips and visits.
Day Trips from Bern
- Thun – Described as the gateway to Bernese Oberland, Thun in Switzerland is also one of the biggest cities in Canton Bern. You can find it on the northern part of Bernese Oberland sitting on the northern edge of Lake Thun. It is a stunning town worth a visit.
- Murten – Murten, also known as Morat, is located on the shores of Lake Murten. You can take a quick trip from Bern to this pretty little town in canton Fribourg. Among the Swiss heritage sites of national significance are Erli 2, Murten’s walls, the Grosshaus at Hauptgasse 43, the Rathaus or town council house, Löwenberg Castle, and the Old School House in Valvenach.
- Interlaken – Interlaken, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and two crystal-clear lakes, is an exciting day trip destination from Bern. This place is ideal for thrill-seekers since it offers paragliding, skydiving, and many other activities. It takes just one hour to drive from Bern to Interlaken.
- Lucerne – A must-see destination for travelers, Lucerne is one of Switzerland’s most beautiful cities, boasting breathtaking views of the lake and mountains, a fascinating history, and a wealth of cultural attractions.
- Lauterbrunnen – Lauterbrunnen is an idyllic village in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland surrounded by waterfalls. The entire area is best described as a valley with 72 waterfalls. Lauterbrunnen is a great place to start exploring the Jungfrau Region.
Day Trips from Lausanne
- Nyon – this lovely lakeside town is about 25 kilometers northeast of Geneva; it’s part of the bigger Geneva metro area. This lovely town has a castle and the entire town itself is on the Swiss Heritage Inventory.
- Prangins – in this town, Château de Prangins is a great place to learn about the history of the country and its heritage. The town of Prangins recently received the Wakker Prize in 2020 for preserving and treasuring its architectural heritage.
- Vevey – is a beautiful town near Lausanne that has lots of interesting museums such as the Alimentarium, Chaplin’s World, Museum of Fine Arts and Prints, the Swiss Museum of Games, and more.
- Montreux – Montreux is a charming town on the northeastern shore of Lake Geneva. Montreux is famous for its spa facilities, mild climate, and Montreux Jazz Festival. It is also near Chillon Castle.
- Lutry – The Lutry Castle or Rôdeurs Castle, the Roman Catholic Church of Saint-Martin, the Swiss Reformed Church of Saint-Martin, and a Gothic facade house are just some of the historic places you can visit in Lutry. This whole region is also famous for being part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces.
Hotels: Bern vs. Lausanne
Whether you’re looking for luxury or budget hotels, Bern and Lausanne have them all. Check out our Bern and Lausanne hotel recommendations below.
- 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 Lausanne
- Beau-Rivage Palace (5-star) – The Beau-Rivage Palace is a luxury hotel located in Switzerland and one of the best hotels in Europe. Since 1861, it has been a popular address for celebrities and politicians, such as Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, and Nelson Mandela. This beautiful hotel features not only gorgeous architecture and antiques, but also excellent service, two swimming pools, a spa, and a fitness center.
- Lausanne Palace (5-star) – Located in Lausanne, this elegant 5-star hotel is a historic landmark. Located near the Montbenon Esplanade, it features views of Le Flon or Lake Geneva. The hotel features an indoor pool, spa, fitness center, and Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant.
- Château d’Ouchy (4-star) – Located in Ouchy, Lausanne, this renovated medieval castle near the lake has an original donjon. In addition to an outdoor pool, there is a restaurant and bar at the hotel.
- Alpha-Palmiers by Fassbind (4-star) – Our favorite hotel in Lausanne, we have stayed here at least three times. It is located near Lausanne’s train station and offers clean rooms at a reasonable price. There is a Thai restaurant, a classic Swiss restaurant, and a bar. The hotel has a tropical garden in the middle.
- Hotel Angleterre & Résidence (4-star) – On the shore of Lake Geneva, the Hotel Angleterre & Résidence is 12 minutes away from the lake. This unique hotel is spread over 6 historical pavilions dating from the 18th, 19th, and 21st centuries. The hotel features a swimming pool, a beachfront, and a fitness center. Here you can enjoy a good breakfast or a fine dining meal at the Italian restaurant.
- Hôtel du Port (3-star) – Located near the lake and harbor in Lausanne, this small hotel is family-run. The hotel offers cozy rooms, fine cuisine, and beautiful views of Lake Geneva and the Alps.
Should you visit Bern or Lausanne?
Let’s get back to the question: should you visit Bern or Lausanne? Visiting either place will be great, as they both have lots of hotels, restaurants, museums, and things to do. Moreover, both have picturesque old towns, promenades along lakes, gardens, cathedrals, and shopping areas.
In my opinion, if you’re visiting Switzerland and want to see other Swiss places too, Bern is the better choice due to its location, either as a base or a day trip. Bern is closer to most other towns, cities, and mountains in Switzerland owing to its central location. Lausanne, on the other hand, is close to the French border; it is further away than most other places in Switzerland.
The two cities are comparable in price, so I wouldn’t use this as a comparison point.
Advantages of Visiting Bern
- Location: Centrally located, Bern is close to many Swiss cities and regions like Zurich, Basel, Interlaken, and the Bernese Oberland. Ideal for those who come in via Zurich or Bern Airports for practical reasons.
- Views: Known for its medieval old town, the city offers a charming, historic atmosphere with narrow streets, arcades, and UNESCO-listed architecture.
- Target Group: Ideal for history enthusiasts and those who want a more traditional place. Its UNESCO-listed old town, medieval architecture, and captivating museums make it a treasure trove for those eager to delve into the past.
- Family-friendly Activities: In Bern, families can enjoy a variety of kid-friendly activities, including a visit to Gurten, the Tierpark Dählhölzli Zoo, the Paul Klee Center, the Museum for Communication, and the Natural History Museum.
Advantages of Visiting Lausanne
- Location: Situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, Lausanne offers easy access to beautiful lakeside towns and cities like Geneva, Montreux, and the French Alps. Ideal for those who come in via Geneva Airport for practical reasons.
- Views: Provides stunning views of Lake Geneva and the surrounding Alps, offering a blend of natural beauty and urban elegance.
- Target Group: Ideal for those who want a dynamic and cosmopolitan atmosphere. It has numerous international organizations and museums. For couples who want to relax, nearby Montreux is a well-known spa resort and the Lavaux Vineyards are always pleasant to visit.
- Family-friendly Activities: In Lausanne, families can enjoy a variety of kid-friendly activities, including a visit to the Olympic Museum, Aquatis Aquarium-Vivarium, and Parc de Milan. Nearby Chaplin’s World in Vevey is also a good choice.
Summary: Bern vs. Lausanne
Your choice of city depends on your preferences. The train journey between Bern and Lausanne takes just over an hour, allowing for a day trip to both cities, although with limited time. It’s advisable to consider spending at least a full day in either city for a more relaxed visit.
While Bern has a traditional and historical charm, Lausanne is equally captivating. This beautiful city offers a rich history and a wide range of activities suitable for all ages.
I have a personal favorite: Lausanne. It strikes a perfect balance in Switzerland, blending the old and new, offering stunning lake and hilltop views, and providing a vibrant city atmosphere as well as a relaxed lakeside experience. However, I also recognize that Bern is a top choice for most first-time visitors, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
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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.