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Fribourg or Bern: Which One Better?

Last Updated on October 18, 2023 by Darla Uhl

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Are you currently considering which option in Switzerland holds more appeal: Fribourg or Bern? Have you ever pondered the advantages of staying in Fribourg over Bern?

Undoubtedly, Bern stands out as one of Switzerland’s renowned destinations, serving as the federal city and ranking among the country’s largest urban centers. Nevertheless, Fribourg boasts its own allure. Positioned along the Sarine river, this exceptionally fortified and well-preserved city holds its place along the French-German cultural divide within the country.

There’s no doubt that both Fribourg and Bern are both beautiful cities and worth visiting. You’ll find historical landmarks, as well as shops, hotels, museums, and restaurants in both Fribourg and Bern. When comparing Fribourg and Bern, there are many questions. Which is better, Fribourg or Bern? Is one a better city than the other? 

Here we look at the differences between Fribourg and Bern, so you can decide which one you’d like to visit during your next visit to Switzerland if you have time for just one.  

Overview: Fribourg vs. Bern

The key differences are as follows:

FribourgBern
Population: approx. 38,000Population: approx. 130,000
Canton: FribourgCanton: Bern
Elevation: 531 m to 702 mElevation: 540 m
Language: French/GermanLanguage: German
Area: 9.28 km²Area: 51.6 km²
Highlights: St. Nicholas Cathedral, Old Town and Fortifications, City Funicular, Pont du Milieu, La MaigraugeHighlights: Switzerland’s Federal City, Historic old town, Gurten, Bern Historical Museum, Rosengarten
River: SarineRiver: Aare

Things To Do: Fribourg vs. Bern

Things To Do in Fribourg

Image of Fribourg by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • St. Nicholas Cathedral – The St. Nicholas Cathdral in the heart of the city is one of the most well-known landmarks of the city. Built between 1283 and 1490, its towers afford you fantastic views of the city.
  • Old Town – The Old Town of Fribourg exudes an enchanting appeal, characterized by cobblestone streets, charming shops, eateries, scattered fountains, and more – all exquisitely preserved.
Fribourg’s City Fortifications by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • City Fortifications – Within the city, numerous fortifications have been impeccably maintained. These encompass six towers, five gates, seven wall segments, and a grand bulwark. Among those worth visiting include the Bern Tower and the Cats Tower.
  • Espace Jean Tinguely – Niki de Saint Phalle pays homage to two eminent artists of the 20th century, each distinguished by their unique style and captivating charm.
  • City Bridges – Fribourg, Switzerland has many bridges that cross the Sarine River and connect different parts of the city. Among those worth visiting in clude Pont du Milieu Bridge, Poya Bridge, Bern Bridge, Saint-Jean Bridge, and Zähringen Bridge.
  • La Maigrauge Abbey – The La Maigrauge Abbey is a peaceful religious abbey located by the Sarine River, featuring a gift shop as well. The path adjacent to the Abbey offers a pleasant stroll.

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 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).
  • Bear Pit – Near the city center, the bear pit is home to several bears that play and climb around in their enclosure. 
  • 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 Titan/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 is also possible all year round.

Places To Visit: Fribourg vs. Bern

The distance between Fribourg and Bern is merely 35 kilometers, making them relatively close to one another. So, this means that you can choose either of these places as a starting point to explore other parts of Switzerland. They’re both good options.

Places To Visit Near Fribourg

Canton Fribourg might be small but it also has many interesting attractions worth checking out. Here are more attractions to visit near Fribourg, Switzerland:

  1. Gruyères: Famous for its medieval village, Gruyères has a cheese factory and a castle too.
  2. Murten: Murten is a walled town with well-preserved ramparts that you can go up to as well as a beautiful lake (Lake Murten).
  3. Estavayer-le-Lac: Another historic lakeside town on Lake Neuchâtel with water activities.
  4. Mont-Vully: Worth visiting for the Lamberta caves (Les Grottes des Roches Grises La Lamberta), man-made tunnels excavated in sandstone. You can also enjoy vineyards, stunning views and hiking trails here.
  5. Avenches – Avenches is a historic town in Switzerland known for its well-preserved Roman ruins and charming atmosphere.
  6. Romont – Romont is a beautiful town perched atop a hill, known not only for its medieval architecture. There is also a well-known museum here that showcases stained glass.

Places To Visit Near Bern

The city’s central location in Switzerland and great train connections make it easy to get to many parts of the country. Here are more attractions to visit near Bern, Switzerland:

  1. Thun – Thun is a charming, colorful town nestled by a lake, crowned by a castle.
  2. Burgdorf – Burgdorf is a picturesque town with a well-preserved Medieval architecture and a historic castle.
  3. Solothurn – Solothurn emanates Baroque splendor and elegance with its beautiful old town, St. Ursus Cathedral, and the Jesuit Church.
  4. Spiez – Spiez boasts a stunning bay and vineyard-dotted landscape.
  5. Interlaken – Interlaken is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. It is also a popular base for visiting the Jungfrau Region.
  6. Biel – Biel shines as a watch-making hub in Switzerland alongside Geneva, La Chaux-d-Fonds, and Le Locle.

We have rounded up ten of the most beautiful towns near Bern here – 10 Beautiful Towns Near Bern, Switzerland.


Hotels: Fribourg vs. Bern

Hotels in Fribourg

Image of Hôtel de la Rose, Fribourg by TouringSwitzerland.com

While the options for hotels in Fribourg aren’t extensive, we’ve listed three below near the old town. If you’re unable to find accommodations in Fribourg, you might consider staying in Bern and making a day trip to Fribourg instead.

  • Le Sauvage (4-star) – Le Sauvage is an excellent hotel situated in the lower section of Fribourg, close to the Pont de Saint-Jean. The hotel provides easy access to the old town and dining establishments. It offers really good value for your money.
  • Hôtel de la Rose (4-star) – The hotel is perfectly situated, right in the heart of the town, near the Cathedral and museums.
  • Hotel Hine Adon Fribourg (3-star) – This is an excellent value hotel near the old town, offering a clean and well-maintained environment. It boasts the best location close to the center, and it’s just a short stroll away from the main city area, which is filled with numerous restaurants and shops.

Hotels in Bern

Image of Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & Spa, Bern by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • 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.

Final Thoughts: Fribourg vs. Bern

In Switzerland, Fribourg and Bern are pretty comparable in terms of beauty. It’s hard to recommend one over the other. Additionally, their proximity to each other remains relatively close. Both cities also feature gentle hills and inclines, adding to their distinctive charm and layout. There’s no need to worry about which one you choose since they’re both good choices.

Nevertheless, the most significant contrast between the two lies in their size and language. Fribourg is notably compact, not even reaching half the size of Bern.

Advantages of Staying in Fribourg

  • Fribourg is smaller and more compact. Choose Fribourg if you want to stay somewhere more quiet and chill.
  • Fribourg’s Old Town is also kept really well, just like Bern. Although it’s a bit smaller, it has more fortifications and towers for you to check out.
  • Fribourg offers a bilingual experience in French and German, making it a good choice if you’re more comfortable with French. In contrast, Bern city is mostly German/Swiss German-speaking.
  • Although the Sarine River can vary in terms of its flow and chracteristics, it is generally relatively calm.

Advantages of Staying in Bern

  • Bern is bigger and more like a busy city. Choose Bern if you want to stay somewhere with more restaurants, hotels, and museums.
  • Bern’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has retained its medieval character. Additionally, Bern has 100 public fountains, 11 of which are crowned with Renaissance allegorical statues.
  • Bern has its own zoo called Dählhölzli and a bear pit. Fribourg, on the other hand, does not have a zoo or an aquarium.
  • Bern has Switzerland’s tallest cathedral – the Berner Münster.

Personal note: If you’re not specifically seeking a smaller, more serene city experience, I’d suggest considering Bern over Fribourg. In my view, Fribourg is great for a day trip but might be a bit too tranquil with limited hotel options. Remember, it’s a subjective choice, and there are likely people who prefer the opposite.

Ultimately, the decision if you would rather go for Fribourg or Bern rests on what you’re looking for and your preferences. Both of these destinations are undeniably charming, and I’m eagerly looking forward to visiting them soon.

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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.