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Geneva and Bern are among Switzerland’s liveliest, busiest cities, full of restaurants, hotels, and tourists from around the world. You’ll also find green spaces and recreation options in both cities. If you were to decide which city to visit in Switzerland, which would you choose? Would you pick the German-speaking city of Bern? Or the French-speaking city of Geneva? Which is better, Geneva or Bern? Is one a better city than the other?
Here we look at the differences between Geneva 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: Geneva vs. Bern
The key differences are as follows:
|Population: approx. 200,000||Population: approx. 130,000|
|Switzerland’s second most populous city||Switzerland’s fifth most populous city|
|Elevation: 375 m||Elevation: 540 m|
|Area: 15.93 km²||Area: 51.6 km²|
|Highlights: Worldwide Center for Diplomacy||Highlights: Switzerland’s Federal City,|
Historic old town
|River: Rhône||River: Aare|
|Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)||No Lake|
|Location: South-western Switzerland||Location: Slightly west of Central Switzerland|
|Language: French||Language: German, Swiss-German (dialect)|
Cities: Geneva vs. Bern
Geneva is a global city with international organizations like the United Nations and Red Cross. Also, it’s a major financial center, ranking fifth in Europe after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg. Geneva is the second most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous in the French-speaking part.
Bern is Switzerland’s fourth largest city after Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. The town is west of central Switzerland and 20 kilometers north of the Bernese Alps. Bern is Switzerland’s federal city, home of the international postal, telegraph, railway, and copyright unions.
Places to Visit: Geneva vs. Bern
Places to Visit in Geneva
While there are many things to do and places to visit in Geneva, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:
- Visit St. Pierre Cathedral – built from 1160 to 1252, this beautiful cathedral was built and used by John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. It is regarded as one of Geneva’s most important landmarks.
- Get to know Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. Not only will you find Saint Peter’s Cathedral, but also the Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, The Treille Promenade, and more.
- It is indeed possible to stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise on the boat, or simply stroll nearby. Visit one of Geneva’s landmarks – the water jet called Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby.
- Explore the museums – Like Bern, Geneva also has its fair share of museums. Maison Tavel stands out as an example of medieval civil architecture. There is also the Ariana Museum, which has ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics. Alternatively, if you are interested in learning more about watches, there is a Patek Philippe Museum. For those who want to explore a bit further, or for those with young children, there is the Aquatis Aquarium-Vivarium in Lausanne.
- Enjoy a walk in one of the parks – The two parks worth mentioning are Parc de la Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives. These parks have well-tended flower beds, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through them. Come see the flowers when they are blooming.
- Discover the United Nations Building – The Palace of Nations is definitely worth a visit if you want to discover one of the most important diplomatic centers in the world. Tours are available upon request. The nearby Ariana Park is also worth a visit.
Find out what else there is to do in Geneva on GetYourGuide.com.
Places to Visit 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 from 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 – 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 – 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, 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.
Find out what else there is to do in Bern on GetYourGuide.com.
Geneva or Bern: Which City is Better to Visit?
Even though I recommend Switzerland for its mountains and the Alps rather than cities, there are some people who want to visit major cities. If you’re wondering whether Geneva or Bern is a better city to visit, I think either one will be OK for you, no matter what your preferences are. Stunning mountain views and crystal clear waters make Geneva and Bern incredibly picturesque.
Both Geneva and Bern have plenty of hotels, restaurants, museums, and things to do. Geneva will have a fast, efficient, and business-like feel due to its importance as a financial and international diplomacy center. Compared to Geneva, Bern is smaller and more relaxed.
For couples and visitors looking to be in a city and yet be close to relaxing places, Geneva will be a better choice than Bern. It boasts a lovely, relaxing setting on Lake Geneva, close to Vevey and Montreux, as well as spectacular views of the Swiss Alps. The Lavaux Wine Terraces, for example, is also a good place to visit while in Geneva. Moreover, if you plan to visit the Valais region afterward, Geneva will be a better choice.
For first-timers to Switzerland who are interested in history and old towns, Bern will be a better choice than Geneva. Bern is also a great base to stay in Switzerland since it’s pretty central in the country. In other words, it’s close to a lot of beautiful towns and mountains.
Advantages of Geneva
- Compared to Bern, Geneva’s airport is bigger and better connected.
- Ideal for an international group looking to visit museums and restaurants. Geneva is a compact city with more cosmopolitan things to do.
- Ideal for couples looking to relax. Montreux is a well-known spa resort and the Lavaux Vineyards are always pleasant to visit.
- Ideal for those who will proceed to Valais later (Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Crans-Montana, Grimentz-Zinal).
Advantages of Bern
- Ideal for those who like historic old towns with their 15-century arcades and 16th-century fountains. The Old Town of Bern is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
- Ideal for those who will proceed to Bernese Oberland and the Jungfrau Region later (Wengen, Interlaken, Grindelwald, and Mürren).
- If you are coming from Zurich Airport, Bern is closer than Geneva.
Hotels: Geneva vs. Bern
In terms of hotels, Geneva has more options than Bern. However, I don’t think this should be the deciding factor. Although Geneva has more options, Bern doesn’t lack hotel options for any budget.
Hotels in Geneva
- Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva (5-star) – Set in a historic building from 1834, Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Geneva. You can’t go wrong with this hotel with its elegant interiors, fine dining restaurant, indoor infinity pool, spa, business services, and multi-lingual concierge.
- Beau-Rivage Genève (5-star) – With its panoramic views of the lake and Mont Blanc, this elegant 5-star hotel is right on Lake Geneva. Cornavin Train Station is just a five-minute walk away. This hotel has a highly-rated French restaurant called Le Chat Botté. There is a 24-hour front desk, fitness center, concierge service, a business center, and more.
- Hotel Bristol (4-star superior) – Between Geneva’s train station and the lake, this 4-star superior hotel Hotel Bristol makes a great choice for tourists. This hotel has a wonderful spa area with saunas, a hot tub, and a hammam. Besides that, it’s got a great restaurant called Côté Square.
- citizenM Geneva (4-star) – citizenM Geneva is close to some main attractions, including St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, the Flower Clock, and Geneva Town Hall. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, too.
- Hotel Bernina Geneva (3-star) – Located opposite Geneva’s train station, the Hotel Bernina Geneva is a convenient 3-star superior hotel with clean, modern rooms.
- MEININGER Geneve Centre Charmilles (Hostel) – Although this hostel isn’t in the center of the city, it’s well connected, so you can easily get to all the sights. With 24-hour reception, free WiFi, luggage storage, a washing machine, a dryer, a kitchen, a bar, and a game zone, you’ve got everything you need for your stay in Geneva.
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.
Summary: Geneva vs. Bern
Geneva and Bern are both great places to visit, but which one you choose is up to you. They both have plenty to do, places to see, and restaurants to dine at. There are rivers, historical old towns, churches, and parks in both Geneva and Bern. So what would my recommendation be?
Bern is a must-see when you’re visiting Switzerland for the first time. Although I also find Geneva charming and interesting, I think that Bern is even more so. Despite the fact that I also like Geneva, I think Bern is even better.
Bern has more historical significance than Geneva, not only because it’s Switzerland’s federal city and has a UNESCO World Heritage Old City. Geneva also has its old town, but it doesn’t retain the old-world charm as much as Bern. Furthermore, Bern is nearer to much of the Jungfrau Region’s beautiful mountains.
To whom would I recommend Geneva? Only if you need a big, lively city would I recommend Geneva over Bern. Geneva is great if you need a big city with a lot of action.
I hope we were able to assist you in making your decision. No matter what you decide, we hope you enjoy your stay in Switzerland.
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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.