Lucerne or Bern: Which One Better?

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In Switzerland, tourists are inevitably interested in the largest and most famous cities. Lucerne and Bern are two of the most popular choices.

There’s no doubt that Lucerne and Bern are both beautiful cities. Lucerne is like Switzerland in miniature, with its lakes, old town, and mountains, but Bern is the country’s federal city.

Image of Lake Lucerne by TouringSwitzerland.com

You’ll find historical landmarks, as well as shops, hotels, museums, and restaurants in both Lucerne and Bern. You’ll also find green spaces and recreation options in both cities. When comparing Lucerne and Bern, there are many questions. Which is better, Lucerne or Bern? Is one a better city than the other? 

Here we look at the differences between Lucerne 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: Lucerne vs. Bern

The key differences are as follows:

LucerneBern
Population: approx. 80,000Population: approx. 130,000
Canton: LucerneCanton: Bern
Elevation: 435 mElevation: 540 m
Language: GermanLanguage: German
Area: 37.4 km²Area: 51.6 km²
Highlights: Chapel Bridge,
Lion Monument
Highlights: Switzerland’s Federal City,
Historic old town
Lake: LucerneNo Lake
River: ReussRiver: Aare

Things To Do: Lucerne vs. Bern

Things To Do in Lucerne

  • Chapel Bridge – The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne is the city’s most famous landmark. This wooden bridge over the Reuss River is one of the oldest in Europe. The bridge was built in 1300 as part of the city walls. Even though it burned down and got badly damaged, it was rebuilt in 1994.
  • Old Town – You can wander around restaurants and boutiques in Lucerne’s Old Town. Apart from the Chapel Bridge, you have the Spreuer Bridge crossing the Reuss River. Nearby is a beautiful Jesuit church
  • Verkehrshaus – The Transport Museum in Switzerland is one of the most visited museums in the country. At Verkehrshaus, you’ll see cars, ships, submarines, planes, trains, trams, and cable cars. In addition to transport exhibits, there’s also a Planetarium, a Swiss Chocolate Adventure, a Communications area, and a 2D or 3D Film Theater.   
  • Lion Monument – The Lion Monument was created by Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen in 1821 to honor the Swiss Guards that lost their lives during the revolutionary siege of Paris on August 10th, 1792. It was in vain that the Swiss Guards tried to keep King Louis XVI alive, and they paid the price by dying. In the monument, a dying lion lies across broken pieces of the French monarchy.
  • Glacier Garden – The Lucerne Glacier Garden has some impressive glacier potholes from the last ice age 20,000 years ago, proving that Lucerne was covered in glaciers then. Shell fossils and palm leaves show that there was a subtropical sea beach here 20 million years ago.

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 are also possible all year round.

Mountains Nearby: Lucerne vs. Bern

Mountains Close to Lucerne

rigi
Image by Sarah Lötscher from Pixabay

The closest panoramic views from Lucerne are less than 2,000 meters high – Bürgenstock, Stanserhorn, Eggberge, Rigi Scheidegg, and Rigi Kulm. Only Pilatus at 2,073 meters and Engelberg Titlis at 3,238 meters are a bit higher.

The following mountains are close to Lucerne:

  • Bürgenstock Hammetschwand (1,115 meters) – famous for the exclusive Bürgenstock Resort and the Hammetschwand Lift which is the highest, free-standing outdoor lift in Europe. Overlooks Lake Lucerne and can be accessed with a ferry and funicular.
  • Stanserhorn (1,849 meters) – has an open upper deck cable car leading guests up the mountain and amazing views of Lucerne
  • Pilatus (2,073 meters) – has the steepest cogwheel railway in the world with a maximum gradient of 48% and a 30-minute ride
  • Rigi Scheidegg (1,643 meters) and Rigi Kulm (1,752 meters) – popular mountain to visit due to the numerous ways you can reach it from Vitznau, Arth-Goldau, Weggis, Gersau, Goldau, and Küssnacht SZ.
  • Eggberge (1,447 meters) – relatively quiet but still provides awesome views of the Reuss Valley, Urnersee lake, Rigi, and more.

If you would like to read more about the mountains close to Lucerne, you can check out our article Closest Mountains To Visit From Lucerne.

Mountains Close to Bern

Image of the views from Gurten by TouringSwitzerland.com

There’s more to Bern than just a great destination. Bern is a good launching point for many of the mountains of canton Bern and its neighboring cantons.

And despite not being as close to the Bernese Alps as Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, or Wengen, it is a good middle ground between city life and mountain excursions

The following mountains are close to Bern:

  • Gurten (858 meters) – If you would like to stay near the city, you can explore Gurten, Bern’s local mountain. Gurten offers beautiful views, green (or snowy) meadows, and a relaxing environment. Although only 858 meters above sea level, it still has an amazing panorama of the Bernese Oberland mountains beyond the city. It’s also a great excursion if you have little kids.
  • Stockhorn (2,190 meters) – In Erlenbach im Simmental lies Stockhorn, a mountain in the Bernese Oberland. From up here, you can see Lake Thun, Aare Valley, Bern, and the Jura Mountain range. Stockhorn is 2,190 meters high and accessible by cable car from Erlenbach.
  • Marbachegg (1,476 meters) – Located where the Emmen valley in Bern and Entlebuch in Lucerne meet, Marbachegg is a sunny terrace with a spectacular panorama. On the northern side of Schrattenfluh, the cable car runs from Marbach village at 888 meters to Marbachegg at 1,476 meters.
  • Niesen (2,362 meters) – Niesen is a mountain peak located in the canton of Bern, Switzerland.  The pyramid-shaped mountain is one of the symbols of Lake Thun.

If you would like to read more about the mountains close to Bern, you can check out our article 10 Mountains Near Bern, Switzerland.


Places To Visit: Lucerne vs. Bern

Places To Visit Near Lucerne

Both towns will have plenty of pretty places to visit nearby. So it really boils down to your preference if you would rather see the Lake Lucerne region or the Bern region.

Image of Weggis by Henna K from flickr

From Lucerne, you can take the train or boat to visit nearby places such as Bürgenstock, Weggis, and Vitznau. These are all located along Lake Lucerne. Further away, accessible with the trains in an hour or so, are the pretty towns of Einsiedeln and Solothurn. Of course, Zurich and Bern are also popular cities to visit from Lucerne. So you have a lot of choices in and around Lucerne. Its central location in the country definitely helps.

You can check out more places to visit near Lucerne here – 10 Beautiful Places Near Lucerne and 8 Prettiest Towns Near Lucerne.

Places To Visit Near Bern

ThunImage by akiro from flickr

The city’s central location in Switzerland and great train connections make it easy to get to many parts of the country. Near Bern are some beautiful places to visit such as Thun, Fribourg, Burgdorf, Murten, Solothurn, and Romont. Bern is also an hour away from Interlaken, if you want to visit or transfer there after a few days.

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


Hotels: Lucerne vs. Bern

There is a wide range of accommodation options in Lucerne and Bern to suit a variety of budgets and needs. Here are our hotel recommendations for both Lucerne and Bern:

Hotels in Lucerne

Image of Hotel Schweizerhof Lucerne by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (5-star) – Directly on the lake, this refined hotel is located in the old town of Lucerne. You’ll also find a gym, a spa, and modern furniture amid elegant interiors. A 10-minute walk gets you to the train station.
  • Grand Hotel National Luzern (5-star) – A luxurious hotel built in the 1870s. Close to the train station and the historic old town, this hotel has elegant interiors, fantastic lake views, and a swimming pool.
  • Hermitage Lake Lucerne (4-star) – Set on the shores of Lake Lucerne, this tranquil hotel is a great place to relax. While it’s a little outside of the city, it has stunning views and refined restaurants. There’s also a beach club with daybeds, lounges, drinks, snacks, and cool music. Party boats are available to rent or you can take public boats that stop right outside the hotel. My family has stayed here and has loved it. I highly recommend it. 
  • AMERON Luzern Hotel Flora (4-star) – Near the train station and the chapel bridge, this hotel has chic rooms and a great breakfast.  
  • Hotel Rebstock (4-star) – A historic, half-timbered hotel dating from the late middle ages, Hotel Rebstock is one of the 16 Unique&Historical Hotels in Switzerland. It is ideally located near the Hof Church, the Lion Monument, and the Glacier Garden.
  • Hotel Central Luzern (3-star) – In a central location near the train station, the chapel bridge, the old town, and Rosengart Collection, Hotel Central Luzern offers bright, clean, recently renovated rooms, as well as a delicious breakfast. The rooms are reasonably priced. As a result of the hotel’s central location, you might hear some noise at night.
  • Backpackers Luzern (Hostel) – The Backpackers Luzern is on the shores of Lake Lucerne, in a quiet area. Besides free kitchen facilities and WiFi, this charming hostel has a common lounge area with table tennis and table soccer. Each room has comfortable beds and a balcony. Walking to Lucerne’s train station takes less than 15 minutes.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Lucerne vs. Bern

ViewFromLausanneCathdral
View from Lausanne Cathedral by TouringSwitzerland.com

In Switzerland, Lucerne and Bern are pretty comparable. It’s hard to recommend one over the other. You can visit either place any time of the year, but if you want a refreshing dip in the lake or the river you might want to visit either one of them in summer. 

Lucerne and Bern

There’s no need to worry about which one you choose since they’re both good choices. Here are some similarities between the two:

  • Both Lucerne and Bern have lots of mountains to visit nearby.
  • Both Lucerne and Bern have lots of pretty towns and places nearby.
  • Both Lucerne and Bern have plenty of hotels and apartments on a range of budgets.
  • Both Lucerne and Bern have lots of restaurant choices.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you compare Lucerne and Bern:

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.
  • The Aare River runs through Bern. If you’re a strong swimmer, you can swim here or float down from one of Bern’s riverside pools.
  • 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. Lucerne, on the other hand, does not have a zoo or an aquarium.
  • Bern has many cool museums such as the Museum of Communication, Bern Historical Museum, and Zentrum Paul Klee.
  • Bern has Switzerland’s tallest cathedral – the Berner Münster.

Advantages of Staying in Lucerne

  • Lucerne is like a small, comfortable town. Choose Lucerne if you prefer somewhere more relaxed and quiet.
  • Lucerne has its own pretty lake that looks like a Norwegian Fjord. Safe swimming spots abound, and lake cruises are also an option. If you want a safer and more beautiful swimming area, pick Lucerne instead of Bern.
  • In comparison to Bern, Lucerne’s old town is smaller. However, there are two monuments here that are incredibly popular for tourists: the Lion Monument and the Chapel Bridge.
  • The Verkehrshaus (Swiss Museum of Transport) is a good rainy day activity in Lucerne.
  • Lucerne has several churches. The Jesuit Church and the Church of St. Leodegar are both worth visiting.

Personal note: Even though Lucerne is a good choice for first-time visitors because it’s incredibly beautiful and represents Switzerland well, I’d highly recommend Bern instead. Besides being historically more significant, it’s well-connected to other parts of Switzerland, only an hour away from Zurich if you take the train, and it’s also closer to much of the Jungfrau Region. Of course, this is just my opinion.

If you can move around quickly, you can theoretically do both in one day. The trip between Lucerne and Bern takes an hour if you go with the fastest train connection. Start really early in one city and head over to the other one after lunch. It’s not ideal but it’s doable. That way, you get to see both Lucerne and Bern. After doing so, you can decide which city you want to explore more another day. No matter what, have fun in two of Switzerland’s most popular cities.