The canton of Bern covers an area of 5,960 km² and is the second largest canton of Switzerland after Graubünden (Grisons). It can boast of 1,415 named mountains. The highest and most prominent mountain is Finsteraarhorn.
There are two official languages in this canton - German and French. The latter is mostly spoken in the west but you will find cities where both languages are spoken. Bern is also the capital and the seat of the Swiss government. You can see the lovely green roof of the Bundeshaus from any spot in the city.
The canton of Bern is split up into five main regions:
1. The Bernese Oberland (East and West)
The Bernese Oberland is home to a great many sights including glaciers and picturesque alpine lakes. The Bernese Oberland is located north of the highest peaks, which causes the climate to be cool and moist, at least when comparing it to the southern Alps. This results in a fresh green landscape. It's picture perfect in many places. The valley floors are mostly low (500 to 1,000 m), and peaks are high (up to 4,300 m). This great difference in altitude results in many climate zones and varying landscapes to be enjoyed throughout summer and winter.
This is where one of the world's most famous cheese (the one with the big holes) comes from. But that’s not the only thing Emmental has to offer. The region, with its green rolling hills, reminds of Tuscany in Italy. Because of its hilly terrain, Emmental has countless biking paths that wind through the region’s meadows. E-bikes are primarily used – which, incidentally, were invented in Emmental. It is also a part of the 710-km-long Herzroute trail.
3. Bern Mittelland
The canton’s capital is located in Mittelland, a charming old town with the famous ‘Zytglogge’ tower which clock dates back to the 16th century. The highest point Ochsen (2,188m) is located in the Gantrisch Nature Park which is named after the second highest peak called Gantrisch (photo below).
4. Seeland & Jura Bernois
Seeland is partly French-speaking. Biel/Bienne is a big city in this part of Bern. Lake Biel is the third major lake in the canton after lakes Thun and Brienz in the Bernese Oberland. The Jura Bernois part of Bern is also partly French-speaking and is bordering as the name says the canton of Jura. Big, plain fields of grass define this part of Bern. Being part of the Jura mountains, Chasseral (1,607m) is the highest summit in the canton of Bern outside the Alps.
Oberaargau is close to Emmental, and therefore the landscapes are quite similar. Langenthal is one of the major cities.
The canton of Bern is home to some of the most spectacular mountains in all of Switzerland. The iconic mountain trio Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau are Bern’s crown jewels. But it doesn’t stop there! Bern offers mountains like the Schilthorn, where they filmed James Bond: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, and the highest (and most prominent) peak in the Bernese Alps: Finsteraarhorn. In fact, it is the most prominent peak in Switzerland. You can admire all of this from Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe. Imposing glaciers like the Aletsch Glacier and the Lower Grindelwald Glacier round off the picturesque region perfectly.
Other than incredible mountain vistas, the canton is a paradise for anyone who loves picturesque lakes and rivers. Whether it’s alpine beauties like the Oeschinensee (in the photo below) and the Oberstockensee, or grand lakes like Lake Biel, Lake Thun, and Lake Brienz - Bern has it all. Crystal clear lakes like the Blausee enchant visitors throughout the year. The lake is especially beautiful in winter when the piercing blue colour of the lake clashes with the white snow. The Aare river flows through the whole canton and is best admired from Interlaken, Thun or the impressive Aare gorge in Meiringen (this is where Sherlock Holmes allegedly died in the Final Problem).
These many rivers and lakes surrounded by mountains can only mean one thing - waterfalls. They are abundant in the canton. You will find gems like the impressive Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen, the thundering Giessbach Falls in Iseltwald and the Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen.
The canton boasts of 4 regional nature parks:
So, whether you want to visit Bern in winter or summer, there is always something to do.
You can spend a lifetime hiking in the mountains of Bern and still discover something new every day. Most hiking trails in Bern are found in the Bernese Oberland.
These two picturesque lakes are not only in close proximity, but also offer great hiking trails. Visit Blausee first, where you can admire the incredible colour of this lake. Afterwards, you can tackle the hiking grounds around the Oeschinensee. The vibrant colour of the alpine lake stands out against the whitish steep cliffs behind it and is one of the most spectacular sights the canton has to offer. In winter, the lake freezes over creating a natural skating rink where you can skate.
Either hike up from Grindelwald or take the gondola. Should you opt for hiking to Fist, you will be rewarded with a paradise for hikers and skiers alike. In winter, First is a maze of different excellent slopes, and in summer it transforms into one of the most popular hiking grounds in all of the Bernese Oberland. The relatively easy hike to the Bachalpsee is especially popular. Rightly so, because the reflection of the Mittelhorn, Schreckhorn, and Finsteraarhorn peaks in the small alpine lake is simply breathtaking. From the lake, you have got a thousand different hiking trails you can choose from. You can spend the whole day just hiking around this area, there are so many different trails that the chances of meeting anyone are nearing zero. It feels like you have the mountain to yourself. First itself boasts of a spectacular cliff walk, with a platform that rises 45 meters into the air. Incredible activities such as the First Flyer and the First Glider round off your trip.
Legend has it that a dragon used to live in the St. Beatus caves. Find out for yourself when you explore the inside of the cave, lined with stalactites and stalagmites. Getting here is almost as spectacular as the caves themselves. You start your hike down by Lake Thun and hike up the mountain surrounded by waterfalls and green forests. A dragon sure wouldn’t look strange in this fairytale-like setting. From the caves, you can take another longer hike up the Niederhorn. From here you have a fantastic view over the two lakes and the ever-snowy mountains in the distance.
The train ride up the Kleine Scheidegg is so beautiful you might have to take time to enjoy its splendour when you arrive on top. You’ll pass Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, here they are closer than ever! On Kleine Scheidegg various hiking trails of different difficulties await you. Especially popular is the trail from here to Männlichen. If you want to head all the way up to Jungfraujoch, the train journey continues. You will pass behind the north face of Eiger until you reach the highest train station in Europe. Peek into Bern’s neighboring canton (Valais) and marvel at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Aletsch Glacier.
There are so many trails that highlight the beauty of this iconic trio. Some of the all-time favorites are hiking to the Mönchsjochhütte (which is also the highest occupied hut in Switzerland) from the Jungfraujoch, spending the night the and hiking up the 4,107-meter high Mönch with an experienced Swiss guide. You can hike underneath the stunning (and almost vertical) north face of Eiger on the Eiger trail.
This part of the Bernese Oberland is a winter paradise. You can ski from Schilthorn all the way down to Mürren. In summer, however, it transforms into fabulous hiking grounds. Not only can you enjoy nature up here but Schilthorn is an attraction itself. Once the film set for James Bond, it is now a rotating restaurant giving you a panoramic 360° degree view of the mountains surrounding it. You can even see as far as Lake Thun here. The station between Mürren and the Schilthorn is Birg, which also features an incredible cliff walk.
One of the lesser known mountains is Morgenberghorn. Towering tall behind the little fisher village of Leissigen it’s a great place to hike without encountering lots of people on your way. If you have time, stay overnight in the Brunni hut, about halfway up the mountain. In summer the hut is run by the local ski club and welcomes hikers from all over the world. You can stay in a dorm (like in any other mountain hut) for a small fee. After the sun has sunk into Lake Thun, you can marvel at the stars before you begin your hike up to the peak the next day.
The region around Adelboden is exciting not only in winter when the ski world cup comes here. Summer reveals lush green fields surrounded by sno-capped mountains, and sunny weather. This is best enjoyed on the easy flower trail where you can enjoy fields covered with wildflowers while you are hiking in one of the prettiest regions in Switzerland. In Adelboden, you can also try Moonlight Hiking - a once in a lifetime experience.
The train to Schynige Platte alone is a reason to make a journey to this stunning place. You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views over the Bernese Oberland and tickle your nerves with a few very sharp turns. Once you’ve arrived on top, the hiking grounds await. Not only can you spend the whole day hiking, but you can also marvel at the 650 plant species in the alpine garden, or have a drink in the restaurant. The most popular hike is to go from Schynige Platte all the way to First.
Harder Kulm, Interlaken’s house mountain, is not to be left out from this list. Even though it’s a rather simple hike, it’s fun for everyone and rewards with panoramic views over Lake Thun and Brienz. From the overhanging triangular platform you will see Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau right in front of you. This short hike is a must when you’re in the region.
Stockhorn has so much to offer it’s hard to know where to begin. In winter, snow-shoeing, winter hiking, ice fishing, and even an igloo village are the top attractions. In summer, rock climbing and bungee jumping are two of the most adrenaline pumping activities in the whole Bernese Oberland. There’s no shortage of activities on Stockhorn. Other than adventurous activities, Stockhorn is also home to some of the best hiking trails in Switzerland. The region also allows people with reduced mobility to see the sights in their wheelchair.
The hike to Faulhorn is probably one of the greatest hikes in the region. You can choose your starting point, depending on the difficulty of the hike here. Once you’ve reached the hotel on top of Faulhorn, settle in and wait for the absolutely gorgeous sunset views. Spend the night in the hotel and continue your hike the next day. There’s no better way to experience Swiss mountains.
Niesen will remind you more of a pyramid than an actual mountain. In the region, there is a saying ‘Hat der Niesen einen Hut, wird das Wetter gut,’ which basically translates to ‘If Niesen has a hat, the weather will be good.’ By the hat, they mean not an actual hat, but rather a cloud, that quite often surrounds the mountain cap. The hike up is not only challenging but also incredibly rewarding once you’ve reached the top, you can enjoy a unique view over the Bernese Oberland and devour a fantastic meal in an excellent restaurant!
This trail is a bit more advanced and leads from Brienzer Rothorn to Harder Kulm. If you feel fit enough to do this hike, you will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views of the Bernese Oberland. You will hike on the green ridge of the mountains with the beautiful Lake Brienz beneath you. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter an alpine ibex.
With an elevation of 4,273 meters above the sea, this mountain is the highest in the Bernese Oberland. Most people start their hike from Jungfraujoch. Always go with an experienced guide, since you will be crossing glaciers and difficult terrain to get to the top. Usually, hikers spend the night at the Finsteraarhorn hut before they continue their hike. It’s undoubtedly one of the most fascinating climbs in the Bernese Alps and if you’re passionate about mountains, don’t give this one a miss.
Switzerland’s capital is quite often mistakenly placed to Zurich or Geneva. Bern only has around 130000 inhabitants but the size isn’t everything! As soon as you set foot in Bern, it will become quite clear why this charming city is a favorite in the whole country. It is an old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its many stores and cobbled streets complemented by an ancient clock tower called the Zytglogge. The government, the Bundeshaus, is also located in Bern. The most fascinating thing about Bern is probably the bear pit with actual live bears in the middle of the city. This is because the crest of the canton features, you guessed it right, a bear.
Think of Bern, but a lot smaller and right on the shore of a beautiful lake. Thun’s old town is most enchanting with even more cobbled streets and the turquoise river Aare flowing peacefully through town. From Thun, you have a spectacular view over Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau in the distance, looming over Lake Thun. The old town center is called the Bälliz and is lined with different stores and every Saturday you’ll find a market here.
The country’s adventure capital is definitely Interlaken. Whether you want to ski, paraglide, hike, base jump or go surfing, you can do it here. Right between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and surrounded by the Bernese Alps, Interlaken couldn’t be located in a more picturesque place. Interlaken is the gateway to the Alps, and there is no better place to base your stay if you want to experience the beauty of the Bernese Oberland and the surrounding mountains. Besides, from here you have a stellar view of Jungfrau.
You couldn’t get any closer to the mountains even if you tried. Grindelwald lies at the foot of the breathtaking north face of Eiger. The little resort town is full of rustic chalets, and the main street is lined with small shops. You can catch a gondola to First or Männlichen from here and enjoy either hiking in summer and spring, or winter sports in the colder seasons.
If you want to go chasing waterfalls, Lauterbrunnen is the place for you. With the 297-meter-high Staubbachfall and the towering surrounding cliffs, Lauterbrunnen looks like something out of a fantasy movie. From here it’s easy to get to picturesque such Swiss mountain villages as Mürren and Wengen.
The cute village might appear to be too tranquil at first sight, but the streets of Gstaad are paved with gold. You can find some of the most luxurious shops and resorts here. There is nothing that you can’t do in Gstaad. One of the morst popular things to do here is to have a sleigh carry you through the snow under the night sky and bring you to a chalet where a hot fondue is waiting for you.
The urban city of Biel might not have as much to offer as its alpine counterparts, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It lies on Lake Biel, one of the three major lakes in the canton. The interesting Omega museum and Nidau Castle are just two of the many attractions in this city.