With narrow cobbled streets, rustic markets and extraordinary geography molded by the gently looping River Aare running through its centre and surrounding hills, it can be hard to comprehend that the seemingly quaint city of Bern is actually the capital of Switzerland.
Once home to Einstein and with a historic, UNESCO listed Old Town, the city celebrates its history through attractions such as the old Bear Park, which is home to four real bears, and the beautiful sandstone architecture of the cathedral, House of Parliament and clock tower.
Thanks to its location, Bern (also Berne) is a popular destination for outdoor hikers and walkers, who use it as a base to explore the extraordinary nearby landscapes.
Hikers can take advantage of some wonderful walking routes in the surrounding area, including the mountainous Bernese Oberland (Bernese Highlands), the rolling hills of the Emmental region (famous for cheese as well as beautiful scenery) and the Gantrisch mountain region (with views extending from the Alps to the Jura mountains and on to the Black Forest), all of which are easily reachable by public transport or car from the city.
Here is a selection of mixed level walking routes in and around Bern, for those looking to experience the majesty of the exceptional Swiss countryside from the historic base of this delightful city:
Shorter Hiking Routes
Walk along the Aare
Time: 1.75 hours
For an easy and pleasant hike, a walk along the banks of the Rive Aare is a wonderful way to gently explore the region. Start at Aarwangen, about 50km north east of Bern and make your way eastwards along the river to Murgenthal. Along the way you should be able to spot the historic Aarwangen Castle and enjoy beautiful forest surroundings.
Waldhaus to Seldern
Time: 1.5 hours
This peaceful hike follows the river through beautiful valleys, with river crossings and shady pine trees to keep you cool on a warm summers walk. Start at the Berghotel Waldhaus, following the broad path up the valley signed to Selden and the Balmhornhütte, continuing along the track until you reach a bridge over the River Kalder. Turn right after the bridge and follow the path back over the river, through the forest. After a zig zag climb, you will continue to the finish point at Hotel Gasternal in Selden.
Medium Hiking Routes
Valley of the 72 Waterfalls
Time: 3 hours
This is an easy and mostly flat walk starting at Lauterbrunnen railway station, about 65km south-east of Bern, hiking to the ‘Hotel Stechelberg’ Postbus stop in Stechelberg. This area, as the name suggests, is home to a myriad waterfalls, and you’ll be sure to pass a few impressive examples along this route, including Schmadrifällen and Trümmelbach waterfalls, the latter of which you can view from inside the mountain for a small fee.
Time: 4.30 hours
This walk takes hikers through the Napf region of Emmental, an area famous for its cheese and wonderful landscapes. A good start for this hike is Lüderenalp, around 45km East of Bern, from where you can walk west along the ridge through scenic fields, forests and meadows with wonderful panoramic views of this beautiful region. There are a few well marked routes to take, which will end up in either Romoos, Luthernbad or Mettlenalp.
Longer Hiking Routes
Trans-Swiss Trail Emmental
Time: 7 hours
The Trans-Swiss Trail in its entirety covers around 460km of across Switzerland, starting at Porrentruy in the north near the French border, cutting south over the Alps to finish in Lugano. The Emmental section of the trail leads from the centre of Bern, past gardens, buildings and the Bärengraben bear pit towards Boll. Once out of the city, continue into a gentle landscape of flowering meadows, hillsides and farms, offering a wonderful taste of the region as you pass through Diepoldshusenegg to Schafhausen and Goldbach before you finally reach Lützelfüh.
Gantrisch Panoramic Trail
Time: 7.5 hours
For stunning views, the Gantrisch Panoramaweg (Panoramic Trail) is a wonderful hiking option. Leading over the outskirts of Bern and the towns of Fribourg and Thus, the route is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful panorama paths in the region, with views in all directions – even across to the Alps. The trail leads from Zollhaus in Fribourg, about 50km south of Bern, climbing to Hällstett and passing through Pfyffe, Süfternen Kreuzung, Schüpfenfluh and on to the Gurnigel mountain. Along the way you’ll be rewarded with numerous lookouts and plenty of picnic and rest stops.
Where to Stay
Driving: The drive to Bern is likely to take you through some scenic routes via France or Germany.
Train: Bern has a train station, which is well connected to the national and international railways network.
Flying: With Switzerland being so centrally located in Europe, you can fly to Bern from almost anywhere in under 2 hours. For example, our journalist flew from London City Airport to Bern and it took her 1 hour 40 minutes.