16 Free Activities in Bern
Have fun for free! There are many things to see and discover in the city of Bern that don’t cost a thing. From public rehearsals to urban orienteering: here are 16 free activities in Bern.
#1 Visit the Parliament Building
How do Bernese politics work? From the grand entrance to the chambers of the councils and the impressive lobby: you’ll discover all kinds of interesting and surprising facts about the Swiss Parliament and the history of the building. When the Parliament is not in session, there are free tours Tuesday thru Saturday in German, English, French and Italian. The sessions are the perfect opportunity to experience up close the debates in the National Council and the Council of States. There’s no need to register for the guided tours.
Discover the Parliament Building
#2 The Botanical Garden – an Urban Oasis
From edelweiss and gentian to banana plants and sugar cane: Bern’s Botanical Garden, only ten minutes walking distance from the main station, is home to over 5,500 plant species from all over the world. Stroll through the large park (over two hectares), visit the succulent and orchid collections and let the plants take you on a journey around the world, telling tales of tropical rainforests, dry grasslands and the rugged peaks of the Alps. In the summer, the Garden is the perfect place for laying in the grass and dreaming of faraway places, in the winter, head to the greenhouse with the tropical plants to warm up.
Visit the Botanical Garden
#3 The Bern Minster – a Journey to the Past
Did you know that Switzerland’s tallest steeple stands in Bern? The foundation stone for the Bern Minster was set in the year 1421, and the church has been an integral part of the city’s skyline since the late Middle Ages. The medieval sandstone monument is worth a visit: the impressive organs, frescoes and figurines are an art and music lover’s dream. If you want to see a spectacular view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains and the rooftops of the city, climb the 312 steps to the top of the steeple. Our recommendation: make a quick stop on your way up to take a look at the bells. The big one is the largest bell in all of Switzerland and weighs almost 10 tons! There’s no admission fee for the Minster, entry to the steep tower stairs costs five francs for adults and two francs for children.
Visit the medieval church
#4 Konzert Theater Bern – Behind the Scenes
How does the Bern Symphony Orchestra prepare for its next concert? What does a director say to the actors before the opening night? And what are the finishing touches for a play? Visitors have the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of Konzert Theater Bern at one of the public rehearsals. You will not only see the actors, dancers and musicians get ready, but also hear a brief introduction or fun facts about the current play. Check the Konzert Theater Bern website to find out when the next public rehearsal is.
Take a look behind the scenes
#5 Bern Animal Park, Dählhölzli + BearPark
Grrreat fun: at Bern Animal Park, Dählhölzli, animal lovers of all ages can discover and get to know all kinds of indigenous and exotic animals. It is open 365 days a year and there’s no admission fee for most of the site, excluding the Vivarium and part of the compounds. Thanks to the petting zoo, barbecuing pit and child-friendly restaurant, the park is a huge hit with families. If you want to visit the “Berner Mutzen”, which is what they call Bern’s heraldic animals, the bears, stroll downstream along the Aare river until you reach the BearPark. It, too, is open year-round and accessible free of charge. Good to know: In the wintertime (November thru March, more or less), the bears go into hibernation and can only be watched via the webcams.
#6 Swiss-O-Finder – Urban Orienteering
“Swiss-O-Finder” is orienteering with a twist: there are three different trails that lead from the Elfenau neighbourhood through the Dählhölzli forest all the way to the city centre. Equipped with a map (which can be downloaded for free on the website or in the “Swiss-O-Finder” app), you’ll have to find the 18 stations – as fast as possible, of course. The diverse trails lead the participants past formerly unknown or unnoticed places, to hidden spots and through quiet neighbourhoods – it’s the perfect activity for exploring and discovering the city. By the way: ambitious participants can measure how long it takes them to complete the activity and then compare their time to the top scores listed online.
#7 The Gurten
A 300-metre ball path, legendary miniature train, paddling pool in the summer and mini ski lift in the winter – over 20 different attractions await on Bern’s local mountain, and most of them are free! The Gurten is a great outdoor space where children (and grown-ups) can run around, discover, play and have fun. If you are visiting Bern and staying in one of the city’s accommodations, the ride up and down the mountain in the red funicular is free. By the way: if you need some sun on grey and rainy fall or winter days, you will often find a few warming rays of sunshine at the top of the Gurten – along with a spectacular view of the sunlit fog below.
Straight to the top
#8 Rosengarten (Rose Garden)
One of the most beautiful views of the city of Bern can be seen from the Rosengarten – the panoramic view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is spectacular. But the pretty site above the BearPark has much more to offer than just the view: the park, with its green meadows, over 200 varieties of roses and irises and over 28 varieties of rhododendron, is the perfect spot for sitting in the grass and having a relaxed picnic or enjoying a cool beer while watching the sunset. By the way: if you can, go and visit the Rosengarten in the spring, when the cherry trees are in bloom. Check the Rosengarten webcam to see if the beautiful blossoms are already on display.
Relax and enjoy
#9 Kambly Experience
Eating as many “Güetzi” (cookies) as you possibly can – this (children’s) dream can come true in the Emmental. At the Kambly Experience in Trubschachen, about 35 minutes by train from Bern, the store has bags upon bags of cookies on display – and you can taste-test each and every one of them. You can also watch the Maîtres Confiseurs as they make the over 100 varieties of sweet and savoury delicacies. If you want to earn your visit to the land of milk and honey (and butter and chocolate), you can follow the 3.5-kilometre adventure trail through the village of Trubschachen and solve little riddles and puzzles along the way. If you get them right, you will be rewarded at the end of the trail.
#10 Fresh Fountain Water
The over 100 medieval fountains of Bern with their intricate decorations, figurines and statues bring colour to the city streets – and offer drinking water to passersby. If you get thirsty on your tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, find your favourite fountain and fill up your water bottle with clean, fresh drinking water.
The history of Bern’s fountains
#11 Experiencing Art
Bern’s museums have a lot to offer – oftentimes for free! How about a trip to the Kornhausforum? The gallery on the second floor regularly hosts exhibitions as well as design, architecture and photography events, many of which can be visited for free. For young art geeks, there’s the interactive children’s exhibition Creaviva at Zentrum Paul Klee – entry is free there, too. Children who get inspired by the creative atmosphere at Creaviva can head to the “Fünfliber-Werkstatt” (“five-franc workshop”) one door over to draw, paint or glue together their own art (please place five francs per work of art in the piggybank). And during the summer holidays, the motto once again is “Gratis ins Museum” (“visit the museum for free”): every Saturday in August, you can visit 18 museums, castles, parks and gardens in and around Bern for free.
Time for some art and culture!
#12 Outdoor Fitness
Expensive gym memberships and stuffy gyms? No thanks! In Bern, there are plenty of free options for staying (or getting) fit outdoors. Be it by training with the equipment at the Marzili’s outdoor fitness park, jogging through the Bremgarten forest or doing the BärnParcours (BernTrail) along the banks of the Aare river – all of these activities are completely free of charge. If you prefer swimming, you’re in for a treat during the summer months: there is no entrance fee for the city’s outdoor swimming pools (except for the Ka-We-De). If you like swimming laps, there are separate lanes at the Marzili, Wyler-Bad and Weyermannshaus pools.
#13 Swiss Bike Park Oberried
Whether you’re a kid or all grown up, a beginner or a pro – the Swiss Bike Park in Oberried is a mecca for bike fans! Test your riding skills on the different trails and tracks and try out the pump track. Especially fearless visitors will try their luck on the jumps (there’s a large inflatable pillow, so the landing is safe even for amateurs). Oberried is about a 40-minute bike ride from Bern and entry is free.
Hop on your bike!
#14 “Grill ‘n’ Chill” at Eichholz
Eichholz, around 30 minutes on foot from the city centre, is Bern’s most popular campsite and place to be when it comes to barbecues, playing frisbee and soaking up the sun on the banks of the Aare river. On warm summer days, the barbecuing pits are surrounded by relaxed locals grilling Cervelats (traditional Swiss sausages) and veggies. Firewood is provided in a small shed nearby. After you’ve eaten and recharged your batteries, join a game of beach volleyball or soccer or try your luck on a slackline.
Barbecuing by the Aare river
#15 “Rendez-vous Bundesplatz”
Cue the spotlights! For six weeks each year, between the end of October and the end of November, the Swiss Parliament Building is turned into a unique screen for the beautiful audiovisual spectacular “Rendez-vous Bundesplatz” (Rendezvous Parliament Square), attracting over half a million visitors a year. There’s a different theme every year and you don’t need a ticket to see the show – it’s free for everyone to enjoy. Our recommendation: put on some warm clothes and bring a bag of roasted chestnuts and a cup of mulled wine to stay nice and toasty.
#16 Skating Rink on Parliament Square
Every Winter from mid-December to mid-February, there’s a skating rink on Parliament Square. Visitors of all ages are welcome to enjoy some “Schlöflä” (ice skating) and practice their pirouettes in a spectacular location. Admission to the rink is free, and you can rent skates on site or bring your own. By the way: there are free ice-skating classes for children every Thursday afternoon starting in January 2020, and on Sunday evenings, the skating rink’s restaurant hosts live concerts.
Get out your skates!
By the way: If you’re staying at one of the city’s accommodations, you can use the public transport for free in the LIBERO zones 100 and 101 during your entire stay. Good to know: the Gurten funicular, the Marzili funicular and the elevator to the Minster’s terrace are also included.
For more information click here.