7 startling and free things to do in Bern, Switzerland

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read disclosure. Thank you for your support.

Bern, the beautiful and historic capital city of Switzerland, is filled with art, culture, food, and – surprise – great things to do that won’t cost you a dime. This is no small deal when traveling in one of the most expensive countries in the world. Our list of 7 startling and totally free things to do in Bern, Switzerland, includes some of the best attractions that money can’t buy. If you pair your visit with a stop at the Migros Marktgasse (Switzerland’s most popular grocer) to stock up on affordable sandwiches and take away Swiss foods (don’t miss their extensive chocolate selection!), you have the makings of a fantastic and cost-effective day trip or weekend away in the Swiss capital. And we haven’t even included the free and priceless Alpen views.

bern with kids

Free Things to Do in Bern, Switzerland

1. See the Zytglogge

Bern is a city filled with history. Founded in the 12th century, the old city was walled, and several of its decorated medieval gates remain. One of the most popular historical attractions is the still-working Zytglogge – an astronomical clock built as the city’s main clock in 1530. Given the Swiss reputation for quality time-pieces, it’s not surprising that it’s still working.

 The clock chimes every 15 minutes, but it saves the biggest show for the top of the hour, when the jester rings the bells and the medieval figurines (human and bear) turn round and round in a musical pageant. Arrive 15 minutes before the hour to get good views and photographs.

free things to do in bern switzerland
The 16th-century Zytglogge Astronomical Clock

Use the map below to find a great place to stay in Bern

2. Visit the Old Town and Statues

The 15th-century medieval sandstone arcades and narrow streets of Bern’s old town centre make for wonderful (and weatherproof) walking, shopping and sight-seeing. You can easily walk from the Bahnhof (train station) to the Barenpark and back in a few hours, visiting many sites along the way, including the more than 100 fountains.

Eleven of the fountains are of particular interest. They are topped with vibrant Renaissance figures with their own unique histories. The most interesting (and disturbing perhaps) is the Ogre Fountain or Kindlifresserbrunnen. This fountain is located in the Kornhausplatz, and depicts an ogre devouring (presumably disobedient) children. A good cautionary tale for encouraging good manners on the road.

free things to do in bern switzerland
The scary 15th Ogre Fountain may terrify your wee travellers.

 3. Swim at the Aarebad Marzili

The beautiful, fast-moving Aare River encircles the old town of Bern. In summer, the vast (and free) Aarebad Marzili public pool area is open on the banks of the Aare, just below the Parliament buildings. The Aarebad Marzili includes several kid-friendly wading pools, a diving pool and a 50m swimming pool. The pools are surrounded by extensive green lawns for families to enjoy a full day of sun and swim. It’s a glorious place to spend a warm summer’s day, and our favorite free thing to do in Bern.

free things to do in bern switzerland
Taking a dip in the glacier waters of the Aare River is a highlight of visiting Bern in summer.

The most unique (and best) part of Marzilibad is the opportunity to swim in the Aare River itself. The Aare is cold, fast-moving, Alpine melt water, usually a beautiful blue in colour. You don’t even have to swim – you can usually just float along for the ride. The trick is to enter a few hundred metres from the Marzili bathing area, and stay close to the banks to catch your arm on one of the exit steps to get out. Don’t wait for the last exit!

Heading to Bern with the family? Check out our tips on where to go in Bern with kids.

 4. Tour the Munster Cathedral

Construction of the gothic Munster Cathedral was begun in the 15th, and finished in the 19th century. The fit and brave can climb the over 344 steps of the bell tower for an incredible view of the city and the Alps. The portal over the main doors show the detailed sculpture of the Last Judgement – cautionary tales to the living to shape up while they could. Adjacent to the Cathedral on the south side is an extensive park area for walking and playing. The views down to the Aare River are outstanding.

Can you make it up the steps of the bell tower of the Munster Cathedral?

5. Go for a Spin

Borrow a bicycle and take a spin around the Old City. Bern Rollt offers free bikes for rent in the old town of Bern. The main train station (Bahnhof) hosts the year-round rental location, while others are open May-October. Some ID and a deposit of 20 Swiss francs or so, and you’re free to ride the streets and bump along the cobblestones for up to four hours.

6. Visit BarenPark – the Bern Bear Pit

Bern is named after the German word for bear ‘bar’, and the bear symbol is on the city and canton’s coat of arms. The Bernese have kept a Barengraben, or Bear Pit, as a tourist attraction, since 1857. Fortunately for the bears, their home was transformed in 2009 with the opening of the BarenPark. This is a much larger treed area for the bears to roam, along the banks of the Aare River, just below the original pit location. There is a tourist information building above the BarenPark, with movies & interesting displays about the history of the city.

Switzerland is filled with art, culture, food, and these 7 free things to do in Bern that won't cost you a dime while visiting the historic capital.
The brown bears from which Bern received its name find fun in the Bear Park.

7. Wander through Tierpark Dahlholzli

The forested, outdoor Animal Park – Tierpark Dahlholzli – is a pleasant walk across the Aare River from the Old Town. There is a vast array of animals & reptiles, a KinderZoo, kids playground, and an excellent restaurant on the banks of the river. The Tierpark is popular with locals and visitors. Children love running from one section to the next, and adults enjoy the leisurely strolls and leafy pathways through the extensive grounds.

Tip: You won’t need a car within Bern’s city limits. But getting around Switzerland in a vehicle with the family is a great way to see this magnificent country. Those four wheels will help you find these 50 unique things to do in Switzerland, as well as these stunningly beautiful places in one of our favorite European destinations.


Pin for Later

Switzerland is filled with art, culture, food, and these 7 free things to do in Bern that won't cost you a dime while visiting the historic capital.

Interested in discovering other European cities? Check out our top ten list on visiting Rome with kids.

Read more about Switzerland

Let’s use the SBB Swiss Travel Pass! A handy guide to Swiss train travel

Best Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland

10 Ways to Enjoy the Historic City of Bern with Kids

Shhhh! 7 unforgettable things to do in Adelboden in summer

22 Swiss Food Products to try in Switzerland

Tips on Taking the Kids Skiing in Switzerland

Photo Credits: C. Laroye This post contains affiliate links.

Have you visited Bern? What are some of your favorite things to do in the city? Share your comment below.

Claudia Laroye
Follow me

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *