Zurich Or Bern: Which Is the Best Swiss City to Visit (2023)?

Are you finding it difficult to decide if you should visit Zurich or Bern during your trip to Switzerland?

Choosing between Bern and Zurich can be a tough decision. After all, these are two of the most popular cities in the Switzerland.

They both have a lot to offer with great attractions that make them worth exploring.

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. It’s known for its high-end shopping, gourmet restaurants, and its well-preserved Old Town. 

On the other hand, Bern is the capital city of Switzerland. It has a small-town feel with a charming Old Town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

So, how do you choose between the two?

We live in Zurich so we’re very familiar with its pros and cons. But we also visit Bern often. My husband spent years living in Bern, so it’s a Swiss city near and dear to his heart. 

In this post, we’ll compare the key aspects of Bern and Zurich to help you make an informed choice.

So, let’s dive in and discover if Bern or Zurich is best for your next Swiss adventure. 

Sightseeing in Zurich

View of Zurich Old Town Old buildings and grossmuster
View of Zurich Old Town from Lindenhof

The city of Zurich sits on the banks of Lake Zurich, surrounded by the Swiss Alps, making it a picturesque destination. On a clear day you can even see snow capped alps along the lake. Zurich has so much to offer in terms of sightseeing. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Lake Zurich is a must-visit spot. The lake is surrounded by mountains and has crystal clear water. We recommend taking a boat tour to fully appreciate the beauty of the lake with the Swiss Alps in the background.
  • The Old Town is another must-see. It’s a charming and historic neighborhood with a rich architectural heritage. As you stroll through its narrow cobblestone streets, you’ll encounter a mix of medieval, Renaissance, and baroque buildings. From the iconic Fraumünster Church with its stunning stained glass windows to the impressive Grossmünster Cathedral, Zurich’s old town is a captivating blend of old-world charm and cultural treasures.
  • For those interested in history, the Swiss National Museum is a great place to visit. The museum has exhibits on Swiss history and culture, including artifacts from the Middle Ages to the present day.
  • For a stunning view of the city, take a trip to Uetliberg Mountain. The mountain is easily accessible by train from Zurich HB and offers panoramic views of Zurich and the surrounding area.
  • Zurich is also known for its shopping. The Bahnhofstrasse is the main shopping street in the city, with a variety of high-end shops and boutiques.

Sightseeing in Bern

View of bern and the aare river with old buildings with brown roofs and bern cathedral
View of the Aare River from Bundeshaustrasse

Bern is a historical city like no other. It’s a very walkable city with its winding streets, picturesque fountains, and charming cafes.With a little planning you can see Bern in one day. Here are some of the main attractions in Bern.

  • Bern’s Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is usually the highlight. The historical center of the city is a maze of narrow streets, lined with buildings that date back to the medieval period. You’ll feel transported back in time wandering through the cobblestone streets, admiring the fountains, towers, and arcades on Kramgasse.
  • The city is known for its medieval architecture. People flow to see the iconic Zytglogge clock tower and the Bern Minster. 
  • For science enthusiasts, the Einstein Museum and Einstein House are must-visit destinations. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of Albert Einstein, who lived in Bern from 1902 to 1909. The Einstein House is where Einstein lived during his time in Bern and is now a museum that showcases his life and work.
  • The Bear Pit is a fun attraction that is popular with tourists. The pit is located along Aare River and is home to several brown bears. It was interesting to watch the bears and learn about their history and habitat.
  • If you want to learn more about the history and culture of Bern, then the Bern Historical Museum is the place to go. The museum has a vast collection of artifacts that date back to the Stone Age. It also has exhibits that showcase the history of the city, including its architecture, art, and traditions.

Zurich and Bern as Tourist Destinations

Zurich or Bern images of the zurich opera house and on the right the old town of Bern with the cathedral and brown roofs on old houses
LocationNortheastern SwitzerlandCentral Switzerland
SizeLargest city in SwitzerlandCapital city of Switzerland
ArchitectureModern, urban vibeMedieval old town charm
Scenic BeautyLake Zurich and mountainsAare River and surrounding Bernese Alps
Tourist AttractionsBahnhofstrasse, Old Town, Swiss National Museum, Zurich Opera House, Grossmuster, FraumusterZytglogge clock tower, Bear Park, Old Town, Rose Garden, 
Cultural EventsZurich Film Festival, Street ParadeBern International Jazz Festival
CuisineDiverse internationalTraditional Swiss dishes
TransportationExtensive public transportCompact and walkable city
NightlifeVibrant nightlife optionsRelaxed and cozy atmosphere
ShoppingHigh-end boutiques, luxury brands and department storesQuaint shops, local crafts, markets
Best For…Young and active touristsHistory and culture enthusiasts
Overall AtmosphereLively and fast-pacedCalm and laid-back

Getting to Bern and Zurich 

Airplane with with Swiss logo surrounded by clouds with Swiss town below

If you’re planning to visit either Zurich or Bern, you’ll need to know how to get there. Both cities are easy to get to.

By Air

If you’re coming from outside of Switzerland, you’ll likely be flying into Zurich Airport. It’s the largest airport in Switzerland and is served by most of the major airlines. 

From the airport, you can take a train or a bus to either Zurich or Bern. The journey from Zurich Airport to Zurich takes around 10-15 minutes by train.

If you’re heading to Bern it will take a little longer. The journey to Bern from Zurich Airport takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes by train.

By Train

If you’re already in Switzerland, taking the train is a convenient and efficient way to get to either Zurich or Bern. Both cities have major train stations, with direct trains running between the two cities throughout the day. 

The journey from Zurich to Bern takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes, with trains departing every half hour or so.

If you’re traveling from other parts of Switzerland, you can also take the train to either Zurich or Bern. The journey times will vary depending on where you’re coming from, but both cities are well-connected to the rest of the country by rail.

By Car

If you prefer to drive, both Zurich and Bern are easily accessible by car. The driving distance between the two cities is around 120 kilometers, and the journey takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes. 

Keep in mind that parking in both cities can be expensive, so it’s worth considering other transportation options if you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the city centers.

Public Transportation in Bern vs Zurich

Blue and white zurich tram
Tram in Zurich

Zurich and Bern both have excellent public transportation systems. You’ll find that, thanks to Swiss efficiency, it’s easy and convenient to get around. 

In Zurich, the public transportation system is run by the ZVV (Zurich Transport Network). This includes buses, trams, and trains that run throughout the city and the surrounding areas. 

You can purchase tickets at vending machines located at most stops or use the ZVV or SBB apps to buy them on your phone. 

Bern’s public transportation system is run by Bernmobil. This includes buses and trams that run throughout the city and the surrounding areas. 

But to be honest, you won’t really make use of the public transportation system. Bern is smaller than Zurich and easily explored on foot. 

If you plan to travel around Switzerland by train you can purchase a Swiss Travel Pass. It allows unlimited travel on trains, buses, and boats throughout Switzerland.

Dining and Accommodation In Zurich and Bern

When it comes to dining and accommodation, both Zurich and Bern have a lot to offer. As self-proclaimed foodies, we love exploring the restaurant scene in both cities.

Dining in Zurich 

Zurich has over 2,000 restaurants so there are limitless choices of places to eat. You’ll find a wide variety of dining options, from traditional Swiss dishes to Michelin star restaurants. 

Some of our favorite places to eat included:

  • Zeughauskeller, if you’re looking for authentic and traditional Swiss cuisine 
  • For hip and trendy restaurants try one along Europaalle. 
  • For a great restaurant with amazing views try Fischerstube Zürihorn

Bern has a more laid-back dining scene, with an emphasis on local ingredients and traditional dishes. Some of our favorite places to eat included:

  • Kornhauskeller is housed in a beautiful historic building and serves up classic Swiss dishes in a cozy, rustic atmosphere.
  • Restaurant Rosengarten is located in the Rosengarten park, this restaurant has stunning views of the city and serves up delicious, seasonal cuisine.
  • Zum Äusseren Stand is a traditional Bernese restaurant is known for its hearty, comforting dishes and friendly atmosphere.


Both Zurich and Bern have a range of accommodation options to suit a range of budgets and preferences.

Here are some great options for hotels that are in the city center of Zurich.

  • Hotel Bristol Zurich: Located in the heart of Zurich, just a few minutes’ walk from the famous Bahnhofstrasse shopping street.
  • Hotel Limmathof: Situated near the main train station and close to the vibrant Niederdorf district, Hotel Limmathof provides convenient access to Zurich’s main attractions. The rooms are cozy and feature all necessary amenities, and the hotel offers a complimentary breakfast for guests.
  • Hotel Montana Zurich: Positioned near the Bahnhofstrasse and Lake Zurich, Hotel Montana Zurich offers a great location for exploring the city. The rooms are tastefully decorated and equipped with modern comforts. The hotel also has a rooftop terrace that provides stunning views of Zurich.

In Bern, I found a lot of charming independent boutiques and smaller hotels. Some of my favorites included:

  • Hotel City am Bahnhof: Situated just steps away from Bern’s main train station, Hotel City am Bahnhof offers comfortable and affordable accommodation in the city center. The rooms are well-appointed with modern amenities, and the hotel provides a complimentary breakfast for guests.
  • Hotel Kreuz Bern: Located in the heart of Bern’s historic old town, Hotel Kreuz Bern provides a convenient base for exploring the city’s attractions. The rooms are cozy and feature all necessary amenities, and the hotel also offers an on-site restaurant serving Swiss cuisine.
  • Hotel Savoy Bern: Positioned near the famous Bear Park and within walking distance of Bern’s main sights, Hotel Savoy Bern offers a central location for visitors. The rooms are stylishly decorated and equipped with modern comforts. The hotel also has a bar and lounge area for guests to relax in.

Overall, both Zurich and Bern offer a great mix of dining and accommodation options to suit any traveler’s taste and budget.

When to Visit Bern or Zurich

As locals Zurich and Bern, we can tell you that the best time to visit largely depends on what you want to do and see. Here are some things to consider when planning your trip:

Summer Months

If you’re looking for warm weather and plenty of outdoor activities, then the summer months (June to August) are the best time to visit both Zurich and Bern. 

Switzerland can get surprisingly hot during the summer months. This is one thing that surprised me when I moved here. You can expect heat waves with temperatures of 87°F (31°C).

In the summer, there are plenty of festivals and events happening throughout the summer, such as the Zurich Street Parade and the Gurten Festival.

Best Time To visit Zurich or Bern

If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy cooler temperatures, then the best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of spring (March to May) and fall (September to November). During these times, you can still enjoy outdoor activities, but with fewer tourists and more reasonable prices.

Clear Day for the Best Views

Both Zurich and Bern are beautiful cities, but they are even more stunning on a clear day. If you want to make sure you get the best views of the city, then check the weather forecast and plan your visit accordingly. In Zurich, head to the Uetliberg mountain for panoramic views of the city, while in Bern, go to the Rose Garden for a view overlooking the city.

Overall, the best time to visit Zurich or Bern really depends on your personal preferences and what you want to do and see. Whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, festivals, or stunning views, both cities have something to offer year-round.

Cost of Bern Versus Zurich 

You might be wondering which city is more budget-friendly: Bern or Zurich? Let’s break it down! When it comes to cost, Bern takes the lead. Accommodation, dining, and transportation options in Bern tend to be slightly cheaper than in Zurich. 

You can find cozy guesthouses and affordable hotels that won’t break the bank. Additionally, Bern offers numerous budget-friendly eateries serving delicious Swiss cuisine. 

On the other hand, Zurich has a higher price tag. Accommodations and dining options in Zurich can be more expensive, reflecting the city’s cosmopolitan vibe. 

Day Trips from Zurich and Bern

If you are looking to explore Switzerland, both Zurich and Bern have convenient locations for day trips. 

Zurich is in central Switzerland so if you want to visit Eastern Switzerland it’s a better choice. You can reach destinations like St. Moritz, Davos, and Appenzell faster from Zurich. 

Whereas the French speaking part of Switzerland like Geneva and Montreux are closer to Bern. It’s easier to reach other popular destinations in the Bernese Oberland like Grindelwald, Jungfraujoch, and Lauterbrunnen from Bern. You’ll even reach Zermatt quicker from Bern than Zurich. 

The city of Lucerne is located right in the middle of the two cities. So unfortunately it can’t be our tie breaker. The train ride to Lucerne takes around an hour from both cities.

The Verdict

In my opinion, both Zurich and Bern are worth visiting for different reasons. Zurich is a bustling financial capital with plenty of nightlife, restaurants, and shops. 

It also has a beautiful old town and scenic views of the Limmat River and Lake Zurich. 

Bern, on the other hand, has a charming historic old town that is perfect for a leisurely stroll. It is also a family-friendly destination with plenty of activities for kids.

When it comes to travel cost, Zurich is slightly more expensive than Bern, but both cities are quite pricey compared to other destinations. 

However, if you’re on a budget, there are ways to save money such as staying in a hostel or Airbnb and cooking your meals instead of eating out.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history and culture of these cities, a guided tour is a great option. 

There are plenty of tours available in both Zurich and Bern, ranging from walking tours of the old town to food tours that explore the local cuisine.

Overall, whether you’re looking for a lively city with plenty of nightlife or a quaint town with a rich history, both Zurich and Bern have something to offer. It all depends on your personal preferences and what you’re looking for in a travel destination.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between Bern and Zurich?

Both cities have their unique charm, but Zurich is bigger and busier than Bern. Zurich has more restaurants, nightclubs, and bars, while Bern is more laid-back and has a more relaxed atmosphere. Bern is also more affordable than Zurich.

Which city is the capital of Switzerland, Bern or Zurich?

Bern is the capital of Switzerland. It is the seat of the Swiss government and the home of the Swiss parliament.

Is Zurich or Bern a better place to live?

Both cities are great places to live, but it depends on what you are looking for. Zurich is more cosmopolitan and has a better job market, while Bern is more laid-back and has a lower cost of living.

How do Zurich and Bern compare to Lucerne?

Lucerne is a smaller city than Zurich and Bern, but it is still a popular tourist destination. It is known for its picturesque old town, the Chapel Bridge, and Lake Lucerne. Zurich and Bern are both bigger and busier than Lucerne, but they also have more to offer in terms of nightlife and cultural events.

Is Bern worth visiting in Switzerland?

Yes, Bern is definitely worth visiting in Switzerland. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a charming old town with cobbled streets and medieval architecture. It is also home to the famous Zytglogge clock tower and the Bear Park, where you can see live bears.

Which city is colder, Zurich or Bern?

Both Zurich and Bern can get cold in the winter, with temperatures dropping below freezing. However, Bern is generally colder than Zurich due to its higher altitude and its location in the heart of the Swiss Alps.

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