Destination Guide: Region of Bernese OberlandSwitzerland Inspiration
Where the Alps meet the Adventure
Written by Anke Eberhardt // Photography: Johny Cook & Steve Ashworth
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism and Bernese Oberland Region
While the whole country of Switzerland is filled with some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth, the canton of Bern is one of its most diverse regions. From the UNESCO-listed capital or the famous mountain trio of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau to the gorgeous lakes Brienz and Thun, wishing for outdoor experiences that don’t exist here is almost impossible.
No matter if on foot, on a bike, in a climbing harness, or plunging into a canyon, there’s always a new adventure around the corner. Whether you seek to challenge yourself or to unwind, the Bernese Oberland offers activities for every taste, with glacial crevasses and rugged cliffs, lush pastures and crystal-clear rivers always in sight. While it really is beautiful everywhere here, two destinations in particular are Sidetracked favourites: the remote Jungfrau Region and the adventurous area around Interlaken.
Places of Peace: Mountain Villages in the Jungfrau Region
If you’re looking for a peaceful location to call your home away from home, the mountain towns in the Jungfrau Region welcome guests at higher altitudes. Waking up to pure Alpine air, strolling between centuries-old wooden houses, and experiencing traditions like cheese making or local artisanry, dispel any memory of big-city traffic. Talking of traffic: Wengen and Mürren are car-free villages, offering an even calmer stay in the midst of nature. Lauterbrunnen, with its 72 waterfalls, and Haslital, the beautiful unknown valley, are some of the most charming destinations in the Swiss Alps. Here, it feels like travelling back in time and experiencing the mountains quietly – no matter how thrilling the surrounding activities might be. And even though these places feel so remote, they’re still easy to reach from bigger cities and train stations.
Hiking and Climbing in the Jungfrau Region
If you have a hard time making choices, don’t come to the Bernese Oberland. There are around 10,000km of hiking and trekking routes running through the Jungfrau Region, and this hiker’s paradise includes Grindelwald, Wengen, Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, and the Haslital valley, with their thrilling treks and spectacular ridges in high Alpine terrain.
Lean back on the way to Europe’s highest railway station on the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe at 3,454m before you venture to real mountain royalty: the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. It is the most famous triumvirate of the Alps, and the infamous North Face of the Eiger is part of many myths and real-life adventures.
But there are also easy-going panoramic trails and relaxing strolls through unspoiled meadows in the area. So, from beginner to athlete, the options are endless – and of course that goes not only for hikes. If life feels better in climbing gear, make sure to pack your harness, ropes, and helmet. The Bernese high Alpine climbs as well as the via ferratas are some of the best in Switzerland.
Favourite Hikes and Climbs
Panoramic Hike Schynige Platte – Faulhorn – First
This day hike from Schynige Platte to Grindelwald-First serves stunning panoramic views of the shimmering lakes Sägistal and Bachalpsee, as well as delicious farm food in the mountain huts along the way. The name of the Faulhorn summit (faul means ‘lazy’ in German) should not be misunderstood: it takes a good level of fitness, but you’ll come back with envy-inspiring photos.
Circular hike around Lake Gelmersee
Start your day with a breathtaking ride on the steepest open funicular in Europe and a hike around gorgeous Gelmersee. Along the shore, streams and huge rock slabs invite you to linger. The rugged, untouched mountain landscape and the lake’s mirror-like reflections make this experience one for the books without being too challenging.
Tälli Via Ferrata
This is Switzerland’s oldest fixed climbing route. The Tälli via ferrata starts at the Tälli Hut, which can be reached with a lovely 1.5-hour hike through forests and across Alpine meadows (or a quick ride on the Tälli aerial cable car). Once there, the climbing fun begins. It includes not less than 1.3km of guide cables, 78 ladders, and 550 metal rods. And thrilling views down and out to the panorama.
Biking in the Jungfrau Region
Longing to spend some quality time in the saddle? Few places offer such a variety of cycling terrain as the canton of Bern – and especially the Jungfrau Region. Smooth tarmac for road bikes, flowing trails for mountain bikes, or scenic routes for e-bikes: the Swiss have got you covered.
Cyclists roll along the banks of mountain lakes like Bachalpsee and through idyllic villages such as Wengen and Mürren, and there’s always a mountain hut waiting for a pit stop of cheese, meat, and carbs on the way. The scenery changes from untamed peaks and Alpine plateaus to verdant forests and idyllic meadows – and, when deciding to take a shortcut, Swiss public transport is among the most reliable in the world, and particularly bike friendly.
Favourite Bike Tours
Eiger e-MTB Loop
This three-day e-MTB round tour takes you from the world-famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau to the crystal-clear Lake Brienz and back to Grindelwald. Each stage feels like rolling from one postcard into the next. Picturesque chalet-filled villages, stunning glacier views, and spectacular waterfalls are waiting along the way (as well as battery-charging stations). Thanks to the perfectly signposted bike paths, you can simply focus on soaking in the panorama.
Mountain View Trail
If trails make your heart beat faster, be ready to fall in love. The Mountain View Trail is one of the most impressive bike trails in the Bernese Oberland and includes everything from steep passages, flowing fun, crisp sections, and loose gravel curves to views you have to stop for. Have a break in the picturesque village of Mürren before you challenge yourself downhill on stone, gravel, and dirt.
The Adventure Capital of Europe: Interlaken
When it comes to a logistically smart home base from which to explore the adventures of Bern, there are few places that can compete with Interlaken. With Lake Thun to the west and Lake Brienz to the east, Interlaken is nestled between two of the most gorgeous lakes in Switzerland, and surrounded by impressive Alpine peaks. There’s a cheerful vibe to this place; it’s just big enough to have a touch of urban flair, but small enough to match the relaxed mountain atmosphere. Just a rock’s throw away from winding pedestrian streets and high-class restaurants, there are plenty of lidos with which to enjoy the lakes’ beaches. And the self-proclaimed title ‘Adventure Capital of Europe’ is no exaggeration (but more about that later).
Changing location from the valley up to the mountains – or the other way round – is easy, too: Interlaken and the villages of the Jungfrau Region are not even one hour apart, and well connected by public transport. So no matter which location you prefer, the following activities are right at your doorstep – and some of them even connect the two areas to get the best of it all.
Water Activities around Interlaken
In addition to the limitless opportunities to explore the Bernese Oberland by foot, jumping in the many lakes and rivers is an absolute must-do on the list. Lakes Thun and Brienz are the biggest ones in the area, and as Interlaken is located right between them, it is the ideal spot for water sports.
Stand-up paddling, boating, canoeing, ferrying, and wakeboarding are just some of the many liquid forms of fun. River rafting and canyoning offer more adventurous expeditions. Whether it’s drifting downstream, making waves at high speed, or just cooling off with a dip after a hike: the clear waters are calling.
Favourite Water Tours
River Rafting Lütschine
The mighty Lütschine offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the Swiss Alps. From the start below the Eiger North Face, Class III-IV rapids surge down from the mountains and into the Interlaken valley and the Lake of Brienz. An exhilarating rush from start to finish.
Set on a mountain pass, canyoning the Grimsel river starts with a heart-pumping 50m rappel. Filled with jumps, slides, and a zip line into a crystal-clear pool, this tour in a majestic Alpine environment has it all.
Kayaking Lake Brienz
Exploring hidden beaches, beautiful cliffs, and the 12th-century Ringgenberg castle, this kayak tour from Bönigen on Lake Brienz is the perfect choice to combine nature explorations with water sports. A bit less adrenaline, but a bit more time to let the eyes wander – suitable for all abilities.
Adventure Sports around Interlaken
Besides activities like hiking, biking, and climbing, the Bernese Oberland is a prime destination for adventure sports. Especially Interlaken; the ‘Adventure Capital of Europe’ really lives up to its name, and serves adrenaline kicks by skydiving or bungee jumping. Less strenuous adventures include paragliding, hang gliding, a visit to the ropes park, or a quad tour. A wide range of activities can even be reached by public transport within an hour – free to use with the guest card provided by the accommodation
Favourite Activities in the Air
Airborne views of Lake Thun’s deep blue waters, and the three famous peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau: these panoramic views while paragliding are almost as breathtaking as the feeling of flying. You will descend around 800m during your flight before landing right in the centre of Interlaken.
Is it a bird or a plane? It’s plane (or a helicopter) – and you will jump right out of it! During your free fall, don’t forget to enjoy the bird’s eye view of the mountains and lakes over the adrenaline. The impressive Alpine backdrop is one of a kind and deserves admiration even at high speeds.
Food and Beverages: Cravings in the Bernese Oberland
In addition to deep valleys and stunning gorges, there’s also the Röstigraben running through the canton of Bern. Literally ‘Rösti ditch’ or ‘Rösti trench’, it is a term used to describe the invisible border between the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland. But the famous Rösti (those delicious hashed potatoes), which originated in the canton of Bern, are not the only foods to die for.
Bernese specialities include:
• The Berner Platte: a rich mix of ham, bacon, spare ribs, knuckle of pork, marrowbone, sauerkraut, beans, and potatoes. It was invented in 1798 when the Bernese defeated the French army, and, to celebrate, everyone brought whatever they had at home for a feast. The Berner Platte was born (and don’t dare to call it leftovers before you try it).
• The meringue: a sweet pastry with a light, airy shell made from egg whites, thought to have been invented in Meiringen.
• The world-famous triangle-shaped chocolate Toblerone. The eagle eyed may spot an image of a bear in the mountain logo: a nod to the Swiss city of Bern, long associated with bears.
• Locally sourced cheeses, produced the traditional way on high Alpine pastures. You can even see them being made.
And there are 88 breweries in Bern, covering an area just under 6,000km2 – the highest density of breweries in Switzerland. So, rule number one before starting your adventures in the Bernese Oberland: don’t come while on a diet.
Where to Sleep
When it comes to hostels, B&Bs or hotels, there are almost as many options in the Bernese Oberland as there are activities. From basic and charming mountain huts to classy several-star hotels, there’s something for everyone.
Hotel Chalet Swiss
Just a short walk to the centre of Interlaken, and a quick bike ride to the beaches of lakes Thun and Brienz, this family-owned hotel is based on a typical Swiss chalet. Decorated with beautiful flowers and an unbeatable location for all kinds of adventures.
Mountain Guesthouse Faulhorn
The Berghotel Faulhorn is one of the oldest mountain guesthouses in the Alps and offers lovely private rooms, as well as a rustic dormitory for larger groups. It can only be reached with the power of your legs, but the sun terrace with its 360-degree panorama makes up for the exertions.
If travelling on a budget, Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof in Interlaken is a comfortable and centrally located hostel. There’s everything from dorms to double rooms, either with en-suite facilities or shared showers and toilets. Some rooms even offer balconies with views of the famous Jungfrau.
Grimsel Hospiz – Historical Alpine Hotel
The Grimsel Hospiz perches on the Nollen mountain like a castle reigning above the fjord-like lake below. Way back in 1142, it was the first guesthouse in Switzerland to be officially documented. Today, completely renovated, the historic building with its heavy walls of granite blocks offers excellent upscale dining and sleeping.
Where to Eat
Delicious food and stunning views: the Bern Region pleases the eye and the palate.
A Fondue Backpack
A truly special fondue experience is offered in the cosy village of Sigriswil. Pick up a backpack with a caquelon fondue pot, spirit burner, lighter, fondue mix, stirring tool, forks, cheese and bread from the Amstutz dairy. With a view of Lake Thun, you’ll find your favourite spot for an outdoor fondue.
Lunch couldn’t be more impressive than at the world’s first revolving mountain restaurant, Piz Gloria. 360-degree views of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau are even approved by James Bond himself: the location was part of 007’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And on a clear day, you can see as far as the Mont Blanc Massif in France.
Stockhorn Culinary Trail
Boost your appetite on the Stockhorn Culinary Trail and enjoy a three-course meal in three different mountain restaurants. The beautiful hike through the imposing Stockhorn region leads hungry mountaineers to each course of regional produce. Culinary delights and views of the surrounding mountain peaks wait along the way.
Restaurant Weidstübli, Lauterbrunnen
Swiss specialities like cheese fondue are best experienced with a view. On Restaurant Weidstübli’s terrace, the imposing Staubbach waterfall serves an unparalleled backdrop: Switzerland’s highest free-falling waterfall is included in the tasty service.