The Bernese Oberland is one of the most breathtaking regions in Switzerland, making the city of Thun an excellent destination to revel in the beauty of nature. As the gateway to the region, Thun enjoys the dreamy combination of lake and mountain amidst mild weather that lasts well into autumn.
Its unique locations, and one of Bern’s best day trips, also mean there’s always something for someone to enjoy in the city, in the water, or up the mountains.
A landmark seen from miles away, the Thun Castle was constructed as the first settlement in the city that arrived in 2,500 B.C. Also known as “Schloss Thun”, the castle’s fortification tower built in 1180 and 1190 has been converted to a museum with over five floors of cultural development from around 4,000 years.
It houses historic artifacts, as well as medieval objects, weapons, and uniforms from the 18th and 19th centuries. There is also the magnificent Knight’s Hall, restored in modern times but dating back to the 12th century.
If you happen to visit between mid-May to mid-October, children can get a chance to be a knight. A visit to the three Lake Thun Castles – Oberhofen, Spiez, and Thun – brings children on a journey to knighthood. Instructions will be given at the castles, and training comes in three stages – page, knave, knight – wherein they are given various tasks to complete that reenact certain stages towards knighthood.
Old Town’s raised pavements, museums, and a magnificent castle at the center feels like traveling back in time. In a way, the Old Town is highly traditional with the town church dating back to 1330, and the town hall erected in the 16th century.
It is definitely worth wandering the streets of this historic town that is the gateway to the Bernese Oberland. It is just a stone’s throw from the train station (about 10 minutes walk) and worth spending a few hours in at the very least. The Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square) with the Rathaus (Town Hall) at the center, right below the Thun Castle is a great place to start or end.
There are cobbled streets and covered bridges throughout the town that are worth checking out and getting some great photos of. The main street heading towards the lake from here (Obere Hauptgasse) is especially noteworthy with the basement shops and stunning historic buildings lining the road from end to end. If you have visited Bern at all, the style will be familiar.
Modern times have also caught up, with three cinemas in the town and rows and rows of restaurants for local and international cuisine. The top activity here, though, is the shopping – over 900 large and small shops offering anywhere from watches, sports equipment, and clothes to souvenirs, handicrafts, and art objects.
Passing through the center of Thun is the Aare river which actually runs almost all the way to the Rhine in Germany. And because Thun is built right on the river, the people of the city built some stunning covered bridges at various locations through the old town. There are interesting locks controlling the water flow below these bridges as well as interesting woodwork to check out.
The Aare itself becomes wider and more “stroll worthy” as it heads out of the city towards Lake Thun. Along the left-hand bank (as you walk towards the lake away from town) is the Kunstmuseum (Art Museum) as well as a lovely path to just enjoy all the way to the lake.
Schadau Castle or Schloss Schadau is fronted by Schadau Park – an open area of lush greens sitting by Lake Thun. Visitors can feed ducks by the shores of the lake, or walk the paths that weave through the meadow.
Park benches are also available for a quiet time to read a book, but many visitors freely lay down blankets for a bit of sunbathing. The castle also houses a restaurant with local delicacies and stunning lake views.
The most exciting feature of the park, however, is a fun maze for children that leads to a playground. Every other weekend, there is also a miniature steam train that crosses the park.
The Kustmuseum Thun (or Art Museum Thun – in English) is perched on the edge of the stunning Aare River running right through the heart of Thun
If you take a walk along the Aare via the Aare Quai all the way to Lake Thun you will pass it on your left-hand side. It is a beautiful historic building worth taking a peek at whether you go inside or not. And, if you are with kids, they also have a fun playground outside – complete with a pirate ship.
The Kunstmuseum has a variety of displays from local artists and Swiss artists, to interesting themes such as the heydey of the Panorama which is on at the time of writing.
The crystal clear waters of Lake Thun make it perfect for all kinds of water activities. Wind conditions are ideal for sailing and windsurfing, and its alpine waters make it perfect for swimming in the summer. The water is so clear that divers can also get a unique experience suspended in the bluish-green waters of the lake.
Come winter, Lake Thun transforms into a glowing scene as the lake freezes over against a backdrop of mountains. Several tour operators also offer cruises on Lake Thun for a relaxing ride and good food onboard.
Grab a free brochure from the local tourist office and enjoy over 500 kilometers of summer hiking paths in and around Thun. Leisure hikers can stroll along the shores of Lake Thus, while more adventurous travelers have access to the mountains with views of some of Switzerland’s 4,000-meter peaks.
There are several bike routes available as well, which is a great way to enjoy the scenery of the Bernese Oberland. The routes can be as easy as pedaling around Lake Thun or up in the foothills of the Alps with views of the peaks of the Bernese Alps.
There is no shortage of top-notch accommodation in Thun, but personally, I would try to get a room at the Schlossberg Hotel. It is well priced and of high quality.
Another great option if Schlossberg’s is booked out is Füürgässli’s Boutique Suite. Also well-appointed, with great service!
The City of Thun might be a bit of a departure from the usual snow-capped mountains typical of Switzerland, but it is no less magical. Travelers to this city can expect to travel back in time and learn about its deep history one moment and return to the modern sensibilities of shopping and entertainment surrounded by the characteristic beauty of Switzerland’s nature.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!