Things to Do in Thun, Switzerland
Thun, located on the shores of a lake of the same name, is a great alternative to the better known town of Interlaken as a base to explore the Bernese Oberland. There are plenty of things to do in Thun and the surrounding area, whether you are on a mini break or a longer stay. I visited Thun for a long weekend, so read on to check out what awesome sights I managed to cover.
First of all, before you even start exploring, one of the most important things to take care of on arrival day when you check in is getting your PanoramaCard. It is a local discount card that overnight visitors to the area receive in return for paying tourist tax. Sightseeing in Switzerland can be expensive, especially the cable cars, so having this card is very helpful in saving some money. The hotel will email the card to you, and you can then display it on your mobile phone at various sights to get reduced-price tickets, plus you can use it to travel for free on local buses, which is super handy for getting around. Make sure you check out in advance what sort of discounts and where are available.
So now that we've got that covered, time to move on to discovering Thun and its surroundings. One of the first things to do in Thun should be heading to...
There are two reasons I loved Thun castle. The first one is its age - the work on building it started all the way back in the 12th century, and boy are there some fantastic thick old wooden beams to see around the castle. Sure, some repairs have been necessary since then, but most of the wood is the original from way back then. For people interested in woodwork, a part of the exhibition is a brilliant video that shows how the carpenters worked back in the day and what tools they used (you can find the video screen on the top floor of the castle).
The second reason the castle is a must-see is the views. Once you have conquered all the steps and got to the top floor, you can then climb the narrow stairs to each of the four little towers in turn and take in the views of Thun, the lake, and the surrounding mountains. And those views make the castle not just a rainy day activity, but worth visiting in any weather. I was there on a cloudy day, but just imagine how spectacular those views would be with sunshine and clear skies:
Be sure to check the latest opening hours and prices before heading over.
On to the next thing to do in Thun. Surrounding the castle, and a great place for a walk is...
Thun Old Town
Whether you want to check out the high street or admire the quaint old buildings, you will find both in Thun old town. The river Aare with its remarkably green waters flows through the town centre, encircling the shopping island of Bälliz, and old wooden bridges offer some great spots to take it in the vibe. If you're lucky, you will also find some surfers by the bridges, taking advantage of the stream to show off their skills. The 16th century town hall square has some cafes with outdoor seating where you can relax and a small market on Saturday. If you want to know more about the history of Thun, there is even a free tour for PanoramaCard holders.
Thun old town is not big, so you can cover it fairly quickly, but if your feet crave a bit more walking, there's another spot you should definitely add to your "things to do in Thun" list, and that is...
Schadau Park & Castle
About a 15-minute walk away from Thun train station, most of it along the water, past docking points for the boats cruising on the lake, Schadau park offers spectacular views over Lake Thun and the mountains. The 19th-century castle is currently used as a hotel and restaurant, so whilst you can't visit it like you would a museum, you could, for example, enjoy the classy atmosphere inside by trying their afternoon tea. Or, you could simply admire how gracious and beautiful it looks from the outside, that is, if you can tear yourself away from the lake and mountains panorama.
Another thing you can do in the park is see a 200-year-old circular painting of Thun in Thun-Panorama.
From Schadau park, you could also continue the walk along the lake all the way to Bonstetten park. The route, which takes you through a nature reserve, is mapped out on one of the maps you can get from the tourist information centre at the train station, so I highly recommend seeking it out when you arrive and getting some maps and information flyers.
Moving on now to beyond the limits of Thun town to explore the wider area, and what better way to do that than by going to the top of a mountain, for example...
The Niederhorn is a mountain of 1963 m on the northern side of Lake Thun, offering spectacular views over the Bernese alps. It is very easy to get to from Thun. All you need is to hop on the bus number 21 (Thun-Interlaken) at the train station and in around 30 minutes you will arrive at Beatenbucht station, directly adjacent to the lifts. The bus ride is included with your PanoramaCard, so no need to worry about sourcing tickets. Pay attention to the destination displayed on the departure boards before you get on, as some buses on this route terminate at Oberhofen before reaching Beatenbucht.
Alternatively, you could make the journey by boat, but that will take almost an hour and a half, and you will have to purchase a ticket. If you have enough time though, boat is definitely a picturesque and enjoyable way of travelling on the lake, and it is very popular among the visitors to the region, as you can see in the photo below.
How you get up and down the Niederhorn is of course up to you. The cheapest, but most time-consuming way is on foot, with numerous hiking trails available to choose from. You can also buy a lift pass for a part or all of the journey. The prices are quite steep for a return ticket, but you do get a discount with the PanoramaCard. The way up to the mountain is split into two different sections, which means you will have to change from a funicular to a cable car, so, with that in mind, various combinations of walking/using the lifts are available. You could easily dedicate a whole day of your trip to just visiting the Niederhorn, if you hike some of the way and also have lunch there. Whichever way you choose, there are some great views to be seen en route:
I was short on time, so I got the lift pass for both up and down the mountain. That turned out to be a good decision because, after about half an hour of walking around at the top, the clouds rolled in and covered everything, so I was lucky I had a chance to enjoy the views and take these photos:
The Niederhorn is just one of several mountains you can ascend while in Thun. Some other alternatives are Niesen and Stockhorn, and which one you choose is entirely up to you, as each can offer great views and hiking opportunities. Whichever mountain you decide to visit, before heading out, be sure to check the live view webcams. Sometimes, the mountaintop is inside the cloud level, and then you can't see anything but mist. Other times, it may seem like the weather is cloudy at the bottom, but the mountaintop is above the clouds, so though you can't see down to the lake, you get some spectacular cloudscapes. Here are the webcams:
Of course, you can still get unlucky and the clouds come in and cover the tip of the mountain while you're en route to the top, but at least with a webcam you have some sort of idea of what to expect, so it's better than nothing. I do hope the weather plays along and that you get some fantastic views during your visit.
The final point on my "things to do in Thun" list is...
St. Beatus Caves
If you choose to visit Niederhorn, St. Beatus caves are only another few minutes away from the lift station by bus; they are on the same route, bus 21 (Thun-Interlaken), and the stop you need is called Beatushöhlen. You could, in theory, also hike there, which will take approximately an hour and a half. I was short on time, so I didn't test the hiking route myself.
Before you even enter the caves, you are greeted by the sight of a stunning waterfall - it is the stream that flows through the caves finding its way out. A path takes you up to the entrance, with plenty of photo opportunities on the way.
The caves themselves have a narrow path of just under a kilometre that you walk along, all firm ground, but it is wet in places, so I recommend wearing sturdy enclosed footwear with plenty of grip on the sole to avoid slipping.
Another word of caution - tall people will have to watch their heads, as the caves do get rather low in places, so bending down is necessary to pass. Finally, even if it's hot outside, the caves have a constant temperature of 8-10C, so make sure you have a jacket with you.
Do check the opening hours of St. Beatus caves before heading out to avoid disappointment.
So that's it from me on things to do in Thun. By no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully enough to give you some inspiration for your own trip there.