Thun Travel Guide
- August Macke
The alluring city of Thun has all the ingredients a visitor to Switzerland hopes to find: spectacular vistas, a medieval town center, interesting museums and castles, quirky festivals, great restaurants, flower filled planters everywhere, gorgeous trails in a breathtaking setting on sparkly Lake Thun and the gleaming Bernese Alps at the front door.
A postcard perfect setting!
Yet, this medieval castle city in the Bernese Oberland is time after time overlooked by vacationers.
I have lived near-by for decades, and I never got tired of Thun. I adore the delightful city and revisit whenever I can.
I'll bitch and moan as long as it takes to coax you into a visit.
You don't believe me? Listen to a friend of mine who lives in the city of Bern (not a bad spot either): "If I need a lift, I go for a walk through Thun and along the lake, stop for coffee and delicious sweets and read the papers in my favorite café. I return home refreshed as if I had taken a holiday". In fact, he's so enamored of Thun that he's looking for a small garret in the old town as a retreat. He's a bit of a romantic Bohemian.
Still not convinced? Let me drop some names. Prominent visitors such as Goethe, Brahms, Rilke and Robert Walser were enchanted by picturesque Thun and its lovely climate. Writers, composers, painters, Nobles and politicians visited Thun either on their journey through Switzerland or stayed for weeks or months, even years. Some left notable art, writers found inspiration for their great work, and Napoleon spent time at the military academy. Heinrich von Kleist wrote "Der Zerbrochene Krug" (The Broken Jug) and worked on other projects while he lived here. The tiny island in the river Aare where he lived is now known as "Kleist Inseli" (Kleist's Islet). Sadly, the house he used to live is long gone.
The views are gorgeous all around. Thun is located directly at the west end of the shining blue Lake Thun. In the far distance Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau gleam with eternal snow; the Swiss Pyramid - Mount Niesen - and the Stockhorn (stocky horn) with its distinct shape to the right; the Sigriswiler- and Niederhorn to the left and the rolling hills to the West provide a picture perfect setting.
First, pick up a city map and a little guidebook at the tourist office right in the train station (behind the ticket counters). The little booklet is full of useful information. If you want to connect on a deeper level, they do offer guided tours.
Walk up Bahnhofstrasse and cross the first bridge over to the shopping Island Bälliz. Enjoy the views to Castle Thun and Statdkirche (city church) and the wooden bridge "Untere Schleuse" from behind the Restaurant Waisenhaus right at the beginning of the Bälliz.
Five bridges connect the shopping Island Bälliz with the medieval city center, the most interesting one being the wooden covered bridge "Untere Schleuse" (upper flood gate), built in 1724 and re-constructed in 1788. The gates regulate the water flow of the River Aare.
Cross the bridge and head over to the historic small city center. When you walk over the bridge "Untere Schleuse" you arrive at the "Mühleplatz" with a children's playground, a sculpture from Schang Hutter (Swiss sculptor) and many cafés and restaurants along Aarequai.
Continue to walk along Aarequai (westwards) and you arrive at the "Rathausplatz" (City Hall square). The City Hall Thun to the left was built in the early 16th century and houses the City Council Hall and Thun's burger archives. It provides a great backdrop for the regular outdoor summer concerts that take place right here on this square.
From City Hall (Rathaus), head up Obere Hauptgasse. The noble buildings bare witness of a fascinating past. The old city also holds an architectonic surprise: The two-level construction - the road leads beneath the elevated sidewalks through "Obere Hauptgasse" between the town square and "Freienhofgasse".
Here you can see the two-level construction particularly good. Shops and restaurants are on both levels.
The medieval market city of Thun caters to locals and inhabitants of the region. Don't be surprised to find stores throughout the old part of Thun closed during lunch time between noon and 1:30pm - just one of the signs that Thun is not overrun by tourists.
At the east end of the "Obere Hauptgasse" you find a stair - called "Kirchtreppe" - leading up to the City Church and to Castle Thun.
You enjoy the best views to the castle gardens and the small private gardens to the left when walking up the small pedestrian path "Holi Mäz" (Hohler Mäz). The stairs are a bit hidden but keep an eye to the left coming from "Rathausplatz" (City Hall square) almost at the end of "Obere Hauptgasse".
Fans of old castles will love the medieval "Zähringen Schloss", called Castle Thun by everybody. It was built between 1180 and 1190 by the Dukes of Zähringen. Its Romanesque tower now houses the Thun's History Museum and its excellent exhibition of life in the area over the past centuries.
From Castle Thun continue down "Holi Mäz" along the city wall and you emerge at the lower end of the old town. Meander through the Berntor-, Markt-, Gerberngasse and Untere Hauptgasse and you end up again at the City Hall square.
From there follow "Rathausquai" (cafés right at the river Aare) to "Kuhbrücke" (cow bridge), cross the bridge and turn left and you are in the Bälliz, Thun's shopping mile, lined with boutiques, book and department stores, banks, post office and street cafés.
The sun rises behind Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and if you are an early riser, you can get very moody photos just before the sun peaks out behind the three mighty Bernese Mountains.
As for scenic landscapes, photos from Mount Niesen and Mount Stockhorn are best taken in the morning toward Spiez and Thun. Late afternoon is the best time to catch a good shot toward Lake Brienz and the Bernese Alps.
Good pictures can be taken late afternoon on a hike along the northern part of Lake Thun; from Castle Thun toward the city and from Castle Schadau toward Lake Thun and the Bernese Mountains.
Take an evening stroll along Aare- and Brahmsquai for some good views to the Alps.
Thun is a great base to explore the region around Lake Thun and the Bernese Oberland. Connections by train, bus and boat are very frequent and bring you to all destinations in this stunning region.
Numerous easy hiking paths along Lake Thun's north shore lead through green pasture and typical Swiss villages. No matter where you are, gorgeous views will please your eyes in this marvelous alpine World. Shimmering Lake Thun and the pyramid shaped Mount Niesen and the Stockhorn on the south side of the lake frame this area wonderfully.
The scenery is nothing less than stunning. An easy walk leads along Lake Thun. Half way through the walk you see Castle Hünegg, looking out onto the lake from a small hill. Further down the path you will arrive at Castle Oberhofen - a favorite local spot for Sunday brunches in the Summer. It also houses a museum with a collection devoted to the areas lifestyle before 1800 (open only in summer). From Oberhofen you either can take the bus back to Thun or hop on a boat right in front of Castle Oberhofen. The nice little bar at the boat landing will shorten the wait to catch the boat.
Of course, if you are up to, you can follow the Swiss Camino all the way to Interlaken, with a stop at the Beatus Caves en route.
The Panorama Trail around Lake Thun is currently in its last stages of becoming the easiest panorama hike in the area. Six suspension bridges cross deep ravines and foaming streams, making this 56 km long trail an easy hike for all levels with minimal altitude differences. If you do only parts of the hike or take your time and go all the way, breathtaking views are guaranteed.
The hilly landscape of the Emmental let the heart sing. The route leads through lush meadows with typical Emmental farmhouses with broadly overhanging roofs and through idyllic villages. You visit the Affoltern Cheese Dairy where you learn how Emmental cheese that the rest of the world calls Swiss cheese, was produced in the olden days. This route can be done in one or two days.
The downloadable free app will help you navigate through this unique and often magical countryside.
See if you can beat the clever Thun Fox. The Fox-trail is a fun paper chase and suited for the whole family. You can go all the way or just part of it. You receive a discount with the "Panoramacard Thunersee" (a free Guest Card) for the short trail when you book it in the tourist office in Thun's train station (Apéro not included).
Southern flair and mild climate make this region excellent for all kind of water sports, swimming included. Lake Thun is a favorite among sailors because of its ideal wind conditions.
If you do nothing else in this region, a cruise on Lake Thun is definitely a must. All cruises start right behind the train station in Thun. Lake Steamer and motor driven boats glide through the immensely blue water surrounded by vistas so beautiful you want to take up yodeling. You probably think that I sound like an advertising lunatic, but trust me, I am not exaggerating. As mentioned before, I lived in this region for years and never got tired of the amazing landscape.
The boats zigzag on Lake Thun from village to village and you can hop off and on where ever you want. For example you can Castle-hop. After you visited the two city castles in Thun you can board a cruise to Interlaken and deboard in Hilterfingen to visit Castle Hünegg. Continue by boat or take the short walk along the lake to Castle Oberhofen (approximately 20 to 30 minutes). Next board a boat to Castle Spiez that overlooks Switzerland's most beautiful bay. Or you can take one of the lunch and dinner cruises and go all the way to Interlaken and return by train to Thun.
The Art Museum is housed in the former impressive "Thunerhof", a 19th century luxury hotel and the first one of its kind in Thun. The focus is on contemporary works of art by Swiss and international artists. Exhibitions change four to five times a year.
Hofstettenstrasse 14; Closed on Monday
It's adequately housed in the Castle of Thun, featuring the regional history and organizes special exhibitions on historical and current affairs.
Castle Thun; Open April to October daily, rest of the year including Christmas and New year 1 to 4pm
Spielzeugmuseum - Toy Musem
Travel back in time with a visit to the exquisite Toy Museum in the 'House of Angel'. A wide collection of children's toys between 1850 and 1960 show with what children used to play during this era. Toys are not simply toys, they are miniature versions of life and bare witness of cultural customs. A small store offers locally handmade toys, a special souvenir to take home. It also houses a charming café.
Haus zum Engel, Burgstrasse 15; open Wednesday to Sunday, 2 - 5pm.
Thun-Panorama known as the Wocher Panorama
The Wocher Panorama is a circular painting and is the world's oldest surviving example of its kind. Marquard Wocher (hence the name of the painting) painted a 360 degree panorama between 1809 and 1814, sitting on a roof in the middle of the city. The circular building can be found in the park of the Castle Schadau and can be reached by bus or on foot in approximately 15 minutes form the train station (nice walkway, mostly along the lake).
Schadaupark ; Open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 5pm (closed until end of April 2014 for renovations)
Swiss Gastronomy Museum
The former living quarters of the Schadau castle servants have become a museum. It contains information on cultural dining and drinking habits and relics of the Swiss gastronomy with such exhibits as the World's smallest cookbook, historical cooking paraphernalia and gastronomic literature.
Schadau Castle Museum Thun, Seestrasse 45; open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 2pm to 5pm or by appointment.
Unfortunately, most festival websites are in German. If you have difficulties, send an email to Thun Tourism for exact dates and information in English.
Thun is an ideal base for excursion throughout the Bernese Oberland. It is just a hence race away from Bern, our capital and a World Heritage site. For more city sightseeing, Fribourg and Murten, even Basel, Lucerne and Zürich - are close enough to explore from Thun on a day trip.
The city is compact and easily explored on foot. The extensive bus network serves the city and villages around Lake Thun.
Train, buses, baots and taxis arrive from and leave in regular intervals to:
That depends on your preferences. Thun has a relative mild climate. Temperatures go a tad below 0 degree Celsius in the winter months December, January and February - they also bring a bit of snow and sometimes fog to the city.
Spring weather can be anywhere between 10 and 18 degrees Celsius in March, April and May.
Summer brings the hottest weather up to above 20 degree Celsius (rarely above 30 degree C) in June, July and August.
The temperatures start to fall in September with a range between 10 and 18 degrees C; October can be anywhere between 5 and 15 degrees; November to mid/end of December are the least ideal months for a visit since rain can feel chilly and fog obscures visibility.
Generally, Thun experience the most rainy days in June, July and August, but it doesn't necessarily mean that rain falls all day. These are also the months with the most hours of sun.
Keep in mind, this is general weather data and Mother Nature can change her mind any time.
Personally, I love September and October the best for hiking the Lake Thun region.
The train station is centrally located and ideal to start your sightseeing tour on foot. All buses leave from here too and the boat landing where you can board a cruise is right across the train station.
A variety of stores - groceries, take-away, flower shops in the train station are open 365 days, generally between 6am and 10pm. There is a pharmacy too, though access is from the city side of the train station. Open every day with shorter hours on Sunday.
Two restaurants in the train station shorten the time if you have to wait for a connection.
Switzerland's Federal Railway - SBB - maintains a travel agency next to the ticket counters. You can change money at the SBB ticket counters, at Western Union or you can get money at the Bancomat (ATM) just outside the Kiosk and next to the luggage lockers. More ATMs across the street at Thun's main post office (next to the bus station) or of course at any bank throughout the city.
Larger pieces of luggage that don't fit into the lockers can be stored where travellers send or pick up checked baggage.
Tourist Office Thun is adjacent to the ticket counters and an ideal starting point where you can get the latest news, book events, and excursions. Pick up an excellent city map with a booklet that explains all important Thun sights. They do offer guided city tours too.
Thun offers pretty much something for every taste - local and international cuisine. I am sure you will find one that serves your taste buds. Nice outdoor restaurants along the River Aare. I tend to go back to the same spots. Do keep in mind that traditional restaurants close their kitchen for hot dishes between 2pm and 5 or 6pm.
Cafébar Alte Öle: Nice café right next to the entrance of the bridge "Untere Schleuse" - This is my place for coffee in the morning, a chill drink in the afternoon or a nightcap.
Freienhofgasse 10; Closend on Sundays
AEK Café: That's where I have my green tea or a glass of deliscous white wine on a sunny afternoon outdoors directly at the River Aare.
Hofstettenstrasse 2; Open every day of the week (Sundays only until 6p, and in Summer until 7pm)
Mani's Coffee and Wine Bar: For a latte or tea with croissants or muffins in the morning, for a light lunch or early evenings for a nice glass of wine or a cool beer and "Flammakuchen", a crunchy Elsass specialty.
Panoramastrasse 1A (across the train station); open 7 days a week, weekends only until 6pm
Restaurant Schwert: I love this little bijou of a restaurant in the city center of Thun. Original, unique and authentic. Swiss cuisine with a modern twist. It's pretty much my home away from home because I tend to sleep here too when I am in Thun.
Untere Hauptgasse 8; Closed Sunday and Monday
Manor: For a quick lunch I like the self-serve restaurant in the Manor department store right across the train station. Onion/cheese quiches with a salad; a soup and a delicious dessert or one of their sandwiches. Wifi.
Bahnhofstrasse 8; Closed on Sundays
Ässzimmer Zunfthaus zur Schmieden (Ässzimmer means 'Dining Room'): The menu is written on a slate board from which you can choose and pick and create your own individual dinner, so this is ideal for Vegetarians too. Beautiful atmosphere.
Obere Hauptgasse 55; Monday and Tuesday closed
Clock Tower Station: Homey small restaurant in the old part of Thun that has an excellent choice of beer, a variety of homemade burgers, chicken wings, chicken on a bun and steaks. Prices CHF 9 for a plain burger to CHF 44.50 for a steak dinner). WLAN hot spot.
Obere Hauptgasse 89A (walk all the way up to the roundabout), closed Sunday and Monday
Restaurant Alpenblick: Authentic no-frills restaurant serving Swiss dishes including an excellent fondue in a nice atmosphere. Juni to August BBQ on the garden terrace. Reasonably priced.
Frutigenstrasse 1; Open Monday to Friday 9am to 2pm and 5pm to 11.30pm
Naturkostbar Steffisburg: For Vegetarians, Raw Foodies and chocolate lovers! Delicious raw food in the bistro. The desserts are heavenly!
Bahnhofstrasse 3, Steffisburg (bus #1 from Thun direction "Steffisburg Flühli". Stop at "Ziegelei" and a 4 minute walk to the shop
Gasthaus zur Kraftquelle (source of power): Vegetarian restaurant in a rustic farm house in a beautiful setting. Homey interior and an idyllic garden for summer dining. They also offer reasonably priced rooms. About 25 minutes by bus from Thun. Email for reservations.
Am Rain 55, Höfen a little outside of Thun; Monday and Tuesday closed
Restaurant Arts at Castle Schadau: Sublime view, gourmet cuisine with 14 Gault Millau points in a tasteful atmosphere; great hospitality.
Seestrasse 45; Closed Mondays May through October and Mondays and Tuesdays between November and April. Closed in February
Note: The above information was correct at the time of writing. And though my aim is too keep the pages up to date, things can change without my knowledge. Please double check the info before you visit.
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Thun is the main city in the Bernese Oberland
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