Switzerland is blessed with an abundance of crystal clear lakes and one of the loveliest is Lake Thun. Situated amongst spectacular mountains and pastures, the scenery is just one of the many reasons to visit Lake Thun.
Whether you plan to visit on a day trip from nearby Interlaken or Bern, or stay for a few days, there is plenty to keep you occupied at Lake Thun.
I had previously driven past the lake on numerous occasions on my way to Lauterbrunnen, one of my favourite places in all of Europe, but on my most recent visit to Switzerland I decided to visit a couple of the towns on Lake Thun and see them for myself.
One day we did a day trip by car to the lovely town of Spiez and the following day we caught the train from Interlaken to Thun and cruised back. Visiting the lakeside towns and villages was a real highlight of my trip and I’d gladly go back and spend more time around Lake Thun.
13 reasons to visit Lake Thun
1. Thun’s old town
Thun is the largest town on the lake of the same name and its medieval old town reminded me a lot of the Swiss capital, Bern. The former market town has a really relaxed feel with a good-sized pedestrian-only shopping centre running alongside the River Aare.
Beside the river, cafes entice visitors to sit and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat, and watch the passing foot traffic. A ferris wheel operates in summer and there’s also a covered bridge, similar to Lucerne’s famous Chapel Bridge.
Around Rathausquai are a number of fine examples of historic buildings including the town hall, which dates back to around 1500.
2. Church Steps
From the river, a walk along Thun’s cobbled streets and up a steep flight of stairs leads you to Thun’s Church and Castle, which sit proudly overlooking the city. The covered wooden steps were built in 1818 and a ceiling painting was added to the top pavilion in 1959.
3. Thun Castle
Shortly after reaching the top of the steps, and after walking along a narrow, walled alley, you arrive at Thun Castle. Built in the 12th century, the Castle’s four distinct turreted towers mean it can be seen from anywhere in town.
It’s worth allowing a couple of hours to visit the Castle which houses an exhibition gallery and a well-restored interior with lots of interactive and information displays (in English, German and French).
Throughout the castle you can learn about the history of Thun dating back to the Middle Ages and see artefacts that were used during this time.
After working your way slowly up the various floors of the castle, you can climb the four towers. It’s worth the effort for the incredible views over the city and lake and to the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Open: Daily from February through to October with limited opening times from November to January.
4. Thun Town Church
Not far from Thun Castle, the Town Church features a tower dating from about 1330 and frescoes that were added one hundred years later.
5. Thun Panorama
Produced between 1809 and 1814 by artist Marquard Wocher, the Thun Panorama is the world’s oldest surviving circular painting.
The incredible painting, which is 7.5 metres high and 38 metres long, shows a 360° panorama of Thun and was first sketched by the artist while sitting on a roof in the middle of town.
The Panorama, known as a cyclorama, which is housed in a specially-built round building at the Thun Art Museum in Schadau Park, provides an intimate look at life in Thun in the early 19th century.
Open: The Thun-Panorama exhibition is open seasonally (every day except Monday). Check the website for opening times.
6. Oberhofen Castle
A pretty village not far from Thun, Oberhofen is best known for its Castle with its distinctive mediaeval keep and picturesque turret.
The beautiful castle, with its lovely tiled roof towers and a keep that dates back to around 1200, has had many different owners over the centuries. In 1844 it was bought by the Prussian Count Albert de Pourtalès from Neuchâtel as a summer residence for his family. He had the castle restored, giving it its modern-day appearance.
In 1954 the castle interior was turned into a museum that shows the history of its former residents. You can get great views over the lake and mountains from the Oriental Smoking Room at the top of the tower.
The castle’s chapel features murals dating from the 15th century, whilst the English-style gardens look out over the Bernese Alps.
Open: Daily except Monday from May to October.
TIP: The best views of Oberhofen Castle are from the water. Most lake cruises stop at Oberhofen so even if you don’t disembark there is enough time to take photos.
7. The town of Spiez
No matter how you arrive into Spiez, you’ll be welcomed by amazing views. Visitors arriving by road or rail will be greeted by views from the top of town down over the lake, with Spiez Castle sitting protectively on the shore.
Those who arrive by boat will be equally as impressed when the boat docks at Spiez jetty, with views of the Castle towering overhead and lush vineyards in the background.
Around the pretty jetty area, there’s a real holiday resort atmosphere. Hotels and cafes line the waterfront alongside boats bobbing up and down and there are plenty of opportunities for watersports.
Spiez is said to reside in ‘the most beautiful bay in Europe’ and with the tranquil turquoise water lapping gently at the shore, it is hard to disagree.
8. Spiez Castle
Often a visit to Europe can result in ‘castle overload’ so it was with a little apprehension that we agreed to visit Spiez Castle. We shouldn’t have had any reservations, though, as it was, without doubt, one of the best castles we have visited.
Perched on the edge of Lake Thun, the location of Spiez Castle couldn’t get much better and the restoration works that have taken place inside are equally as impressive.
Like Thun Castle, Spiez’s – which dates back to about 700 AD - has been well restored and features really interesting displays and information boards (in English) throughout. You can wander through numerous rooms, including the banquet hall and kitchen, and see them restored to appear as they would have in the Middle Ages.
There are lots of interactive displays, too, giving visitors the chance to lie in a medieval bed (it’s short!), dress in medieval costumes and look back in time via 3D viewers.
You can also learn more about the Castle’s former inhabitants via informative timelines and art works that are displayed throughout.
A climb to the top of the Castle’s tower is the piece de resistance and you are rewarded with stunning 360° views.
Open: Daily from Good Friday until October
9. Spiez Castle grounds and church
The Castle is built in a small parkland overlooking the town and lake, and includes herb and rose gardens.
Also worth visiting is the 1000-year old early Romanesque church which sits opposite the Castle and features 12th century frescoes in the apse and choir.
Open: Gardens open year round
TIP: The Migros Supermarket restaurant, opposite the railway station, serves great food and offers fabulous views over the lake and castle. You can park underneath and walk to the jetty and castle via a footpath.
10. Mountain visits
Surrounded by mountains as it is, Lake Thun provides visitors with the chance to immerse themselves in crisp alpine air whilst enjoying spectacular views.
From the summit of Niederhorn (1950 metres), reached by a funicular from Beatenbucht and a gondola from Beatenberg, you have an unrivalled panorama of the Bernese Alps and lakes.
Throughout the year it is possible to join a professional guide to see some of the of Switzerland’s wildlife in their natural habitat. Over 100 one-day packages are available, giving you the chance to see ibex, beavers, chamois, marmots and golden eagles up close. Click here to find out more.
Scooter bikes can be rented for the trip back down to the valley if you’re feeling adventurous.
On the opposite side of the lake, a funicular transports visitors to the pyramid shaped summit of Niesen (2362 metres). Next to the funicular track is the longest stairway in the world, consisting of 11,674 steps! Unfortunately, the stairway is only open to the public once a year for a stair run event.
Tip: To get up even higher, the higher Alpine peaks of the Schilthorn and Jungfrau can be easily reached from Lauterbrunnen.
11. St Beatus Caves
Accessible by road or boat, a trip to St Beatus Caves gives visitors the chance to see rock formations created over millions of years deep under the ground.
A one-kilometre-long pathway guides you past stalactites and stalagmites inside the limestone caves, and a museum provides scientific information on the exploration of caves over the years.
Open: mid-March to mid-November
12. Lakeside villages and mountainside hamlets
As you travel around the lake, whether by car, train or boat, you’ll pass a number of lovely lakeside villages, most of which warrant a visit.
At Hilterfingen, Hunegg Castle houses a Renaissance Revival and Art Nouveau Museum, whilst Faulensee is the ideal spot for partaking in watersports.
Beyond the shoreline, hamlets of Alpine chalets dot the hillsides whilst around the lake, a dozen one-thousand-year-old Romanesque churches still stand.
13. Outdoor activities
All around Lake Thun’s shores, water-loving folk are invited to get active. Swimming spots and lidos are in abundance, canoes and windsurfers can be rented and numerous walking paths meander along the lake’s shore.
Leisurely one-hour strolls can be enjoyed between Thun and Hünibach and from Spiez to Faulensee, whilst those wanting something more demanding can undertake the 56 kilometre-long Panoramic Circular Trail around Lake Thun which passes over the suspension bridges of Sigriswil and Leissigen.
About Lake Thun:
Lake Thun stretches 18 kilometres from Thun to Interlaken and is almost 4 kilometres across at its widest point. With a backdrop of the Bernese Alps, glistening turquoise water and a shoreline dotted with castles and chalets, it’s an idyllic and restful holiday destination.
Getting to Lake Thun:
Most of the towns and villages on Lake Thun can be easily reached by both car and public transport. Towns such as Spiez and Thun are on the Interlaken to Bern railway line and a ferry service operates to most of the lakeside villages.
If arriving by car, allow 30 minutes from Bern to reach Thun and 40 minutes to reach Spiez. From Interlaken, it’s just 20 minutes to Spiez and 30 minutes to Thun.
A two-hour cruise operates between Interlaken and Thun, with stops at numerous villages along the way.
If you plan to visit Lake Thun on a day excursion from Interlaken, you can purchase a combination train and cruise fare for around CHF60 per adult from the
Where to stay on Lake Thun:
There is a large selection of accommodation styles available around Lake Thun from traditional hotels to apartment, B&Bs and camping grounds, and even Alpine huts overlooking the lake.
However long you decide to spend at Lake Thun, be sure to have your camera at the ready. There’s another photo-worthy view everywhere you look.
This article is written in conjunction with Switzerland Tourism but all words and opinions are my own.
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