Switzerland is blessed with an abundance of crystal clear lakes and one of the loveliest is Lake Thun. Situated amongst spectacular mountains and pastures in the Bernese Oberland, the scenery is just one of the many reasons to visit Lake Thun, Switzerland.
The lake’s crystal clear waters attract water sports lovers during the warmer months whilst relaxing cruises are always popular. With charming towns and villages around the lake – many with medieval castles – and quaint rural hamlets on the mountains overlooking the lake, there is something to please every visitor.
With its location in central Switzerland, Lake Thun (Thunersee in German) also makes a great base for visiting the Jungfrau Region and beyond.
Not sure whether to visit Lake Thun or Lake Brienz? You can read our guide to Lake Brienz here and compare the two before making your decision.
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13 reasons to visit Lake Thun
If you are wondering if there is enough to keep you occupied at Lake Thun, the answer is a resounding yes! Below you’ll find our tips for the best things to do at Lake Thun.
1. Visit Thun’s Old Town
Thun is the largest town on the lake of the same name and its medieval old town reminds me a lot of the Swiss capital, Bern. The former market town is home to around 40,000 residents and has a really relaxed feel.
There’s a good-sized pedestrian-only shopping centre running alongside the River Aare, and cobblestone streets wend their way through the Old Town.
Thun’s main street, Obere Hauptgasse, is quite unique in that it is split into two levels. The walkway (footpath) is built on the roofs of the shops below, so in order to enter the shops, you must walk downstairs.
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.
During the warmer months you may witness surfers riding their boards against the current of the river close to the bridge.
Look for the Grand Tour of Switzerland photo spot beside the river for a fantastic framed view of Thun Castle.
Around Rathausquai are a number of fine examples of historic buildings including the town hall, which dates back to around 1500.
The city of Thun, known as the gateway to the Bernese Oberland, is sure to charm you.
2. Thun Castle
You can’t help but notice Thun’s impressive landmark from its position overlooking the city. From the Old Town, Thun Castle (Schloss Thun) can be reached either via the castle stairs, or the church stairs at the town hall.
Built in the 12th century, the Castle’s four distinct white turreted towers mean it can be seen from anywhere in town and a visit here is one of the top things to do in Thun.
It’s worth allowing a couple of hours to visit the Castle which houses an exhibition gallery and a well-restored interior, including the Knights’ Hall, and lots of interactive displays and information boards (in English, German and French).
Throughout the castle you can learn about the history of Thun dating back to the Middle Ages and see artifacts that were used during this time.
After working your way slowly up the various floors of the castle, you can climb each of 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.
3. Thun Town Church & Steps
Not far from Thun Castle, the Town Church (Stadtkirche Thun) is also worth a visit. It features an imposing tower – this one dates from about 1330 – and frescoes that were added one hundred years later.
The church can be reached by a steep flight of wooden stairs (known simply as the ‘church stairs) that were built in 1818. The ceiling of the top pavilion also features a painting that was added in 1959.
4. Thun Panorama
Produced between 1809 and 1814 by artist Marquard Wocher, the Thun Panorama (also called the Wocher 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.
Don’t miss viewing the Panorama when you visit Thun.
Open: The Thun-Panorama exhibition is open seasonally (every day except Monday). Check the website for opening times.
5. Oberhofen Castle
A pretty lakeside village not far from Thun, Oberhofen is best known for its castle.
The beautiful castle, with its lovely tiled roof towers and a medieval 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 showcases the history of its former residents. Interactive displays make a visit to the castle fun for all ages.
There are 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.
A boat pier beside the castle means arriving or departing by water is a convenient option (and the views of the castle from the lake are breathtaking). Alternatively, there’s a bus stop just five minutes’ walk from the castle.
Open: The Castle museum is open daily except Monday from mid-May to the end of October. The gardens are open from 1 April to the end of 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.
6. The town of Spiez
No matter how you arrive in 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.
If you’d like to stay a night (or more) in Spiez, we recommend the beautiful Belvedere Strandhotel. You can read our review of the Belvedere Strandhotel here.
Tip: The Migros Supermarket restaurant, opposite the railway station, serves great food and offers fabulous views over the lake and castle. If arriving by car, you can park underneath the supermarket and walk to the jetty and castle via a footpath.
7. Spiez Castle
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. We’d go so far as to say that Spiez Castle is one of the best castles in Switzerland.
Like Thun Castle, Spiez Castle – 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, providing a fun way to learn more about the Spiez Castle history.
A climb to the top of the Castle’s tower is the piece de resistance and you are rewarded with stunning 360° views. For many visitors this is easily one of the best things to do in Spiez, Switzerland.
Open: Daily from the beginning of May until the end of October.
8. 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, church open limited hours during May to October.Admission: Free
9. 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 Lake Thun.
Scooter bikes can be rented for the trip back down to Beatenberg if you’re feeling adventurous, or you can enjoy a fairly easy, one-hour hike from Niederhorn back to the village.
Throughout the year it is possible to join a professional guide to see some of Switzerland’s wildlife in their natural habitat. Numerous packages are available, giving you the chance to see ibex, beavers, chamois, marmots and golden eagles up close. > Click here to find out more.
On the opposite side of the lake, a funicular transports visitors from Mülenen to the pyramid-shaped summit of Mt. Niesen (2362 metres). The magnificent 360-degree views from the summit will take your breath away.
Next to the funicular track is the longest stairway in the world, consisting of 11,674 steps! Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), the stairway is only open to the public once a year for a stair run event.
Open: The Beatenbucht to Beatenberg funicular and the cableway from Beatenberg to Niederhorn operate year round except for a couple of short maintenance periods in November/December (check here for closure dates). The Niesen funicular operates from late April to early November.
10. 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: Daily during summer season (late March to mid-November), Saturday and Sunday only for the remainder of the year.
Admission: CHF 19 per adult, CHF 11 per child. Discounted entry with the Berner Oberland Pass.
11. 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 or enjoying a meal or drink at a lakeside cafe.
Beyond the shoreline, hamlets of Alpine chalets dot the hillsides whilst around the lake, a dozen one-thousand-year-old Romanesque churches still stand
12. Outdoor activities
Outdoor enthusiasts and water sports lovers flock to Lake Thun. 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 on the Spiez – Faulensee walk. Learn more about the latter walk in our podcast.
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.
13. Lake Thun cruises
One of the must-do activities when visiting this picturesque area is a Lake Thun boat cruise. There is no more relaxing way to enjoy the scenic views of the Bernese Alps than aboard a Lake Thun cruise.
Passengers can either remain onboard for the entire journey between Interlaken and Thun (around two hours) or hop off at one of the many stops along the way.
St. Beatus Caves can be accessed via the dedicated stop for visitors, the Beatenbucht stop provides easy access to Mt. Niederhorn, whilst stops at Spiez and Oberhofen are perfect for visiting the castles.
Interlaken to Thun boat cruises are operated by various vessels including an historic paddle steamer and modern motor boats. Food and beverages are available from the onboard restaurants and special culinary cruises also operate from time to time.
Round-trip journeys are possible or you can travel by train in one direction and then enjoy a Thun or Spiez to Interlaken boat cruise to complete your trip.
Lake Thun Information
Lake Thun stretches 18 kilometres from Thun to Interlaken and is almost four kilometres across at its widest point. It covers an area of 48.3 km².
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.
Where is Lake Thun?
Lake Thun is located in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region. It is flanked by Thun at one end and Interlaken at the other.
Thun is 31.5 kilometres from Bern, whilst Interlaken is 56.5 kilometres from the Swiss capital.
How to get 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.
Arriving by car
If arriving by car, allow 30 minutes to travel from Bern to Thun and 40 minutes to reach Spiez. From Interlaken, it’s just 20 minutes to Spiez and 30 minutes to Thun.
Cruising on Lake Thun
As mentioned above, it is possible to cruise between Interlaken and Thun with stops at numerous villages along the way. Journey time from Spiez to Interlaken (or vice versa) is 1 hour 20 minutes, whilst the Interlaken – Thun journey (or vice versa) is 2 hours 10 minutes.
Arriving by train
Intercity trains travel between Interlaken and Bern every 30 minutes with stops at Spiez and Thun enroute. The trip by train from Interlaken to Thun takes 33 minutes, or it’s 22 minutes to reach Spiez from Interlaken,
From Bern, the travel time to Thun is around 30 minutes, and 40 minutes to Spiez.
Travel Passes for Lake Thun
If you plan on taking multiple train journeys in Switzerland, the most economical way to travel can be by purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass.
This all-in-one ticket includes travel on Switzerland’s entire public transport system which includes trains, trams, buses and boats. Pass holders also have free access to over 500 museums and monuments.
Discounts on most mountain railways and cable cars are also offered to holders of the Swiss Travel Pass.
Admission to Thun Castle Museum, Thun Panorama, Oberhofen Castle and Spiez Castle is included with the Swiss Travel Pass, as are unlimited cruises on Lake Thun.
Alternatively, if most of your time in Switzerland will be spent in the Bernese Oberland, the Berner Oberland Pass may be the best option for you.
This pass includes travel on all public transport between Bern and Lucerne as well as free travel on around 25 mountain railways and cable cars. Cruises on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz are also included.
Where to stay on Lake Thun
There is a large selection of Lake Thun accommodation to choose from with everything from traditional hotels to apartments, B&Bs and camping grounds, and even Alpine huts overlooking the lake, available.
Our top picks for Lake Thun hotels include:
>> Thun – The Boutique Hotel Schlossberg (or Thun Castle Hotel) offers a range of room types including family rooms and a Tower room. This popular hotel in Thun is situated in the castle complex and features a restaurant and a small spa area. > Click here for more details and prices.
>> Spiez – Situated on the shore of Lake Thun, Belvédère Strandhotel offers outstanding views of the lake and the mountains. Rooms can accommodate up to four guests and the hotel’s facilities include an infinity pool, a spa area, a private lake beach and a restaurant with terrace overlooking the lake. > Click here for more details and prices.
>> If you’d prefer to stay in a mountain village overlooking the lake, we recommend Hotel Gloria at Beatenberg. Ideally situated on a sunny terrace overlooking Lake Thun, the hotel features spacious rooms with private balconies. The hotel’s restaurant is highly regarded. > Click here for details and prices.
For more accommodation options around Lake Thun > browse here.
With so many fantastic things to do around the lake, you’ll never be left wondering what to do in Thun or Spiez.
From castle and museum visits, lakeside activities, excursions to nearby mountain hamlets or simply strolling through the historic Old Town, there is plenty to see and do.
No matter how 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 was originally written in conjunction with Switzerland Tourism. All words and opinions are my own.