Nestled between the magical Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, Interlaken is one of the most popular destinations in Switzerland for travelers interested in outdoor attractions. From the towering Jungfrau to the iconic Mt. Schilthorn, some of the most popular mountain excursions in the Bernese Oberland are done from Interlaken.
But they’re all very expensive and can eat up your Switzerland travel budget quickly. So, if you’re looking for ways to have fun in Interlaken without spending any more money, you’ll find loads of suggestions in this guide to the 14 best free things to do in Interlaken!
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Hike up to Niesen Mountain
Niesen Mountain is one of the many spectacular summits near Interlaken. It’s most easily accessible by a mountain train, which is unfortunately not free. Travelers with the Interlaken guest card get a 20% discount on train tickets, but you don’t have to spend any money to visit this pyramid-shaped summit.
Head to Mülenen, where the ascent on Niesen begins. The hiking trail follows the path of the funicular railway, climbing up the mountain for almost 8 kilometers. With a total elevation gain of more than 1,600 meters, this trail is suitable only for experienced hikers.
The ascent takes 4-5 hours, depending on how fast you’re able to go and how much you rest, while the descent is much quicker.
Swim in Lake Thun or Lake Brienz
One of the best things about staying in Interlaken for a while is that you can always go for a swim. Lake Thun is the most popular one for swimming, mostly because the water of Lake Brienz tends to be much colder.
Swimming is allowed in either lake, so it’s up to you whether you choose the warmer or the colder one. Public beaches are available at both Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, although it’s worth noting that most have paid entrance.
Many secluded spots along the shore are available for bathing, and you don’t have to pay anything to use those. Just keep in mind that they won’t offer the facilities that the public beaches have.
Stroll Down the Thun Promenade
One of the best things to do in Interlaken with Swiss Pass is to ride around the region and explore the different towns. Many are stunning, but few are as remarkable as Thun. With an imposing castle and a charming old town, Thun is without a doubt one of the best destinations for a day trip from Interlaken.
But you can’t get as far as Thun for free, so the second best thing to do is to just stroll down the promenade along the shore of Lake Thun. Head to Weissenau Nature Preserve and start there; see the ruins of Weissenau castle and explore the many walking paths in the nature preserve.
The scenery here is absolutely stunning, and it only gets better the longer you stay at the nature preserve.
From Weissenau, you can head either north or south – the choice is entirely yours. Either shore offers beautiful panoramic views, and plenty of places where you can put down a towel and jump in the lake for a little while.
Half-Day Trip to Iseltwald
The Interlaken guest card grants free transport to Iseltwald, a charming little village on the shore of Lake Brienz. Get on the bus at Interlaken Ost, and you’ll be at the village in about 20 minutes.
Iseltwald is known for stunning views of the lake and the tall mountains in the background, which were prominently featured in the TV show Crash Landing on You. The village also has a castle, but it’s privately owned so it’s not open for tours.
Spend a couple of hours walking around the village taking in the pretty views, and when you’re ready, start heading north on the lakefront promenade to our next best free thing to do in Interlaken, the waterfalls in Giessbach.
Hike to Giessbach Falls
Hiking from Iseltwald to Giessbach Falls is very popular and it doesn’t cost a thing because of the free bus transport from Interlaken to Iseltwald. The walk from one village to the other is incredibly scenic, featuring panoramic vistas of Lake Brienz. It’s an easy hike with an elevation change of approximately 270 meters but with minimal technical difficulty.
Giessbach Falls are striking cascades, descending down 14 steps. And because Interlaken gets a lot of rain throughout the year, the cascades seldom dry out. This means that any time of the year is a good time to visit the waterfalls.
Since you’re already in the area, stop by the Grandhotel Giessbach. The historic hotel dates back to the late 19th century, and it is situated in a vast park complex that spans 22 hectares.
Hike to Harder Kulm
Harder Kulm is Interlaken’s home mountain, with funicular access from the town. But the funicular isn’t free, and even with the Interlaken guest card, you only get a 15% discount on the train tickets.
So, put on your best hiking shoes and get ready to walk up the mountain. The trail up to Harder Kulm is short but steep and takes approximately two and a half hours to complete with a total elevation gain of 800 meters. This trail is not recommended for beginners; it’s not technically difficult, but the incline poses quite a challenge to inexperienced hikers.
There’s an observation deck at the top, which offers a breathtaking view of Interlaken and lakes Thun and Brienz. The descent is much easier and quicker, and can usually be done in about an hour and a half, so you need about 4 hours total for this loop hike.
Schynige Platte Botanical Alpine Gardens
Schynige Platte is one of the most popular outdoor attractions in Interlaken. Riding the cogwheel train up the mountain is one of the best things to do in the area. The train tickets aren’t free, but they do come with a bunch of perks and are absolutely worth it. Also, the Interlaken guest card gets you a 20% discount on the tickets.
Access to the Botanical Alpine Gardens at Schynige Platte is free of charge to anyone who buys the train tickets. If you’re already at the plateau, definitely take advantage of this perk because it’s a wonderful experience.
With more than 600 plants native to the Swiss Alps, you can see some truly wonderful gems in the Alpine garden. It’s only a 15-minute walk from the train station, and that’s if you take your time to admire the scenic vistas all around you.
See the St. Beatus Caves
I’ll kick this off with a disclaimer: entrance to St. Beatus Caves isn’t free, so you can’t tour the caves without spending any money. But you can hike to the caves and see them from a distance, which is even better. I am a little claustrophobic and the thought of roaming around narrow cave chambers is more terrifying than exciting in my book.
It’s possible to hike to St. Beatus Caves from Interlaken, following a path along the north shore of Lake Thun. The views along the way are fabulous, and reason enough to visit the caves on foot. A local bus can also take you to the site where the caves are for free.
From the bus stop, climb up the steps until you reach the St. Beatus Waterfall and marvel at that sight for free. The cave entrance is visible from here if you only look up at the cliffs.
Interlaken is a mecca for outdoor adventurers. Few other places in Switzerland have as many companies that operate outdoor sports as Interlaken, which is why the town is so popular among adrenaline seekers. Whether you want to do a bungy jump from a helicopter or go rappeling in the caves, Interlaken is the place to be.
Paragliding is very popular in the town as well, and several summits serve as the takeoff point. But Interlaken is always the landing destination, and watching the paragliders soaring above the town is always fun. It is a little weird at first to look up and see so many people flying above you, but you get used to it rather quickly.
Walking Tour of Unterseen
Unterseen is a town separated from Interlaken by bridges. With river islands, a scenic waterfront, and picturesque buildings, Unterseen offers plenty of opportunities for beautiful photographs.
All detailed tours of Interlaken pass through this part of the municipality, mostly because of the beautiful photo-ops. Walk around the town during the golden hour to create some magical memories of your trip to Switzerland, which will last you a lifetime.
Guided tours of Unterseen are available, but it’s genuinely not necessary to pay someone to take you around the town. Walk through the alleys on your own, and make sure you take your time at the river islands because they offer some of the best views in the area.
Fun Time at Höhematte Park
Situated in the heart of Interlaken, Höhematte Park is the best destination in town for a relaxed afternoon. Pack a picnic basket and bring a blanket, so you can enjoy a lovely afternoon in this vast green space. The park offers panoramic views of the towering mountains near Interlaken, as well as the opportunity to have your picnic crashed by a paraglider.
The park is also home to a tennis court, so you can watch a game or two if you like. Playing tennis isn’t free, although the Interlaken guest card will get you a 20% discount on court rentals.
Wilderswil is a small village south of Interlaken, accessible by public transport and walking trails. Buses will take you to the village (for free) in 10 minutes, and you can even walk down to the village in about half an hour.
I recommend taking the bus and saving your energy, so you can do plenty of walking throughout Wilderswil. The village boasts loads of hiking and walking trails that allow for an easy discovery of stunning Swiss landscapes.
With parks, historic landmarks, and views of the towering summits near Interlaken, an afternoon in Wilderswil is a great way to kill a few hours while you’re in Interlaken.
Walk the Brunnenweg in Matten
Brunnenweg is the Path of Fountains in Matten. It’s an easy loop walk around the town, during which you discover 8 drinking fountains that supply water to the locals. The fountains in the village were first built by the Interlaken Monastery, and at one point in time, they were the only type of water supply in the area.
This is an easy walk that takes about an hour to complete, starting in front of Hotel Sonne in Interlaken. The Brunnenwag is a great way of getting acquainted with the history of the village, and it will get you thinking differently about something most of us take for granted.
In my book, that sounds like a great experience in a new destination, especially because you can do it for free.
One thing to note is that this easy walk can be done at any time, making it one of the more popular free things to do in Interlaken in winter.
Interlaken Free Walking Tour
A self-guided walking tour of Interlaken is undoubtedly the best thing you can do in the town for free. Sure, many guided tours are available, but I genuinely don’t think it’s necessary to pay someone to take you around Interlaken. The town doesn’t have that many interesting landmarks, and the ones that exist are all close to each other and you can find them on your own.
The top attractions to see on a tour of Interlaken are the Interlaken Castle, Victoria Jungfrau Hotel Interlaken, and the charming buildings in the Interlaken Old Town. It shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half tops to find all these attractions, and that’s if you take your time and stop to take photographs.
Combine this with a tour of Unterseen and possibly even a visit to Harder Kulm, for an epic morning of sightseeing around Interlaken.