Nestled in the Alps, overlooking Lake Thun between Thun and Interlaken, is Switzerland’s best-kept secret: St. Beatus Caves.
With cave hiking, waterfalls, a panoramic restaurant, a museum, and amazing views overlooking the lake with the Alps in the background, this natural attraction shouldn’t be missed, yet many don’t even know it exists.
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You may recognize the green foliage and waterfalls if you are a fan of Lord of The Rings or The Hobbit, as St. Beatus Caves inspired JRR Tolkien’s vision for Rivendell (the Elven realm in Middle Earth). Tolkien visited the area when he was 19 in 1911 – about 40 years before LOTR was published.
Legend of St. Beatus Caves
These caves weren’t always a safe and fun sight to see. According to legend, they were once home to a terrifying dragon that brought havoc upon the local Swiss population. That is, until Beatus of Lungern, an Irish monk, came to slay that dragon. Perhaps there was more than just aesthetics to Tolkien’s inspiration?
Not only did they name the caves after him, but thanks to Beatus’ heroic efforts, visitors are now welcome to spend time here, rain or shine, enjoying the beautiful scenery (dragons not included).
Visiting St. Beatus Caves
Once you arrive at the caves, you must hike for 15 minutes through waterfalls before you get to the cave opening, museum, and restaurant.
The hike through the waterfalls is free of charge and jaw-droppingly beautiful. I suggest packing a picnic lunch to enjoy the views from one of the many benches along the trail or plan to savor a delicious Swiss meal at the panoramic restaurant.
The hiking trail and waterfalls are open year-round. However, the caves, the restaurant, and museum are only open from March-November. Keep that in mind when planning a trip to Switzerland if you’d like to have the full experience.
Tour the St. Beatus Caves and Museum
While the waterfall hike is gorgeous, it’s worth getting the whole experience while you’re there. For 18 CHF (Swiss Francs), you can tour the caves and museum, or you can visit just the museum for 6 CHF.
Cave tours can be self-guided or with an English-speaking guide at no extra cost. Tours last 75 minutes and depart approximately every 45 minutes.
During the tour, you will see subterranean waterfalls, walk through narrow passages, and see grottos with stalactite and stalagmite formations. The museum has displays on the history, zoology, and geology of the site.
Staying in Interlaken, Bern or Thun
St. Beatus Caves are easily accessible from Interlaken (about 10 minutes by car), Bern (about 45 minutes by car) and Thun (about 25 minutes by car). You can find hotels, hostels, or Airbnbs in these areas, but keep in mind Switzerland is expensive, especially in these areas because they are popular tourist destinations.
The most affordable, convenient, and recommended option is to stay in a hostel in Interlaken. There are several including Balmers Hostel and Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof where prices start at about $25-$30 for a dormitory bed and breakfast.
Hotel rooms in Bern cost approximately $40 a night and Airbnb rooms closer to $30. Keep in mind, your transportation to the caves will be more expensive if you’re coming from there.
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Thun is close to the caves, but it’s a small town with few, very expensive accommodation options. Thun should be your last resort for accommodations in the area.
If you are the adventurous type, there are campground options all along the lake. Camping in Interlaken allows you to enjoy the many free or cheap outdoor activities in the area while you’re there, including endless hiking options, going to the lake, taking a short train ride to Lauterbrunnen, etc.
How to Get to St. Beatus Caves
From Interlaken, take bus 21 headed toward Thun Train Station. St. Beatus Caves is right on the route and the bus will stop right in front of the caves. How convenient! It’s the same if you’re coming from Thun, just in the opposite direction.
To get there from Bern, take a train to either Thun or Interlaken West with a “supersaver ticket” from the SBB Mobile app. Then take a short ride with bus 21.
Cheap hourly parking is available in front of the waterfalls if you travel by car.
You can also take a ferry from Interlaken, Thun, or Spiez to access the trailhead of the caves. The stop is called Beatushöhlen-Sundlauenen and you can find prices and timetables here.
Why You Should Visit St. Beatus Caves
St. Beatus Caves is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Once you step off the bus, it’s like stepping into a LOTR book. Tolkien could not have picked a more mythical and magical place for the Elves to live.
The day I spent here is a memory I cherish deeply. I encourage anyone visiting Switzerland to make it a priority to stop here because it encapsulates the country so well – waterfalls, mountains, lakes, green, even a little bit of fantasy.
By: Chris Corbaz