Travel Suggestions for Switzerland

Over the years I’ve had many friends ask me for travel advice and suggestions for Switzerland, so I’ve consolidated some of that content here for anyone who might be planning a trip there.  The recommendations are based on my time living in Zürich for five years as well as the many trips back there each year since.  I never get my fill of the Swiss Alps and always want to go back for more.  Happy to answer any questions

Zürich City & Surrounding Area
  • Zürich has a lovely old town (“Altstadt”) section along both banks of the Limmat river, nice to stroll along Zürichsee (Lake Zurich) as well, a few decent museums in the city.
  • Day trips to do around Zürich:
    • Rhinefalle (biggest waterfall of the Rhine river) at Schaffhausen
    • Spend time around the hills of traditional Appenzell
    • Hiking around and above spectacular Walensee
Lake Luzern
  • Luzern City: Can get here either from Zurich direct or from the Berner Oberland without going through Bern, the scenic railway from Interlaken is a nice way to spend the day if you have the time. Luzern probably the prettiest town in CH, lovely old town around the river/lake worth a day exploring.
  • Lake Luzern: Lots of day trips to do around Vierwaldstaettersee (Lake Luzern) with the pick of the bunch as follows:
    • Pilatus: can go up and come down different ways, views at the top are outstanding.
    • Rigi: Pilatus is better option than Rigi Kulm, but Rigi still a lovely mountain to go up.
    • Cruise: Taking one of the old ferry boats along the lake is another highlight, especially along the eastern, more mountainous section of the lake called Urnersee in Kanton Uri.
Bern City
  • Consider breaking up the train ride to Zurich and spend a few hours in Bern – you can easily leave your luggage in lockers at the train station.
  • The old city center is right outside the station and it’s beautiful, built around a U-shaped bend in the Aare river. See the old astronomical clock, Einstein’s house, huge cathedral, walk the covered walkways and down cobbled streets, flags everywhere and loads of decorative fountains.
  • If you walk the length of the city center and over the river bridge there is the bear enclosure where the city gets its name from, fun for the kiddies.
Central Switzerland/Berner Oberland
  • Where to stay: Do NOT stay with all the other foreign tourists in Interlaken as the town is overrated, not that pretty, and you’re missing out to stay IN the Alps nearby (Interlaken is in the valley between two large lakes). I recommend you get on the local trains and get up into the mountains to stay in one of the quaint mountain towns like Grindelwald or Muerren/Gimmelwald.
  • Muerren/Gimmelwald: Pick of the bunch if you only have a day or two as the towns are at the top of a cliff half way up a mountain, you’re looking down onto Wengen and Lauterbrunnen in the valley below and across to the giant snow/ice-covered mountains around Jungfrau, there are day hiking options and you can go up to Schilthorn above there. If you want to do things like the Jungfrau railway or hike around First then stay in Grindelwald.
  • Wengen: Another mountain village in the Berner Oberland but I think Grindelwald or Muerren/Gimmelwald are better options as towns to stay in.
  • Things to do: Don’t waste your money going on the train up to Jungfraujoch. From Grindelwald, catch the gondelbahn (gondola lift) up to First station and hike up towards Faulhorn. From Muerren, take the cable car up to Schilthorn for great views, you can hike down from there.
Lake Geneva/Lac Leman Area
  • Geneve: I’m not a HUGE fan of Geneve and it’s more a French city than a Swiss one. That said, the old historic city centre on the hill on the south side of the river, with its pretty architecture and steep cobbled streets, is nice and worth a stroll/meal. Also nice to walk along the lake, either the north or south bank are nice. There’s a big mountain you’ll see just outside the city, you can catch a cable car to the top of it for some fantastic views. Cute little old town center on the hill and nice for a stroll along the lake, but apart from that nothing too special/spectacular about it, don’t spend more than a day there.
  • Day trip to Chamonix: Easy and quick to get there from Geneve, taste of the French Alps, can catch cable cars from Chamonix up mountains or to visit glaciers.
  • Lausanne: Pretty (and hilly) city, incredible views over the lake, fun things for the kids there like the Olympic Museum (IOC HQ is in Lausanne)
  • Lavaux wine terraces: UNESCO heritage listed, old vineyards clinging to the steep hillside of the lake just east of Lausanne. Super pretty.
  • Montreux: Pretty town at the other end of the lake from Geneva (can easily get there by train), postcard-worthy castle right on the lake. There are some pretty mountains near there that you can explore through the mountain railways (cog railways, funiculars…).
  • Gruyeres: The pretty village of the cheese of the same name, never been but have always wanted to go. Not far from Lausanne, in between Lausanne and Bern.
Valais/Wallis Region
  • Train to Valais/Wallis: I’d suggest you head straight for the Upper Valais/Oberwallis, heading through Sion/Sierre towns (Sion =wine + castles on the hill).  Views on the train from Geneve are amazing, along the north side of Lac Leman and then up the Valais valley.  Change trains in Visp/Brig and head straight to Zermatt.
  • Zermatt: One of my fave places in the world!  Lots of things to do…  Top recommendation would be to catch the Gornergratbahn cog railway – a fun journey, views are spectacular, can hike part/all the way back down, chill out in Chez Vrony for a while if you can. Gornergrat better than Klein Matterhorn (up to ~4,000m) if you have the choice.  Other hikes you might want to do are around the base of the Matterhorn, or up past Trift directly above Zermatt town.
  • Aletsch Glacier: Catch train further up Valais past Brig and catch luftseilbahns (cable cars) to towns like Fiescheralp or Bettmeralp for stunning views over the Aletsch Glacier, Europe’s largest. Lots of day hiking options around there too, can make some suggestions.
  • Trains to Berner Oberland: Catch train north through Basistunnel from the Valais to the Berner Oberland. Trains emerge at a cute little town called Kandersteg, there’s a short hike from there to one of the prettiest alpine lakes called Oeschinensee if you have the time.
Transportation & Scenic Routes
  • Trains: Swiss rail system is outstanding and super easy to use. No need to book anything before you go, there’s an SBB/CFF office at every major airport and town and you can get everything you need there right before you board the train – tickets, passes, etc. You won’t need to reserve trains/seats ahead of time, and there are trains everywhere at least every hour. The website is really good and available in English, their iPhone app is awesome too – I keep it on my phone, has all the timetables etc.
  • Geneve-Zurich trip: It’s a lovely train ride, starting with the section around Lausanne high above Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and the vineyards on the steep hill, nice views across the lake to the Swiss and French Alps. Sit on the right side. It then weaves through the French Swiss countryside (rolling hills, fields, pretty houses and barns) before arriving in Bern. Departing Bern you get some amazing views on the right side again over the river and hills to the giant mountains of the Berner Oberland.
  • Train connections in Zurich: Many of the trains that run the length of the country will go to both ZH Hauptbahnhof and ZH Flughafen. If the train you’re on terminates at ZH HB, there are trains every few minutes to the airport from there, they take 10-15 mins.
  • Glacier Express: You’ll see enough of the mountains from a train on any trip that takes you through Zermatt and the Berner Oberland – in fact if you go to Zermatt and spend some time in the Oberwallis (e.g. go and see the Aletsch Glacier) you’ll be riding on the same trains, just not going the full route. If you took those tourist trains you’ll pay a small fortune to sit on your arse watching the world go by for hours, you’d spend your time better if you were situated somewhere like Zermatt or Grindelwald and spent the day seeing the local sights and being more active. If you were to do part of the route I’d suggest you look at the section that heads east from Brig up the Wallis valley. You could either take it as far as the Grimselpass (the station is Gletsch I think) and then take the Postbus over the pass and down to Meiringen and on to Interlaken/Berner Oberland, or take the train all the way over the Furkapass to the town of Andermatt – from there down to Göschenen and on to the Lake Luzern area by SBB train.
  • Bernina Express: Takes you into the more remote and expansive eastern part of the country called Graubünden.
  • Golden Pass: If you take the “scenic route” from the Berner Oberland to Luzern you’ll be taking another of the “tourist railways” called the Golden Pass, really nice train ride.

One Comment on “Travel Suggestions for Switzerland

  1. Found your website by chance. Though I live in CH, I find some new places in this list which I need to go soon! Thanks for sharing!

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