Panoramic photo of Swiss Alps and hiking trails and villages

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Switzerland Travel – A Visit To Mountains, Lakes & Cities

Updated June 7, 2023

Be prepared to be exhilarated and awestruck by the beauty of Switzerland. When you travel to Switzerland, you will find sophisticated urban areas, the majestic Swiss Alps, and the sunny lake region; Switzerland never ceases to amaze visitors. Glacial lakes, green pastures, and mountain towns in the Alps beckon you to get outdoors. And cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, and Lucern are all must-see urban centers. And bordering Italy is the famed lake region of Europe.

Switzerland is a bucket list destination. Check out my travel bucket list here.

Switzerland Travel

At-A-Glance

  • You will likely arrive in one of Switzerland’s major cities, Zurich or Geneva. They offer culture, architecture, and culinary experiences not to be missed.
  • Get the right rail pass(es), and you can see the entire country without renting a car.
  • The smaller cities of Bern and Lucerne, along with Lausanne, offer a great view of the heart of Switzerland.
  • The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a must-see experience. Make your home base in Wengen, a car-free town with easy access to hiking trails and sights.
  • Visit the Top of Europe on a train trip to the Jungfrau.
  • Zermatt in the shadow of the famed Matterhorn is a must-see.
  • Travel to the lake region and experience a bit of Italy while in southern Switzerland.
Interlaken train station with people on platform and two trains
Interlaken Train Station
Let’s Get A Rail Pass Or Two

You will arrive in Zurich or Geneva, on opposite sides of the country. The first thing you need to know about Switzerland is that the train is the best travel method. People joke about how on-time the Swiss are, but it is true. The trains run on time and take you to just about anywhere you want. I have done both, traveling exclusively by train and renting a car. I won’t rent a car again while I’m in Switzerland; it was parked 90% of the time. The trains from either airport will take you to the city center with no issue. And those same trains will take you to the top of the highest peaks and some very remote gorgeous villages.

A little info on rail passes. You should purchase rail passes in Switzerland for travel within the country. They are pricey, but if you plan on using the trains extensively, they make it easy, and the cost is definitely worth it. As you travel the country, I recommend a Swiss Travel Pass Flex; it lets you select 3,4,6,8 or 15 days in one month and allow unlimited train, bus, and boat travel, plus several other benefits. If your travels are consecutive days within Switzerland, compare the Flex pass to the Swiss Travel Pass (it’s slightly cheaper but only valid on consecutive days). Also, remember that the Swiss Pass only partially covers the mountain railways (such as cable cars, funiculars, and rack-and-pinion trains) on these routes. It will get you a 50% discount but is not fully included.

If you are traveling in the mountain (and when visiting Switzerland, you really should be traveling in the mountains), look into the Berner Oberland Pass; it covers a wide area and lets you basically go anywhere with one pass. You can hike and hop on and off the mountain railways and gondolas as much as you like. It makes traveling in the Swiss Alps so easy.

Still trying to decide which pass or passes to purchase for your trip? To determine, consider how long you’ll be staying and whether you’ll travel frequently or stay in one or two locations. A Swiss Travel Pass might be the best option if you’re only visiting Zurich, Lucerne, and Jungfrau. However, if you plan on exploring multiple cities, the lake region, and the mountains, it makes the most sense to combine the Swiss Travel Flex Pass and the Berner Oberland Pass. It gives you flexibility and makes traveling much more seamless. Remember that while trains in Switzerland can be expensive, they’re also the most convenient mode of transportation.

Starting In Geneva

If you’re flying into Geneva, I recommend staying in Lausanne instead of Geneva. Lausanne is a picturesque lakeside town that offers more attractions than Geneva. The Hotel Royal Savoy is an excellent choice for accommodation. It’s a short distance from the lakefront and less expensive than the more luxurious Beau-Rivage Palace located on the lakefront. The rooms at Hotel Royal Savoy are well-appointed and newer. Its location is perfect for sightseeing and exploring the city and lakefront.

Aerial View of City of Lausanne, Switzerland

The Hotel Lavaux offers a convenient and affordable option for travelers looking to stay halfway between Lausanne and Montreux. ‘Situated on the lakefront, the hotel’s rooms are modern and clean, providing stunning views of the lake from their beautiful balconies. This hotel is a great choice for those renting a car or seeking a one-night stopover.

Explore the charming old towns with stunning architecture and delightful cafes in the Canton of Vaud, the French-speaking region of Switzerland. No need to worry about language barriers as everyone speaks English. Lausanne, the birthplace of the Olympics, boasts an excellent sports museum. Take a ride on one of the Lac Leman steamboats that traverse Lake Geneva throughout the day, and if you have a Swiss Travel Pass, it’s free. Don’t miss visiting the serene and grand Cathedral while strolling through Lausanne.

Vevey is worth checking out if you’re looking for a charming town to visit. You can snap some great photos at the Chaplin Statue and the giant fork statue in the lake. Nestle is located here, and there are plenty of cafes along the lakefront where you can grab a bite to eat or a drink while enjoying some people-watching.

Zurich river with boat and buildings on shore
Zurich
Starting In Zurich

If you are in Zurich, get ready to be amazed. It’s Switzerland’s biggest city and an essential hub for art and shopping. Don’t miss out on the Grossmunster Cathedral and St. Peters Church. Take a leisurely walk through the charming Old Town with its quaint cobblestone streets and numerous cozy shops and eateries. Take advantage of the breathtaking views from Uetliberg Mountain or the stunning art collections at Kunsthaus Zurich. You can also indulge in some retail therapy at Bahnhofstrasse, one of the world’s most exclusive shopping streets. And if you’re a fan of chocolate, be sure to visit the famous Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory.

Looking for the best places to stay in Zurich? Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock; hotels in Zurich are expensive. Here are some top recommendations:

  • Baur au Lac – This luxurious hotel is in the heart of the city and offers stunning views of Lake Zurich. It features elegant rooms, a spa, and gourmet dining options.
  • Widder Hotel – This boutique hotel is in a historic Old Town building. It offers individually designed rooms, a restaurant, and a bar.
  • Park Hyatt Zurich – This modern hotel is in the trendy Zurich West neighborhood. It features spacious rooms, a spa, and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views.
  • The Dolder Grand – This grand hotel is set in a historic building on a hill overlooking the city and offers luxurious rooms, a spa, and gourmet dining options.

Hotel Montana Zurich is a more budget-friendly option. Offering comfortable accommodations at an affordable price point without sacrificing quality or location.

Bern and Lucern

When visiting Bern, check out the charming Old Town area and the famous Zytglogge clock tower. Stroll along the picturesque Chapel Bridge and explore the impressive Lion Monument in Lucern. Both cities offer beautiful scenery and rich history, making them must-see destinations in Switzerland.

The Bellevue Palace is a popular choice in Bern for its luxurious rooms and central location. The Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & Spa is another excellent option with its modern amenities and spa facilities. In Lucern, the Grand Hotel National is a top pick for its stunning views of Lake Lucerne and elegant decor. The Palace Luzern is also a fantastic choice, boasting a prime location on the lakefront and exceptional service. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option in Bern, consider the Hotel Bären am Bundesplatz. It offers comfortable rooms conveniently located just a short walk from the main train station and the Old Town.

For Me, It’s All About The Alps

One of the highlights of visiting Switzerland is the breathtaking Alps. To experience the beauty of the mountains, take a train from any city and head to the Bernese Oberland, starting in Interlaken. Here, you can get a glimpse of what the mountains offer and purchase a mountain pass to explore further. You’ll see people hang-gliding from the tops of the mountains surrounding the small city. Interlaken has a lot going on, shopping and a number of hotels. However, choose a mountain town as your home base for a more enjoyable experience.

Lauterbrunnen is an excellent starting point. This charming town offers several great places to eat and drink. It is also home to 72 thundering waterfalls rushing over the mountain cliffs that surround the area called the Jungfrau region. Don’t miss the Trummelback Falls, a mesmerizing UNESCO World Heritage site. It is Europe’s largest subterranean waterfall and the only underground waterfall open to the public.

I highly recommend staying in Wengen as a home base for this area. The only way to reach this peaceful, car-free town is by mountain railway. It’s the perfect place to start your daily hikes and enjoy the tranquility of the mountains. If you’re looking for a place to stay, the Hotel Schonegg is an excellent option. It’s situated on top of the town and provides stunning views of the Eiger Wall and Lauterbrunnen Valley. The staff is extremely helpful, and the rooms are comfortable.

Other hotel options in Wengen include The Hotel Belvedere, a popular choice with its traditional Swiss decor and stunning views. The Hotel Edelweiss is another good option with its cozy rooms and friendly staff. And if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, the Hotel Falken is a good choice with its simple but comfortable rooms.

Murren and Grindelwald are great options for towns from which to base your adventures. Murren is a charming and remote town similar in size to Wegen. Meanwhile, Grindelwald is more lively and has many hotels to choose from. Consider Parkhotel Schoenegg or Eiger Murren Swiss Quality Hotel, both of which have received positive reviews for their accommodations and amenities.

Bringing the family to Switzerland? Check out this great article about family-friendly trip planning for Grindelwald: How to Plan a 5-Day Family Summer Adventure in Grindelwald.

A plate filled with Rosti and two beers
Rosti A Favorite Swiss Dish
Hiking In The Lauterbrunnen Valley

One of the best hiking trails in the area is the Eiger Trail, which you can easily access by railway. This trail follows the north face and offers stunning views of the valley and Murren, starting at the top and heading down for 4.5 miles. Although it may be tough on your knees, your endpoint is Alpiglen, where you can conveniently take the train to Grindelwald. This hike can easily be added to a visit to the Jungfraujoch.

One of my favorite hikes is to the Rotstockhutte, a small hut that serves food and drinks in a fantastic setting. It is surrounded by pastures with cattle and has a typical Swiss Alps feel. The hike takes around 5 hours, following the base of the Schilthorn. You can either make it a loop trail or return the same way. There was a steep climb about halfway, but I managed to do it despite my fear of heights.

The Panorama Trail from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg is a highly recommended and easy hike. It’s a popular trail that’s more of a walk than a hike, making it suitable for all ages and skill levels. Although the trail can be traversed in either direction, I suggest beginning at Mannlichen. This way, the breathtaking view is always in front of you, and the walk is downhill. The trailhead is easily accessible from Wengen via the Wengen-Mannlichen Aerial Cableway, which is an experience on its own.

Embark on an unforgettable journey by hiking from Schynige Platte to Faulhorn and First (pronounced Fierst). To begin your adventure, take a scenic but leisurely ride on the cogwheel train from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte, which lasts about 50 minutes.

Before you begin your hike, take a moment to explore Schynige Platte. This location offers a small alpine botanical garden and a delicious restaurant where you can grab a snack. You might even get the opportunity to hear the beautiful sounds of the alphorn being played.

To make the most of your experience, start your hike first thing in the morning. This trek spans 10 miles and can be challenging in certain areas. It’s also important to arrive in First before the last gondola departs; otherwise, you’ll face an even longer hike to Grindelwald.

If you’d prefer a shorter hike, consider the Schynige Platte Panorama Trail. This trail offers breathtaking views of Lake Brienz and is a great alternative to the 10-mile trek.

But there are so many great hikes in the area you could explore for a week and still only scratch the surface.

View of the Top of Europe Train Station
Top Of Europe
The Jungfraujoch

One of the top attractions in Switzerland is visiting the Jungfraujoch. You’ll have the opportunity to stand at one of the highest points in the Alps and experience stunning views. Additionally, you can ride one of the most amazing railways in the world and walk through an ice cave. However, be prepared for a high price tag and large crowds.

One common misconception is that you’ll be at the top of the Jungfrau. In reality, you’ll be at the Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe. The actual peak of the Jungfrau is 13,642 ft, while the train station stands at 11,332 ft.

The only way to reach the Jungfraujoch is by train. You’ll first need to travel to Kleine Scheidegg, where you can catch the train to the Jungfraujoch. The journey takes approximately 35 minutes, mainly through a dark tunnel in the mountain. Along the way, you’ll make a stop where you can look out windows in the side of the Eiger, which is a unique experience.

Once you arrive, there are several great experiences to enjoy:

  1. Check out the Jungfrau Panorama, which is a cinematic experience.
  2. Ride the elevator up to the Sphinx Terrace for a stunning view (assuming the weather is clear). It is pretty cold here, even on a warm summer day, so dress appropriately. If the weather permits, take the trail from the main complex to the Monchsjochhutte, which offers incredible views and a respite from the crowds.
  3. The Ice Palace is another must-see attraction, featuring tunnels carved from the glacier with a number of ice sculptures.

The entire experience should take at least 3 hours; if it’s sunny, remember your sunglasses!

Matterhorn reflected in nearby lake
Matterhorn Photo by Evan Qu from Unsplash
Zermatt and Gstaad

Aside from the Matterhorn, there are plenty of other highlights to enjoy while visiting Zermatt. Hiking is a popular activity, but you can also ride on the Gornergrat Railway for stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Additionally, exploring the charming village and trying some Swiss cuisine are must-dos. There are several top hotels in Zermatt to choose from, each offering its own unique experience and amenities. Some popular options include The Zermama and The Omnia. Both are perfect for exploring the area.

If you’re planning a trip to Gstaad, you’ll find more than just great hiking trails to enjoy. Some of Switzerland’s most luxurious and expensive hotels, like the Park Gstaad and Gstaad Palace, can be found in Gstaad. However, if you’re looking for a more affordable hotel with a trendy atmosphere, consider checking out the HUUS Gstaad Hotel. You can try skiing or snowboarding during the winter months or relax at one of the many spas in the area. If you’re a fan of art, visit the Gstaad Palace’s art gallery, which features rotating exhibits from renowned artists. You can also stroll through the charming village of Gstaad and explore its unique boutiques and shops.

View of Lake Maggiore from church in Orselina
Lake Maggiore
The Lakes Along Italy’s Border

Let’s head to Switzerland’s lake region and take the train to get there. This region sits along Lake Maggiore and shares a border with Italy. I recommend staying at Villa Orselina, which overlooks the village of Locarno. If you don’t stay here, try to dine here, the view is stunning and the food is very good. This area boasts a warm and sunny climate with a Mediterranean charm. The streets and waterfront are great for exploring, and you shouldn’t miss the charming Isole di Brissago botanical garden on an island only accessible by boat. It’s a perfect spot with a unique perspective for a lovely day on the water. The quaint town of Ascona is worth visiting, with its picturesque streets and waterfront promenade. The nearby mountains offer stunning views and hiking opportunities, and the nearby village of Bellinzona boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site with three medieval castles.

Lake Maggiore view from water of town
Lake Maggiore

Switzerland boasts breathtaking views, stunning landscapes, and bustling cities. Multiple visits may be necessary to fully appreciate all it has to offer. Regardless of the time of year, there’s always something to enjoy. During the summer and fall, hiking in the mountains is a must, while winter offers some of the world’s top skiing destinations. You won’t want to miss adding this destination to your bucket list.

Below are links and resources to help you plan The perfect trip

Travel Resources

  • HOTELS
    Booking.com and Expedia.com are great resources for accommodations around the world. Book almost any hotel directly from these links.
  • TOURS
    The best places to book tours and activities are Viator or Get Your Guide . From great food tours to guided hiking adventures to local walking tours, you will find great experiences to add to your travels here.
  • FOOD EXPERIENCES
    EatWith is a great resource for authentic culinary experiences with passionate locals worldwide. Connecting travelers with hosts in over 130 countries, providing unique, intimate, and immersive experiences in private homes and exclusive venues.
  • TRAINS
    Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with over 210 rail and coach companies to help their customers travel to thousands of destinations across 45 countries. 

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