Where to go in Switzerland on a short trip: Alps, lakes, and cities

Switzerland is an extremely popular country for those planning multi-stop tours around Europe, yet very few potential first-time visitors actually know specifically where they want to go. Everyone seems to know that it has the most beautiful views of the Alps and some very impressive cities, but there are actually many misconceptions among casual trip planners, so I’d like to clear most of that up below. The places to visit in Switzerland are not obvious until you’ve been there yourself or done many hours of research, so the list below should be a short cut.

I get hundreds if not thousands of itinerary questions for people who are considering a Eurail trip around Europe, and most people just include the word “Switzerland” among a list of cities like Paris, Rome, and Berlin that they want to visit. So where in Switzerland should you go if you can only make a few stops at most? I’ll answer that question below.

Note: This article was expanded and updated in June, 2022.

2022 COVID situation

As of June, 2022, Switzerland is one of the many European countries that have completely opened up to visitors are no longer require COVID tests or proof of vaccination. Things could obviously change, but as of now it appears that the country is as open as it was in 2019 and we are able to visit with no restrictions.

Switzerland is about outdoor views rather than city visits

The first situation we usually run into is that people who want to visit “Switzerland” assume that the first and best (and sometimes only) stop should be its largest city, which is Zurich. Unfortunately, Zurich is the most expensive city in the world for travelers, and it’s not really very interesting.

Geneva is a very famous city (though not for tourism reasons) on a lovely lake of the same name, but it’s also notoriously dull and lacking distinction. Rick Steves puts it well by saying that “Geneva is pleasantly situated on a lake, like Buffalo or Cleveland.” The point is, you don’t want to go to Geneva unless you’ve got something specific in mind that you want to see there.

Switzerland's cities in summary

Zurich – The largest city, very expensive, geared towards business travelers. It’s generally a pretty and very well-run city that you would enjoy if you visited, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the likes of Vienna, Munich, or of course Paris.

Geneva – Second largest city, in the French part of the country, no major sights. Again, if you visited you’d be very impressed by it and get some great photos, but it’s not worth your time unless you know someone there.

Basel – Bordering France and Germany, no major sights. It has the famous art market each year, and aside from that it’s even duller than the ones above.

Lausanne – Near Geneva in the French part of the country, very hilly, and certainly more interesting than Geneva.

Bern – The capital, compact, on a lovely river, some interesting sights and the best Swiss city to get a feel for the culture. Bern is fairly close to Interlaken (which we will discuss below) and it can be a great day trip from there, especially on a day where it is foggy and/or rainy in the mountains (and this happens a LOT).

How much time and which Swiss cities to visit?

If you have 4 or fewer days in Switzerland I wouldn’t visit any of the cities listed above. If you have 5 or more days and especially if you want to include a proper city then I’d recommend 1 day in Bern or a day trip there from Interlaken. For a longer trip, and especially if you want to visit the French part of the country, then a day in Lausanne could be worthwhile.

Many people (me included) don’t feel as if they’ve scratched the surface of a new country if they haven’t spent at least a day or two in the largest city. Zurich is certainly pleasant and a useful transit hub so spending one or two nights there wouldn’t be a major mistake. But Zurich isn’t even close to being a city like Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, or even Vienna. If you skip it in favor of spending more time in the outdoors, you won’t be missing much.

The 2 Swiss places to focus on for short visits

Interlaken – If you want the best possible Alpine views and activities, head to the Interlaken area, which will be described in detail below.

Lucerne – The traditional Swiss tourist retreat, Lucerne is a small city with interesting culture and sights, that is gorgeously set on a lake with plenty of top activities surrounding it.

If you have 4 or 5 days and want to see the very best of Switzerland, then divide your days between those cities. They are less than 2 hours apart by direct train, so it’s easy to visit both of them even if you only have 3 days. If you only have two days, I’d pick one or the other.

What about Zermatt for Alpine views?

Zermatt is a remote car-free village in southern Switzerland that is famous for being the place to see the Matterhorn mountain. It’s also a busy ski resort area, and aside from that, there isn’t much to see or do here. It’s on a private rail line, so it’s more complicated and usually more expensive to reach than Interlaken.

In other words, unless you’ve irrationally placed “Seeing the Matterhorn in person” on your so-called bucket list, skip Zermatt and head to Interlaken on a shorter visit. You won’t be sorry. If you already have enough time in your visit for the main sights around Interlaken and Lucerne and you want to also see the Matterhorn, then by all means go and you’ll enjoy it. There are quite a few other car-free villages in the Lauterbrunnen Valley near Interlaken, so they are not as novel in Switzerland as one might expect.

What about the Swiss Travel Pass?

Easily the most confusing travel or city pass out there, the Swiss Travel Pass seems expensive at first, but is actually a very good deal for many people wanting to take the scenic and panoramic trains. Read our full Swiss Travel Pass review for all the details and information on where to buy.

The bottom line is that if you are coming to Switzerland for at least 3 days and you want to take 2 or more of the amazing scenic rail journeys that the country is famous for, the travel pass is probably a good deal. It also provides 50% discounts on the Schilthorn cable car and 25% off the Jungfraujoch mountain railway. Both of those are quite expensive on their own, but extremely worthwhile, so the discount is helpful.

The Half Fare Card is probably a better deal for most people

The Swiss Travel Pass is a good deal for those who are going to be spending at least 2 or 3 days riding the rails and seeing Switzerland that way. But if you are mostly going to be focusing on Interlaken and Lucerne and the mountain sights, the Half Fare Card is the best option. For CHF120 (about US$134) you get the card that is good for 30 days and gives you a 50% discount on all trains, cable cars, mountain railways, and other sights and attractions. If you are doing either Schilthorn or Jungfraujoch, the Half Fare Card practically pays for itself with just one of those.

>>>Buy the Swiss Half Fare Card

Many people have questions about the Swiss Half Fare Card so I will explain it a bit here. You can actually buy half price train tickets for travel within Switzerland any time you want and you will see that option when you go to buy them online. The only thing is you have to have and present a valid Half Fare Card when you get on the train and are asked to see your ticket. In other words, you can buy a half fare train ticket today and buy a Half Fare Card just before you get on that train months in the future, and you are fine.

How and why visit the area around Interlaken

Even though I keep referring to the city of Interlaken (pronounced inter-LOCK-en) in this article, it’s really the villages in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, just above Interlaken, that you want to visit. Interlaken itself is a pleasant and scenic town that is dominated by tourism and feels more than a little out of date.

You can see everything discussed below by actually staying in a hotel in Interlaken, but it’s not the Alpine experience that you get if you stay in one of the small villages nearby. You can reach those villages in 20 to 40 minutes from the Interlaken Ost (East) train station, and it’s much easier than it sounds.

The 3 best places to stay to visit the Swiss Alps

Lauterbrunnen – A private train line runs from Interlaken Ost station to the end of its line in Lauterbrunnen. There’s a lovely waterfall here and great hiking trails, but you should probably only stay here if you can’t get to one of the villages mentioned just below. It’s a great little transit hub and it’s definitely gorgeous, so it can be worth a night if you’ve got one to spare.

Gimmelwald – THIS is where you want to stay if you can manage it. This tiny village has one of the most stunning natural mountain settings you’ll ever see, and it feels like a time capsule that is twice as wonderful as you thought possible. If you’ve ever seen Rick Steves discussing Alpine villages, this is the one he always refers to, and his readers are some of the only guests.

Mürren – Just one stop above Gimmelwald by cable car, Mürren has a nearly identical mountain setting, but it also has about 20 times more hotels and tourist shops than Gimmelwald. Many people will feel more comfortable here with more choices and a bit of possible nightlife, but Gimmelwald is still the perfect choice for most nature lovers on short visits to the Alps.

The unforgettable things to see here (if the weather is decent)

Schilthorn observation deck and restaurant

The cable cars (mountain lifts that carry up to 80 people at a time) from Lauterbrunnen to Gimmelwald and from Gimmelwald up to Mürren are short and fairly cheap, but if you keep going up two more segments to the top, you reach the Schilthorn observation deck. It’s expensive (around US$100 round-trip from Lauterbrunnen to Schilthorn) but if the weather is clear this is very worthwhile and may be your single best memory of Switzerland.

There is a rotating restaurant (with prices similar to normal Swiss restaurants) and a bizarre and anachronistic James Bond attraction based on it being a key location in the 1969 movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The Bond thing is included with the lift, and it’s worth a look.

But the main thing you come here for is the 360-degree view from one of the highest peaks in Europe. Again, the weather here is key, but fortunately all the locals track the visibility on a minute-by-minute basis. If it’s clear up top while you are in the area, it would be a terrible shame to skip it based on the high price. But even if it’s cloudy up top, there are still plenty of wonderful things to see and do in the villages below.

Jungfraujoch observation area

This is famously the highest railway line and station in Europe, and it’s another privately-run line that is priced as a tourist attraction rather than as transportation. The train leaves from Lauterbrunnen and takes about two chilly hours to get up to the top, including a change of trains halfway up in Kleine Sheidegg.

The views from the top are similar to the views from Schilthorn, from the other side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Once on top you can have lunch, hike, or even go sledding. It’s also quite expensive at nearly US$200 round-trip unless you have a Swiss Pass or a Eurail Pass for discounts, and it takes most of your day, but you’ll never forget the views from the top.

Harder Kulm mountain and Two Lakes Bridge Observation Deck

Interlaken is named after the fact that it’s located between two lakes (Brienz Lake and Thun Lake) and the best way to see them both at the same time is to take the funicular up 10 minutes to Harder Kulm and the Two Lakes Bridge Observation Deck. It costs CHF20 each way so you can take it up and walk down or vice versa to save a bit of money and have a memorable hike.

There’s a revolving restaurant about 10 minutes’ walk from the station at the top, which is definitely an unforgettable place for lunch if you’ve got time. It’s not as expensive as you might expect, at least compared to normal restaurants in Switzerland.

The Harder Kulm Railway goes from early April through late November each year. If you are only in Interlaken for one day and/or you are on a strict budget, this is the fastest and best way to get amazing Alpine views in the area.

Getting from Interlaken to Gimmelwald and Mürren

Getting up to these villages sounds complicated and time consuming, but it’s actually fast and easy once you get there. This little guide should help.

Arrive in Interlaken

Interlaken has two main train stations, one in the west (closer to Bern) and one in the east (closer to Lucerne). If you are staying in Interlaken itself then most hotels are closer to the Interlaken West station, but if you are going up the mountain you’ll want to get off at the Interlaken Ost (East) station. All trains stop at both stations, and if you are staying at a local hotel then you get a card that allows free trips between the two.

Once you arrive at the Interlaken Ost train station, head for the ticket windows in the office and buy a ticket to your final destination (Lauterbrunnen, Gimmelwald, or Mürren). Eurail passes are good for 25% discounts on the rest of the trip, but not for the whole thing.

From Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen

The private train leaves Interlaken Ost every 30 minutes and arrives in Lauterbrunnen 20 minutes later. If you are staying in Lauterbrunnen then you are probably walking distance from your hotel when you reach the station.

From Lauterbrunnen to Gimmelwald

If you are going to Gimmelwald then your combined train ticket will include the price of a shuttle bus that is waiting for each train as it arrives. Show your ticket to the driver and enjoy views of the waterfall as you pass it. A few minutes later you’ll arrive at the base of the mountain at the cable car station.

Again, the ticket you bought in Interlaken covers the whole thing, so just show your ticket at the cable car entrance and walk on in. A few minutes later the cable car will begin its fast ascent, and 5 minutes later the car lets everyone off at the base of the village of Gimmelwald. From here you are within a few minutes walk of literally the entire village and all of its hotels. The famous Mountain Hostel is directly up the path in front of you so it’s hard to miss.

From

Gimmelwald to Mürren

If you are staying in Mürren then you hop out of the cable car in Gimmelwald and then walk directly into the cable car across the platform, which is about to leave for Mürren. Once the door closes, you’ll be in Mürren in about 5 minutes. There is also another private rail line that goes to Mürren, but it’s slower and less scenic than the cable cars.

Recommended hotel and hostel in Gimmelwald

I get asked all the time about where to stay in Gimmelwald, so here it is:

HotelEsther’s Guesthouse

When you step off the cable car in Gimmelwald, look a little bit to the right and you’ll see a path going slightly uphill. Even if you go in the wrong direction, you’ll hit a dead end in 15 seconds, so it’s impossible to miss the road. The first thing you’ll see on your right is Esther’s Guesthouse, which is also arguably the best hotel in lovely Gimmelwald.

It’s run by Esther, as you might guess, and she is very friendly speaking excellent English. Each room is different and the place feels like a mountain cabin, because it is. She offers an excellent buffet breakfast in the morning, which you have to order the night before. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it because it’s hearty and there are no other good options nearby.

Book as early as possible because this place is often the first place to sell out in Gimmelwald.

HostelMountain Hostel Gimmelwald

If you’ve ever wondered which hostel has the best view in the world, Mountain Hostel Gimmelwald would be at least in the Top 5, if not #1. Follow the path to Esther’s Guesthouse (above) and walk a few steps past it, and then look to the left for the short path down to Mountain Hostel. They offer fine dorm beds that are the cheapest accommodation in the village, and it’s quite a fun place in general.

You won’t believe the views from this place, which are the same as from Esther’s except a bit lower and more unobstructed. This place also has a busy bar and restaurant that is basically the only “nightlife” in Gimmelwald. Many hikers get to bed early in this tiny village, but if you want to have a couple drinks and order a pizza or some local options, this is the place to go.

Again, book early because this place is always sold out.

Lucerne and what to do there

Luzern, as it’s spelled locally, is the other traditional holiday destination in Switzerland. Unlike Interlaken, Lucerne actually qualifies as a small city rather than a small resort town, so it’s a very nice contrast and very worthwhile.

The area around Lucerne is surrounded by small mountains, but it’s not in the Alps and it doesn’t have the sort of amazing views you get in Interlaken. The main attraction here is Lake Lucerne and the various small towns on its shores. There are excellent hikes that are mostly not too challenging, and some wonderful views from nearby peaks.

However, unlike Interlaken, the town of Lucerne itself is a great attraction and worth at least a day of exploration. This has always been a rich area so you can expect to find all of the high-end shops and boutiques along the small streets just north of the lake, but there are also many traditional shops and things to see that will appeal to anyone.

Recommended hotel in Lucerne

>>Hotel Des Alpes (3 stars with an amazing location and view)

Hotels in Lucerne are not cheap, but you’ll probably spend only one or two nights there, so it’s worth paying a bit more for one of the hotels overlooking the prettiest part of the lake and the famous Chapel Bridge itself. The 45-room Hotel Des Alpes has rooms right on the water, in the heart of everything, and it’s a short walk from the train station and cruise dock as well. This place gets excellent reviews and is worth paying a bit more for unforgettable views from your bed.

If this place is booked, which is often the case, then book a hotel as close to it as you can find or afford. The whole historic part of town surrounding it is lovely, with restaurants, bars, and high-end shops. There are also a couple of nearby supermarkets where you can buy inexpensive alcohol and picnic supplies to keep other costs down.

Spend a day in Lucerne itself

The covered wooden bridge (Chapel Bridge) that is the signature sight of Lucerne looks just as lovely when you are near it or walking across it, but there are several other historic wooden bridges just a bit upstream as well. On the north bank of where the lake becomes a river, you’ll find a string of restaurants and bars that each have excellent views. Food and drinks all over Switzerland are expensive by most standards, and fortunately the prices of the waterfront restaurants are within the normal range even though they could charge more.

Most of the interesting part of Lucerne is in the area behind those restaurants, and it’s certainly worth doing a self-guided walking tour if not a guided one. Heading farther east you’ll come to another older part of town where the famous lion statue is located. You can’t visit Lucerne without having a look at the lion, and fortunately it’s easy and quick to reach (and it’s free).

Take a lake cruise of some kind

The main lake-cruise boats leave from just in front of the train station, and at the very least it’s worth doing the simple round-trip of about one hour where you don’t even leave the boat. If you have most of a full day you have up to 35 different options of stops to disembark and walk around before catching another boat back to Lucerne.

Especially in nice weather, even the short lake tour is lovely, and if you have more time you can jump off at Vitznau and do the scenic hike up Mount Rigi. There are also small lakeside villages that are ideal for a stroll and lunch stop. Long story short, there are dozens of interesting sightseeing options that are available using part of the boat tour, and the views all around are wonderful.

Visit Mount Pilatus

The tallest mountain around Lucerne is just behind the city, and it’s also extremely popular for hiking, although you don’t actually have to walk up or down if you don’t want to. You can take the steepest cogwheel train in the world up to near the summit (except in winter), and there is also a gondola and cable car going to the same place all year round.

You can take the cogwheel train up and have a more or less flat hike around the summit area, and then take the gondola and cable car back down again. You can do them in the other order, and the cost is the same either way. At around US$65, this is not a cheap hike, but like most everything in Switzerland, the quality is high so it doesn’t feel like a rip-off. You can reach the cable car in 10 minutes on a public trolly bus from Lucerne.

Visit Mount Rigi

Not technically part of the Alps, Mount Rigi overlooks Lake Lucerne and is the easiest peak to reach in the area. The boat tours that leave from Lucerne include stops in both Weggis and Vitznau where you can hop on or off. There is a cable car from Weggis that goes up to the Rigi summit and a train that goes between Vitznau and the summit. Many people take one up and the other down.

Unlike the other peaks mentioned in this article the Swiss Travel Pass covers both ways to get up and down for free. The others are 50% off with the Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Card, except for Jungfraujoch, which is only 25% off with the Swiss Travel Pass and still 50% off with the Half Fare Card.

Visit Mount Titlis

A bit south of Lucerne, Mount Titlis is an Alpine peak that is the most dramatic in the area. Once up at the top you can experience the Titlis Cliff Walk, which is the highest suspension bridge in the world. It’s a free pedestrian bridge over 3,000 meters up that allows for amazing views of the area, as long as the weather is clear.

You can reach Titlis by taking a 43-minute train ride from Lucerne to Engelburg and then taking the cable car up from there. As with the others, it’s wise to check the weather immediately before you are going to depart because it can be foggy or cloudy any time of the year, but usually not for whole days at a time.

Additional photo credits

Jungfraujoch by cupweuro on Flickr, Pilatus by Tony Fernandez on Flickr, Rigi by Kosala Bandara on Flickr, Titlis by PaulSchliebs on Flickr

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All Comments

  1. Bill says:

    Hey Roger,

    It’s my first time to Europe and Switzerland will be my first stop! I will be travelling from Geneva on 15 Dec 2019 morning to Interlaken, and I still cannot decide where to stay. I will be travelling with a large suitcase so changing hotel daily is not ideal. Which town/ village do you recommend me to stay so that I can cover Interlaken area in 3-4 days? I know you recommended Gimmelwald but I’m worried about the daily commute time to other villages/tourist attractions given that the daytime is short in December. I want to be able to visit Lauterbrunnen Valley, Jungfraujoch, Wengen, Mannlichen, Grindelwald, First, Winteregg, Murren and maybe Zermatt.

    I’m planning to fly to Rome maybe on 18/19 Dec 2019 via Zurich (seems like the nearest airport?). So seems like I will have to take a train from Interlaken to Zurich, before going to the airport.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Bill,

      Wow! What an introduction to Europe you are going to get! Gimmelwald is infinitely charming, but that’s mostly because it’s so tiny and so I agree that staying more than 2 nights there is pushing it.

      All of the villages in the Lauterbrunnen Valley are amazingly scenic, and the most central of them is Lauterbrunnen itself. I’d probably look there first. Most of the others are located at least a bit up the mountain (where as Lauterbrunnen is in a valley), so they offer great views, but it sounds like you’ll end up visiting all of them anyway so you’ll get those views and photos even if you aren’t getting them from your hotel window.

      Wengen and Grindelwald are both easier to reach than Murren but Murren is also a bit more special because it’s car-free. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but I think if you can find a suitable place near the Lauterbrunnen train station it would save you the most time and a bit of money on trains as well.

      Yes, the Zurich Airport is the closest to Interlaken, and it takes about two hours by train. Another option would be to take the train from Interlaken down through the Alps to Milan and then changing for a high-speed train to Rome. If you add up the time it would take from leaving your hotel in Lauterbrunnen until you reach your hotel in central Rome it’s probably 8 or 9 hours if you fly. If you take the trains it’s probably about the same amount of time, but it would be FAR more comfortable. Better still, that train through the Alps is incredibly scenic and you’d get to spend a few minutes in Milan in the middle of the trip. The train option is probably more expensive, but I can guarantee that it would be MUCH more interesting and enjoyable. Remember that you have to factor in travel time and expense from the Rome Airport into central Rome as well in that calculation. Let me know if you have any questions. -Roger

  2. Sajida says:

    Hey Roger,
    thank you for your quick response. I had two more questions. If we take 3 swiss saver day pass, can the child travel with us for free ? Will they give swiss family card with swiss saver day pass?
    I just wanted to know the locations which we can cover in a given route. Like when we are going for Schilthorn, what will come in our way, if we are going to Lucerne, what all can we cover and same for Interlaken. Just want to make the best use of the pass and keep all the travelling together in some particular days and roaming freely in the respective places for some particular days.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Sajida,

      The Swiss Family Card is free with a Swiss Travel Pass OR a Half Fare Card, but for single days of Swiss Saver Day Passes the children would have to pay. That makes the Half Fare Card an even better deal.

      If you have a Saver Day Pass it’s the same as a Swiss Travel Pass for that day. There are maps online that show all the routes that are included with the STP and which routes offer discounts. For example, the entire way up Schilthorn is covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, and Mt. Rigi near Lucerne is as well. But Jungfraujoch only gets a 25% discount with a STP, so the Half Fare Card is a better deal on that one. -Roger

  3. Sajida says:

    Hi Roger,
    Your article and the answers you provided in the comments section are quite helpful. I would love if you can suggest any modification in the trip I have planned for my 6 days visit to Switzerland. We are a family of 4. 3 adults and 1 child. Our main interest is to soak in as much nature as we can in these 6 days!Also, we would necessarily like to add Gstaad and Zweissmann in our trip as these are the places where the iconic movie of ShahRukh Khan DDLJ was shot.
    Day1: Arrival at Interlaken from Paris. Roam around in Interlaken
    Day2: Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald and and Schilthorn and back to Interlaken
    Day3: Interlaken to Gstaad, Zweissman. Not sure what else to do on this day.
    Day4: Interlaken to Lucerne. Roam around in Lucerne
    Day5: Day trip to Zurich and back to Lucerne
    Day 6:Some Scenic train ride from lucerne and back to lucerne.
    Day7: Lucerne to Geneva in morning for our flight back to India.

    If possible can you please suggest where in our itinerary can we fit Blausee, Murren , Wengen or any other scenic location which I misssed? Or any scenic train ride we can cover? We are planning to take swiss saver day pass for the days when we will be travelling the most.
    P.S : We would have already covered Bern and Geneva before going to Paris. We have 2 days in Geneva before going to Paris so thought of covering geneva and bern in these 2 days.
    Really looking forward to your valuable tips.

    To add to the above points, we would like to include some activities too like Grindelward first, pilatus if possible. We are going from Oct 21 -27 2019.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Sajida,

      This sounds like a great trip. It’s worth noting that many smaller hotels and restaurants in the mountain villages close from 15-October through 15-December because it’s after the main hiking season and before the snow season. There are plenty of places that stay open, but your choices will be more limited. The weather is usually chilly but pleasant, so it’s still a good time to visit.

      I haven’t been to Blausee and I’m not sure how to reach it, but it looks fairly close to Interlaken so I’d imagine there is a bus if not a train. As for Wengen, you might consider staying IN the Lauterbrunnen Valley in one of the villages for a night or two. Interlaken itself is nice, but those small villages are really magical and different. There are trains connecting all of them from Lauterbrunnen itself in 15 minutes or so. For Murren it’ll be easy to visit on your way down from Schilthorn since it’s on the way. I recommend getting off the cable car in Murren and walking around a bit before taking the gentle path down through Gimmelwald, which is the next stop down, and taking the cable car down from there.

      I’d also suggest a Half Fare Card for each adult and a free Swiss Family Card so the child can ride free with you the whole time. The Half Fare Card should more than pay for itself in 2 or 3 days, and the Saver Day Pass will be cheaper as well.

      As for your exact itinerary, it’s hard for me to be too specific. You can look up ‘things to do’ in those areas on other websites and they’ll give you plenty of options that should fit your budget and interests. Let me know if you have any other specific questions. -Roger

  4. Jasma says:

    Thank you for your response and advice Roger. I plan to attend the street parade half day since I want to utilize these 2-3 days on visiting places. I will consider your valuable tips. Thanks again. Jasma

  5. Jasma says:

    Hi Roger, I am happy I found your website and was trying to read all the comments. You have done a really job there. I am traveling to Swiss for the Grand Street Parade for 3 days and I haven’t been able to plan my itinerary effectively. My hotels is booked in Dietikon and I want to visit Lucerne, Bern and Interlaken. Do you think 3 days would be enough? And in dilemma for buying the Swiss pass or Half Fare pass? I am also interested in doing the Swiss Mountain Coaster, not sure if it is cover in Swiss pass. Have you experience the coaster. Pls help.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Jasma,

      I would have thought that the Street Parade itself would take up most of your time there, but if you’ve got 3 days then your plan sounds quite good. From Zurich to Interlaken it takes about two hours, and it will take another 30 minutes each way starting from Dietikon. So it’d be 5 hours round trip to Interlaken Ost and it will take close to an hour from Interlaken Ost to the top attractions in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. That’s a long day, but it would be fun. Lucerne is about an hour closer to Zurich. I think I’d skip Bern on this trip if you’ve only got 3 days. It’s a really nice small city, but really the magic of Switzerland is the stunning Alpine scenery and the lakes. I usually advice a visit to Bern if you’ve got at least 5 or 6 days there.

      In your case the 3-day Swiss Travel Pass might be your best option, although of course it depends on your specific plans. For example if you went up Schilthorn in Interlaken and you went up Mt. Rigi and did the lake cruise in Lucerne, you’d save a fortune with the Swiss Travel Pass because both of those things are fully included (and quite expensive otherwise). But if you mainly wanted to just visit those places and do a bit of hiking and looking around, the Half Fare Card would probably be the better value.

      It looks like the Alpine Coaster costs CHF9 per ride, and since I don’t see a discount with a Half Fare Card I’m guessing that it’s not valid on those rides. I haven’t done that coaster, but I’ve done one like it in New Zealand and it was really fun. Have a great trip and let me know if you’ve got any other questions. -Roger

  6. Denis says:

    My wife and I have the following trip planned:
    9/4 -9/6 Geneva
    9/6 Train Geneva to Wengen (Hotel Belvedere). Unable to find a nice hotel in Lauterbrunnen or Murren so staying in Wengen. Should I continue to look harder?
    9/6-9/9 Three nights in Wengen with a day trip to Schilthorn one day. Way back will have lunch in Murren then walk to Gimmelwald and maybe all the way down to Lauterbrunnen. Second day trip to Jungfraujoch
    9/9 Wengen to Zermatt (2 nights) Day trip up the Matterhorn glacier paradise
    9/11 Zermatt to Courmayeur (two nights)
    9/13 Courmayeur to Chamonix (3 nights)
    9/16 Chamonix to Geneva and fly home.
    Questions:
    1. Is early September a good time to go
    2. Any rail passes that seen to be appropriate. Was thinking of the Half fare card. Part of the time is not in Switzerland as you can see
    3. Is Wengen a nice place or should I try to get a place in Lauterbrunnen as a base?
    4. What are we missing if anything?

    Thanks for your help, you are amazing.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Denis,

      I’ll try to answer the questions in order. Wengen is another gorgeous village and there is even a cable car going up the mountain from the edge of town, so it’s a fine choice and I’m sure you’ll love it there.

      Early September should be fantastic. As you’ve probably noticed, June through August are actually the wettest months in the Interlaken area and September usually gets less rain and the temperatures are still really nice.

      Yes, I think the Half Fare Card will be your best value, and you should also probably get a Saver Day Pass for your Schilthorn day and possibly your Zermatt day. You can get them for CHF39 if you buy at least two weeks in advance and also have a Half Fare Card. They are basically a Swiss Travel Pass for a single day, so it’s worth getting one for the most expensive days as long as the things are included in the pass like Schilthorn is.

      You’ll love Wengen. Murren and Gimmelwald are both quite amazing partly because they are car-free, but it looks like you’ll be visiting them so staying in Wengen will be great.

      I always recommend Lucerne as my second choice for Switzerland to see the most dramatic sights in a short time, so if you could cut down on Geneva and add a day in Lucerne I think you’d enjoy it a lot. Or you can catch it on a future trip. The places on your list are all really fantastic and I’m sure you’ll have a great time. -Roger

  7. Missy Clearder says:

    Hi Roger,
    First, a HUGE thank you for taking the time to help so many experience the magic of Switzerland. We travel often, and are excited to be going to Switzerland in September. We arrive September 23 at 2:30 into Geneva, and leave October 2 on an early morning flight (so we will need to stay in Geneva the night of October 1). We are very active, enjoy nature and sights, and want to experience local culture. Are you able to share a proposed itinerary that will enable us to see as much as possible of as many highlights, in that time frame? We definitely want to do the Dome train for a scenic ride, so if you can share train suggestions, that would be amazing too. We are not on a limited budget. We want to do and see as much as possible. Are you able to help?
    Thank you!
    Missy

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Missy,

      I’m glad you find this helpful. I generally prefer not to suggest specific itineraries like that. Switzerland has so many highlights and great options that my preference is to mention many of the top choices and then let people choose which things sound most interesting. The one thing that I will suggest is to focus at least 3 days or so in the Interlaken area, and probably 2 days or so in the Lucerne area. They are very different from each other and both are very rich in amazing scenery and top sights. The must-do things I’d start with would be either the Jungfraujoch mountain railway or the Schilthorn cable car, or perhaps both.

      You should have time for at least one scenic train ride and doing it in a panoramic carriage will be best. On the other hand, taking normal trains from Geneva to Interlaken and into the Lauterbrunnen Valley while you are there and then a train to Lucerne and then eventually back to Geneva, will be pretty amazing on its own. In other words, just the normal trains between the top attractions are really wonderful for scenery, so I probably wouldn’t go too far out of your way to do more than one other scenic train ride, and Jungfraujoch itself is a scenic ride, of course.

      I’m happy to help if you have specific questions. In 7 days you’ll have more than enough time to do most of the top experiences so it’s mostly just a matter of choosing which ones and then figuring out the most efficient order to do them in. You also have to keep the weather in mind as it can be cloudy at the top of the mountains on any day of the year so it’s best to try to schedule those early in your trip in case you have to push them back a day or two due to the weather. -Roger

  8. Suzanne says:

    Hello Roger.
    My sisters and I (4 of us) will be traveling from Canada in May or June 2020. We likely only have 3 weeks total traveling time which includes our arrival & departure dates and we want to visit Poland, Austria, & Switzerland. Will 5 days in Poland, 5 days in Austria, and 7 or 8 days in Switzerland allow us to cover a good portion of the top places to visit. I really enjoyed reading all the queries from fellow travelers and your answers which has helped me figure out what we want to see and do in Switzerland. My only concern is I have a slight mobility issue. It takes me a bit longer than the average person to walk around or climb hills. Will this be a problem in Switzerland. Also you mention that Switzerland is very expensive. If we have a budget of $10,000 Cdn will we be able to cover all 3 countries. Any suggestions or advise you can provide us will be appreciated. thanks. Suzanne

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Suzanne,

      That should be plenty of time to see all of those places, at least it will be if you focus on just the highlights. For Poland I’d just do 3 or 4 days in Krakow unless you have another specific place you’d like to add, such as a family home town or something. Krakow really is wonderful and it used to be the capital so it’s actually more impressive than Warsaw in almost every way. Every other place in Poland would take you more out of the way as well. You could then take a train from Krakow to Vienna in a bit over 6 hours.

      I’d spend 3 days in Vienna and then head to Salzburg for 2 or 3 days. Those are the best two places to experience Austria, and they are very different from each other. Some people consider visiting Innsbruck, but it’s mainly just a ski resort town and there really isn’t much to see. That would leave you enough time to see the highlights of Switzerland without rushing.

      I don’t think your mobility situation will be a problem. Switzerland has excellent train and bus service and it’s all accessible. There are plenty of long hikes that you probably wouldn’t want to do, but for most highlights it’s a minimal amount of walking on mostly flat pavement. Even going up the Schilthorn cable car is really easy. You have to walk a couple hundred meters between one of the cable cars and the next one that takes you to the top, but once you get up there you are on the observation deck and there is an escalator.

      Your budget should be enough, but you’ll have to cut some corners in some places, pretty much like most other visitors. For four people you’ll probably be best off getting Airbnbs or other apartment rentals because those should be cheaper than two hotel rooms. You may have to stay a bit away from the tourist center in order to get affordable rentals, but if you start looking early you might find some nice central places at good prices. Making breakfast on your own will also save some money, and breakfast doesn’t tend to be too special in that part of Europe anyway. In case this is your first trip to Europe, hotel rooms tend to be much smaller than in Canada and the US. You can find hotels that will allow 4 guests in a room with 2 or 3 beds, but those rooms tend to have just enough room for the beds and a small path around them, so 4 adults with suitcases would usually be pretty uncomfortable. Even double rooms or rooms with 2 twin beds tend to be very compact, but at least with two of those you get two bathrooms as well.

      Krakow will be cheap and Austria isn’t too bad, but in Switzerland you’ll have to do your research and be careful about what you spend. In Vienna or Salzburg it’s pretty easy to get a lunch in a sit-down restaurant for around €10 per person. In Switzerland the cheapest item on the menu is usually around CHF22 (€20) at a sit-down place. You can get a take-away sandwich for half that, or salads from the supermarkets for even less. A glass of wine in a Swiss restaurant will start at CHF12 or maybe more, but you can buy a bottle of wine from a supermarket for CHF6 and up. The mountain-top attractions such as Schilthorn and Jungfraujoch are also very expensive, so you just have to choose wisely and plan in advance. You’ll definitely want to get a Half Fare Card for each of you for CHF120, which will literally cut the prices of all the transport in half, including those mountain-top things.

      I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  9. Laura Dover says:

    Specifically, my daughters and I are heading to Switzerland for a short stay Dec 15-20. Where to fly into? Milan? Would like to take a train. I was considering St Moritz, but you don’t seem to prefer that area. Thoughts? I don not like a racing-around to see as much as possible type vacation, but prefer to go somewhere and take day trips. I prefer hotels that are on the upscale side.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Laura,

      I haven’t been to St. Moritz, but I’ve heard very good things and I’m sure it’s lovely. One reason I don’t mention it is that it’s more out of the way for most people than Interlaken and Lucerne. And since most people only seem to have 3 or 4 days to explore Switzerland, I recommend focusing on Interlaken and Lucerne to make the best use of their time. It takes about 3.5 hours by train from Zurich Airport to St. Moritz. and from Milan Airport it takes almost 6 hours. From Zurich Airport you can reach Lucerne in an hour and Interlaken in two hours.

      My impression is that St. Moritz is more luxury oriented so you might be happiest there. That said, all of Switzerland is quite expensive and there are luxurious hotels in all of the popular places. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  10. Chloe says:

    Hi there,

    My travelling date will be 23rd November onwards,
    1. will I get to take the cogwheel train up to Mt pilatus?
    2. is it suitable to visit interlaken in November?
    3. Where do you recommend if there will be a 4-5 days in Switzerland (november)..

    Thanks!!

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Chloe,

      As mentioned elsewhere, mid October through mid December is the slow season in the Alps and some smaller hotels and restaurants are closed. Some of the cable cars and mountain attractions also close briefly for annual maintenance during this period, but as of now it looks like Pilatus will be open.

      The Interlaken should be enjoyable during November with smaller crowds and the weather should be fine. It’s just that the summer hiking seasons slows down in mid October and the snow/ski season doesn’t start until mid December. But as long as you bring some warm clothes you should be fine.

      Even in November I’d plan on 3 days or so in the Interlaken area and 2 days in Lucerne. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger