Where to start in this land of sweeping natural beauty? With limited time and so many ‘must sees’, I relied heavily on top 10 recommendations. But even wading through that was difficult. See below for how we made the most of our 10 days in this stunning country.
Where to start? Go in the summer and head to the alps
The Alps stretch over much of the country and there are various famous walks, and ski villages (winter is of course another key time to go). Trekking across the Alps is on my bucket list, but without a few weeks to explore it was difficult to pick a region to focus on. Out of all the areas to stay I recommend picking either Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland. More particularly, you should focus on the Jungfrau Region
Interlocken is a favorite among backpackers, but largely touristy. Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen are the last two towns you can get to by car; the remaining movement must be done via public transport or foot. If you are looking for something more off the beaten track then Murren or Wengen are your go to places. We had a car (cheaper than taking the train, but not necessarily easier) so Lauterbrunnen was our first choice.
Schützenbach Backpackers & Camping Schützenbach, Lauterbrunnen, 3822, Switzerland
*Cheap, clean and central this large ground is ideal for large groups. Check-in time is limited so make sure you arrive within their window
Have your Shaken Not Stirred Martini at the Piz Gloria, home of the 1969 Bond film Her Majesty’s Secret Service then walk it all off on the way down the mountain side. This trip can be done in a day. Recommend making reservations at the restaurant to guarantee placement; you will not regret the views.
Day 2: Travel up to Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe
This leg for us was the most touristy and way overpriced, but at the same time a must do for anyone claiming to have visited the Swiss Alps.
Day 3+: Complete the classic First – Schynige Platte hike
If you choose any hike in the Bernese Oberland region, this is an absolute must. There are loads of ways to break the 10m hike down to something shorter, but the full walk is something not to be skipped. For all those that are as concerned as I am about reading confusing elevation, hiking maps fear not – all trails are well marked and extremely easy to follow. This region was made for tourists.
Note: Getting a train Travel Pass is absolutely worth it if you will be staying in the region for 3 days or more. It is only eligible for certain times of the year however, so a secondary option is to buy the 50% ticket which discounts your pricy train travel as well.
You could spend weeks in this region of Switzerland and still not get enough. The views are jaw dropping, the air is clear and the people wonderful. If you have time, plan at least a week in this area and do a few more extensive trips – maybe even an overnight in one of the well maintained huts along the alps. You will not regret it. If you are limited on time as I was, then hitting these top 3 will at least get you the experience of the alps.
After the Alps, head to the Swiss Rivera with a key stop at Gruyere for some of the local delicacy as well as a taste of Switzerland’s national dish: fondue.
Day 4: Gruyere
If you have time I would stay at least 1 night in the town of Gruyere. Home to not only the famous cheese, but a gorgeous medieval town set on the hillside in the middle of sprawling green hills.
Day 5: Montreux, Chillon Castle and wine
You can stay on many little towns and villages along Lake Geneva. We chose the biggest of the cities, Montreux. Famous for its immaculate promenade, I chose a hotel that had views of the lake, and was within walking distance of Chillon Castle. A must when staying here is to walk the promenade to this ancient castle set on the backdrop of the Alps.
Golf Hotel Rene Capt, Rue Bon Port 33-35, Montreux, 1820, Switzerland
If you can time your trip around July, the famous Montreux Jazz festival fills this Rivera town with life. Though it is not a stranger to famous artists; Queen famously made this town a home where they recorded a majority of their albums along with a number of other famous guest artists including David Bowie.
Swiss wine is less known than chocolate or cheese yet it can compete with its neighboring France and Germany for crisp whites. If you have time, explore the promenade and add a wine excursion to your list of Must Do’s.
Day 6: Geneva and CERN
More international than Swiss, Geneva is home to the UN and boasts CERN – a cutting edge laboratory famous for its discovery of the ‘God particle’. Those physics enthusiasts will want to take a tour of the facility, though book in advance as it fills up quickly.
To round out the trip, circle around the edge of the country ending up in the gorgeous town of Lucerne
Home of the best skiing/winter sports in the world, it is just as gorgeous in the summer months. Being in the Southern part of the country and close to Italy, I had to cut this city out though winter sports enthusiasts might not make the same call. I would say if you are short on time and looking for an Alpine adventure, Jungfrau is the most central location to base the remaining part of your trip
Zurich vs. St. Gallen
We stayed in Zurich and hit the Lindt chocolate outlet along with a few guild festivals. Unless you are in love with cities, I would skip Zurich and stay instead in the ancient town of St. Gallen. Close to the German/Lichtenstein border the ancient town is significantly less expensive and is steeped in history. From there you can bounce to Rhine Falls , the largest waterfall in Europe. Though anyone who has marveled at the likes of Niagara or Victoria falls might want to skip this modest show of nature.
If you make it to the Bernese Oberland, Lucerene is an easy addition to your trip. Boasting a series of cable car musts it is also another ancient city steeped in history. Take the paddle boat ride through the lake, explore the nine towers of Lucerne, and learn about how the order of the guild used to run the country (and in some cases still does).
No matter where you choose to go in this gorgeous country you cannot go wrong. Put on your hiking boots, bring your cash and breath the fresh Alpine air!