Switzerland. It’s one of those dream countries to visit. Top tier, often talked about, and dominates the travel feeds. I tell people I went to Switzerland and the reaction is immediate: people eagerly want to hear more because it’s a top travel destination for themselves. But how do you tackle a country that has so many amazing places to go to? The list just kept getting longer. What started as a few days turned into a week in Switzerland cramming in as much as we could.
Swiss Interesting Facts
- Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Romansh is derived from Latin and is only spoken by 1% of the population.
- Switzerland is broken down into 26 cantons (member states).
- Assisted suicide is legal.
- The country’s murder rate is nearly zero and it hasn’t seen a mass shooting since 2001.
We chose Interlaken as the home base. It proved to be a good central location to stay for a few days while being able to venture out in different directions. It sits between two lakes: Lake Thun and Lake Brienze.
Bern is the capitol of Switzerland. Starting the trip we all had Bern pretty low on the list of places to go to. We ended up stopping there on our way from Basel to Interlaken. We were pleasantly surprised and, what we thought would be an hour or so stop to eat and poke around, turned into a few hours. It’s a very neat and picturesque city.
We did a few things right out of Interlaken and the village our airbnb was in.
Because of rain we ended up doing one of the boat ferries. Both Lake Thun and Lake Brienze offer them and we did the one on Lake Brienze. Honestly, I only participated because the rain eliminated other options. We had just spent a whole heck of a lot of time on a boat and I’m partial to moving around. I did find it pretty enjoyable and definitely a great option for people who want to see more while moving less.
The boat is really more of a ferry and not a tour. There are multiple stops and you can get on and off as you please. From the boat we were able to see Giessbach Falls. We got off on the other side of the lake in the town of Brienze, which is known for its woodworking. We took the train back because it was much quicker.
Harder Kulm is “the top of Interlaken.” You can hike up or you can take a ten minute funicular ride. It has a beautiful view from the top looking down at Interlaken and there is also a restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating.
I’d love to sound this out for you but, despite asking a local, I’m still not entirely certain. Regardless of how it’s pronounced, go here. There’s relatively easy hiking at the top that brings you to a beautiful overlook. There’s also places to get coffee, a small souvenir shop, and a flower garden if you’re just looking to wander around through gorgeous mountain landscape.
If you’ve search pictures of Switzerland you’ve likely seen pictures of Lauterbrunnen. Next to the Matterhorn, pictures of the Lauterbrunnen Valley are some of the most popular in the cyber world. This, however, is a pretty recent development. I would wager that it’s the world of social media that put this place on the map.
By all means, go here. It’s beautiful and on the way to a bunch of other awesome things. But, I’d advise not to stay here. Being so quickly propelled into a tourist destination, the town is not yet set up for tourist accommodations.
Okay. I’m going to nerd out on you guys for a minute. I am a James Bond fan. I don’t know what it is about the James Bond series that makes me ignore everything about it that would normally annoy me being an over-done, never-ending series with the older movies being misogynistic and the newer ones with way too many long and exaggerated action sequences but, alas, I got sucked into the fandom. (And Timothy Dalton is the most underrated Bond FYI).
Schilthorn is a gorgeous mountain to go to in and of itself. And, on top of Schilthorn sits Piz Gloria: Blofeld’s brainwashing mountain lair from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I saw this in my guidebook and, knowing I was traveling with five other people that I’ve never known to be Bond fans, wondered what my chances were of seeing this. Evidently, they were exceptional. Before I even brought it up my friend told me it was on the list from someone else in our group. Yes.
It was everything I hoped for and more. There is a gondola ride up and back with a few stops. I re-watched the movie before the trip so I could really take it all in. There is a James Bond exhibit and many opportunities to take the cheesiest photos (and who doesn’t love cheesy photos?). Piz Gloria is now a rotating restaurant which we ate brunch at. My only regret is not stealing the 007 coffee mug.
On the the ride down from Schilthorn we got off at another one of the stops, Mürren, which is a small, carless, mountain town. It was cute to walk through and we saw a bunch of paragliders. You also have the option of walking down between the stops. You can save money on the gondola ride if you walk and, of course, time if you ride.
This is a great option for a day with bad weather or visibility because it’s exploring a waterfall and not about views. That is not to say that this is a fallback option only if the weather is bad. If you get great weather, go here anyway.
Trümmelbach Falls is the sole run-off from three major mountains in the region: Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch. It’s set up so you walk through the mountain and see the waterfall at ten different points. It was truly spectacular. Not just the waterfalls, but weaving trough the tunnels.
Before doing any research on Grindelwald, I was excited to go here because it made me think of Harry Potter (I know, nerd alert… again). But this was one of my favorite days of the whole trip. It just felt so… Switzerland. The town was very cute and more built up than Lauterbrunnen, with several more amenities.
We took the gondola up to Grindelwald-First Mountain. Then we adventured down. Yup. Adventured down. The top has a cliff walk. Then you take different adventures on the way down. There are four options and you can pay for some or all of them. We did two. One option was already booked up and we all skipped zip-lining for various reasons (for me personally it was because I’ve done it before elsewhere and wanted to save the money).
Our first leg was the mountain carts. I felt a little unsure of them at first because I thought I was going to go off the side of the mountain but I eventually adjusted and it was a blast.
The second leg was something called a trottibike. We all felt unsteady at first but again, after adjusting, it was so much fun. It was my favorite part of the day. Zooming down a Swiss mountain amongst cows on a stand-up bike that only has brakes. Does it get any better?
This was my least favorite part of Switzerland. All the photos I’ve seen of Lucerne make the city look vibrant but, being there, if felt dull and lifeless. Perhaps it was the overcast day but, even looking back on it, I can’t think of much that was memorable about it.
However, right there as well, is Mount Pilatus. It’s another cable car ride to the top with gorgeous views of Lake Lucerne. The symbol of Mount Pilatus is the dragon; in the Middle Ages the people believed that the mountain housed dragons with healing powers. Appropriately, Lake Lucerne looks like a giant dragon footprint.
Ah, Zermatt. Can you go to Switzerland and not see the Matterhorn? The answer is, yes, you can (didn’t see that coming, did you?). There’s plenty of absolutely amazing things to see and do in this country and, realistically, Zermatt is pretty far out of the way. If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, don’t think you are short-changing yourself if you can’t fit this in. Your trip will still be fantastic.
That being said. Mountains are my heart. I love mountains. And I really wanted to see this very famous mountain. This is where our group officially split and me and my friend, Amy, boarded a train to Zermatt.
By this point, we had fallen into less than desirable weather. Rain was in the forecast for nearly every hour of every day in the Zermatt area. Knowing that the Matterhorn is already known for hiding amongst the clouds, all I wanted was one good look at the Matterhorn. And I got it. Immediately in fact. Which is great because it disappeared rather quickly.
We wanted to do paragliding in Zermatt. We made reservations for Friday morning. Unfortunately, on Friday morning, they called and said they had to cancel due to winds. We re-scheduled for Saturday morning and went hiking instead. The hike was absolutely gorgeous. We were hoping to see the reflection of the Matterhorn in a lake near the top but she was hiding again by then. Matterhorn or not, the hike was amazing.
We spent the rest of the day bopping around town, meeting cats (they were everywhere), shopping for souvenirs, and meandered through the Gorner Gorge. We did a pretty thorough job of the town and figured, after our Saturday paragliding, we’d be able to head right out. But, it was not meant to be. On Saturday the paragliding was once again cancelled due to weather. So, we threw in the towel on the paragliding and left the town.
Before this trip I actually thought that Zurich was the capitol of Switzerland. Mostly because, other than Zermatt and Geneva, it’s really the only one I was familiar with. But, similar to how NYC is “the city” of the United States despite not being the capitol, Zurich is one of the well known Swiss cities.
We originally thought we wouldn’t be going here. It was actually other factors that led to it. Upon adjusting our return flights to the states we actually found that Zurich had one of the more ideal flight options. We knew our departure from Zermatt was a little open ended so we took the Zurich flight and figured maybe we’d have time to poke around the city and maybe not.
Since we ended up leaving Zermatt so early on the Saturday, we did have a few hours to wander the city. We had absolutely nothing planned. Which made it different from the rest of the trip and also made it an incredibly enjoyable and relaxing day. We wandered through a park, made it to the waterfront and saw a ton of swans (clearly they know where people drop food), got some ice cream, and did some shopping. It was the perfect way to finish a week in Switzerland.
Know Before You Go
- Swiss rail pass – The Swiss rail travel pass gets you serious discounts. Depending on how much moving about the country you’ll be doing this could save you money. You can opt for different amount of days.
- Covid testing – We all know there are ever changing rules with Covid guidelines. If you need one when you are in Switzerland do a little research to find a place. Unlike the United States, Covid tests aren’t necessarily free. We found a place in Zermatt that had a very short window to administer free tests. The other testing centers we found were anywhere between 150 and 400 Swiss Francs.