Must-See Switzerland Itinerary
You’re convinced, you want to see the Alps, but which Alps should you see? Switzerland is a maze of mountains and valleys, each with their own flavors and experiences to be tried. But with so many options, and often so little time available, how will you choose? To help, we’ve listed our recommendations for the can’t-miss places in Switzerland, with links to our thoughts on why. If your time is limited, go to these places first. These are organized in order of priority, but also take into consideration the weather and your own interests.
Depending on how much time you have, the below list outlines where you should spend your time to get the best Switzerland experience.
3-5 Days: Gimmelwald and the Berner Oberland/Lauterbrunnen Valley
Gimmelwald is Switzerland’s best-kept secret, and the perfect town for a pure alpine experience. Make it your home base, and from here you have endless hiking at your fingertips, as well as access up to the top of the Schilthorn on your side of the valley, and the Top of Europe, the Jungfrau, on the other. A week’s worth of activities and relaxing can easily pass by before you’ve realized it.
5-7 Days: Zermatt
There are near endless mountain adventures to be had from Zermatt. The Gornergrat, Rothorn, and Matterhorn Glacier Paradise lifts each provide for unique views of the famous Matterhorn, along with great options for hiking and skiing, making Zermatt a great place to spend a few days.
8-10 Days: Luzern
Luzern makes a great stop on your way out of the mountains. It can take some time to work your way into, and out of, the Alps. Use Luzern as a welcome break from train travel to stretch your legs and visit some historical Swiss sights.
12-14 Days: Bern & Lake Geneva
Explore the capital of Switzerland and its historical old town. While you’re at it, venture next door to the beautiful Lake Geneva on the border with France.
Even more time
Switzerland is located in the center of Western Europe. From here, you can easily get to France, Germany, or Italy, as fast trains connect to all major cities. The choices are endless! Or, slow down even more, and soak up the majestic beauty of the Swiss Alps.
WHEN TO GO
Do you want sun or snow? The itinerary above works in either summer or winter, as you can find thrilling ski lifts just outside Gimmelwald or Zermatt, making Switzerland enjoyable throughout the year depending on what activities you would like to do. For our money, traveling in June or July to some out-of-the-way alpine towns is the best way to experience Switzerland. Hiking through the Alps is second-to-none, especially when the wildflowers are blooming and the bells of the cows are ringing.
There’s no reason to rent a car for the above itinerary, as Gimmelwald and Zermatt aren’t even accessible by car in the first place. Plus, Swiss trains offer such dramatic views of the Alps, not to mention a safe and relaxing way to enjoy the view, that it would be a shame to miss out on that experience. Public transportation is everywhere in Switzerland, with even more unique options due to the spectacularly steep scenery. Whether by train, bus, metro, funicular, gondola, ferry, hiking trail, bicycle rental, or other, you can often get where you need to go quickly, easily, and with an amazing view. The Swiss are also known for their punctuality, with the most reliable public transportation network on the continent. This punctuality is refreshing coming from any of Switzerland’s neighboring countries where strikes and delays are frequent. Do be warned, however, that if you have a transfer from one form of transportation to another, even one train to another, the connection times can be very short. We’ve experienced transfer times of 5-6 minutes between trains, which for slower visitors can be quite a challenge to unload your luggage, walk down the bin through the crowds, find your next train, and walk to your assigned car. Either make sure you’re comfortable navigating train stations, or scheduler longer transfers, as most trains run frequently, with routes running typically between 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the route. Consider the Swiss Travel Pass if you plan to take a few trips by train, as it can quickly save you money over point-to-point tickets.
WHERE TO STAY
Lodging options are plentiful throughout Switzerland, and we regardless of location we recommend finding a comfy bed & breakfast, a place where you can wake up on your own schedule to pastries and fresh bread, coffee, tea, and alp cheese. If you take our advice and plan to visit Gimmelwald, however, you need to do some advanced planning to ensure you have a place to lay your head in the evening. There’s a reason Gimmelwald has been able to maintain is seclusion: the locals were able to intentionally declare their town an avalanche zone. That means large developments such as hotels and resorts are not allowed. Your options are the small but comfy Mountain Hostel, or renting a room from a local. Thankfully, the townspeople have made this rather easy, and setup their own website where you can view most available options for rent, with links to directly contact the respective owners, or for a few options book through airbnb. You won’t go wrong with any option, but to truly enjoy the generous and kind Swiss hospitality, book a room at Esther’s Guesthouse or Olle and Maria’s B&B. Both offer options to purchase breakfast, which is a nice touch considering the limited restaurant options in the immediate vicinity. Because rooms in Gimmelwald are limited, they book up quickly. Thankfully, Mürren is a short walk or cable-car ride away, with plenty of lodging options.