We absolutely LOVED Switzerland….it is probably as close to a real-life fairy tale as you can get. There is just something about snow-covered mountains, wide open fields, and charming villages that just speak to your soul. The stillness, quietness, power, wildness and beauty all come together to form this picture perfect scene that will leave you craving more. While Switzerland looks small on a map, there are so many different things to do and see that it can be pretty overwhelming in knowing where to start, so here is a list of all of our favorites!
Lauterbrunnen is a hands-down “must-see” and is a Lord of the Rings wonderland. To be honest, I’m not a huge LOTR fan…yeah, the movies were entertaining but I don’t need to see them more than a few times, and I’ve never read the books, so this opinion is NOT from a LOTR fangirl 🙂 HOWEVER, that being said, DON’T miss this place! It has been said that J.R Tolkien got his inspiration for the elvish town of Rivendell from Lauterbrunnen, which is known as “The Land of 72 Waterfalls”. “Lauterbrunnen” LITERALLY translates to “many fountains”. Because Lauterbrunnen sits in a valley at the base of the Alps, they have TONS of fresh alpine-water waterfalls that are created by snow and ice that melt. It’s absolutely BREATHTAKING and is any waterfall chaser’s dream. The largest and most famous of these falls is Staubback Falls, which is one of the highest free-falling waterfalls in all of Europe, plunging from almost 984 feet (300 meters). The town itself is super cute and fun to walk through…. stop and grab a cappuccino in the café near the falls, or plan to go down for the day and hike up behind Staubback Falls for an unforgettable view and top it off with a pot of Swiss fondue!
Good to know: Lauterbrunnen has a public parking garage that you can use for about 8 CHF per day (we left our car there for 3 days and 2 nights and paid 25 CHF). Our final destination was Mürren, which is a town that sits above Lauterbrunnen and is car-free. So we left our car in Lauterbrunnen, paid 11 CHF per person to hitch a ride up via the air gondola and then train. It was a 30 minute trip to take the gondola to Grutschalp, and then the train from Grutschalp to Mürren (note that the 11 CHF fare is for one person one way, tickets can be purchased at the train station or the gondola station right near the covered parking garage, and the gondola leaves every 30 minutes). Lauterbrunnen is about a 2.25 hour drive to Geneva and about 2 hours from Zurich.
Mürren is the most ADORABLE little town that I have ever visited. It is a car-free village, complete with fresh alpine air and water, which runs freely in adorable water fountains all through the town. It is the highest village on the mountain and is only accessible by a gondola and train. We stayed in Mürren at Hotel Eiger (read more about that stay here) and had an absolute blast. We love the beach, but there is just something about the stillness and majesty of the mountains that just can’t be beat, and Mürren offers you the perfect mountain escape. Honestly, I think we both had the best sleep of our life here…it’s amazing what mountain air and the quietness of ZERO vehicles will do for you! Mürren is brimming with hiking trails, open fields, and cows in their pastures, making for a wildly enchanting display of ringing bells all throughout the fields. That might sound a bit obnoxious (I was certainly expecting it to be), but it was actually quite soothing and I find myself missing it already! Even if you aren’t a hiker, there are lots of smaller trails to take, and even walking through town, or down to Gimmelwald is super fun! If you ARE a hiker then you’ll be in a hiker’s paradise, as there are hiking trails that run all up and down the mountain that begin (or at least pass through) Mürren. We did the North Face Trail, which took us about 2 hours to complete, although we did go up the harder way. There is an option to take a train/trolley up the hardest portion, which will drop you off at the path, but we didn’t take that so I don’t know the price. The North Face Trail is a complete circle, so you begin and end in Mürren, and the difficulty is ranked as “medium” (it’s known to be good for kids, and probably even more-so if you are taking the trolley). Pro Tip: pick up fresh bread, cheese, and chocolate at the store on your way up and have a picnic in the Alps when you reach the open field! You get a perfect view of the mountains, including Eiger. (Pro PRO Tip: make sure that the water that you pick up to bring on your hike isn’t sparkling…we MAY have made this mistake….sparkling water is much less refreshing on a hike 😀 ). You also get to see lots of cows and sheep and hear their mesmerizing bells chiming throughout your whole hike. The path is mostly dirt and gravel until the last ¼ mile that brings you back into town where it turns to pavement. Total mileage is about 4 miles and the trail is situated right above Mürren. More adventurous hikers can hike for several days to get to the top of Schilthorn, but there are many hikes with difficulty levels for everyone in between! Be sure to ask your hotel receptionist for a map that lists hiking trails…everyone that we met spoke very good English and was super friendly, helpful, and hospitable!
3.) Schilthorn-Piz Gloria
Schilthorn is one of the peaks in the Bernese Alps, right above Mürren, and offers a perfect panoramic view of the 3 tallest points: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. It is also home to the revolving restaurant Piz Gloria, which was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Piz Gloria is a functioning restaurant that includes a gift shop and a James Bond museum. To be honest, we didn’t spend much time inside, as we were there more for the spectacular view, not so much for the James Bond references 🙂 The only way to get to the top of Schilthorn (other than hiking) is by gondola. We started in Mürren and rode the 2 gondolas (Mürren to Birg, and then Birg to Schilthorn) for 82 CHF each, which also includes the return trip. I think you can get a discount if you have a Swiss Travel Pass, or other types of rail passes, but we didn’t have those so I’m not sure as to what the discount is exactly. The entire trip from Mürren up to Schilthorn took about 20 minutes, but it would be a longer trip if you were starting lower than Mürren. I would advise you to look online at their live camera first before you go…sometimes it’s so cloudy/foggy up there that you can’t see anything, which makes the 82 CHF not worth it. The camera is live 24 hours a day and can be visited here. Make sure you dress warm, even if it’s not that cold when you start your trip…. it definitely gets colder the higher you go! Be sure to get out and explore when you stop at Birg on your way down from Schilthorn. You can go through a series of Thrill Walks….walking over the edge of the mountain on a glass walkway bridge, crawl through a caged fence tunnel hanging over the mountain edge, and tightrope walking over the edge! It’s a pretty neat (and free) experience that definitely gets your adrenaline pumping! We were debating between doing Schilthorn or doing The Jungfraujoch, also known as the “Top of Europe”, which is the highest railway station in Europe, but significantly more expensive…one second-class ticket was $238 if you didn’t have a rail pass with a discount. We read reviews of travelers who said not to waste money on Jungfraujoch and that the view was just as good, if not better, at Schilthorn. We decided to take their advice since we wanted a great view for less money and for a trip that wouldn’t take an entire day, so Schilthorn worked out perfect for us! I would definitely recommend this option!
Only a short 25 minute walk away from Mürren is the town of Gimmelwald, which is situated right below Mürren. Gimmelwald is a super cute little farming village that is less travelers and more locals. In fact, a lot of Gimmelwald’s products are brought up to be used in the restaurants in Mürren, especially the cheese 🙂 Be sure to check out the Honesty Shop and the bar next door, both adorable spots! You can take the gondola back up to Mürren (we hopped on for free), or you can walk back…we read that the average time to walk back up is about 1.5 hours, even though it only took 25 minutes coming down. The 2 mile path is paved and offers gorgeous views from a different perspective since Gimmelwald doesn’t have as high of a vantage point as Mürren does.
Switzerland is home to many culinary experiences that you absolutely MUST try…some of our favorites are listed below
- Chocolate – this is obvious, but the Swiss are the chocolate connoisseurs of the world, and as such, have some of the best chocolate in the world. My suggestion: try it all! You can get a variety of different bars at a grocery store for around $2 each…they make for great mid-hike snacks, paired with coffee while you sip and stare at the view, or even as a late night snack in the hotel! Be sure to stock up and bring some home for friends and family…. they’re great inexpensive options that everyone loves 🙂
- Cheese – with having so many cows and local cheese, this one is another obvious one. Pair it with fresh bread from a grocery store and you have yourself a super cheap but tasty and filling breakfast or hiking lunch!
- Cheese Fondue – again, another Swiss delicacy. Most restaurants offer some type of fondue pot, made with a blend of different cheeses that is always a secret recipe that varies from restaurant to restaurant. The fondue usually comes with a variety of vegetables, bread pieces, and potatoes to dip…we split a pot of it for lunch in Lauterbrunnen and it was fabulous!
- Local beer and wine – I always recommend trying the local beer and wine wherever you are…..a.) It’s cheaper than water, and the local varieties are usually less expensive than the other options, and b.) It allows you the opportunity to taste and experience more of the country that you’re in. We loved everything that we tried!
- Latte Macchiato – try this at Hotel Eiger’s restaurant in Mürren, where the views are spectacular! You can sit on the terrace outside that gives a perfect view of Mount Eiger…perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or a post-hike treat!
- Venison – we didn’t try this, but I can only imagine that it’s just as magnificent as everything else the Swiss create. We visited Switzerland in the fall, so venison and other game were on every menu we looked at.
Tips and Tricks:
- Switzerland is known for being pretty expensive, HOWEVER, if you do it right it doesn’t have to be! Go in the off season, utilize the grocery store, drink local beer/wine instead of the $6 soda, split meals when possible, stay in a hotel where breakfast is included, and take advantage of the free hiking and you can make it affordable!
- All tap water in Mürren is drinkable.
- Mürren also has free flowing water fountains all over town where you can fill your water bottle up for free with fresh alpine water…can’t beat that!
- The Swiss currency is Swiss Francs, also known as CHF.
- Make sure you have an international adapter for your hotel room so you can charge your electronics if your chargers aren’t already in European format.
- The Swiss are super friendly and speak great English… don’t hesitate to ask locals for suggestions on what to do or where to go!
- Switzerland is big on paragliding adventures. We didn’t try it because there were other things that we wanted to do, but if you’ve ever wanted to try it I certainly can’t think of a better place to do so!
- Other popular Swiss activities include snow sports (skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing), hiking, and biking (lots of bike trails). We also saw lots of lakes as we drove through Switzerland, so I’m sure they have water sport options in the summer too!
- Make sure that you leave plenty of time to catch your flight if you’re leaving out of the Zurich airport…it took us 2 hours to get from the door to the gate. There was a long line at check-in, a line at the passport check, and took 30 minutes to get to the gate (including the walk and the shuttle).
- We did our trip a bit unconventionally and did not buy a rail pass. Since we were coming from France, we rented a car in Marseille, France and drove 5 hours to Geneva (we wanted to drive through France and see the countryside – we highly recommend it!). It was super expensive to drop the car off in another country, and France and Switzerland share the Geneva airport, so in order to save $200, we dropped off our French car on the French side of the airport, and then walked over to the Swiss side of the airport to pick up a Swiss rental car, which we would eventually drop off in Zurich. It was definitely a hassle, but worth it to save the money!
- If you ARE driving through Switzerland, there is a 40€ toll that you have to pay to cross the border into Switzerland (even if you’re just trying to get to the French side of the Geneva airport). The sticker looks like it’s good for all year, and we didn’t see any other tolls throughout Switzerland, so we assumed it’s a one-time toll that’s good all year…..but not helpful if you’re only visiting for a few days. Our French rental car did not have this sticker, so we had to pay the toll when we crossed the border, but our Swiss rental car already had a sticker on it, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that is a standard for Swiss rental cars.
- If you’re looking for a cheap hotel in Zurich that is near the airport check out Ibis Budget Hotel here. It isn’t anything special, but it is only 10 minutes to the airport and around $90/night. It’s small but clean and will do the job for one night if needed!