I have no hesitation in admitting that Switzerland is my favorite country in Europe so the hardest part of writing about the best places to visit in Switzerland was deciding which ones to choose!
After much deliberation, I have selected five of my favorites that I’d encourage you to add to your itinerary when you visit Switzerland.
When anyone asks me which are the best places to visit in Switzerland, the first one I mention is the picture postcard Swiss village of Lauterbrunnen. I’ve visited Lauterbrunnen many times and it still takes my breath away every time I arrive in the village.
Like the nearby Switzerland towns of Interlaken and Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen makes a great base for a stay in the Bernese Oberland region. Here you can partake in any number of outdoor activities – both in summer and winter – and experience some amazing excursions and scenery.
Lauterbrunnen is everything you’d imagine a Swiss village to be. The streets are lined with wooden chalets with steeply pitched roofs, cows with their obligatory cow bells graze in the surrounding fields and snow-capped mountains peek out from above the rooftops.
There are 72 waterfalls in the Lauterbrunnen Valley and two that are worth visiting are Staubbach Falls, which you’ll see as you enter the main street, and Trummelbach Falls, a series of glacier waterfalls in Europe’s largest subterranean caves. The power of the water thundering through the caves – up to 20,000 liters per second – is mind-blowing.
Most visitors to the region take the train ride to the Jungfraujoch, as it is one of Switzerland’s most popular attractions. With frequent trains departing from Lauterbrunnen, you can reach the ‘Top of Europe’ at 3,454 meters above sea level in just 90 minutes.
At the top, there are numerous shops and restaurants, an observation deck, an ice sculpture museum and magnificent views over the Aletsch Glacier and the surrounding alpine peaks.
Another great day’s excursion from Lauterbrunnen is to the Schilthorn, the mountain peak where the James Bond movie ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was filmed. An interactive museum based on the movie and dining in the revolving restaurant are two ways you can pass the time on the Schilthorn, but for me, the main attraction is the stunning 360° view. On a clear day, you can see as far as Mont Blanc and Germany’s Black Forest! Purchase your cable car ticket now for only $53.
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Sitting on the shores of the lake of the same name, Lucerne is well worth a visit. Perhaps most famous for its Chapel Bridge, the city has many other attractions, too. Let’s start with the Chapel Bridge. This medieval wooden bridge – which dates back to the 14th century – crosses the River Reuss and once formed part of the town’s fortifications.
This is the oldest wooden bridge in Europe, and in the 17th century, paintings of Lucerne’s history were added to the bridge’s roof panels. Many of these paintings can still be seen today (the bridge was partly destroyed by fire in 1993), and flower boxes adorning the bridge add more decoration.
If you cross Chapel Bridge from the Old Town (which features beautifully frescoed buildings, some with oriel windows), you’ll emerge near the Jesuit Church. The simple façade belies the beauty within. Inside the church, the interior is adorned with white marble, stuccowork, and ceiling frescoes. It’s definitely a place that invites some quiet contemplation.
Museum-lovers have plenty of choices in Lucerne. The Rosengart Collection is a private collection featuring over 200 modern works by painters including Paul Klee, Cezanne, Monet, Chagall, and Matisse. At the Picasso Museum, you can browse over 200 photos of the artist at work and play.
At Verkehrshaus, the Swiss Transport Museum, you’ll find just about every form of mechanized transport on display. You could easily spend a whole day here as there are lots of interactive exhibitions, including a flight simulator, and an IMAX Hall. There’s a huge range of vehicles from trains to cars to planes and spacecraft on display.
No visit to Lucerne is complete without a lake cruise. From the lake, you can really appreciate its location at the foot of Mt. Rigi, Mt. Titlis and Mt. Pilatus. Both paddle steamers and luxury yachts offer cruises on the lake.
If you are staying in Lucerne for a day or two you’ll probably want to experience one of the nearby mountain excursions – and there are plenty on offer. Will you take the world’s steepest cog railway to Mt. Pilatus, catch a steam train to Mt. Rigi, or test your nerves on the world’s first revolving cable car on Mt. Titlis? All are easily accessible from Lucerne.
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Another of my picks of the most beautiful places in Switzerland is Zermatt. Where else can you get up so close and personal to the magnificent Matterhorn? A 30-minute ride on the Gornergratbahn from Zermatt railway station will deliver you to Gornergrat for fantastic views of the Matterhorn. You can also have your photo taken with a St. Bernard – complete with whiskey barrel!
For a different perspective of the Matterhorn, take the cable car to Rothorn where you get a panoramic view of towering alpine peaks. Zermatt is a popular ski resort in winter but it also offers glacier skiing in summer so no matter when you visit you can clip on the skis. If you’re looking at spending the night we recommend Beau-Rivage hotel or Schlosshotel Life & Style Zermatt but book online in advance.
In summer, hiking and biking are popular outdoor activities and walks like the Five Lakes Walk are perfect for a leisurely stroll through alpine meadows and past crystal clear lakes.
If you’re looking for something a little less active to do, Zermatt has plenty to offer. The attractive car-free town has a thriving center with all manner of shops, there are dining outlets to suit every budget (including three Michelin-starred restaurants), and a large number of spas and wellness centers, perfect for soothing your tired muscles after a day of activity.
Often overlooked by travelers, the Swiss capital of Bern is another great place to visit on your trip to Switzerland. The city, which dates back to the 12th century, is built on a bend of the River Aare and features many attractive buildings.
Bern’s cobblestoned Old Town is one of the country’s best-preserved historic centers. Dotted around the Old Town are numerous colorful fountains and statues, as well as the longest covered shopping promenade in Europe. It’s amongst these arcades in Münstergasse that a bustling market takes place every Tuesday and Saturday morning.
At four minutes to every hour, every day of the week, you’ll hear the chimes of the most important landmark in Bern, the historic Zytglogge (clock tower). The 800-year-old clock is decorated with figurines that perform every hour. It’s possible to take a guided tour of the Zytglogge and, as a bonus, you get great views of the city from the tower.
More great views over Bern can be had from Berner Münster. As well as the tower, which you can visit, the Cathedral also features a 12-meter high stained glass window.
Just around the corner from the Münster is the Einstein House where the great scientist lived from 1903 to 1905. It was during his residence here that Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity which completely changed the world’s understanding of space and time. Now a museum, you can visit Einstein’s former apartment on the third floor of Kramgasse 49.
Across the River Aare, you’ll find the Bear Park (Bärengraben). Brown bears have been kept by the city of Bern since it was founded in 1191 and although this is a somewhat controversial subject, they are still housed in the Bear Park today.
When I first visited Bern thirty years ago the bears were housed in what was little more than a large concrete cage but I’m pleased to say that as of 2009, a new 6,000-square meter park was created for them.
Today, the family of three bears that live in the park can wander amongst a forested area, relax on grassland and even swim in their own pool which runs alongside the River Aare.
There are many other places in Switzerland that I could easily have included amongst those that I regard as the best places to visit in the country but I’ve chosen Appenzell as, to me, it offers a typical Swiss rural experience.
The town of Appenzell can be found in the region of the same name in the east of the country. You may not have heard of it before, and there aren’t any world-famous attractions here, but that is the appeal.
This is the Switzerland that you imagine when you think of the children’s story, Heidi. With stunning scenery but a lack of tourists, you can enjoy this part of Switzerland almost by yourself.
Appenzell’s economy is largely dependent on farming – cheese production is big here – and the locals are quite conservative and have strong ties with their folk traditions. It was only in the early 1990s that women in Appenzell were given the right to vote – yes, that’s the 1990s, not the 1890s!!
In the town of Appenzell, there are a number of beautiful buildings worth a look. As you wander down Hauptgasse (main street) you can admire the stunning painted shop facades adorned with wrought iron signs.
Some of the buildings in town that feature outstanding facades include Konkordia House, Hampi Fassler House, the Town Hall, and Lowen Pharmacy. The Appenzell Tourist Office website has a handy map to show you the locations of each of these buildings.
Appenzell is one of many towns in the region that has an open public square known as Landsgemeindeplatz. This is where voting takes place come election time and every citizen over twenty years old must appear in person to cast their vote.
Surrounding the town are lush fields where cattle graze. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a vacant plot of land in the township fenced off so that a cow or two can munch on the grass.
If you’re visiting Appenzell at the end of summer you might be lucky enough to witness the annual Alpabfahrt, when farmers move their cattle from the summer pastures to barns in the valley. It’s a wonderful sight to see the cows led along roads by farmers in their traditional bright Appenzell costumes. All accompanied by the sound of cowbells clanging!
With such an abundance of good pasture, it’s not surprising then that cheese making is big business in Appenzellerland. At the Appenzeller Schaukaserie in Stein, just 10 kilometers from Appenzell, you can watch as local artisans make wheels of delicious, spicy Appenzeller cheese.
A large viewing gallery allows visitors to follow the cheese-making process from start to finish, and there are samples to try in the shop. If you’re really keen, you can book a cheese making class and learn all the secrets from the experts.
Whatever your interests, whether they are enjoying mountain activities, city sights, wandering museums or experiencing life in a tranquil rural village, Switzerland has something for you. I hope you’ll add at least one of my selections of best places to visit in Switzerland to your vacation.
Author bio: Carolyn Schonafinger is an Australian blogger and the founder and editor of Holidays to Europe. Carolyn travels to Europe annually to satisfy her desire to explore every inch of the continent. With over a dozen European vacations to her name, Carolyn loves sharing her travel tips and destination ideas with her readers.