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Switzerland – 20 Unmissable Swiss Alps Experiences

I can’t think of too many countries that afford so many breathtaking experiences. The geography of Switzerland is legendary and with a little planning this list of Switzerland – 20 Unmissable Swiss Alps Experiences can be covered in a very short period of time and are sure to round out a very satisfying visit to Switzerland.

We’ve been ducking in and out of Switzerland both leisurely and professionally for many years but it’s my parents that have mastered the art of Swiss travel. In their mid seventies they are frequent visitors and don’t shy away from too many experiences that Switzerland has to offer (training for their Matterhorn ascent has stalled until they find crampons that fit… they’re really little😉).

A few years back we flew into Milan and bussed it to Locarno. The aim was to meet up with my parents in Lugano and at 12am we stood surrounded by cab drivers all eager to take our money for the 45 minute fare over the mountains to Lugano. We hadn’t discussed a price, we didn’t care. It was late. Within the hour we did care, the taxi meter became our anxiety barometer. We were carrying 240 CHF, the meter was at 220 and we were in total darkness. No town lights. No signs. And no more money. At 233 CHF and 1am we came to a stop in the town centre and hustled out of the cab. We walked to our accommodation, lamenting our lack of planning, the insanely expensive cab ride and the stressful start to our laconic tour of Switzerland. There had to be a better way.
*Whilst you’re on this side of the world you might want to check out our UK post St.Ives Cornwall, So Good I Moved There – The Very Best Of Lands End, or to go in the other direction, read about our Moscow Unveiled – Explore Iconic Sights On A Red Square Morning In Russia.

Switzerland – The Right Way

We’ve driven around Switzerland several times. My parents have driven, trained, bussed, sailed, walked and cable car-eded. Driving Switzerland is not much fun for the driver, in that you’ve got little time to look around (concentration is recommended on mountain passes with sheer drops). If I compare the images and experiences they’ve had to mine I would have to defer to them. They have notched up some terrific experiences of which I will now impart and cunningly disguise as… Switzerland – 20 Unmissable Swiss Alps Experiences, read on you won’t regret it!

1.Mount Pilatus

The dragon’s lair, Pilatus has a legendary status in Switzerland that is matched by its staggering beauty. On a clear day the mountain offers a panoramic view of the Swiss Alps.
Mount Pilatus can be reached from Lucerne by gondola lift and cable car or you could opt for the world’s steepest rack-railroad from Alpnachstad. So you’ve got a bunch of experiences for the round trip to cap off an already special moment, all you need to do is control the weather.

2.Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne is the fourth largest lake in the country. Steamers and other passenger boats sail between the various villages dotted around what is an outrageously picturesque lake with a complex geography of steep cliffs and turquoise waters.

3.Lake Thun

An historic paddle steamer sails (steams) Lake Thun all year round. Summertime brings the “Riviera of Lake Thun” to life where you will find small vineyards, thousand-year-old Romanesque churches and a beautiful castle which dominates the shoreline by the Bay of Spiez. Best to base yourself at Thun and allow a couple of days to take it all in.

4.Thun

The medieval town of Thun sits at the western end of the lake and is considered the gateway to the Bernese Oberland, the highlands of the Bern region. Thun is a gorgeous town made for walking with narrow lanes, stunning waterways and historic buildings. The imposing castle is a must see.

5.Schynige Platte Cog Train

Schynige Platte is a unique experience. The Schynige Platte Cog Train is a spectacular experience. Yes, it’s a cog train for obvious reasons… it’s real steep. The views are Switzerland special and on a clear day you’ll be able to see Lake Brienz and the Jungfrau. The Schynige Platte is known for its volume of alpine flowers especially from June through to September.

6.Grindelwald Valley to the Eiger Glacier

At 6km’s long the Grindelwald–Männlichen cableway is Europe’s longest gondola cableway. In 5 minutes you’ll climb almost 1,000 metres. The Eiger glacier along with views of Mönch and Jungfrau are the prize.

7.Four Passes PostBus

Switzerland is legendary for its mountain passes and this one day trip will give you a medley of the most impressive Swiss Alpine passes by PostBus. You’ll cover more than 10,000 metres in altitude , 25 bridges and passes through as many tunnels on a return route from Meiringen through the mountain passes of Grimsel, Nufenen, Gotthard and Susten. I’ve driven portions of this… would rather have been looking at the view than the road… extreme is to understate. A very Swiss experience that shouldn’t be missed.

8.Allmendhubel to Gimmelwald Walk

This is an easy 8.0 km (5 miles) stroll through classic Swiss country-side with excellent views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and also a host of peaks to the west where you’ll finish at the fascinating ‘car-less’ mountain town of Gimmelwald (which is accessible only on foot or by cable car). To get the most out of this walk you really want to pair it with the Stechelberg cable car, which is a special experience in itself, but of course you could wander back the same way or walk down to Stechelberg (cable car, cable car🤔). Some detailed directions here.

9.Gimmelwald to Stechelberg Cable Car

The 1.6km aerial ferry to Gimmelwald is lifted off the postcards. It makes for an extremely satisfying outing if you pair it with the walk from Mürren, 2 ticks on the bucket list in one day. Checkout times and prices here.

10.Hinterdorf Old Zermatt

Known as “Hinterdorf” (rear village), this is the old part of the village of Zermatt with buildings that date back 400 centuries. It’s a little slice of time travel, taking you through a warren of exceptional and fascinating examples of Swiss alpine architecture. Cuuuute.

11.The Matterhorn

The rock star of mountain peaks, the Matterhorn is the world’s most famous mountain and is all the more impressive in person. You can get that little bit closer by jumping on the Klein Matterhorn cableway to the highest cable car station in Europe (3,883 m). Start planning your ascent via this link.

12.Glacier Express

This 8 hour route takes you through 3 regions of Switzerland – Valais, Uri and Graubünden and offers breathtaking views from carriages with exceptional visibility which includes overhead windows. A terrific way to transit cross country to start exploring the Ticino region.

13.Palm Express

To continue the journey in style from the Glacier Express you can switch to the PostBus for the delightfully scenic Palm Express from St Moritz to Lugano. A 4-hour journey from “the glaciers of Engadine to the swaying palms of Lugano”. You will need your passport handy as you’ll be cutting through northern Italy… so inconvenient. Sort your tickets here.

14.Ticino

Ticino is a trip in itself. An Italian speaking region of Switzerland which is dotted with idylic lakeside Italian villages like Ciona, Carona, Morcote and the gorgeous mountain ridge of Monte San Salvatore. Reckon Cheryl may have an urgent need for an art residency in Ticino… urgent, imminent, real important🙏.

15.Juan Pass

Conveniently the Juan Pass is on your way to the Lavaux Vineyards, it links Charmey and Jaun with Reidenbach in the canton of Bern. The Juan Pass is another one of those spectacular Swiss Alps experiences of narrow alpine roads and scary hairpins. Probably best experienced in the summer.

16.Moleson to Gruyeres Walk

Enjoy an 8.6km ‘Heidi-like’ stroll, where you’ll descend 800 metres down through sweeping valleys of staggering beauty after a typically Swiss cable car trip up the mountain side. Enough with the cable cars😐.

17.Gruyeres Cheese Factory

Now if you don’t like cheese… you should be ashamed of yourself😉. I do, so this is very important. The chance to experience the techno Swiss doing there thing with all of that pristine alpine milk as 36 farmers deliver their portions twice a day to be transformed into… wait for it, 48 wheels of Gruyère a day. My eyes are watering. Non-negotiable, you must go here.

18.Lavauz Vineyards

If wine is not your thing you would still be bonkers to miss this. As the largest (contiguous) vineyard region in Switzerland, its hillside terraces have been under UNESCO protection for just over 10 years and date back to Roman times. The views across Lake Geneva to France are stunning and with a temperate climate you’ll be happy for the break from all that crisp mountain air. And if wine is your thing… the grape variety grown here is the Chasselas.

19.Fribourg

A very picturesque city perched above the valley of the Sarine. The city is one of the best examples of Switzerland’s architectural heritage and dates back 900 years with rich artistic heritage that has been recorded within a wonderful renaissance art and history museum housed in a former abattoir of the same period.

20.Verena Gorge

The Verena Gorge is home to a Hermitage, or religious getaway… well, perhaps a little flippant, but as so often piety inspires, the building/s are impossibly situated in the rock faces of the looming cliffs of Verena Gorge. It’s a very pleasant 2km walk with the beckoning of Restaurant Kreuzen at the finish line. Verona Gorge is walking distance to the north of the city of Solothurn.

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Map of Switzerland's - 20 Unmissable Swiss Alps Experiences

Getting Around Switzerland

I’ve already given my two cents on the benefits of public transport in Switzerland. The only major hassle is getting your head around the complexity of ticketing and regions. A Eurail Pass and Interrail Pass will only get you on certain major routes, it won’t get you on some the spectacular train routes I’ve covered here.

Planning is your best friend in Switzerland and considering the wonderfully efficiency of the Swiss public transport system, a good place to start is the Swiss Rail website. The GA Travelcard will get you on most routes including boats, buses and trams and you also receive discounts on many mountain railways, they are offered by region and the entire country. Lines like the Glacier Express may have restrictions but can offer discounts for various passes.

The only issue with a GA Railcard is that there is a minimum 4 month contract, but considering the amount of travelling you may be doing the numbers will likely stack up in your favour.
Cost – Adults CHF 1388 (4 month contract) | Seniors – CHF 1000 (approx).

When To Go To Switzerland

There is a myriad of festivals and events in Switzerland that you may want to research before you lock in your dates. The Oberammergau Passion Play for example is hugely popular and is only held every 10 years, the next event is 2020.

With regards to weather, it can be a bit of roll of the dice at any time of the year, especially in the high alps. January/February is the depth of winter so outside of skiing there will be obvious limitations. The great thing about Switzerland is that there are year round draws due to its geographical diversity, if I were to defer to my parents as examples, they tend to go in August/September.

Where to Stay in Switzerland

We use Airbnb whenever the opportunity pops up and at a glance there seems like the Swiss have embraced the homestay juggernaut. We run our own place in Port Douglas, Australia so know the system pretty well and for us it’s the most user-friendly of the private holiday rental apps. If you are planning to stay for longer than 2 nights, click here to set up an Airbnb account (and get a $55 discount on your first booking), it can be a roll of the dice in terms of what you get but you’ll likely get way more bang for your buck. There are hostels in most popular areas of Switzerland with private rooms that are of exceptionally high standards.

If you’re more comfortable going with hotels, below is an accomodation banner for you to check out some hotel options using the Hotels Combined search engine, which is preset to search Switzerland.

Credits

All of these images were taken by mum & dad, contact me if you’d like to use any.

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