In 2017 my first steps in Switzerland lasted for 24 hours. Zurich served as a quick layover for me while traveling from New York to Barcelona. After a quick afternoon of walking through gorgeous town squares, snacking on chocolate covered oranges and ordering “fondue for two” at dinner – Switzerland has since been my top destinations to make my way back to.
In May 2019 I returned and spent three days hiking the Swiss Alps, falling deeper in love with this beautiful country with every step.
My itinerary broke down as so:
- Flew into Zurich
- Train from Zurich to Luzern – One night in Luzern
- Luzern to Lauterbrunnen & Mürren – Two nights in Mürren
- Mürren to Interlaken – One night in Interlaken
In general, Switzerland is very easy to travel through. Through all my travels in Switzerland I have not had the need to rent a car (or, “hire a car” as the Europeans would say). To get to Luzern, we took a train directly from Zurich Airport. The ease begins here, the train station is within the airport and the walkways will guide you. You’ll find the train platforms one level down and there are plenty of escalators and elevators to help you bring along your luggage. During our time in Switzerland we primarily traveled on the Swiss Rail company, SBB. I highly recommend downloading the SBB app. Within the app you can easily view train options, timetables and even purchase tickets for cable cars, buses and trains. Typically to hop on to buses or trains you will not need to present your ticket, however, if you are caught using transportation without a ticket, the fine is 90 Swiss francs. So I recommend downloading the app and keep your tickets safe within the app!
Luzern is a small town, which leads to its charm along with the iron rail balconies and bike lined streets. The Reuss River runs through the town, which is controlled by a dam and many pedestrian bridges run over the river connecting the two sides of the town. Chapel Bridge is the most famous of these, called Kapellbrücke. This covered wooden footbridge is the oldest in Europe, making it one of Switzerland’s top attractions.
Luzern is very easy to navigate and one can easily walk across town in a 30 minute stroll. There are local trams, buses & bike paths, with some hotels even offering a complimentary bus or train pass upon check-in, called a Mobility Ticket. To cover the center city itself, you will not need more than half a day. Grab your camera, start to walk through the streets and keep your ear out for the roaring dam.
Some popular activities include walking the Chapel Bridge and catching a Lake Lucerne Steam Boat Tour. If you have a little extra time, there is a wonderful Lion Monument across town or the Jesuit Church to stop in and admire.
From Luzern, we headed high into the mountains to spend some time in the Alps. Using a combination of trains and cable cars we passed through many charming Swiss towns and arrived in Mürren in 3 hours. Specifically our travel broke down into:
- Train from Luzern to Interlaken,
- Train transfer from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen.
- Once in, Lauterbrunnen we took the cable car to Mürren.
It is worth noting that Interlaken & Lauterbrunnen are wonderful towns and certainly worth your time. Either town can serve as a “hub” as you travel to other towns higher in the alps. I had the desire to spend the night in the alps at a high altitude, so we used Mürren as our hub. Later, as we made our way back down the mountain, we spent more time in both of these important towns.
Mürren is a lovely little alpine town, the streets are car-free and lined with hotels, restaurants and the local’s small businesses. Sprinkled up and down the mountain are the residents’ homes, providing a cozy and intimate environment. Mürren has incredible views of the three nearby mountains, Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger. We spent our time walking slowly with our camera in hand and jaws on the floor.
Mürren is about mid-way up to the summit, Schilthorn, and serves as a great hub for the different sights and activities to do on the mountain. From Mürren you can take the cable car up to the peak of Schilthorn to Pia-Gloria for a 360 degree view and a clever James Bond Museum (the filming location for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The ticket from Mürren to Schilthorn costs 80 Swiss francs which will give you round trip transportation and access to the observation deck. At 9744 feet tall, the Schilthorn is one of the tallest peaks in Europe and provides 360 degree views of the Bernese Alps of Switzerland.
Much to our disappointment on the morning of our trip to the top of Schilthorn the weather reports called for clouds, snow and low visibility. While we sat at breakfast we poured over the radar, searching for a break in the weather and a prime time to catch the cable car up the mountain.
Even though the weather looked bleak, ultimately we decided that we traveled too far (and too high!) to turn back. We rolled the dice, headed up the mountain and unfortunately lost our summit views to the weather. We sulked over the 360 degree white out as we sat down at the revolving Pia-Gloria restaurant, imaging the Bernese Alps below…
“all the more reason to come back,” I said.
Much to our surprise, snow in May is very common for these mountain villages. Unfortunately, our time in Mürren was cut short when a snowstorm blew in after our first day. The snow seemed manageable at first, however slowly the avalanche warnings started to climb and soon the summit and parts of the mountain began to close. Once the warnings reached a Grade 3 (“Considerable Danger Level”) we packed our bags and made our way down the mountain and to the valley floor.
From Mürren, you can also work you way down the mountain. Starting in Mürren you can take a 35 minute downhill hike to the charming little village of Gimmelwald. The towering views of the mountains Jungfrau and Mönch will awe you along the way.
Gimmelwald is known as a quaint town filled with families, farmers and alpine cows. Many travelers pay this town a visit to admire their way of life and the views they wake up to each day.
This alpine village is simple, quiet and Rick Steves’ “Heaven on Earth.” We spent about an hour walking through the town and imagined what a life on a mountain would be like.
From Gimmelwald, you can catch the cable car down to the valley floor, into Lauterbrunnen.
Lauterbrunnen is low on the mountain, around 2,000 feet above sea level. Many travelers choose to use this as their hub because of the convenient train station and ample hotels and restaurants. There is one main street, which is lovely to walk down. Every other door is either a place to rest or to warm up and fuel yourself. We popped into a little restaurant and enjoyed the most delicious Swiss traditional dish, Rossi. Aside from strolling the main street, I’d recommend visiting the waterfalls: Trümmelbach and Staubbach.
Continue walking down Main Street in Lauterbrunnen and you’ll eventually find yourself at the base of Staubbach Waterfall. This waterfall pours straight down the cliff face of the mountain and makes for a gorgeous backdrop along your walk. In the winter, you’ll only be able to walk up to the base of the falls and admire from the street. However, in the summer, a trail is opened up for visitors to trek right up to the waterfall and be sprayed by its mist.
Trümmelbach Falls are 10 glacier-waterfalls made from the surrounding glacier. The falls carry 20,000 liters of water per second and most of the falls are still inside the mountain, making Trümmelbach the only glacier falls in Europe inside a mountain. All ten falls are accessible and entrance to the park is eleven Swiss francs. The park closes at 5:00 pm each day and should take you about an hour to make your way through.
After a quick afternoon in Lauterbrunnen and the snow storm pushing us out of the valley, we caught one of the last trains to Interlaken. We spent a single night in Interlaken and then we were off to France. Whenever I travel to Europe, I turn the vacation into a sprint rather than a ride. I pack my precious PTO days with multiple cities, flights, trains and passport stamps. And as much as I enjoy seeing as much of Europe as possible when I visit, there are some destinations I leave in regret, having traveled through at warp speed.
Switzerland is one of them.
My May 2019 trip coupled Switzerland with both Holland & France and in total I only spent three nights in this incredible country. With so many charming alpine towns and surrounding French, Italian and German influence there is much to be discovered in this special corner of the world.
I first touched down in Switzerland in 2017 for a 24-hour layover,
I ventured back in 2019 for a Swiss Alp sprint,
and I am still left dreaming of when I will return again.