My Top 5 Swiss Highlights!
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
When Facebook reminded me a few weeks ago that it had been a year since my 2018 Switzerland trip, I realised this awesome week hadn’t even been mentioned on On Tour With Jen! Having fallen in love with Switzerland’s incredible scenery on Instagram, I semi-spontaneously booked my second solo trip to spend a week in this delightful country!
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In order to visit a number of different spots as easily as I could, I spent four nights in Interlaken and two in Thun. I hopped around the more central regions of the country via Switzerland’s IMMACULATE rail system, travelling on my own terms and visiting the sights I was most interested in. There are things I wish I’d done differently, and things that I learned, but I honestly had the BEST time, and I fell in love with this incredible country a lot harder than I had expected!
With the exception of my final afternoon in Switzerland - a stressful story which received its own highlight on my personal insta - I had such a peaceful week. I have never breathed in air so pure before - my lungs had never felt clearer in my life! Honestly, if Switzerland wasn’t so bloody expensive, I’d love to live there, or at least visit on a regular basis.
I posted a poll over on my insta, asking whether you’d rather see a post of my Top 5 Swiss highlights, or my Top 10; as I predicted, you chose the more concise version, so here are my top five Swiss sights - I hope this provides some inspo for those of you planning a trip to this beautiful country!
5) Interlaken/Harder Kulm
Having landed in Zurich, Interlaken was my first port of call, and where I stayed for the first six nights of my trip. Ever since we studied this area in year nine geography (back in 2007/8), which my whole class seemed to find memorable for some reason, Interlaken had been on my bucket list, so it was amazing to fulfil that dream ten years on!
I had spent the two-hour train journey from Zurich admiring the landscape, and wincing at the rain that had decided to grace us with its presence! I had booked my trip so late that I had been able to check the weather forecast before I did so, and it looked like I was set to have a grotty few days weather-wise, but I was assured by a lot of fellow instagrammers that Switzerland was worth a visit, even in the rain!
Heeding the advice I had been given, I made sure I’d packed my favourite coat and convinced myself a bit of rain never hurt anyone (true, but I hate getting soggy!). By some good fortune, the skies temporarily cleared upon my arrival in Interlaken, so I went out to explore straight away!
Interlaken is an adorable town, although understandably quite touristy. I decided I would first venture to Harder Kulm, a lookout point over Interlaken. Most things in Interlaken are within walking distance, including the funicular that takes you up to the lookout.
Even though I’d arrived in the middle of the day when the sun had just come out, there wasn’t much of a queue for the funicular, and it took about 10 minutes to climb to the top. From there it’s just a short walk to the lookout point and a restaurant.
Just as I reached the very top, however, the weather quickly turned, pouring with rain again, and limiting our visibility to almost zero. I decided to wait it out in the restaurant while I nursed my second redbull of the day and charged my phone. As quickly as the rain came, it dissipated once again, and I took advantage of the break in the clouds before my chance was gone!
Harder Kulm sits 754m above Interlaken, so (when the clouds disappear) you’re guaranteed some truly amazing views! From Two Lakes Bridge, which juts out over the town, you have a clear view of Brienzelsee to the north east, and Thunersee to the west – the two lakes between which Interlaken lies (hence the name inter-laken). It won’t take you long to notice that the water in Switzerland is the most gorgeous shade of blue – I don’t think I ever got tired of it!
If you’re after more than just a view, you can hike up (or down) Harder from Interlaken. I haven’t looked too much into the hike as I was fully aware that I wouldn’t be heaving myself 700m+ up a hill on my first day in Switzerland (especially when the funicular takes eight minutes)! For the avid hikers among you, however, the view from the top is quite the reward!
Thun was one of my last discoveries in Switzerland, and one I really wish I’d made earlier in the trip (or beforehand)! I stayed in Thun for the final two nights of my trip so I was slightly closer to Bern and Montreux – two must-sees for me – without being too far from Zurich when it came to flying home.
Thun is ADORABLE. Having spent the last four days in Interlaken, paying through the nose for the tiniest room (perfectly adequate, but nothing luxurious), I was paying slightly less per night in Thun for a *proper* hotel and the most gorgeous room! Since I started travelling without my parents a few years back, I hardly ever stay in genuine hotels, let alone NICE hotels! As soon as I arrived I started kicking myself that I hadn’t just spent the whole week in Thun, saved myself some money, and just had to travel a little bit further to some of the places I visited.
As I visited Bern on the day I arrived in Thun, Montreux the day after, and Blausee on my final morning, I didn’t afford myself much time in Thun, which is another thing I regret. After returning from Montreux I did have some time to explore, and it’s one of the cutest cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to wander – absolutely perfect for those cute old-town-style shots for insta, although my insta game was limited back then!
If you’ve ever searched for photos of Switzerland, I would bet money that you’ll have seen shots of Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen lies in a gorgeous valley in the Interlaken-Oberhasli district of Switzerland, boasting 72 waterfalls, and providing access by train to Interlaken, and up to Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, and by cable car to Mürren. For a village of only 2,000 residents, there’s a lot going on in Lauterbrunnen.
I decided to visit Lauterbrunnen for an afternoon while I was staying in Interlaken, and spend a few hours hiking through the village. Switzerland did something strange to me – I don’t often choose to walk….at all! I’ll even forgo the shortest journeys if I have to walk them, but in Switzerland I was more than happy to trek around its most beautiful spots for hours on end!
The hike I did wasn’t particularly long, but was still very pretty. Having reached Lauterbrunnen, I caught a bus as far as the cable car station at Stechelberg, where I got off and traced my route back, following the Lütschine river. The cable car takes you up towards Mürren, which I did want to visit, but I’d started a bit later in the day than I originally planned (nothing new there).
You can’t really get lost in Lauterbrunnen, or at least along the trail I walked, as it’s almost a straight line that follows the river. I wish I’d veered off the track a bit more, especially towards the town end, as the whole place is beautiful and so photogenic!
The trail takes you past a number of Lauterbrunnen’s 72 waterfalls, including Mürrenbachfälle, Trümmelbachfälle, and Staubbachfälle, the tallest in the area. In real life, Lauterbrunnen looks just as much like a fairytale as it does in photos! I wish I'd had time to visit Trümmelbachfälle as well, as you can get up close and personal with the waterfalls there!
If you don’t end up staying in Lauterbrunnen, I highly recommend you spend a day exploring and getting lost in this beautiful village - it will be one of the highlights of your trip!
The afternoon I spent on Mount Pilatus, just outside Lucerne, takes a very commendable second spot on my Swiss highlights list! Not only was Pilatus absolutely stunning, but I spent the day with my favourite Swiss gal Katja, who I had met earlier in 2018 on my NZ Topdeck tour!
After wandering around Lucerne for a while, we decided to check out Pilatus, as it was something on my “this looks cool” list, and somewhere Katja hadn’t been either. It was a bit pricier than we had anticipated (that’s Switzerland for you!), but we decided to treat ourselves and head on up to the peak. Pilatus is known for being home to the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, which runs from Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm and looks awesome! However, we approached the massif from Kriens, on the other side, and so made the journey to the summit via two cable cars.
It’s typical for the weather at the summit of a mountain to change frequently, which is exactly what happened on Pilatus! We went through periods of the thickest cloud, to fluffy white clouds, to clear blue sky! It never quite became clear enough to see all the way back down the mountain from the direction we came, but the views were incredible regardless. We spent most of our afternoon surrounded by cloud, with only the very peak of Pilatus visible – it looked like we were floating on some heavenly island!
While I love travelling solo, and Switzerland was a wonderful place to do so, Katja and I have very similar travelling styles, and it was so nice to be reunited with one of my fave travel buddies!
I think Pilatus will be one of those places whose beauty I’ll never quite get over - of all the mountains I’ve visited, few provided views as incredible as this one.
My favourite discovery while in Switzerland might be unexpected, as I only spent a few hours there, and didn’t really *do* anything. However, while my visit was completely unplanned, it was such a wonderful surprise.
On the day I ended up in Grindelwald, I had taken the train up to Kleine Scheidegg with the intention of continuing up to Jungfraujoch. I had completely neglected to find out that a) you almost definitely need to book a seat on the train from Kleine Scheidegg and b) it is SO expensive! I had been forgiving the so far cringeworthy prices I’d been paying for train fares because Switzerland had been so beautiful; I forget exactly what the price was for a return ticket was, but my jaw fell away from my skull when I overheard the lady selling tickets tell somebody else how much it would cost! Plan aborted; we weren’t going to Jungfraujoch.
I reconsidered my options, had a mini photo session up at Kleine Scheidegg, and enjoyed lunch in the sunshine with an amazing view of the mountains. Kleine Scheidegg is a mountain pass, forming a sort of saddle between Wengen and Lauterbrunnen on one side, and Grindelwald on the other. The Wengernalp Railway – which I had been using – follows this route. I had so far travelled by train up to Lauterbrunnen from Interlaken, and then changed trains to get to Kleine Scheidegg. I figured I would just continue on the train and stop wherever looked good! I had read a bit about Grindelwald – and seen some cute photos of course – so I wasn’t massively disappointed I was en route to this village instead of the highest point in Europe.
Part of me wishes I had hiked down from Kleine Scheidegg as the views were SO beautiful, and it was all downhill! However, I had paid through the nose for a train ticket, and I was going to use it! The rolling green hills and majestic mountain ranges will never fail to blow my mind – Switzerland is STUNNING. Its landscape is “so beautiful you could cry” kinda gorgeous.
Grindelwald is one of the cutest little places I’ve ever been. And it really is little, too; it has a population of just under 4,000 people, and its economy thrives almost exclusively on tourism, which doesn’t surprise me. In this tiny alpine village, bathing in sunshine and admiring the mountain ranges present in all directions, I felt worlds away from home, from major cities, and from any stress or worry. I’m pretty sure I still had perfect phone service (oh Switzerland, you know how to win a girl over), but this would be an amazing place for a real-world detox.
And so I sat back and appreciated the world around me at that moment! Coop – one of Switzerland’s supermarkets – had the most amazing range of vegan food, and I lived off their vegetable couscous for my entire stay, so I treated myself to a delish lunch and enjoyed life. My unplanned afternoon in Grindelwald was honestly my idea of heaven.
If you intentionally plan to visit Grindelwald, however, you can visit First, an attraction at the top of the Schwarzhorn minor summit, where you can brave their cliff walk or zip line, a stunning canyon at Gletscherschlucht, or use Grindelwald as an origin or destination for a number of well known hikes!
Thank you for checking out my top 5 Swiss highlights! Have you added any of my favourite places to your bucket list? Or have you visited them all already?
For more of my Swiss articles, head to my Switzerland section here!
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