I’ve never seen a country so rich in natural beauty! My recent visit to Switzerland far exceeded my expectations and I have developed a greater appreciation for its gorgeous landscapes.
My husband, Lyle, has been wanting to visit Switzerland for years and for some reason, instead I kept finding other places to go during our previous European trips. Well, I’m so glad I finally gave into his request because Switzerland is amazing!
We began our journey in Zurich and ended it in Geneva, making sure to stop at a number of key spots along the way. While the rail system in Switzerland is reliable, we decided to rent a car to allow us the freedom to create our own itinerary and just pull over along the way if we saw a beautiful spot. And let me tell you, we did a lot of pulling over!
We had seven days to see many different parts of the country and I feel that it was an adequate amount of time to get a good feel for each area. Our time in Zurich and Geneva were the most rushed, but since we live in a city, our goal was to see more of the country’s open spaces, including its many lakes and mountains, in addition to the metropolitan areas. With that being said, I really liked both Zurich and Geneva. Zurich felt cosmopolitan, yet still very quaint, with beautiful little squares and winding streets; while in Geneva, I could really feel the French influence and loved both the architecture of the buildings and the abundance of parks and green space. Lyle is from Geneva, New York, so he really wanted to see Geneva, Switzerland, which is rumored to have influenced the Western New York lakeside city; however, if seeing Geneva isn’t important to you, you could gain additional time in the Lucerne or Interlaken area by skipping it and flying in and out of Zurich instead.
We built this itinerary by ourselves and I’m happy to answer any questions about each spot on our tour as well as the accommodations.
Where to Go in Switzerland
Set on Lake Zurich with the Rimmat River running through it, Zurich is often overshadowed by Geneva when people decide where to visit in Switzerland. I really enjoyed exploring this city, which is traditionally known for its banking, and found it quite charming. The Old Town is split in half by the Limmat River and I favored one side of it well over the other. The Niederdorf side of the river felt very touristy and seedy with strip joints, chain restaurants, and noisy outside eateries, whereas the opposite side, the Lindenhof quarter, oozed with beauty and sophistication. We walked around the various streets, finding highlights like Bauschänzli Biergarten + Grill, a great beer garden on a island in the river, the Barchetta terrace at the Storchen Hotel for cocktails overlooking the river, and Lindenhof Hill, a shady park with awesome vantage points of the city. With no reservations for dinner, we enjoyed aimlessly wandering and looking at menus until we settled on Santa Lucia, where we ate pizzas al fresco on a quiet little street. Zurich by night was enchanting! The bridges and church steeples were lit up and we walked along the quiet riverfront taking it all in. It was the perfect first stop on our trip.
Known for its picturesque covered bridge which dates back to the 1300s (although a fire destroyed in the early 1990s and it had to be rebuilt), Lucerne is equal parts quaint and too crowded. Tour bus after tour bus swarmed the streets, letting out dozens of people on the sidewalks, making it a challenge to walk, let alone get pictures. I found that the beauty of Lucerne was muddied by the amount of tourists and tourist-like attractions. As a result of this, we only spent a short period of time in the actual city before making our way to the hills above Lake Lucerne. If you are going to be passing by Lucerne, it’s worth a stop on your trip, but I would not go out of your way to visit.
Lake Lucerne spans over 18 miles and is truly stunning! We drove 45 minutes Southeast of the city and into the mountains to check into our next destination. Hotel Villa Honegg has been on my hotel bucket list for quite some time. A permanent fixture on travel sites’ “best hotel pools,” I had to see its oh-so-instagrammable infinity pool with my own eyes (and camera!). Rated a 5-star hotel, the views and rooms, especially the terrace we had on the first floor, absolutely “wow,” but I should note that some of the attributes you expect from a hotel of this quality seemed to be a bit lacking (ie: no champagne upon arrival, minimal turn down service, and lackluster cocktail program). I’m a bit obsessed when it comes to hotels, so I tend to notice all of those “little things,” but otherwise, the property was wonderful. Our time at Villa Honegg was primarily spent relaxing by the pool with the most amazing mountain and lake views. The area is incredibly peaceful; birds chirping to wake you in the morning and the bells of nearby cows roaming the hills in the distance. We enjoyed room service every morning and only ventured down to town once to have dinner at a local spot with a beautiful lakeside terrace, Schluessel. The hotel also boasts a wonderful spa, where you can relax with massages and body treatments in addition to the sauna and pools that come with your stay. Our stay at Hotel Villa Honegg and our time in the area surrounding Lake Lucerne was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Another well-known Switzerland town, Interlaken, much like Lucerne, is very commercial (as a point of reference, there is a Hooters!). The Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa in the center of main area is a gem, offering old world beauty and fantastic dining, but the the town itself is limited in terms of things to do and see. We enjoyed the walking path along the Aare River, which was less developed and takes you past homes and a cow farm. One of the main reasons you should visit Interlaken is to take the funicular up to Harder Kulm. At 4,337 feet above sea level, this is the highest point above Interlaken and its views are unmatched! For 38 Swiss francs, you take the 10 minute trolley ride up the mountain (it’s daunting at first, but not that bad!) and get off at the top of the mountain where you can enjoy panoramic views of the area, including Lake Brienz, Lake Thun, Eiger, Jungfrau, and Mönch. The focal point is a triangular-shaped lookout deck that hangs off the mountain. I’m terrible with heights so I sadly opted out of walking out on the deck to see the views, but my husband, Lyle, captured amazing photos from the vista! At the top of the mountain, there is also a restaurant, so you could make an afternoon of it and enjoy food or drinks there before or after you get your photos. We were on the fence about going to Harder Kulm, but it was well-worth the money for the unmatched views!
Interlaken is also known for its hand gliders. I can’t tell you how many people we saw hang gliding during our afternoon there. If flying through the Switzerland sky sounds appealing, here is information to check out. I can’t imagine the views as you float down!
The mountainside village of Grindelwald is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for stunning views of Eiger and a location that’s close to civilization, but still charming. We checked into Hotel Belvedere Swiss Quality Hotel, which is a family-run property since 1907. Upon arrival, we met the current owner who showed us photos of his parents and grandparents before introducing us to his son who will soon take over the ownership! This hotel is set higher than most of the accommodations in Grindelwald, giving it unreal views of mountains, including Eiger. It has a fantastic terrace overlooking the green landscape and mountains and a cocktail list that offers 10 of the most delicious and unique variations of gin and tonics (we tried most of them!). If you are interested in hiking Eiger, which we had planned to do before a heat wave rolled into Europe, this village would be an optimal spot to start your trek. The downtown area of Grindelwald is definitely touristy, but still quaint – reminiscent of a western United Stated mountain town with Swiss influence. When researching hotels, it quickly became apparent that this area did not have many 5-star luxury properties, however, we loved the homey feel of the Belvedere Hotel, its proximity to the mountains, and gorgeous views! As long as your expectations are in line with the area, you won’t be disappointed.
The Montreux Jazz Festival is what puts this Swiss Riviera town on the map, however, it is a lovely lakeside resort area that is also home to the medieval Chillon Castle, countless wineries in the Lauvaux region, and beautiful views of Lake Geneva. During our afternoon in Montreux, we took a tour of the castle and enjoyed a hillside lunch at an adorable chalet-like restaurant, Le CouCou, perched above the town. If you – or your husband (“cough cough”) is interested in castles and medieval times, this attraction would be worth a visit. For 12 Swiss francs, you can explore the various areas of the castle including its prison, peak, dining areas, and chapel. There is a small downtown area of Montreux that you can explore, including a stop at the Montreux Jazz Cafe and lovely Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, but we decided to head up the mountain for lunch with a view. A visit to Montreux could be made into a day trip by exploring the wine region and doing a day of tastings or walking through the vineyards. It was striking to drive to Montreux and see all of the rows of grapes along the hillside – countless and countless vineyards! The area is known for Chasselas wines, a white varietal that flourishes in the area’s cool alpine slopes. Since we were limited on time, we skipped the wine, but would definitely add this to the list for a future trip to the area.
As we drove into the city, we couldn’t get over the fields and fields of farmland only 10 minutes outside of Geneva! Once in the heart of Geneva, we loved the beautiful city architecture and views of Lake Geneva paired with the snowy top of Mont Blanc in the distance. The Old Town was my favorite part to explore, especially the area surrounding St. Pierre Church. It’s comprised of many winding streets with adorable candlelit cafes around every corner. In typical fashion, we wandered around the area browsing restaurant menus and taking photos of cute buildings before settling on an al fresco fondue dinner at Les Armores. From the story on the menu, we learned that it is actually the oldest cafe in Geneva! The next morning, we explored the lakefront and famous Flower Clock (essentially a working clock with a design made of flowers) and then took a drive over to the United Nations and to see the famous Broken Chair, a piece of public art. I really loved the amount of green space in Geneva. During our short time there, we stumbled upon so many lovely parks placed throughout the city. There’s definitely a Parisian influence felt throughout, but yet it still feels unique enough from Paris to maintain its own identity.
Helpful things to note:
–Switzerland is very expensive. We dine out in Boston often and the restaurant prices throughout the country were significantly higher than anything we typically encounter. Expect to spend 40 Swiss francs on most entrees – small or large, plus 20 for an appetizer and 15 for dessert. The exchange rate has fluctuated a bit over the last few months, so if you see it become more even with the dollar, buy your currency then!
-People speak many different languages in Switzerland – Swiss German, French, Romansh and Italian, and depending on where you are in the country, one may have a stronger influence than others. For example, Geneva was predominantly French, whereas in the hills of Grindelwald, it was more German. It’s very interesting to see how the language changes by area, but rest assured that almost everyone speaks English conversationally and can assist if you are not able to converse with them in their native tongue.
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