If no country is perfect for you, let’s face it, Switzerland comes very close.
The Alps run through 60% of the country, and the landscapes and towns look like they were created by a child with a lot of imagination. We’re talking glacier-capped peaks, crashing waterfalls, and azure blue lakes.
Crimson trains are winding up to incredible heights, meadows ringing with cowbells that you can skip down with Heidi-like delight, and storybook turreted castles.
Even the most culturally rich cities enjoy breathtaking views of vineyards, lakes, and rivers, and the mountains are never more than a whisper away. Switzerland is unrivaled in terms of natural beauty.
However, the real marvel of Switzerland is how easily all of this may be reached — whether by rail, bicycle, boat, automobile, or foot. This small Alpine country condenses a multitude of experiences into a well-planned journey.
Spend the morning perusing cutting-edge art galleries and the afternoon hammering the slopes. Hike alongside a glacier in Valais or relax on a palm-fringed plaza in Ticino, an Italian flavor.
Best Places to Visit in Switzerland
Here’s an insider’s guide to the spots in Switzerland that will make your trip unforgettable.
The picturesque Jungfrau Region is the cherry on top of Bernese Oberland’s Alpine cake. Wherever you travel, sky-high peaks, glaciers, and thundering fall provoke gasps of awe.
Switzerland’s ‘big three’ – the Eiger (Ogre), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin) — graze the 4000m mark, entrenched in climbing folklore.
You’ll be sorry if you rush through this area. Allow a week or more to immerse yourself: with a once-in-a-lifetime ride to Europe’s highest train station, the 3454m Jungfraujoch, hiking, skiing, sledding, and zip-lining among mythical mountains in Grindelwald.
Waterfalls galore in Lauterbrunnen, and every kind of extreme sport imaginable in Interlaken (skydiving, ice climbing, glacial bungee jumping – you name it). On a grand scale, this is the big outdoors.
Bern is frequently included in those I-can’t-believe-it’s-the-capital trivia questions, but Switzerland’s first city deserves more attention. With 6 kilometers of covered arcades, subterranean stores and pubs, whimsical folk figures atop 16th-century fountains, and the eye-catching Zytglogge, the medieval Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage site.
The turquoise Aare River divides this red-roofed city, framed by wooded hills, and looks wonderful from almost every viewpoint. With its monster who eats children (the Kindlifresserbrunnen) and resident bears, it’s true storybook stuff for kids.
Big hitters like the Einstein-Haus, where the genius formulated his Theory of Relativity, the Kunsthaus, with its excellent fine arts collection, and Renzo Piano’s wavy Zentrum Paul Klee (Bern’s equivalent to the Guggenheim) will pique your interest in terms of architecture.
Swimming, tubing, rafting, and paddleboarding along the Aare River are popular summer activities.
Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman to francophones) is a joy to see in Switzerland’s western bend, with its mountain backdrop, spirit-lifting views, vineyards, and shoreline necklaced with lovely cities and castle-crowned villages.
The rainbow-kissed Jet d’Eau fountain and Mont Blanc rising on the horizon define Geneva, which arcs around the lake’s southern border. There are many well-known museums and galleries to visit, as well as botanical gardens and lidos where you can swim.
The cosmopolitan city is a wonderful launchpad for adventure, with old town cafes to hang around in and bright-yellow mouettes ferrying citizens across the lake — probably one of the world’s most spectacular commutes.
However, don’t stop there. With its new Plateforme 10 arts district, the impressive terraced vineyards of Lavaux (a Unesco World Heritage site), and flower-draped Montreux, which hosts one of the world’s most famous jazz festivals and has the picture-perfect Château de Chillon right on its doorstep, Lausanne can compete culturally with Geneva.
The 4478-meter Matterhorn, a spectacular gnarled fang of rock that flings up above the appealing, timber chalet-filled Alpine town of Zermatt in Valais, has more pulling power than any other peak close to the Italian border. This is Switzerland’s national symbol, and it is so adored that Toblerone chocolate’s pyramid design was influenced by it.
This is a mountain that will have you preoccupied and reaching for your camera at every opportunity – at sunset, sunrise, on hiking paths and cable cars, in the sun, snow, and from every aspect.
In contrast, Zermatt is more than a single Alpine wonder. Climbers have been coming here since the mid-nineteenth century, and it is still a popular spot for challenging summit ascents today (find yourself a guide at Zermatt). At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, you can hike, ski, or stare out over a sea of glaciers and 4000m peaks.
Swiss National Park
Is there only one national park in Switzerland? Yes, it’s a bombshell, but trust us when we say it’s a good one. The 172 sq km Swiss National Park, tucked away in a remote corner of the country’s southeast on the Italian border, in the Alps on steroids: a nature-gone-wild spectacle of high moors, forests, wildflower-flecked pastures, waterfalls, jewel-colored lakes, and mountains as high as the sky, where ibex, chamois, marmots, deer, and golden eagles roam and fly free.
Here, wildlife reigns supreme, and human intervention is restricted to a bare minimum for the sake of conservation. Some refer to it as a little version of Canada; we understand their point, but why would you want to envision yourself anywhere else?
At the visitor center in Zernez, get the inside scoop about walking paths and ranger-led guided treks to get off on the right foot.
Bellinzona, the capital of Ticino, offers a taste of Italy’s best food and culture in Switzerland, with historic castles standing high and the Alps looming beyond.
In its old center, braided with flower-draped alleys, Renaissance churches, and cafe-rimmed piazzas that fill with liveliness, laughter, clinking drinks, and the out-of-tune toll of many campaniles, you’ll find a big splash of Italian flair.
Seeing the castles, including the mountaintop Castelgrande, is at the top of anyone’s bucket list and maybe made into a full day’s activity (bring water and comfortable shoes).
Spend some time simply soaking up Bellinzona’s spirit and dining at excellent restaurants like the Michelin-starred Locanda Orico, housed in a renovated palazzo.
Jura Mountains & Lac de Neuchâtel
If you’ve never visited the country’s off-the-beaten-path Northwest, now is the moment. The Jura Mountains are a natural wonder in the dark forested hills along the French-Swiss border. This ever-so-peaceful region has its beauty:
- Verdant meadows
- Ancient forests
- Rocky outcrops omit a trio of lakes against an Alpine backdrop
- Centuries-old villages and valleys
Where should I start? With the help of a road trip. Begin your adventure at the Jura Vaudois Nature Park, where you can enjoy treks with dress-circle views of Lake Geneva and Gruyère cheese tastings in modest Alpine chalets. Swing north from here to Lac de Joux, Le Sentier’s watchmaking village, and Vallorbe, home to some of Switzerland’s largest (and most stunning) limestone caverns.
Combine a trip to Lac de Neuchâtel with a visit to Yverdon-Les-Bains, the lushly rolling Val-de-Travers (birthplace of absinthe), and the great crescent-moon canyon of Creux du Van. You’ll be able to bathe in the thermal waters of Yverdon-Les-Bains, tiptoe off the map in the lushly rolling Val-de-Travers (birthplace of absinthe), With its vision of a richly turreted château, cultured Neuchâtel is a fitting finale.
Appenzell & the Northeast
Northeastern Switzerland lacks the Alps’ in-your-face drama. Still, it delights in its calm, thoroughly rural manner, with dairy farmland unraveling to meet the mountains and half-timbered, gaily muralled towns all perfect for a postcard.
This pocket-sized region tucked away in the country’s little-explored northeast is ideal for a family vacation with a dash of culture and gentle adventure. Start at St Gallen, for example, with a tour of the Stiftsbibliothek (Abbey Library), a literary marvel, and a feast of rococo art and architecture that is a World Heritage Site.
After that, head to Appenzell, a charming, ridiculously beautiful town where you can sample regional cheeses at the Schaukäserei.
Ascend to 2501m Säntis for views of six nations, then continue south into the Alps to Werdenberg, a speck of a medieval hamlet home to Switzerland’s oldest timber chalets. Vaduz, Liechtenstein’s regal, castle-topped capital on the Rhine’s banks, is close by.
Basel is rarely mentioned in terms of popularity. That, however, is a mistake. This city on the Rhine has it all: world-class art in some of the country’s best galleries, a thriving food scene, avant-garde architecture designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects, and vibrant cafe culture.
This forward-thinking city on the tri-country border, which has climbed high on the backs of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, has a great buzz about it.
Allow several days to see the city’s highlights, including the Kunstmuseum and its fine art collection, the Fondation Beyeler, designed by Renzo Piano, and the Vitra Design Museum, created by Frank Gehry.
But it’s those who go beyond the prize sites, like sundown drinks by the river or a wild swim in the Rhine, who endears Basel the most. The tourist office rents a Wickelfisch (a fish-shaped waterproof bag), strip down, and go with the river, floating downstream through the city’s attractions.
Lucerne, Lucerne, Lucerne! This walkable, medieval dream of a city, which lies on the beaches of its glistening namesake lake, has a magnetism you can’t quite put your finger on. Perhaps it will capture your attention as you wander along the promenade as the sun sets in a blaze of gold and pinks.
Or as you sail over its waterways to mythical mountains like 2132m Mt Pilatus, where Wagner lauded the Alpine landscape, Queen Victoria galloped on horseback, and 1797m Rigi, which Turner painted in three moods.
With its renowned medieval bridge, Kapellbrücke, jumping across the Reuss River, the Jean Nouvel-designed KKL arts center, and Sammlung Rosengart, houses a coveted private collection of Picasso’s, the small city punches much above its weight culturally.
The same sights that enchanted Goethe, Queen Victoria, and Wagner in the 19th century will enchant you as you stroll past the belle époque hotels that line its banks.
You can spend more time on the lake now that you have more free time. For a flavor of Switzerland’s geographical and spiritual heartland, take a cruise across the fjord-like, mountain-rimmed Lake Uri.
Boats cruise the crystal turquoise waters to Rütli, the birthplace of the Swiss countryside, and on to the Tellskapelle, a little speck of a chapel nestled in the woods, where the Oath of Eternal Allegiance was written in 1291.
According to legend, apple-shooting, rebel-yelling folk hero William Tell jumped from his Habsburg captors’ boat to safety here over 700 years ago.
Zürich, which consistently ranks first in quality of life polls, never appears to lose a beat: from chilly waterside bars on the banks of the Limmat to its alley-woven Old Town, where Augusto Giacometti’s rainbow of stained glass glows in the twin-spired Romanesque Grossmünster.
Le Corbusier’s brightly colored architectural works and the edgy post-industrial Züri-West district raise the cultural bar even higher.
Zürich has a little bit of everything that makes Switzerland unique: a dramatic lake backdrop with the Alps etched on the horizon, an avalanche of excellent restaurants, bars, and cafes, prestigious concert halls and galleries (not least the Kunsthaus), and a leafy lakefront providing a calm contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city.
Zürich hosts one of Switzerland’s biggest celebrations in mid-August: the techno-pumping Street Parade.
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Also Read: The 9 Best Hikes in Switzerland
Best Places to Visit in Switzerland
- Jungfrau Region
- Lake Geneva
- Swiss National Park
- Jura Mountains & Lac de Neuchâtel
- Appenzell & the Northeast
- Lake Lucerne