Switzerland has a lot to offer beyond being labeled as the “land of chocolate” or the origin of watches. Wealthy in natural beauty with picturesque mountains and countless lakes, on top of being deeply rooted in history, the country enjoys a bottomless to do list, from which we picked just a few in our 20 Best Things to Do in Switzerland.
Said to be the most-photographed mountain in the world, the Matterhorn has become inextricably linked to Switzerland as the country’s national symbol and our #1 in the 20 best things to do in Switzerland. At a breathtaking 4478 metres above sea level, it is the highest mountain in the Alps. Aspiring mountaineers have been trying to climb it since the first attempt in 1865, which cost four out of seven lives. Less adventurous spirits may prefer to dwell on its beauty from the adjacent “Little Matterhorn”!.
The Matterhorn can best be admired from car-free, celebrity rich Zermatt, which is 215 km south of Zurich (3 ½ hours) and 130 km south of Bern (2 ½ hours). The nearest airports are Zurich and Geneva. Remember to bring your camera.
2. Zürich Old Town & It’s Lake
Switzerland’s largest city and one of the most significant financial and industrial capitals in Europe, Zürich is also a charming and attractive place for tourists to spend some time. The old town with its mediaeval and Renaissance architecture, its museums and its art is fascinating enough to occupy culture lovers for weeks! Visit Lenin`s house at Spiegelgasse 17 and the Haus zum Napt in the Napfgasse for a particular treat!
For a great relaxing day`s activity when staying in or near Zurich, its recommended to rent a boat or a pedalo from one of the many boat rental firms around the lake and explore its banks and islands. The island of Lützelau is a nature reserve; it boasts a campsite, a barbecue area and a beach. Its neighbour, larger Ufenau, has a number of ruins and archaeological finds from the 2nd and 3rd centuries and a great restaurant. Swimming is not permitted on Ufenau.
Towns on Lake Zurich include Pfäffikon, Rapperswil, Küsnacht, and Lachen. Pfäffikon lies 25 km east of Zurich (25 minutes by car, 30 minutes by bus or train).
Zurich has its own airport, which is 15 minutes by car from the old town center.
3. Geneva’s Jet d’Eau & Old Town
Geneva’s famous hydraulic water jet was actually created by accident. Originally a safety valve designed in 1886 to prevent overpressure by allowing water to escape, it shot a 30 metre jet of water into the air when the hydraulic machines were shut down. In 1891, its possibilities as a tourist attraction were recognized and it was moved to its present location. In 1951, it was adapted to reach a height of 140 metres. Since 2003, it has been shooting the equivalent of four bathtubs of water (132 gallons) into the air every second! It is only turned off in case of frost or strong wind; for special occasions, it is also lit with changing floodlights. Awesome!
The romantic cobbled streets and perfectly restored mediaeval buildings of Geneva’s old town bear witness to a history spanning two centuries, though the origins of the town date from at least 58 BC. Must-see places include the Place du Bourg-du-Four (central square and former trading place of the Romans!), the Maison Tavel and the imposing Cathedral of St. Pierre (built 1160 – 1252). Tip: the old town is built on a higher level than the lake, so expect a bit of a climb!
Geneva has its own airport. It lies 160 km southwest of Bern (1 ¾ hours) and 276 km southwest of Zurich (2 ¾ hours, times given by train which is faster).
4.The Rhine Falls (Schaffhausen)
The Rhine Falls – the largest waterfall in Europe – were formed during the Ice Age, over 15.000 years ago. Several hundred cubic metres of water per second plummet to a depth of 23 metres; the Falls are 150 m wide, divided in the middle by a huge rock which can be accessed by boat. Platforms are available for visitors to stand actually in the middle of the waterfall, a unique experience and not one to be missed!
Schaffhausen lies 52 km north of Zurich (around 40 minutes by road or rail).
5. Gruyères Castle (Gruyères)
The magnificent 13th century castle of Gruyères housed Gruyères counts, Fribourg bailiffs and members of the Bovy and Balland families (who restored it and used it as a summer residence), before being turned into a museum in 1938 . Built between 1270 and 1282, this picture-perfect castle stands on a hill overlooking the picturesque village and lake of Gruyeres. The French garden behind it is also particularly fine. The castle has been declared a Swiss heritage site of national significance.
Just few steps before the castle is the Giger Museum. The museum houses the largest collection of sketches, statues, sculptures and models from the macabre fantasy world of Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger, who designed the sets and monsters for the “Aliens” movie. He also designed the effects for the movies “Dune” and “Species”, which can also be viewed at the museum, along with the “Oscar” award he received as part of the team responsible for “Alien”`s visual effects (1980).
Gruyères lies around 64 km south southwest of Bern (just under 1 hour by car).
6. Chateau de Chillon
For picture-postcard beauty and romance, it doesn’t get much better than Chillon castle. Located on a little island against the magnificent 7 peaks of the “Dents du Midi” (“noonday teeth”) mountain range, this early mediaeval castle was originally built by the Romans to control the road from the Great St. Bernard Pass to Burgundy. Now one of Europe’s most visited castles – and a top tourist destination in Switzerland – it is also believed to have inspired the movie, “The Little Mermaid”.
Veytaux lies around 92 km southwest of Bern (just over 1 hour by car, around 2 hours by train).
7. Ride a Hot Air Balloon at Château d`Oex
Pays d`Enhaut, located in the Waadt canton of western Switzerland, is the world capital of hot air ballooning, hosting the annual international hot air festival every year in January. The festival, which took place for the first time in 1979, lasts for nine days and hosts pilots and balloon enthusiasts from over 20 countries. The Hot Air Balloon Museum at Château d`Oex is fascinating and well worth a visit. Visitors can take a hot balloon ride from December through May; in clear weather, visibility reaches all the way to Mont Blanc!
Château d`Oex lies 79 km east of Lausanne (around 80 minutes by rail or road).
8. Aletsch Glacier (Riederalp)
The largest glacier in the Alps carrying a whopping 27 billion tons of ice, the Aletsch glacier comprises the northernmost slopes of the Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch mountains, with water flowing down the Massa Gorge and into the Rhone. The nearby Aletsch forest is very close to the Pro Natura nature reserve; most of the region is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Aletsch region is home to many rare species of animal and plant; easily accessible and ideally situated, it is also immensely popular with tourists, with winter sports, nature excursions and hikes being the favored activities.
The glacier is best visited from Riederalp, which lies halfway between Zurich and Lugano (around 170 km from both; 2 ½ to 3 hours by road or rail).
9. Monte san Salvatore (Lugano)
When staying in or near Lugano, a trip up the Monte san Salvatore (aka: Monte Bré) is an experience well worth the climb (less energetic individuals have the choice of bus or funicular). Considered to be one of Switzerland’s sunniest spots, this little mountain on the foreslope of Monte Boglia (east of Lugano) offers a breathtaking panorama view of the surrounding area. The tower of the parish church of Saints Simon and Fedele (village of Bré) offers the best views, and also contains wonderful frescoes and paintings from various eras. Despite its diminutive size, Bré boasts 2 restaurants and a museum
Monte Bre lies just 11 km east of Lugano and is accessible by car in around 24 minutes.
10. Chapel Bridge and Water Tower (Lucerne)
Lucerne is the capital city of the canton of Lucerne, with historical roots going back to 750 AD. The city’s idyllic location on Lake Lucerne and the river Reuss (with the Swiss Alps as a backdrop) made the city of Lucerne a popular tourist destination as early as 1840. Its famous Chapel Bridge (the oldest covered wooden bridge in the world) and octagonal water tower are the city’s hallmarks. They were conceived (together with the 500-year old Musegg wall) as the city’s fortifications. The bridge was rebuilt after a fire in 1993.
Lucerne is 52 km south southwest from Zurich (45 minutes by car).
11. Brissago Islands (Lake Maggiore)
The two Brissago islands (Isole di Brissago) are located on Lake Maggiore in the Locarno district of the Ticino canton. Owing to the very mild climate, many subtropical plants flourish there; the larger island (San Pancrazio) is famed for its botanical garden, while on the smaller Isola di Sant’apollinare – which is not open to the public – nature is allowed to run its course! San Pancrazio also boasts Roman baths, great views and a small beach. It is a favorite tourist destination in Ticino.
Brissago islands are located approximately 2.5 km from the town of Brissago and 3.5 km from Ascona. They are accessible from Porto Ronco by shuttle boat (around 5 minutes).
12. Montreux Jazz Festival (Montreux)
If you are staying in or near Geneva around the start of July, it might be an idea to check out Montreux`s annual Jazz Festival – the second largest in the world. Founded in 1967, the Festival no longer features exclusively Jazz musicians, though Jazz is still significantly represented. Many famous bands and artists have played there, including Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, Santana, Status Quo and many more. The festival lasts for around 2 weeks at different venues and attracts 200.000 visitors annually. The main events are held at the Congress and Convention Center.
Montreux is located 93 km east of Geneva (just over 1 hour by car or train).
13. CERN (Meyrin)
For lovers of truly unique holiday experiences well off the beaten track, why not check out CERN (European Commission for Nuclear Research). Founded in 1954 as a joint venture of 12 countries, CERN not only created what we call today the “World Wide Web”, it is home to the 27 km long Hadron Collider – the largest particle accelerator in the world. Only two of its exhibitions are open to the public (the “Microcosm” and the “Globe of Science and Innovation”). Tours are available Monday through Saturday, but fill up quickly; prior reservation is strongly advised.
Meyrin is only 7 ½ km northwest of Geneva (18 minutes by car).
14. Trift Bridge (Gadmen)
At a breathtaking 170 metres long and 100 metres high, the Trift bridge is the longest pedestrian-only suspension bridge in the Swiss Alps. It spans the Trift lake and glacier in the Urner Alps (Berne canton). The original bridge was built in 2004, after the ice of the Trift glacier had retreated so far that it was impassable; it was replaced by the current bridge in 2009. Based on the Nepalese 3-rope bridge design, the bridge is now a tourist magnet. Access is by gondola train from Meiringen.
Gadmen lies around 115 km south of Zurich (1 hour 38 minutes by car or 3 ½ hours by train).
15. Staubbach Falls (Lauterbrunnen)
The stunning Staubbach Falls “fall” a distance of 300 metres, making them the second largest waterfall in Switzerland. Much spray is created, which when moved by the wind looks like glittering dust, giving the waterfall its name (“Staub” means “dust” in German). There are many other natural water phenomena in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, including a further 71 waterfalls; Lauterbrunnen itself is picture-card quaint, nestling against the backdrop of three of Switzerland’s highest mountains. Skiing is popular here in winter, mountain biking and paragliding in summer.
Lauterbrunnen is located in the Bern canton, 66 km southeast of Bern (just under 1 hour by car).
16. Hammetschwand Elevator (Bürgenstock)
The Hammetschwand is a lookout point above Lake Lucerne on the Bürgenstock plateau. The Hammetschwand elevator opened in 1905, at which time it was the only one of its kind in Switzerland. It is the highest exterior elevator in Europe. Passengers are carried the 153 metres to the summit of the Hammetschwand at a speed of 2.7 metres per second. For a dizzying, breathtaking experience and an incredible view at the end of it, a ride in the Hammetschwand elevator is unbeatable.
Bürgenstock is located 77 km south of Zürich (70 minutes by car).
17. Walliser Alpentherme and Spa (Leukerbad)
Leukerbad in the Valais canton lies in southwest Switzerland, 112 km south of Bern. Its famous alpentherme and spa is a perfect haven for wellness-lovers, offering traditional and modern massage, peeling, sauna,indoor and outdoor thermal baths and much more besides. Set against the magnificent sunlit panorama of the Alps, it is a gift to body and soul; the perfect place to pamper and indulge oneself after the stresses of modern day life.
Leukerbad is 112 km south of Bern (just over 2 hours by road or rail).
18. The Swiss Path (Brunnen/Urnersee)
This 35 km long circular hiking route was the result of a mutual cooperation of all the cantons, devised for Switzerland’s 700th anniversary. It includes a number of “typical” or historical Swiss venues; starting on the Rütli mountain and circling the Urnersee, it finally winds up in Brunnen. The path is divided into sections, with overnight stays possible along the way: much of it is also wheelchair accessible.
Rütli is located 84 km south of Zurich (80 minutes by car).
19. Seelisberg Peninsula
For sheer breathtaking beauty, the Seelisberg Peninsula in the Uri canton of central Switzerland is unbeatable. Idyllically situated on the Rütli meadow overlooking the banks of Lake Lucerne, it is not only a wonderful place to relax and unwind, but also a perfect starting point for boat trips or exploration of the alpine passes. The old town hall “Haus zur Treib” (1482) is definitely worth a visit, as is the Friedrich Schiller (author of “William Tell”) memorial stone.
Seelisberg lies 84 km south of Zurich (1 hour 10 minutes by car, just over 2 hours by rail).
20. Olympic Museum (Lausanne)
With over 10.000 artefacts pertaining to Olympic sports, Lausanne’s Olympic museum is the largest of its kind in the world. It is also immensely popular, drawing 250.00 visitors annually, thus no matter it found its place on our 20 best things to do in Switzerland! 🙂 It was founded in 1993 and named European Museum of the Year in 2005. The museum comprises 3 separate floors with the themes Olympic World, Olympic Games and Olympic Spirit. It is located at Ouchy, 2.2 km south of Lausanne city center (8 minutes by car, 9 minutes on foot).
Based on the article “100 Best Things to do in Switzerland” by Jen Miller (https://www.jenreviews.com/best-things-to-do-in-switzerland/)