Soaring mountains, large lakes, broader forests are found all across the world. Yet Switzerland is particular as this amazing country has many of these natural features together. Even much more than that condensed in relatively small area. You can count more than 200 mountains over 3000 meters high and even more than 3000 lakes all in about 41 thousand square meters! What makes these natural attractions highly popular is the accessibility. Switzerland is connected through a brilliant network of trains, funiculars, cable cars and buses, working efficiently like a Swiss watch. You can reach almost any spot in Switzerland even if you are not a mountain climber. This diverse landscape & transportation network, together with a multi-season weather, permit for amazing outdoor activities and adventures all year long. That’s plenty of adrenaline and adventures for outdoor activity lovers. From skiing to sailing and standup paddle, from paragliding to sledging and toboganning, and from hiking to camping and glamping.
Outdoor activities beyond tourist attraction and tourist places
Apart from tourist places and tourist attractions, Switzerland hosts many of Europe’s best & biggest landmarks and attractions: the largest plain & most powerful waterfall on the European continent is the Rhine Falls. Its located on the border between the cantons of Schaffhausen and Zurich in Switzerland. The highest railway station is Jungfrau in the Berner Oberland. It is even called the Top of Europe. Lac Leman also known as Lake Geneva is one of the biggest lakes in Western Europe.The largest glacier in the Alps and all of Europe, the Great Aletsch Glacier, is also in Switzerland. The world’s third longest suspended pedestrian bridge, called the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge, is in Randa, Switzerland! That’s other then some iconic landmarks and tourist attractions such as the giant Matterhorn in Zermatt. Or the Schilthorn where special agent 007(aka James Bond!) had one of his most exciting action scenes and movies! Whether it’s a paragliding flight over the Swiss Alps and valley or hot air ballon or simply hiking or even biking. The outdoor activities of Switzerland are limitless and are as exciting as experiences and adventures can be! So if you want to go for distinctive outdoor activities and skip the traditional tourist places, here’s you list of what Switzerland can offer.
Winter outdoor activities and sports from ski to toboganning
Let’s start with one of Switzerland most famous outdoor activities that is snow sports & in particular ski. The two most practised snow sports in Switzerland are skiing and snowboarding. Yet, advancements in technology which improved accessibility has allowed many derivatives of these sports to become popular and highly sought adventures, such as carving, freestyle, and off piste. Switzerland hosts around 20 percent of the European Alps mountain range. Around 100 peaks soar around the 4000m above sea level. The highest mountain in Switzerland being Monte Rosa(Dufourspitze) with 4634m, is just at the border of canton Valais and Italy. Snow outdoor activities are also limitless, such as snow tubing, tobogganing, sledding, and ice skating. Snow walking became more popular in the recent years as a winter alternative to hiking. In fact there are several maintained winter hiking trails and snowshoe trails that are accessible across the mountains. What makes snow sports and winter outdoor activities in Switzerland even more special are the routes to them. Most of the famous Swiss mountains are accessible by cable cars that provide a breathtaking overview of the Swiss Alps. Taking the train through a ride to the mountains, is a very scenic and fulfilling experience.
Swiss skiing & ski resorts
There is hardly any ski lover who hasn’t heard of Switzerland ski resorts! Many skiers dream to enjoy Swiss skiing in the Swiss Alps. Whether it is the Zermatt ski overlooking the iconic Matterhorn or the glamorous Verbier skiing and Leysin skiing with its fancy “après ski”. Swiss skiing is not only for professional skiers, but it’s open to every skier to be able to enjoy Swiss skiing resorts. There are ski resorts in Switzerland for beginners, for families and for professionals – for everyone! Other than the amazing Swiss skiing experience, you will get a great scenery and unmatchable variety of experiences, from visiting the slopes in Switzerland. We have put together a recommendation of the top ski resorts in Switzerland that can impress any Swiss skiing lover.
Outdoor activities on the lake: from standup paddle to wake boarding
It’s true that Switzerland doesn’t have access to the sea. But that didn’t deny it from having plenty of access to water and its outdoor activities through its numerous lakes. The smaller mountain lakes are suitable for hiking around, or contemplating or sometimes dipping for a swim. Lakes as large as Lac Leman a.k.a. Lake Geneva, Lake Zurich or Lake Lugano, have countless water sports adventures that can be possible.
Stand up paddle, family fun
Stand up paddle became very popular in the recent years, being a great and accessible outdoor activity for the whole family, that can be easily enjoyed on many lakes. Not much preparation needed. Just chose your beach side and go! Small kids with a life jacket can be sitting at the front of the board and older ones can learn while the parents are paddling. Summer mood is a sure outcome, as this activity can be turned into a full day chill with tanning or sipping a drink under the beach shades. If you are in Geneva and you are into a more adventurous stand up paddle version, you can paddle down the river Rhone, or what’s locally called “La descente du Rhone”. It is such a distinctive adventure and experience for the more skilled paddlers. In all cases, the standup paddle activity will be guaranteed with amazing views whether on the lake or down the river.
Wakeboarding & wake surfing
A thrilling experience to try. It needs some technical skills and some training for better enjoyment. But the big lakes, especially Geneva, are set for these adventures. You can find many wakeboard and wake surf 🏄♀️ professional instructors that are well equipped to step up your game.
Sailing on the lakes
Lake Geneva is probably the most active in terms of water sports, due to its large size, being one of the biggest lakes in Europe. Also it shores multiple important Swiss cities such as Geneva, Lausanne, and Montreux. Sailing on Lake Geneva is an unmatchable outdoor activity especially during summer. Actually the well known Bol d’Or Mirabaud race on Lake Geneva – the world’s largest inland lake regatta – hosts around 500 boats and 3,000 competitors, wether professionals or amatuers, every year. We had our own luxurious sailing experience on board of « Floatinn » which was quite distinctive. It’s a far different experience than the touristic big boats that take you to nearby lake towns such Nyon or Yvoire. This catamaran is a personalised, luxurious indulgence & a romantic experience that reflects in part the lifestyle of the city. The other lake cities such as Zurich, Lugano and Lucerne have their own sailing experiences which are worth trying also. Additionally, there are always boat tours at the big lakes that can take you around the lake for wonderful tour around. If you want to train your muscles a bit, many of the mountain lakes has rowing boats left at the disposal of visitors for a tiny contribution.
Swimming in the lakes and rivers
All these large lake surfaces, countless mountain lakes, crystal clear rivers, make Switzerland blessed with many beach destinations. On plenty of them one can dip, jump, do water sports or simply relax and listen to the lake wavelets or river streams around. If you want to check some of our most preferred ones, here’s our own pick of the 10 best beaches in Switzerland that you can enjoy in the summer. Switzerland is not short of rivers also! In some of the valleys such as Valle Verzasca or Valle Maggia, the river forms many small pools along its flow path. Many hikes can end up with a dip into these pools, which become public jacuzzis available for all.
Jet ski on the lake
Probably not as spread as the other sports but Jet ski is also available on the big lakes, yet it is regulated well and monitored to avoid accidents close to the shore. You can find couple of rental places on each lake and have a Jet ski adventure for a short period of time. The lake calmer nature, makes this outdoor activity more stable and less bumpy than on the sea.
Outdoor activities on the mountains and valleys
Hiking, one of the most popular outdoor activity in Switzerland
If you are in love with hiking like us, then Switzerland’s landscape is your next destination! There are countless hiking trials and hiking areas that you can enjoy. Now if you want to have a twist to your hike, then here’s an incredible list of hiking trails in Switzerland, off the beaten track. These will take your breath away and will load your memory with beautiful images of the Swiss stunning nature & hiking areas. A couple of examples to tease your hiking buds.
Hiking in Saas-Fee
Saas-Fee, is like a condensation of Switzerland best natural features. With its valleys and surrounding mountains it became a heaven for hikers. Wide natural diversity from glaciers to mountain lakes, and from green & brown meadows to dams, rivers & waterfalls. The menu of hiking in Saas-Fee is elaborate and pleases every taste. You have diverse trails from highly technical glacier hikes to children-friendly stroller trails. All paved with local ingredients of mother nature. For your hiking plan in Saas-Fee, you can choose whether you want a side of a river or a waterfall or even a mountain lake. The most amazing feature of these trails is the breathtaking scenery. The route is filled with landscapes fit for postcards from start point of the trail till the way back to Saas-Fee
Hiking in Chamoson
Some hiking trails in Valais come with a bonus – an amazing wine tasting experience! The Chamoson – Home of Johannisbergis a distinctive hiking trail. It includes an amazing mix of mountain ascent, vineyards and a stroll through the forest and next to the roaring river. This is just a glance of the countless hiking adventures you can have in Switzerland! Check our article of the 10 Incredible Hiking Trails in Switzerland .It offers a hand picked list of the best hiking areas in the country.
Biking & mountain biking in Switzerland
Of course biking is well spread in Switzerland! In several cities, the local municipality encourages this sport. It’s also an ecological way of transportation on top of being a fun outdoor activity. Therefore, you can find many stands spread across the city where you can borrow a bike for free for few hours. Furthermore, because of its mountainous nature, mountain biking is one of the popular sports all across the country. Since few years electric bikes spread even more such that you can rent them for a small fee in different touristic places. Some hotels even have their own fleet to share with their clients. For us e-biking was a new experience! We tried it during our visit to Saanen & Gstaad region. We went through the old town of Saanen and almost reached Gstaad. All on very biking-friendly, low car-frequency roads and through natural sceneries. The adventure was amazing! We really felt the advantage of an e-bike when going back to our accommodation which was up on a steep hill. If it was not for the e-bike power we would have stayed at the bottom of the hill. Or dragged our bikes on our shoulders on top of the backpacks.
Camping in Switzerland, living the outdoor activity experience
If you are into camping then Switzerland is your destination! Switzerland breathtaking nature provides unlimited variety of camp grounds that makes the experience of exploring Switzerland more affordable and enjoyable. Also it’s a safe country and therefore you can do camping worry free in the different camp grounds. Which camping experience to choose is really dependent on your plan, preference and time of the year. The thing is that there is an option for all tastes! Do you prefer to be on a camp ground near the lake or to explore the mountains? Or maybe you are a fan of wild camping in a tent and meeting the sunrise on a mountain peak? Or maybe you will choose a more luxurious version, to luxury camping that is glamping a la Suisse? Camping grounds are spread all across Switzerland, which is equipped with an excellent network of roads. Yet driving on mountain roads with a caravan can get demanding. Depending on your driving skills you can decide whether you’d prefer a camping ground in the valley-at the lake or higher in the mountains. We highly recommend to book a camping spot in advance because camping in Switzerland is quite popular! Switzerland counts hundreds of camping grounds and all of them have something distinctive to offer: location, facilities, etc. Yet the array of choices is very wide & the experiences are really diverse. If you are into caravan camping you can find our recommendations in this guide.
As we mentioned, Switzerland is a heaven destination for nature lovers particularly hiking and camping lovers. Camping is generally split into wild camping (tent camping) and caravan camping. Wild camping is allowed and is safe, provided you respect nature and follow the guidelines and rules set by local authorities. The main things to keep in mind when you plan for wild camping:
- wild camping is permitted only in the mountains above the tree line.
- wild camping is not allowed in some areas like nature reserves, wetlands, National Parks, etc, which are clearly indicated.
- respect and do not disturb wildlife and nature when camping.
- Don’t litter and collect all your waste when you leave. The camping sites are equipped with bins where you can throw your garbage.
- If you make fire or barbecue, please do so in designated areas only. The areas are well indicated and equipped so you can use them responsibly.
If you want to read more about wild camping check our article How to go wild camping in Switzerland.
Outdoor activities in the sky
Hot air balloon
Did you know that people’s most wished for superpower is flying? Only second to time travel! Fact is that, humanity managed to achieve this superpower indirectly through several means, which developed over last couple centuries. However couple of these flying methods kept their charm and romance despite the time. Have you flown with a hot air balloon over Switzerland? There might be no dispute about how beautiful Switzerland is. However you will definitely realise how diverse and how colourful Switzerland’s nature is, either through the eyes of a bird or from the basket of a hot air balloon. There are a big variety of hot air ballon flights that can take you over stunning lakes or the amazing Swiss Alps, in all seasons, either mornings or afternoons. We had our own hot air balloon experience flying over the arc leman, that we definitely encourage you to explore this outdoor activity.
With such mountainous and lakes natural features there are plenty of paragliding spots all across Switzerland. One of recommended ones is the paragliding flight near Interlaken, which has one of the most stunning and distinctive landscapes in Switzerland. The launch spot is in Beatenberg, which is a beautiful town that’s worth a visit and hike. You will paraglide over the breathtaking alpine landscape, while gazing at the spectacular summits of the Jungfrau, and sparkling waters of Lake Thun. Another recommendation is a tandem paragliding flight from the Alpine village of Carì, which is located above Faido, at 1650m. You can enjoy the feeling of weightlessness as you float over the the famous Valle Leventina. The village also is a known ski resort that offers a wide range of winter activities which visitors can enjoy in winter, such as skiing, snowshoeing and sledging.
Bonus furry companions to outdoor activities in the nature
In Switzerland many outdoor activities extend to interactions with the local animals in their home environment. You will notice that these animals are used to human visitors. They are not afraid to be approached, as they also feel they are in a safe environment. The key to those animals’ hearts is of course that you bring them with you some treats that they love! Hazel nuts, peanuts, carrots and some other treats. Through out the different hikes we had, we encountered many different hiking companions that made our route extra special.
Saas-fee is known for its marmots! Our hike in the area turned into a true treasure hunt as we were searching for marmots along the way. The marmot seems to be the living mascot of Saas-Fee, but instead of just marmots we encountered bulls, cows and several squirrels. These furry animals – the marmots – have well-known spots where they wander. Better bring some carrots or peanuts in your pockets to lure marmots out of their holes. They are very used to hikers so they will come to you when they smell the treats. If you are extra generous they might pose for a couple of photos 😁 To note the cows in Saas-fee are very photogenic and also like the spotlight, so they approach you when they see the camera lenses.
From bears to llamas
In Arosa, we enjoyed our time watching the bears at the Arosa Bear Sanctuary. These are rescued bears from circuses. The sanctuary is equipped with wooden bridges hanging from high that allow you to enjoy observing the bears behavior in the wild, from a safety distance. To get there you’d need to take the Weisshorn Bahn, which continues up to the peak of Weisshorn, were the views are breathtaking. Another not-to-miss activity in Arosa, particularly when you travel with kids, is feeding the fast and cute squirrels at the «Eichhörnliweg » or the so called “Squirrel Path”. Take some nuts with you and soon as the little cuties hear the cracking of the nuts they will run to you and you will have flurry friends eating from your hands 😍. In Centovalli, Ticino, we had a different type of experience- a new magnificent outdoor activity – llama trekking 🦙!! Such a beautiful and friendly creature the llama! Children as young as three years old can participate in this outdoor activity, and enjoy the llamas company. Such an experience-call it even an adventure! Going through the meadows, up & down a few hills and through the pristine forest. All while smoothly leading Vanir, our guide llama who was very collaborative! To reach Monte Comino, where the llamas are, we took the scenic train till Verdasio in Centovalli. From there, we took the cable car to Monte Comino. An extensive but not an exclusive list of outdoor activities and adventures To sum it up, despite the extensive list of outdoor activities and adventures in Switzerland, but this is not even close to be an exclusive list. There are many other activities that you can experience and enjoy in Switzerland. The diverse and amazing nature of Switzerland together with a multi-season climate enables such diversity and breadth in activities. The Swiss also managed to leverage those natural benefits through a network of transportation and economic system that made them very accessible. All while maintaining nature and preserving it so people can continue to enjoy both the activities and the hosting environment.