Nestled between Germany, France, Italy, and Austria, Switzerland offers a blend of outdoor beauty, breathtaking adventure, charming culture, and melting pots… full of artisan chocolate and cheese. Could anything sound more divine? With its relatively small geography and efficient train service, Switzerland is a perfect summer destination for those looking to explore Europe. While we made our visit a long weekend stop between France and Italy, travelers can easily spend a week or more exploring a number of cities, each with its own cultural fingerprint. If snow skiing is not your passion, I highly recommend a summer visit. Our trip took us to the mountainous Bernese Oberland region of central Switzerland located just above the traditional resort town of Interlaken. This is a spectacular region to explore sans car as none are allowed above the town. Here are some of our favorite things to see (plus a few that are on our “next time” list) and also several travel tips we found to be extremely helpful.
Things to See and Do in the Bernese Oberland- plus a little travel advice
- Choose your home base village and hotel first and plan all of your excursions from that point. Initially, we considered Murren, but after researching several trusted travel sources (i.e. Rick Steves’ Switzerland guidebook which I took along), we landed on Wengen which was amazing and very centrally located allowing easier access to other villages and points of interest.
Some other village considerations are: Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, or Gimmelwald.
- If you are traveling outside of Switzerland as well, you can use your Eurail multi-day pass to cover some of your travel through the country; however, you may want to consider purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass that covers unlimited travel “throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network.” It also offers trips between cities, as well as, utilizing intra-city transport. It also offers 50 percent off most mountain railways and cable cars. For our purposes, we used our Eurail to travel to Interlaken, then purchased a Jungfrau Travel Pass (4-day Consecutive) which allows access on the entire Jungfrau Railway System including a trip to the highest point in Europe, the Jungfraujoch. TRAVEL TIP: When you purchase and/or validate your Jungfrau Travel pass at the Interlaken train station, try to get reserved seating arranged for your trip up to the Jungfraujoch. Although your ticket will get you on a train, a seat is not guaranteed on any particular train without a reservation, and this route is VERY POPULAR AND CROWDED!
- Visit the JUNGFRAUJOCH! . At 11,371 feet above sea level, it is easy to see why this peak is so aptly named the Top of Europe. As mentioned above, a trip to the top takes a bit of planning and will take at least half a day for the trip up and back plus time to explore once you get there. You can hike out to the glacier or travel down into the glacial mountain. There is a small adventure park, but be warned…it is cold and windy and covered in snow year-round. Dress in layers!
- HIKE everywhere! hiking trails traverse the valleys and mountains in this region like spider webs and offer something for every ability level. During our descent from Jungfraujoch, we jumped off the train at Kleine Scheidegg and took the trails back to our village, Wengen. The weather was pristine and the hike was totally downhill which our 2 daughters were very happy about! Local village shops can provide hiking maps and advice for the trails that might best suit your needs. Check out www.hikingandwalking.com also for great descriptions and recommendations for hikes in the area.
- Take the Aerial Cableway over to Grindelwald for the day. This is a more populated area with a variety of hotel and dining options. Check out this post about 15 Best Things to Do which I would totally second! I would also add that a trip up to ride the First Flieger Ziprider and watch paragliders launch was a highlight especially for our teenagers.
- Stroll through the postcard perfect Lauterbrunen which is set in a valley surrounded by rocky cliffs. The roaring 300m-high Staubbach Falls is a short walk out of town. Continue on for about 3 miles to visit the glacial waters of Trümmelbach Falls as it gushes through mountain crevices past viewing platforms. This was one of the unexpected gems of our Switzerland stop! TRAVEL TIP: ticket price is currently 11 SF per adult and 4SF — CASH ONLY!! Don’t leave Lauterbrunnen without enough cash to buy your tickets, or your roundtrip 6 mile walk will be for naught. The hike to the falls is flat and beautiful and passes by several local farms with fresh cheeses to taste along the way.
On the list to-do next time:
- Explore the Murren/Gimmelwald side of the valley!
- Consider a Winter visit to enjoy all the snowy activities.
- Spend some time in Interlaken.
- Take a cooking class (fondue).
- Visit some of the other Swiss cities by train (Geneva, Bern, Zermatt, Montreux, Zurich…)
There is truly so much to see and do in this small European country; it almost cannot be done in one visit. Two of the biggest advantages are the ease of travel around the country and the variety of things to do, which is a huge plus for family travel. The summer is simply spectacular with every stop and turn providing a picture-perfect photo. No matter how much you hike or bike, everyone seems to leave Switzerland a bit more relaxed and refreshed.
We can’t wait to return!