This tiny landlocked country seems to get over looked in the European tourism track but there is plenty of gems to explore.
We took it upon ourselves to find the best places in 6 brisk days of February. There is certainly more to see than anyone can fit into that small of a timeline but it’s a balance of seeing as much as you can yet taking the time to enjoy each place to the fullest. It’s a vacation after all!
(Andy’s Thoughts) (Jackie’s Thoughts)
Day 1: Flying into Geneva… really early
The last 30 minutes of the flight into Geneva are breathtaking. That is if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky. Our descent was slightly cloudy but it was still a dramatic view with the peaks popping through the blanket of clouds like little islands.
Every stereotype we had ever heard about Switzerland was colorfully and loudly shouted in our face as we walked past the billboards leaving the airport. We had never wanted a Swiss Watch more in our lives, they know what we came to see. Thankfully we resisted.
We took this day to get our bearings with where our hotel is and the distance to the city’s attractions. Accommodation can be pricy in Geneva so we recommend figuring out what you are willing to compromise on to get the price that fits your budget- location to center, quality of the hotel, or the possible “friendliness” of staff. Knowing what you value most will make the selection of hotels a bit less stressful.
We don’t mind small rooms, the whole intention of travel is to be out in the destination exploring. We stayed at Hotel de Geneve, this was a convenient distance between both the train station and the historic attractions. We would note that the bathroom was definitely a new one for us. It seemed as it was transported from an RV. The view from the balcony was great but expect some street noise.
Out our hotel window
We wanted to fully immerse ourselves in the “Swiss” culture… or the tourist version of it. We dinned at the most stereotypical restaurant we could find- Restaurant Edelweiss. This had the whole shabang! Though our typical instinct is to avoid these tourist traps, this was definitely worth it. They had an extremely lively Swiss band with accordions, singing and alphorns (those traditional, unreasonably long and loud horns). The food was what we would consider as traditional Swiss… big pots of liquid aromatic cheese and a whole loaf of bread to dip. (I finished one-off myself… talk about food coma!)
I finished that whole pot of fondu!
Sometimes the best thing to do in a new city is to follow your nose and get lost. There is an active historic center of the city that has your modern shops along side of ancient cathedrals. We just happened upon Saint-Pierre Cathedral. Slightly unassuming from the courtyard but once entering- breathtaking.
We climbed the million steps to the bell tower (actually 157… felt like a million).
The views are worth every step. You can see the whole city including the Jet d’Eau (enormous fountain).
Once we left we noticed a stairwell on the outside of the facade. An hour later, we emerged amazed, this was definitely the best attraction in Geneva. This was the archaeological site of the original construction of the cathedral- 3rd century BC… bones buried within and all! Highly recommend this for your Geneva itinerary.
Day 2: Scenic rail trip to picturesque Montreux
Knowing that this part of our journey was going to hug the beautiful coastline of Lake Geneva, we used our “Splurge Fund” (This fund normally pays for one special experience on our travels). We booked ourselves on the Panoramic View train, in English I believe this is “Big Window Train”. We highly recommend this choice.
The train winds around Lake Geneva, every bend brought a new beautiful view. Snow topped mountains, backdropping a crystal blue lake, quaint little houses with those classic swiss shutters which seem fake. The thing that makes it better, “Can I get you two a drink?” asked the Swiss angel wearing an apron. “dos vin silvo play”. (I don’t quite have the romantic flair to my French)
Train to Interlaken
Train from Geneva to Montreux
Just an (unfortunately short) hour journey later, with views in your memories for life, you’ll arrive in the charming town of Montreaux. One thing you should know about Montreaux, there is a wonderful public Elevator that takes you from outside the Train station down to the lakeside. We found this out too late after winding down a road that is steep enough to host olympic downhill skiing.
Our lovely lakeside accommodation with balcony views of Lake Geneva and mountain backdrop was“Hotel Splendid Montreux”. The customer service is fantastic here. The daytime receptionist will give you directions, suggestions and especially the most cost-effective way to get up the mountain. The main attraction you’ll find from Montreux is the 22 minute scenic cogwheel train that takes you up 2000 metres into the clouds to a skiers and snowboarders paradise (We are purely jealous spectators due to fear of broken limbs). We found asking at our hotel for train departure times was extremely helpful.
Once at the top, you will find a standard, overly priced restaurant, but the views are absolutely priceless. We bought a couple of beers and sat back and enjoyed a little taste of heaven.
Descending to less ear popping heights, crowded by 100 tiny french children, a quick walk along the lake front is a good way to end your day, you might even bump into a certain Mr. Mercury. A glass of wine back at the hotel and goodnight Beautiful Montreux.
It’s not a trip to Montreaux, Switzerland without visiting Chateau de Chillon. From the center of Montreaux it’s about a 40 minute beautiful lakeside walk. We were pushed for time so jumped on the bus that drops you right outside 10 minutes later. This really takes you back to a medieval time and is wonderfully informative. A “Purposely Wandering Must Visit”.
Day 3: Montreaux to Interlaken
With your travel Swiss Travel Pass in hand, we would recommend checking the timetable and planning to catch the Panoramic train again for this journey. We could endlessly talk about the mountain views, and blissful, meandering through tiny Swiss villages, but we’ll leave a few photos for that.
It’s about 2 hours from Montreux to Interlaken, enjoying the above scenic journey. The Town, as its name suggests, is between two large lakes. What the name doesn’t suggest are the giant Swiss mountains that surround the town, giving it a lovely charming, hidden gem feeling.
Jackie has visited Interlaken previously while studying abroad in Italy. She had highly recommended an activity of Night Sledding. Gently sledding down the mountain, with only the glow of the moon to guide you.
This..was…Terrifying! You get taken up the mountain in a van by a Scandinavian adrenalin junkie, holding on for dear life, a shaky cable cart to the summit, where you realize the only way down is a shiny metal sled. The instructors give you a quick talk about feet up fast, feet down slow, left and right feet turn and off you go. After survival mode kicks in and you get the hang of it, the enjoyment begins. By the time you get to the bottom you’ll want Sven to drive you back to the top and start again. This trip included a fondue and beer after, Great adventure! Visit OUTDOOR INTERLAKEN to find out more. Be sure to book in advance, those adrenaline junkies book up fast.
If you like to hang with the locals and get to hear the real night sledding stories, once your feet are safely back in town, head to the Barracuda Cafe and Bar.
Day 4: Exploring the Mountains of Interlaken
Interlaken has a great network of cable cars, trains and gondolas to spend the day hopping from mountain to mountain. We recommend taking the train to Lauterbrunnen and exploring the Jungfrau region. From here you can cable cart your way to the Highest mountain peak in the area, Schilthorn, towering a mighty 2970metres high. There is a restaurant at the very top and a sky walk for the views. However, if you are feeling peckish we would suggest a bowl of fries to save some pennies for a beer at the bottom.
It can take some time waiting for trains, and the trains stopping for no real reason (you have to believe the train drivers have stopped for your safety, so trust the decision and enjoy the views) so plan your day out before you start exploring, as reaching every town in Jungfrau could be ambitious. (We found this out after we realized the fictional sounding town of Grimmelwald, which we planned to visit, was an hour west of our current bar location).
Hopefully you are lucky enough to visit Interlaken during one of their events on the green field in the middle of town. “Ice Magic” was taking place when we visited, food stalls, mulled wine, and… Curling ice rinks. Lovely way to end our time in Interlaken.
Interlaken will satisfy your touristy inclinations – chocolate making, cuckoo clocks, and glamorous watch buying. But it balances this with stunning 360 mountain views, charming locals and any extreme sport you can think of – skydiving, bungee jumping, canyon diving or paragliding (regularly see people landing in the center of town) This is a small town you can conquer in 2 days, or easily stay a week without getting bored.
Day 5: The final train ride into Zurich
The views never get old, if anything just grander each day. Switzerland is truly beautiful. Taking the train from Interlaken to Zurich allows you to make an hour or so stop in Lucerne. You can drop your bags off at the top of the train station to wander freely and purposely (see what we did there).
We had an hour in Lucerne so checked off a couple of the major tourist points. The Lion, you’ll find this in every tourist book, but a really understated, iconic statue. Hopefully you get a moment of peace to read the history and enjoy the serene park, we were not so fortunate. Kapellbrücke, the chapel bridge, the classic Lucerne postcard picture. Make sure you look up as you walk through to take in the historic paintings on the wooden frame. Then back on the train to finish the journey to Zurich.
We definitely struck gold on this trip with Hotels, and Zurich was no different. Hotel Du Theatre is a short walk from the train station but even shorter walk from the bars and restaurants of Niederdorfstrasse. This is on the other side of the river from the more historical and shopping area of Zurich. It becomes clear this city has a few colleges nearby from a quick stroll down this street, but the benefit of this is fantastic restaurants and bars. Highly recommend following your nose and settling in for a fantastic meal at one of the many options.
Day 6: That’s a mighty waterfall
Only an hour bus ride away from Zurich, with a quick bus change in the Game of Thrones named town of Winterthur, the Rhine Falls are an absolute must see. Before you have paid your minimal entrance fee, you can hear the mighty, crashing water pounding over the edge of the rocks. As you get closer it only gets louder. There are a number of viewing platforms to get those magical waterfall shots. From standing over the top watching from above, or being just feet away from the impact zone. This is an amazing excursion from Zurich to get out of the city and see nature at its powerful finest.
What an incredible Country. The old saying “Big things: Small Packages” has never been truer than describing the beautiful land of Fondue and Giant horns. There are of course even more hidden gems in Switzerland, and some not so hidden in the form of the giant iconic Matterhorn mountain, but for 6 days we felt the itinerary we followed got the best of this enchanting winter wonderland. We will absolutely be back to see the summer version.