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The ultimate guide to the best things to do in Switzerland

Switzerland is one of Europe’s most beautiful countries.

From skyscraping peaks topped with snow, idyllic ski slopes and cosy chalets of winter, to the rolling green hills, aquamarine rivers and lakeside resorts of summer, Switzerland is a diverse country famed for its clockmaking, cheese, chocolate and breathtaking alpine environments. This sustainable destination prides itself on green tourism and ethical practices and is easily traversed by rail or road. Beautiful in all seasons, Switzerland offers luxury travellers opulent hotels, fine dining, elevated shopping, wellness retreats and incredible outdoor experiences. This is the ultimate travel guide to the best things to do in Switzerland.

Switzerland fast facts

What language do they speak in Switzerland?
Four national languages are recognised and spoken in Switzerland: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Although English is not recognised as an official language in Switzerland, it is widely spoken and often used by locals to bridge the gap between languages and regions.

Where is Switzerland?
Switzerland is located in the centre of Europe and shares borders with France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Liechtenstein.

What is the capital of Switzerland?
Bern is the administrative capital of Switzerland, Lausanne is the judicial centre and Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland.

What is Switzerland famous for?
Switzerland is known the world over for its towering mountains, lush landscapes, cheese fondue, chocolate and exemplary watchmaking.

What currency is used in Switzerland?
The Swiss franc is used throughout Switzerland, denoted by ‘CHF’. The Swiss franc is comprised of 100 Rappen ‘Rp’. You’ll find coins in denominations of 5,10, 20 and 50 Rappen, and 1, 2 and 5 francs.

  • Time zone: GMT+1
  • Emergency contact number: 112
  • Power adaptor required: Type C and J (230V, 50Hz)
  • Visa: Part of the Schengen Zone, member states can stay up to 90 days in any 180-day period, that includes Australian passport holders. EU/EEA nationals only need an identification document to enter Switzerland.
Grindelwald First Cliff Walk.
Grindelwald First Cliff Walk © Adobe Stock/Mathisa

The best places to visit in Switzerland

  • Zurich
  • Lucerne
  • Bern
  • Solothurn
  • Locarno
  • Davos
  • Interlaken
  • Grindelwald
  • Lausanne
  • Basel
  • Geneva
  • Spiez
  • Lauterbrunnen
  • Zermatt
  • Montreux
  • Gstaad

Zurich

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the nation’s financial capital. Framed by the Alps with the Limmat River cutting through its centre and out towards Lake Zurich, Zurich is an elegant city with a picturesque old town. Cobblestone streets are lined with medieval buildings, with brightly coloured shutters, picture windows and turrets decorating the facades. It’s a very walkable city famous for its excellent Christmas markets, of which there are 12 in and around the city. Exploring the major cities is one of the best things to do in Switzerland.

Things to do in Zurich

  • Go shopping on the city’s most expensive street, Bahnhofstrasse
  • Take in the historic guild houses and structures of the medieval Münsterhof
  • Climb the tower of the 13th-century Grossmünster
  • See work by Monet and the Alberto Giacometti collection at Kunsthaus Zürich
  • Learn about the history of Zurich and beyond at the Swiss National Museum
  • Take a stroll through Zurich’s largest park, Rieterpark
  • Gaze upon the ine-metre stained glass window The Heavenly Paradise inside the Fraumünster
  • Take in amazing views of Zurich and the Alps from the Uetliberg summit
  • Walk through the most beautiful historical street in Zurich, Augustinergasse
  • Join a tour at Lindt: Home of Chocolate
  • Soccer fans should check out the FIFA museum
  • Sample Swiss chocolate at Sprüngli

Read now: the best travel experiences in Switzerland

Limmat riverfront area in Zurich
Limmat River, Zurich © Adobe Stock

Bern

The Swiss capital Bern is known for its UNESCO World-Heritage-listed old town and its bears, which reside in a green belt that runs alongside the Aare River. Measuring in at just 51 square kilometres, Bern is a walkable city filled with restaurants, bars, museums and shops. Of particular interest are the 11 Renaissance fountains by Swiss sculptor Hans Gieng that are sprinkled throughout the city and date back to the 16th century.

Things to do in Bern

  • Walk the main streets of Old Town, Spitalgasse, Marktgasse, Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse
  • Visit the infamous clocktowers, the 13th-century baroque Käfigturm that once formed part of the city gate, and the 12th-century Zytglogge
  • that served as both a guard tower and a prison.
  • Learn about the world’s most famous theoretical physicist at Einstein House
  • Take in the incredible views of the river, viaducts and the cathedral of Bern at Münsterplattform
  • Stop in at Rathausplatz to see Bern City Hall & Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
  • The Nydeggbrücke offers views of the 14th-century Nydeggkirche and original 1840 Untertorbrücke on the left and the waterfront
  • greenery of Bärengraben to the right.
  • Stop to smell the roses at Bern Rose Garden
  • See world-class art at the Kunstmuseum
  • Visit the Alpine Museum of Switzerland, Natural History Museum of Bern or Museum of Communication
  • Take the funicular to Gurten Mountain
  • Relax at Hammam & Spa Oktogo

Read now: Where to find the best waterfalls in Switzerland 

Bern and the Aare River
Bern © Adobe Stock

Geneva

Some of the world’s most important organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the United Nations are all based in Geneva. This waterfront city is a close neighbour to France and boasts a picturesque architectural landscape of Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival styles, among others. Geneva is the capital of Swiss watchmaking and offers a city rich with history, art and culture, with an abundance of natural scenery right on the doorstep.

Things to do in Geneva

  • Take a sightseeing tour of the Geneva Water Fountain, St. Pierre Cathedral, Palais des Nations, Place du Bourg-de-Four, the Reformation Wall and Brunswick Monument
  • Embark on a museum pilgrimage to the Patek Philippe Museum, Natural History Museum,Musée d’art et d’histoire,Tavel House, Musée d’histoire des sciences or CERN
  • Go swimming at Bains des Paquis

Read now: The best winter experiences in Switzerland

The river and lake of Geneva
Geneva © Adobe Stock

Interlaken

Interlaken lies in the Bernese Oberland on an alluvial plain between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. Its untouched natural surroundings, crystal-clear waters and snow-covered peaks unparalleled relaxation. Interlaken is a great destination to explore before continuing on your journey. With more than 45 mountain railways, cable cars, chair lifts and ski lifts leading to 200 kilometres of pistes and a dense network of hiking trails, visiting this mountain destination is one of the best things to do in Switzerland. Jump aboard excursion ships, including historic paddle steamers, and see the waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.

Things to do in Interlaken

  • Ride a century-old funicular to the summit of Harder Kulm
  • Sail Lake Brienz or Lake Thun
  • Explore St, Beatus Caves
  • Sightsee at the 12th-century Interlaken Monastery and Castle
  • Enjoy beautiful views at Höhematte Park
  • Ride a horse through Weissenau Nature Reserve
  • Visit the historic town of Unterseen or the ruins of Unspunnen Castle
Interlaken
Interlaken © Switzerland Tourism

Lucerne

Lake Lucerne is a sparkling waterway wedged between mountains and valleys, dotted with castles and historic towns. Its preserved medieval architecture of Old Town sits on Lake Lucerne surrounded by snowcapped mountains. The city’s atmospheric alleys are filled with boutique stores, Swiss chocolate shops and coffee houses all leading to your choice of luxe lodgings. From Lucerne, it’s a 45-minute train ride to the town of Engelberg, where the world’s first rotating cable car transports you to Mount Titlis. If the views of the glacier and its legendary cave don’t take your breath away, then the crisp mountain air will. The only way your heart will beat faster is if you catch a ride on the Ice Flyer chairlift or wander out on the Titlis Cliff Walk, with its vertigo-inducing views.

Things to do in Lucerne

  • Wander to Rigi Kaltbad station, zip down to Vitznau and board a cruise to Lucerne.
  • Hike the spectacular William Tell Trail trek, eight days and 208 kilometres weave through the heart of Switzerland with the wild landscape as your backdrop. The trail weaves across central Switzerland’s ‘Big Six’ mountains: Stoos, Rigi, Pilatus, Stansernhorn, Titlis and Brienzer-Rothorn, the latter the end point of your journey.
  • The covered Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), built in 1333, links the Aldstadt to the Reuss River’s right bank and is a main attraction.
  • See the Lion Monument or Jesuitenkirsche HI. Franz Xaver
  • Walk across the Spreuerbrücke, the oldest original bridge in Lucerne
  • Experience the medieval ramparts of Museggmauer
  • Catch the funicular up to Château Gütsch
  • Listen to live classical music at the Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL)

Read now: The world’s most scenic hiking trails in Lucerne 

Davos

Exploring the great outdoors is one of the best things to do in Switzerland. Davos is the largest resort in the Alps and famed for hosting the annual World Economic Forum. It has more than 700km of bike trails, 300 km of slopes, and 100 km of cross-country ski tracks.

Things to do in Davos

  • Visit the Kirchner Museum
  • Stroll through the Alpinum Botanical Garden
  • Do a day trip to Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland
  • See the tiny wooden houses of Sertig Valley
  • Drive 2300 metres above sea level on the Fluela Pass
  • Hike, ski, climb or mountain bike your way through the area
The village of Davos in winter in Switzerland
Davos in winter © Adobe Stock

Solothurn

Regarded as the finest Baroque town in Switzerland with Italian grandeur architecture combined with German practicality and French charm. The car-free Old Town has eleven churches and chapels and the same number of fountains and towers.

Things to do in Solothurn

  • Museum of Nature
  • Climb the Cathedral of Saint Ursus
  • Escape to Verena Gorge Hermitage
  • Visit Waldegg Castle
  • Cross the Holzbrucke Bad Sackingen
  • Hike the Jura Mountains

Locarno

Lovers of watersports head to this town on Lake Maggiore in the summer. Locarno literally blooms in springtime. With its chic Mediterranean flair and ambience, the Italian-speaking lakeside city is full of colour, fragrance and botanical glory. Especially at Camellia Park which boasts more than 900 varieties of flowers in a landscaped labyrinthine of gardens.

Things to do in Locarno

  • Soak up the vibes in Piazza Grande
  • Attend the Locarno Film Festival
  • Learn about the region’s history at Visconteo Castle
  • Ride the funicular to Sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso
  • Meet birds of prey at the Falconeria Locarno
The city skyline and lake of Locarno
Locarno © Adobe Stock

Zermatt

Zermatt is the oldest and most traditional alpine town in Switzerland, with some buildings more than several centuries old. Providing easy access to the slopes of the Matterhorn, Zermatt is popular among skiers and snowboarders of all levels when the temperatures start to drop. Here, you’ll find the highest-lifted ski point in Europe, big verticals, quick lifts and the new Matterhorn Alpine Crossing. In summer, the mountain boasts lush green hiking trails and outdoor experiences.

Things to do in Zermatt

  • Ride the Gornergrat Railway
  • Visit Matterhorn Musuem
  • Explore Matterhorn Glacial Paradise
  • Do the Five Lakes walk
  • Walk the Hinterdorfstrasse

Read more: Nine reasons to visit Zermatt

The Matterhorn and the village of zermatt
Zermatt © Adobe Stock

Grindelwald

With pretty chalets, rolling green hills, towering mountains and with direct access to one of Switzerland’s biggest tourist attractions, Grindelwald is a must-visit village for those who love winter sports or mountainside escapes. The township is walkable and lined with shops, restaurants and hotels, and it’s just as exciting to visit in summer as it is in winter. Located in the Bernese Alps, it is a gateway to the Jungfrau region, ski slopes and a base for mountain-climbing expeditions up the north face of the Eiger.

Things to do in Grindelwald

  • Grindelwald First Cliff Walk
  • Stand on a glacier saddle 3463 metres above sea level at Jungfraujoch Top of Europe
  • Ride the First Flyer or Glider
  • Traverse the ‘spiderweb’ inside Glacier Canyon
  • Swing above white water rapids at the Canyon Swing
  • Speed through the hills with First Mountain Cart
Geneva waterfront
Geneva waterfront © Adobe Stock

Unique things to do in Switzerland

Read more: 14 extraordinary experiences to add to your Switzerland bucket list

The village of Grindelwald
Grindelwald © Adobe Stock

How to see Switzerland by train

It is very easy to navigate Switzerland by train, and the national rail network, the SBB, is comprised of RegioExpress trains that link regional destinations with larger Swiss cities; Regio trains that connect local towns; and InterCity trains that link major Swiss cities. However, one of the best things to do in Switzerland is to join the self-guided Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. Featuring eight spectacular routes across Switzerland’s most scenic regions, there is no predetermined direction or duration; travellers can hop on and hop off wherever they please, and the entire tour can be experienced with a single ticket – the Swiss Travel Pass.

Zurich to Interlaken

Journey: About 3 hours
Having explored the delights of Zurich, take an intercity train to Lucerne before boarding the premium Luzern-Interlaken Express with its glorious lake and mountain scenery. Many alpine adventures await in and around Interlaken, with excursions to Brienzer Rothorn, the soaring Jungfraujoch, mountaintop Schilthorn, Harder Kulm funicular, and historic Schynige Platte railway.

Interlaken to Montreux

Journey: About 3 hours
Explore Lake Thun, the Simmen Valley and Zweisimmen, where the GoldenPass Panoramic train takes over, passing castles and grazing cows’ meadows before winding through Montreux’s hills. The vineyards of Lavaux, Chillon Castle, Chaplin’s World and a mountain excursion to Rochers-de-Naye are highlights making Montreux an absolute delight.

Montreux to Zermatt

Journey: About 2.5 hours
It’s an alpenhorn’s toss from Montreux to Visp, but the journey through the Nikolai Valley – the deepest in Switzerland – is sublime. As the iconic Matterhorn comes into view, the train rises 900 metres in altitude. Partly with the help of cogwheel technology. Zermatt’s charming and car-free village is the perfect base for exploring the Matterhorn’s vast glaciers.

Zermatt to St. Moritz

Journey: About 8 hours
The world’s slowest – but surely most beautiful – train sees the fabled Glacier Express weaving through the Swiss Alps and linking these uber-chic, all-year resorts. Travel through the pretty Cantons of Valais, Uri and Grisons. The train traverses 91 tunnels and 291 bridges with majestic views of mountains, deep ravines and valleys, the Glacier Express carving through the dramatic Swiss countryside.

St. Moritz to Lugano

Journey: About 7 hours
The lovely Bernina Express to Tirano, followed by the onward express bus to Lugano, delivers travellers from the mountains to the lake. Sit back and soak up the scenery as knockout views abound of glaciers, turquoise waterways and verdant valleys.

Lugano to Lucerne

Journey: About 5.5 hours
The first-class Gotthard Panorama Express takes guests from Mediterranean-style Ticino along the grand Gotthard Panorama Route before transferring to a boat that glides over Lake Lucerne, surrounded by Switzerland’s traditional heartland and imposing mountains.

Lucerne to St. Gallen

Journey: About 2.5 hours
Explore Pilatus, Rigi, Stanserhorn and Titlis from Lucerne before boarding the Voralpen-Express through more classic Swiss scenery. The train passes Lake Zurich, Rapperswil – the ‘city of roses’ – and the Sitter Viaduct. At 99 metres, it’s the highest railway bridge in Switzerland.

St. Gallen to Zurich

Journey: About 2.5 hours
Despite being landlocked, Switzerland has its own ‘maritime’ heritage, best seen by train on a 40-kilometre stretch of Lake Constance shoreline. This follows the Rhine downstream to Schaffhausen, home to Europe’s largest waterfalls, the Rhine Falls. It’s a fitting finale to an extraordinary round-trip journey from Zurich that delivers Switzerland at its best.

Learn more about Switzerland’s rail network:

What to expect aboard the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland  &  We’ve found the world’s most scenic railway in Switzerland

Gornergrat Bahn near Zermatt Valais Gornergrat Bahn near Zermatt Valais
Gornergrat Bahn near Zermatt Valais © Switzerland Tourism

The best road trips in Switzerland

With exquisite scenic views and cultural jewels, a road trip through Switzerland’s best-kept secrets is an unmissable experience. From palm-lined lakeshores to sparkling glaciers, and Medieval villages to buzzing boutique-sized cities, road tripping is one of the best things to do in Switzerland. 

Grand Tour Deluxe

Traversing four language regions, five Alpine passes, 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, two biospheres and 22 lakes, the Grand Tour of Switzerland is one exceptional road trip. This 1,643-kilometre journey weaves its way across the mountainous country. It has 8 unique stages and four themes to choose from – Art, Museums & Boutique CitiesAlpine Mountain Passes; UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And Wellness, Spas & Water. There is even an app to create your own road trip adventure.

Grand Tour Deluxe

As if that isn’t grand enough, Switzerland has elevated the experience with the new Grand Tour Deluxe. By day, breathtaking panoramas unfold, complemented by fine food and wine, cheese, chocolate and boutique shopping. Each evening, you’ll relax in your choice of luxury hotels. All offering elegant architecture, state-of-the-art facilities, classic Swiss tradition and charm. Plus, the highest levels of service and hospitality.

Furka Pass, Swiss Alps

Best known for its role in the iconic car chase from Goldfinger, this is one of the highest paved roads in Switzerland. At an incredible 2,429 metres above sea level. The Furka Pass winds its way through 22.5 kilometres of the Swiss Alps, with alpine lakes and towering peaks surrounding you along the way. Stop at the Rhone Glacier Ice Grotto. This tunnel has been carved into the Rhone Glacier every year since the 1870s, and watch the ice chamber glow in fine shades of blue. For those who want to reenact their James Bond dreams, companies such as Colcorsa and Leo Trippi offer multi-day supercar tours through the Alps. Due to the altitude, the road is usually only open from June to October, so plan accordingly.

Wellness, Spas & Water

Starts in Basel and stretches 1,750 kilometres split into leisurely driving days. The first four days roll from Basel (take a dip in the Rhine River) followed by the glamorous alpine retreat of Gstaad. Then on to Interlaken before reaching Bern, the historic and elegant Swiss capital. Then travel from Bern’s River Aare to Hallwyl – home to one of Europe’s most important moated castles – and Lake Lucerne, with its historic paddle steamers. Before skimming the lakeside town of Vitznau, your final destination on day five.

Road trip itineraries in Switzerland:

The Switzerland Grand Tour road trip  &  Wellness, spas & water road trip   &  The autumn foliage road trip

Switzerland Grand Tour map
Switzerland Grand Tour map © My Switzerland

Learn more about Switzerland:

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