12 places not to miss in Switzerland
If you're planning a road trip through Switzerland, here are 12 unmissable destinations that you need to include on your Swiss itinerary:
Bern - the capital city was one of our favourite stops on our Swiss road trip. The red roofed gem of its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the historic Münster has the highest steeple in Switzerland and you can visit the apartment where Einstein was living when he realised that E=mc squared. Bern even has its own mountain, with a red funicular that takes you to the top, and a resident family of brown bears that you can visit at the Bärenpark.
Geneva - Switzerland's diplomatic epicentre makes for a fascinating city break! Don't miss its 140ft high fountain, the Jet D'eau, the magnificent cathedral, the L'horloge fleurie (flower clock) and the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the UN. Famously neutral, Geneva is home to the headquarters of many global organisations and non profits including the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the World Trade Organisation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (there is also an excellent Red Cross museum). If you're a science buff, catch the tram out to CERN, home to the Hadron Collider, and of course take a boat trip out onto Lake Leman (French speaking Switzerland's name for Lake Geneva).
Zürich - Switzerland's financial centre in the north of the country is a vibrant blend of old and new. You'll recognise the famous pepper pot twin towers of the Grossmünster, and be sure to stroll along Limmatquai, a relaxing riverside promenade with beautiful views of guildhouses and church spires. Wander up to Lindenhofplatz for views over Zürich's old town and river, and spend an afternoon pampering yourself at the Thermalbad & Spa. Set within the stone vaults of an old brewery, the spa also boasts an impressive rooftop pool!
Only 15 minutes drive away in Kilchberg is Lindt: Home of Chocolate, the world's largest chocolate museum. You can learn all about the history of chocolate, from the Mayans to the Swiss masters, and of course, eat loads of free chocolate! You can't miss the giant chocolate fountain in the lobby, and the massive shop on the way out, selling every flavour of Lindt imaginable. You can read more about our visit here.
Lauterbrunnen - if you've seen pictures on Instagram or on guide book covers of sheer valley walls with plunging waterfalls, you've seen Lauterbrunnen. This fairytale valley with clanking cowbells and pretty wooden buildings is the ultimate Swiss postcard, and we spent 4 days here. You can't miss famous Staubbach Falls, tumbling almost 300ft over a cliff, and it's well worth buying a ticket for the Trümmelbach Falls, a series of unbelievably powerful underground glacier waterfalls churning their way through rock. The valley is also a terrific starting point for some seriously beautiful hiking. We particularly enjoyed the Panoramaweg and the Eiger trail, both accessible from Männlichen (catch the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen and then take a cable car up to Männlichen.
Gruyères - this tiny Medieval town is absolutely fascinating, and wandering through the cobblestone streets feels like you've stumbled onto the set of Beauty and the Beast. As well as a 13th century fortress, there are the juxtaposed Tibet and HR Giger museums - the former, a display of Tibetan Buddhist art displayed in a former chapel, the latter, a collection of the Oscar winning artist's "biomechanical" artworks. The bar just opposite is absolutely surreal- If you've seen the film Alien then you'll be familiar with HR Giger's style, and the seats, ceiling and tables all look like they are constructed from futuristic skeletons.
At the bottom of the hill you can visit La Maison du Gruyère, and between 9am and 12pm you can watch the famous Gruyère AOP cheese being made.
Piz Gloria - If you've watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the 1969 James Bond film, you might remember Blofeld's mountaintop lair, Piz Gloria. In real life, the location was a revolving restaurant being built on the summit of the Schilthorn, a mountain in the Bernese Oberland. The production team couldn't believe their luck, and apparently helped to fund the completion of the restaurant and adjoining helipad in return for being able to use it in the film.
Getting up to Piz Gloria is an adventure in itself - you need to take 4 separate cable cars, making up the longest aerial cable car journey in the Alps! The first one departs from Stechelberg in Lauterbrunnen valley and in 32 minutes connect with Gimmelwald, Murren, Birg, and finally Schilthorn Piz Gloria, way up at 2970m.
The views from the top are simply jaw dropping - head out onto the viewing platform for 360 degrees of more than 200 peaks, including the big 3: Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Even on a cloudy day, when visibility down in the valley was zero, we emerged into blazing blue skies with peaks all around, seemingly floating on a bed of cloud.
There is a web cam at the Stechelberg station so you can check the views before heading up, and you can also see the webcam views here! There is a free Bond World museum, and the restaurant is a really nice place to have a drink and enjoy the revolving views of the surrounding mountains.
Pradaschier Rodelbahn - Pradaschier in Churwalden is the longest alpine coaster in Switzerland! Over 3000m long with 31 white knuckle bends, the toboggan run whizzes you through beautiful alpine scenery at 40kmh. It takes around 7 minutes from top to bottom, and an added bonus is the open four seater chairlift that takes you (and toboggans) up to the top. Because the toboggan runs on rails, it can operate year round (weather permitting).
Top tip: arrive before 11am to get the 2for1 rides early bird special offer.
Zermatt - This pretty traditional alpine town is famous for two things: the lack of cars (the town is entirely traffic free apart from a few electric taxis and can only be accessed by train), and the Matterhorn. On a clear day, the enormous white shark fin peak of the mountain that inspired the Toblerone looms over the wooden chalets and hotels of Zermatt. The tiny, Mountaineer's cemetery is a poignant reminder that while the Alps are stunning, they can be a wild and dangerous place.
From Zermatt, take the funicular up to Sunnega followed by a cable car to Blauherd. Here is the the trail head to the Five Lakes hike, or "5-Seenweg", a gorgeous, easy walk with views of mountain peaks (including the Matterhorn) reflected in glassy lakes. The trail winds its way largely down hill through forests and alpine meadows back to Sunnega, where you can catch the funicular back down to ground level.
Top tip: When you first arrive at Blauherd, before you head off on your hike, take one more cable car up to Rothorn, a mountain summit at 3,103 m with amazing views of glaciers and the highest peaks of the Valais Alps including the Matterhorn. When we visited in September there was knee deep snow up there!
The Rhine Falls - Europe's biggest waterfall is a 40 minute drive out of central Zürich, and the volume of turbulent white water is just astonishing! Park on the south side and pay 5 CHF to access the different viewing platforms that allow you to get up close and personal with the falls. There are also a couple of boat companies that you can pay to go on to get really close to the falls and to access the large rock stranded in the middle of the river.
How to get to the Rhine Falls on public transport: No car? Train S9 from Zürich's main station to Neuhausen Rheinfall will also get you to the Rhine Falls in about an hour.
Lausanne - 40 miles around the lake from Geneva is Lausanne: a cultural hotspot with a stunning Medieval old town. Lausanne is the Olympics capital, home to the IOC and the unmissable Olympics Museum, which is now up there with our all time favourites. Spread across three floors, you can see all of the medals and Olympic torches from across the years and equipment and clothing from some of the greatest Olympic heroes including Torvill and Dean, Chris Hoy, Roger Federer, Usain Bolt's top and Jesse Owen. The Ouchy district, where the Olympics museum is located, has a beautiful waterfront promenade, and the towering 12th century cathedral in the city's old town has views of the Alps and Lake Geneva.
Take a side trip to Corsier sur Vevey and visit Chaplin's World, the former home of Hollywood legend Charlie Chaplin, who spent the final 25 years of his life in the idyllic Swiss countryside following his exile from McCarthyist America in the 1950s. Along with Chaplin's beautifully preserved home, you can visit the Studio, a huge museum celebrating his films. Walk through sets of some of his most iconic scenes and see props, costume (including the Tramp's famous hat and cane) and personal treasures like Chaplin's Academy Awards and knighthood. We wrote more about our visit to Chaplin's World here.
Montreux - 40 minutes drive from Lausanne is the lavish resort town of Montreux, where rock band Queen once owned legendary Mountain Studios. Today, the studio space located within Casino Barriere is a free museum and exhibition full of memorabilia and Queen treasures, including handwritten lyrics, stage costumes, John Deacon's bass and Roger Taylor's drums. In the back, where the original recording studio would have been, you can sit at the mixing desk and play with four tracks, including Mother Love and Made in Heaven. Nearby, a gold plaque on the floor marks where Freddie Mercury stood to record his last vocals, before his untimely death.
There is a beautiful statue of Freddie a short walk away, looking out over the lake with his fist raised triumphantly. It features on the front cover of Queen's Made in Heaven album, released after Freddie's death, and is a popular place to visit for Queen fans, especially around Freddie's birthday. It is usually covered with photographs, flowers, letters and other tributes from fans around the world.
Château de Chillon is another popular tourist attraction just outside of Montreux, and there is a bus stop right outside. The castle, jutting out over Lake Geneva, looks like a something out of a fairy tale, with ramparts, three courtyards and pointy topped towers. You can explore the grand rooms, including the banqueting hall with a massive fireplace and the vaulted cellars that were used as a prison - look out for Lord Byron's graffiti on one of the pillars! He visited the castle in the early 19th century, and was inspired to write his poem the Prisoner of Chillon.
Oeschinensee - This startlingly turquoise Alpine lake can be reached by taking a cable car up from the village of Kandersteg. From the top it's an easy 20 minute walk to the lake, or you can loop round to the left when the path forks for a slightly longer walk through trees, with beautiful mountain views. It's part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch
The lake is crystal clear and a real tropical blue colour. On a summer day you can brave a swim (be warned, it certainly isn't tropical temperature!), and there are rowing boats available to rent. Back at the cable car station is summer rodelbahn, or "mountain coaster" toboggan run which is great fun!