Last Updated on December 7, 2023
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
By Jim Ferri
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Switzerland, first and foremost understand that it is a land of charming stereotypes…..idyllic mountain meadows nestled below soaring peaks…..Heidi-like villages where the Alpine air resonates with the clang of cowbells and church bells…..a country where fast trains whisk you between bustling cities while old lake steamers glide lazily between centuries-old villages.
What makes the country so fascinating is that these stereotypes are accurate. In fact, one could argue that they barely scratch the surface…..
Switzerland has many “best places” since this beautiful country has always been one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations.
Ask just about any traveler who’s been there. You’ll be regaled with descriptions of spectacular scenery, great hotel experiences, and après-ski chicness. And let’s not forget those Heidi-like mountain villages, and a modern, comfortable transportation system that runs with Swiss-clock-like precision.
Experience it for yourself, and you’ll discover much more once you peel back the stereotypical veneer.
You’ll discover a destination that transcends the tourist-brochure hype, providing wonderful experiences for just about any type of traveler. No wonder it’s on so many bucket lists.
If it’s on your list, here are some of the best places in Switzerland to visit.
A Good Place to Begin
When flying in Switzerland, Zürich is an excellent place to begin or end a vacation since its airport is top-notch. (On the other hand, Switzerland is small, which is a good thing. Zurich, for example, is also a good day trip by train from Geneva on the other end of the country).
It’s not only modern but also close to the city by train, only a 10-minute ride. Zürich’s main railway station is regarded as a central European railroad hub. You can take a train from the airport and connect anywhere in the country or throughout Europe. Its airport alone should make it one of the best places in Switzerland to visit on your travels.
But there’s much more to this city. Set on the northern shores of Lake Zürich with the snow-capped Alps on the horizon, Zürich has a multicultural flair. Downtown offers a unique mixture of attractions with over 50 museums and more than 100 art galleries. Shops sell international and local fashion labels, and the country’s most flamboyant and lively nightlife.
Recreational activities range from sailing on the lake in the heart of the city to hiking on Uetliberg Mountain. In addition, there are some excellent tours both in and outside the city.
French-Speaking Geneva, a Wonderful Swiss City
French-speaking Geneva lies in the bay where the Rhone leaves Lake Geneva. A cosmopolitan city, it’s set between nearby Alpine peaks and the hilly terrain of the Jura.
With its humanitarian tradition and flair, Geneva is the European seat of the United Nations. It’s also the headquarters of the Red Cross, adding to its reputation as the “Capital of Peace.”
But it’s the city’s old town, with its quays, lakeside promenades, elegant shops, parks, and lively side streets, that make this one of Switzerland’s best places to visit and experience. The Jet d’Eau, a fountain with a near-500 foot-high water jet in Lake Geneva, is an icon of the city.
Culturally, this city on the westernmost fringe of Switzerland also has much to offer. International artists perform in the Grand Théâtre and the Opera House. There’s also a diverse range of museums. They include, as you might expect, the Musée international de l’horlogerie. It’s a watch museum with a collection of jewelry, watches and musical clocks.
The Essence of Switzerland – Lucerne
For many travelers, Lucerne is the essence of Switzerland. That’s why many consider it one of, if not the, best places to visit in all of Switzerland.
It sits picture-perfect on Lake Lucerne, below a beautiful Alpine panorama, with a car-free old town with gable paintings. It has a covered, medieval bridge in its center (one of the oldest in Europe) and old fresco-decorated houses. Also, people – both locals and visitors – love its charming town squares.
Travel outside the city to experience the beautiful views on a trip up one of its nearby mountains. Also enjoy a steamship cruise along the beautiful lake. You’ll find Lucerne is also a good starting point for excursions about central Switzerland.
Interlaken, the Adventure Capital of Switzerland, Another Best Place
Another of the best places in Switzerland, Interlaken is in the country’s Bernese Oberland Region. Between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, it’s presided over by the three mighty mountains: the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.
Interlaken is considered the adventure capital of Switzerland, thanks to its 45+ mountain railways, cable cars, chair lifts, and ski lifts, which bring skiers and hikers to 150 miles of slopes and a dense network of trails.
In addition, in the warmer months para-gliders head for Beatenberg-Niederhorn, a popular area just 7 miles away. Those with less lofty ambitions enjoy cruises on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz aboard excursion boats, including historic paddle steamers.
The Lake Geneva Region, One of the Best Places in Switzerland to Visit
The Lake Geneva Region, encompassing Lausanne, Lauvaux and Montreux, boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With three significant areas of interest to travelers, this is definitely one of the best places in Switzerland to add to your “must-see” list.
Beautiful Lausanne is built on three hills and surrounded by vineyard-covered slopes. Beautiful Lake Geneva is at its feet and the Savoy Alps of France across the lake.
The cathedral dominates the old town and the cafes peppering the medieval city center. It is the country’s most impressive piece of early Gothic architecture.
The city is so picturesque it’s not surprising the International Olympic Committee has been based here since 1914.
Nearby Lavaux, another of the best places in Switzerland to visit, is a beautiful world of vineyard terraces. Furthermore, its 800 hectares comprise Switzerland’s largest contiguous vineyard. Its terraces offer magnificent views, and produce such fine wines as St-Saphorin, Dézaley, and Epesses. You can taste them on visits to one of the charming pintes, mini-restaurants typical of the Lavaux.
Further along the lakeshore, Montreux hosts the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival every June/July. Vineyards surround this pretty lakeside city which is set against the breathtaking backdrop of the massive Alps. Moreover, nearby Chillon Castle, immortalized by Lord Byron, is the most visited attraction in the entire country.
Basel, the Art City of Switzerland
Shoehorned between Germany and France and bisected by the Rhine, Basel is the third-largest city in Switzerland. Given its geographical position, it comes as no surprise that it has a diversity of cultures and a multifaceted history.
It also boasts a wealth of modern art and architecture, and its nearly 40 museums give it the highest density of museums in the country. Among them are the internationally known Basel Art Museum, the Fondation Beyeler, and the Museum of Cultures, all of which attract many visitors.
Moreover, Basel’s symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, and musical theater feature popular international productions. The city’s cultural life alone ensures its inclusion as one of the best places in Switzerland to visit.
Travelers know this “City of Art” for its historic landmarks, including the large market square with its richly decorated red sandstone town hall and the late Romanesque-Gothic cathedral. It’s a fascinating city that comes alive on several fascinating tours. You can get a good taste of it in this popular NeverStopTraveling video.
Zermatt and Its Matterhorn, One of the Best Places to Visit in Switzerland
In the Valais region of Switzerland, famous Zermatt lies at the foot of Matterhorn, the most photographed mountain in the world. It’s located in the middle of an enormous hiking and ski region that encompasses 63 mountain railways and more than 200 miles of slopes.
Accordingly, among skiers and others who enjoy spectacular mountain landscapes, it’s high on the list of the best places in Switzerland to visit.
High above the city, the “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise “area is Europe’s largest and highest summer skiing region, a place where many national ski teams train in the summer. It is well worth visiting here since it’s spectacular in every season.
Moreover, as you might expect,the region is legendary among mountaineers. Its Haute Route, a challenging international route that takes several days to complete, leads from Mont Blanc to Zermatt. Over 400 kilometers of hiking trails lead through and out of the Matter Valley, including the mule traders’ trails, dating back to the 13th century.
Engadin St. Moritz Region: Plenty of Sunshine
Located at 1,800m above sea level in the alpine canton of Graubünden, the 13 towns and villages of the Engadin St. Moritz region have 322 days of sunshine a year and enjoy a gloriously mild microclimate. One would think that its climate alone makes it one of the best places to visit in Switzerland.
In reality, though, it’s the area’s chicness, authentic village traditions, and unspoiled nature that lures travelers here. The Upper Engadin provides spectacular mountain views, a seemingly endless expanse of lake plateau, and, to some, a magical quality in the light.
Also, the area has a fascinating cultural heritage, one of the reasons it has been on many people’s list of best places in Switzerland for decades. Romansch is its official primary language, while German is spoken in St. Moritz, Italian in the neighboring valleys, and French at the Club Med. You’ll also hear a lot of English at the Cresta Run, a toboggan track that winds its way from St. Moritz down past the tiny hamlet of Cresta to the village of Celerina.
The Capital of Bern
Of all of Switzerland’s cities, it’s Bern, the capital, that’s the most immediately charming, making it one of the best places in Switzerland to visit. Crammed onto a steep-sided peninsula in a crook of a fast-flowing river, its quiet, cobbled lanes are lined with sandstone-arcaded 500-year old buildings that have changed little over time. The hills all around the city, and the steep banks of the river, are still heavily wooded.
The old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks in part to its four miles of arcades. Locals refer to the arcades as “Lauben,” and they form the longest weather-sheltered shopping promenade in Europe. Views of the area, especially of both the Old Town’s clustered roofs and of the majestic Alps on the horizon, are beautiful.
Switzerland’s Little Italy, Another of the Best Places in Switzerland to Visit
The Mediterranean region of Europe seems to begin on the south side of the Alps in Ticino. It’s one of the reasons travelers rate Ticino as one of the best places in Switzerland to visit on holiday.
There’s a feel of Italy here, with palms and citrus trees scattered about its towns and streets winding their way down to little piazzas. Also, it’s Switzerland’s only Italian-speaking canton, and it shares the Italian love of food, wine, and la dolce vita, the latter somehow coexisting with the Swiss need for regulations and rules. If you’re in Italy, it’s an easy day trip by train from Milano.
The city of Bellinzona, the capital of the canton, boasts three castles, a defensive wall, and ramparts of an old market town that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A half-hour to the south is the lovely city of Lugano, set on the lake of the same name.
In the Lake Maggiore region, the lakeside town of Locarno enjoys what is the best climate in Switzerland, with nearly 2,300 hours of sunshine annually and an average annual temperature of 60°F. The city has several cultural events, including an International Film Festival.
Although not as popular or as well known as the other Swiss cantons, the Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden is known for its rural customs and traditions. These include the ceremonial descent of the cattle in autumn and cultural events such as folk music and rustic dances. There are also hiking and biking tours in the Alpstein region.
It’s the smallest Swiss canton, with only about 7,000 inhabitants. That makes it appealing for those who want to feel the authenticity of the country while escaping the tourist crowds…making it another of the best places in Switzerland to visit.
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