You are probably thinking about Swiss chocolate, Swiss cheese, and clocks, too. These are some of the things that you know about Switzerland already. But this landlocked country is a haven for anybody who might be looking for some truly picturesque and sweepingly dramatic landscapes. It’s in the middle of the Alps, so how couldn’t it boast the picture perfect look that it does?
You might find yourself getting a cogwheel railway up a mountain one moment and visiting slices of medieval heritage nestled on lakes the next. You’d better prepare yourself for some breathtaking views of craggy peaks from Swiss mountain towns, exploring historic districts on a crisp backdrop of glittering water, and marveling at majestic alpine meadows ringed by snowy mountains. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Switzerland:
Map of Switzerland
In this post, we'll cover:
With over 300 days of sunshine every year, there’s never a bad time to be in Basel. Set along the Rhine River, Basel is the third-largest city in Switzerland. But tradition, quirkiness, and a splash of rebellious spirit make Basel different to the rest.
Baslers, as they are known, are a fascinating community. You’ll find them floating along the Rhine in summer, going with the current until something else calls them forth. That thing could be a family swim in one of the city’s historic fountains.
The joie de vivre goes through all parts of life. You can find it in their excellent galleries (plus 40 museums) and atmospheric markets. The latter includes Marktplatz in the Old Town. Also, in the way they celebrate Christmas.
Along the old streets, you’ll find elaborate architecture, from the town hall to the cathedral. Not to mention some of Switzerland’s best theaters.
Enveloped in beautiful countryside, Appenzell is equal with its surroundings. The lovely village is complete with vibrant gabled architecture, a great selection of museums, some mouthwatering bakeries and cultural events.
Speaking of events, Appenzell maintains tradition. For several weeks from mid-May, alpine herdsmen don their customary wear and guide their cows in an enormous procession up into the high hills. The cattle drive occurs again towards the end of summer. In between is the Appenzell Folk Music Festival, where the town’s artistic heritage is on full display.
Other traditions still take place year-round, including the creation of Appenzeller cheese, known for its bold taste. Complement this with some Rösti, and you’ll receive the proper local culinary experience.
From there, it’s time to hike. You’ll have endless options, from hiking hut to hut across the Appenzell Alps to trekking up to the romantic Berggasthaus Äscher, a guesthouse built into the side of a mountain.
16. Swiss National Park
In Engadine, the Swiss National Park is renowned for its wildlife, a sanctuary set in an utterly Swiss landscape. With room to roam and well-maintained trails, it’s exciting and easy to explore the country’s only national park.
You can be assured of the spectacular here. Lace-up your boots and discover dense forests that quickly dissolve into vast meadows beset with wildflowers. The valleys drive you towards tumbling falls and azure lakes. It’s once you’re here that you will appreciate the towering moors and summits.
Some of the park’s best hikes include the 21km Lakes of Macun Trail through high alpine plateaus and Alps views. The easier 13km Munt la Schera takes you through steppe-landscapes.
While the family-friendly Alp Trupchun remains steady, providing a great overview of the park and wildlife. This includes stag rutting in autumn, marmots, chamoix, ibex and deer.
15. St. Moritz
A beloved winter destination since the mid-19th century, St. Moritz remains at the height of Swiss glitz and glamour. The snow forecast beckons high-end ski bums from across Europe, hoping to explore the slopes that have hosted two Winter Olympics. But there’s much more to St. Moritz for those who prefer to leave the skis at home.
Luxury palatial hotels bring warmth to the heart of winter. Day spas, retreats, romantic ice skating, even horse racing on ice. When the skiers and snowboarders return, swap stories in front of the cozy alpine fireplace.
Summer is a great time to visit St. Moritz and not just for the discounted 4 and 5 star hotels. One can sail on Lake St. Moritz, windsurf on Lake Maloja or float along the surging Inn River. To stretch your legs, plan a hike up to the Hedi Hut or wander the Segantini Museum.
In the flowing hills of French-speaking Switzerland, Gruyères’ cobbled streets lead you to a colorful mix of culinary and cultural delights. In classic Swiss fashion, the picturesque medieval town is also a proverbial trailhead for adventures beyond.
The Gruyères Castle dates back to the 13th century, from which the town surrounded it and spread out. It remains in great condition, atop the hill, offering splendid views of the diminutive Old Town.
From there, wander down to the historic main street, which at 300m long is packed with historic sights, charming buildings and cafe patios. Soon you’ll connect with the Les Grands Chemins, Gruyères’ walking path that circles the town.
As you explore, aromas will capture your attention. When in Gruyères, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to learn about the town’s famous cheese at the La Maison du Gruyère. Not to mention try the famous fondue at Restaurant des Remparts.
To work it off, hike the ionic Gastlosen or take the funicular to Moléson-sur-Gruyères.
13. Verzasca Valley
Lost in the midst of Switzerland’s many amazing destinations, the Verzasca Valley is home to azure waters, deep valleys and imposing summits. In southern Switzerland, the valley too has more than a splash of Italian influence.
The valley is a place to be in nature and admire the diversity of landscape that Switzerland has to offer. You’ll feel a long way from Jungfrau, with the Mediterranean atmosphere providing an entirely different environment.
It all starts at the valley’s 220m dam wall, made iconic by James Bong. Verzasca expands to be a haven for hikers. The Sentierone goes end to end, while mountain bikers will also get their fix.
But perhaps the most famous part of the entire valley is the Ponte dei Salti. This 400-year-old medieval footbridge features two arches that run over the emerald waters, leading you to the small town of Lavertezzo.
On the eastern shores of Lake Geneva, Montreaux is an elaborate collection of 19th century noble excellence amidst 13th century medieval architecture. Its beautiful surroundings, in partnership with a cooler climate has made it a popular summer escape.
This can be traced back to the 1800s, when the community slowly became the stuff of legend. It’s a magical mix of Swiss Alps scenery, the snow-fed lake and the rows of celebrated vineyards. This has created a renowned arts culture, of which the annual Montreux Jazz Festival, held in July, is the centerpiece.
But you can’t get to know Montreux’s contemporary history without understanding what came before, and what still stands today. This includes the Chateau de Chillon, a Middle Ages masterpiece on the lake’s edge.
Cap that off by wandering the parts of the 10km promenade. All before walking up the cobbled streets, encased in Belle époque elegance and wrought-iron balustrades.
11. Rhine Falls
In Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls is Europe’s largest waterfall. The stupendous beauty of the falls is a natural spectacle, one worthy of a spot on your packed Switzerland itinerary.
In the country’s north, the falls can be found on the High Rhine. They were created as the tectonic plates shifted during the Ice Age some 15,000 years ago. From the observation platform, you can see upwards of 600,000 liters of water surge off the edge every second. For reference, that’s the equivalent of 20,000 basketballs!
The best time to visit the Rhine Falls is in the middle of the year. Come June and July, the snowmelt floods the region where this waterfall surges and drops over 21-meter ledge of pure Jurassic rock.
Surrounding the Rhine Falls, you can uncover the amazing Schloss Laufen, a 9th century castle. Its glass elevator offers some of the area’s best views with the castle’s thousand-plus year history dancing on your fingertips.
Interlaken used to be known as a watch making center, but today it’s more popular as a tourist resort. Tourists started coming to Interlaken in the early 1800s to breathe in the mountain air and partake of spa treatments. Its popularity only grew from there. The Swiss city is located directly between two major Alpine lakes: Thun and Brienz. As a result, you’ll never be too far from the chance to go swimming, boating or biking around the lakes.
Offering spectacular views of three famous Swiss mountains, the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Monch, the city is also a popular base camp for outdoor acitivites in the surrounding Bernese Oberland Alps. Travelers looking for something different to do might want to sign up for a class or two at a woodcarving school. Hungry tourists may want to try raclette, a classic Swiss dish made from cheese.
Right on the shores of Lake Geneva, and with views of both the Swiss Alps and the French Alps, is the city of Lausanne. Serving as a gateway to a major ski area and the home to two major universities, it is easy to see the universal appeal of Lausanne.
The city is divided into districts, and the Cité district is by far the most important for travelers. In Cité, you can explore what was once known as the Old Town, and you can explore some of the architecture, which includes everything from cathedrals to castles. If you only have time to explore one attraction in Lausanne, make it the Palais de Rumine. This Italian Renaissance-style building is home to five different museums, making it the perfect place to spend an entire day learning more about local art, culture and history.
A part of the Swiss Riviera, Lausanne has been popular with writers over the centuries, include Lord Byron, the Shelleys and Ernest Hemingway. Located in the French-speaking sector of Switzerland, Lausanne boasts an impressive cathedral and wonderful outdoor markets.
Geneva is a city where international influences reign supreme. It is home to the International Red Cross Committee and the European headquarters of the United Nations, as well as 20 other international organizations. Environmental travelers will enjoy the fact that Geneva is a “green” city, with 20 percent of its land devoted to parks, earning it the nickname of “city of parks.”
A highlight of a visit to Geneva is a chance to see the iconic Jet d’Eau, an enormous fountain seen from the Lac Léman waterfront that spews water high into the air. In the Old Town, the towers of Cathédrale St-Pierre are the tallest things you can see, and you will definitely want to stop for some photographs of the exterior and a tour of the interior. Geneva also is a good city explore by bike or rest weary feet by taking a boat ride on Lake Geneva.
The city of Zurich is the largest in Switzerland, and it is known for being a major financial hub in Europe. Even if you’re not a part of the business world, Zurich has plenty to offer to visitors. To start, Zurich is located right on the edge of Lake Zurich. You can hike or cycle around the perimeter of the lake for some exercise, you could rent a boat and head out onto the water or you could check out some of the man made beaches and jump into the refreshing water for a lake swim.
Zurich is also home to a number of historic churches, world-class museums and renowned architecture. Not to be missed is the Swiss National Museum, located in a fairytale castle, it is dedicated to Switzerland’s cultural history. To see as much of Zurich as possible at once, hop aboard the Polybahn, a funicular dating back to the 19th century, for amazing views and a chance to dine at the charming cafe terrace at the top.
Zermatt is a small town that is famous for skiing and mountaineering due to its proximity to the Matterhorn, one of Switzerland’s highest mountains. Cable cars whisk skiers up surrounding mountains in the winter and hikers in the summer.
Zermatt is a good town for walking to various sites, since gasoline-driven vehicles are not permitted; any vehicles within the city limits must be battery-operated. As you wander, sun-soaked patios beckon you in. The same ones whose aromatic espresso and hot chocolates promise a warm escape once the snow has arrived. But keep your eyes peeled, as a striking view of the impregnable Matterhorn lies in wait.
Under the summer sun, the mountain blooms green, creating a mix of nature, rock and glaciers that create a climbing and biking mecca. Treks like the 5 Lakes Trail, peel back the curtain of the area’s beauty showcasing, yes, five lakes, many with Matterhorn reflections.
However, it’s the winter fun that brings most visitors. Funiculars and gondolas run up multiple sections to create a skiing and snowboarding paradise. With a touch of après-ski added in.
5. Jungfrau Region
The Top of Europe, the Jungfrau Region, brings together all that is great about Switzerland. Offering a bounty of outdoor adventures, it’s the centerpiece of the Bernese Oberland with endless snowy peaks that descend via glaciers into the lush valley.
Home to Grindelwald, Mürren, Wengen and the fairytale waterfalls of Lauterbrunnen, it’s easy to access the all-encompassing bonny beauty of Jungfrau. That’s all before you truly get to know how Switzerland makes some of its best scenery accessible to you, without overpowering nature.
Gondolas sweep you up from the deep valleys and place you alongside classic mountain chalets surrounded by alpine farms. One of Switerland’s most scenic rail trip, the Jungfraubahn takes visitors from the Kleine Scheidegg mountain through the Eiger and Mönch up to the Jungfraujoch.
Hiking trails snake through blooming meadows to remote villages and the views just, don’t, stop.
The four Jungfrau towns noted above are great places to visit in Switzerland and a good pick to base yourself. This isn’t an area you want to rush through. Take your time to discover the towns themselves, and the peaks that rise from their doorsteps.
Lugano has been nicknamed the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland,” because of its growing popularity with celebrities. The city is located on Lake Lugano, in the Italian speaking section of this alpine country. Lugano, which is blessed with warm summers, dates back to the 9th century.
A major draw to Lugano is outdoor recreation, and there are plenty of ways to stay active in and around the area. You might spend the day hiking along the clearly signposted Olive Tree Trail, or you could go for a swim at the easily accessible Lido di Lugano right by the city center. After strolling through the Old Town to enjoy the architecture, view it all from a unique perspective at the charming and fascinating Swiss Miniature Village.
3. Lake Geneva
A joyous blend of Swiss and French soak Lake Geneva in opulent elegance as captivating as the scenery itself. And with the Rhône flowing into Europe’s largest alpine lake, encompassing high altitude peaks and rolling green meadows, there are few better.
Crescent-shaped Lake Geneva is speckled with fascinating towns and cities alike. The kind that doesn’t overwhelm the surroundings, but merely blend in.
Here, you can explore world-class museums, discover Renaissance and contemporary arts, laze in gorgeous botanical gardens, admire the Jet d’Eau and take your pick of the waterfront cafes. As you do, you’ll see the mouettes, a boat taking locals from A to B across the glass surface of Lake Geneva.
Another beautiful example of Lake Geneva’s life is Lausanne. The medieval old town, backed by towering peaks, boasts a stunning cathedral and access to the lake and mountains.
There is something effortlessly romantic about Lucerne. Whether it’s the glacial-fed lake that reflects the world like a mirror, or the utterly walkable Old Town. Magic abounds here. Medieval buildings have become the home of modern luxuries and comfort. While the ancient streets eventually lead you to the iconic Kapellbrücke Bridge.
Before you notice the 14th century bridge, however, you’ll sense the peace that comes from a car-less Old Town. A haven for pedestrians, and a dream to wander, you can bounce between plazas, by frescoed buildings and along the edge of the Reuss River. Another famous monument is the Dying Lion, which was carved out of rock to honor Swiss mercenaries who died in France in 1792.
Along the way, you’ll discover that not much has changed since the likes of Queen Victoria, Goethe and Wagner were entranced by Lucerne two centuries ago. You’ll be glad it hasn’t.
After wandering across the Kapellbrücke Bridge and visiting the KKL and Rosengart galleries, head to the town’s namesake lake. Here you’ll find some of Switzerland’s best sunsets surrounded by epic peaks.
Bern is a picturesque medieval city with a history that dates back to the 12th century, though it did not become a part of the Swiss Confederacy until the 16th century. While not the largest city in Switzerland, Bern is the capital. Its most famous attraction is the Zytglogge, an ancient clock tower with moving puppets. Other popular sites in Bern include the Munster, a Gothic cathedral that rises from the old town, and its town hall.
The bear is the symbol of Bern, with several being kept in an open-air pit. Shoppers will appreciate the old town that boasts four miles of arcades, making it one of the longest covered shopping areas in Europe.