Switzerland Essentials – Six Must Do Experiences when Visiting Switzerland

August 30, 2023

1. Take a Mountain Excursion

Switzerland is renowned for its breathtaking Alps. Mountain excursions are available from all cities in Switzerland.  It’s a great way to spend a day, exploring snow covered peaks with panoramic viewpoints. The journey to the top is an attraction in itself, be it onboard a cogwheel train, a cable car or funicular.

While there are countless mountains to explore, Mount Pilatus is the ideal adventure mountain for the entire family.  Easily accessible by public transport from Lucerne, the world’s steepest cog railway starts its climb at Alpnachstad and tackles a maximum gradient of 48 percent, passing forests, meadows and rock faces. On the north side, a gondola cableway and a new aerial cableway, Dragon Ride, connect Kriens to Pilatus Kulm. The cableway offers a unique view of Lucerne and its lake as passengers are whisked up the mountain side.

Known as the ‘Top of Europe’, a visit to the Jungfraujoch is an absolute mountain highlight.  For more than 100 years, the Jungfrau railway has been making its journey to Europe’s highest railway station.  While the Eiger Express, (opened in December 2020) reduces the journey from Interlaken to the Jungfraujoch in just one and a half hours, leaving more time to enjoy the panorama at the top. 

2. Easy Alpine Hikes

Almost every corner of Switzerland can be discovered on foot.  In fact, you could hike around the world one and a half times if you put all the Swiss hiking trails together.  Switzerland makes it easy for new hikers of all ages to get started.  The trails are well maintained and fully signposted and all hiking trails are connected to public transport stops. You can use cable cars and mountain trains to skip the tough climbs to find yourself on easy trails that are simple to follow and put you right in the heart of Switzerland’s stunning landscapes.  

The Männlichen Panorama Trail is one of the easiest trails in the stunning Jungfrau region.  Take the gondola from Interlaken to enjoy a walk with impressive views of the Eiger peak and Grindelwald valley.

While in the Zermatt area, a great easy hike is from Riffelsee to Riffelberg.  Taking around one hour this hike along a narrow footpath will give you a true Matterhorn experience.

3. Discover a Magical Village

Discovering one of Switzerland’s charming mountain villages, is a wonderful way to explore the countryside and alpine regions. Here is just a selection of villages to consider adding to your itinerary.

Gimmelwald

Nestled high in the Alps overlooking the LauterbrunnenValley, this postcard-perfect town is the quintessential Swiss Alpine village.  Surrounded by some of the Switzerland’s most breathtaking scenery, this tiny car-free village is accessible by cable car or hiking only.

Wengen

Situated at the foot of the Jungfrau Mountain, Wengen (also car free) is one of Switzerland’s most picture perfect alpine villages, with stunning views and access to skiing in winter. 

Lauterbrunnen

This picturesque village is nestled in a breathtaking lush valley, boasting 72 spectacular waterfalls! This stunning area inspired Tolkien’s landscape in The Lord of the Rings.

Andermatt

Located on the popular Glacier Express train route, the charming town features traditional architecture set against the backdrop of the Alps with the cleanest of mountain air. 

Murren

Sitting at the foot of  the Schilthorn Mountain made famous by James Bond, Murren is a beautiful small village with a charming atmosphere.  It is also a great base for summer hiking.

4. Ride a Panoramic Train

Switzerland has five panoramic trains traversing some of the country’s most spectacular vistas. They are regarded amongst some of the most beautiful rail routes in the world.  While the most popular is the Glacier Express, it’s worth considering some of the other panoramic train routes than can be less busy during peak periods.

The GoldenPass Express from Interlaken to Montreux is a like a foray through Switzerland travelling across three distinct regions.   Operating up to four times a day, the trip starts in picturesque Interlaken and continues via Gstaad, Château-d’Oex and Montbovon to Montreux, the journey’s final stop. Of course, you can also start your trip in Montreux.

While The Luzern–Interlaken Express turns the journey from one city to the other into a great experience. During a train ride of roughly two hours, passengers marvel at five crystal clear mountain lakes that gather the waters from various rivers and waterfalls. Shortly before starting its steep, winding ascent to Brünig Pass, the train changes to cogwheel drivetrain technology in order to conquer the gradient. 

5. Taste Fondue

Fondue has always been associated with Switzerland.   While there is no standard recipe, traditionally a Swiss cheese fondue is made with two different kinds of cheese, depending on the region of Switzerland you’re in. Regional recipes include varying amounts of Appenzeller, Gruyère, and Emmentaler cheeses.

Swiss consider fondue as a winter meal; a one-pot meal of comfort food to be enjoyed communal style.  Diners skewer cubed chunks of bread, each about one inch square, into the bubbling cheese and swirl for a few seconds to coat the bread and allow it to soak up some of the cheese, though at the same time being careful not to soak so long as to disintegrate the bread. Losing your bread in the pot is considered bad form!   

Visitors can enjoy fondue in local restaurants as well as additional venues during winter including a tram in Zurich, roof terraces and even a converted fondue gondola.

6. Join in Swiss Customs and Traditions

Switzerland is a country with an enormous wealth of cultural activity and living tradition.  Experiencing some of these local customs and traditions make a trip to Switzerland an unforgettable experience.

The Alphorn

The alphorn has long been a tool used by shepherds. It was used to call the cows from the pastures and into the barn at milking time. It was also used for communication with the herdsman on neighbouring Alps and with the people in the valley below.  It has now become a national symbol of Switzerland.

Visitors can hear the alphorn being played at Schynige Platte (near Interlaken) during the summer and autumn and also at numerous festivals and events year-round across the country.

Yodelling

Yodelling had its origins in the call and communication from mountain to mountain. This Alpine music has a love and deep appreciation of nature and community as its central themes.

Choir singing of yodeling songs only developed in the 19th century, but performances can still be found regularly across Switzerland today.

Winter customs 

Winter is a peak time for customs and traditions as historically people had more farming work to do in the summer but more leisure time in winter. Many winter customs revolve around the banishment of spirits and demons.  But there are also other unique traditions often particular to a specific region. These include the Peitschenknallen whip-cracking competition in Schwyz, the sleigh ride for young singles called the Schlittéda in the Engadin valley, the setting alight of the straw dummy at the L’Hom Strom festival in Scuol and the romantic Lichterschwemmen festival of floating lights in Ermensee lake. 

Be sure to check the festival calendar to see if you are lucky enough to be in Switzerland to experience one of these very authentic and traditional activities.

For more general information on the information above and visiting Switzerland, see myswitzerland.com

For assistance with holiday planning and bookings please contact an ATAS travel agent.
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