I just got back from a breathtaking trip to the mountains of Switzerland, and, let me tell you, Switzerland quickly elevated to the top of my list of favorite destinations! Why? Easy – the views, the activities, and the hospitality. Here’s what you need to know to plan your visit!
Save yourself some money
Although the exchange rate of the Swiss Franc to the US dollar is close to 1:1, dollar for dollar, your money won’t buy you much in Switzerland. Hotels, transportation, and food especially can get very expensive, so you have to plan ahead. For example, a typical döner sandwich (gyro) in Germany costs roughly 3.50 to 4 Euro, but the same sandwich in Switzerland costs about 8 or 9 Francs. So, that’s approximately 8 or 9 dollars for the cheapest lunch option you can find. Likewise, you can expect a standard hotel rooms to cost around 200 CHF per night. Just make sure you have determined a budget ahead of time and be sure you can afford to do all of the things that you want to (including feeding yourself). Of course, there are some ways to make your stay a bit more affordable:
- Stay in hostels. Personally, this isn’t my preferred way to travel because my husband and I enjoy our privacy, but if you don’t mind sharing space with others, hostels can be great money-savers.
- Invest in a Half-Fare Card. Transportation is very expensive in Switzerland because the trains, ferries, and cable cars are all privately run and operated. However, the trade off is very clean, reliable modes of travel – in fact, none of our trips left more than a minute late the entire time we were there. The cost of a Half-Fare card (as of this posting) is 120 CHF, but it allows you to get half-off tickets on virtually all modes of transportation and is good for a whole month. Plan your excursions ahead of time to see if an investment in this card will save you money over the course of your trip. Another option is the Swiss Fare Pass which gives you unlimited travel by rail or waterway available for 3, 4, 8, or 15 days. More information on both passes can be found here.
- Bring food from home. Knowing that food was going to be expensive, we brought shelf-stable, non-liquid foods from home to supplement our meals. Trail mix, apples, and granola bars were mainstays in our diet during our visit to the Alps. Since we were hiking a lot, we would have wanted these foods anyway, but we saved a few bucks by bringing it from home rather than getting it at a local grocery store.
- Shop at the grocery store. For PERISHABLE items, it’s a great idea to buy from the grocery store. If your hotel/hostel has a fridge, you can buy meats and cheeses to make yourself sandwiches to eat during your travels. If there isn’t a fridge where you are staying, a pre-made sandwich from the store is probably still cheaper than anything you will find at a restaurant or from a street vendor.
- Fill up on breakfast. Plan to stay in accommodations that provide breakfast…and then eat as much as you can in the morning. Assuming the cost of the hotel isn’t much more than a hotel without breakfast, you can save quite a bit by filling up on all-you-can-eat toast and scrambled eggs. You may also be able to make small sandwiches at breakfast and take them with you for your lunch, but check with your hotel first, as some have strict policies against this.
I would recommend a multiple day stay in Switzerland because there is so much to see and do, but also because the weather may not always work in your favor. Our trip was 5 days, and I think it was the perfect amount of time to spend exploring and relaxing.
Day 0: Arrive to Zurich
Zurich has a massive airport, so chances are you will be flying into here. We arrived late one night, after a hard day’s work, and started the real exploration the next morning.
Day 1: Travel to Lucerne and Day Hike
Travel to Lucerne from Zurich was incredibly simple. We jumped on a train from Zurich main station to Lucerne which lasted only 45 minutes. We arrived to stunning views of purple mountains and teal lakes.
Once in Lucerne, there are several options for exploring nature. You can rent a paddle boat to wander about beautiful Lake Lucerne or hike one of the several nearby mountains. More info can be found here.
On our first day, we chose to explore Mount Rigi by taking a ferry boat across Lake Lucerne to Vitznau (a beautiful ride in itself) and then taking a cog-wheel train to the top of the mountain, Rigi Kulm. Once at the top, we followed the “wanderweg” hiking trail down the mountain to a lower train stop before heading back to Lucerne. Along the way, we were met with picturesque views and grazing cattle. The trails were well-groomed and easy to follow, just make sure you decide ahead of time where you plan to go. Keep in mind that easy trails are marked by yellow and harder trails by red and white stripes. We were quite happy spending our entire time on yellow trails.
Day 2: Mount Titlis
Titlis is another easy excursion from Lucerne. Just take a train from Lucerne to nearby Engelberg, and then a series of cable cars up to the 3,238 m peak. (Note that the Half-Fare Card works for the train AND the cable car ride.) Once you arrive to the top, you will be treated to year-round snow-covered mountains!
We were very fortunate to have a beautiful, clear day when we arrived to Mt. Titlis, and spent the day just taking in the views, playing in the snow, and exploring the mountain’s glacier cave. Make sure you bring warm layers for this excursion, though. The temperature at the top was just above freezing when we were there in the middle of summer.
Day 3: Train to Wengen and a Hike to Kleine Scheidegg
We decided to spend the rest of our time in the little mountain village of Wengen. The city itself is small, but there are many hiking options from there. We took a series of trains from Lucerne, together lasting about 3 hours. Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel, Hotel Edelweiss, and immediately departed for a day hike. (Note: I mentioned Hotel Edelweiss specifically because I would highly recommend staying with them. The staff were incredibly helpful and friendly, and their hotel was reasonably priced. I have never received better customer service than when staying at this hotel. And they have a ping pong table in their basement. Just saying. Oh, and their four course dinner deal is amazing!)
When we departed for our hike, we took yellow trails in the direction of Kleine Scheidegg. Expecting a cake walk, I was surprised by the jump in elevation by this “easy” hike, but the effort was worth it.
Day 4: Jungfraujoch/Interlaken/Relaxation Day
On our fourth day, we planned to take the train up to the highest train station in Europe, the Jungfraujoch. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit hazy that day, and the “Top of Europe” was consumed by clouds. Instead, we actually spent the day relaxing in Wengen, as I was recovering from a cold and the previous day’s hike.
But, if I wasn’t breathing through one nostril and the weather was still bad, I would have loved to visit the lakes around Interlaken. The important part of planning your trip is to always have a back-up plan for every day, as weather can be unpredictable. For this reason, you should also avoid booking any trips in advance. Instead, check the weather from your hotel before deciding where to go that day; many hotels will display real-time views from the mountain peaks.
Still, our relaxation day was rewarding because it happened to be the Swiss National Day (August 1st) and we were treated to several Swiss traditions such as Alpenhorns, cow bells, and a fireworks show!
Day 5: Zurich and Flight Home
On our last day, we took the train from Wengen back to Zurich and spent a few hours exploring Switzerland’s largest city. In all honesty, Zurich was my least favorite part of the trip, but probably because I had already been wowed by the amazing views elsewhere and Zurich seemed a bit too…inhabited. Regardless, Zurich was a nice city to wander about for an afternoon and adore the local architecture.
- Hiking Shoes
- Hiking Socks
- Breathable Hiking Shirt (one for each day of hiking)
- Hiking Pants
- Shirts/Tank Tops (one for each day)
- Jeans (1 pair)
- Shorts (1 pair)
- Hiking Day Pack (we used a 20L pack which easily held both of our things)
- Light Jacket
- Rain Jacket
- Fleece Warming Layer
- Gloves and Warm Hat
- First Aid Kit (bandages, pain reliever, pepto-bismol)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Lip Balm
- Water bottle(s)
- Watch (to time your hikes against expected times)
- Hiking Poles (depending on how intense you are…but these can also be rented)
We had an absolutely wonderful time in Switzerland. The stunning mountains, the noisy cattle, the colorful wildflowers, the crystal-clear waters, and the unseasonable snow will not be something I will soon forget! I can’t wait to go back again! Perhaps the next time we’ll see what Switzerland winters are all about to get a different perspective of this amazing country.
Have you ever traveled to Switzerland in the summer? What were your favorite places to go?
Looking to travel to Switzerland, but have a question I didn’t answer? Leave it in the comment section below!