15 best things to do in Switzerland
For people who have made Switzerland their home, it can be a daunting task to think about where to start once the work is done and the weekend arrives. We know that Switzerland is awash with amazing things to do, but with so much on offer, it can be difficult to pin down what you want to tick off the bucket list. To help, here are our 15 best things to do in Switzerland, most of which can be done as a day trip or short break!
Things to do in Switzerland: A bucket list of activities
With stunning scenery across the nation, it’s little surprise that most of the best things to do in Switzerland relate to the great outdoors, although there are some really exciting things to do indoors if the weather doesn’t play ball. Thanks to the country’s excellent public transport network, most of the alpine nation’s top activities are less than four hours away from major cities like Zurich, Basel and Geneva.
To help new arrivals and long-term residents who want to tick everything off their bucket list, here are 15 things you simply have to do before leaving Switzerland.
Take the Glacier Express to the foot of the Matterhorn
First, no stay in Switzerland would be complete without a trip to the mountains. To see the country’s most famous peak, the Matterhorn, visitors can take the luxurious Glacier Express from St. Moritz, Chur, Disentis Mustér, Andermatt or Brig to Zermatt. The train brings you right to the foot of the mountain.
Once you arrive in the charming town, the best way to see the Matterhorn in all its glory is to take the mountain railway up to the Gornergrat Observatory. From there, especially with good weather, the Swiss Alps open up and showcase their beauty and splendour.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Napat Aor70
Visit Rheinfall (Rhine Falls)
From a monolith to a raging torrent: just an hour's train ride north of Zurich is the most powerful natural feature Switzerland has to offer, Rheinfall. The waterfall is the most powerful in Europe, with 600 cubic meters of water flowing over it every second during the summer as the stream makes its way from Schaffhausen towards Basel and, in the end, Rotterdam and the North Sea.
Viewing platforms are available on the south (Schloss Laufen) and north (Neuhausen) sides of the falls, with boats connecting both banks during the summer months. The adrenaline seekers among us can choose a boat tour that drives right up to the falls - although a warning, you will get wet!
Swim in Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
When the summer months arrive and the country starts to sweat in 25-degree-plus temperatures, there is nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in a Swiss lake. Unless stated otherwise, every lake in Switzerland is swimmable, with water temperatures on the surface getting up to 28 degrees during the hottest days.
While it is possible to swim in all the lakes near Swiss cities, the one with the best view has to be Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) at Lausanne or Montreux. With crystal blue waters transposed against two massive ridgelines, at least a toe-dip in the lake is a must.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com / makasana photo
Float down the Rhine in Basel
For those who want to just relax and float serenely on top of the water, a swim down the Rhine in Basel cannot be missed. Using the steps that adorn both sides of the river, residents and visitors wanting to cool off need only take the plunge and will soon find themselves travelling downriver.
And with the Aare River wrapping around the city of Bern like a scarf, many residents there also use the river to cool off - an old wives' tale has it that some workers in the city bob down the river to commute to or from their jobs.
Visit Chillon Castle
By far the most beautiful castle in Switzerland, Chillon has to be on the bucket list of every tourist and expat. Situated on the banks of Lake Geneva, the fortress perfectly complements the mountains and water that surround it.
One good suggestion is to take a tour of Chillon and then walk back along the banks of the lake to Montreux. During the summer, the residents of this jazz-crazed city arrange beautiful flower beds on the route - well worth a stroll!
Take the mountain railway to the top of Rigi
Want to see the Swiss countryside in a 1.798-metre-high, 360-degree panorama? Then a trip up the mountain railway to Rigi is for you. After taking the boat from Lucerne to Vitznau - or the train to Arth-Goldau - passengers can board the cog railway (Zahnradbahn) that takes them right up to the top of the mountain at Rigi Kulm.
From there, you are afforded stunning views of central Switzerland, with even Zurich visible on a clear day! While other mountains may be more famous, if you are here for views, Rigi takes some beating.
Hike in the Engadine valley
From the most beautiful view to the most beautiful valley, tourists and locals alike have been drawn to the majestic Engadine valley for centuries. People aren’t just drawn to the glitz and glamour of St. Moritz either, as the area is also home to the Swiss National Park.
Especially during the summer months, a stroll down the valley or a hike along the tributaries of the River Inn will give any budding Attenborough a chance to see some natural Swiss wildlife like deer, ibex and marmots.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Chris Rinckes
Go skiing in Switzerland
Once the autumn months come to an end and the weather starts to get chilly, people across Switzerland prepare to head to local ski resorts so that they can let loose and carve some powder. As it is the national sport, the Swiss National Museum estimates that 35 percent of the population skis and snowboards every year.
Whether you are an experienced skier or someone who is just happy to stay upright as they pizza and french-fry their way down the blue runs, Swiss resorts are the place to be. Some of the most popular resorts are in the cantons of Valais, Uri, Bern and Graubünden, including Davos-Klosters, Arosa, Saas-Fee, Grindelwald, Lenk-Adelboden, Andermatt and Crans-Montana.
Try wine in the Lavaux region of Vaud
In the hills above Lake Geneva and Neuchâtel in Canton Vaud sits the Lavaux wine region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to Switzerland’s most famous wines. The region has over 9.000 hectares of vineyards dotted across the hillside, which is great to explore on foot, by bike or by car.
The Lavaux region is most famous for its signature white wine called Chasselas - a filtered or unfiltered local vintage characterised by its light and floral notes. Many of the vineyards have been owned by the same family for generations, meaning each brand has its own story, quirks and flavour, making a wine tour of the region a must.
Drive a section of the Grand Tour of Switzerland
Want to see all the best views in Switzerland in one, all-encompassing road trip? Then the Grand Tour is for you! This 1.643-kilometre signposted trip will take you to all the most picture-postcard parts of the country, as well as many of the things to do on this list. Don’t take our word for it; here’s Roger with more:
Video: MySwitzerland / YouTube
Still not convinced? Check out our guide to the Grand Tour of Switzerland.
Visit the Swiss Museum of Transport (Verkehrshaus der Schweiz)
Sticking with the theme of transport, alongside cheese, watches and mountains, the Swiss public transport network has to be one of the country’s most famous motifs. For an exciting day out perfect for families with children, the Swiss Museum of Transport (Verkhershaus) in Lucerne - the most-visited museum in Switzerland - is a great way to see how trains, planes and automobiles have evolved in recent years.
Along with interactive exhibits and displays of transport ranging from aircraft to trains and boats, the Verkhershaus also includes a massive satellite map that you can stand on and explore at will. The planetarium and the IMAX theatre are also not to be missed.
Take a cable car to Flumserberg
When it comes to lakes, the Walensee has to be one of the prettiest - especially when the wind drops and the dental-like Toggenburg mountains reflect on the flat calm water. To see the view from a stunning vantage point, why not take the cable car from Unterterzen on the banks of the lake to Flumserberg Tannenboden?
Once the 20-minute ride is over, the cable car deposits you in Flumserberg, one of the most popular ski resorts for people in Zurich who want a quick outing. In the summer, the area is transformed into a great hiking area, which also features its own rollercoaster: The Floomzer.
Take the train to the top of Jungfrau
The most famous mountain railway in Switzerland is the line that goes from Kleine Schiedegg to Jungfraujoch. From the top, people are afforded uninterrupted views of the Eiger and the Aletch Glacier.
If you are there during the winter, the Jungfrau region is also one of the best skiing areas in the country. In the summer, alongside hiking, the First mountain in Grindelwald has loads of cool activities on offer, like descending from the summit down to Grindelwald via zipline, mountain cart and scooter.
Take a Foxtrail around a Swiss city
If you want to see a Swiss city quickly while solving fun puzzles and finding cool "easter eggs," then a Foxtrail is for you. Foxtrails are scavenger hunts (Schnitzeljagd) where you “chase a fox” around the city by solving clues and riddles that lead you to where the next clue can be found. They can usually be booked in Swiss Federal Railways offices and online, with many trails also available in English.
Most Foxtrails also feature set pieces ranging from walking along an underground river and entering a pillar of a bridge to taking an elevator up the side of a castle and marching through part of a zoo. By the end of the trail, you will know the city back to front.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Keitma
Attend Basel Fasnacht
Finally, if we had to choose one event in Switzerland that everyone has to see, Fasnacht has to be the one. The best of all the carnival celebrations in Switzerland is in the centre of Basel, where the city spends a whole series of days partying, playing loud, deliberately out-of-tune music and marching through the streets in cool costumes.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Danute Gudauskiene
What to do in Switzerland: Sorted
So many things to do, so little time. We hope this list has boosted your desire to explore this stunning country. If you have a thing to do in Switzerland that you think people should know about, let us know in the comments below!