A Week’s Vacation in Switzerland

I’d been wanting to visit Switzerland for a while but waited to base my trip around seeing a favorite band play at a festival. This meant spending more time in the Lake Lucerne area than I would probably recommend otherwise. Sure, we still enjoyed everything we did there, but the Jungfrau region is much more scenic and deserves more of your time than we gave it. So keep that in mind as we go through the day-to-day breakdown:

Day 1: Lucerne

Our flight arrived in Zürich first thing in the morning, but we skipped Zürich altogether and immediately took the train to Lucerne. The main things we wanted to see in this area were the mountains and lake, but this day was more about exploring the city itself. Highlights included the Lion Monument and Chapel Bridge:

The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne, decorated with many flowers

We also visited the Glacier Garden, since entry is free if you have a Swiss Travel Pass. The museum isn’t very big, but the glacier potholes and other glacier-related exhibits are fun to see. For instance, there’s this beautiful diorama built into the side of a small cabin:

A diorama of a glacier sits outside the window of a cabin

Day 2: Mt. Pilatus

Nearby Mt. Pilatus is probably the main attraction of Lucerne. There is a “golden round trip” you can take to get there, starting with a gondola + cable car up the north side and ending with a cogwheel train down the south side. From there, you can take a ferry back to Lucerne. It’s a fun journey, and the views from every mode of transportation are great. We were there on a cloudy day, though, so visibility at the top was hit or miss. We did the “Flower Trail” hike, and one side of the mountain was a solid cloud while the other side drafted in and out:

Clouds obscure the view of nearby mountains and lakes from Mt. Pilatus

There’s also a toboggan run at the gondola / cable car transfer point, so don’t head up to the top of the mountain before checking it out!

Day 3: Mt. Rigi

We only stayed in Lucerne for one night, then moved to the smaller town of Weggis across the lake for the next two nights. This was purely in service of the music festival, and I would recommend sticking with Lucerne for everyone else. There just aren’t a lot of food and lodging options in Weggis. It did provide easy access to Mt. Rigi, though, which is another popular mountain excursion.

For Mt. Rigi, there is a cogwheel train that will take you to the top, then you can walk back down as far as you like. Most people probably only go down as far as the Rigi Kaltbad station. That’s where the most food options are, as well as a cable car that can take you directly to Weggis. Just make sure you grab a trail map and follow the routes for the “floral trails.” There are two of them, and they offer the best views of the lake:

Looking down at Lake Lucerne from Mt. Rigi

Day 4: Interlaken

Interlaken was our next hotel destination and entry point into the Jungfrau region. It was about a 3-hour journey from Weggis to Interlaken (which, again, can be cut down if you keep your home base in Lucerne). We only wanted to see one thing in Interlaken proper: the Harder Kulm lookout. There’s a funicular that takes you to the top of the mountain, where you can see the two lakes that surround the city:

Looking down at Lake Brienz from the Harder Kulm viewpoint

We intended to ride up and hike down, but the attendant warned us that the hike is steep and strenuous. So we skipped the hike. Instead, I tried the Elfenweg Trail that loops around the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, it, too, was on the strenuous side and didn’t offer any better views than what you get at the main lookout.

Day 5: Lauterbrunnen to Grindelwald

Brace yourselves, this was a jam-packed day. It also highlights the fact that the Jungfrau region really deserves more of your time. We could have slowed down and easily filled an entire week there.

First, we took the train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen was one of the places I was most excited to visit but ended up being somewhat disappointing. By mid-July, many of the 70+ advertised waterfalls had already dried up. It’s still a lovely walk through town and into the nearby fields, though:

A road stretches through farmland with tall mountains in the background

On the city outskirts, there are the Trummelbach Falls that make for an interesting stop. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but this series of inner mountain, cascading waterfalls is still a unique experience.

Afterwards, we took the train up to Wengen, a smaller city that overlooks Lauterbrunnen:

Looking down at Lauterbrunnen from the higher city of Wengen

Wengen is certainly beautiful, but it was merely a transfer point on our way to Grindelwald. From Wengen, there is a cable car that takes you to the top of Männlichen, where you can hop on a gondola to go down to Grindelwald. The attendant in Wengen’s tourist office suggested that we hang out in Männlichen for a little while, though, and do the “Royal Walk” hike before departing. I’m glad we talked to her, because the Royal Walk had probably my favorite view of the entire trip:

Viewing the Jungfrau mountains from the Royal Walk

Then it was off to Grindelwald. The main thing we wanted to do in Grindelwald was the First Cliff Walk, but the gondola up to the First summit stops running at 6pm (and we arrived in Grindelwald just after 4pm). So we booked it up the mountain, snapped some pics from the Cliff Walk, and headed back down before the gondola closed.

A metal walkway stretches above the Grindelwald-First summit

I would have liked to spend more time up there, as there are other hikes you can do besides the famous cliffside walkway, but I wasn’t willing to gamble on losing my ride home! In retrospect, we probably should have started the day in Grindelwald and ended in Lauterbrunnen to avoid being so rushed.

Day 6: Zermatt and the Matterhorn

The last thing on my list of Switzerland to-dos was the Matterhorn near Zermatt. It takes 2+ hours to get from Interlaken to Zermatt, though, and the Matterhorn is best viewed in the morning. My original plan was to just do things in town the day of our arrival and see the Matterhorn the next day. However, the forecast predicted a storm to roll in, so we immediately jumped on the Gornergrat cogwheel train and headed up to the summit. Alas, by afternoon, a cloud had formed around the Matterhorn peak and simply would not leave for the rest of the day.

Gornergrat was not a wasted trip, though. Yes, the main goal was to see the Matterhorn, but the other nearby glaciers were much more fascinating. I mean, how often do you get to see a glacier producing meltwater right before your very eyes?

A mountain range full of melting glaciers

From the summit, you can hike back down as far as you like and then hop on the train whenever you get tired. We chose to hike down to Riffelsee Lake near the Rotenboden station. If you can get to Riffelsee Lake early enough, the Matterhorn’s reflection would be spectacular to see. Of course, we were not so lucky.

Day 7: Miscellaneous Zermatt

One of the things I wanted to do in town was visit the Matterhorn Museum. I forgot that it’s only open in the afternoon, though, so we had to skip it. Fortunately, the weather ended up being perfect (so much for that storm, eh?), and strolling through town provided lots of great photo ops of the Matterhorn:

Viewing the Matterhorn from the town of Zermatt

We also visited the Gorner Gorge on the south end of town. It felt similar to the Trummelbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen. Not as impressive but slightly more enjoyable for being quieter and more open:

A wooden walkway suspended over a river extends into the canyon

And then… we started the long trip back to the Zürich airport to go home!

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1 Comment

  1. Switzerland is definitely nature’s Disneyland. The pictures are amazing. Great presentation.

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