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Switzerland has some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in all of Europe thanks to the majestic Swiss Alps. Even if you’re not skiing or hiking in them, just looking at the Alps can be life-changing. If you plan to visit, odds are, taking in some of the country’s most breathtaking destinations is on your list of things to do – be sure it includes these.
The Alps’ most famous peak is situated near the beautiful, car-free village of Zermatt, towering over the border between Switzerland and Italy at nearly 15,000 feet high. One of Switzerland’s best-known features, it’s said to be the most photographed mountain in the world. If you aren’t up for climbing it, you can get to the top taking a cable car that leads all the way to the summit, the highest scenic outlook platform in Europe. If you don’t want those views to stop once you leave, consider staying at The Omnia in Zermatt, set nearly 150 feet above the town’s rooftops. By choosing an upper floor suite, you can continue gazing at the Matterhorn as well as panoramic views of the entire valley below. In addition to skiing and hiking, Zermatt is a beautiful mountain town that offers a variety of other activities as well as fine restaurants and an exciting nightlife.
This picturesque district in Switzerland is a must destination for nature lovers and foodies. Not only is it one of the most gorgeous rural landscapes in the country, surrounded by the Prealps with numerous scenic trails for hiking, but its traditional buildings with pastel-hued facades, many of which house cheese shops, bakeries, cafes and fine restaurants, offer especially mouth-watering delights. Appenzell is most famous for its cheese, and visitors can take guided tours at the local cheese factory to watch it being made and enjoy tasty samples too. As Appenzellers are known for their quirky sense of humor and old-fashioned costumes, they make the town a fun place to visit too. You can also sample its famous Appenzeller Bier, a beer said to be just as independent and headstrong, lively and interesting, as the locals themselves.
Montreux, set in the heart of the Swiss Riviera on the shores of Lake Geneva, is home to Chillon Castle, or Chateau de Chillon. Walk alongside the lake and explore the 11th-century island castle, or take a tour of the tower, courtyards, dungeons and its rooms. It’s the most frequently visited historical building in all of Switzerland, where the multitude of rooms house weaponry, frescoes and furniture. Most impressive is Camera Domini, one of the oldest rooms, once occupied by the Duke of Savoy and decorated with 14th-century medieval murals.
Bern’s Old Town, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, is the medieval city center of Bern, built on a narrow hill surrounded on three sides by the Aare River, while the soaring Alps offer a stunning backdrop. Its layout has remained virtually unchanged since it was first constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries. Not only has it retained its medieval character, but it’s also a lovely, laid-back place where time seems to move slowly and locals don’t seem to be in much of a hurry. It’s also home to the tallest cathedral in Switzerland as well as other churches, bridges and an extensive collection of Renaissance fountains. Bern visitors can also enjoy a multitude of outstanding museums, a dynamic drinking scene and a unique bear park.
The Jungfrau Region is made up of the white peaks of three soaring mountains, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau which present a striking contrast with the lush green valleys and meadows of this Alpine wonderland. The “big three,” also have an enduring place in mountaineering legend, particularly Eiger, with a fearsome north wall that’s claimed numerous lives, and remained unconquered until 1938. Today, it’s a lot easier to get to the top by taking the train to Jungfraujoch at 2,146 feet, the highest station in Europe.
One of the best national parks in Europe, Swiss National Park is roughly a 438-square-mile park with mountains and woodlands. It was founded in 1914 and is the oldest in the Alps. It’s also the only national park in Switzerland. Thanks to the strict conservation of nature, a variety of wildlife, including large red deer, ibexes, chamois, marmots, northern hares, lizards and innumerable birds, can be observed in the wild. The park is mainly for hiking and watching as there are no bikes, tents, fires or stoves allowed – the only opportunity to spend a night inside the park is at the Chamanna Cluozza, a beautiful hut with a number of variously sized rooms where you enjoy food, accommodation and beautiful views of the valley as well as the surrounding mountains.
Lake Oeschinen, near Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland, is no doubt one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in Switzerland. Fed by the glacial brooks of the over 9,800-foot peaks of Blüemlisalp, Oeschinenhorn, Fründenhorn and Doldenhor, this pristine, turquoise lake competes for attention with the dramatic mountain scenery known for its rich greenery, including orchids, edelweiss, nibbling sheep and dairy animals that all call this area home. A gondola train from Kandersteg will bring you close to the lake, followed by a half-hour walk through pine forests and pastures that will take you to its shores. As the water warms up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the lake is ideal for a refreshing swim. You can also enjoy rowing or riding on the summer toboggan run.
Lucerne is a quintessential Swiss city considered a gateway to central Switzerland, packed with attractive town squares, painted veneers and thin cobbled lanes. Its remarkably preserved old town is located to the north of the Reuss River and offers the chance to get lost in a maze of passages and admire the abundant and varied murals found on many of the buildings, as well as cascading fountains and colorful medieval architecture. In addition to being a lovely place to visit in and of itself, Lucerne is a great base from which to explore famous sites like Mount Rigi and the Rütli Meadow. You’ll also want to make time to visit Lake Lucerne, a vast lake surrounded by towering mountains. Taking a boat cruise, ideally aboard a vintage paddlewheeler, on what many call Switzerland’s most beautiful lake, is a great way to explore it. There are five splendidly restored steamers, all more than a century-year-old, that offer the experience that includes spectacular mountain views as well as theme trips.
Mount Pilatus, a nearly 7,000-foot-high mountain, stands near Lucerne. Visitors can take a cable car to the top and enjoy amazing views as well as a multitude of scenic hikes with a variety of trails, perfect for exploring the Alps. Viator tours offer a great half-day of Alpine adventure with its summer trip to the mountain leaving from Lucerne. It starts with a 30-minute panoramic gondola ride, followed by hopping aboard the aerial cableway up to Mount Pilatus’ summit, with unforgettable vistas over the Alpine peaks and lakes. While you’re here, you can venture down the Dragon’s Path and take the short trek around the summit for more fabulous views.
Glitzy St. Moritz is a famous playground for the wealthy and is a top place to go skiing in Switzerland. It offers a variety of winter sports as well as all types of summer activities and, mud and mineral baths all year round. Located in the Upper Engadin in the canton of Graubunden, it’s one of Europe’s most renowned vacation spots, legendary for its chic ambiance and champagne atmosphere as well as its sun, which shines on average, 322 days each year. Savor truffles and caviar in fine restaurants and take part in a very lively, and pricey, nightlife. Go ice skating in the summer on the artificial rink, open from mid-July to mid-April, and enjoy endless hiking opportunities, including treks at famous mountains like Muottas and Corviglia.
Thun, located at the lower end of Lake Thun, one of the country’s largest and loveliest lakes, is considered the gateway to the Bernese Oberland. A well-marked network of walking paths around the lake and the foothills above are ideal for hiking and mountain biking. Its historic Old Town, which boasts a 12th-century castle in its center as well as a museum, is situated just a little over a half-mile from the shores of the lake, along the Aare River. The medieval castle is an eye-catcher and contains one of the best-conserved representation halls of the Middle Ages, the castle tower, or Knight’s Hall, located in the nearly unaltered dungeon. Corner towers offer beautiful Alps, city and lake views.
Once a medieval center, Saint Gallen, founded by an Irish monk in 612 AD, has grown into one of Switzerland’s most alluring cities. It features lots of magnificent buildings with carved balconies and colorful murals, including a large twin-towered cathedral with remarkable ceiling frescoes and stucco designs. Its 16th-century library is one of the oldest and finest examples of rococo architecture in Switzerland, filled with priceless books and manuscripts painstakingly handwritten by monks during the Middle Ages. Saint Gallen also has its own brewery with two standouts that are well worth sampling, the “St. Gallen Klosterbräu” and the “Schwarzer Bär,” while shopping enthusiasts will enjoy Marktplatz, located between the Banhof and Old Town, a collection of pedestrian-only streets filled with a variety of shops and cafes.
This city between two Alpine Lakes used to be best known as a watch-making center, but today, Interlaken is more popular as a tourist resort. Its magical landscape with snowcapped mountains dotted with waterfalls, glistening lakes and lush glades has attracted tourists since the early 19th-century to breathe in its fresh mountain air and enjoy spa treatments. It offers stunning views of three of Switzerland’s most famous mountains, Monch, Jungfrau and Eiger, as well as making a great base camp for taking part in all sorts of activities in the surrounding Bernese Oberland Alps. If you want to get immersed in life here, take a class at a woodcarving school, and be sure to try raclette, a classic Swiss dish made from cheese.
The Rhine Falls, located near the town of Schaffhausen, is Europe’s largest waterfall and an absolutely magnificent natural wonder. The headstreams of the River Rhine start from the Swiss canton Graubunden, but the Rhine is most spectacular in the town Neuhausen in the canton Schaffhausen, where nearly 185,000 gallons of water per second plunge down the falls in the summer. Near the falls is the medieval castle, Schoss Laufen, which houses a restaurant, a youth hostel and shops. If you happen to be here on August 1, Swiss National Day, the falls also host a wonderful display of fireworks.
Ticino offers a purely Italian experience in the southernmost reaches of Switzerland with its unique blend of Swiss cool and Italian passion. You’ll find plenty of things Italian, including the weather, language, architecture, food, drink and style, but you’ll also enjoy quintessential Swiss scenery, including gorgeous lakes with crystal clear water, impressive mountains and charming hamlets, providing a perfect tranquil escape. Be sure to visit Bellinzona, the capital of the canton and an amazing Middle Ages fortress town as well as its three castles and old market, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ruiaulta, or “Swiss Grand Canyon,” came into existence 10,000 years ago when some 10,000 million cubic meters of rock thundered into the valley during the Flimser landslide, just upstream of its confluence with the Hinter Rhine at Reichenau in Eastern Switzerland. Protected by cliffs nearly 10,000 feet high, the area is forested, full of mysterious lakes and a haven for wildlife as well as rare orchids. The canyon-like ravine in the Vorderrhein Valley can easily be reached by the Ruinaulta line of Rhaetian Railways and is a popular spot for rafting, hiking, mountain biking and canoeing. From Laax, a pleasant hike will take you to the 41-foot-tall observation platform which hovers over Vorderrhein more than 1,300 feet below, providing a breathtaking bird’s eye view into the gorge.