Things to Do in Switzerland
Riding Europe‘s highest open-air cog railway is a popular pastime for visitors to Zermatt and the dramatic Gornergrat railway serves up jaw-dropping views as it winds its way to the summit of Gornergrat Mountain.
The 45-minute journey might be impressive, but the real highlight is the destination and the Gornergrat Bahn boasts the title of Switzerland’s second-highest train station (after Jungfrau), located at a dizzying 3,089 meters. On arrival, make your way to the dedicated viewing platform, where the views span 29 of Switzerland’s highest peaks, including the mighty Matterhorn and one of the longest glaciers in the Alps.
The soaring Gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline of Switzerland’s capital city is dedicated to St Vincent, the patron saint of Bern; work began on the church in 1421 but the spire was not completed until 1893. At 84 meters (275 feet) long, it is the biggest religious building in Switzerland, designed in true Gothic style with flying buttresses, gargoyles and dramatic, highly painted carvings of the Last Judgment above the main portal.
Designed by master craftsman Matthäus Ensinger from Strasbourg, the interior is laid out as a three‐aisled basilica and is filled with light filtering through the glorious stained‐glass windows. The choir stalls are a later addition and are decorated with Renaissance carvings of religious scenes; the organ dates from the 1930s and is played in concerts throughout the year. The cathedral also has the tallest tower in Switzerland at 100 meters (330 feet); visitors can climb the 344 stone steps inside the spire to the lookout point.
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to the locals) is land-locked Switzerland’s largest body of water, though most of its southern shore is in French territory. The lake is ringed by Alps and almost any point along the shore offers jaw-dropping scenery, as well as some of the most sought-after real estate in the world. More active visitors can swim, dive, windsurf and row in the warmer months.
The western extremity of the lake is dominated by the city of Geneva. Travelling eastwards you enter the canton of Vaud, whose capital Lausanne is known for the Musée de l’Art Brut, a world-famous survey of early outsider art, as well as a museum celebrating the Olympic Games, whose governing body is situated here. Further east you pass through Vevey, the heart of the Swiss Riviera, before coming to picturesque Montreux, famous for its jazz festival and the imposing Château de Chillon, a medieval bastion right on the water.
A long winding valley cupped between the snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps and following the Inn River, the 80-km-long Engadine (or Engadin) Valley is one of the country's most desirable holiday destinations. With a sunny climate, beautiful lakes and a stunning alpine backdrop, this makes Engadine one of Europe’s most highly populated valleys, including star-studded destinations like St Moritz. The Rhaetian Railway and the Bernina Express both run into the Upper Engadine valley, where the highest mountains of the Bernina Range play host to ski and snowboarding resorts, mighty glaciers and a range of year-round outdoor activities. The valley also hosts a number of annual festivals and events – look out for skiing competitions, horse racing and polo on the frozen St Moritz lake, windsurfing marathons and the day parade of traditional horse-drawn sleigh rides that takes place each winter.
Geneva’s Old Town (Vieille Ville) contains some of the city’s foremost attractions, including the Barbier-Mueller Museum, the Cathédrale St-Pierre and the Maison Tavel. It is also the site of the International Museum of the Reformation, which underlines Geneva’s importance in the great religious upheavals of the 16th century, particularly through the work of French theologian John Calvin, who lived and preached here.
But this historically significant district offers much more than just indoor pursuits; exploring the area on foot is a pleasure, with a number of the narrow, winding streets closed to traffic and numerous cafes offering refueling stops along the way. The beautiful Place du Bourg-de-Four is the traditional center of the Old Town and a great place to enjoy an early evening drink.
More Things to Do in Switzerland
The Jungfraujoch is a saddle between the mountains Monch and Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps. It is known as the Top of Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From here you look down upon the ice wilderness of swirling glaciers and across at 13,000 ft (4,000 m) high mountain turrets. On top of the Jungfrau is a global atmospheric monitoring station.
Visiting the Jungfraujoch's eternal ice and snow is a once in a lifetime experience as the annual two million visitors can attest. Riding the narrow cog railway to 11,300 ft (3,454 m) is a must. On the journey you pass by the foot of the notorious Eiger North Wall, through tunnels, past polar dog kennels, finally arriving at the heart of the glaciers. The longest glacier in Europe, the Great Aletsch Glacier - 14 miles (23km) - begins at Jungfraujoch, and you can see as far as France and Germany.
As the principal venue for the Zurich Opera since it opened its doors in 1891, the Zurich Opera House has garnered worldwide acclaim for its outstanding acoustics and wide variety of international performances. Originally called the ‘Stadttheater’, the venue was built on the site of the Actientheater, which burned down just a few years earlier, and staged its opening to a dramatic performance of Richard Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’. Despite changing its name to the Zurich Opera House in 1964, the concert hall maintains its original Neo-classical façade, designed by Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer and held up by 1,800 oak pillars. Equally impressive is the Rococo style entrance foyer and auditorium, which seats 1,200 people and is notable for its intricate ceiling paintings that represent love, tragedy, comedy, music and poetry.
Bahnhofstrasse is THE shopping street in Zurich. Running from Bahnhofplatz outside the main train station all the way to the lake, it's full of luxury shops selling designer fashion, furs, porcelain, and, of course, chocolates, clocks and watches. Halfway along is Zurich's first, biggest and best department store Jelmoli. The basement food-hall is a must. Or if you want the best in Swiss chocolate, take a break at Cafe Sprungli, the epicenter of sweet Switzerland since 1836.
Bahnhofstrasse follows the line of the moat of medieval Zurich and is mainly pedestrianized, although watch out for the trams running along it. It runs parallel to the river Limmat and it's easy to punctuate your shopping with visits to churches and other important sites of Zurich dotted in the narrow streets between. Culture and consumerism: Zurich has them both.
The Swiss Museum of Transport, called Verkehrshaus der Schweiz in German, is Switzerland’s most popular museum and shows the past, present and future of transport and mobility on land, at sea, in the air and even outer space. More than 3,000 displays on approximately 20,000 square meters of exhibition space bear witness to a moving history in the truest sense of the word and show the inventions and deeds of explorers and inventors. But isn’t only the old planes and trains that draw visitors from young to old here, the Swiss Museum of Transport also tells of future challenges in the field of transport and communications and has a focus that goes beyond Switzerland and Earth. Apart from the many halls dedicated to road, rail and air travel, the museum also hosts the largest screen in Switzerland in the adjoining IMAX theatre as well as a planetarium.
If you’ve seen a panoramic view of Geneva you’ve most likely seen the huge lake Water Fountains, or Jet d’Eau, with its commanding position at the point where the River Rhône empties into Lake Geneva. It started life in the 19th century as a humble safety valve for a hydraulic installation, but is now the city’s foremost symbol.
With every second, some 130 gallons of water are propelled at 125 miles an hour to a maximum height of 150 yards (that's 500 liters at 200 km/h reaching 140 meters). The water shoots into the air before descending in a graceful fan shape back down to the lake, but its exact destination is determined by the strength and direction of the wind. In the warmer months, the fountain is lit during the evening until 11 o’clock.
The historic heart of Zurich, the Altstadt, or Old Town, remains the most atmospheric part of the city, with its striking 19th century buildings and winding cobblestone lanes hosting an array of modern cafes, shops and galleries. For visitors to the city, the Old Town makes the ideal starting point for a sightseeing tour of Zurich, sprawling along both sides of the River Limmat and home to many of the city’s principal tourist attractions.
Zurich’s two landmark cathedrals – the medieval Fraumuenster (Church of Our Lady) and the Gothic style Grossmuenster – make navigating the Old Town easy, perched on opposite sides of the river and linked by the monumental Munster bridge. From here it’s an easy stroll to the charming Niederdorf district, crammed with quirky boutiques and hip coffee shops; the famous Bahnhofstrasse, one of Europe’s glitziest shopping streets; and many of Zurich’s top museums like the Swiss National Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Tucked between the alpine villages of Brienz and Bönigen, the pristine Lake Brienz makes a prime photo candidate with its backdrop of forested mountainsides and deep, turquoise waters. Stretching 14 kilometers across and a whopping 250 meters deep, the lake, fed by the river Aar, makes an uneasy swimming spot, but a great location for boat trips and paddle steamer sojourns.
There’s more to this lakeside haven than great picture spots though – hike from the lake on one of the area’s 500 kilometers of walking trails, explore the traditional villages littering the lakeside or get a bird’s eye view of the lake by catching the old steam train from Brienz up the nearby Brienzer Rothhorn mountain. Most spectacular are the Giessbach Falls on the south shore, 500 meters of plummeting waterfalls reachable via the country’s oldest funicular railway from Giessbach village.
From Roman mosaics in the foundations to the neoclassical columns of its facade, the Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre is not only Geneva’s main house of worship, it is also a fascinating time capsule of the different influences that have dominated the city over the centuries. Depending on how you approach it, you could be forgiven for thinking the cathedral is actually a group of smaller buildings huddled together, as successive building programs – most notably Romanesque and Gothic – never completely wiped out previous traces.
Saint-Pierre is associated above all with the Protestant reformer John Calvin, who preached here in the 16th century; his rather uncomfortable looking wooden chair is still on display. And if you’re feeling energetic, just nearby is the entrance to the cathedral’s north tower, which will reward your 157-step climb with one of the best views of Geneva.
Set at a lofty 2,061 meters high, with the iconic peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau towering overhead, Kleine Scheidegg is unsurprisingly known for its jaw-dropping vistas, including a striking view of the infamous Eiger North Face. With a cluster of hotels and amenities, the scenic mountain pass makes a strategic base for hiking and skiing, with alpine resorts like Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen just below and access to a vast network of ski runs, hiking routes and rock climbing trails.
The train station at Kleine Scheidegg is also famously known as the starting point for the Jungfrau railway, undisputedly one of Switzerland’s most scenic train routes, which winds its way up Eiger and Monch mountains to the “Top of Europe” at Jungfraujoch – Europe’s highest train station.
Permanent ice and snow at the top of the world and a revolving gondola lift to take you to the top of the mountain, chairlifts over deep crevasses and exploring a glacier cave... If any of these sound amazing - and they do - Mount Titlis is the place for you. There are also restaurants and breathtaking views for those of us who prefer to be amazed in comfort while sitting on top of the world at 10,600 ft (3,238m).
Titlis is Central Switzerland's highest mountain and the views are amazing. However, be prepared: it is a bit like a high altitude theme park. The ice cave has music and flashing neon lights and you can pose for a photo with a giant Toblerone. Still, the surrounding peaks like shark fins, the glacier and the sweeping views to pastures, cliffs and waterfalls should make you forget any crass commercialism.
Maienfeld is the picturesque town, in which the best-selling Heidi story by Johanna Spyri takes place. The famous novel tells of the life and adventures of a cheerful young girl growing up in the alps in her grandfather’s, the Alm-Uncle’s, care. The town of Maienfeld, which can be found in the canton of Graubünden in eastern Switzerland, embodies this image of a romantic and nature-oriented Switzerland and transports visitors back in time. Experience an emotional journey to the Swiss mountain world of the 19th century and visit the Heidi Village and Trail detailed in Spyri’s novels. The venue makes history come alive and displays everything from the goat barn, to Heidi’s house as well as a museum dedicated to the author and shows nothing but pure dedication to the story that has inspired children around the world.
- Things to do in Zurich
- Things to do in Geneva
- Things to do in Lucerne
- Things to do in Interlaken
- Things to do in Basel
- Things to do in Montreux
- Things to do in Davos
- Things to do in St Moritz
- Things to do in Zermatt
- Things to do in Monaco
- Things to do in Luxembourg
- Things to do in Swiss Alps
- Things to do in Central Switzerland
- Things to do in Lake Geneva
- Things to do in Rhône-Alpes