My 5 Day Itinerary for Switzerland, a Truly Magical Country
Switzerland absolutely blew me away. I didn’t know what I would think about visiting Switzerland in the middle of winter without actually being able to ski.
But it turns out that you can appreciate and explore the winter wonderland that is Switzerland in February without ever picking up a snowboard or a pair of skis. I spent five magical days in Switzerland and it simply wasn’t enough.
My bucket list is now full of Switzerland based holidays; I want to rent a chalet in the Swiss Alps and do nothing for a week but hike, read and drink hot chocolate. I want to have the money to jump out of a plane over the Swiss Alps. And I want to return in summer to do lots of hiking in the area surrounding Interlaken.
Day 1-3 – Interlaken
Interlaken and the mountains surrounding it was everything I imagined Switzerland to be. During my first day in Interlaken it basically snowed all day. I couldn’t even be sad about the fact that I stayed inside most of the day because of the weather. There was just something so magical about sitting inside with my kindle and a cup of amazing Swiss hot chocolate and watching the snow fall outside.
As an Australian, I don’t see a lot of snow. Hence I get incredibly excited whenever I get to see it (usually much to the dismay of the locals).
But I have to admit that a part of me wondered on that first day in Interlaken, whether I had made the right decision in choosing to come to Switzerland in winter. If the weather had been nice I might have seen more of Interlaken and its lakes. I was really worried that first day that the weather would stay cloudy and snowy and I wasn’t going to be able to see any of that amazing scenery that I had planned my Swiss trip around.
Luckily for me my second and third days in Interlaken were full of beautiful sunny weather. For my second day in Interlaken I had planned to go up to the Schilthorn. Originally I thought to get the train up to the Jungfrau, but on the advice of more than one person I went up the Schilthorn instead, which is meant to offer far better views over this area of the alps.
A trip up the Schilthorn from Interlaken involves a train to Lauterbrunnen. From here I jumped on a bus to Stechelberg Schilthornbahn where I was able to board the cable car up the mountain. You need to change to another cable car at a view points before you arrive at the top of the mountain.
However when I arrived in the little carless town of Gimmelwald, located 1367m above sea level, I decided to wait for the next cable car and spend half an hour exploring this beautiful little town.
Gimmelwald, with its snow covered chalets and the Alps surrounding it, was every reason why I had wanted to visit Switzerland in the winter. Everything is just so much better when it is covered in a layer of fresh snow.
Needless to say I went crazy with my camera for that short half an hour stop, and I got back on the cable car with wet socks from the thick layers of snow I had treaded through.
Beautiful scenery became the trend for the rest of the day. The little town of Murren was equally beautiful (although I tad bit more commercialised than Gimmelwald). In fact spotting the hostels on offer in these little towns, I definitely regretted my decision to pick Interlaken as my base. I would have been far happier in the mountains.
But nothing could really top the view from the top. Piz Gloria is what awaits you at the top of the Schilthorn. The spot is iconic thanks to its feature in the bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
And the view is magical. It was scary to see the peaks of slightly smaller mountains, while still realising that even some of the lowest peaks I could see were taller than anything we have in Australia.
Obviously the stars of the show were the three incredible mountains that are the most famous in the Bernese Alps; Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch.
The skiers that all came up on the cable car with me were long gone while I was still wandering around, wondering if what I saw in front of me was actually real.
The Swiss Alps from the top of the Schilthorn is still one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. And I don’t think it would have been half as pretty if it wasn’t covered in snow. It was definitely worth braving the cold to see white mountains instead of green rocky ones.
I even stopped at the revolving restaurant located at Piz Gloria. I ate traditional Swiss roti with smoked salmon and a cold Swiss beer, while the scenery outside the window constantly changed.
My trip up the Schilthorn was so spectacular that it convinced me to extend my stay in Interlaken. I had originally planned on spending only two days in Interlaken and then two days in Lucerne. But I really was not ready to leave those mountains, especially considering the weather was meant to be good.
I considered doing some hiking on ploughed trails around the Grindewald area, but finally decided to go all out and try one of the adventure activities that Interlaken is so well known for. I would have loved to skydive, but unfortunately the cost was so prohibitive. Instead I decided on the next big thing; paragliding.
Paragliding over Interlaken was seriously the best way to see it. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous as my paragliding pilot urged me to run down and off a mountain. But as we soared over Interlaken I couldn’t wipe the goofy grin off my face.
I could see the whole valley, including the both lakes that Interlaken sits between. It was over way before I wanted it to be! Next time I’m definitely making sure I have the money to skydive here!
You can see a video on my paragliding experience.
After paragliding I caught the train from Interlaken to Lucerne which is rightfully dubbed one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. We passed so many beautiful mountains and lakes. It definitely wasn’t a journey that I wanted to make in the dark, or one where I was looking for my laptop or kindle to keep me occupied.
Day 4- Lucerne
The first thing I did when arriving in Lucerne after a big day paragliding in Interlaken was to head to an English pub and watch the rugby. I am in no way a rugby fan, but my couchsurfing host was working quite late, so she sent me in the direction of her housemate who was hanging out with some friends in a pub and watching the rugby. I met some awesome people, had some great conversations and spent way too much money on beer and cider.
But the next day I wanted to make the most of my only full day in Lucerne. Armed with a map and some advice from my couchsurfing host I headed out to see the city.
Unfortunately the view that Lucerne is so famous for wasn’t really discernable during my day there. The low clouds and slow drizzle meant that I could barely make out the towering mountain overlooking the lake.
But while the bad weather blocked most of the natural scenery, it didn’t completely ruin my day in Lucerne. I got to wander around the city and marvel at the pretty architecture. Being so close to the German border, it definitely looked a little bit German, but also distinctive in its own right.
I also hiked to the top of the castle for some pretty good views over the whole of Lucerne (although unfortunately the actual castle walls were closed). I wandered around the stunning lake and I visited the Lion monument that memorialises the few Swiss people that died during the war.
But by far my favourite part of all of Lucerne was the beautiful bridge. Surely whoever designed the Hogwarts set for the Harry Potter films had visited Lucerne, because this bridge reminded me so much of the one from the movies. It was just so pretty!
Unfortunately it was badly damaged by a fire only in 1993, so much of it has been rebuilt. But there are some parts of the bridge that are still original. Walking across the bridge you’ll find some of the surviving old paintings that used to line the bridge. They are incredible.
After a big day in Lucerne I got to have one of those special couchsurfing moments. My host took me to her family dinner that they do ever Sunday night and all of her family made me feel so welcome! It’s really nice when you can have those special local experiences.
Day 5- Berne
My last day in Switzerland was in Berne. Unfortunately the weather was also terrible for my one day in this city, but I was adamant it was not going to ruin my visit.
I arrived in Bern late morning and headed directly to my couchsurfing host’s place. He was so lovely and he made me an incredible potato rosti for lunch. Unfortunately after that he had to head off to host a radio show in Lucerne, so I didn’t see him much for the rest of the night.
But he did give me some great advice on what to see in Berne. Berne was a beautiful old city and luckily I could stay out of the rain most of the time as much of Berne is famous for the buildings with alcoves.
My favourite parts were the clock in the centre of town that is just stunning, the bizarre looking statutes that line the street leading up said bell tower, the beautiful cathedral, and the lower district of Berne where everything is smaller (and thus cuter) and you’ll find more rustic architecture than the more elegant buildings that line the main part of the city.
I also had some seriously amazing Swiss chocolate that I picked up at one of the little chocolate stores that are practically everywhere in Berne.
I ended my last night in Switzerland by eating some incredible cheese fondue. Whilst my budget for eating out whilst in Switzerland was limited (it is seriously so expensive), cheese fondue was definitely something I had to try. It was seriously delicious.
Berne was the perfect way to end my short five days in Switzerland, I only wish that I’d been able to spend more time there
How Expensive is Switzerland?
I wish I could have spent longer exploring Switzerland. In my original plans I wanted to go to Geneva, to spend longer in a lot of the other cities I visited, and to even hit up nearby Liechtenstein. But my budget just couldn’t handle more than five days in Switzerland.
Even being relatively frugal I still spent more during those five days than I had in 2.5 weeks in Spain and France. Thus the first thing you need to realise about Switzerland is you shouldn’t go unless you are prepared to spend money. I booked the cheapest hostel I could find in Interlaken, I bought groceries from France with me and I couchsurfed in both Lucerne and Bern.
But where most of my budget went was to the activities that made my trip to Switzerland so memorable. If I hadn’t paraglided in Interlaken, or spent money on transport up to the Schilthorn, my trip wouldn’t be half as good. So my advice is if you don’t have the room in your budget to do Switzerland properly, leave it for another time when you do.
Where Should I Stay in Switzerland?
If you are a budget traveller or are just looking to make some friends, I always recommend staying at hostels. In Interlaken I stayed at the Happy Inn Lodge which was a really good budget option and had a great bar and restaurant attached to it.
AirBnB is also a great option if you are on a budget or looking for a bit of space.
For all of your bookings, whether hostel or hotel I always recommend Booking.com, specifically because most of the time you can make a reservation without a deposit and many bookings are fully cancellable and refundable. I love being able to lock in my accomodation early, but then shift things around if my plans change!