Recently I traveled to Switzerland, mostly in the Bern Region. The Bern Region includes Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Grindewald, Murren, and Jungfrau to name a few. First off if you are considering European travel, you MUST go to Switzerland. It is absolutely spectacular and filled with beauty that not even a camera can unveil properly. It can be as laid back or busy as you choose, and we chose the latter. So I wanted to write a blog to help the next traveler from having to do too much pre-work. I also have a lot of tips that can help make your trip less costly, plus we did the touristy, adventure sort of outings and also made our way to remote, mostly locals only places.
Airfare: I used the app Hopper to secure our bargain airfare ($600 from Chicago to Zurich on American Airlines in economy class) I had been watching this air for months and it teetered between $1,000 – $1,300 the whole time until I got the notice from Hopper about the drop. This was about four months before the planned dates of travel. Note: I did upgrade on the way back to business class for an additional $400 and I will say this is worth it unless your young. Better food, more room, seats recline more. First Class would be delightful, but that is for another trip. For more information on Hopper see my other blog on apps here.
Getting Around the Country : I highly recommend the Swiss Rail Flex Pass.
The train is the best way to get around and offered free or discounted transportation on Gondolas, Boats, Buses and tours. The website is a little confusing which is why I put the link here as you can buy 4-day pass or 4-day flex pass. The 4-day pass is for consecutive travel days in 30 days whereas the flex pass does not have to be consecutive. You can use the train as much as you want on the days you utilize it. Train stations are everywhere, and you can purchase when you arrive to save mailing fees to receive ahead of time. Train station right across street from airport.
Managing Getting Around: Download the Free app Rome2Rio which will tell you the best ways to get from point A to B. It links to train, bus, boat, ferry etc and I used nonstop when traveling in Switzerland. Since I have used it at home when in downtown Chicago, it is a must have for apps on your phone.
Language: The predominate language in Switzerland is German, but everyone speaks English. It was fun to try learning the language while there. Download the language you will be using ahead of time, so you don’t use data while using this on site.
Food: Food is not cheap in Switzerland. All the hotels we stayed at offered complimentary breakfast. Most days we brought snacks for the day and then had a nice dinner. Purchasing dinner and wine at the CO-OP (their grocery store) made for a less expensive and easy meal.
We stayed in Grindewald for 4 nights while staying in this region of Switzerland. Grindewald is a beautiful, small town about a 30-minute train ride from Interlaken. While staying here we did things in this town as well as traveling to Lauterbrunnen (smaller town than Grindewald known for waterfalls and also has Gondolas up to Murren, Grimmelwald, Birg and Schilthorn – more on these later) We also visited Interlaken which is more small city like and a hub for touristy things and is where Lake Thun and Brienz are located. I will outline activities at each location, but I was very happy to have been staying in Grindewald. Just big enough (grocery store and shopping in town), but small enough to be quaint with spectacular views of the mountains.
What to do in Grindewald: This by far was my favorite spot in all of Switzerland. We stayed at the Hotel Alte Post which was a lovely traditional Swiss hotel that had balconies (with flowers) that looked at the Eiger Mountain. It was nice to have “happy hour” on the balcony with wine and cheese from the CO-OP market and enjoy the beautiful view. The bus in Grindewald was free if you were staying in town or using the Swiss Pass.
The other nice thing about this property is that it is super close to the Gondola up to First and Bort which are two towns along the Gondola route. Adventure First is the company that runs the Gondola and the activities up on the mountain. We did a one-way Gondola ride up to First (Having the swiss pass I referred to above, allowed us a 50% discount) when we exited there were cows with bells grazing all over up there. The sound was beautiful and the pictures spectacular. At the top of First is a Cliff Walk that is a small walkway around the top and ziplining which we did. You can also do paragliding from here which is quite popular in all of Switzerland and it would have been lovely here, but we did that in Interlaken. More on that later. We hiked over to Lake Bachlapsee which was roughly 1.5 miles from First. The trail to this was a wide dirt path likely used by farming vehicles and offered beautiful views of mountains and flowers in addition to the lake. You can also mountain bike this. We continued the hike after the lake to what I would call a single-track path down to Bort which was the Gondola stop downhill from First. We stopped at a lovely restaurant and had enjoyed beverages before making our way all the way to Bort which was roughly another 2-3 miles. The hike after the restaurant was quite steep through the woods, but not terribly extreme. At Bort, we rented Trottibikes (Scooter type bikes with brakes on handles) and headed down the mountain the rest of the way back to town.
Also in Grindewald is the Glacier Canyon at the end of the bus line in town called Gletscherschlucht (say that 3 times fast) The tickets were sold at the site for 19 CHF each. This is an impressive view of gorge created by the Glacier melt. The walkway runs along the side of the canyon allowing incredible views. There is a netted area that allows you to crawl on it in order to be over the gorge which is a bit frightening. This was worth the money to see and to read about how it occurred.
We also took a Gondola to Mannlichen which was on the opposite side of Grindewald from First and Bort. Not as touristy, but spectacular views of the Lauterbrunnen area from this side. We hiked down to the first Gondola stop which was Holenstein which was a few miles on a swirly road occupied by many cows. Along the way, we saw a helicopter loading up with cement to help make posts for a new Gondola and there were Alpenhorns out to try which was fun. Holenstein offered spectacular views of the town of Grindewald. Tickets for the Gondola/Cable Car were 15 CHF with 50% for Swiss Train Pass.
What to do in Lauterbrunnen: From Grindewald, we traveled to Lauterbrunnen for the day. Lauterbrunnen is a smaller town than Grindewald and boasts the most waterfalls. We took the train there and began hiking. The first waterfall you see in town is the famed Staubbach Falls which is has 297 meter vertical drop that appears to be right behind the town. The trail we hiked led us right to Trummelbach Falls (about 3 miles from train station) which you can go behind in a self-guided tour through the caves and slots that the water carved out. It is an impressive amount of water going through the slots and you will get a little wet. 11 CHF per adult and worth the entry.
After the Falls, we took the bus to Stechelberg (10 minutes) and caught the cableway up to Schilthorn. This was FREE with Swiss Rail Pass used on that day. Schilthorn sits at about 9,700 feet and boasts amazing views of the Lauterbrunnen valley and Mount Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch. It has the famed 360 degree revolving restaurant used in the James Bond movie from many years ago. There is hiking from areas as well. When taking the cableway back down we stopped at Birg and did the terrifying sky walk. You also pass the quaint mountain towns of Murren and Gimmelwald on this cableway, but more on those later.
What to do in Interlaken: Interlaken is a bigger city which is really a hub of activity. You can easily access both Lake Thun and Brienz. Boats, beaches, paddleboards you name it in these beautifully clear blue lakes. Outdoor Interlaken is an adventure company that offers many activities and we were thrilled with all of them. Food and Culture Tour (45 CHF) was guided by a young local guy who took us to a cheese shop for samples and talk of how the cheese is made and why it started. Same for chocolate and wood working. We walked the town of Interlaken sampled cheese, chocolate and wood working as he gave us the local spin. We took a bus to a short ride to a farm where the mother cows were eating in a barn and were able to sample fresh milk and store milk and feed the cows – grass fed too☺.
Outdoor Interlaken also was our choice of supplier for Canyoning (116 CHF) and Paragliding (150 CHF – but if combined on one day can get discount). Canyoning was an exhilarating experience from the 200 feet of repelling off the cliff to zip line drop into the water. Paragliding is super popular in Switzerland and was a real treat. It is very calm and surreal at the same time. I highly recommend both. While these were incredible experiences and would recommend them, they are experiences not necessarily unique to Switzerland. If you must pick a day of hiking in the mountains or canyoning, go hiking and get local.