Updated for 2018!
One of my absolute top destinations in Europe, and one that I hope to someday move to. Switzerland houses an abundance of beautiful sceneries, mild climates, and the world-famous Swiss Alps, it is also the only European country with FOUR (4!) official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh).
Having been to Switzerland on 3 separate occasions, I’ve combined all of those trips to bring you this perfect 1-week itinerary full of my top recommended sights and travel routes.
|Stays:||Zurich, Interlaken, Zermatt, Geneva|
|Day trips:||Lucerne, Bern, Montreux|
|Ideal Season:||Summer (July to October)||Trip Intensity:||★★★★☆|
|# of Transfers:||7||Total time:||~Approx. 7.5hrs|
|Advanced ticket purchases:||Swiss Travel Pass (4 Travel Days within 1 Month OR 8 Consecutive Days option)|
|Trip Cost:||~Approx. $1600/per person||Personal Cost:||~Approx. $1000/per person|
|Trip Cost ($USD) include: hotels, flights, trains, tickets
Personal Cost ($USD) include: food, personal spendings
What is a Perfect Week Itinerary? PWI for short, these are 7-full-day itineraries designed to allow you to explore all the trendy sights within a limited schedule without tiring you out (too much). All of my PWIs are extensively researched and personally tried and tested, however, they are written based on my personal opinions and preferences and therefore should be used as a reference only. As much as I try to keep all my itineraries up to date in terms of travel times to the best of my ability, more research and double checking is encouraged on your end before you finalize your own itinerary.
Rail Pass Information
To travel within Switzerland and for this itinerary, in particular, there are 2 options for the rail pass to consider:
Option 1 is the 8 Consecutive Day Swiss Travel Pass for unlimited travel the entire week you are in Switzerland. This pass covers all of the train routes in this itinerary including the boat ride between Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus. This pass excludes the fares for the cogwheel trains to Mt. Pilatus, Jungfraujoch, and Matterhorn but pass holders do get certain discounts off the regular fare for those trains.
Option 2 is the 4 Travel Days within 1 Month which covers non-consecutive train travel for the 4 train days in this itinerary (days 2, 3, 5, and 6). This pass also covers all of the train routes in this itinerary including the boat ride between Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus. However, it is recommended that you do not use one of the 4 travel days to apply for the 25% discount to go up Jungfraujoch on day 4 and instead pay the full price for the Jungfrau Railway.
With either options, pass should be purchased well in advance on the Rail Europe website. Please be aware some trains do require separate reservations so check this link after you have received your pass to see which trains you need to reserve for. Advanced reservation up to 90 days is recommended to ensure you get a space (and seat!) in the trains you want to take.
What about luggage? Many train stations in Switzerland have luggage lockers that you can rent. Locker sizes and prices vary, many of them only accept coins. Check whether your train station offers luggage lockers by searching here, click under the “Equipment” tab for full details.
Arrive into Zurich. If you are traveling from overseas, Zurich is the central hub for many international and connecting flights, flying into the city is probably the cheapest airport to land, not to mention the perfect starting point for your vacation in Switzerland!
Depending on when you arrive, I usually recommend taking it easy the first day. Feel free to take a stroll around where you’ll be staying, get your internal clock adjusted to the new time zone (if you are coming from a different time zone), and just relax overall.
Morning: Begin the day with a stroll along Lake Zurich, head towards the Grossmunster (The Grand Church) with its iconic twin towers. Then cut across towards Altstadt (Old Town), wander around the narrow cobblestone streets and find a place for lunch amongst the wide range of cafes and restaurants in the area.
Afternoon: Visit the Bahnhofstrasse to experience what busy is like in Zurich, worth checking out is the Uhrenmuseum (Watch Museum) that’s located in the basement of the Beyer watch shop, learn a little history and check out the exhibition on timekeeping dating back from 1400 BC to today. Afterwards, make the small climb up to Lindenhof for a gorgeous view of Zurich over the Limmat River and Old Town.
Zurich to Lucerne: Trains depart from Zurich HB every 30 minutes to Lucerne, total travel time on the train is about 45 minutes so please plan accordingly (click here for train schedules and reservations).
Morning: Arrive into Lucerne. Head towards the direction of the Risee river to view the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge), then cross to the other side to explore Zurich’s Altstadt (Old Town). The entire bridge can be crossed within 5 minutes if you are not stopping, however, I would recommend bringing your camera along to take pictures on the bridge because it’s quite photogenic!
Afternoon: Experience the Golden Round Trip (see prices, map, and timetable) to Mt. Pilatus by taking the boat from Lucerne port to Alpnachstad. There you’ll be able to ride the world’s steepest cogwheel train while enjoying the breathtaking views of the sharp rocky walls and landscapes as you climb up.
Take one of the trails at the top (download trail map here), I recommend the Dragon Path trail (#20 on the map) at the top to reach the highest peak of Tomlishorn for a panoramic view of all the surrounding mountain ranges. Note: this trail may not be for the faint-of-heart or those afraid of heights, especially with the cliff on the other side as the path does get quite narrow at times!
On the way down, choose the cable car route to Fräkmüntegg (while taking in the gorgeous views of Lake Lucerne in front of you), then transfer to Kriens via the gondola and take the line 1 bus back to Lucerne.
Late Afternoon: From Lucerne rail station, catch the train that departs hourly to Interlaken Ost. Please be aware the last train to Interlaken is at 22:05, travel time is around 2 to 2.5 hours, you can also check the schedule on Rail Europe.
Take the train from Interlaken Ost to Bern, the ride is about 50 minutes long.
Afternoon: Explore Altstadt von Bern (Old City of Bern). Take in the architectures and fountains as you stroll across the town, definitely visit the Munster Kirche (The Cathedral of Bern), and be sure to climb to the top of the Clock Tower for a panoramic view of the city. If you ever walk all the way east towards the bridge on the other side of the city, be sure to check out the Bärengraben (Bear Pit) for some bear watching.
Evening: Lots of nightlife if you hang around Bundeshaus in the evening, and if you are in Bern between October to November, you can also catch the spectacular Rendez-vouz Bundesplatz light show that occurs every evening between 19:00-20:30. Take the train back to Interlaken for the night.
All Day: Be sure to dress warmly for the trip up to Jungfraujoch (“Top of Europe”), it’ll be snowy (yes, even in the middle of summer)! Famous for housing Europe’s highest train station at 3454 meters, Jungfraujoch is also the starting point of the Great Aletsch Glacier.
Going up Jungfraujoch: Please be aware you will need to purchase separate train tickets on the Wengernalp Railway and Jungfrau Railway even if you have the Swiss Travel Pass, however ticket prices will be discounted by 25% for pass holders (see fare prices). Update Jan 2018: You can now purchase your train tickets in advance on the Jungfrau website! Additional note: if you have the 4 Travel Day Rail Pass, do not waste one of your 4 days for the 25% discount, you’ll need those days for day 5 and 6 of this intinerary.
There will be 2 tranfers to get to the top of Jungfraujoch. Start your journey up from Interlaken Ost, take the Bernese Oberland Railway to Grindelwald, transfer to the Wengernalp Railway which will take you to Kleine Scheidegg (check out the Eiger North Face while you are there). And finally, take the Jungfrau Railway to Jungfraujoch. (see page 2 for map of the region
Take in the view from the top, on a good weather day, you’d also be able to see the Great Aletsch Glacier, Jungfrau, and various other peaks. There is a post office up there if you want to mail yourself a postcard with the official Jungfraujoch stamp! I’d also recommend checking out the Ice Cave on the same level which is free for all visitors.
Interlaken to Zermatt: Take the train from Interlaken Ost to Zermatt (get schedule here), please be aware there are usually 2 transfers in between, and the total travel time is between 2.5-3 hours.
Morning to Afternoon: Once you have arrived into Zermatt, take the mountain train up to Matterhorn via the Gornergrat Bahn, Swiss Travel Pass holders can receive a 50% discount, see fare prices here. Enjoy the breathtaking views as you go up and spend sometime at the top, taking in the views of the Gorner Glacier and of course Matterhorn.
Afternoon to Evening: On a clear day, definitely do the hiking route down (or you can take the train to Rotenboden station, 2 stops from Gornergrat station, plus a 10 minutes walk) to Riffelsee, a glacial lake with a perfect reflection of Matterhorn’s peak. After the lake, you can hop onto the train back down to Riffelberg mountain station, in which you’d be able to take the gondola down to Furi. Then take the cable car to Klein Matterhorn via Trockener Steg for a breathtaking view of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
Morning: Spend some time inside Zermatt exploring the small town on foot. Check out the Hinterdorfstrasse for lots of chocolate stores and Swiss shops if you are looking for souvenirs. Take the train to Montreux for a mini-day trip at this pictureque town situated next to Lake Geneva. The total travel time between Zermatt and Montreux is about 2 hours and 40 minutes (schedule).
Afternoon: One of the main attractions in Montreux is definitely the Chateau de Chillon, a medieval castle with over 2000 years of history.
Late Afternoon to Evening: There are frequent trains departing from Montreux to Geneva throughout the day, travel time is around 1 hour so plan accordingly (schedule).
Geneva is the political hub of Switzerland. Depending on how much time you have, here are some suggested sights to see during the day:
1. Vieille Ville (Old Town) The highlight in the area is the Cathédrale de St. Pierre (9:00-18:30, free admission), climb to the top (I recommend the South Tower, CHF 5 pp) for an open-air balcony and panoramic view of Geneva. There is also an Archeological Site underneath the cathedral (10:00-17:00, CHF 8 pp) which houses the original basilica and showcase of the history of the city dating back to the 4th century. A few steps away from the Cathedral is Place Bourg du Four, the heart of Old Town, ideal as a cafe stop or place for some people watching.
2. Parc Des Bastions (about 5 minutes walk west from the Cathedral) A lovely park within Geneva where you can check out the Reformation Wall and some interesting life-sized chessboards.
3. Jet d’Eau Located on Lake Geneva near the port, the fountain jets water up to 140 meters in height and is a well-known and famous landmark of Geneva.
4. Place de l’Ile Situated on an island in the middle of Geneva, visit for great views of the city at night, or indulge in some lively music playing from the nearby nightclubs and bars.
5. If you are feeling adventurous and don’t have too much time to explore everything in Geneva, a great way to explore the city is through Segway Tours, not only do you get a one-tour-see-all package, it’s also tons of fun and barely any walking required. Advanced booking is highly recommended.