Switzerland is rife with places that beg exploration for such a compact country. Gorgeous alpine villages, resort towns brimming with outdoor adventures, and cities with sites dating to the Middle Ages are just some of the options in this world-class destination. Travelers can also venture to sparkling lakes fed by glaciers and snowmelt from the mountains and some of the most impressive peaks in the Swiss Alps. There is plenty of options from which to choose. Here are our top picks for where to go in Switzerland for the first-time visitor.
A year-round skiing hotspot set in the imposing shadow of the Matterhorn, Zermatt is a favorite of travelers to southwestern Switzerland. Its charming downtown area is entirely car-free. Wander the cobbled streets surrounded by traditional Swiss chalets and enjoy endless opportunities to shop and dine in local establishments. Outside of the town center, adventures abound. Ride the Gornergrat Railway to the summit of Gornergrat Mountain for unprecedented views of the pyramid-shaped Matterhorn, or use Zermatt as a launching point for a rail journey on the Glacier Express.
When deciding where to go in Switzerland, consider that Zürich is its largest city and thriving financial capital. Few places in the country exude as much culture as this north-central locale. For travelers, there is plenty to do that speaks to the past and the present. Venture through Altstadt (Old Town) to see buildings dating to the 17th century or cross the Limmat River to soak in the historic skyline from the Lindenhof. High-end shopping is best accomplished on the Bahnhofstrasse. If museums are your favorite way to dive into a destination, Zürich has plenty of those, too. The museums that attract the most attention include the Swiss National Museum, Museum Rietberg, and the FIFA Museum.
Nestled in the Bernese Oberland between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, Interlaken is a charming resort town that is one of the best places in Switzerland for an adventure. One visit will show why travelers have been coming here for centuries. The Swiss Alps shine in this region and set the backdrop for many expeditions, including hiking, mountain biking, skiing, paragliding, and scenic railway excursions. One of the most famous trains in the region is the Jungfrau Railway, which climbs to the "Top of Europe" on a series of connecting trains from Interlaken. The Schynige Platte Railway offers another vantage point to soak in the alpine splendor.
Visitors can also enjoy panoramic cruises on the two crystalline blue lakes surrounding Interlaken. Whether you use this as a tool to visit charming lakeside villages steeped in tradition or spend the day on the water, few experiences so perfectly capture the region's beauty. Staying on land in Interlaken, there is no better place to grab a bite to eat, shop in local boutiques, or look upon gorgeous buildings that span the ages than Höheweg - the main street in town.
The Swiss Alps' beauty collides with more than 700 years of history in Lucerne. This central Switzerland gem is perched alongside Lake Lucerne, a body of water beloved for its unique shape and brilliant blue waters. Mounts Rigi and Pilatus frame the lake and create a breathtaking panorama that visitors must see to believe.
There are many ways to explore Lucerne's offerings, including on foot. Altstadt, the oldest part of the city, is a joy to walk through, with its ancient architecture and numerous shops. Original fortifications from the 13o0s form the barrier of Old Town, and this part of the city is also home to the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, the Chapel Bridge. For a scenic adventure of another kind, venture to the top of Mount Pilatus, the Dragon Mountain, aboard glass-enclosed cable cars or the local funicular railroad. The Swiss Museum of Transport, the Jesuit Church, and the Lion Monument are other popular attractions in this quaint destination.
Steep streets meet medieval buildings and spectacular panoramas in Lausanne. This beautiful city is located in French-speaking Switzerland on the shore of Lake Geneva and is enveloped by views of the French Alps. Despite being one of the biggest cities in the country, its charms and laid-back pace of life give it all the appeal of a small village. Climb up the hillside to Old Town, where history abounds, and the magnificent Lausanne Cathedral looms over the city. A famous covered staircase, Escaliers du Marché, connects Place de la Palud, with its gorgeous fountain, to the cathedral's square. While walking, do not forget to visit Rue De Bourg, the city's main shopping street. In the more modern lakeside portion of Lausanne, the Olympic Museum demands attention. Beyond its independent draws, Lausanne makes a convenient base for sightseeing around Lake Geneva.
cAnother crowning jewel of Lake Geneva and a place so revered it has been dubbed the Swiss Riviera, Montreux is a short distance from Lausanne yet feels like a whole new world. It is the benefactor of a microclimate that feels almost Mediterranean. No wonder Freddie Mercury and Charlie Chaplin chose to call this destination home. Pay your respects at their respective statues in Montreux and nearby Vevey. You can cruise the lake or walk along the Montreux Lakeside Promenade for an all-encompassing experience that includes the town's energy with a heavy dose of lake and mountain views. Montreux is also a fantastic place to join the famous GoldenPass Line, sip wine in the nearby Lavaux vineyards, or make your way to Chillon Castle for a tour.
Over 5,000 years of history encompass Chur, Switzerland's oldest city. If you are pondering where to go in Switzerland, this destination has a bit of everything: scenery, history, and incredible accessibility. Chur is home to one of the most intact old towns in the country and is complete with car-free streets, winding alleys, and all the centuries-old buildings you could desire. Its 800-year-old Gothic cathedral shines as its centerpiece. More modern offerings in town include the Graubünden Art Museum, the Graubünden Natural History Museum, and the Rhaetian Museum.
Chur is also a fantastic place to explore the Swiss Alps by railway and cable car. Travelers can venture to the top of Brambrüesch clad in alpine meadows on the Chur-Brambrüesch cableway. One of Switzerland's most widely recognized rail lines, the Bernina Express, also departs from this scenic city bound for Tirano, Italy.
If you are looking for one of the best places in Switzerland for year-round appeal, look no further than St. Moritz. This quintessential resort town sits over 6,000 feet above sea level and is affectionately known as the "Top of the World." In addition to being a winter sports mecca, St. Moritz has much to offer throughout the year. Enjoy museums like the Segantini Museum and the Engadiner Museum. In the summer, Lake St. Moritz offers a terrifically scenic backdrop for cruises, while the colder months bring polo and horse races. St. Moritz is home to its own Leaning Tower, which tilts more than Pisa's at 5 1/2 percent. Of course, this is also the endpoint for the Glacier Express, so scenic adventures through the vast Swiss Alps are readily available.
Whether your next trip takes you to the scenic Jungfrau region in the Bernese Oberland or one of the magnificent lakeside destinations throughout the country, there is no better place for alpine adventures than Switzerland. Choosing where to go in Switzerland is easier than ever when selecting a thoughtfully composed Swiss rail vacation. These journeys feature timeless destinations filled with fascinating tourist attractions, rides aboard iconic railways, and breathtaking scenery at every turn. Even better, some tours include a Swiss Travel Pass, which gives you access to all the local trains, scenic railways, cable cars, and mountain expeditions you could desire. Discover Switzerland your way with Vacations By Rail.