THE ULTIMATE SWITZERLAND TRAVEL ITINERARY FOR FIRST-TIME VISITORS
I fell in love with Switzerland the second I stepped off the airplane. There is just something so magical about the charming Swiss chalets and medieval buildings. Switzerland really is a beautiful country and I’m hoping this ultimate Switzerland travel itinerary, covering Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken (my personal favorite), Montreux, and Geneva will convince you to visit!
ULTIMATE SWITZERLAND TRAVEL ITINERARY
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Language: Switzerland has four official languages. French, German, Italian, and Romansh. Depending on what region you’re in will determine what language is most commonly spoken; however, most people, especially in the tourism industry, speak very good English.
Currency: The official currency of Switzerland is the Swiss Franc, although the Euro is widely excepted. Keep in mind that if you pay with Euro, you’ll receive your change back in Swiss Franc. Credit cards and debit cards are also popular and widely accepted.
Getting Around: While in a city, walking or using public transportation is the easiest and most affordable option. The city buses in Switzerland are great and run very frequently. When traveling between cities, your best bet will either be to rent a car or use the train system. We personally used the train system to get around and it’s very reliable, clean, and safe.
If you’re going to be traveling via train, you’ll want to download the SBB Mobile app and create an account. You can purchase train tickets via the app and it saves them within the app under “Trips and Tickets” so you don’t have to print them out. This is especially helpful because there will be occasions were you’ll need to access your tickets so train staff can scan them during your ride.
Best Time to Visit: This depends on what activities you want to partake in. Switzerland is a very popular winter destination due to the many ski towns, but it’s also beautiful during the summer months.
Shoulder season, April-June and September-October, is also popular because there are less crowds and hotel prices tend to be lower.
Safety: Overall, Switzerland is a very safe country. Obviously, it’s smart to use basic common sense as petty crime can happen anywhere, but I never felt unsafe at all.
Disclosure: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll earn a small commission. As always, I will only include links to products I actually use, love, or recommend.
ULTIMATE SWITZERLAND TRAVEL ITINERARY
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Day #1: ZURICH
Getting from Zurich Airport to the City
The Zurich Airport train station (also known as Zurich Flughafen) is located underneath the Airport Centre. Once you go through customs/immigration, just follow the airport signs to the train station. You can’t miss it. The ticket machines are located on the floor above where you actually board the trains. This is where downloading the SBB Mobile app will first come in handy, as I found the ticket machines to be very difficult to use. The SBB Mobile app is much more user friendly and will save you a headache. Trust me.
The main train station in Zurich is called Zurich HB. If you’re staying anywhere near the city center, this will be the train station you’ll want to go to. The train from Zurich Flughafen to Zurich HB takes about 10-15 minutes for a non-stop ride, depending on the train.
Where to Stay in Zurich
Zurich has so many different hotels ranging from luxury accommodations to budget friendly hostels that are perfect for your ultimate Switzerland travel itinerary. Here are some great options regardless of your budget.
The Dolder Grand – A luxury hotel located on the mountain above Zurich. Even if you opt not to stay at The Dolder Grand because it’s $$$$, I would highly recommend enjoying a day at their spa. You can purchase day admissions and it’s definitely worth it. Such a great way to decompress after a long flight.
Hotel St. Gotthard – Located on world-famous Bahnhofstrasse Street, this hotel is perfect for anyone who wants to be centrally located and have easy access to some of the world’s best shopping.
Hotel Helvetia – Charming boutique hotel centrally located to downtown Zurich.
Oldtown Hostel Otter – Perfect location for the budget traveler or backpacker looking to save a little money.
What to Do in Zurich
Zurich is known for being a global center for banking and finance. While it’s not super geared toward tourists, it’s still a beautiful city and there are quite a few things to do.
Shop on Bahnhofstrasse Street – Known as one of the most expensive streets in the world, Bahnhofstrasse is definitely worth a visit. Even if you’re only window shopping.
Fraumunster Church – Any photo you’ve ever seen of Zurich probably includes Fraumunster Church in the background. The church is open to visitors year round, except during church services and events.
Zurich Old Town Walking Tours – I personally love walking tours! I think they are a great way to meet fellow travelers, especially if you’re traveling solo, and they are also super educational. If group actives aren’t your thing, you can also do a self-guided walking tour.
Day 2: LUCERNE
Getting to Lucerne from Zurich
Getting from from Zurich to Lucerne is relatively easy via train and tickets can be purchased on the SBB Mobile app. The main train station in Lucerne is called Luzern. A non-stop train ride takes less than hour and you can purchase either first-class or second-class tickets. We opted for first-class because there wasn’t that much of a price difference in the tickets and there’s usually less people in first-class.
Where to Stay in Lucerne
Hotel MONOPOL Luzern – The perfect location in Old Town, Hotel MONOPOL Luzern is located in a charming Baroque style building with easy access to the train station.
Hotel des Balances – Enjoy beautiful views of the Reuss River and most rooms also offer views of the Chapel Bridge.
What to Do in Lucerne
Lucerne is a relatively small city, so it’s very walkable and the perfect stop on your ultimate Switzerland travel itinerary. If you’re staying in central Lucerne all of the recommendations below are walkable and can easily be done in one day. After we arrived and put our luggage away, we headed out on a self-guided walking tour for the afternoon.
Walk Across Chapel Bridge – Originally built in 1365, Chapel Bridge linked the old town and the new town. A devastating fire almost burned Chapel Bridge to the ground in 1993, but it was reconstructed and reopened to the public in 1994. During the summer months the bridge is usually covered in beautiful flowers and hanging plants.
Take a Stroll Along Lake Lucerne – Seeing Lucerne on foot is easy thanks to its relatively small size. Strolling along Lake Lucerne is a perfect way to spend an afternoon or early morning before the crowds arrive.
Visit the Lion Monument – This monument commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred during the French Revolution. Its a really beautiful tribute and easily walkable from anywhere in Lucerne, which will also give you the perfect opportunity to see the city.
Musegg Wall – The Musegg Wall is a defensive wall (with towers) that was built in the 13th century to protect Lucerne. It’s remarkably well-preserved and a must-see during any trip to Lucerne.
Days 3-4: INTERLAKEN
There is so much to see and do in the area surrounding Interlaken. It would be impossible to see everything in only a day or two and I honestly wish we would have spent more time in Interlaken during our trip; however, for this itinerary I allotted two days, which will give you enough time to see quite a bit.
Getting to Interlaken from Lucerne
The train ride from Lucerne to Interlaken, via the GoldenPass Panoramic line, is one of the most beautiful train rides I have ever been on. If you’re able to book your train tickets in advance, I highly recommend it, especially if you’re visiting during the summer months. I would also recommend you purchase seat reservations, which are in addition to your train ticket. You can use the SBB Mobile app to purchase your train ticket and if you book early enough, you might be able to snag a SuperSaver Ticket. For seat reservations, you will need to book through this website, after you purchase your train ticket.
If you don’t want to travel via the GoldenPass Line, you can book a ticket from Lucern to Bern and then on to Interlaken.
*There are two train stations in Interlaken: Interlaken Ost (the main station) and Interlaken – West. They are located 1 mile apart and you can walk between the two in about 20 minutes.
Where to Stay in Interlaken
Gasthof Schonegg – This is the adorable little Bed and Breakfast we stayed at. It’s not located directly in Interlaken, but about 5 minutes away in Goldswil. The bus stop is right down the street from the B&B and you can be in Interlaken in no time.
Hotel Bellevue Interlaken – A beautiful boutique hotel with amazing views of Aare River.
Victoria Jungfrau – If you’re looking for luxury during your trip, the Victoria Jungfrau is a beautiful five star hotel with all of the amenities that come along with it. The hotel was built in the 19th Century and is only a few minutes walk to the Interlaken West train station.
What to Do in Interlaken
I wrote a complete guide regarding top things to do in Interlaken, including more day trips, so check it out if you want a more in-depth review.
Take a Chocolate Making Class – This is definitely a fun activity for a family to do. Even if you don’t end up taking a class, stop by Funky Chocolate Club and grab some delicious chocolate to take home.
Go Paragliding – Definitely a must if you have the time and the weather is nice. Nothing beats seeing Switzerland from above.
Day Trips from Interlaken
Zermatt – While this trip will take an entire day, it’s totally doable. To make it feel less rushed you could easily spend the night and return to Interlaken the next morning.
Lauterbrunnen – Located 20 minutes from Interlaken by train, Lauterbrunnen should not be missed during your trip. It’s a beautiful and charming little town.
DAYS 5-6: MONTREUX
Montreux is located along the northern shore of Lake Geneva in what is commonly called the “Swiss Riviera”. It’s a beautiful part of Switzerland that is popular for wine making.
Getting to Montreux from Interlaken
There are actually a few different routes that will get you from Interlaken to Montreux. The first option, and probably the most popular, is the Golden Pass Line that will take you from Interlaken to Zweisimmem to Montreux. You can book your tickets here and your seat reservations here (again, I highly recommend doing this, especially if you are traveling during the summer months).
If you want to ride on the Golden Pass Line, you will need to purchase your tickets in two different legs. The first leg you will want to book from Interlaken Ost to Zweisimmem going in the direction of Zweisimmem with no stops that require you to get off and change platforms at a different station. It should look something like this (the screenshots below are from the SBB website, which is linked above):
Once you’ve purchased the Interlaken Ost to Zweisimmem leg, you’ll want to purchases your ticket from Zweisimmem to Montreux.
Booking in two separate legs will ensure that you stay on the Golden Pass Line for the entire trip. Now, if you don’t want to take the Golden Pass Line, then you can just search for a ticket from Interlaken Ost to Montreux and book that way. You will more than likely have to change trains in Bern, Spiez, or another city, but you absolutely don’t have to take the Golden Pass Line to get to Montreux.
Where to Stay in Montreux
Hotel Fairmont le Montreux Palace – A stunning 5-star hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva.
Hotel Eden Palace au Lac – Located near the train station and within walking distance to several shops and restaurants.
Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic – Built in 1870, this gorgeous hotel is located in the heart of Montreux and on the shore of Lake Geneva.
What to Do in Montreux
Day Trip to Leukerbad – If you’re looking to escape the crowds, then Leukerbad is the place for you. Leukerbad is a popular destination because of the hot springs in the area. Check out the public baths at Leukerbad Therme or Lindner Alpentherme.
Enjoy the Local Wineries – Switzerland’s Lavaux wine region is stunning and stretches from Lausanne to Montreux and going on a few winery tours is a great way to spend a day or even just an afternoon. Some popular wineries in the area include Lavaux Vinorama, Blaise Duboux, and Domaine Bovy.
Day Trip to Gstaad – A beautiful resort town located in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps. Definitely worth a visit if you love snow sports and are visiting in the winter.
DAY 7: GENEVA
There’s no better way to end your whirlwind trip through Switzerland than in Geneva. Home to the European headquarters of the United Nations and a stone’s throw away from France, Geneva is a charming city with gorgeous views of Mont Blanc.
Where to Stay in Geneva
What to Do in Geneva
Walk Around Old Town – After a week of non-stop traveling, spending a quiet afternoon roaming around the streets of Geneva’s Old Town is the perfect way to decompress and relax.
Visit the United Nations European Headquarters – This is the perfect activity for anyone traveling with children.
Day Trip to Chamonix/Mont Blanc – If you have more time at the end of your trip, I highly recommend hopping on over to Chamonix for the day, which is located at the base of Mont Blanc. If you visit on a clear day, take the Aiguille du Midi cable car up the mountain
Well, there you have it. I hope you found this ultimate Switzerland travel itinerary helpful. Leave me a comment below, or tweet me [@michele_aaron], and let me know if you followed any of my recommendations.
Very informative post! Thanks!
Thank you for the kind words!