It is such a challenge to pick the best city breaks in Switzerland when the entire country is a picturesque paradise. Nested in the heart of Europe, Switzerland is renowned for its unparalleled scenery, cultural diversity, mouthwatering chocolates, and cheese fondues.
It is considered a haven for tourists because it has something for everyone. Switzerland is home to fascinating historical sites – from the prehistoric era right up to the modern age. Its alluring snow-capped Alps, stunning glaciers, breathtaking lakes, quaint lake-front cottages, majestic waterfalls, and out-of-the-world fairytale villages and towns all deliver an appeal that is nowhere to be found. Its exclusive beauty has lured philosophers and thinkers from all around the world to come for pondering and inspiration.
But from where do you begin exploring? Check out some of the best city breaks in Switzerland that will leave you awe-inspired:
Bern: A Charming Capital Embraced by The Aare River
Where to start if not with the capital? However, Bern is far from being just an ordinary capital. Looped by the Aare River, it bursts with beauty and history at every turn. It is the birthplace of Toblerone chocolate and Einstein’s relativity theory. Being set in the heart of Switzerland makes it the getaway to the Swiss Alps and other excursions throughout Switzerland.
Bern is famous for its cobbled old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates way back to the 12th century. The old town wows tourists with its medieval pathways, limestone 500-year-old buildings, 16th-century ornate fountains, and unrivalled charm. It is similar to strolling through the pages of a history book or teleporting to the past. Bern’s Old Town is home to Europe’s longest 6 km shopping arcades.
It also has the Zytglogge, a medieval astrological clock tower dating way back to the 13th century, decorated with automatons and features unique moving puppets. Interested in a dazzling view of the Old Town from the top? A view from the Bern Münster Cathedral, the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, will keep you in awe.
Art and culture fanatics will appreciate the variety of galleries and museums situated in Bern. The Zentrum Paul Klee, situated on the outskirts of the city, gathers the most comprehensive collection of the surrealist painter’s work under one roof. There is also the Bern Historical Museum, the Alpine Museum of Switzerland, the Bern Museum of Art, and Einstein’s House and Museum, the physics mastermind who lived in Bern for some time. Bern is the seat of the Swiss government, so your cultural tour won’t be complete without a visit to the elegant Renaissance-style Bundeshaus (The Parliament Building).
Below the Parliament Building and on the Aare River banks lies the famous Marzili. It is an outdoor bathing area where you can drift along in the fast currents of the Aare. A visit to the family-friendly Bear Park, a natural habitat of bears, is a must-do. You can also picnic in the Rosengarten overlooking the Aare and the Old Town or in any of the botanical gardens on the river’s banks. To top it all off, the majestic Alps in the background on the horizon form the classic Swiss signature, which makes Bern one of the best cities to visit in Switzerland.
Grindelwald: An Excursion to the Top of the World
A village in the canton of Berne, Grindelwald is known for its panoramic scenery, where the blue skies embrace the spectacular mountain trails and green landscapes. Various outdoor activities can be done in all seasons. This includes the exhilarating First Glider Eagle Flight, which is an incredible 800-metre-long zipline experience where you glide over the mountains. The First Glider is perfect for families with children for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The most iconic activity that attracts tourists to Grindelwald is the Jungfraujoch trip. Also widely known as the “Top of Europe”, Jungfraujoch is where Europe’s highest railway station is located, perched at 3,454 metres up. Standing there above the highest peaks of the Swiss Alps (Jungfrau and Mönch) gives you the feeling that you’re at the top of the world. Say Hello to the adrenaline rush.
Lauterbrunnen: The Valley of 72 Waterfalls
Known for its breathtaking, heaven-on-earth scenery, Lauterbrunnen is among the most popular spots in the canton of Bern, buzzing with tourists all year round.
It is car-free, giving you a precious chance to traverse through the dreamy villages, hiking trails, ski slopes, and the burbling waterfalls gushing from the greenery-surrounded cliffs and into the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Visit the Trümmelbach Falls, Europe’s largest subterranean waterfalls, as they rush and roar in the interior of the mountain. Take a cable car ride from Stechelberg village to the summit of the Schilthorn mountain (2,970m) for fantastic views over the captivating Bernese Alps. Soak in the serenity!
Interlaken: Something for the World’s Thrill Seekers and Outdoor Enthusiasts
As the name indicates, Interlaken is sandwiched between two lakes, Thun and Brienz, in the canton of Bern. It is a small town cuddled on all sides by the majestic Alpine peaks of Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch.
Because of the various outdoor activities it has, Interlaken is considered a dreamland for adventure-seekers. And thanks to its location, Interlaken offers water activities crowned with mountain scenery as a plus. You can admire the mesmerising mountain views from below by cruising around the lakes aboard a paddle steamer or by kayaking. Mountain activities include paragliding, bungee jumping, abseiling, hiking, and climbing. The Panoramaweg hiking trail offers breathtaking views with a low-impact two-hour walk. So don’t forget to pack your trekking poles. In winter, the snow-covered glaciers would be perfect for skiing and snowboarding. Interlaken is also another getaway to the Jungfraujoch and Mount Schilthorn.
Not only the outdoor activities that make Interlaken special; the town itself is a charm, with over 35 acres of open space at Höhematte, surrounded by hotels, cafes, and verdant meadows dressed with vibrant wildflowers that make everyone fall for its beauty and peacefulness. It is you, the greenery, and the horizon. Lose yourself in nature’s wonders!
Zurich: The City Where Nature is Woven into Urban Life
If luxury were a city, it would be Zurich. Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city and economic leader, located on the northern tip of Lake Zurich and surrounded by magnificent views of the Alps. It cradles an old town with medieval architecture, over 50 museums and 100 galleries, bustling shopping districts, luxury hotels, and a vibrant nightlife, with the Limmat River pumping through the heart of Zürich. No doubt Zurich is considered in the top 3 most liveable cities in the world. As Switzerland’s central hub of transportation, Zurich is considered a getaway to so many other cities due to excellent connectivity.
Start your Zurich tour by meandering your way through the maze of cobblestone streets of the old town on the banks of River Limmat. It is like walking through a fairytale with its historic buildings and narrow alleyways. Your sightseeing tour won’t be complete without the most breathtaking view of Zurich from Karlsturm Tower in the Grossmünster Church. You can’t miss a cruise on Lake Zurich with the view of the Alps or a walk along its picturesque promenades and parks, or a coffee at a waterfront restaurant.
If you’re a shopaholic, head to Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most popular shopping streets worldwide. It includes luxury brands, the trendiest fashion picks, traditional local Swiss boutiques, and the Swiss classic: the Luxemburgerli macarons at Confiserie Sprüngli.
Seeking a bit of art, culture, and historical enrichment? Zurich boasts an incredible line-up of cultural treasures. Make a trip to Kunsthaus, Switzerland’s largest art museum. It houses the largest art collections in Switzerland, featuring art from the 13th century till the present day. The Swiss National Museum features a unique collection of the cultural history of Switzerland.
Let your palate party in the Lindt Chocolate Factory, where you’ll get insights into the world of cocoa and the history of chocolate making. Indulge in some treats, and don’t forget to take some souvenirs back home.
Got your energy boost from chocolates? Stroll up Lindenhof Hill to the city’s highest point. The view of the river flowing between the city’s buildings makes it a glorious place to enjoy the tranquil sunset. Soak up Switzerland’s beauty through the eyes of Zurich, where nature meets culture and luxury.
Lugano: More Mediterranean Than Swiss
Lugano city sits on the shores of the glacial Lake Lugano, in the Sothern part of Switzerland, bordering Italy. The city is distinguished by its Italian Mediterranean aura running deep in its cuisine, history, culture and even climate.
Lake Lugano can be enjoyed in countless ways, from swimming to paddle boating to cruises, where you can watch the elegant villas on the banks of the lake and the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Take the funicular cable cars up to the sun-kissed summit of Monte San Salvatore for some scenic views from atop.
You can roam through the Old Town’s Lugano Cathedral, a Romanesque-style church that dates back to the 9th century. The Old Town’s alleys are lined with souvenir shops, Italian cafes, medieval buildings, and restaurants. Don’t miss their gelatos!!
Geneva: The Cradle of Chocolate and Watchmaking
You don’t need directions to walk through Geneva. You simply get lured by the heavenly chocolate aromas from the chocolatiers around every corner, unravelling the wonders of the city as you wander around. Geneva, a luxurious gem snuggled between a pristine lake and the classic Alps, is considered one of the most delightful cities in Europe, if not the world. With its pleasant and mild climate year-round, Geneva comes second as the most populous city in Switzerland after Zurich. It is where the old and new worlds entwine, with the historical medieval ruins coexisting harmoniously with the modern, sleek multistory buildings.
Apart from the stunning views of the snow-capped Alps in the skyline, the city boasts an abundance of natural beauty. L’horloge fleurie, the large flower clock, measures 5 metres in diameter and is composed of more than 6,000 live flowers that grow and bloom at different times, thus making it change colours periodically. It is Geneva’s world-renowned symbol of the watch industry.
Interestingly, Lake Geneva is the largest water body in Switzerland. You can indulge in the lake’s watersports or simply leisurely walk around it. There is the Jet d’Eau, in the middle of the lake, which is a 140-metre-high water fountain that was originally built as a pressure release system for a hydraulic plant, but it has become a significant attraction in Geneva! The lake’s banks are home to plenty of Swiss villages, which are hidden gems that you should explore if you have time. Go to the top of Mont Salève in a cable car for stunning vistas of the city, Lake Geneva, and the chain of Alps, the Jura and the Montblanc.
Geneva’s old town invites guests to stroll. Or shall we say Geneva’s heart? You’ll get lost among the soul-pleasing side streets, historical buildings, lively cafes, and elegant boutiques that shape the streetscape in the old town. Don’t miss Rue Verdaine, perhaps one of the most charming streets in the old town, and the Place du Bourg-de-Four Square, the oldest place in Geneva.
Geneva is internationally known as a hub of diplomacy, home to many United Nations (UN) agencies and other international organisations like the International Red Cross. No wonder it is Switzerland’s “City of Peace”. Beyond its seemingly flawless surface, Geneva has a wealth of culture, history and art. Pay a visit to the Opera House and Grand Théâtre, which both stage international acts. Experience the cosmopolitan way of life in Geneva!
Lausanne: A City for the Sports Fanatics and the Competitive Spirits
Lausanne, the fourth-largest city in Switzerland, is home to the International Olympic Committee since 1914 and over 50 other international sports associations, earning it the “Olympic City” title. Its famous Olympic Museum is the world’s largest information centre about the Olympic games and events, with over 10,000 artefacts.
After the Olympic tour, you cannot miss visiting Lausanne’s Gothic-style Cathedral in the car-free old town, regarded as Switzerland’s most impressive piece of early Gothic architecture. Then, you can explore the trendier side of Lausanne in the chic lakeside neighbourhoods of Flon and Ouchy, which boasts beautiful parks, the Savabelin Tower, elegant hotels, galleries, exhibition spaces and museums. Watersports fans will also enjoy the Ouchy lakeside promenade.
Culture lovers won’t feel short-changed in Lausanne and will find food for their eyes and soul, including the collection of marginal art “Art Brut” in Beaulieu Castle, the Fondation de l’Hermitage, and the “Musée de l’Elysée” photo museum.
Lausanne’s picturesque setting makes it one of the most beautiful in Switzerland, with Lake Geneva at its feet, the Jura Mountains to the northwest and vineyard-covered slopes draping its sides, which intrigues cyclists for a tour. Get ready to sweat, play, and seize the adventure on your action-packed journey!
Lucerne: A City Where Nostalgia, Modernity and Nature Converge
Lucerne is an irresistibility-charming city in central Switzerland sitting on the edge of the scenic Lake Lucerne. It is embedded within an astonishing mountainous panorama, Mount Pilatus and Mount Rigi, forming a gorgeous backdrop in all directions.
One of the must-visit places in Lucerne is the quaint wooden Chapel Bridge that dates back to the 14th century. It is an ancient bridge with ceiling beams adorned with paintings, forming the centrepiece of Lucerne’s townscape.
Explore Lucerne’s half-timbered buildings, statues, fountains, and shops in the old town where visitors can buy souvenirs. The Culture and Convention Centre (KKL), designed by French architect Jean Nouvel is a must-visit architectural landmark, as it is a futuristic blend of tradition and modernity.
Lucerne is also an ideal starting point for many excursions to Switzerland’s highlights. These include day trips to Mount Pilatus, where you ascend the mountain in a cable car and then luge down in the most exhilarating ride you may ever encounter! This ride is a must! Excursions to reach the summits of Mount Stanserhorn and the Bürgenstock, with its jaw-dropping resort, are not to be missed. Prepare yourself to be awed by the miraculous views of the panorama. Take a boat trip to the neighbouring idyllic small villages sitting at the foot of the mountains and prepare yourself to be captivated by their splendour.
You cannot help being bedazzled by Lucerne’s natural beauty, picture-perfect old town buildings, cobbled streets, sunny plazas, beautiful lakeside settings, candy-coloured houses, and iconic bridges. All contribute to making this city a delight to explore on foot. Inhale Lucerne’s blend of nostalgia, modernity, and tranquillity!
In conclusion, whether you are looking for adventure, culture, relaxation, scenery, or gourmet, Switzerland caters to everyone’s taste. It has some of the best city breaks that will leave you mesmerised and feeling like you are literally in heaven.
The best time to visit Switzerland is truly anytime. Its timeless beauty is perfect for both summer and winter vacations, where you can indulge in snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, or cruising on its lakes or rivers. Whether you plan to visit cities from the east or the north, Switzerland’s solid transportation infrastructure makes it easy to sculpt the perfect trip.
The good news is that you don’t have to think too hard about which cities to visit in Switzerland because, whatever you decide, all the cities listed above, and even the ones that aren’t, are all magnificent in their own right. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and make Switzerland your next travel destination!