Switzerland, a landlocked country located in Central Europe, is fondly known all over the world as a major producer of good chocolates and nice watches. With its temperate climate and amazing views, such as the Swiss Alps, rolling hills, and lakes, it makes the perfect setting for one’s dream vacation in the highlands!
Although it is often regarded as an expensive travel destination, many tourists still go to Switzerland, and it is not surprising why. It is one of the safest countries in Europe and it is beautiful any time of the year, not to mention that Swiss people have admirable values regarding time. If you’re considering Switzerland for your next vacation, here are some fun and interesting activities that might just convince you to push through those plans and make them a reality!
1. Stroll through the Old Town in Zurich
Zurich is the center of Switzerland’s banking and finance but its old charm never faded despite its modern-day successes. Its Old Town, also known as Altstadt, stays picturesque with its 19th-century buildings and cobbled paths, as well as the quaint cafes and shops dotted along the area. Some of the attractions you will find in Zurich’s Old Town are the Lindenhof, a hill that was once a location of a Roman fort, and the Haus Zum Rech, an 800-year-old house hosting the city archives. There’s also the Haus Zum Napt, another traditional house but boasting a Regency and Renaissance style. For a nice stroll on a fine day, go to Neumarkt and check out the Shoemakers’ Guild House!
2. Feast on truffles, bonbons and macarons
No visit to Zurich is ever complete without a food trip! Taste the truffles, bonbons, and macarons in the downtown, particularly at Sprungli House, which is an established confectioner’s cafe. Satisfying the sweet tooth cravings of locals and tourists since 1856, the cafe’s specialty is macarons, which they call Luxemburgerli. For quick bites, head to the retail shop on the lower level, but if you would like to stay and indulge in the proudly Swiss desserts they make, go upstairs to the classy cafe-salon.
3. Shop for the world’s best watches in Geneva
If you have a big budget to spend, you might as well reserve some for watch shopping in Geneva. The city is home to the best watchmakers in the world, including Rolex, Breguet, and Patek Philippe. Head over to Geneva’s main shopping street, the Rue du Rhône, and choose from an array of timepieces ranging from the most classy to the most unique ones. In any case, watch museums in Geneva are also worth a visit. There’s Patek Philippe Museum for instance, which features Swiss watchmaking history from the 16th century onwards. Another interesting museum is Vacheron Constantin’s, which has a display of tools used in watchmaking.
4. Indulge yourself in chocolate
After you’ve seen the best watches in Geneva, it’s time explore and learn about the Swiss chocolate-making industry. In the 1930s, chocolatiers created a unique Geneva chocolate called Pavés. These are little cubes of chocolate sprinkled with cocoa powder, but what makes it more appealing to the taste buds is when it melts in the mouth. Some of the most renowned boutique chocolate-makers in the city are Teuscher, La Maison du Cacao, Zogg and Chocolaterie des Bergues. Meanwhile, for chocolate-making tours in Geneva, there’s Stettler, Auer and Chocolaterie du Rhone, which all offer a glimpse of their factories.
5. Cruise at the Rhine River in Basel
Basel, a city in Switzerland divided by a river, is one of the country’s most underrated tourist destinations. On a warm day, locals enjoy the sun by going to the riverbanks of the Rhine, soaking up the weather by taking a stroll along the three-kilometer (1.9-mile) promenade. During summer, they even take a dip. However, swimming in the Rhine is not recommended for beginners. As an alternative, you can cross the river by riding a small ferry boat known as a Father. You may also check out the picturesque bridges over the river, which are great vantage points and photo stops!
6. Meet flamingos, monkeys and snow leopards
Basel Zoo, hailed as one of the 15 best zoos in the world by Forbes Traveler, is the city’s most-visited paid tourist attraction. Approximately 1.8 million visitors come here each year to appreciate the wildlife species living right in the heart of a big city. There are elephants and monkeys performing adorable tricks, as well as the rarest breeds like snow leopards and Indian rhinoceros. Other things you should look forward to when visiting Basel Zoo are the flamingos, cheetahs, and hippopotamuses.
7. Visit Lausanne’s lakefront district of Ouchy
Nestled on the shore of Lake Geneva in Lausanne, Ouchy offers a respite from the hurry-scurry of Switzerland’s everyday life. It has awesome views of the lake and the mountains, serving as a picture-perfect backdrop for a weekday stroll or a sailing adventure. It is also surrounded by Lausanne’s most extravagant hotels, like the Beau Rivage and Royal Savoy. On Sundays, the promenade becomes more colorful because of pop-up markets and musical performances. Nevertheless, it is a must-visit if you want to lounge and go people-watching!
8. Take a peek at the Musee Olympique
If you’re visiting Ouchy, there’s a chance you might pass by Musee Olympique. It is a worthy stop because of its permanent and temporary exhibits with more than 10,000 artifacts, which are considered the largest Olympics’ archive in the world. Its permanent exhibition has three themes spanning one floor each, namely the Olympic World, the Olympic Games, and the Olympic Spirit. It even has a 100-meter (328-foot) track where you can run and see how you would fare compared to the popular Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt!
9. Catch a glimpse of Einstein’s former residence
Ever wondered what it was like to live in the house of the world’s most famous scientist? Visit Einsteinhaus in Bern, Switzerland, and experience it for yourself! Located specifically at Kramgasse No. 49, Albert Einstein’s former residence is now a museum hosting furniture and decor from the 1900s, as well as the Nobel Prize winner’s biography and work. On the house’s second floor is the actual flat that was occupied by Einstein with his wife, Mileva, and son, Hans Albert. Meanwhile, a larger exhibition relating to Albert Einstein’s life and work are displayed at the Bern Historical Museum.
10. Hike up a mountain in Bern
Located just outside the city proper, Gurten is a popular destination for hiking enthusiasts. It has a park where you can take a stroll and enjoy the views of both the city and the alps. Hiking paths are everywhere, dotted by cows feeding on the grass. Meanwhile, locals flock here to have a barbecue or play ball under the sun! If you love attending music festivals, visit Bern in the middle of July when they host the annual Gurtenfestival. If you are not into hiking, you can take the Gurtenbahn instead, a train that can bring you to the hilltop without a fuss.
11. See a modern science museum at Winterthur
Science geek or not, Technorama in Winterthur is worth a visit for travelers of all ages. It features interactive exhibits which allows guests to play around — such a fun way to learn something new! What makes it more appealing to international guests is that Technorama provides English translations for the instructions in using the provided materials for experiments. If you want to watch a science show or presentation, check out the schedule on their website. Bringing your own food is allowed, but you may only consume it at the picnic area.
12. Visit Europe’s largest waterfall
Rhine Falls, also known as Rheinfall, is considered to be Europe’s largest waterfall. Adventure-seekers and nature-lovers come here to see the cascading waters up close, either from viewing platforms or by riding a boat to the middle of the falls. There are no fish in this body of water, except for sparse eels that can make their way up into the water. For those who are interested in some festivities, on August 1st every year there is a firework show that you can watch amidst the grandiose beauty of the falls in celebration of a national holiday (Swiss National Day) in Switzerland.
13. Marvel at Picasso’s paintings
To art lovers and fans of the famed Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, put Lucerne on the priority list of your Swiss itinerary! Here you will find Sammlung Rosengart, which features 180 of Picasso’s paintings from his later years, housed in a beautiful neoclassical building. Included in his works on display are the “Woman with Straw Hat on a Floral Background, Marie-Thérèse” (1938) and “Woman with Dog Playing” (1953). These Picasso art pieces are part of a Classic Modernist Period collection owned by the art dealer Siegfried Rosengart and now displayed in the museum, which also includes works by Paul Klee, Cézanne, Monet and Matisse.
14. Enjoy the views from Mount Pilatus
From Lucerne, you can go on an easy day trip to Mount Pilatus. Located 2,312 meters (7,585 feet) above sea level, it overlooks Central Switzerland and is composed of several summits. Visitors usually take a gondola ride and an aerial cableway to reach the peak of Mount Pilatus. At the summit, you can grab a meal while enjoying the views of alpine lakes and peaks from a terrace. If you are joining a group tour, chances are you will hear interesting stories about the origin of the mountain’s name. A local legend says it was named after Pontius Pilate because he was buried there, while others say it is simply derived from the word “pileatus” which means “cloud-topped.”
15. Check out one of the oldest libraries in the world
Are you a traveling bookworm? Feed your interest in books by going to the Abbey Library of Saint Gall in Gallen, Switzerland. It belongs to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which survived a huge fire in 937. Now, it is where the oldest library collection of Switzerland is kept, composed of 2,100 manuscripts from the 8th to the 15th century. There are also incunabula, books, pamphlets, broadsides which were printed before 1501. Take note, the items housed in Abbey Library are available for public use! However, they can only be read in a special reading room.
16. Learn about the local brewery industry
Having a drink or two of the local beer is recommended when visiting Gallen. However, if you want a more interesting thing to do, you can go to a modern brewery and learn about this industry instead! Schutzengarten, located on St. Jakob-Strasse, is a beer bottle museum that features approximately 2,000 historic beer bottles in its gallery. Here, you will discover the local beer culture and different ways of brewing beer, as well as beer recipes and lexicon. Of course, beer tastings are also available for your curious taste buds!
17. Ride a water taxi along Lake Lugano
Spanning a total of 48.7 square kilometers (18.8 square miles), Lake Lugano is located between the southern portion of Switzerland and the northern part of Italy. It is a glacial lake, named after the city of Lugano in Switzerland. One of the best ways to explore Lake Lugano is by water taxi. Several companies offer such services, which bring guests around the lake, giving them plenty of opportunities to marvel at the surrounding mountains or to simply relax. Additionally, if you wish to bathe in the lake, you may do so at any of the bathing establishments at the shorefront.
18. Explore the trails of Lugano
Hiking enthusiasts have a lot of destination options in Switzerland, including Monte Brè in Lugano. Located at the east of the lakeside city, its peak offers a wonderful view of the bay of Lugano, as well as the Pennine Alps and Bernese Alps. There are various trails at Monte Brè, each offering a unique hiking experience for visitors. For more detailed information, secure a trail map from the local tourist information desk. Kids and elders who cannot trek may ride the funicular instead. It runs from Lugano all the way to the top of mountain.
19. See a 12th century castle in Thun
Built in the 12th century, Thun Castle is a well-preserved medieval European castle, which now hosts a museum. Five floors are solely dedicated to exhibits relating to the region’s cultural and historic progress for over 4,000 years. From February to October, the museum is open every day, but for the rest of the year, they only accept visitors on Sundays. If you are also a fan of theatre and music, check out the schedule of concerts, plays, and other performances held in one of the castle’s halls.
20. Rent a bike for free in Thun
Here’s a travel hack for cycling enthusiasts! There’s free bicycle rental in the city of Thun, which you can use for four hours. There is a wide range of bicycles to choose from, including city bikes, children’s bikes and youth bikes. You can go on a leisurely ride along Lake Thun to enjoy the views, leading to the direction of Hünibach, which has a nice biking path. In case you fail to return the bike within four hours, you will be charged one CHF per hour, which is roughly equivalent to one USD.
21. Enjoy a funicular ride in Fribourg
The easiest way to enjoy views in Fribourg is to ride the funicular, a cable railway that connects the lower part and the upper part of the city. Since 1899, it has been providing a transportation option to locals and a sightseeing experience for visitors. As you ascend, enjoy looking at Fribourg’s Old Town, which is comprised of well-preserved Gothic-style houses, as well as monuments and churches. Another interesting thing about Funiculaire Fribourg: it is powered by the town’s wastewater!
22. Climb up the tower of Fribourg Cathedral
Aside from the views from the funicular, you shouldn’t miss Fribourg’s views from the tower of Fribourg Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. It was built in 1238, but its construction was only completed during the 1430s. The western tower, which has a total of 13 bells, is open to visitors from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, and on Sundays from 2 pm to 5 pm. Other things to note about Fribourg Cathedral are its Gothic-style exterior and interiors, as well as its location on a rocky outcrop above the Sarine River.
23. Go on a winter skiing and snowboarding adventure
Visiting Switzerland during winter? Don’t miss the old city of Chur, where you can enjoy a lot of winter activities, particularly at a small mountain called Brambrüesch. Located 2,200 meters (7,217 feet) above sea level, it is easily reachable by ropeway from the city proper. It has a snowboard park and ski resorts where you can rent equipment and have a whole day of fun. There are also winter trails, snowshoe trails, and a skiing area for kids. It has nice views of the Rhine Valley and Calanda, making it an ideal destination even just for sightseeing!
24. Play outdoor games at the most popular park in Chur
Another winter attraction in Chur is the Quaderwiese, an artificial ice rink located at the heart of the city. Illuminated by romantic-looking lights, it is often visited by couples but it is also ideal for families with kids. Adults can freely skate their heart out, while kids can use a penguin skating support. Meanwhile, if you who are interested in playing a game of ice hockey, you may do so in a special area designated by the Quaderwiese’s management. There’s even good music to complete the mood at the park!
25. Enjoy an authentic Fondue Neuchateloise
Foodies, don’t ever leave Neuchatel without enjoying an authentic cheese fondue. Fondue Neuchateloise is a Swiss specialty, which consists of molten cheese often paired with bread or fruits like apples and pears. If you would like to take home a taste of Switzerland, you can also buy your own fondue set and create your own cheese fondue by using ingredients like shredded Gruyère cheese, Emmentaler cheese, garlic, white wine, cornstarch and nutmeg.
26. Be amazed by a natural rock cirque in Neuchatel
Creux du Van, a natural amphitheater made of rocks, is a product of water and ice erosion. Spanning 1,400 meters (4,593 feet) wide, it is home to various animal species, like mountain goats, deers and birds of prey. You can go to the summit by trekking. Some of the most notable trails are the “Sentier des Quatorze Contours”, or the path of the 14 bends, which starts in Noiraigue, and the “Sentier du Single”, which starts from La Ferme Robert. Tip: make sure to check the weather before you go to Creux du Van as some of the trails are closed depending on the weather or the season.
27. Sip some wine in Sion
At the heart of Valais in Switzerland, there is Sion — a town filled with vineyards, even in the hills and on land next to the airport. Visitors can go on a wine-tasting tour, see actual cellars, and meet the people behind the most successful wineries. Fendant, a kind of white wine, is the specialty of Valais. However, if you don’t have much time to explore, you can go to one-stop wine tasting shops instead, like Provins Valais and Le Verre à Pied.
28. Experience rafting in Rhone
Longing for some water fun? Sion is an ideal base for water activities since it is one of the Swiss towns located along the Rhone River. Even children and beginners can experience white-water rafting on a descent from Sion, passing through the breathtaking scenery of the riverside with glimpses of the city’s castles. Rafting tours usually include quick lessons in paddling to make the experience easier for participants.
29. Go on a bar crawl
Experience the true Swiss nightlife by going on a bar crawl in Zurich. You may join a tour, which requires a certain fee for the guide, welcome drinks, shots, and club entry. Meanwhile, you may also go on a do-it-yourself bar crawl adventure and pay as you go. In any case, you should take note of some of the most popular bars in Zurich: El Lokal, Raygrodski, and Wohnzimmer. To complete your bar crawl experience, sit back and have a shot of Hugo, Aperol Spritz or Lillet Vive!
30. Learn about the humanitarian work of the International Red Cross
Switzerland, in particular the city of Geneva, is home to the International Red Cross. You can learn about this organization by visiting the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, which has an exhibit of photographs and other valuable displays related to their causes. There is an entrance fee of 15 CHF (approximately 15.30 USD), but discounts are given to children and the elderly. It is worthy of a visit, whether for kids who need to appreciate the value of humanitarian work or for adults who might just get inspired to volunteer for Red Cross chapters in their homeland.