Interlaken, nestled between the Thun and Brienz lakes in Switzerland, boasts tantalising views of the Alps, incredible outdoor adventure opportunities and the chance to sample world-class chocolate. But its lesser-known charms will leave just as deep an impression on you, whether you explore St Beatus Caves, tour Oberhofen Castle, or explore its hiking trails and high-altitude stations.
Hit the hiking trails
The easiest, cheapest and arguably most rewarding of things to do in Interlaken is heading out on one of the many hiking trails. Interlaken is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the Alps, including the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, and a plethora of paths allow hikers to choose trails based on length of time and fitness level required. Options range from spots such as Panoramaweg, an easy two-hour circuit, to Pizol’s Five Lake four- to five-hour circuit, which is purportedly one of the best in the region. You can take a moonlit hike or use the help of a cogwheel train such as the one from Wilderswil to get to the kind of altitude where the views will give you the boost you need to keep walking. You can also trek between stations – why not take a downhill hike from Lauterbrunnen station to Stechelberg.
Nothing beats a bird’s-eye view of the enchanting and formidable Swiss Alps, no matter the time of year. Admire the peaks, or the rolling hills dotted with villages as you swiftly make your way down through the sky and onto the landing site (which is often the beautiful field of Interlaken’s Höhematte Park). If a weightless floating sensation is what you have in mind, then paragliding activities can be booked through a variety of companies including Paraglide Interlaken, Swiss Paragliding and Skywing Adventures.
Dive from the sky
Skydiving takes the thrills of paragliding to new levels (and can be done in a range of weather conditions). Board a company van and stare out at the emerald mountainside as the anticipation builds. The van drops you in a preparation area, where you get ready to board a small prop plane. Clutch your seat or tandem guide as the plane makes its way into the sky and the world shrinks away. After screaming through the sky, the whoosh of a parachute accompanies a swirling of vistas as you glide down towards a grassy field. After a slightly turbulent landing (which the guide will direct you through), you will land an ecstatic skydiving veteran in the best place for it – the Swiss Alps. For pricing and options, check out Skydive Switzerland.
Get your fix at the Funky Chocolate Club
For a respite from all that outdoor activity, the Funky Chocolate Club offers a unique chocolate-infused experience. It not only serves hot chocolate, but also chocolate fondue, and customers can even make their own cocoa treat. Run by two young business partners, Tatiana and Michaela, the store opened in 2014 to great acclaim. It’s a must for any chocolate fanatic, or lover of unique experiences. Be sure to check out the chocolate workshop and, in the words of Tatiana and Michaela, “get chocolate-wasted together!”
Explore the St Beatus Caves
Legend has it that Saint Beatus chose this cave as his hermitage after driving a fire-breathing dragon into Lake Thun. It wasn’t a bad choice, as the cave is pretty impressive, with wide halls, gorges and stunning limestone structures, as well as criss-crossed stalactites and stalagmites near the underground waterfalls. As well as flowing inside, the waterfalls pour out of the exterior of the mountain, rushing beneath the traditional house perched at the top, which is lavishly decorated with stone and ivory. A cave museum also awaits, and guided tours are available every 30 minutes.
Visit the highest railway station in Europe, Jungfraujoch
The awe-inspiring summits in the Jungfrau Region are home to the highest railway station in Europe, rising 3,454m (11,332ft) above sea level. The Jungfraujoch train winds around the towering Eiger and Mönch mountains, snaking its way through Eismeer and Eigerwand stations, each with stupendous views of their own. It overlooks dramatic landscapes from viewing platforms on the Aletsch Glacier or the Ice Palace. On a clear day, the station platform is said to have views as far as Italy, Germany and France. The region also holds a music festival in July and early August that features performers from all over the world.
Visit the Oberhofen Castle
A quick boat ride or more scenic Thunersee cruise from Interlaken takes you to Oberhofen Castle on the edge of Lake Thun. Built in the early 13th century, this enchanting lakeside bastion includes both exquisite architecture as well as an exhibition of life in the region from the 16th to 19th centuries. Walk through centuries of history in the Summer Hall, Knight’s Hall, the Neo-Gothic Dining Hall and the Middle Eastern Smoking Salon. It boasts a fantastic tower, a view of the lake, a picturesque English-style garden along the riverbank, an extensive park, a historic museum and a whimsical lakeside turret. The chapel, adorned with 15th-century frescoes, also remains in use for baptisms and weddings. The castles around Interlaken can leave as strong an impression as the mountains.
Go white water rafting on Lütschine River
Want more water-related adrenaline-packed adventures? Tackle the Lütschine River’s class III-IV rapids in the Grindelwald valley – check out one option at Alpin Raft. The company will drive you to the rapids, where you can navigate the frothy white torrents in your raft of choice. End your adventure bobbing in the calm, cool waters of Lake Brienz as you look up at the mountains. All that before an optional quick dip in the water – in case you haven’t experienced it closely enough yet – and return to base camp for a rejuvenating coffee or beer while you check out the professional photos that provide irrefutable evidence of your voyage.
Enjoy the blossoms at the Schynige Platte Alpine Garden
If you need respite from adrenaline overload, relax in the Alpine Gardens, with views of not only the Alps but also of 650 vibrant plant species in their natural habitat. A nature reserve and conservation site, the vivid gardens flourish at 1,967m (6,453ft) above sea level, giving you an unparalleled peek at the mysterious Alpine flora. You enter the garden from the Schynige Platte Railway, after which you can embark on a self-guided circular tour, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours, or request a guided tour. Enjoy the blossoming colours provided by a huge variety of plant communities, the majority of which are blue sesleria, rusty sedge scree, milkwort and the petite, woolly flowers of the edelweiss. For a look at a different kind of garden, check out the Japanese Gardens. A feat of sustainability and scientific research, the gardens flourish along with their plant inhabitants, and luckily for travel enthusiasts, they remain open to the public from May to October.
Get a drink at Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa
Spa Hotel, Hotel
You’ll need some fuel for all that outdoor exploration, so spend an afternoon grabbing a drink and some food at the 150-year-old Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel. It’s hard to miss, conveniently located by the Höhematte Park, where you can watch the paragliders make their graceful landings while sipping a cup of hot cocoa or indulging in a zesty cocktail. La Terrasse offers fine French cuisine, the Brasserie provides Swiss specialties, and La Pastateca, as you might have guessed, is a great choice for pasta. The Victoria Bar also offers cocktails and afternoon tea, whilst Intermezzo bar offers a cigars-and-malts vibe. The hotel itself has great views and if you’re exhausted from all the outdoor activity, hit the spa for the promised “endless relaxation”.