27 Jun 4 Days in the Swiss Alps
Preface & Video:
Visiting the Swiss Alps is an existential crisis. You walk slowly, always looking over your shoulder to find yet another breathtaking view, asking yourself if you’ll ever go anywhere more beautiful and whether it’s even worth trying. The air and the water are so fresh, you expect everything will feel dirty when you return home. Even the busiest towns are quiet and peaceful. Riding on trains through towering snow-capped mountains and past the purest turquoise lakes, you wonder how this beauty has been preserved – like a complete oasis – while the rest of the world is being desecrated by pollution and disaster. While you swirl pieces of bread in a pot of simmering cheese fondue and look out over the glowing blue peaks, you contemplate why you were put on earth if not to be doing exactly this. What is the meaning of it all? Just to work and save enough money to return and experience the Swiss way of life again, if only for a little while?
We think so. We drank the crystal-clear Swiss Kool-Aid for four days, felt better than ever, and we want more. This is hands down the most spectacular place we’ve ever visited and we believe absolutely everyone would enjoy it. If you’re an outdoor adventurer or thrill-seeker it is probably already high on your bucket list and you should bump it up to the number one spot. If you’re more of a sip-an-Aperol-Spritz-and-soak-in-the-views kind of a person, there’s no better setting for a little A&R (appreciation and relaxation). We met another American woman on the train who returns every year and referred to herself as a Swissophile. A tad obnoxious, but we get it.
Basically, get thee to the Swiss Alps, sooner rather than later. Our friend Jenna who traveled with us had visited the same towns seven years ago, and while we felt like nothing was overly crowded she was shocked at how many more tourists we encountered this time around. So it won’t be an offbeat European destination for much longer.
When: We went the second weekend in June. The weather was glorious, in the mid 70’s, and everything was just opening for the season.
Overnights: 1 night in Mürren, 2 nights in Lauterbrunnen, 1 night in Basel
Cost: Approximately $750 per person not including airfare, with the dollar and franc valued almost exactly the same
We flew into Zurich and visited the train office in the station connected to the airport, where we were encouraged to buy either a half-fare pass or a 4-day all-inclusive pass. Aidan and I purchased half-fare passes and our two friends got 4-day passes so we could calculate the difference in savings.
Half-fare passes: Cost 120 F per person and get you half off all public transportation tickets, including cable cars. What we spent on transportation in 4 days including the half-fare pass: 259 F. Without the pass we would have spent 278 F, so we saved 20 bucks apiece.
4-Day passes: Cost 270 F per person and include all transportation for 96 hours, so our friends saved 8 bucks apiece.
Transportation is steep in Switzerland no doubt, but the trains are a huge, wonderful part of the experience. It all seemingly comes out in the wash which package you choose if you are just using the basic trains and cable cars. However, if you plan to take the much pricier cable cars up to Schilthorn, Jungfrau or both while you’re in the region, which we did not do, getting one of these passes is definitely worth it and the 4-day pass would be the best deal if it matches the length of your trip. Note: If you’re 25 or younger you can get a youth pass which is an even better deal at 230 F.
We bought all of our train tickets at the stations as we needed them and never had any issue getting seats. Switzerland is nirvana for Type-A types like me; the trains are perfectly prompt so be sure to arrive at train stations with time to purchase tickets and board!
Friday: Train From Zurich through Lucerne, Interlaken, and Lauterbrunnen to Mürren
This day requires about three and a half hours of travel from the airport. While all the train transfers may seem daunting, it’s actually really nice because you can break it up and spend time in Lucerne, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, or all of the above if you so choose! Just make sure you don’t miss the last train to Lauterbrunnen which is around 7 pm.
In the Zurich airport train station, we stocked up on beers and snacks (s/o to Kurt’s mom for the homemade Chex mix) and took the train through Lucerne to Interlaken. This is the slightly longer, scenic route versus taking the train out around the alps through Bern and was highly recommended to us by other bloggers and the train station staff. The views were unreal and the perfect welcome to Switzerland.
We did a quick transfer in Lucerne, then got off the train for a couple of hours at Interlaken Ost (East) which is closer to Lake Brienz. You can also continue to the Interlaken West stop to kayak or paddleboard on the smaller, slightly warmer Lake Thun.
After wandering around Interlaken for a stretch of the legs, we boarded our next train to Lauterbrunnen. We would be spending the following two nights in Lauterbrunnen so we continued straight up to Mürren on the cable car. Mürren is the most adorable town stacked up in the mountains. We wish we could have spent a second night up there.
We checked in at Hotel Regina, the best value hotel option we found at 130 F per night. Regina boasts sweet staff, a lovely dining room and hang-out area, and this patio:
You do have to share single hall bathrooms with neighboring rooms, but everything was super clean and the showers are very private stalls in one co-ed shower room.
We celebrated our arrival with drinks and fondue just steps up the hill at Hotel Alpenruh.
We stuffed ourselves on that divine bread and cheese for 23 F per person on their patio overlooking the mountains, then had a nightcap back at the hotel and prepared ourselves as best we could for the thrilling day ahead.
Saturday: Via Ferrata Mürren 😱
We hit the fabulous breakfast spread included in our stay at Hotel Regina and sneakily made sandwiches of fresh bread, sliced meats and gourmet swiss cheeses to take with us for the day. They let us leave our bags all day in a locked luggage room, and we headed out sharing a daypack stuffed with sandwiches, snacks, waters and layers. Just up the road, we met our Swiss Alpine Guide Tim at the Schilthorn gondola station, where he briefed us on the Via Ferrata and got us suited up in our equipment. He was able to bring hiking boots in the proper sizes for our two friends who didn’t have any packed, we just had to ask for this in advance.
Side Note: Aidan, Jenna and Kurt all wanted to partake in an extreme outdoor activity on our trip because, when in Rome. I – the most risk-averse person in the world – was willing to suck it up and do something frightening. We looked into paragliding, hang-gliding and skydiving, Aidan comparing prices and me Googling the likelihood of dying for each activity. Jenna had been canyoning on her last trip to Switzerland and loved it, but I wasn’t stoked on the idea of jumping between steep cliffs into a rapidly flowing waterfall and being sucked and thrown between rocks all the way down. We found the Via Ferrata Mürren, having never heard of Via Ferrata before, and while I knew scaling the side of a cliff was not going to be a piece of cake, I felt comforted doing something where I was strapped in the whole time. Plus, all the reviews I read said it was “easy”, even those written by people who were older or not particularly athletic.
A rundown of what the Via Ferrata Mürren actually entails: it took us a full five hours with a fifteen-minute lunch break in the middle, and probably would have taken more like four if not for me, the scaredy cat with the shortest legs! About half of the trek is regular hiking/walking and climbing on metal rungs drilled into the rocks or down steep metal ladders.
The portion where you are scaling completely exposed cliffside across these rungs takes about 30 minutes, which allows those people enjoying the experience to soak in the views from 800 feet and even take selfies if they’re extra brave, like these fools:
Then, there are two wire bridges you cross strapped in, and the tour ends with a Nepal bridge, the grand finale that scared the shit out of all of us:
For Aidan and our friends, who all love an adrenaline rush, this bridge was the only part of the tour they found legitimately frightening. I, on the other hand, spent the whole five hours in an extended panic attack. Flirting with anyone for five hours is exhausting, let alone flirting with death. I doubt I would have made it through if it hadn’t been for our amazing guide Tim, a very skilled and super chill Kiwi. There were two couples doing the trek without a guide, one of which had no Via Ferrata experience, and we would probably advise against that on your first go. Even if you aren’t scared, it’s worth paying 125 F per person for a guide who will tell you what’s ahead, make sure you’re clipping into the cables correctly and give you tips on your form (as well as fun facts about how high up you are at any given moment, if you’re into that sort of thing).
All this to say, I encourage anyone with a mid to high adrenaline appreciation to take on this Via Ferrata and am glad I did it now that it is behind me, but you’d have to pay me generously to do it again.
The excursion ended in Gimmelwald, where we walked just a few feet to a much-needed beer garden and microbrewery attached to the hotel Pension Gimmelwald. They also own the connected Honesty Shop, a kitschy little souvenir shop that works on the honor system!
After a snack and a pint we took the gondola back to Mürren and collected our bags from Hotel Regina. We intended to go up to the Schilthorn but the clouds had rolled in fast and furious. There is actually a monitor with a live stream in the Schilthorn cable car station that shows you how the weather is looking at the top before you spend 60 F on the ride, and those screens were giving us nothing but pure fog, so we headed down to Lauterbrunnen and checked in at the Valley Hostel.
The Valley Hostel is the best value spot in Lauterbrunnen for anyone on a budget, and we lucked out with a picture-perfect view of the waterfall from our room:
The private rooms we rented were simple and clean, there was a big shared kitchen downstairs, a bathroom and shower room on each floor, and a nice little patio off of each room.
We showered the Via Ferrata away, stretched our aching bods and popped across the street for dinner at Hotel Oberland. If it’s a nice day you should visit or call ahead to reserve a table on the front patio here. It was fully booked when we arrived and they luckily had one table for us inside. We inhaled rosti with bratwurst, schnitzel with mushroom cream sauce and the best homemade apple strudel ever made.
Sunday (Worst Day Weather-Wise): Explore Lauterbrunnen & Trummelbach Falls
After a nice, simple brekkie at Flavours, we walked up the hill opposite the famous waterfall to snap engagement photos for Jenna and Kurt (congrats, you two)! Talk about a serious backdrop for a Save the Date:
Then, it was time to day-drink some beer boots at Hotel Schützen, taking Jenna seven years back in time to when she did the very same in the very same spot. This place owns a single two-liter beer boot (what happened to the other casualties, we do not know) and we conquered that, plus two single-liter boots for good measure.
Feeling goodie, we strolled 40 minutes from town to Trummelbach Falls, stopping to check out base jumpers landing and lots of waterfalls along the way. Highlight: there is a gourmet meat and cheese vending machine along this walk. Yes. There are also a couple of covered fire pits if you wanted to bring food and cook out.
The Trummelbach Falls are a true wonder and a great thing to do on your worst day weather-wise since you’re in a cave and getting spritzed anyway. Definitely bring a jacket, it gets chilly in there!
On the way back we stopped for dinner at Restaurant Weidstübli. Make a reservation here the day before, for the outdoor area if you can. This is a cool little spot just out of town, covered by a red and white striped tent like a Circus of Cheap Chow. We dug into the mac and cheese with ham, potato, and applesauce, which was massive and made for great breakfast in the morning.
Monday: Hike from Kleine Scheidegg to Alpiglen, Brandegg or Grindelwald
We said goodbye to Jenna and Kurt who headed off to Italy! A real bummer because they’re great craic, but we got to hike and ride the train all day, our two favorite things. We brought our hiking packs on this trip so we could check out of the Valley Hostel and bring our loot with us as we headed north.
We took the train from Lauterbrunnen to Eiger Gletchenn intending to hike the Eiger trail. The trail was still closed for the season, so we hiked back down to the Kleine Scheidegg train station which was a beautiful accident, around 30 minutes of these views:
From Kleine Scheidegg we hiked approximately six miles parallel the train tracks down a paved path to the Alpiglen station. In this direction the hike is entirely downhill with unreal views, wildflowers, and the happiest Swiss cows chilling out everywhere.
Upon arriving at Alpiglen we found out we needed cash to board the train, and we had intentionally spent every last franc already, so we continued down to the next station – Brandegg – where the sign said we could purchase a ticket on the train. They didn’t take credit cards on the train but were perfectly nice and let us get off at the first Grindelwald stop to buy a ticket. We continued on the main Grindelwald stop where we grabbed lunch before training to Spiez, a town of gorgeous lake homes we are determined to stay in next time, then from Spiez to Basel for our final night.
Basel was such a pleasant surprise. We only booked this night to make our afternoon Ryanair flight a breeze. With its strong French vibes (the Basel airport is actually technically in France!) it was a lovely, romantic way to end an epic Swiss adventure. We Airbnb-ed this very Scandinavian apartment run by the YMCA hostel in Basel, an eight-minute walk from the train station and a free 20-minute bus ride from the airport because they provided us city-sponsored cards for 24 hours of free public transportation! The actual hostel is really beautiful and people were hanging out in the common room working and playing pool in the evening.
After checking in, we walked through the Marktplatz to the breathtaking City Hall, which now ties the Jubilee Synagogue in Prague for my favorite building in Europe. We strolled along the Rhine where people were hanging out on steps beside the water drinking freely – and skillfully because we didn’t see a single one fall in. The main downtown stretch of the river is lined with beautiful statues, fountains and ivy-covered apartments that had us considering moving to Basel if we only got paid in francs… We grabbed kebabs on the street for dinner because we were feeling extremely vulnerable in the wallets on this final day. In the morning we wandered some more, through the incredible free botanical gardens and the university, ate massive pastries because vacation isn’t over ‘til it’s over, and took the bus to the airport with our free passes.
What a trip. See you ASAP, Switzy.