Of all the beautiful countries to experience in Europe, Switzerland ought to be at the top of your bucket list. I have yet to visit a European country more jaw-droppingly beautiful than Switzerland, and I’ve been to quite a few! From turquoise blue alpine lakes to jagged snow capped mountain peaks, Switzerland is lights out when it comes to natural scenery. It also offers a rich and steeped culture that includes delicious cuisine and unique languages.
Sitting landlocked in the heart of the Alps, Switzerland is a special country in the middle of Europe – it is outside of the EU, uses a different currency, and follows a different set of legal & financial regulatory codes – making it a unique destination to explore on a European vacation. I think one of the easiest ways to travel within Switzerland on a one week itinerary is via train. The SBB National Train service is punctual, modern and clean but you could also rent a car to enjoy a scenic road trip in the Alps.
Now I understand that there is a steep price tag associated with this expensive destination. I can’t understate this enough – Switzerland is a very pricey place to travel. The food, the transportation, the activities. All of it comes with a high cost. Many visitors can only afford to spend 5 or 7 days in Switzerland, which is exactly why I have crafted this one week itinerary. A short but packed trip is the best way to get the most bang for your buck. If you can make the finances work, you will not be disappointed by the truly stunning mountain scenery and charming Swiss villages that characterize Switzerland.
Day 1: Zürich
If you plan on arriving via flight, Zürich is a likely place to start your one week traveling in Switzerland – this is the major hub for Swiss Air and one of the busiest airports in the country. The airport is located about 20 minutes from the city center via car, but it is easily connected with train. Zürich is traditionally seen as a financial and trading capital, and a lot of people skip right over it when visiting Switzerland. I actually think it is a quite a lovely city, and has enough to offer for 24 hour stop. One day is enough time to see Zürich’s highlights and catch up on any jetlag you have from the journey.
The cultural heart of Zürich is located mostly within walking distance of the Old Town area. Start the morning with an espresso from ViCAFE Münsterhof and then walk north towards Lindenhof Park via Strehlgasse. You can take the path along the Limmat River for great views of the iconic two pillared Grossmünster Cathedral and the Fraumünster Church. As you make your way your way up the hill, you’ll meander along cobblestone streets lined with nice boutiques and past charming corner flower shops. Don’t miss a view of the St Peter’s clock tower. At the top, you’ll have a nice city view over the Limmat River.
Come back down via Augustinerstrasse, a colorful street with historic building facades and a number of Swiss flags. It makes for a nice Instagram picture. Then stroll south on Bahnhofstrasse to window shop on one of the city’s most high-end shopping streets. Brands like Rolex, Dior and Louis Vuitton all have outposts along this stretch. Because there is so much wealth in Zürich (and Switzerland more generally), you can expect to see people on the streets wearing expensive luxury clothes, and the high-end designer shops actually have people in them.
Bahnhofstrasse ends at Lake Zürich with a beautiful view of the distant Alps. On a sunny day, the view is spectacular! I would definitely recommend a walk southward along the lake’s eastern shore path. I think walking along Lake Zürich was my highlight from the city, because it is just lovely. You’ll find plenty of local people enjoying a run along the path, or having a quick lunch with friends before returning to work. It makes you feel like you are part of the city. You’ll want to make your way past the beautiful Art Deco Opera House towards the Seefeld Neighborhood. This neighborhood has a cool, Millennial vibe to it with stylish coffee shops like Monocle and quirky home decor boutiques like Frohsinn.
Where to Eat and Stay in Zürich
With only one night in Zürich to enjoy the amazing culinary scene, I would definitely recommend making a reservation at Kronenhalle. This historic Swiss restaurant has hosted celebrities, artists, and politicians from around the world. The blazer-doned staff will attend to you in a classic fine-dining restaurant fashion, giving you this old-fashioned sense of luxury. It doesn’t hurt that the food is amazing. I recommend ordering the house special, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, which is sliced beef in a creamy garlic mushroom sauce. It is wonderfully flavorful and so satisfying!
I loved our stay at the Storchen Boutique Hotel on the river. The location is great, the rooms are stylish + modern, and there is a Michelin star restaurant inside, aka the breakfast room for hotel guests. Some of the rooms have a nice view over the river, while others have a view of the clock tower. Either way, you’ll rest easy at the Storchen and the helpful staff will give you lots of great recommendations for exploring Zürich.
Day 2: Lucerne
Take a ride on one of the famously timely and scenic Swiss trains as you make your way south on this one week Switzerland itinerary. The nearby city of Lucerne is only an hour away from Zürich by train, with daily service throughout the day from the main train station. The vibe of Lucerne is completely different from Zürich, providing a nice contrast. It is a lovely city stop with lots of great history and culture to enjoy.
I genuinely loved my time in Lucerne because it is a scenic and quaint city that feels perfectly Swiss to me. The most iconic attraction in Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge, a 1300’s wooden bridge with painted interior panels telling the history and lore of Switzerland. Along the riverfront, you’ll also enjoy views of the Jesuit Church and city theater, both which have beautiful architecture. The surrounding old town has been well-preserved and it is nice to window-shop while taking in the nice architecture.
Another highlight in Lucerne was a walk along the Museggmauer, the old city walls dating back to the 14th century. Wrapping around the northern edge of Lucerne, the walls are actually open to visitors, and you can climb the watch towers for nice views of the city and lake Lucerne. There are lots of great Instagram spots up here, especially on a sunny day.
If you aren’t too tired from today’s walking, consider heading up Mount Pilatus for some beautiful sunset views. In summer, you can access the mountain via ferry and cogwheel train. The journey is scenic and fun, especially the super steep funicular train. Once at the top, you can hike on a number of the trails or simply ride the gondolas around. If you stay until after the sun goes down, no worries, there is a bus you can ride back to the city of Lucerne.
Where to Eat and Stay in Lucerne
We had a very nice (and moderately priced) lunch at Restaurant Mill’Feuille along the river in Old Town Lucerne. For sunset drinks, it is hard to beat the rooftop terrace at the Montana Hotel. If there was one meal on this itinerary that I would recommend making a reservation for, it would be at Zur Werkstatt in Lucerne. We were lucky enough to sneak in as the last table that night without a reservation, but normally they are booked days ahead of time. Our dinner at Zur Werkstatt was a fun, creative and DELICIOUS meal during our 2 week trip through the Alps which we still remember fondly!
We stayed at the stylish Hotel Lucerne, which is part of the Autograph Collection. One thing that made this stay so memorable was our room. We got a free upgrade to the penthouse suite, which had a massive patio overlooking Lucerne! The front desk attendant loved my fruit blazer (that you see in the picture below) and he said my cheerful demeanor inspired him to give us the upgrade. I’m guessing it had more to do with our low-season travels but whatever I’ll take it. My husband always teases me for my crazy colorful clothes, but sometimes it pays off!
Day 3 and 4: Jungfrau Region
The Jungfrau region is one of the prettiest in all of the Alps, home to gorgeous alpine lakes, majestic mountains, and high-altitude waterfalls. Interlakken, which literally means in between two lakes, is a centrally located stop for exploring central Switzerland for a few days on your one week itinerary. I would say the city itself leaves a lot to be desired, but it makes for a great jumping off point for exploring the Jungfrau region. There are some tasty restaurants in the town, as well as a nice riverfront, but not much else.
There are SO many ways to get amazing views in the Jungfrau region. One of the most famous things to do is visit a high mountain peak, either Jungfraujoch (the top of Europe) or Schilthorn Observation Deck (James Bond fame). The views from both are of course spectacular, but the high price point means that you’ll probably want to select just one of them. We opted to do the Schilthorn peak. Unfortunately it was completely overcast and cloudy the day we went, so we decided not to ride up because there would be almost no opportunity to view anything.
On our way back from Schilthorn station to Interlakken, we stopped in the charming small town of Lauterbrunnen. Increasingly famous on Instagram, Lauterbrunnen is a quintessential Swiss town with one defining feature — a waterfall shooting off a rock face into a sheer free fall. It’s very beautiful and you can see it from the town center. We also stopped at Trummelbach Falls, a tucked away waterfall gorge that is well worth an hour-long visit. You can get very close to the waterfalls, and the thunderous noise inside the gorge is cool to experience.
Prefer to see the Alps from the air? Interlakken is THE place to go paragliding in Switzerland, and there are almost daily departures for people looking to paraglide. My parents did this back in 2016 and had a fantastic experience! You might also consider the Two Lakes Bridge for a great perspective on Interlakken’s unique alpine position. Eat and Travel with Us has a great write up on the First Cliff Walk, which is another great option for pristine Alp viewing that starts in Grindelwald.
If you plan to visit Interlakken in the warmer seasons, taking a day cruise on Lake Brienz or Lake Thun is an awesome way to enjoy the beautiful natural scenery. Lake Thun is one of the largest lakes in Switzerland with charming Swiss villages dotting the shores of the lake. Taking a boat trip on Lake Thun is one of the most popular things to do in Interlaken, especially if you go at sunset. The views are absolutely stunning and you can enjoy cheese fondue and wine onboard as you cruise around.
Looking for a more active experience on the water? Lake Brienz, which is smaller, has plenty of options for tourists, including stand up paddle boarding, kayaking or if you’re really brave, a swimming area! Lake Brienz has slightly better views and offers a more peaceful experience. Like something out of a painting, the shores of the lake are lined with waterfalls and tree-clad hillsides.
Where to Eat and Stay in Jungfrau Region
You can’t come to Switzerland without at least one chocolate related stop. The country is famous for it’s chocolate creations! In central Interlakken, you can take chocolate making classes at Funky Chocolate Club. The small cafe inside also sells elaborate hot chocolate creations and a delightful assortment of candies to take home. My favorite Swiss chocolate purveyor is Läderach, and their shop in Interlakken has a giant chocolate waterfall inside.
There are a number of good hotel options in this area, so it really just comes down to how much you want to spend. The family-run Hotel Alpina right in the heart Mürren’s car-free resort offers a unique location and spectacular views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains. For a five-star experience with amazing views, check out the Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof in Grindelwald. You’ll feel like a celebrity with the panoramic views, delicious restaurant and luxury spa inside.
Day 5 and 6: Zermatt
The train from Interlaken to Zermatt is a little over 2 hours (allow extra time if you are staying in Grindelwald), but the last 30 minutes is a steady climb up to the higher altitudes on the cog rail train. It is slow but the scenery after Visp is great. Splurge for a panorama car ticket for optimal mountain viewing. Regardless, you’ll arrive into the main train station in Zermatt right in the heart of the charming downtown.
Of all the places I have visited in Switzerland so far, Zermatt is probably my favorite. It is such a highlight, and definitely a must visit on a one week vacation in Switzerland! The iconic Matterhorn mountain looms tall over the car-free town, and you can see it from almost everywhere. You can learn all about the history of the Matterhorn, including its dramatic and tragic first ascent, at the Matterhorn Museum in the middle of town. The Matterhorn is one of the things that initially drew fame to Zermatt, but its year round appeal for tourists keeps people coming back.
Although Zermatt is a beautiful and quaint town in its own right, the mountains are the real draw of visiting. Surrounded by 38 peaks, some of which are 4,000 meters or more, Zermatt feels completely nestled into and surrounded by the Alps. The scenery is genuinely magical and beauty lies around every turn. I was really blown away! You can enjoy world class skiing in the winter and excellent alpine hiking in the summer – there is something for everyone in every season to enjoy! My family visited on a ski vacation in February, so you’ll notice that all of my photos feature winter scenery.
You can get up the mountains in a few different ways. The Gornergrat train ride from the middle of town is probably the easiest, and it has absolutely beautiful views the entire way up. The Matterhorn Cablecar is the highest cable car in Europe and you’ll get access to year-round skiing at the top (assuming the snow is good enough). It will drop you off at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, which offers a 360 degree viewing platform offering incredible views over 14 glaciers.
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Where to Eat and Stay in Zermatt
In a small town like Zermatt, you might not expect to find an abundance of good restaurants; but you’ll quickly come to realize that is an inaccurate assumption. There are some delightful culinary outposts in Zermatt! Although many of the restaurants are focused on Swiss cuisine, there are plenty of other options and lots of variety to choose from. I summarize all of my favorite Zermatt restaurants in a separate post. Click the button below to read more!
I’ve only got one hotel recommendation in Zermatt because it is just that awesome – Cervo. This 5-star boutique hotel is well worth the splurge, I promise. I genuinely loved our stay here so much! Whether it is the on-site spa, apres ski cocktail patio, hot tub with Matterhorn views, 3 amazing restaurants, ski-in/ski-out location or private access to an elevator down into town, Cervo has thought about their guests in every aspect of the hotel’s offering. The stylish and eclectic design is curious and inspired, giving you a sense of low-key luxury in a subtle and masterful way. The rooms are spacious, and many offer Matterhorn views from your private deck. Plus, their dedication to sustainability is admirable.
Day 7: Return to Zürich
And just like that, your week long vacation in Switzerland comes to an end. There are daily trains from Zermatt back to Zürich and the journey takes a little less than 4 hours. If you opted to skip Zürich on your arrival, or you’ve got a little bit of extra time, consider spending an extra night in Zürich. You could also add on a night in Bern, since the train back from Zermatt goes straight through Switzerland’s capital city.
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