The Ultimate Week in Switzerland, From Fondue To Cliff Walks and Spectacular Train Rides
More than half of the land in Switzerland is made up of the Alps. While the country is a hub for skiers and hikers, you don’t need to do either to enjoy its iconic mountains, thanks to an impressive train system that includes the highest railway station in Europe. The rails will give you the chance to experience everything Switzerland is celebrated for — from views of shimmering lakes backed by soaring peaks to fondue meals in cozy village restaurants.
In fact, Switzerland is so easy to navigate that in one week you can have a more varied vacation experience than you can find in most places — enjoying thrilling adventures one day and the sublime flavor of the world’s finest chocolate on another. Start by picking up an eight-day Swiss Travel Pass that covers all your trains, cable cars, and buses, and strap in for the ultimate tour of Switzerland in one week.
Day one — Chocolate immersion
Start your week in Switzerland in Zurich, the country’s biggest city — with 420,000 inhabitants. If you’ve worked up an appetite on your flight, pay a visit to the sweetest place of all, Lindt’s Home of Chocolate on the banks of Lake Zurich. Reserve your tickets online — 15 Swiss francs ($16.75) for adults — to tour the factory and learn about the history of chocolate in Europe, following the process from cocoa bean to melt-in-your-mouth treat. Don’t leave without a visit to the biggest chocolate shop in the world, where you can design your very own chocolate bar and pick up some supplies to keep you going for the week.
Located in downton on Zurich’s elegant Bahnhofstrasse, not far from haute labels like Louis Vuitton and Cartier, lies another classic for chocolate lovers: Sprüngli, which opened in Zurich 185 years ago and is now part of Lindt. Pop in to try the legendary truffles and Luxemburgerli mini-macaroons that have been on the Sprüngli menu since the 1950s. Or pay a visit to the buzzing cafe on weekends and try one of three delicious brunch etagères. For a complete chocolate trifecta, hit up the Läderach store inside Zurich’s main train station before your departure. Pick up a chunk of the dark-chocolate-and-almond sheet, and try not to eat it all on your first train ride.
Day two — Eagle flight
Catch the train to Interlaken, a small resort town of just 5,000 tucked in between two sparkling emerald lakes at the foot of three mighty mountains: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. This unique position makes it the perfect launchpad point for those in search of an adrenaline rush.
First on the agenda is a trip up toward Grindelwald, a picture-perfect village that looks straight out of a fairytale, albeit a rather posh one. The soaring mountains are so close they feel like they’re falling in on you. Fuel up with a coffee in one of the terraced cafes before continuing higher on the First Cable Car. The best option is to purchase an adventure package; ascending the cable car an unlimited number of times and doing the four downhill activities described below for 99 francs ($110) for adults.
Now is your chance to know what it might feel like to soar through the sky like a bird. Strap in at the First Glider, which is like a zip line but you’re prone like a bird and you have the wings of a giant flying eagle above you to enhance the thrill of gliding through the fresh mountain air at a cool 52 mph.
Keep your heart racing up on the First Flyer, an epic flying contraption that pulls you nearly a half-mile over the alpine landscape. Before heading back down to the valley, take in the view from the First Cliff Walk. Jutting 150 feet out into the open landscape, this viewpoint is not one for the faint-hearted — but rewards you with an epic valley and mountain panorama.
Now, make your way back down the mountain through the meadows and farmhouses on board Grindelwald’s funkiest transport: a Trotti bike. Grab one of these funky scooters and cruise through the landscape at your own leisure. End the day on a high note, relive your youth in a Mountain Cart, which is summer’s answer to the sled. Get low and slide your way the final mile downhill to Grindelwald’s town center.
Day three — A visit to the Top of Europe
Today you’ll be venturing to the “Top of Europe” via the highest train station in Europe. This journey to the summit of the Jungfraujoch is one of Switzerland’s most popular excursions thanks to its promise of year-round snow and views of jagged, glacier-topped Alpine peaks.
The Eiger Express cable car, which completed a $560 million remodel in 2020, whizzes you silently over the valley in only 30 minutes. For the last leg, you’ll ride on the very same train that put Jungfrau on the map when it opened to visitors back in 1912.
From a height of 11,332 feet, the feeling of infinite expanse from the top is hard to comprehend. The view from the Sphinx Observation Deck, perched atop an impossibly narrow mountain peak, opens up to reveal the Aletsch Glacier, as well as the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains. Take your time exploring the ice palace and learning more about the history of the site before making your way back down via the town of Lauterbrunnen, for the best views over the valley that inspired JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
The train will take you back to Interlaken. Once you’re back to valley level, rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board at Hightide Kayak School and spend the afternoon paddling on the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz while marveling at the summits you just visited.
Day four — Fondue and a castle
You could make your way to Montreux with the Swiss pass you’ve already purchased, or you could splurge on a first-class seat reservation aboard the GoldenPass Panoramic train. That reservation, costing about $60, will put you in the train’s front seats, which offer unobstructed views of the valley through the glass cabin.
Switzerland’s cuisine is rich in cheese, but once you try these dairy confections you’ll understand why even locals find them so irresistible. A good place to learn more is with a stop halfway along your train journey to pay a visit to Le Chalet restaurant in Château-d’Oex. This homey fromagerie makes seriously good fondue, and you can witness local cheese production while enjoying lunch. Over the wood fire, a cheese maker transforms up to 50 gallons of organic milk into hard cheese before your very eyes.
Beyond its unforgettable cheese, Château-d’Oex is also known for its hot-air balloons. You can take a ride over the valley at any time of year — although the nearly $370 price tag may be a bit much. If you happen to visit at the end of January, the view is almost better from the ground — as the sky is brought to life with balloons for International Hot Air Balloon Week.
In the late afternoon, continue onto Montreux, the photogenic lakeside town that seduced many famous artists. A stroll along the promenade will take you past Freddie Mercury’s statue honoring the Queen frontman who spent many years living and recording here. You’ll also pass the casino that inspired Deep Purple’s classic “Smoke on the Water” and the terraced vineyards for which Prince declared his love in the song “Lavaux.” Savor the view over the Alps and the historic steamboats that cruise across Lake Geneva linking France and Switzerland.
After a 45-minute walk, you’ll arrive at the well-preserved Chillon Castle, which has stood on its rocky island since the 12th century. The location of this medieval fortress against a steeply-sided mountain and over the shimmering lake, is already compelling. If you have time, it’s worth the 13.50 francs ($15) for a look inside; you’ll marvel at the medieval prison, dining halls, and guard towers.
Day 5 — All eyes on the Matterhorn
Leave Montreux behind as you travel via train to Zermatt. While Zermatt’s charming wooden chalets, car-free streets, and buzzing mountaineer vibe are captivating, the real hero here is the Matterhorn. The most photographed mountain in the world looms over the town, popping out from behind hotels and chalets as the clouds shift. But the best place to get to know this iconic pyramid is from up high.
Ride the Gornergrat train to 10,134 feet above sea level and arrive in a brave new world of white mountainscapes. From here, you can spot 38 four-thousand-meter peaks. Check out the views on a summit hike if the weather permits, then head inside the Zoom experience center and try out the brand-new VR experience that will take you parasailing over the Matterhorn.
Day 6 — The incomparable Glacier Express
No trip to Switzerland is complete without a ride on the Glacier Express, the world’s most scenic train. The train ticket is included in the Swiss Rail Pass, but you will need to pay for a seat reservation — which can run about $40.
The eight-hour journey from Zermatt to St. Moritz chugs by at a leisurely pace. That’s probably because with those panoramic windows, plush comfortable seats, on-board restaurant, and informative audio guides, most people don’t want this train ride to end. Even so, endless views of the most beautiful landscape Switzerland has to offer make the trip pass more quickly than you realize. Have your camera ready for the snowy curves through the Oberalp Pass, the deep valleys in the Rhine Gorge, and the towering viaducts. For the best photos, pop your camera (or phone) out the sliding windows at the end of the carriages. Just be sure your camera strap is over your neck or have a solid grip on your phone.
Day 7 — Unwind in St. Moritz
On your final day, take in the glitz of St. Moritz, Switzerland’s most luxurious resort town. Rent a bike at Lake Bike and straddle the shores of the region’s many sparkling alpine lakes. (Mountain bikes are 30 francs, or $33.50, for an all-day rental, while e-bikes are 50 francs, or $56; you can also opt for less expensive one- or two-hour rentals). In summer, you might even be tempted to have a dip in Lake Staz, where the temperature reaches 68 degrees on sunny days.
The healing powers of St. Moritz’s carbonated and iron-rich mineral waters have been documented as early as the 1500s — drawing health-seekers ever since. So spend the afternoon soaking your tired muscles and reflect on a perfect week in Switzerland at Ovaverva pool and spa complex. (A four-hour visit to the communal spa is 30 francs, or $33.50). The jacuzzi beds in the outdoor pool are the best place to take in the mountain views while soaking in the therapeutic waters and contemplating how well you savored Switzerland in one week.