Things to Do in Swiss Alps
Dating back to 1898, Switzerland’s Gornergrat Railway (Gornergrat Bahn) continues today as Europe’s highest open-air railway. Its train whisks sightseers and skiers from the resort town of Zermatt to the mountain’s 10,135-foot (3,089-meter) station, while providing views of Alpine hamlets, colossal glaciers, and the iconic Matterhorn.
The Jungfrau, a sky-high saddle in the Swiss Alps and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers jaw-dropping views of the Bernese Oberland’s massive glaciers and snowy peaks. Travel by narrow cog railway to Jungfraujoch and stand on “the Top of Europe” as you gaze out at the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in Europe, and far, far beyond.
Soaring over the Bernina Pass and climbing to a dizzying 7,392 feet (2,253 meters) above sea level, the famous Bernina Express is one of Europe’s most beautiful railway routes. Running for 75 miles (122 kilometers) from Chur in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy, it’s the only railway that connects the North and South Alps, and offers dramatic mountain views.
Maienfeld is the picturesque town, in which the best-selling Heidi story by Johanna Spyri takes place. The famous novel tells of the life and adventures of a cheerful young girl growing up in the alps in her grandfather’s, the Alm-Uncle’s, care. The town of Maienfeld, which can be found in the canton of Graubünden in eastern Switzerland, embodies this image of a romantic and nature-oriented Switzerland and transports visitors back in time. Experience an emotional journey to the Swiss mountain world of the 19th century and visit the Heidi Village and Trail detailed in Spyri’s novels. The venue makes history come alive and displays everything from the goat barn, to Heidi’s house as well as a museum dedicated to the author and shows nothing but pure dedication to the story that has inspired children around the world.
Heidi made the little town famous, but Maienfeld would have probably done just fine without her too. The village has become well known for producing the Maienfelder Beerliwein, a fruity red wine, in the vineyards surrounding the village. The excellent quality of the wine is based not only on the favorable climate, warm winds and a lot of sun, but also on the quality conscious work of the vintners. In the midst of these wineyards lies Salenegg Castle, a feudal mansion dating back to the year 950. The big estate has been producing wine since 1068, making it the oldest winery in all of Europe.
Perched on a rocky precipice 11,716 feet (3,571 meters) above sea level, the Sphinx Observatory is a working lab with a large telescope. The landmark sits on Jungfraujoch peak, (known as the Top of Europe), and offers stunning views of the Bernese Alps and beyond from its observation deck, one of the highest in Switzerland.
Lake Brienz (Brienzersee) is one of the two lakes that flank the popular resort town of Interlaken. The village of Brienz, which sits on the opposite side of the lake (and from which the lake takes its name), is a picture-perfect Swiss spot made up of traditional wooden chalets with the snow-capped Alps rising behind them.
Reaching 10,626 feet (3,239 meters) above sea level, Mt. Titlis is Central Switzerland’s highest peak and probably its finest vantage point. The mountain has a cutting-edge transportation system—including, most famously a revolving cable car that turns 360 degrees during the ride to the top station at 9,908 feet (3,020 meters). Those lucky enough to be inside the car are graced with stunning panoramic views of Alpine peaks, sheer rock faces, and an icy crevasse-cracked glacier.
High above the Swiss town of Interlaken stands Harder Kulm, a viewpoint with panoramic views of the mountains and valleys of the Berner Oberland region. Visitors can hike to the spot from town, or take a funicular railway. Once at the top, you can enjoy the views, have a refreshment, and enjoy a variety of attractions.
Locals know that Grimsel Pass has a sacred place in Swiss history, as traders once rode donkeys along the dangerous paths of Grimsel to transport local cheese to far flung regions of the country. This painstakingly beautiful wild mountain road connects Goms in Valais to the Hasli Valley in the Bernese Oberland. Travelers who venture along Grimsel Pass will bear witness to rugged granite cliffs, towering snow-capped peaks, crystal clear reservoirs and plenty of lush green foliage. And while the pass is home to some of the country’s main power producing plants, visitors will find that much of the land still remains untouched.
Travelers can hike the two-hour loop around a man-made lake and absorb the breathtaking wonder of the surrounding beauty or hop aboard the aerial cable car from Handeck to Gerstenegg and take it all in from above. And those who are interested in the powerhouse facilities can register for guided tours that start in Innnerkirchen.
More Things to Do in Swiss Alps
It might not be a household name, but with a panorama spanning some of Europe's most iconic peaks—including Jungfrau, the Eiger, and even the distant Mont Blanc—the Schilthorn summit offers one of Switzerland's most spectacular mountain views. The 9,744-foot (2,970-meter) mountain lies in the Bernese Alps and is famous for its revolving mountaintop restaurant, Piz Gloria, which was featured in the 1969 James Bond movieOn Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Bird enthusiasts and nature lovers will enjoy the chance to get up close to birds of prey at Falconeria Locarno. Dressed in medieval-inspired costumes, trained handlers put on shows with majestic eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, marabous, and ibis. Visitors can view the aviaries after the show, and kids can take pony rides.
The Aare Gorge (Aareschlucht) is a popular tourist attraction near the town of Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. Created by glacier runoff 10,000 years ago, the limestone gorge is a mile long and ranges from just 3 feet, 3 inches wide to nearly 100 feet wide and different points. The surrounding cliffs are as much as 165 feet high. A walkway through the gorge has been open to the public since 1889 and is accessible from either the east or west side. Most of it consists of wooden planks on a metal frame jutting out from the wall of the gorge, with small sections in a tunnel or along gravel or asphalt paths. The most beautiful parts of the gorge are on closer to the West entrance.
Not far from the gorge are the Reichenbach Falls, possibly best known as the place where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set Sherlock Holmes’ murder.
Nicknamed the “Mountain of Mountains,” the Matterhorn is one of the highest peaks in Europe, reaching a mighty 14,692 feet (4,478 meters). Known for its jagged triangular shape, it’s one of Switzerland’s most famous peaks—not only for its views, but also for its appearance in the logo for Toblerone, the iconic Swiss chocolate brand.
Step inside one of the wooden coaches of the historic cogwheel railway that trundles up to Switzerland’s Schynige Platte, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Then get out on the Alpine plateau, where sweeping views of the Eiger mountain and the Jungfrau countryside await you.
On the shores of Lake Lugano, against a backdrop of the Swiss Alps, the Swiss Miniature Park (Swissminiatur) is the only one of its kind in Switzerland. Take a tour of Switzerland—recreated in 1:125 scale models—to see everything from historic landmarks to alpine vistas, and even a working miniature railway.
Located just north of Grindelwald, the 7,106-foot (2,166-meter) First Mountain is one of the region’s most accessible peaks. Affording spectacular views of the neighboring Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains, it’s a scenic spot for hiking and skiing.
Acting as a microcosm of Swiss rural tradition and history, the Ballenberg Open-Air Museum covers 66 hectares in area and displays a collection of around 100 historic buildings from different regions and different times, all carefully reconstructed in scenic Alpine foothills. The museum was opened in 1978 with just 16 wooden chalets and barns; since then stables, bakeries, mills, ornate half-timbered townhouses, a chapel, and cuckoo-clock-cute chalets have been added to the mix, with many Swiss francs spent relocating these buildings brick by brick. They are located among flower gardens and crop fields to create a convincing 17th-century rural community, where horses and cows – complete with tinkling bells – roam free and costumed characters farm the land, work the waterwheel, weave textiles and make cheese and chocolate. There are exhibitions of clothing, tools and herbal medicines in many of the buildings; a full schedule of craft demonstrations –and even Swiss wrestling – throughout the day; pony-and-trap rides across the park; and beautiful mountain vistas to fall in love with.
Lake Walen is a lake in eastern Switzerland separating the cantons Glarus and St.Gallen. It is part of a region known as Heidiland, named after the famous Heidi story by Johanna Spyri and represents these corresponding values of unspoiled nature, warmth and simplicity. The mountains rise almost vertically on all sides of the lake and nestled on little plateaus and along the shores are several traditional Swiss towns. Below the steep south face of the Churfirsten, the small village of Quinten is a car-free paradise. It can only be reached by boat from Murg or on foot and due to the protected location, excellent grapes, figs and kiwis are grown here.
To the west of Quinten, the mighty Seerenbach Waterfalls gush from a cave system and tumble in three cascades almost 600 meters down the cliffs. The waterfalls are especially impressive in spring, when the melting snow turns them into a torrent. Located high up on a sunny plateau and overlooking the northern shores of Lake Walen is the town of Amden. The village, its adjoining ski slopes as well as the hiking trails are often above the clouds and thus, it’s a popular holiday destination throughout the year. On the other side of the lake, another highlight awaits at Flumserberg, the biggest winter sports area in the region consisting of several villages and a huge network of slopes, trails and cycling paths.
The Furka Pass is a high mountain pass in the Swiss Alps that reaches a high of nearly 2500 meters above sea level. Considered one of the best drives in Europe, it connects the town of Gletsch in Valais with the town of Realp in Uri. The pass may be best known as the site of a memorable car chase scene in the James Bond film, Goldfinger. A drive along the pass starts from Gletsch with a few tight switchbacks before turning into a long path along the rock face of the valley for about six kilometers, providing scenic views of the surrounding area. The road then gets steeper toward the top of the pass and the route down the other side is quite narrow and steep.
The pass also brings visitors within a few hundred meters of the Rhone Glacier, the source of the Rhone River. Stopping at the Hotel Belvedere, just short of the top of the pass, is a good opportunity to walk to the glacier, just two minutes from the hotel. Don’t miss the glacier grotto, an ice chamber that is built anew each year.
Before starting out, visitors may want to check out the short nature hike near Gletsch that provides information about the pre-glacier era. Also in Gletsch is the train station for the Furka steam train to Realp.
Mönch is a mountain peak in the Switzerland’s Bernese Alps that, together with Eiger and Jungfrau, forms one of the most recognizable groups of mountains in the country. Located on the border between Valais and Bern, it is the most climbed of the three peaks. Mönch was first summited in 1857 and today, is thought to be a good starting point for climbing in the area. A one-day climb up Mönch can be a good way to adjust to the altitude and get an introduction to climbing in the area. The normal route follows the southeast ridge, which includes come exposed ridge climbing on snow and gneissic rock. The Nollen route on Mönch’s northwest side is considered more challenging due to the presence of ice.
With its reputation as the mecca of high-fashion shopping, Milan not only offers the hallowed designer-filled streets of the Quad d’Oro and the world’s most beautiful department store at 10 Corso Como but is also conveniently located for sorties into Switzerland to hoover up cut-price bargains at FoxTown Factory Stores.
Switzerland’s most popular discounted outlet mall is found in Mendrisio near the border with Italy. It offers over 160 designer stores including world-renowned names, plus the chance to secure savings of up to 70 percent on recommended retail prices.
With most items selling at factory prices, fashion stores include the niche jeans brand 7 for all Mankind, British high-end store Burberry and favorite Italian designers Versace, Valentino, Prada and Gucci; sleek interior design stores Le Creuset and Villeroy and Boch compete for the homeware market; and in the middle-price range Nike, Adidas, Swatch and Diesel all have outposts here. Several lunch venues are found conveniently on site, including traditional fondues at Chalet Suisse or brioche and pastries at FoxCaffè, and if you’re really determined to spend all your money, there’s even an onsite casino.
Recognized as the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps, Altesch glacier stretches across nearly 50 square miles of protected mountain terrain. While visitors lament its far-flung proximity to any major Swiss city, most agree that the well-kept hiking trails, impressive views and natural beauty make it worth a trip. Active adventurers can explore the glacier on foot, while less intrepid travelers can venture to the top of Aletsch aboard one of the famous cable cars. Uninhibited 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape make for a most memorable journey regardless of how visitors voyage to the top.
Adventure Park Interlaken (Seilpark Interlaken) provides adrenaline-pumping forest adventures in the scenic foothills of the Swiss Alps, with nine different courses of varying difficulty suitable for everyone from young children upwards, although there is a minimum height requirement of 3.3 feet, or one meter. A maze of wooden platforms is connected through the forest by Tarzan lines, rope bridges, ladders and zip lines from ground level up to high among the treetops in unspoiled pine forest.
All equipment is provided and a safety briefing is given on an easy low-level circuit before visitors are let loose in the park; the harnesses lock magnetically as a further safety precaution. All of the rope courses are graded, the gentlest being Grasshopper, which is aimed at young kids and runs five feet (1.5 meters) above the ground for 115 feet (35 meters). Far more demanding and requiring a degree of physical fitness is Eagle, reaching up to heights of 65 feet (20 meters) for 492 feet (150 meters) and packed with strenuous high-rise challenges.
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