Things to Do in Swiss Alps
Riding Europe‘s highest open-air cog railway is a popular pastime for visitors to Zermatt and the dramatic Gornergrat railway serves up jaw-dropping views as it winds its way to the summit of Gornergrat Mountain.
The 45-minute journey might be impressive, but the real highlight is the destination and the Gornergrat Bahn boasts the title of Switzerland’s second-highest train station (after Jungfrau), located at a dizzying 3,089 meters. On arrival, make your way to the dedicated viewing platform, where the views span 29 of Switzerland’s highest peaks, including the mighty Matterhorn and one of the longest glaciers in the Alps.
A long winding valley cupped between the snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps and following the Inn River, the 80-km-long Engadine (or Engadin) Valley is one of the country's most desirable holiday destinations. With a sunny climate, beautiful lakes and a stunning alpine backdrop, this makes Engadine one of Europe’s most highly populated valleys, including star-studded destinations like St Moritz. The Rhaetian Railway and the Bernina Express both run into the Upper Engadine valley, where the highest mountains of the Bernina Range play host to ski and snowboarding resorts, mighty glaciers and a range of year-round outdoor activities. The valley also hosts a number of annual festivals and events – look out for skiing competitions, horse racing and polo on the frozen St Moritz lake, windsurfing marathons and the day parade of traditional horse-drawn sleigh rides that takes place each winter.
The Jungfraujoch is a saddle between the mountains Monch and Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps. It is known as the Top of Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From here you look down upon the ice wilderness of swirling glaciers and across at 13,000 ft (4,000 m) high mountain turrets. On top of the Jungfrau is a global atmospheric monitoring station.
Visiting the Jungfraujoch's eternal ice and snow is a once in a lifetime experience as the annual two million visitors can attest. Riding the narrow cog railway to 11,300 ft (3,454 m) is a must. On the journey you pass by the foot of the notorious Eiger North Wall, through tunnels, past polar dog kennels, finally arriving at the heart of the glaciers. The longest glacier in Europe, the Great Aletsch Glacier - 14 miles (23km) - begins at Jungfraujoch, and you can see as far as France and Germany.
Permanent ice and snow at the top of the world and a revolving gondola lift to take you to the top of the mountain, chairlifts over deep crevasses and exploring a glacier cave... If any of these sound amazing - and they do - Mount Titlis is the place for you. There are also restaurants and breathtaking views for those of us who prefer to be amazed in comfort while sitting on top of the world at 10,600 ft (3,238m).
Titlis is Central Switzerland's highest mountain and the views are amazing. However, be prepared: it is a bit like a high altitude theme park. The ice cave has music and flashing neon lights and you can pose for a photo with a giant Toblerone. Still, the surrounding peaks like shark fins, the glacier and the sweeping views to pastures, cliffs and waterfalls should make you forget any crass commercialism.
Tucked between the alpine villages of Brienz and Bönigen, the pristine Lake Brienz makes a prime photo candidate with its backdrop of forested mountainsides and deep, turquoise waters. Stretching 14 kilometers across and a whopping 250 meters deep, the lake, fed by the river Aar, makes an uneasy swimming spot, but a great location for boat trips and paddle steamer sojourns.
There’s more to this lakeside haven than great picture spots though – hike from the lake on one of the area’s 500 kilometers of walking trails, explore the traditional villages littering the lakeside or get a bird’s eye view of the lake by catching the old steam train from Brienz up the nearby Brienzer Rothhorn mountain. Most spectacular are the Giessbach Falls on the south shore, 500 meters of plummeting waterfalls reachable via the country’s oldest funicular railway from Giessbach village.
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.
More Things to Do in Swiss Alps
Interlaken’s nearest mountain, sandwiched between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, Harder Kulm is the easiest way to get a taste of the Bernese Alps without having to don your hikers. An eight-minute ride on the funicular railway – a modern version of the carriages that have traversed the 1,322-meter summit for the past 100 years - will land you at the top, affording staggering views over the neighboring mountains on the breathtaking ascent.
The dramatic vistas might be the mountain’s biggest selling point – best viewed from the garden terrace of the mountaintop castle-cum-restaurant or by gawping through the glass floor of the vertigo-inducing Two Lakes Bridge – but there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained. Spot ibex in the Alpine Wildlife Park, let the kids loose in the playground, enjoy the easy 1.5-hour circular Theme Trail or stick around until dusk when regular folklore evenings take over the mountaintop.
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.
Known as “the mountain of mountains,” Matterhorn is one of the Swiss Alps’ most famous peaks. Its rocky triangular apex reaches some 14,000 feet high into the natural skyline and on a clear sunny day, it is recognizable from miles away.
Matterhorn has four steep faces that attract adventurers from across the globe. Whether it’s mountaineering, skiing or hiking, this iconic wonder has become one of Switzerland’s premiere outdoor destinations.
Locals in Zermatt warmly welcome travelers—whether they’re looking to explore the rugged landscape or relax in a quiet community tucked amid some of the country’s most incredible Alpine scenery. And while venturing into the hillside of the great Matterhorn is certainly a highlight on any visit to Zermatt, travelers agree that the less strenuous trip to the mountain climbers’ cemetery, which pays homage to adventurers who lost their lives on the mountain, is a sobering—if memorable—stop, too.
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.
The Aare Gorge 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.
Often called the Town of Roses, Rapperswil’s beauty comes from more than just its 15,000 rose plants. Medieval alleyways, towering old structures, scenic wood bridges and picturesque chapels tucked into rolling hillsides make this quaint destination truly worth a visit. Beautiful gardens, a 13th-century castle and an old-world monastery lend Rapperswil its classic charm, while the unique and colorful collections showcased at Circus Museum, Knie’s Kinderzoo and the Polish Museum offer a nod to Rapperswil’s historic roots.
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.
First is a summit at roughly 2,200 meters above sea level near Grindelwald and Interlaken in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region. It’s most well known for being a popular hiking and skiing area, as well as for having a stunning alpine panorama surrounding it. One of the best views can be enjoyed around the idyllic Bachalpsee. The little mountain lake is enclosed by flowering alpine meadows and reflects the majestic peak of the snow-capped Schreckhorn in the blue waters.
During winter, First is part of the huge Jungfrau Ski Region and transforms into a winter sport paradise with several slopes connecting to and from the peak. In summer, a network of trails offer great views of some of Switzerland’s most famous mountains: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. At the gondola station, the First Mountain Restaurant feeds hungry hikers, climbers and skiers with hearty meals.
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