Switzerland vacation ideas
December 3, 2008 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I just decided to take a winter vacation to Switzerland for the week before Christmas with my friend. I have never been to Switzerland (or outside North America for that matter) and I was wondering if anyone had been to Switzerland and had suggestions about what to do/where to go? I am up for anything!

I am flying in and out of Zurich so it would be preferable to go places easily accessible from there. Also, I prefer to be "thrifty" on the trip but I don't want to be too cheap. I love skiing and I am a very good skiier so I definitely want to ski there (which obviously makes the "thrifty" trip difficult)
posted by bucksox to Travel & Transportation around Switzerland (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I love Montreux. http://www.montreux.ch/index_en.html

Montreux Jazz Festival, Freddie Mercury, castles, vineyards, Charlie Chaplin and beautiful Lake Geneva.
posted by Jandasmo at 8:56 PM on December 3, 2008

I've not had the pleasure to ski in Europe so I don't have first hand knowledge to back this up but the US version of this website has been helpful to me.

Enjoy your trip and the fondue.
posted by mmascolino at 8:56 PM on December 3, 2008

My husband and I went to Zermat last February (pictures here). We spent a couple of days doing winter hiking (didn't get a chance to ski, but it has AWESOME skiing), and then took the Glacier Express to St. Moritz. It was a really short trip for a European vacation (I think we had four days in the country) but we got cheap tickets and decided it was an upgrade from the trip we had planned to Tahoe :)

I like Zermatt a lot, but it's definitely a tourist-oriented place. It's at the base of the Matterhorn, and I could not believe the beautiful sun the whole time we were there. We would pick out 3-4 hour hikes that took us up to small towns with a little lodge where you could get a drink and a bite to eat. Doing it again, I'd make sure to bring sunglasses and think about trekking poles or basic crampons for better mobility, but the trails were maintained for hiking.

The train ride was fun, but the full eight-plus hours to St. Moritz was probably too much and too long. I'm kind of rambling, but would be glad to answer any other questions via MeFi mail...

Have a good time! Switzerland is an excellent place to visit. I wish I were going back soon!
posted by handful of rain at 9:11 PM on December 3, 2008

My first trip to Europe was to Switzerland in the late 90s (French-speaking side of Vaud and Valais). My impression was it is generally much cleaner and better run than [most anywhere else]. It's got to be one of the most exspensive places in Europe, food was crazy exspensive, and that was when the Euro was cheap. People seem reserved and a little cranky. Everything is precise and in its place. If your a foodie, I don't know about the German side, but on the French side it is some of the best in the world, in particular cheese, see the blog FX Cuisine.
posted by stbalbach at 9:17 PM on December 3, 2008

Use hostelz.com for finding city accommodation. Hostel are way way more fun unless friend means boy/girl friend. Montreux is near Geneva, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:51 PM on December 3, 2008

I went to Gimmelwald a few years ago with a buddy, probably the coolest spot we went to on a month and half long backpacking trip. The only way to get there was a train from Interlaken, than you have to take a 15min gondola to the town, pop. about 100. From what I understood Gondola was the only way in. They had one hostel there and it got booked up really fast but there's a barn next door that the owner rents out. You have to sleep on hay and blankets but it was actually pretty comfortable, the flies sucked ass and the smell wasn't awesome but it was totally doable. The owner makes everyone breakfast in the morning of homemade cheese, homemade yogurt, and some toast and coffee. The views were just freaking amazing and there are tons of hiking options, seriously just breathtaking views. If you like to fish we rented poles from one of the residents and fished in a stream at the bottom of the valley, didn't catch shit but that was probably b/c we sucked at fishing.
posted by BrnP84 at 11:02 PM on December 3, 2008

Not sure if you'll be nearby, but the Glacier Express looks awesome!
posted by mdonley at 11:25 PM on December 3, 2008

I've only spent a little time in Switzerland - a day each in Geneva and Zurich. I loved it though! It's super clean and safe, and everyone was really friendly to me (though the weather was just gorgeous which helps wherever you are, and I speak a little French and German...). It is expensive as others have said, though probably no worse than London or Paris. Geneva was just beautiful (I loved the buildings with the pilgrim hat roofs), and I really enjoyed the Patek Philippe museum, though that may not be everyone's cup of tea. You could visit the UN too which could be cool. The Fraumunster church in Zurich has lovely stained glass windows by Chagal, and I really really recommend a vegetarian restaurant called Hitl. I'm not a vegetarian, but it was really delicious. And (relatively) inexpensive considering the fancy decor and yah...it's in Switzerland. I basically just spent a day walking around both cities and it was great, and probably (almost) enough time; however, I do like to walk, and that was in Summer. I can't tell you anything about skiing, but I guess it would make sense to make the most of the snow!

I considered moving there at one point, and my French teacher said I *must* visit a place called Sils Maria. She said she thought it was the most beautiful place she'd ever seen. And hey, you might hear some Romansh! Another friend recently spent some time in Wengen, and it was her favourite place of her whole European trip.

My other suggestion would be to wander slightly out of Switzerland and visit Constance (Konstanz) in Germany. It's *right* on the border, and it's basically where all the Germans go for their summer holidays becuase it's so darn pretty - it's right on a lake, and because it's right next to Switzerland it didn't get bombed in WW2, so it's a lot older than most of Germany. There's not much as such to *do* there, but I spent a fortnight there and had no desire to leave because it was just so calm and pleasant. You could probably do a day trip really easily - it takes about an hour and a half from Zurich, frequent trains, not very expensive (under E20 each way, though probably less if you book in advance or are students). There's a tourist office on the Bahnhofplatz when you get there, and I really liked a cafe called Das Voglhaus on the Wessenbergstrasse.

Lyon is also only a couple of hours away from Geneva on the train, though I didn't love it there so much. It is renowned for its food though. The swiss rail website is sbb.ch, the german is db.de and the french is sncf.fr. It's probably easier to buy tickets in person when you're there, but they can be incredibly useful for planning.

Oh! Jealous! Since you're going right before Christmas, it'll be the perfect time to stock up on Christmas decorations! They make the most beautiful Christmas things in Switzerland (and Germany...well, northern Europe in general I think). Keep your eyes peeled for the Christmas markets! Looks like there's a big one in the Zurich train station, as well as one in the old town. I think the atmosphere would be awesome fun, and worth it even if you didn't buy anything.

Oh and eat lots of chocolate! Enjoy!
posted by Emilyisnow at 11:54 PM on December 3, 2008

This past May I took the Bernina Express from the small city of Chur, which is 1.5 hours from Zuerich, to the town of Tirano, which is just across the border in Italy. It was beautiful, the trains are comfortable and have huge windows, and you can return in a day.

Chur is actually a pretty good base for skiing, though the town itself isn't the prettiest or most exciting you'll find. (Which is not at all to say it's ugly or boring, mind you.) Arosa, Davos, and St. Moritz are all in the area. The previously mentioned Glacier Express also stops there.

City-wise, Lucerne is remarkable, amazingly situated, and apparently has some sort of Advent light festival going on. The national capital Bern is also very nice. They are both well worth a visit.

Have fun in Switzerland -- as others have said, it's a gorgeous if expensive country. (Oh, and don't mind the assault-rifle-wielding militiamen walking about in public. Quite a shock for this Canadian.)
posted by fhangler at 11:59 PM on December 3, 2008

I lived in Switzerland for 4 years during the mid-90's as a kid. I lived in Luzern Canton, about 45 mins away from Luzern. So here are some hazily recollected things about Central Switzerland: (Luzern is about 1.5hrs from Zurich by train, and the train goes right to the airport.)

Skiing: We'd go on family holidays to Adelboden (in the Bernese Oberland, about 2hrs driving from Luzern) and Verbier (in one of the French Cantons, about 4 hrs driving). Both were top-notch ski areas: beautiful vistas, absolutely enormous, with a wide enough variety of terrain from easy to expert to keep everyone busy. Note: on Swiss ski maps the easy trails are blue, the medium ones are red, the difficult ones are black, and yellow trails means they don't maintain it- it's left untouched. Those can be hairy.

There's lots of wonderful little towns in Switzlerland, and a strong Christmas tradition - they don't have the big markets of Germany, but there might be some smaller ones. The Interlaken area is charming, and Brienz has tradition of very finely carved Christmas creche figurines.


It's a very charming town, compact, and with lots to see. There's a historic bridge full of reproductions of paintings done during the Black Death, which is neat if you're into morbid things. (The bridge had a really bad fire in 1996, so they're reproductions now - some were saved). The transportation museum is AWESOME, and great for half a day of rain. If it's clear, try and go up Mt. Pilatus- they have a nifty cog-driven train, and it's a great view right by the city. I believe they also have a viewing platform with telescopes and maps of the mountains at the top. Good hiking, too.

Also pretty nearby to Luzern, maybe a 40 min train ride, is the Rigi, which has some nice hiking, but amazing sledding. They have a train with a open car just for sleds, and you ride up on the train and then down the whole mountain on sleds. You can even go on most of the ski trails in most of the resorts! I highly, highly recommend taking a day off of skiing to go sledding - it's nothing like sledding in the US. You can sled for 2-3 hrs at a time, down ski trails and snow-covered access roads, get to the bottom, and take the train or cable car back to the top. The sleds have steering and brakes and everything. Perhaps you can rent them?

You'll have a blast! I wish I was going, I haven't been back since we moved away.

Don't worry about the rifle-people mentioend by fhangler- all adult Swiss men are in the army (like Israel, where they call you up for training one weekend every six months or so) - so you sometimes see people going to or from that. Not very often, though. They also have bicycle-mounted troops.
posted by foodmapper at 1:38 AM on December 4, 2008

Nthing Lucerne. It's a lovely small city.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:21 AM on December 4, 2008

Unless you plan on renting a car (which I would not recommend), get a Swisspass from the train company which is an unlimited ticket for tourists for basically all public transportation in Switzerland. Then you should probably pick one ski resort you want to go to, if you are there only one week. St. Moritz, Zermatt and Verbier are a little more difficult to access from Zurich. I would probably go with one in the Canton of Graubuenden. Arosa, Davos, Laax (my favorite) and many others.
There are also some nice ones in Luzern such as Pilatus. A quick online search should uncover a map with the larger resorts.
You definitely want to spend a day in Zurich and a day in Lucerne. For some reason, all American tourists go to Lucerne and love it. Besides these things, it really depends what you would like to do. There is so much to see that it's difficult to recommend something without knowing what you would like to see. Cities, more landscape/mountain?

I lived in Zurich for many years and will actually be there that week. If you would like, I could show you around. MeFiMail me if you are interested.
posted by Brennus at 5:10 AM on December 4, 2008

I came back to recommend you pick up La Place de la Concorde Suisse for the plane ride over. You will never think about a bridge, tunnel, or tiny little hamlet in Switzerland the same way again!
posted by handful of rain at 6:09 AM on December 4, 2008

A friend of mine and I got separated by the train because i was trying to load three suitcases onto the train by passing them to him on train from the platform...

and the "pinktlechkeit(sp)" of the train schedule didn't allow for the extra three seconds to allow me to put suitcase #3 on the train before the departure time....

Don't forget the punctuality of the trains!
posted by Izzmeister at 10:38 AM on December 4, 2008

Zurich itself is incredibly beautiful. Spend at least a day there. Luzern is also great. Check out Schaffhausen if you want the "small-town" appeal within a short trip. I'll even show you around Zurich if you want.
posted by stvspl at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2008

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