plan my trip to switzerland. please.
August 11, 2011 3:21 PM   Subscribe

help me enjoy my trip to switzerland!

my husband and i just booked tickets from nyc to zurich, yay! we are going for 9 nights in september, and while waiting for some guidebooks to arrive, i thought i'd get some personal recommendations!

our itinerary so far looks like this: two days each in lucerne, murren, lugano, lake como, one in zurich, fly home.

should we rent a car or rely on public transport?

any sleeping/eating recommendations?

we are in our mid-20s and like outdoorsy stuff (but nothing too extreme), good food and music.
posted by sabh to Travel & Transportation around Switzerland (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The train system in Switzerland is pretty dang awesome, so unless you are big into driving winding mountain roads, I'd tend that way.

Bellinzona was a nice stop en route to/from Lugano. Otherwise, I don't have a lot of specific recommendations; it's been a while.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:40 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Driving through picturesque alpine countryside is so relaxing - I would rent a car.
It's not on your route, but if you like food, I would recommend visiting Caillers-Nestlé factory located in the town of Broc. You get to eat all the chocolate you want:) And nearby is Gruyere factory, too. is full of information and they will send you a bunch of free brochures.
posted by leigh1 at 3:58 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: My MIL and her husband live in Geneva and try not to use their car. It is so much more relaxing to ride the rail, and satisfyingly easy.
On a recent trip there this winter, we regretted not spending any time in Lausanne. It is a foodie town for sure, maybe it would be up your alley?
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 4:01 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Rely on public transport. It's possibly the best in the world in Switzerland, and driving in Switzerland is no fun at all - a few kilometers over the limit (like, less than 10) can get you a fine in the hundreds of dollars. It's insane. There's a reason Jeremy Clarkson calls it "car-hating Switzerland."

Murren. Oh, Murren. So beautiful. Enjoy the Schtilthorn hike; there are also nice walks from Wengen across the valley. Here's my recommendation. When we stayed there on our honeymoon, we didn't book ahead. We got there and wandered around looking at rooms. We ended up choosing the Hotel Edelweiss, which we would never have done if we'd been looking online, because the exterior is totally charmless and too modern - you'd think it was awful inside. But we went in anyway, and the view from their mountain-view rooms is just unbeatable. They're on a cliff and all you see if the mountain across the valley. Beautiful. Their superior rooms have recently been redone and are large and modern, but they were price - 260 francs. But they had vacancy, so we offered them 200 a night and they accepted. Not cheap, but worth every penny, as rooms with far less to offer were not much cheaper elsewhere in town.

Lake Como - amazing. I really enjoyed staying in Menaggio; quick ferry ride to Bellagio, which is nice but super-touristy, and Varenna, which is also a nice place to wander. If you want a great lunch, rent a boat and go to the restaurant on the Isola Comachina. Book ahead. There's no menu, you just get served an incredible multi-course lunch.

There's another similar place in the hills above Menaggio, but I can't remember the name. I'll see if I can find it.
posted by Dasein at 4:14 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make some time to check out Mt. Pilatus in Lucerne.
posted by litnerd at 4:36 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Public transport will be more than enough. My dad lived just outside of Zurich along the hillside for ten years. I remember being amazed when I rode the train to the end of the line one day and a little old man got on and cleaned it of garbage, Windexed every window, and then the train got back on it's route.

I remarked about it to my dad and he said that they do that at each end of the stop, every time. I. Was. Amazed.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:09 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would try and work Lausanne into the itinerary. But really, the whole damn country is just amazingly beautiful. I did not have a bad time anywhere.

Public transportation is amazing. You will probably be fine with no car.
posted by BryanPayne at 5:33 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Really, take the train. It's just so much better. Pick up a copy of Rick Steves Switzerland book if you're staying in Switzerland or Rick Steves Europe if you're going to the neighboring countries. Rick Steves books are written as if you have a friend giving you advice, as opposed to a laundry list of things to do. Great stuff.

Do not miss the Lauterbrunnen Valley. See the Schilthorn on one side and the trip to the Sphinx Observatory and Ice Museum at the Jungfraufjoch on the other side.
posted by cnc at 5:54 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Visit the "Glacier Garden" in Lucerne. This website has a good explanation:

Also, the Verkehrshaus (Transportation Museum) is pretty good. And about 3 miles from the Glacier Garden!

Oh, and crusing Lake Lucerne on one of those giant boats. And old town Lucerne. If you like soft pretzels, that's a good place to get them. Well, it was when I was last there in the '90's...

Seriously, the driving fines are quite something! Take the train! Or the bus. Perhaps they have some sort of short-term unlimited rail pass for tourists. Go to the train station and ask - all train station employees speak English.

Random note, when I was last in Switzerland all the grocery stores and pretty much everything else is closed on Sundays. However, the grocery inside the train station tends to be open. Just in case you really need something...
posted by ticketmaster10 at 8:02 PM on August 11, 2011

I "found myself" whilst petting cows and goats at Mannlichen. Unbelievable vistas, but the best part was standing at the summit, surrounded by a deep valley filled the distant sound of cow bells. Bliss.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:27 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Another good resource for hiking can be found here. Switzerland is very good about its English language tourist guidance.

If you like good food, I might suggest going to the Viadukt Markthalle in Zurich when you are there. It is a big space with numerous independent stalls and booths, where you can get anything from local dry goods to small Swiss beers, British cheese, great produce, etc, etc. It also has a solid restaurant there. For grabbing a beer and sitting outside after a hectic trip, you have lots of places around the city. I'm partial towards a place called El Lokal.

Have fun, it's a beautiful area down there.
posted by Schismatic at 1:03 AM on August 12, 2011

Best answer: I spent three months in Switzerland in 2005 and blogged a lot. Specific posts on Lucerne and Lugano.

Absolutely take the train. The Swiss have the best train system in the world and the ride from Zurich to Lugano is one of the most beautiful routes (They often run a panoramic car). A car will just be a nuisance in Lucerne and Zurich. It might come in handy in the smaller towns, but for just a couple of days you won't need one at all. One of my favourite bits of Switzerland is how easy it is to spend a day hiking gentle mountain trails, stopping for a fine meal or drink somewhere, and complete the trip by train or tram.

You didn't mention price point for hotels, but if you're looking for top end the Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola in Lugano is terrific. Also an option for a fine meal. In Luzern I enjoyed The Hotel, good location and aggressively modern design.

Food is a challenge in Switzerland: the typical local cooking is dull Germanic stuff. We quickly got tired of the classic "pork, potatoes, brown sauce" meals. The French side of Switzerland has lovely food, and in Ticino you'll find more Italian of course. Fondue is great. And of course it's a modern international country with all sorts of food options (I remember the Thai Garden in Luzern being good.)
posted by Nelson at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2011

Alright, I have sussed out the name of the other restaurant near Menaggio - it's La Baita, here. Along with the lunch, it was one of the three best meals I ate when I was in Italy. Like the lunch on Isla Comacina, there's no set menu - you should up and they serve you a crapload of amazing food, course after course; tons of antipasti, three pastas, three meats - amazing. Highly recommended.
posted by Dasein at 11:56 AM on August 12, 2011

you should up

Well, I mean, everyone should up, but if you show up that's fine too.
posted by Dasein at 11:59 AM on August 12, 2011

When I was there many years ago, I really liked Zermatt and it's view of the Matterhorn. We were only there for a day, so I can't speak to the place other than that, but it's essentially a little ski town where cars aren't allowed. Really beautiful.
posted by specialnobodie at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2011

Response by poster: thanks for all of these great answers; it looks like we will have to work lausanne into our trip!
@dasein: those lake como restaurants sound amazing, but i wonder if they cater to vegetarians?
posted by sabh at 9:39 AM on August 13, 2011

Do not miss the Aletsch glacier.
posted by brujita at 1:50 PM on August 14, 2011

The train, yes absolutely. Working out which pass to get can be a complicated though - often because they all work out at about the same price. MySwissAlps gets these questions all the time, and they seem to have someone on the inside to answer them.

If you're vegetarian, you will probably find the food in the German speaking section relatively uninspiring - unless you have a cheese addiction.

The weather can play havoc with your plans. For example, if the weather in Murren is good, you can easily spend a week there and not run out of things to do. Not so much if the weather isn't good. (I personally went to Switzerland and saw the bottom of a lot of very tall mountains. The clouds didn't clear once in five days.) So building some flexibility into your trip could be good. I wouldn't want to move as often as you are planning to. Two nights means one day to check in, one day to explore, and then one day to pack and move again. I would consider reducing the number of places you stay overnight, and maybe stopping for a few hours on the way for the others - they have lockers at train stations. There is soooo much in Switzerland, that nine days won't even get you close to seeing it all. Don't even try.
posted by kjs4 at 9:24 PM on August 14, 2011

those lake como restaurants sound amazing, but i wonder if they cater to vegetarians?

Ah. Not so much. Very Italian in that respect (I know someone whose Italian family, when she was visiting and told them she was a vegetarian, just cut up the pork into smaller cubes in the pasta salad). When you're eating a la carte, it's easy enough to stick to the caprese salads and vegetarian pasta, but you'd be foregoing an awful lot of the stuff they put before you at those two restaurants. I can't recommend them for vegetarians. Though if you've ever thought of being sinful and eating meat for a couple of days, I can recommend them as places to indulge.
posted by Dasein at 1:50 PM on August 15, 2011

I so did not find food a challenge in Switzerland. But I'm not a vegetarian, so may not have as many restrictions. On the contrary, I ate some AMAZING food while there. Sorry that it's been so long that I don't have any recommendations.
posted by BryanPayne at 3:45 PM on August 18, 2011

As much as I love the outdoors and the smaller towns, I would spend maybe one additional day in Zurich. You could spend a whole day in the Landesmuseum, and there's so much else to see besides. And yes, almost everything is closed on Sunday except in the train station, so plan accordingly. (And don't drive - the trains, trams, funiculars and ferries are a joy to use!)
posted by Chris4d at 9:57 PM on August 18, 2011

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