Plan my Europe vacation
February 13, 2017 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Tempted by a flight deal, I spontaneously bought round-trip tickets to Switzerland for early April. I'm going to have around five days vacation, starting in Zurich. I'm probably going to rent a car, so getting around wont be an issue. What places should be on my must-see list?

I've been to Italy and France, but am open to all other destinations. I would rather not spend more then four hours a day driving, and I'm looking for routes that will offer a variety of attractions.

I am aiming for a combination of nature, historical buildings, possibly one or two museums, but am also open to suggestions for cool stuff outside these categories.
posted by MFZ to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I actually did something similar a few years ago... here was my question.

In Zurich, we stayed at Gasthaus Zum Guten Gluck, which was spare, clean, cheapish, and conveniently located.

I'd bypass the car and aim for a 4 day railpass for ~400 USD. This will be cheaper and easier than renting a car, as the Swiss public transit system is IMPECABLE, and the pass includes all local transit as well. Also entrance to most museums.

I would make sure to go to Lucerne, it was one of my favorite Swiss towns. I really like Zermatt, but your timing is a bit tight for heading up into the mountains.
posted by larthegreat at 12:01 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Why do you want to drive? The trains are excellent, frequent and safe all over Switzerland, Germany, Austria. Personally, I'd stick to those three countries and I'd use trains.

For example from Zurich airport you can head into Zurich, explore and/or head to the main station (3 stops on the urban train), catch a train to Austria, make your way to Salzburg for example, then up into Germany stopping in Munich, then back west taking in any number of towns in Bavaria on the way to the Black Forest. From there back south, perhaps into central Switzerland (Berne/Lucerne) and then back to Zurich.

Or you head down to Geneva, over to Lugano, then into Austria, Germany but this time you stay much more west, closer to lake Constance, before heading back to Zurich.

But definitely trains - they stop centrally, near the local tourist information offices. Panorama trains offer much better views than a driver will ever get, paying attention to unfamiliar roads. Plus you can read/sleep/eat on the train.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:13 PM on February 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would agree that, unless you plan on going somewhere really out of the way, you should definitely consider the railpass. The train system is really impressive - most lines run fairly frequently, are clean/modern and are of course impeccably on time. Not to mention that parking can be a pain in most of Europe and gas is rather expensive.

I haven't traveled too much in Switzerland (both times I visited there I was working) but I really liked Bern - it's a very compact city, extremely walkable, and isn't too far from the mountains. It's also home to the Einsteinhaus - a museum that is Einstein's former residence. Geneva wasn't bad, although it might be too far out of the way for you - it has some nice views of the French Alps, and several cool museums. It's also near CERN which has a visitor center and host tours regularly that are open to the public (sadly they were closed for renovations when I was there).
posted by photo guy at 12:27 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gruyères is about a 2-hour drive from Zurich. Reasons I love it: historical, picturesque, cheese heaven, H.R. Giger museum. I wouldn't spend more than a night there - it's really small - you could also get away with a half day visit en route to another destination.
posted by beyond_pink at 12:34 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing trains. Swiss trains are one of the great delights of the world. They run amazingly, and you're going through some of the nicest scenery in the world.

Luzern is, as already noted, extremely beautiful. It's only about a half hour from Zurich by train, and it's quite small, so you'll have plenty of time to see other places as well. It definitely deserves a day of your time, though.

Ditto for Bern: pretty and compact. See the bears and the fountains.

If you're looking to spend most of your time in one place and/or you're into the outdoors, make it Interlaken (or rather, one of the small towns along the BOB where you can get into town or up into the mountains with equal ease).

Brienz (which is along the train line from Luzern to Interlaken) is the quintessential picturesque Swiss mountain town, and they're internationally known for their woodcarving. There's a great train (the BRB) that takes you to the top of the nearby mountain, whose views are literally breathtaking. And if you're continuing on to Interlaken, there's a boat ride on the Brienzersee that's scenic and relaxing.

I would not recommend spending too much time in Zurich itself. It has its charms (the Spitzplatz!), but in general, it's a city of commerce and finance, not tourism. And Zurich HB (the main train station) is kind of a nightmare.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:34 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite] will answer lots of your questions about Swiss Trains. It is good for trains to/in any other country as well.
posted by soelo at 1:08 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I haven't spent too much time in Switzerland, but from the time I have spent, I can say that the train itself is a bit of a destination. I just took this train because I needed to get to St. Moritz for a conference and got a treat!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 1:10 PM on February 13, 2017

I would make time for the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, if a tour could be arranged (there is no open public access, you have to submit a form to request a tour, up to a couple of months in advance due to popularity). You can get there by train No. 18 from Cornavin (the final stop is at the entrance to CERN).
posted by rada at 1:12 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

The only place in Switzerland I've been is Lauterbrunnen, and it's spectacular. Highly recommended.
posted by cnc at 1:49 PM on February 13, 2017

Best answer: Five days? Don't try for a Europe vacation, make this a Switzerland vacation. And yes, the trains are comfortable, pratical and very scenic; whatever you do, make sure to plan a trip with the spectacular Glacier Express. They have panorama trains that will leave you feeling that two eyes simply aren't enough.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:06 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with not leaving Switzerland and taking the trains. However, if you want to see the mountains, plan to be flexible. The weather may not co-operate. I spent 5 days in Interlaken, and all I saw was the bottom of the Alps.
posted by kjs4 at 3:04 PM on February 13, 2017

nthing Lucerne, it's lovely. We took the ferry from Lucerne to Brunnen and hiked along a part of the Swiss Trail. It was very nice.

Again nthing Interlaken. We hiked along the west side of the Lauterbrunnen valley to Mürren. We sat up high watching the impressive train system. It was like looking at the best model railroad you've ever seen. It was really fun to make your way with the combination of funicular, ski lifts and gondolas. Actually had some good sushi there.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:11 PM on February 13, 2017

We did 4 days in Switzerland last fall and stayed in Geneva. We spent most of a day at CERN (you need to book your tour 90 days out), which was awesome (though we are cyclotron geeks) and took a day trip to Montreaux for the Freddie Mercury statue and Chillon castle.

We tend not to full our days too much, as we have done a lot of travel in Europe, so usually do one big site a day, then find a nice cafe for lunch in between, followed by a rest at the hotel / airbnb before heading out for dinner.

And, nthing don't drive. Public transit is very, very good and generally easy to navigate. It can get you out into more remote places as well.
posted by chiefthe at 3:33 PM on February 13, 2017

I have friends in Berne and have visited at least once a year, sometimes twice for the last ten years. Without a pass or Half Fare Card trains can be very expensive. Most of Switzerland can be seen by day trips, but sometimes an overnight is better. In no particular order:

--Jungfraujoch, highest rail station in Europe (touristy, of course, but well worth the experience)
--Bernina Express, (scenic train) terminates in Tirano in Italy, a nice place to overnight
--Wilhelm Tell Express, includes a boat trip on Lake Lucerne which is terrific
--Seconding Gruyeres, lovely hilltop village
--Matterhorn, Zermatt, Gornergrat Bahn, I went in early autumn. Great experience.
--Seconding Lauterbrunnen, but up the mountain are Wengen and Murren, car-free villages. Great area for hiking, as easy or strenuous as you choose.

My partner and I have done Air BnB in Berne with great success.
posted by namret at 4:38 PM on February 13, 2017

Best answer: I've been to Switzerland three times, each for week at a time. I really want to go back! It's a wonderful country, and I agree that with just 5 days, you should stick with Switzerland itself and not zip all around the Alps just to say you did. You can probably spend all 5 days in the Bernese Oberland and not get bored.

Some of my favorite places (all accessible by train; driving is really not worth it. There's a reason Swiss trains are a world standard):
Interlaken -- ferry rides on the Thunerzee and Brienzerzee
Murren* -- hike along the foothills of the Jungfrau
Kleine Scheidegg* -- most beautiful hike in the world. Twenty years later, I still dream about this landscape. If you do nothing else in Switzerland, do this hike.
Luzern -- the Lion of Luzern, the Covered Bridge, general strolling
Mt Titlis by gondola
Montreux for the aforementioned Chillon Castle

* Note that Murren and its sister villages of Grindelwald and Wengen are only accessible by train; this also means that Kleine Scheidegg, which runs between these mountain villages, is only accessible by train. You don't want to miss Kleine Scheidegg, seriously.
posted by basalganglia at 4:43 PM on February 13, 2017

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