Planning a trip to Switzerland can be a daunting task for Switzerland as a country is teeming with a plenitude of scenic countryside, picturesque landscapes, world-class museums, gorgeous lakes, natural sites and much more. We were in Switzerland for more than a year and have tried to cover as much as we could on holidays and weekends but still most part of the country remains unexplored. If you are planning a trip to Switzerland and looking for the best cities to visit or to choose as your base to explore rest of Switzerland then here are the top Swiss cities which should definitely be on your list of cities not to miss when in Switzerland.
The Swiss capital Bern is the first city to add to the list of places to visit in the fairytale land of Switzerland. It also makes for a perfect base to visit the most beautiful locations of Switzerland nestled in the Bernese Oberland and around Interlaken. The prominent point of interest in Bern is its charming medieval old town which is brimming with history and architecture. The old town is at a walkable distance from the main station and can easily be explored on foot.
The main attractions not to miss in the old town are the iconic Zytglogge which is one of the oldest clock towers in Switzerland, the magnificent Bern Cathedral which offers wonderful views of the city from its tower and several gorgeous fountains dotting the cobblestone alleys of old town. The brand showrooms and boutique shops in the arcades of the old town and the weekly flea markets make Bern must visit for the shopaholics. If you are visiting with kids do not miss a visit to the Bear Park and watch the Bears (the symbol of Bern) frolicking along the Aare Riverside.
Geneva is a global city home to several international organizations like the Red Cross, WHO, etc and the major draw for the tourists to Geneva is the United Nations. But fewer people know that Geneva is known as the ‘City of Parks’ with more than 25% of the land covered in green scape including a gorgeous Botanical garden which also has an animal park. Also, Geneva is home to more than 30 museums themed on art, antique, and history which is one of the top reasons to visit Geneva and explore the regions rich culture and heritage. Geneva also has a picturesque and charming Old Town amidst the bustling city center.
The old town has several important Geneva landmarks and attractions like the magnificent St. Pierre Cathedral, the old Arsenal, town hall, several monuments and quaint cafes tucked away in the cobblestone alleys of the old town. Geneva also makes a great base to visit the other Swiss cities and for day trips to the French city of Paris and lesser-known French towns of Yvoire and Annecy.
The largest Swiss city of Zurich is another popular Swiss city to add to your bucket list. The old town of Zurich is the most picturesque location straddling the Limmat River. The old town is dominated by two magnificent churches the 12th-century Grossmunster and the 13th-century Fraumunster and there are several gorgeous fountains and squares too. The river promenade is lined with numerous outdoor cafes where you can sit and take in the views of the historical buildings and watch as the world goes by.
The Lindenhof hill overlooking the panorama of the city is a large public garden, a perfect picnic spot and a vantage point to behold the awe-inspiring view of the city lit up with golden lights at dusk. Zurich also has several other points of interest like zoo, botanical garden and Tram museum which makes it a great city to visit with kids. You can even hop on a boat to explore the historical city center or go on a shopping spree in one of the high-end boutique shops of the city.
The first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions of Lucerne is the stunning Chapel bridge. The chapel bridge is located close to the main station surrounded by well-preserved medieval buildings set in a picturesque setting along the shores of River Reuss and the Lake Lucerne. The old town is dotted with several beautiful fountains and building facades which are adorned with colorful frescoes. The weekly flea market held along the river promenade is also a great place to shop for some fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, and spices. Another prominent landmark of the city is the Lion monument which is at a walkable distance from the chapel bridge and is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of French Revolution. It is also worth spending more time in Lucerne and exploring the stunning landscapes around the city.
A day trip to the mountain massifs of Pilatus or Rigi reached by cable car rides or cogwheel make for a fun-filled memorable experience. The summit of these mountains offers incredible views of the city, lakes and the alpine mountains around. If you are visiting Lucerne with kids do not miss a visit to the Swiss Transport Museum which has a rich collection of life-size models of trains, planes, cars and other automobiles.
Montreux is a small resort town set along the shores of Lake Geneva with a backdrop of stunning snow-covered Alps. The city of Montreux is the popular venue for the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival which is held here annually around the month of July. Montreux is also popular as a base to explore the Chillon castle, the fairytale castle of Switzerland. The castle set along the shores of Lake Geneva on a rocky island is just a 10 minutes bus ride away from Montreux train station.
Also, the annual International Balloon Festival held in Alpine village of Château d’Oex can be accessed by an hour bus ride from Montreux. Montreux is also the starting point for the Golden Pass train route which runs between Montreux and Lucerne and takes you through the surreal locations of Switzerland. A walk along the Montreux lake promenade bedecked with bright flowers taking in the views of the mountains and the shimmering lake is one of the best things to do when in the city.
The terraced vineyards of Lavaux is a UNESCO World heritage site not to miss in Switzerland. The Lavaux region stretches from Montreux to Lausanne and can be explored on the bike, foot or a tourist train.
Sauntering through the region you will find numerous wine cellars which you can visit for a tasting session, some of them even offer a walk through the cellar.
The city of Lausanne is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva in the region of Vaud. Lausanne is also known as the ‘Olympic Capital’ and hosts the International Olympic Committee, worth a visit when in the city is the Olympic Museum and lakeshore Olympic Park. The medieval city center sits on a hilly region and overlooks the lakefront. The major landmark of the city center is the magnificent 12th-century Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame which dominates the city skyline.
The 19th-century Palais de Rumine houses several museums for fine art, history, geology, zoology, and archaeology. The Ouchy lake promenade with vistas of the lake and the surrounding mountains is a great location for a leisurely a stroll. One can take a boat to the medieval French village of Evian-les-Bains which is just a half an hour boat ride from Ouchy port.
Interlaken is a charming resort town at the intersection of two gorgeous lakes Thun and Brienz in Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. There are quite a few things to do in Interlaken like a visit to its old town which has some of the beautiful chalets adorned with flowers, high-end boutique shops in the city center for a shopping spree and plenty of picturesque landscapes and hiking trails. Interlaken is an ideal base to explore the surrounding Switzerland tourist places like mountains of the Jungfrau region, quaint villages set along the shores of the two lakes Thun and Brienz accessed by boat trips and numerous vantage points served by rack-railway and cable cars.
You can also hop on the cruises on Lakes Thun and Brienz and explore the scenic vistas along the lake shores. Interlaken falls on the Golden Pass panorama train route that runs from Montreux to Lucerne so that you can plan to combine the town sightseeing with the Golden Pass train ride.
Zermatt is a small alpine town at foot of the famous Swiss mountain Matterhorn. The large ski regions of Zermatt are paradise for skiers and hikers and draws enthusiasts from all over the world. There are different ski regions in Zermatt accessible by cog railway, cable cars and funicular each of which offers a unique experience. Each of the areas has restaurants and sun terraces which offer wonderful views of Matterhorn.
Zermatt is equally stunning to visit in winter as well as in summer when the Matterhorn is surrounded by lush green alpine forests. The most popular activity during summer is the ‘Five Lakes Hike’ or the 5-Seenweg where the hiking trail winds through the five gorgeous mountain lakes with Matterhorn in view, the hike takes around 3 hours. Zermatt has enough accommodation options but is relatively expensive so if you are looking to choose other cities as a base then Bern is 2 hours train ride away and Zurich and Geneva little more than 3 hours.
The small city of Winterthur 20 minutes train ride from Zurich may not easily fall on the tourist radar. But the city is a paradise for art lovers for the 17 museums located in the city which is themed around European art, paintings of renowned artists, and photography. The charming old town of the city has some of the remarkable medieval architecture like the Stadkirche and the town hall alongside numerous mansions and fountains. The city of Winterthur similar to the Swiss city Geneva has an ample of green space dedicated to parks and gardens.
The most popular excursion from the Winterthur is to the magnificent Rhine fall which is located on the Swiss-German border. There is plenty of activities around the falls to keep you busy around a wonderful sunny day like boat trip on the river, cycling, hiking and other adventure activities. Do not miss a visit to the castle exhibition in Schloss Laufen which sits on the shores of Rhine River.
Basel is a city straddling the Rhine River close to the borders of France and Germany. The heart of the city is the vibrant old town with remarkable architectural buildings most of which date back to 15th century. The major landmarks of the city are the 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic cathedral with its spires dominating the city skyline, 16th-century Town Hall with its striking red-sandstone facade located in the Marktplatz (Market Square) and the 13th-century Mittlere Brucke (Mittlere Bridge).
If you are a museum person then Basel is your city with over 40 museums for art, history, and culture. If you are visiting with kids then do not miss a visit to the Basel zoo one of the oldest and largest zoos in Switzerland, Basel Toy Museum with the largest collection (over 2500) of antique stuffed teddy bears and the historical museum exhibiting stuffed life-size models of animals.
Lugano is a city in southern Switzerland in the region of Ticino close to the Italian border. The city sits in a picturesque setting on shores of Lake Lugano surrounded by the scenic Alps. One can easily see an Italian influence in the historic buildings of the town center and even in the cuisine. Take a funicular ride up the mountains of Monte Bre and Monte San Salvatore, the two vantage points for a wonderful panorama of the Lugano city and the lake.
Zurich to Lugano is a 2 hours train ride while Bern to Lugano takes you little more than 3 hours. The Lugano Lake is surrounded by several quaint villages which can be visited on a boat trip from Lugano. With so much to see and do in the city, Lugano definitely needs a couple of days and makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
How many of these Swiss cities have you visited and how many are still on your bucket list?