A perfect week in Switzerland
Updated: Jan 29
Switzerland is one of the most spectacular countries in the world; snow toped mountains, crystal clear lakes, rolling green hills and delightful wooden houses. A mecca for snow sports in the winter and perfect for hiking in the summer.
We spent a week in Switzerland during our Summer 2022 European tour, coming from Liechtenstein on the northeast boarder, looping round and continuing on to Germany in the north. There is so much to see here, and you could spend months touring around, riding gondolas to mountain top villages and hiking until your legs can’t walk any more. We already want to return and if it isn’t on there already, we hope that our week’s snapshot will encourage you to add Switzerland to your travel list.
Transport & Accommodation
We travelled around in our VW camper van so didn’t really use public transport, but if you are going to be backpacking Switzerland you should definitely look into the Swiss Travel Pass or the Swiss Half Fare Card. If you are staying in Switzerland for more than a few nights and going to be using the trains, gondolas, cable cars and boats to get around, it will save you money. You pay what seems like a large sum of money up front but if using public transport most days it will be cheaper than paying for the individual fares.
In terms of the quality of roads and the actions of other road users we found driving in Switzerland fine. As you can probably imagine there are a lot of very steep, very windy roads through the mountains that you need to take care on, but our little van managed without any issue. It would be slightly harder in a larger motorhome but totally doable. We always familiarise ourselves with the driving rules in a particular country before setting off and find the RAC website gives you a good overview.
We used the app Park4Night to scope out all of our campsites and park ups. You can download the free version to search for stops and services and even save them in your favourites to be able to access again easily, add reviews and new stops. We pay €9.99 a year (or you can pay €1.99 a month) which removes adverts and allows you to use the application offline which can be useful when your off grid and struggling for signal.
Costs & budget
One slight drawback is that Switzerland is expensive, even by European standards. A large beer can set you back 8CHF, one scoop of ice cream 3.50CHF, a coffee 5CHF and main meals of any cuisine at least 20CHF (I refuse to pay nearly £20 for donner meat and chips, sorry!).
Our budget wouldn’t stretch to eating and drinking out here as much as we had done in other European countries. We suspected (and were correct) that the supermarkets would be equally expensive, so we did ‘a big shop’ in Austria and stocked up for the week so we could cook in our van. If this is not an option for you, supermarkets are obviously still cheaper than eating out so try and find hostels with kitchen facilities where you can cook for yourself. Failing that, look out for offers in the supermarkets. Coop is a big chain supermarket there and we did see lots of % off deals on ready to eat salads and pastas making them affordable.
If you are travelling by car or van like us, petrol and diesel are about 20% cheaper in the neighbouring countries so enter with a full tank.
One small thing to note is that a lot of the beer bottles and bottles and glasses in some outdoor bars have a deposit on them. Supermarket bought beers usually carry a 0.30CHF deposit which can be claimed back by returning your empty bottle to the store. Glasses or bottles in a bar could be as much as 2CHF each, so make sure you return your glass and don’t leave it on your table when you leave, as you’ll end up paying more for your drink than everyone else!
We had a budget of £100 a day which we actually went slightly over, spending just short of £700 in the 6 nights we were there.
Where we visited
Interlaken is a great central hub for exploring the surrounding areas. Lots of restaurants, shops and bars. There are a few possible park ups options in the town, but we stayed a little further along the lake in Iseltwald, a pedestrianised village with a carpark at the top of the hill you can stay the night in. It costs 1CHF per hour 7am – 7pm but is then free overnight. There are clean toilets available for 0.50CHF.
We’ll be honest and say the reason we looked this village up online was because we recognised the name from Harry Potter! Turns out there is no connection but it looked nice so we decided to check it out. A base for skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer, lots of outdoor shops, cafes and restaurants. We enjoyed a wander around and a coffee looking out at the surrounding mountains. There are multiple paying car parks very close to the centre of town but there is also a free car park about a mile away at Gletscherschlucht gorges.
Gimmelwald & Murren
From Interlaken we drove to Stechelberg and got the cable car up to Gimmelwald, a small traffic free village in the mountains. You can park at Stechelberg, we paid about 6CHF for 4 hours. Gimmelwald is cute, sporting a hostel, a couple of restaurants and a self-service honesty shop selling souvenirs and locally made products. You can get the cable car higher to Murren, a larger village, but we opted to walk from Gimmelwald. Not a difficult walk, on a clear tarmacked path, just over 2km, but it is uphill (no surprise there, as it is higher up the mountain!) The views are wonderful.
Zermatt & the Matterhorn
This area was our favourite, you are very much in the mountains here. The town of Zermatt sits at 1,600m and is surrounded by majestic peaks. The most famous of which is the Matterhorn, an iconic triangular summit that if you are a chocolate lover like us, you may recognise from the Toblerone packaging!!
We stayed at a campsite in the neighbouring town of Tasch called Alphubel. You cannot pre-book so the trick it to turn up early if you want a spot. Both nights we were there people were turned away as they were full. Nice site, clean facilities and in the most beautiful location. The train station to get the train to Zermatt was only a 5 minute walk from the site.
Zermatt town is touristy of course, but we liked the vibes here. I believe it has a lively apres-ski scene in the winter but even in summer there were lots of people passing through in hiking gear, enjoying a drink or a meal and generally having a nice time.
You can walk from Tasch to Zermatt. It is about 6km and the path follows the river. The walk to Zermatt is uphill a lot of the way and path, whilst well defined, is a little uneven with stones and tree roots in parts. We walked it to save the 16.40CHF per person return train tickets and it was fine, a nice walk. We got a little hot on the way there but coming back was a breeze.
From Zermatt you can take the cable car up to the highest cable car station in Europe. It isn’t a cheap day out, we paid 120CHF each, but it’s worth doing. At the top there is a Glacier Paradise showcasing beautifully made ice sculptures and you can step out onto the snow – which in Summer seemed strange but there is snow up here all year round!
The walk to Matterhorn base camp is something we would highly recommend. If you are a climber you can continue onto the summit, but this isn’t something we can comment on as have no experience. The hike to base camp is a challenging walk but the views are incredible, and it was really rewarding.
Luzern or Lucerne
Luzern is a lovely city on the shores of Lake Luzern. We only spent an afternoon here and our limited budget meant we mostly walked around the old town (Altstadt) and enjoyed a drink by the lake.
There are lots of hiking nearby, one particularly popular trail is the hike up Pilatus mountain. We really wanted to do this, but I hurt my foot when we were there and were unable to hike that day. We stayed in a park at the foot of Pilatus and were gutted that we couldn’t walk, the clean, crisp mountain air was calling us, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe you can give Pilatus a go and let us know how it was. The park up would have been a great spot to walk from, only 5CHF for the day, with overnight being free. There were even some immaculate free toilets, Dave said the men’s toilet roll had even been folded into a point!
Our last stop was Zurich. We stayed in a carpark on the west side of the lake, south of the city centre, that we found on Park4Night. Maximum length of stay was 4 hours between the hours of 9am – 8pm & charged at 0.50CHF an hour.
However, there were three different parking apps that you could use to pay so we used two to pay for 8 hours which covered us for the afternoon, overnight and gave us an hour in the morning too. From the reviews everyone seems to do this and we didn’t encounter any problems.
From the carpark you could see the city on the other side of the lake and was a pleasant 20 minute walk round to get there. The lake was a hive of activity, the banks were lined with sun bathers and picnickers, and many were taking a dip in the lake itself.
The city centre was a mix of modern shops and many restaurants and bars in the old town. The vibe felt much more multicultural, with a variety of cuisines on offer. While still on the pricey side we decided to have a little bit of a treat here and finish our time in Switzerland by trying some local cuisine. We ate at the Raclette Factory and had a classic potato raclette which was basically boiled potatoes covered with melted cheese and bacon pieces and served with a few pickled veggies. It was surprisingly delicious, the ultimate comfort food!
We had the most amazing time in Switzerland, the scenery was absolutely breath-taking, and we couldn’t get enough of it. We will definitely be back.