Known as the “playground of Europe,” this small mountainous country offers a wealth of Alpine adventures, from skiing and sledding down powdery slopes to exploring an extensive network of biking and hiking trails. But there is more to Switzerland than its breathtaking scenery. Here are 10 of the top ways to experience it.
Watch water become wine in Zürich
On special occasions, Zürich’s Münsterhof Fountain dispenses wine thanks to a special device connected to the fountain’s well. Otherwise, it is one of the more than 1,200 public water fountains, most spewing potable water 24 hours a day, found in the city. Discover many of them, some of which date as early as the 15th century, on the “Water in Zürich” city tour.
Stroll a meticulously preserved medieval town
Located about 40 miles from the popular Rhine Falls, the medieval old town of Stein am Rhein received its very first Wakker prize for its preservation of historical buildings and architectural heritage. Admire the Rathaus (town hall) and half-timbered houses adorned with jewel-toned painted facades and oriel windows. At the Museum Lindwurm, learn how the Swiss lived and worked during the 19th century.
See decorative signs in Appenzell
Tafeens—artful traditional store signs hanging from doorways—can be found throughout the town of Appenzell. The most elaborate ones hang from hotel, store, and restaurant doorways along Hauptgasse and Marktgasse Streets.
Hike in one of Europe’s greenest valleys
Snaking through several idyllic Swiss villages, the Simmental House Trail passes wooden chalets and grazing cattle. Learn the history behind the well-preserved 15th-century houses constructed by wealthy farmers who bred and exported the now renowned Simmental cattle. They became popular for their high milk and beef yield and good temperament.
Board an iconic Swiss train
Experience the marvels of Swiss engineering by taking a ride on the Brienz Rothorn Railway. This historic steam rack railway has been chugging daily along the Alpine meadows and turquoise waters of Lake Brienz since 1892. It starts in the wood carving village of Brienz and ends at Rothorn Kulm, 7,362 feet above sea level. The summit offers a panoramic view of 693 mountain peaks on clear days. The train to Rochers-de-Naye is a great way to experience Switzerland’s natural beauty, offering a grand view of Lake Geneva and the Swiss and French Alps.
Meet Charlie Chaplin in Lausanne
The Photo Elysée museum houses the historic photographic archives of Charlie Chaplin, an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame during the silent film era. Plateforme 10 is a new exhibition space in Lausanne that houses this renowned photography museum, as well as the Vaud Museum of Fine Arts (MCBA) and the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts (MUDAC), the only institution dedicated to design in western Switzerland. Travelers can visit MCBA for free on Saturdays to explore the museum’s collection of more than 10,000 paintings and participate in cultural activities, guided tours, and interactive workshops.
Take a tuk-tuk tour in Geneva
Short on time? One of the best ways to quickly tour Geneva is on an electric tuk-tuk. It’s the newest addition to Switzerland’s extensive list of sustainable transport systems. Discover local wineries, sample decadent fondue, and admire some of Geneva’s iconic architecture, all with a local guide.
Plan a pilgrimage to Einsiedeln
Learn about the history of the 10th-century Einsiedeln Abbey—one of Europe’s most significant pilgrimage sites—and the daily life of modern monks on the Monkstrail scavenger hunt. Look for clues in the Chapel of Grace with the Black Madonna and the stables of the “Cavalli della Madonna,” where monks have been breeding horses since the Middle Ages. Hear the angelic voices of the choir perform the Salve Regina (hymnal prayer) in the chapel every day at 4:30 p.m. or take a guided tour of the monastery library.
Explore the Swiss-Italian region
Head to the Ticino region for a distinct Mediterranean flair. Stroll along Lugano’s Via Nassa for antiquarian bookshops, trendy boutiques, and high-end jewelry stores. Shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables on Via Pessina.
Families love Swissminiatur, an open-air miniature museum in Melide. On the one-hour tour, visitors tower over 1:25 scale models of the country’s most famous buildings and monuments. In nearby Morcote, find arcades of old patrician homes, lakeside gardens, and protected heritage sights, such as the Church of Santa Maria del Sasso and the Tower of Capitano.
Eat your way through central Switzerland
Sample the local flavors of Switzerland’s first UNESCO biosphere reserve on the Marbach food trail in Entlebuch. Specialties made from raw local ingredients include tasty cheeses and meats. Take a gondola ride, meet alpine dairy farmers, and enjoy panoramic views between bites.
Additional reporting by Starlight Williams.