Switzerland’s Grand Tour: Outdoor Adventure Itinerary
With snowcapped peaks and a world-class spa culture, Switzerland is accessible any month of the year. Explore the possibilities using this six-day itinerary designed to inspire outdoor relaxation, recreation, and adventure.
By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
GATEWAY AIRPORT Geneva Airport, Geneva
DEPARTURE AIRPORT Zurich Airport, Zurich
Switzerland is an all-season destination for outdoor recreation. With snowcapped peaks and a world-class spa culture, it’s possible to play in the snow or swim in a thermal pool any month of the year. Explore the possibilities using this eight-day itinerary designed to inspire outdoor relaxation, recreation, and adventure. The route conveniently begins and ends in Geneva and is completely accessible by public transportation. For unlimited access to trains, buses, boats, and public transportation, buy an all-in-one Swiss Travel Pass. (Tip: Kids under 16 travel for free with a parent who has a Swiss Travel Pass.) And spend even more time outdoors by covering some sections of the route by bike or on foot. Pick and choose among the activities and attractions featured here based on your interests and the time allotted for your trip. Customize the itinerary by choosing additional hiking and biking trails from the SwitzerlandMobility website, or download the free SwitzerlandMobility app.
DAY ONE: GENEVA TO MONTREUX
GET THERE BY CAR A1 > A9/E62 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT IR (InterRegio) train > Montreux Gare
GREEN SPACE Before heading out from Geneva, visit one or more of the city’s urban oases. Jardin Anglais (English Garden) is the place to see the famous horloge fleurie, the living (and precise) flower clock celebrating Geneva’s watch industry. Grange Park is known for its impressive rose gardens, free summer concerts, and popular Swiss National Day celebration (August 1). Located in the heart of the city, Bois de la Bâtie is a 30-acre woodland with walking trails, a children’s playground, and a zoo. In warmer weather, the Conservatory and Botanical Garden is the perfect setting for an early morning stroll or a picnic lunch.
PEDAL POWER Free rentals (mid-April to mid-October) and miles of cycling lanes make it easy to tour Geneva by bike. Or rent a mountain, road, touring, or electric bike from Bike Switzerland Rentals to explore the pedaling possibilities in the wider Lake Geneva region. (Note: Bike Switzerland Rentals will reopen in mid-March.) Routes include the four-stage Swiss portion of the Tour du Léman. The well-marked path runs from Geneva along the northern lakeshore through Les Grangettes, a nature preserve and sanctuary for migratory birds in Vaud. Bike Switzerland also offers half- and full-day guide services.
BACK TO NATURE For hiking and mountain biking, or snowshoeing and skiing (in winter), head into the woods, glades, river gorges, and pasturelands of Jura Park, located south of the Joux Valley. The nature park includes 325 miles of trails; the Juraparc zoo, where brown bears, wolves, bison, Przewalski’s horses, and other animals roam in natural-terrain enclosures; and Lac de Joux—the Jura Mountains’ largest lake.
EAT Café du Grütli, Lausanne
STAY Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, Montreux
DAY TWO: MONTREUX TO ZERMATT
GET THERE BY CAR A9 > Route 9 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT IR train > Visp; R (Regio) train > Zermatt
VINEYARD TRAILS Stop in Sierre to walk the wine trail to Salgesch (two and a half hours one way). The well-marked 3.7-mile route (one way) begins at the 16th-century Château de Villa in Sierre, ends at the Wine Museum in Salgesch, and passes wineries and vineyards.
PLAY IN THE SNOW If it’s snow season, spend the day at 4 Vallées, Switzerland’s largest winter-sports hub. The area is home to six mountain resorts (Verbier, Bruson, La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, and Thyon); three tricked-out snow parks for big-air freestyle skiing and snowboarding; and a dizzying array of snow-play possibilities, including downhill and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, and snow golf.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY FUN For all-season outdoor activities, take a bus from the Sion or Sierre train station to Crans-Montana—twin Alpine resort towns located at an elevation of 4,921 feet. Warm-weather options include world-class golfing, swimming in five lakes, forest and canal hiking trails, and the chance to hike on the Plaine Morte glacial plateau. In winter, there are 87 miles of mostly intermediate downhill trails to choose from. For the best views—and longest run in the region—take the seven-and-a-half-mile trail from Plaine Morte into the forested valley of Les Barzettes. Plan your visit to coincide with one of the area’s annual sporting events, such as the traditional Valais combats de reines (cow fights).
EAT Cabane du Mont-Fort, 4 Vallées
STAY W Verbier ski-in/ski-out hotel, Verbier
DAY THREE: FULL DAY IN ZERMATT
GETTING AROUND Zermatt is car free. Walk, bike, and use cable cars.
HIT THE SLOPES Zermatt is one of a handful of mountain resorts in the world open for skiing or snowboarding any day of the year. At an elevation of about 13,000 feet, Matterhorn Ski Paradise is Europe’s highest year-round ski area. In winter, there’s a full slate of traditional snow activities available, plus thrilling mountain adventures such as heli-skiing, moonlight descents, and high-speed tobogganing. In summer, downhill ski or tube at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (on the Theodul Glacier), freestyle ski or snowboard in Snowpark Zermatt (on Plateau Rosa in summer and on the Theodul Glacier in winter).
TAKE A HIKE With nearly 250 miles of high-Alpine hiking trails in the Zermatt region, it’s easy to find a route to match your interests. Options include winter hikes, year-round walks, and epic treks, such as the rugged climb to the Hörnli hut, where the first climbers to summit the Matterhorn started their ascent in July 1865. The trail network includes themed hikes (most open June to September), including the circular Five Lakes Walk, where you can see the Matterhorn reflected in mirror-calm lake water.
RUMBLE AND ROLL Zermatt-Matterhorn has cycling, mountain biking, e-biking (electric bikes), and dirt scooter (fat-tire motorbike) paths to fit every ability level. A popular downhill ride for more experienced mountain bikers is the 12-mile Gornergrat-Zermatt bike trail, open June to October. The route passes the Grünsee (Green Lake), where you can take a quick dip to cool off, and offers spectacular Matterhorn vistas. Families with children ages nine and up will particularly enjoy rumbling from Sunnegga down to Zermatt on a kickbike, a sturdy bike-scooter hybrid (open late May to October).
EAT Walliserstube Zermatt, Zermatt
STAY Cervo Mountain Boutique Resort, Zermatt
DAY FOUR: ZERMATT TO ST. MORITZ
GET THERE BY CAR Route 9 > A13 > Route 3 (Note: Route crosses into Italy.)
BY PUBLIC TRANSIT Glacier Express train (not available late October to early December) > St. Moritz; or R train > Visp; IC (InterCity) train > Zurich HB; ICE (InterCity Express) train > Landquart; RE (RegioExpress) train > St. Moritz
EXPLORE MORE There’s always one more reason to stay outdoors in Engadin/St. Moritz. In winter there are more than 200 miles of downhill skiing (including the steepest start slope in Switzerland), plus networks of Nordic and winter walking trails, snowboarding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, skating, sledding, and more. In summer, there’s hiking and biking, plus surfing, sailing, swimming, and stand-up paddleboarding on the Engadin mountain lakes.
STORYBOOK SETTING Zuoz, an enchanting Romansh village near St. Moritz, is an idyllic base for winter and summer hiking, Nordic and downhill skiing (plus a ski school for kids), or in-line skating on two official in-line skating routes. Rent in-line skates and helmets, bikes, downhill and roller skis, and other sports gear at Willy Sport.
WILD SIDE Take the Rhaetian Railway home to Zernez, gateway to Swiss National Park. Covering 66 square miles, the park is a natural sanctuary and home to more than 5,000 species of animals, more than 650 flowering plant species, and 50 miles of hiking trails.
EAT Stars, Silvaplana
STAY Suvretta House, St. Moritz
DAY FIVE: ST. MORITZ TO LUCERNE
GET THERE BY CAR A13 > A3 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT R train > Chur; IC train > Zurich; IR train > Lucerne
SHIP TO SHORE Get your bearings on a scenic Lake Lucerne boat cruise. Private charters, sailing yachts, and motorboats cross the lake, but the trip to take is aboard one of the five vintage steamboats. The historic steamers run daily year-round. Cruises last from one to five hours, most—including the popular lunch cruise—offer sumptuous culinary options, and many connect to hiking paths, cable car routes, and other attractions or locations around the lake. In winter, buy a Klewenalp Snow Pass to cruise from Lucerne to Beckenried, and ride the cableway up to the Klewenalp-Stockkhütte winter-sports area for a day of skiing or sledding.
WILDLIFE Bird-watchers will enjoy exploring the new (opened in 2015) Swiss Ornithological Institute visitors center, located about 20 minutes (by train and bus) northwest of Lucerne on the shore of Sempachersee (Lake Sempach). In addition to spotting wild birds and learning about their habitats, you can learn about the institute’s efforts to protect Switzerland’s native birdlife and develop sustainable agriculture and forestry. The institute is closed on Mondays. From Lucerne, take the RE train to Sempach Station and transfer to the number 84 bus toward Sempach Stadt.
HERITAGE HIKING Lake Lucerne’s German name, Vierwaldstättersee (meaning “lake of the four forested cantons”), celebrates the lake’s historic significance. Bordering (and sharing) the lake are the three founding cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy (Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden), plus the canton of Lucerne. Canton Uri is the birthplace of modern Switzerland and is a hiker’s dream destination. Take a Lake Lucerne steamer to the southernmost stop (Flüelen) to connect to the aerial cableways climbing to Uri’s hiking regions and spectacularly scenic mountain trails—including the Schächentaler highland path from Eggberge up to 6,391-foot-high Klausen Pass.
EAT Wirtshaus Galliker, Lucerne
STAY Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern, Lucerne
DAY SIX: LUCERNE TO INTERLAKEN
GET THERE BY CAR A8 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT: IR train > Interlaken Ost
ADVENTURE TIME Interlaken is known as the “adventure capital of Europe.” Local outdoor sports outfitters such as Alpin Raft and Outdoor Interlaken offer an array of activities, including guided ice climbing excursions and trips to Seilpark Interlaken, a wooded aerial playground with zip lines, ropes courses, and wooden bridges. Outings typically include gear, guides, instruction, and transportation from Interlaken hotels. In winter, go night sledding on the hour-long sled run from Sulwald to Interlaken.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
WATER SPORTS Interlaken is named for its position between two deep-blue lakes (Thun and Brienz), so it’s no wonder the village is a water-sports hub. Late spring to early fall, local outfitters offer rentals, lessons, and guided tours for activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, water skiing, and wakeboarding. Or, hold on tight for a high-speed ride aboard Jetboat Interlaken. Beyond the lakes, choose from thrilling white-water rafting on the Lütschine and Simme Rivers, relaxing float trips on the Aare River, and canyoning adventures in nearby Saxeten Gorge.
TAKE FLIGHT Get a bird’s-eye view of the Jungfrau region by paragliding or tandem hang gliding in the skies above Interlaken. Tours typically last 90 minutes to two hours and, weather permitting, may be available year-round. For an added adrenaline rush, try bungee jumping or skydiving out of a helicopter. High-flying options available through Skydive Interlaken include helicopter jumps above Interlaken, over the Lauterbrunnen valley, and even along and in front of the Eiger’s legendary north face.
EAT Brasserie 17, Interlaken
STAY Landhotel Golf & Salzano Spa, Interlaken
DAY SEVEN: INTERLAKEN TO THE JUNGFRAU SKI REGION
GET THERE BY PUBLIC TRANSIT (From Interlaken Ost) R train > Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald; R train > Kleine Scheidegg; R train > Jungfraujoch
WATER WORKS April to November, take the train to Lauterbrunnen to visit Trümmelbach Falls: ten glacial waterfalls inside a mountain. Venture underground via elevator to access the fall’s tunnels, paths, and viewing platforms.
PANORAMIC PATH In summer, hike the classic Männlichen–Kleine Scheidegg highland trail and enjoy majestic high-Alpine views of the Eiger, the Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks, plus the Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald Valleys. An added bonus is the scenic cable car ride to the trailhead in Männlichen, beginning at an elevation of 7,290 feet. From here it’s an easy 60- to 90-minute hike down to Kleine Scheidegg (elevation 6,762 feet), one of the best vantage points to watch daring climbers tackle the Eiger’s north face.
TOP ADVENTURE The Jungfrau ski region offers adrenaline-pumping outdoor fun year-round. Ride the First cableway from Grindelwald to try some of the Jungfrau “top of Europe” activities experiences, such as the First Cliff Walk by Tissot summit trail (including a daring walk across a 131-foot suspension bridge), the half-mile-long First Flyer zip line, and the downhill Trottibike (nonmotorized scooter) ride from Bort to Grindelwald.
KING OF THE HILL Board the cogwheel Jungfrau Railway in Kleine Scheidegg for the 50-minute climb to the Jungfraujoch, a spectacularly scenic recreation and entertainment complex including Europe’s highest altitude railway station (located 2,300 feet below the 13,642-foot summit of the Jungfrau). At the top, hike across or zip line over the Aletsch Glacier, sled and tube on the year-round snow, tour the hand-carved ice palace, and explore the ice tunnels under the glacier.
Eat Challistübli in the Hotel Kreuz & Post, Grindelwald
Stay Hotel Roessli, Interlaken