Ever since my first visit to Zurich in 2015 I have maintained that the entire world would move to this paradise if it weren’t so goddamn expensive. On my two subsequent trips to Switzerland, there has been nothing to sway my mind off this take. I have since seen Switzerland from east to west and am here to report back on my time there.
Best Cities to Visit in Switzerland
I must preface this paragraph by saying that there is not a bad place to visit in Switzerland. Every place is beautiful and has lakes, rivers, and towering mountains. There is a clear delineation between Bern and Zurich and the rest of the larger cities in the country. Bern is smaller than Zurich, the Aare River flows down from the Alps and then wraps around the old town making for a stunning scene (see photos below). You can do the river float all day and then chill at one of the small side bars for a beer. There are also real live bears just across a bridge from the old town that you can see for free.
Zurich was my favorite prior to visiting Bern. A city of 1.5 million people, it sits at the foot of Lake Zurich and has a river that goes right through it. Zurich has multiple rock beaches and grassy areas near the lake where you can sunbathe, read a book, kick a soccer ball, and of course jump in. On my second trip into the city, my buddies and I jumped off a bridge and into the Limmat River, which flows from the Alps, into Lake Zurich, then out through the city and towards my friend’s place in Dietikon.
Still Cool But Not as Great Cities To Visit in Switzerland
I went to Lucerne last summer and Geneva in the summer of 2016. Geneva was really overrated and outside of the United Nations building and the chair monument, the city did not do much for me. Yes, it has a lake, as every Swiss city does, but that’s about it. Lucerne is much nicer and I am sure that I would have liked it more had I not just been in Bern. Lake Lucerne is beautiful and Ufschotti Park was lovely. The river and bridges that run across Lucerne are also fantastic and the history that surrounds them is really cool, Chapel Bridge chief amongst them. There was a similar river float that I saw locals doing but I only spent one night in Lucerne and got there too late to do the float. If I go back, rest assured that I will get a waterproof bag and float down that river!!
Outdoor Activities in Switzerland
Switzerland is an extreme sports lover’s wet dream: hiking, biking, rock climbing, ziplining, skydiving, and paragliding. In the summer of 2016 I went skydiving in Interlaken with my friends Nick and Marc. It was $500 for the plane ride and pictures of it…totally worth it. We also hiked through the mountains in Lauterbrunnen. The main climb that everyone does is Via Ferrata, where you rent equipment in the town below and then essentially hang off a cliff while climbing up.
Finally, the one outdoorsy place that I recommend you visit is Zermatt. Southern Switzerland is a series of valleys, valleys that you cannot clearly see into until you actually get into them because the surrounding mountains obscure their view. Whether driving or taking the train, these hidden valleys have enormous mountain peaks, none more famous than the Matterhorn. Its imposing shape towers over the Swiss valley to the north and I’m sure it does the same to the Italian side to the south. I spent a ton of money to get there and even more to take a train up one of the adjacent peaks ($225 total) in order to get the best view of it…and it was 100% worth it. See the photos below but believe it or not, you can actually climb the Matterhorn if you have the equipment and know what you’re doing…which I do not.
Other Activities in Switzerland
- Alpine roller coasters
On my first trip to Zurich I decided to take a day trip to Liechtenstein. A beautiful one hour train journey and then I hopped on a bus that took me to the capital (and only?) city in Liechtenstein, Vaduz. There is not a ton to do there, it’s basically a country of one street and a castle on a hill where the royal family still live. However, it is pretty because it is like being in Switzerland, in fact in every direction you look, you see Switzerland (see below).
Last summer I got invited to a small music festival in a quaint little town called Aarau. Attending Backyard Daydance was one of the best decisions that I made because 30 festival goers ended up camping all weekend, drinking and telling stories late into the night. The rave was by day only and to say that there were ample drugs there would be an understatement. The Swiss know how to party. Around 500 people attended across the weekend and the organizers did a great job, I had a blast.
I met a girl who did one of these mountain roller coasters and she said that it was cool but also really difficult to get to, you basically need a car, or like her, you can hitchhike. They look amazing in the instagram videos but accessibility is a deterrent. Mt. Pilatus is the main one.
Places Harvey Hasn’t Visited
- Valle Verzasca→ Locarno
I have heard that Basel is not nearly as nice as the other cities listed above. Having said that, it has a river and is probably very pretty. There is also a point where you can be in France, Germany, and Switzerland at the same time. I don’t know jack shit about Lausanne but the pictures look nice. Valle Verzasca is at the top of my list of places that I want to go to. It is semi difficult to get to without a car but it looks like the perfect summer place. Lastly, Jungfraujoch is the highest train in Europe. I had narrowed it down to visiting there or the Matterhorn last summer and I loved the Matterhorn. Jungfraujoch seems like a bit of a tourist trap, albeit an extremely expensive one.
"Harvey Falcon" is the the senior adventure corespondant for Ski Bum Van Life. From Europe to Asia to South America and beyond Harvey offers an exciting take on adventure travel. Read all his stories here.
More From Europe
The country of Austria is often forgotten by backpackers as it sits between two hotbeds of nomad activity: southern Germany, with the Alps and incredible English Gardens of Munich and Budapest with its combo of the cheapness/funness/unknown. I think that is because...
Everyone knows of the mythical and magical Czech capital of Prague. It first came on my radar when watching the original installment of my all time favorite movie franchise: Mission Impossible 1. Watching Tom Cruise run across the Charles Bridge with all the fog...
Lucerne (Luzern in German) sits in the dead center of the country of Switzerland on Lucerne Lake. Every major city in Switzerland sits on a huge lake, with the exception of Basel and Bern, though those two have the Rhine and Aare Rivers running through them. Lucerne...