If you've been following along on Instagram, you know that last month, Nick and I were in Switzerland! I'm here today to give you the low down on our trip - and you guys asked for details so I am going IN DEPTH.
First, a little background. Nick and I have both wanted to visit Switzerland for a long time. When we were planning our honeymoon, we had considered adding it as a stop on our little Eurotrip, but ultimately decided against it (we went to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris - which I never ended up blogging about.) We decided that when we did visit Switzerland someday, we would want to dedicate a whole trip to traveling around the country, rather than just spending a few days in one city.
I booked the trip back in October, honestly, kind of on a whim. I was feeling super wanderlusty, looking at flight prices every day, and just wishing we had a big vacation booked so we had something to look forward to. I had been very confident that our next visit to Europe was going to be a Scandinavian trip (most likely Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen - it's next on my wish list!) but when I saw round trip flights from Baltimore (BWI) to Zürich for $330, it took me like two seconds to decide that we needed to buy them (and like two hours to convince Nick.) Finally, we were booked for 10 days in Switzerland!
When we first booked the trip, we didn't know where in Switzerland exactly we were going to go, but as we researched we found this 10-Day Switzerland Itinerary from The Travel Intern, and kind of mimicked that for our itinerary (eliminating one of their stops to spend more time in Zürich.)
Here's how it all broke down:
Day 0 - Fly out of BWI
Day 1 - Land in Zürich, take a train to Lucerne
Day 2 - Lucerne
Day 3 - Take a train to Interlaken
Day 4 - Interlaken
Day 5 - Take a train to Zermatt
Day 6 - Zermatt
Day 7 - Take the Glacier Express to St. Moritz
Day 8 - Take a train to Zürich
Day 9 - Zürich
Day 10 - Fly home
All in all, we had a full day and two partial days in each city, with the exception of St. Moritz. As you can see, we took a lot of trains to and from cities, and we also took a lot of public transit to go on excursions. Since we were going to be doing so much traveling around, we decided to purchase Swiss Travel Pass, which gives you unlimited travel by train, bus, and boat throughout the country. You also get free admission to museums, and discounted admissions on a lot of mountain excursions. It was pretty expensive, but honestly - everything in Switzerland is expensive! We haven't taken the time the time to figure out if there was any cost savings with Swiss Travel Pass vs. purchasing single tickets for trains, museums, buses, etc., but even if we didn't save any money, we paid for the peace of mind that we were allowed to get on any train at any time and it was no problem.
Speaking of cost, we were also super fortunate to have a lot of airline miles that we could use on this trip to cut down on out-of-pocket costs. We ended up being able to cover both of our roundtrip flights, our hotel in Lucerne, our hotel in Zürich, and half our Airbnb in Zermatt. This was a huge help - we love you Capital One Venture Card.
Before any trip, we always prepare a Google Map with airports, train stations, hotels, Airbnbs, bars, restaurants, shops, etc. We like to do a lot of research before a trip to find places that we'd like to go if the opportunity arises. We of course go to places that aren't on our map too, but this helps keep us organized. It also makes it super easy to find a pin and start directions. Here's our map for this trip:
One last thing before we get into the good stuff! All of the photos in this post were taken on our iPhone 11s. At this point, we're much more skilled at taking and editing photos with our phones than with our DSLR, and we got new phones back in the fall in anticipation of this trip. We have absolutely no regrets about not taking the DSLR with us and love all of our photos (we hope you do too!) Okay, now since Nick is a much better writer than I am, he's going to give you the lowdown on all of the trip details. Take it away, Nick!
Days 1-3 - Lucerne
Kicking off our 10 day journey through Switzerland was the city of Lucerne. Even though we flew into Zürich, we got right off the plane and right onto a train into the next town. Despite buying a ticket for the wrong destination (we hadn't yet activated our Swiss Travel Pass), getting yelled at by the ticketing person, needing to pay more money on the train for a new ticket, my card not working, and the ticketing person saying, "Forget about it, it's okay," it was a pretty easy train ride. We were about to be in the open air for the first time since we had arrived at BWI probably about 20 hours ago.
Lucerne was one of the largest places we visited in Switzerland, yet was still quite small. It was a really easy city to navigate and become familiar with in just a few days. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, it was off to explore and visit a few noteworthy places right out of the gate. First up was the Lion of Lucerne, which Mark Twain described as "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world," then a bit of a walk through old town. Old town was really beautiful with brightly colored murals and painting on a lot of the buildings. It was pretty much all repurposed as a shopping district, but I liked walking the skinny, winding walkways among the buildings.
Chapel Bridge is the oldest wooden covered bridge in the world, so of course, we walked across it, took some photos, enjoyed the river, and said, “We did it.” The riverfront through Lucerne is a nice place to stroll with lots of restaurants and easy bars to stop and enjoy a few drinks. On our first night in town, we did just this, stopping at Rathaus Brauerei and an Irish/English pub a few doors down.
The most hiking we did on probably the whole trip happened that first night in Lucerne as well. We walked the long switchback foot path up to Château Gütsch and caught some incredible views along the way. The top was of course stunning, with a fancy little restaurant where we had a drink and some fries before heading back down the mountain to beat the rain.
The next day would set the tone for the type of things we could anticipate for the remainder of the trip. We took a bus ride out to the town of Kriens to catch the cable cars up to the summit of Mt. Pilatus. This was our first excursion up a mountain on a cable car and it was absolutely exhilarating. As far as elevation goes, it pales in comparison to what we ended up doing later in the trip, but as our first summit, it was truly magical. I think we can let the photos speak for themselves.
After a tiringly long morning up and back down Mt. Pilatus, we spent the remainder of the day exploring more of Lucerne, popping into a few places for a drink, and finally taking some Indian food back to our hotel for our final night.
Days 3-5 - Interlaken
Compared to Lucerne, Interlaken was much more laid back. A significantly smaller town, Interlaken seems to exist pretty much exclusively for tourists. I realize how conceited that sounds and I don't mean to reduce the existence of what is undoubtedly a very old and storied place, but I hope you get what I mean. There were as many souvenir shops as there were private homes, a Hooters, and that's about it. Interlaken's industry is this way because of it's incredible geographic position. Nestled between two giant lakes, Lake Brienze and Lake Thun, this town is right at the foot of the Alps. The proximity to the surrounding mountains makes Interlaken a central hub for all kinds of mountain excursions: cogwheel trains, funiculars, cable cars, paragliding, hiking, boat tours, you name it.
Our time in Interlaken was fairly peaceful. Neither of us are about to jump off the edge of a giant mountain, and some of the other attractions like certain outlook points and train rides were still closed in March, as a lot of things are only seasonally available. One thing we did manage to do was take the funicular and gondolas up the Neiderhorn to see some spectacular views. My favorite part about this particular mountain trip was how clearly the difference between the base of a mountain and its summit was illustrated. At the bottom of the Neiderhorn, right on the banks of the beautiful Lake Thun, it was a crisp, spring like day - blue skies, lush greenery, birds singing, sun shining. At the summit, it was nearly unbearably cold. Every inch of available surfaces frozen with ice. At the lookout observation deck, I was unable to scrape clean the placard to see what it said. I managed to have my phone out of my pocket, and my hands out of my gloves to take photos for about 40 seconds before I couldn't stand it any longer, and had to retreat back to the semi-sheltered comfort of the cable car back down.
Another big draw to Interlaken is its closeness to an incredible little ski resort town, Grindelwald. With our Swiss Travel Pass, we hopped on a train and about 50 minutes later stepped off into our most mountainous landscape yet. Grindelwald is situated among three of the highest peaks of the Alps: The Jungfrau, The Monch, and The Eiger. They are terrifyingly impressive. I had never been so humbled by the overwhelming scale of a landscape like this before. I remember before the trip reading a section on a Swiss travel site advertising the view from the top of a particular mountain: "Marvel at the frozen witchery of the Monch, the Eiger, and the Jungfrau." I still can't get that phrase out of my mind, for 'frozen witchery' is the best descriptor I've yet to come across.
In Grindelwald, we took the cable cars up Mt. First. A more accessible, yet slightly stouter mountain with some incredible views. As non-skiiers, there are limited activities to do on these mountains other than ski. Often times, buying expensive cable car tickets and ascending the mountains in our street clothes, and not bundled up with all our ski equipment made us feel foolish. If you find yourself thinking this: don't. Simply being on these mountains is a chance of a lifetime with views to last you forever. At the top of Mt. First, we walked the Cliff Walk around the edges of the mountain. This sturdy but terrifying bridge suspends you thousands of feet above ground as you make your way around to the main lookout point. This is where I learned of my fear of heights. Not a crippling fear, but a nagging one that turned my legs to jelly as I walked next to the mountain instead of on it.
After some fun bopping around Grindelwald, making fun of the skiiers outfits, and having a few beers, it was back to Interlaken. Our hotel in Interlaken was exactly the kind of comfort we long for on a big vacation. As much as it is fun to see the sights and go on adventures, we also LOVE a good hotel, and some quality hotel time. Interlaken was great for buying wine at the store, heading back to the hotel, and binging some Netflix. I'm never ashamed to watch TV on vacation. It's the epitome of relaxation, and being abroad doesn't change that.
Days 5-7 - Zermatt
I've been struggling to accurately describe Zermatt. It's a small ski town that is perhaps one of the hottest destinations in the whole country. Despite it's small size, it's an incredibly busy place, with electric powered hotel taxis zooming through the streets, and a mess of skiiers and sightseers trying to get up the mountains for the best views of the Matterhorn and (probably) some of the best skiing in the whole world. Zermatt is a car-free town, with the exception of those electric hotel taxis and emergency vehicles. I won't lie, without proper sidewalks (since it's supposed to be a pedestrian-only town) these taxis make navigating around comfortably pretty difficult. They go fast, and don't care about you.
As I mentioned above, the main draw to Zermatt is the impeccable views of the Matterhorn. THE Matterhorn. Easily the most impressive mountain I've ever seen in my life, visiting it in person was a real bucket list moment.
We took the Gornergratbahn cogwheel train up to the summit of The Matterhorn's neighbor mountain, Gornergrat. This was the highest point we experienced in all of Switzerland. At over 10,000 feet, we still gazed an additional 4,000 feet up to take in The Matterhorn. The train ride up to the summit had some of the best scenery of the entire trip. A bird's eye view of Zermatt, vast valleys, sight lines all the way into Italy, and at points, snow deeper than the train itself.
Apart from sightseeing, as non-skiiers, Zermatt was mostly eating and drinking for us. This is our real bread and butter. My favorite part of the day is when we look at each other and say, "Well, do you want to find somewhere to grab a drink?" The best way to explore a new city or country is to get into the local bars and restaurants and have some fun.
After a quick couple of days, it was off to board The Glacier Express, the 8.5 hour scenic train ride to St. Moritz. We were really looking forward to The Glacier Express - the train has panoramic windows and it takes you through the Alps for some amazing views. Unfortunately we think it would have been a more enjoyable journey during the summer - since so much of the landscape was covered in snow, it was just a white abyss for most of the trip without much to see. We also anticipated that the car would be pretty empty, with a lot of room to spread out and move around, but that was also not the case - we shared our section with a couple from New York. Regardless, still a cool experience, but not the one we were expecting!
Day 7 - St. Moritz
After 8.5 hours aboard the Glacier Express, we finally arrived in St. Moritz. I hate to write this, but St. Moritz was not for us. Yes of course, even just being in such a beautiful country as Switzerland, and exploring as much as we did is such a privilege. But unless you're a bajillionaire who is there to ski and buy designer handbags and genuine fur coats, St. Moritz probably isn't the place for you either.
Easily the fanciest, most expensive place I've ever been in my life, St. Moritz was dripping with wealth, and it did not feel good to be there. Our brief couple of walks through town were enough to make us Google the nearest take out pizza place, and high tail it back to the hotel. Luckily, we were only there for one night. We had just taken an 8.5 hour train ride, so going out and exploring wasn't really on the docket. We found that pizza and hunkered down in the hotel for the night, and left first thing in the morning to Zürich.
Days 8-10 - Zürich
After spending eight days on what has easily been our most rural solo vacation, it felt great for us to get back into our comfort zone, a city. Compared to the small ski resort and mountain towns that we had just visited, Zürich was easy and comfortable. The being said, Zürich is frankly a lot like many large American cities, and European cities. We LOVE exploring new places like this, just visiting local places and hanging out. I'm sure there were lots of cultural experiences to be had that we just didn't get to, but let's be honest, if you're in Switzerland, you're there to see the mountains. Zürich isn't necessarily a groundbreaking must-visit destination, however, it did have a few of our favorite things from the trip.
Our favorite meal: Hotel Hiltl. Well, technically, our two favorite meals, seeing as we ate there twice. The world's oldest vegetarian restaurant is in Zürich, and luckily for us, it was just a block away from our hotel. It was a massive buffet of completely vegetarian foods. Load up your plate with whatever you want, as many times as you want, and pay by the weight! What I particularly loved about this restaurant (other than the fact that everything we ate was completely delicious) was that it was a vegetarian restaurant, not a vegan one. That means no meat, but plenty of cheesy dishes, eggs, etc. The baked goods and desserts weren't vegan approximations of favorites, they just were the favorites. If you're in Zürich, you have to go.
Our favorite shopping experience: A random giant thrift store. We tried in all of the places we visited to buy gifts for our friends back home, but nothing felt right. Everywhere was extremely tourist-y (no surprise) and the gifts just felt pretty junky. Instead, we went to a thrift store and bought actual junk! I kid, but you know how it is. The finds at this shop were incredible. It's like being at a thrift store here, walking through the homewares aisles, but EVERYTHING is super cute, Swiss, affordable, and of incredible quality. I highly recommend thrifting gifts next time you're abroad. Unfortunately we each only had a carry-on so we were limited in what we could bring back (still regretting not getting a fondue set.)
Our favorite hotel: CitizenM. This of course is a chain hotel, but you just cannot beat the comforts of a really great hotel. The best shower experience, the best bed and room functionality. The best customer service, everything! We had trouble with our TV and boom: Free beer and wine sent to the room. That's what I'm talking about. Apart from these few stand outs, exploring Zürich was fun and simple. We were nearing the end of our trip, so we were taking it pretty easy. Not a lot of aggressive exploration or big plans. We'd just meander until we found somewhere interesting for a drink, or pop into somewhere for a light meal. This is what vacation is all about.
On the morning we were to leave Zürich and head back to the US, we woke up to about a million texts and phone calls asking if we were going to be able to get back into the states. Panic briefly set in as we read the news that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a travel suspension going into effect Friday at 12AM. Switzerland was among the countries banned from traveling to the US. Though I think we would have been okay getting home as US citizens, we were very lucky that we didn't encounter any roadblocks. We didn't have to move any flights around or emergency change any plans. It just so happened we were getting back into the states on Thursday afternoon, just before travel was to stop. Talk about a relief.
After nearly a full day of travel, we finally arrived back in Pittsburgh safe and sound. Switzerland was the trip of a lifetime and we are so grateful that we got the chance to go. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments below!
Sarah & Nick