Switzerland may be small, but it is jam-packed with lively cities and incredible scenic landscapes which, in fairness, deserve much longer than a week to explore. However - let's be real - the constraints of time and money sometimes limit us, so if a week is all you've got to spare and you're thinking about dedicating it to this beautiful, landlocked country smack-bang in the centre of Europe then you've made a great choice! Read on for my tips on which cities should be at the top of your list and how to choose your itinerary wisely.
First off, the easiest way to get around Switzerland - hands down - is by train. The Swiss rail system is incredibly user-friendly, with frequent services and clear signage in multiple languages. Not only is it the most efficient way to get around, it is also the cheapest - something you'll be
grateful for in a pricey country like Switzerland!
Rather than booking individual train tickets for each trip between cities, I would recommend buying a rail pass instead, which will entitle you to hop on and off as you please without the need for a reservation. If you're going to be travelling solely in Switzerland then invest in a Swiss Rail Pass. However, if you're coming to or from another European country then I would suggest purchasing a Eurail Pass instead, as these passes can cover your train travel in as many countries as you require.
As a general rule, rail passes will only save you money if you're travelling between cities quite frequently (i.e. at least every two days for a one week pass), so if your itinerary is slower-paced than this then it might not be worth it.
An added bonus to the Swiss Rail System is the scenic views that can be enjoyed on pretty much every train route - make sure you shotgun a window seat in order to make the most of it!
Days 1-2: Geneva
First stop is the beautiful city of Geneva, home to Lake Geneva against the backdrop of The Alps.
You'll want to spend at least two days in Geneva, which will give you (just!) enough time to enjoy the food and night life, as well as allowing you to check out some of Geneva's major draw cards like wandering around the Old Town, paying a visit to CERN (the largest physics laboratory in the world) or spending at least half a day in one of the surrounding wine regions.
Of the wine regions, Lavaux (pictured) is a particular stand out. In addition to stunning views and a plethora of vineyards, the lovely Vinorama Cellar and their impressive wine tasting offering is also located here. Not only will you get to try some delicious wines, but the wait staff will also talk you through all the local grape types and styles as you work your way through the menu. Highly educational... but mainly just really good wine!
Days 3-5: Zermatt
Second stop is stunning Zermatt, a charming town at the base of the impressive Matterhorn Mountain - whose rugged peak you may recognise from the Toblerone logo! Zermatt deserves at least two days of your time, which will allow you to get in a bit of hiking, skiing and shopping - depending what time of year you're there and what you're into!
In the warmer seasons, you'll find plenty of hiking opportunities in the mountains that surround Zermatt. For the advanced mountaineer, a huge draw card will be the opportunity to summit the Matterhorn itself (4,478m), a feat which will likely have you staying overnight on the mountain before waking early to summit before sunrise. For those less experienced, there is ample hiking for all levels surrounding the town. An easy beginner trail would be to catch the cable car up to the Jungfrau Observation Deck (3,572m) then make your way on foot back down to Zermatt - this takes approximately 3-4 hours, including some time to explore the views en route.
It is possible to ski year round in Zermatt, even in summer, however in Winter there are obviously many more runs open and much more snow! Once you factor in accommodation, meals and lift passes, a ski trip to Zermatt can end up quite pricey. However, you'll find it well worth it once you take in the breathtaking views. Warm yourself up after hitting the slopes with a comforting dish of fondue - a Swiss favourite!
Days 6-7: Interlaken
Third up we have beautiful Interlaken, Switzerland's home of adventure activities! Adrenalin junkies will find no shortage of entertainment here, with sky diving, hang gliding, kayaking, paragliding and jet boating all on offer here.
If you're going to sky dive just once in your life then you should definitely do it here in Interlaken! Aside from the incredible thrill of the jump, you'll also get to take in some spectacular aerial views of the lakes below and the Alps alongside you as you dive. The company I went with were Skydive Switzerland, who I honestly couldn't fault in terms of professionalism and service. Despite being terribly afraid of heights, I was immediately put at ease by my very experienced and humorous instructor. For an extra fee, you can opt to have a video made of your jump. Initially, I was hesitant due to the cost but now, in retrospect, I am so grateful to have the memories captured on film.
Is jumping out of planes not really your thing? No problem! Interlaken has you covered for a number of other (slightly more low-key) outdoor activities as well. A great way to check out the little towns dotted all around the lakes is to hire a bicycle and spend a day exploring the area. If the weather is nice, pack your bathers and a picnic!
If you have the time, nearby Grindelwald is well worth a day trip. Grindelwald is everything you would imagine a small town located in the Swiss mountains to be - the kind of place where the houses are made of a dark wood and the cows are all wearing cow bells. Make sure you have a fully-charged camera before you go, because every single angle of this charming little town is photogenic.
Bonus: half day in Locarno
If you're arriving in Switzerland from Italy via train, or you're leaving via train to Italy afterwards, chances are your journey will take you through Locarno, a charming lake-side town in Switzerland's Italian-speaking south... So why not break up the train ride a bit by stopping in Locarno for a few hours to have some lunch and a bit of a wander?
The main promenade here faces out over the lake with the mountains in the background - it is a great spot to grab a bite or a drink!
Where to spend and where to save
Switzerland is an expensive place, so if you're trying to watch your spending some forethought is required.
Choosing to prepare some meals yourself instead of eating out can go a long way in terms of saving you money on your trip. Head to a nearby deli and stock up on some cheese, cold meats, dips, bread and a cheap bottle of local wine and - voila - you've made yourself a gourmet meal for half the price of a fancy restaurant! Switzerland is famous for its cheeses and styles vary from region to region, so make sure you ask around for some recommendations regarding which local varieties you should try.
An important thing to remember about Switzerland is that it is famous for its nature - and nature is free! Wandering through fields, hiking up mountains, cooling off by having a swim in the lake - these are some of the most rewarding activities on offer in Switzerland and they won't cost you a cent.
Saving money in some areas will allow you to splurge on the things that are worth paying for - like a lift pass for the avid skier or video footage of a bucket list item like skydiving.
What do you think? Have you been to Switzerland yet? Where would you recommend going to someone planning a trip there?