Two Weeks in Switzerland - The Perfect Itinerary for Traveling Switzerland by Scenic Train
Each spring, my momma and I take a special girls' trip, and Switzerland had been at the top of our bucket list for years. We even planned an entire trip towards the end of the pandemic travel restrictions, when Europe had just begun to open up its borders again. The information on which countries were open to Americans was unclear. Still, we managed to call the Swiss Embassy, who assured us that vaccinated American's would be welcomed into Switzerland with proof of vaccination and a negative covid test.
That first attempt ended in chaos - we flew to Switzerland only to be turned away at the border. My enthusiastic response of 'hiking!' was not an appropriate reason to embark on a trip to Switzerland, according to the border and immigration patrol.
The country opened fully to American travelers a few days later, but not before we were ushered back to the US on the next flight to Chicago without even being allowed to exit the airport in Zurich. It was probably our most chaotic travel experience to date and certainly our biggest blunder. We ended up retreating to Acadia National Park to lick our wounds and still had a lovely time…but it just wasn't Switzerland.
Our desire to experience the beauty of Switzerland never faltered. A year late - just before our pre-purchased train passes expired, we were back on a plane headed back for our Swiss adventure. This time, we planned to fly into Milan and take the train - just in case!
The only hiccup was a day-long train strike which kept us in Milan for an extra night before we made it to Switzerland without incident. It was our travel dream come true! Pristine glacial blue lakes, incredible architecture, culture, castles, and the magnificence of the Alps have put Switzerland at the top of the list of the most beautiful countries I've ever visited. It was truly the trip of a lifetime and exceeded our every expectation.
Before we arrived, we had a basic itinerary carved out that surrounded the routes of Switzerland's scenic trains, but most of our lodging was booked once we arrived in the various villages and cities we chose to stop in.
The Scenic Trains of Switzerland
My mom is the ideal travel companion, and I think we finally managed to strike the perfect balance of spontaneity and structure on the Switzerland trip. In a little over two weeks, we were able to traverse a huge portion of the country, with time to swing through Cinque Terre in Italy for a few days on the way home.
We traveled the country by way of scenic trains along routes that highlighted Switzerland's diverse landscapes and cultural highlights. The trains we took included The Bernina Express, The Glacier Express, The Golden Pass, and The Gotthard Panorama Express. The longest train travel day was about 8 hours. I highly recommend experiencing the scenic trains of Switzerland, as it's a great way to see a large portion of the country in a limited amount of time and experience hard-to-reach places in the Alps. The trains offer panoramic windows and plenty of delicious food and drink options to keep you nourished along the way.
Our trip was definitely fast-paced, and we were able to fit in quite a few highlights. If you're interested in traveling to Switzerland, allow our itinerary to help you plan your own perfect trip.
On our first day in Switzerland, we boarded the Bernina Express - one of Switzerland's oldest and most famous trains that ultimately runs all the way through Eastern Europe. We'd splurged for first-class tickets, which came with the most adorable perks, including a train-shaped tin of Swiss chocolates, tasty bottles of local wine, a local cheese board, a uniquely delicious pear bread, and a Swiss pocket knife.
The Bernina Express itself was an old-fashioned, bright red train with panoramic windows that allowed us to take in every single detail of the amazing views. We passed through picturesque pastoral landscapes scattered with the first spring wildflowers before climbing high into the alps. Tunnels, bridges, and steep mountain passes kept the ride thrilling from start to finish, and each view was more phenomenal than the last. It was one of those journeys that I wished would never end.
In the late afternoon, we arrived at our first Swiss destination, the glitzy and glamorous resort town of St. Moritz. The mountainous village has hosted two Winter Olympics and is one of Switzerland's most popular ski destinations in the winter. It's also known for being sunny almost every day of the year. We arrived on one of the rare rainy days, but it didn't take away from our experience in the slightest.
We stayed at the luxurious Hotel Steffani, which has been in the same family since 1869. We loved the elegant alpine decor and elaborately carved wooden furniture throughout the property. My mom was especially delighted by the reoccurring Steffani Rabbit mascot, which occurred in unexpected and artistic ways throughout the hotel's interior.
After enjoying a tasty meal at a nearby farm-to-table restaurant, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Hotel Steffani's fabulous spa. The spa at hotel Steffani was truly an oasis of relaxation, with a huge mineral pool, steam room, sauna, meditation space, and massage room. If you choose to book a spa day in Switzerland, keep in mind that the dress code is very European. We knew what we were in for, but nothing quite prepares you for a gaggle of naked middle-aged German men walking in when you're chilling in the sauna with your mom.
After leaving St. Moritz, we hopped on another incredible scenic train ride through the Alps to Lake Geneva, which is shared between France and Switzerland. Lake Geneva's shores are famous for various reasons - the Swiss city of Geneva is a diplomatic hub and the site of the Geneva Convention. On the French side is the resort town of Evian-Les-Bains.
We chose to stay in the Swiss Riviera, in the beautiful city of Montreux. We stayed at a beautiful lakefront hotel called Eden Palace au Lac, which was affordable considering our balcony's breathtaking views and our last-minute booking.
Montreux sits right on the bank of Lake Geneva and has a few claims to fame. It was the home of the musical genius Freddie Mercury for a time, and there is a majestic statue of him that overlooks the water where fans leave notes and flowers for him. It's also well known for the Montreux Jazz festival, which takes place over a few weeks in July and is one of the largest jazz festivals in the world.
One of my very favorite things to do in Montreux was to walk along the shimmering lake on the promenade and enjoy the amazing flowers. It's also known as the Chemin Fleuri, meaning 'the flower path' and is surrounded by plants and trees worldwide. There are quaint cafes and plenty of benches and places to take a seat and enjoy the scenery. The climate and vegetation reminded me a lot of the Mediterranean, which is my absolute favorite.
The Chillon Castle was another highlight. We were able to walk there along the lakeside promenade right from our hotel, and we got there early, so there were no lines. The medieval castle is one of the best preserved in all of Europe and made me feel like I was living in a fairy tale. Lord Byron wrote a poem about Chillon Castle, and it was the inspiration for the castle from The Little Mermaid! Inside, we were able to explore every room, many of them still furnished with some of the original furniture and artwork
. It was truly an unforgettable experience. Exploring castles is one of our favorite activities while traveling in Europe, and this was definitely one of my favorites.
Lake cruises, delicious fresh food, and incredible shopping rounded out our two day stay at Lake Geneva. We wish we would have had time to visit the neighboring town of Gruyère, where the cheese is made, and would absolutely add that to our itinerary if we could do it again. For a full list of things to do, check out my article on The Travel.
Our next stop was Bern, the capital of Switzerland. The city is built around the gorgeous alpine blue Aare River, which twists and turns through incredible medieval architecture. Bern has origins as far back as the 12th century, and if you love old buildings, it's a must-visit European city. Giant cuckoo clocks, majestic cathedrals, and funky counterculture are just some of the highlights we enjoyed in Bern.
The city was by far the most crowded spot we visited in Switzerland, with hordes of locals and tourists alike enjoying the surprisingly warm weather. My favorite memory by far was hiking down the steep staircase to the banks of the Aare River, and joining the locals in taking off our shoes and dipping our feet in the icy glacial waters.
We enjoyed relaxing on the banks together for some time and were shocked to see some of the locals plunging into the frigid waters and being quickly swept downstream. Apparently, it's a popular summer pastime, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't an extremely strong swimmer. We even spotted some adventurous people who tied ropes to the bridge and seemed to be surfing on wakeboards in the strong currents while holding on to the ropes.
The highlight of the trip for both of us was the mountainous Bernese Oberland region. The scenery was absolutely out of this world, with breathtaking views in every direction. After taking a train to Lauterbrunnen, our journey involved a bus ride to the base camp surrounded by steep cliffs and plummeting waterfalls. We boarded a cable car, which is like a giant ski lift that fits about 25-40 people, and ascended to the alpine village of Murren.
Car-free and quiet, Murren was even more spectacular than we ever could have imagined. With panoramic views of the snow-capped alps, traditional Swiss chalets, and meadows scattered with wildflowers as far as the eye could see, Murren was undoubtedly the most beautiful place I have ever visited.
We stayed at the Edelweiss hotel, and believe me when I say that the room with a view is worth the slight up charge. We were completely blown away. I am not sure any future rooms with views will ever compare to the views from Edelweiss. Each morning when we had coffee on our balcony, we watched base jumpers floating through the sky on their long trip down between the cliffs and waterfalls descending from the snow-capped tips of the mountains.
During our time in Murren, we went on several amazing hikes through the mountains and meadows, identified new species of flowers, and talked to cows. We took another cable car even higher to the top of the Schilthorn - the filming location of Piz Gloria in the James Bond movies.
We also visited an incredible glacial waterfall that made its way through the mountain. The cave system that inspired Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of my favorite day trips. After hiking up the moss-covered waterfall, an ancient cave system called St. Beatus Caves opened up like the entrance to another realm.
We only had four days in the Bernese Oberland region, and we both agreed that we could have spent a month in that area alone. We can't stop talking about going back.
Switzerland is as culturally diverse as it is beautiful. Whether you're into history, architecture, nature, or food - it's well worth the trip. It doesn't get much better than springtime in Switzerland. Book the ticket and pack your bags!