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Things to Do in Switzerland

From the soaring Alpine peaks of the Jungfrau region to the peaceful shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland welcomes visitors with a wealth of great outdoor adventures. Private and small-group tours led by in-the-know guides help you navigate your way through regions with inspiring landscapes, medieval history, and multiple languages. In summer, take a hiking tour through lush pastureland and paddle along choppy rivers; in winter, ski, and snowboard in the Alps. Whether you tour by foot, bike, or coach, you’ll find places to sample Swiss cheese, chocolate, and wine; and learn about the country’s folklore. Take a walking tour of Zurich to admire monuments like the Bahnhofstrasse shopping street and Old Town, browse the Swiss National Museum, or cruise on Lake Zurich. Head to pretty Lucerne to view the Museggmauer, a 14th-century city wall with nine towers. Add a day trip to Montreux, home to the internationally renowned Montreux Jazz Festival and Chillon Castle, immortalized by Lord Byron in a poem, and explore its turrets and dungeons. For high-altitude action, take a day trip to the Alps and the Bernese Oberland, Mt. Pilatus, Jungfraujoch, or the charming mountain town of Chamonix, France, home to Mt. Blanc. Tours start from a variety of base towns, including Geneva and Zurich, to guide you to Interlaken and Grindelwald, with their spectacular scenery and crisp air. Take to the skies on a paragliding adventure, cruise the calm waters of magical Lake Lucerne, or visit Zermatt to experience the Matterhorn.
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Mount Rigi
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Mount Rigi is a mountain in central Switzerland, bordering Lucerne, and part of the Swiss Alps. It's also known as the "Queen of the Mountains.” Rigi offers stunning panoramic views and is famous for its beautiful sunrises. Nowadays, the mountain is easily accessible by public transportation. It offers many winter and summer excursions such as skiing, sledding, or hiking.

It has been popular with adventurous, romantic travellers for quite some time (before the advent of public transportation), including Mark Twain more than a century ago. The Rigi has been immortalized through paintings by JMW Turner, including "The Blue Rigi, Lake of Lucerne, Sunrise".

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Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee)
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Lake Lucerne is the 4th largest lake in the country and has complicated shape that curves into the mountains and the city of Lucerne. The lake’s has a total area of 114 square kilometers (44 sqare miles). The lake and shoreline have many stunning views, especially of Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus. It is possible to trek around the lake by road. You should be wary that the route is slow, twisted, and goes through multiple tunnels. The lake is a popular tourist destination, both for foreigners and native Swiss, with numerous hotels, resorts, and other establishments lining the shores. Consider taking a boat tour of lake to fully enjoy the sights.
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Bernina Express
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An iconic rail route, soaring over the spectacular Bernina Pass and reaching lofty heights of 2,134 meters, the famous Bernina Express is the only railway connecting the North and South Alps. Starting in Switzerland, from the ‘Top of the World’ in St. Moritz, the narrow-gauge railway runs through the untamed gorges of the Engadine valley, past the shimmering glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Bernina mountain range, through cliff-hugging tunnels and over hair-raising bridges. Finally terminating in the palm-tree framed Tirano in north Italy, the entire journey takes a mere 2.5 hours, and offers an unbeatable introduction to the Alps. The acclaimed railway route was finally awarded UNESCO World Heritage status back in 2008 for the Thusis to Tirano section, celebrating the extraordinary feat of engineering that allowed the railway to be constructed. The tracks, laid between 1896 and 1904, include an incredible 196 bridges and 55 tunnels.
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Harder Kulm
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Interlaken’s nearest mountain, sandwiched between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, Harder Kulm is the easiest way to get a taste of the Bernese Alps without having to don your hikers. An eight-minute ride on the funicular railway – a modern version of the carriages that have traversed the 1,322-meter summit for the past 100 years - will land you at the top, affording staggering views over the neighboring mountains on the breathtaking ascent.

The dramatic vistas might be the mountain’s biggest selling point – best viewed from the garden terrace of the mountaintop castle-cum-restaurant or by gawping through the glass floor of the vertigo-inducing Two Lakes Bridge – but there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained. Spot ibex in the Alpine Wildlife Park, let the kids loose in the playground, enjoy the easy 1.5-hour circular Theme Trail or stick around until dusk when regular folklore evenings take over the mountaintop.

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Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
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Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to the locals) is land-locked Switzerland’s largest body of water, though most of its southern shore is in French territory. The lake is ringed by Alps and almost any point along the shore offers jaw-dropping scenery, as well as some of the most sought-after real estate in the world. More active visitors can swim, dive, windsurf and row in the warmer months.

The western extremity of the lake is dominated by the city of Geneva. Travelling eastwards you enter the canton of Vaud, whose capital Lausanne is known for the Musée de l’Art Brut, a world-famous survey of early outsider art, as well as a museum celebrating the Olympic Games, whose governing body is situated here. Further east you pass through Vevey, the heart of the Swiss Riviera, before coming to picturesque Montreux, famous for its jazz festival and the imposing Château de Chillon, a medieval bastion right on the water.

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Engadine Valley
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A long winding valley cupped between the snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps and following the Inn River, the 80-km-long Engadine (or Engadin) Valley is one of the country's most desirable holiday destinations. With a sunny climate, beautiful lakes and a stunning alpine backdrop, this makes Engadine one of Europe’s most highly populated valleys, including star-studded destinations like St Moritz. The Rhaetian Railway and the Bernina Express both run into the Upper Engadine valley, where the highest mountains of the Bernina Range play host to ski and snowboarding resorts, mighty glaciers and a range of year-round outdoor activities. The valley also hosts a number of annual festivals and events – look out for skiing competitions, horse racing and polo on the frozen St Moritz lake, windsurfing marathons and the day parade of traditional horse-drawn sleigh rides that takes place each winter.

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Lucerne Old Town
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With its idyllic lakeside promenade lined with half-timbered buildings, old burghers' houses decorated with elaborate murals and maze of cobblestone lanes linking the main squares of Weinmarkt, Hischenplatz and Kornmarkt; the pedestrianized Lucerne Old Town provides an atmospheric backdrop for a walking tour. The UNESCO-listed district is the historic heart of the city, set on the eastern banks of the River Reuss and still surrounded by the remains of its medieval city walls and watchtowers. Many of Lucerne’s top attractions can also be found in the Old Town including the poignant Lion Monument, the Alpineum, the Picasso Museum and the 17th-century old Town Hall, as well as the 15th-century Mills Bridge, a wooden crossing adorned with colorful Kaspar Meglinger murals.
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Paradeplatz (Parade Square)
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Zürich’s Parade Square, better known as Paradeplatz, is located right outside of the main train station and is one of the city’s most important junctions. Not only do many of the tram lines meet up here, but Parade Square has made itself a name as one of the world’s big financial centers. Large Swiss banks have set up their headquarters here and thus, it has become a synonym for wealth and prosperity. The square also connects to the Bahnhofstrasse, Zürich’s main shopping avenue where luxury labels fight over premiere retail space and the rich and famous come to shop. But Parade Square wasn’t always mentioned in the same sentence as wealth and its history stands in stark contrast with today’s prestigious reputation.

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More Things to Do in Switzerland

Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke)

Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke)

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The Chapel Bridge (or Kapellbrücke) in Lucerne is a 204 meter (670 foot) long bridge crossing the Reuss River located in the upper part of the Swiss city. It was originally constructed in 1333 as a fortification to help protect Lucerne from attacks and is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. Inside the bridge are a collection of paintings from the 17th century, depicting various events and important saints from Lucerne's history. Much of the bridge and artwork were destroyed in a 1993 fire, but it was promptly restored. The 140 feet (43 meter) tall Wasserturm (Water Tower), an octagonal tower made from brick, is adjacent to the bridge. The tower has served as a prison, torture chamber, watchtower and treasury for the city in the past. Today the tower is a part of the city wall and is used as a club room for a traditionalist association. As a result, the inside of the tower is not open for public viewing.
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Zurich Old Town (Altstadt)

Zurich Old Town (Altstadt)

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The historic heart of Zurich, the Altstadt, or Old Town, remains the most atmospheric part of the city, with its striking 19th century buildings and winding cobblestone lanes hosting an array of modern cafes, shops and galleries. For visitors to the city, the Old Town makes the ideal starting point for a sightseeing tour of Zurich, sprawling along both sides of the River Limmat and home to many of the city’s principal tourist attractions.

Zurich’s two landmark cathedrals – the medieval Fraumuenster (Church of Our Lady) and the Gothic style Grossmuenster – make navigating the Old Town easy, perched on opposite sides of the river and linked by the monumental Munster bridge. From here it’s an easy stroll to the charming Niederdorf district, crammed with quirky boutiques and hip coffee shops; the famous Bahnhofstrasse, one of Europe’s glitziest shopping streets; and many of Zurich’s top museums like the Swiss National Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts.

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Grossmünster Church

Grossmünster Church

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Sometimes called the Gross Monster by English-speaking locals, Grossmunster is a Romanesque-style Protestant church in Zurich. According to legend, Charlemagne discovered the graves of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula, and ordered a church to be constructed on the spot. Construction of Grossmunster began in 1100 and was finished around 1220, with the core of the building built on the site where Charlemagne’s church stood. The only original decorations that remain today are some faded frescoes in a side chapel and a depictions of battle scenes and Charlemagne’s discovery of Felix’s and Regula’s graves. The church’s crypt is the largest in Switzerland and dates to the 11th and 13th centuries. Modern stained glass windows were added to the church in 1932 and bronze doors were added in 1935 and 1950. Also known as the starting point of the Reformation in Switzerland in the 16th century, Grossmunster’s twin towers make it one of the most recognized landmarks in Zurich.

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Bahnhofstrasse

Bahnhofstrasse

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Bahnhofstrasse is THE shopping street in Zurich. Running from Bahnhofplatz outside the main train station all the way to the lake, it's full of luxury shops selling designer fashion, furs, porcelain, and, of course, chocolates, clocks and watches. Halfway along is Zurich's first, biggest and best department store Jelmoli. The basement food-hall is a must. Or if you want the best in Swiss chocolate, take a break at Cafe Sprungli, the epicenter of sweet Switzerland since 1836.

Bahnhofstrasse follows the line of the moat of medieval Zurich and is mainly pedestrianized, although watch out for the trams running along it. It runs parallel to the river Limmat and it's easy to punctuate your shopping with visits to churches and other important sites of Zurich dotted in the narrow streets between. Culture and consumerism: Zurich has them both.

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Lion Monument (Löwendenkmal)

Lion Monument (Löwendenkmal)

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Carved into the low cliff face on the outskirts of the Old Town, the Lion Monument is Lucerne’s most distinctive landmark, evocatively described by Mark Twain as ‘the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world’. The giant sandstone sculpture depicts a 10-meter long dying lion resting in a shaded nook above a shimmering pond, and was created in 1821 under commission of Captain Carl Pfyffer von Altishofen.

Hewn out of the natural rock on-site, the monument was the handiwork of stonemason Lucas Ahorn, to the design of Danish classicist sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsenwhilst and commemorates the Swiss Guards that lost their lives in the 1792 French Revolution. Look closely and you’ll see that the lion’s paws rest on the symbolic Fleur-de-Lis (Lilies of France), while a broken spear juts from his back. The poignant inscription reads ‘Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti’ – ‘To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss’.

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Fraumünster Church

Fraumünster Church

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The 13th-century Church of our Lady, or Fraumünster, has an elegant blue spire which soars above the Zurich skyline. Situated right next to the lake, it is one of Zurich's key sights. Founded in 853 as a Benedictine convent, around the 11th century it was responsible for minting coins and collecting tolls making the then Abbess a powerful women indeed.

Inside the church are the famous stained-glass windows of 1967 by the famous artist Marc Chagall. The three main windows are: the blue Jacob window, with a ladder to heaven, the green Christ window, featuring Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, and the yellow Zion window depicting King David and Bathsheba being trumpeted into New Jerusalem. To the sides there are windows depicting the Prophets and Moses. Near the main exit is a window by another famous artist, Giacometti.

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National Museum Zurich (Landesmuseum Zürich)

National Museum Zurich (Landesmuseum Zürich)

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In a city with almost 150 museums and galleries, the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) beats off some pretty stiff competition to take its place as one of Zurich’s top museums. The largest of its kind in the country, the museum is devoted to preserving the cultural heritage and history of Switzerland, chronicling the birth and evolution of the nation.

Almost 1 million artifacts make up the permanent collection, which takes the visitor on a journey from ancient Switzerland, through the Middle Ages and into the 20th century. Personal items, handicrafts, artworks, furnishings and household items are among the many relics, bringing the past back to life through a series of evocative displays. Highlights include artifacts from as far back as the 4th millennium B.C; a significant collection of 9th century Carolingian art; a Swiss warfare exhibit of weaponry and armor; and an exhibit devoted to the traditional art of Swiss clock making.

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Lake Zurich (Zürichsee)

Lake Zurich (Zürichsee)

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Lake Zurich is big: 25 mi (40 km) long and 1.9 mi (3 km) wide. At its deepest it reaches 469 ft (143 m). The water is very clean, coming off those Swiss mountains, and is used for supplying water to the cities around it. The largest of these is Zurich at around 360,000 residents. The lake is used for boating and swimming, reaching up to 20 degrees Celcius (68 F) in summer. Along its edges are dotted swimming pools - these are floating pontoon decks with change rooms, sunbathing areas and usually saunas, massage and a cafe. They are open May-October. Parks line the lakeside and fill with people picnicking, roller-blading and sunbathing in summer. Even the police patrol on rollerblades!
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Lucerne Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche Luzern)

Lucerne Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche Luzern)

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Lucerne's Jesuit Church is the first expansive baroque church built north of the Alps in Switzerland. It is a beautiful and historical site, emphasizing the Catholic tradition of veneration of saints and visual culture. When the Jesuits brought the Counter Reformation to Lucerne in the 17th century; the elaborate church, dedicated to Francis Xavier, was constructed between 1666 and 1677. Architects from Italy and Austria built what many believe to be the most beautiful Baroque church in Switzerland.

Today, Jesuit Church is a major tourist attraction and often serves as a concert venue while it has almost no role in local church and religious life. The powerful-looking Baroque church features beautiful Roccocco interiors and a vault redecorated in the 18th century.

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Swiss Museum of Transport (Verkehrshaus der Schweiz)

Swiss Museum of Transport (Verkehrshaus der Schweiz)

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The Swiss Museum of Transport, called Verkehrshaus der Schweiz in German, is Switzerland’s most popular museum and shows the past, present and future of transport and mobility on land, at sea, in the air and even outer space. More than 3,000 displays on approximately 20,000 square meters of exhibition space bear witness to a moving history in the truest sense of the word and show the inventions and deeds of explorers and inventors. But isn’t only the old planes and trains that draw visitors from young to old here, the Swiss Museum of Transport also tells of future challenges in the field of transport and communications and has a focus that goes beyond Switzerland and Earth. Apart from the many halls dedicated to road, rail and air travel, the museum also hosts the largest screen in Switzerland in the adjoining IMAX theatre as well as a planetarium.

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Lindenhof

Lindenhof

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Lindenhof is both a district in Zürich and a square of the same name and looks back on an eventful history. The district is the oldest part of the city and once, a Roman fort stood in its place on the hill. At Lindenhof Square, a Roman tombstone was found containing the oldest mention of the city, back then a customs post with the name Turicum. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Lindenhof kept playing an important role in the city’s history. In the 13th century for example, Zürich was in a war against Winterthur and ran out of warriors. It was then that the women of the city dressed up as soldiers and stood on the raised Lindenhof, giving the impression that a strong army had come to the city’s rescue and thus, breaking the siege.

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Gornergrat Railway (Gornergrat Bahn)

Gornergrat Railway (Gornergrat Bahn)

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Riding Europe‘s highest open-air cog railway is a popular pastime for visitors to Zermatt and the dramatic Gornergrat railway serves up jaw-dropping views as it winds its way to the summit of Gornergrat Mountain.

The 45-minute journey might be impressive, but the real highlight is the destination and the Gornergrat Bahn boasts the title of Switzerland’s second-highest train station (after Jungfrau), located at a dizzying 3,089 meters. On arrival, make your way to the dedicated viewing platform, where the views span 29 of Switzerland’s highest peaks, including the mighty Matterhorn and one of the longest glaciers in the Alps.

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Dolderbahn

Dolderbahn

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The Dolderbahn is a proper mountain railway that, in just under six minutes, leads from the hustle and bustle of Zürich to the top of the Adlisberg, a forested hill on the eastern side of the city. Upon exiting the station at the Dolder Recreation Area next to the luxury Dolder Grand Hotel, one shouldn’t be surprised to see an army of bikers and joggers, as the region is immensely popular due to the many leisure and sports facilities as well as the vast network of hiking trails. The Dolder Train was built to provide the population of Zürich with an easy escape route from the busy city as well as stress-free access to a recreation area and still, there is hardly a better place to practice various sports. Even if you aren’t there to get sweaty, it’s a great destination to enjoy a sunny day.

The 1,328-meter long track of the Dolderbahn overcomes a height difference of 162 meters and is a little piece of history as it has been in operation since 1895.

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Geneva Water Fountains (Jet d’Eau)

Geneva Water Fountains (Jet d’Eau)

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If you’ve seen a panoramic view of Geneva you’ve most likely seen the huge lake Water Fountains, or Jet d’Eau, with its commanding position at the point where the River Rhône empties into Lake Geneva. It started life in the 19th century as a humble safety valve for a hydraulic installation, but is now the city’s foremost symbol.

With every second, some 130 gallons of water are propelled at 125 miles an hour to a maximum height of 150 yards (that's 500 liters at 200 km/h reaching 140 meters). The water shoots into the air before descending in a graceful fan shape back down to the lake, but its exact destination is determined by the strength and direction of the wind. In the warmer months, the fountain is lit during the evening until 11 o’clock.

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