While we ended up spending a number of days in Switzerland’s cities, we wanted to spend plenty of time soaking in Switzerland’s nature, specifically the Swiss Alps and the Berner Obereland region. To do so we spent four nights in Interlaken, giving us four-and-a-half days in the Swiss Alps. We used Interlaken as a jumping off point for a number of day-trips to places like Thun, Jungfraujoch, Lake Spiez, Lauterbrunnen, and Gimmelwald.
The Swiss Alps
Jungfrau is one of Switzerland’s famous mountain peaks, at 13,642 feet, in the Bernese Alps, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1912, construction was completed on the Jungfrau Railway and it has been transporting passengers through a 4.4-mile-long tunnel through the Eiger and Mönch peaks ever since. Jungfraujoch, also known as the Top of Europe, is 11,333 feet above sea level and is Europe’s highest-altitude railway station.
Travelers make the trip up to Jungfraujoch for the spectacular views of the surrounding Swiss Alps. But the viewing platform isn’t the only thing to visit during a day’s visit to Jungfraujoch. Alpine Sensation showcases the development of tourism in the Swiss Alps and the railway’s history. Eismeer is a five minute stop on the way up to Jungfraujoch which provides a glimpse of the sea of ice outside.
The Ice Palace is intriguing because these ice aisles and halls were created in the 1930s by mountain guides with picks and saws. Today the nooks and crannies are filled with works of ice art like penguins and bears. It is fun to try sliding on the icy floor, but don’t try to do anything too silly, like moonwalk, or you could get hurt (true story).
In case you visit on a cloudy day, the indoor Jungfrau Panorama provides a 360-degree panorama experience of the mountains. Chocolate lovers will want to stop into the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven. If the weather is good, visitors can walk a footpath for 45 minutes to Mönchsjochhütte, the highest-altitude serviced hut in Switzerland. The Snow Fun Park allows visitors to play in the snow, including skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow tubing.
An ultrafast elevator that travels 108 meters in 25 seconds take visitors to the Sphinx Observatory, an international research station with the best views, and hot chocolate or a cognac. For the active and adventurous, the Aletsch Glacier Hike is a two-day hike across the ice of the largest glacier in Europe.
The Swiss Travel Pass provides free travel from Interlaken Ost to Wengen and then 25% off from Wengen to Jungfraujoch. The Jungfrau Travel Pass allows for an unlimited number of trips in the Jungfrau Region and a discounted ticket to Jungfraujoch.
Lauterbrunnen may be one of those most idyllic places in the world. I think it has something to do with the incredibly tall, sharply steep cliff faces with waterfalls cascading over their edges, the water seemingly disappearing on impact.
The impossible expanse of green, trapped clouds, and clanging of cowbells in the air helps too.
Strolling through Lauterbrunnen valley is a perfect afternoon pastime. The roundtrip walk from Lauterbrunnen to Trümmelbach Falls and back is about four miles along a paved farm road (not the main road). The views are glorious along the entire walk, and there are a few points of interest to stop at along the way, like Staubbach Falls and Buchenbachfall.
This is the land of cows and dairy farms, and I will always remember the aroma of cheese being made that wafted through the valley. Even better, some of the dairy farms have a table or refrigerator along the walk with cheese and an honor system. Our favorite Switzerland souvenir was Alp cheese we purchased this way.
Before embarking on a long walk through the Lauterbrunnen valley, it’s a good idea to fuel up with some traditional Switzerland food like rösti or fondue. Restaurant Weidstübli Lauterbrunnen in the Camping Jungfrau Holiday Park is an excellent choice.
At the south end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley is a series of cable cars that zigzag up the mountain, stopping at little towns along the way. The first town is Gimmelwald. There’s not much to do in Gimmelwald, but we found it fascinating to walk along the winding lanes and imagine what life must be like up there.
The views from Gimmelwald are entrancing, and you’ll also encounter cats, horses, and cows. A water trough on the side of the street is the town’s historic water supply.
But our favorite site in Gimmelwald was that of the cute cheese hut where cheese is produced. This was our favorite site because right across the road from the cheese hut is a house with a self-service honor system refrigerator full of delectable Alp cheese.
If you continue up the cable car system you can visit the town of Murren and Schilthorn Piz Gloria at the top of the mountain.
Trips along Two Lakes
Interlaken’s name is very literal as it is literally situated between two lakes, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. This opens multiple opportunities for boat travel to unique and varied destinations.
A trip from Interlaken to Thun is as much about the trip as the destination. It is a leisurely two-hour boat ride along Lake Thun. With our first class Swiss Travel Passes, we had access to the upstairs restaurant where we had a wonderful lunch of fish and chips and cured meats and cheeses while taking in the views, as our table was at a window at the front of the boat.
Once we arrived in Thun, we spent a few hours strolling around the town and visiting Thun Castle. During our stroll, we encountered Thun river surfing near the Aerefeldstrasse station on the waves created by the Scherzlig lock. This is actually one of two river surfing spots in Thun, and the easier one. The more difficult Thun river surfing spot is at the mill lock. Surfers attach a rope to a hook on the covered wooden bridge, Obere Schleuse, let the surge of the water move them away from the bridge, and then let go and surf for as long as they can. The wave forms because of a hole in the underground.
At the top of a hill, reached by a long covered staircase, are Thun’s city church, Stadtkirche Thun, and Thun Castle. Thun castle has never been lived in by a royal family. The tower was built around 1200. The fortress was used as the mayor’s office and residence until 1798. The castle has some interesting things to see, including Swiss travel souvenirs from previous decades. The castle also provides some lovely views of Thun. Entrance to the castle is free with the Swiss Travel Pass.
At the opposite end of Interlaken is Lake Brienz, which also has some pretty destinations easily reachable by boat. One of these is Giessbach Falls. Giessbach drops 500 meters, cascading over 14 different falls.
Getting to the falls is a bit of an adventure. When the boat from Interlaken drops passengers off, they have two choices: hike up the hill to the historic Grand Hotel Giessbach, built in the late 1800s, or ride up the hill in Europe’s oldest funicular. The funicular was completed in 1879. It ascends 104 meters during the four-minute ride that travels 345 meters.
Once at the Grand Hotel Giessbach, there’s still a little hike to the falls, and you can decide how high along the falls you want to hike. If there’s enough time, we suggest walking back to the pier rather than taking the funicular back down.
On our way back to Interlaken from Giessbach Falls, we stopped at Iseltwald, a tiny lakefront town that’s been around since at least the 12th century. It’s even got a castle on a peninsula, which is now used as a rehabilitation center. The Strandhotel is a nice place to stop in for a lunch of lake fish and chips.
Why did we choose Interlaken as our home base? We were in Switzerland in April (for our birthdays), which actually isn’t the optimal time to visit the Swiss Alps because it isn’t really winter anymore but it isn’t really summer yet either. Snow activities are mostly finished, summer activities haven’t started, trails are muddy from melting snow, and a number of places are closed as owners take the opportunity to take holidays of their own.
However, this didn’t hamper us in the least and in a way we got to enjoy both seasons in one trip. But it did influence our choice of staying in Interlaken because it is a bigger town, meaning more open lodging and eating options, and it is lower in elevation, meaning more moderate weather.
If you’ve already done a little research about Interlaken, you may have read some not so favorable things. It is true that Interlaken is geared towards tourists with tons of shops selling expensive watches and other Swiss products. I wasn’t thrilled with the Hooters, sex shop, and casino, though the casino is well-hidden and the sex shop can be easily overlooked. There are tons of tourists.
While Interlaken meets the definition of touristy, it was quiet at night, there are good restaurants with regional food in spite of the Hooters, and it is a beautiful town, especially when you turn off of the main drag and walk farther in along the side streets.
One of the best things to do in Interlaken is to take the cable car up Interlaken’s mountain, Harder Kulm. The Two-Lake Footbridge 1,322 meters above Interlaken provides views of Interlaken, Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Lake Thun, and Lake Brienz. At the top is also the Panorama Restaurant Harder Kulm serving food, drinks, and more of the view.
We spent our four days in Interlaken at the Hotel Interlaken, located on the east side of town within walkable distance of the Interlaken-Ost train station, even with luggage. While it was a bit of a longer stroll to the west side of town where most of the restaurants we enjoyed were located, we liked the Hotel Interlaken’s location because it was near enough to everything, but outside of the most touristed section of Interlaken.
We also liked that Hotel Interlaken is a historic hotel which has been providing hospitality since 1491. Some of the original walls are preserved in the lobby, bar, and restaurant. The hotel has had some famous historic visitors too, including Lord Byron.
While Interlaken isn’t technically in the Swiss Alps, staying at the Hotel Interlaken feels like staying in a Swiss mountain chalet with the blonde wood-paneled walls and richly dark upholstery.
Our balcony looked over the hotel’s Japanese garden and had a pretty view whether it was sunny and clear or if white snow was drifting to the ground (and we experienced both).
The Hotel Interlaken has a very convenient restaurant, Restaurant Taverne. But the restaurant is more than convenient, it is delicious. Restaurant Taverne serves modern Swiss cuisine and offers both a four-course and ala carte menu.
We stumbled upon what must be one of the best restaurants in Interlaken, Restaurant Stadthaus in the Stadthaus Unterseen. The restaurant serves alpine classics, Switzerland wines, and regional beers. An example of Restaurant Stadthaus’ dishes is the Grindelwaldner Käseschnitte with melted cheese, bacon, fried egg, and Welsh rarebit on bread.
For an afternoon treat, step into the Grand Café Restaurant Schuh for a fancy hot coffee and a chocolate. The Schuh has been around for over a hundred years, with a few different owners, and is known for its confectionery and chocolates.
For some casual Swiss fair and craft beers from Switzerland and around the world, head to Hüsi Bierhaus.
Thank you to Interlaken Tourism, Hotel Interlaken, and Switzerland Tourism for hosting our trip and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are our own. This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission which goes towards this website and bringing you more travel stories.