The Swiss Grand Tour: 3 day, 5 day, and 8 day Itineraries

We’ve had a lot of visitors during our stay in Switzerland. Of course they have asked us for our recommendations of fun places to see and things to do here. After 18 months of sketching out itineraries for them I’ve put 3 up here for you.

All 3 of these tours assume that you will fly into and out of Zurich. It’s a huge international airport, the fares are the cheapest, and the train has a station stop on the lower level making it uber convenient.

I’ve laid out a bare sketch of recommendations here. For more details and stories please click on the title links, which will take you to the full stories of our adventures in each of those locations..

And in case you are thinking “What do I do with my luggage?” don’t worry! The train stations have very secure lockers of any size available for you to lock up your things. They usually cost anywhere from 7 to 11 Francs and are worth it.

3-Days

If you are coming here for only 3 days it’s probably because you are already in Europe. If you are flying into and out of Zurich, save your visit to Zurich until the end. There is nothing more stressful than racing to the airport from halfway across a country. Granted the train system in Switzerland is the definition for prompt and on time, but save yourself the stress and travel to Zurich with a day of sight-seeing ahead of you.

Day 1: Lucerne

IMG_2259If you visit Lucerne on a Saturday take advantage of the wonderful food and antiques/flea market. There are tons of treasures in those booths.

Walk across the Kapellbrücke and sit in a cafe for a beer or coffee and watch the swans swim by on the Ruess River.

Go for a boat ride along Lake Lucerne. You can stop at the Mt. Pilatus dock and hike around a little and then head back in time for dinner in one of the amazing restaurants along the Ruess River.

Day 2: Gruyeres and Broc

IMG_2261It’s only 2 and a half hours via train to Broc and the Cailler Chocolate Factory where you can take a tour of Cailler or you can sign up in advance for one of there chocolate making classes like Mom and I did. However, the classes are from 2 to 4 hours long, so if you choose to take a class you might not have time to go to Gruyeres and see how cheese is made.

It’s only 30 minutes from Broc to Gruyeres via regio tram. In Gruyeres you are looking for La Maison du Gruyere, the factory that produces Le Gruyere AOP cheese. They open at 9am and the tour is about 2 and a half hours long and then you can sit for a fondue or cheese plate dinner in the restaurant. The Castle Gruyeres is near enough that you can buy a combined entrance ticket for the factory and the castle. Or, you can ask them for a map and take the 2 – 3 hour hike around to all the dairies in the area.

Day 3: Zurich

IMG_0670
At a picturesque overlook. That’s the Limmat River below us.

It’s almost cliche, but Zurich is a must-see city. Everyone has heard about it and it will be one of the first cities that your friends will mention when you say “I just got back from Switzerland!”

See the windows painted by Marc Chagall in the Fraumunster.

Go see where James Joyce hung out.

Visit the Freitag bag factory.

Check out the very high-end shopping and consider buying an actual Swiss Watch.

5-Days

Day 1: St. Gallen and Appenzell

IMG_1464St. Gallen is a lovely little town, but the Library at St. Gall is really what you want to see here. It’s routinely listed as a “must see” on any top 10 list, and for good reason. It’s is probably one of the the most beautiful rooms I have ever been in. The Cathedral is no slouch either. After taking in the beauty of Rococo architecture, you can go next door to a fantastic chocolatier cafe for a lovely hot chocolate and cake.

 

Oh yeah! I have!Then head off to Appenzell and Wasseraun to hike up to Seealpsee to have a beer on the edge of one of the most iconic lakes in all of Switzerland. You’ve probably seen it in some kind of advert and you don’t even know it.  Come back down and stay the night in Appenzell and have some of the best fondue Switzerland had to offer.

Day 2 and 3: Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

TIMG_2230ake the train to Lucerne and spend the morning wandering around the old town. Then go up to the top of Pilatus via cog-wheel railway (May to November only) and spend the night at Hotel Pilatus-Kulm.  If it’s the winter you will have to go to Kriens for a gondola ride and then transfer at Fräkmüntegg to the aerial cableway known as the Dragon Ride to get to the top. The view is something you will never forget.

Day 4: Gruyeres and Broc

See the 3-day itinerary for what to do.

Day 5: Zurich

See the 3-day itinerary for what to do.

8-Days

Day 1: St. Gallen

IMG_1480

 

Get out of Zurich and go to St. Gallen for the day. You won’t have quite enough time to get to Appenzell, so stay the night in St. Gallen instead. See the 5-Day itinerary for what to see.

Day 2 and 3: Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

See the 5-Day itinerary for what to do and see.

IMG_3784Day 4: Lausanne 

 

Take the train from Mt. Pilatus to Lausanne. After wandering around the old town take the tram down to Lake Geneva and then walk the 400 meters along the lake to the Olympic Museum.

Day 5: Broc and Gruyeres

After spending the night in Lausanne go to Broc to visit the chocolate factory for the morning and then Gruyeres for the afternoon and spend the night (because who doesn’t like fondue for dinner). If you are visiting between May and the end of October spend the night in Montreux from Lausanne and take the “Chocolate Train”. You can return to Montreux for the night and then head off to Schilthorn in the morning.

Day 6: Schilthorn

IMG_1701After sleeping off all the cheese and chocolate find your way to a train and head to Schilthorn. You will take a couple of trains and then two gondolas that give you the most gorgeous view of the Alps. And then once you are at the top you can see the 3 of the 4 most famous mountains in Switzerland: Eiger, Jungfrau, and Mönch. (The last one being The Matterhorn in Zermatt.)  Have lunch in the restaurant at the top and replay some of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service up on the top deck. And don’t skip the James Bond museum, it is actually fun.

Once you come down take the train to Bern and spend the night there.

Day 7: Bern

IMG_0372Bern is the home to the Swiss Parliament! And Einstein lived there! Go see Einstein’s house right on the main street of the old town. Wander down the covered streets. Eat a waffle at one of the waffle stands. Taste the chocolate at the Laderach shop on the corner by the main square. Go across the bridge at the far end of the town and see the Bern Bears. And take a moment to see the Prison Tower and the History Museum. Both are worth the time. Then go back to the central square by the Parliament and see if you can snag a Fondue Taxi! Or eat in one of the very, very good restaurants there in the square.

If you are lucky enough to be visiting during the 4th Monday in November you will get to enjoy the Onion Festival, which is so much more fun than it sounds.

Day 8: Zurich

A fun city. See the 3-Day itinerary for what to do and see.


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