Ah, Switzerland. An alpine wonderland filled with chocolate and cheese! What is there not to love.
The biggest challenge you will have if you are coming to Switzerland is deciding what to see, and, what NOT to see.
Yes, there is a lot of amazing cities and mountain-filled destinations in this central European country. But fear not! I have lived here for over 15 years and am here to help you decide on the perfect 1-week itinerary.
This guide will give you the must-sees with associated maps and lists so you can easily see what there is on offer in each location.
It will also tell give you some insider tips on travel, tours, destinations, food and activities.
This is the itinerary I recommend to my friends and family, so you know it’s going to be jam-packed with Swiss delights.
With this plan you will catch all the best Switzerland has to offer, and still have time for a little relaxing on the way.
Below is a quick overview of what I consider to be the best one-week itinerary for anyone coming to Switzerland. It allows for arrival/departure in either Zurich or Geneva and give you enough time to see the best this country has to offer. There is also flexibility to allow more (or less time) in each place so you are not locked into this “exact” plan. Just use it as a guide.
Before we jump into the details, I have included the most important information travellers such as yourself will need to know about Switzerland (money, travel, timezone, visas etc).
This itinerary assumes you land/arrive in Zurich and leave from either Zurich or Geneva. However, you can do it in reverse if you are starting from Geneva. So, don’t skip it if that is where you are arriving – just start from the bottom and work your way up instead.
Getting From The Airport
Zurich Airport is approximately 10 minutes train ride from downtown Zurich. So, unless you have a reason to hire a car or catch a taxi, I would use public transport at all times. It’s reliable, easy and super clean and safe.
If you have a Swiss Travel Pass you can just jump on a train and you are good to go. Although, it may be smart to just buy a local ticket and save one day on your pass too.
Otherwise, there is a ticket counter on the ground floor of the airport (and machines all over – that also “speak” English). You want a ticket to Zurich HB, which also includes the trams for 2 hours from the time of purchase. So, if your hotel is further from the main station, you can still use the same ticket until that time period runs out.
Zurich has a lot of surprises in store because it is not just a historic city, but it is also a city with a stunning lake, surrounding mountains (hills by Swiss standards) and a river through its center.
This means there are far more things to see here than you have time for in one day. So, to help you see the best in the limited time you have, here is a walking itinerary I would cover.
Start from the main station (Zurich HB). Cross over the Limmat river via the main Bahnhofbrucke bridge and cross over all the tram tracks, aiming for Starbucks on the far side. Stop for a coffee if you need one because now you are heading up at 45 degrees on your first cog-railway! Jump on the Polybahn (it’s public transport, so you will need a ticket) which will whisk you up to the ETH University for a birds-eye view of the city from their stunning terrace. Take in the amazing buildings, and contemplate the fact that Einstein used to teach here.
You can walk back down, but to avoid getting lost jump on the Polybahn again as it takes you back where you need to go next. Niederdorfstrasse, and the heart of the old town. The first part of this street is a little seedy in parts, but push through, because it is a great place to get lost. Explore the back streets and alleyway shops or just stop for a drink on one of the terraces.
Eventually, you will reach the iconic Zurich “salt and pepper shakers” the Grossmunster Church. This is a building worth checking out, even if you don’t like churches much, because the view from the top of the towers is epic. And, it’s only around 5CHF too.
Now, you can keep walking until you come to Bellevue (a tram hub) where the lake starts. I recommend a walk down the left-hand side where you can take in some street performers (rare in Zurich due to permit laws) and grab some views of the distant mountains.
The return walk I recommend is down Zurich’s renowned shopping street – Bahnhofstrasse where you will see high-end fashion brands, banks and expensive watches galore. As you make your way down, I suggest popping back into the old town once you hit Rennweg and stop at the Lindenhof park for a classic Zurich view of the Limmat and maybe some people playing chess. It’s a hidden oasis in Zurich.
Along Bahnhofstrasse don’t forget to pop into some classic Swiss chocolate shops – Laderach or Sprungli. And there is also a hidden watch museum for those wanting to sample some true Swiss watch history.
The great thing about Switzerland is that nothing is very far away, and today you are off to Lucerne, under an hours train ride away.
Lucerne has to be one of the most picturesque cities in Switzerland. With a well-maintained old town right on Lake Lucerne, with true alpine scenery right on the shore, it’s no wonder tourist flock here every year!
I recommend spending a whole day exploring Lucerne and enjoying this compact city on foot. The train station is yet again right in the city center, and I suggest staying close to downtown, although like everywhere in Switzerland, public transport has your back no matter where you stay.
Starting on the Ruess river, start off your day with a mind-blowing walk across Lucerne’s landmark Chapel bridge, where dozens of hand-painted images adorn the ceiling. Although the bridge was damaged in a fire some years back, it is still in amazing shape.
From here, it’s just a 2-minute walk into the historic old town where you can spend a few hours exploring the cobbled streets and taking in the likes of the Altes Rathaus (Town Hall), the Weinmarkt, Hirschenplatz, Kornkarkt and other stunning squares. There are also dozens of other beautiful old buildings and churches like St Peters and the Jesuit Church (actually on the other side of the river). Just stroll to your heart’s content.
There are a couple of ways you can go from here. Either continue your walk down the Reuss river to the lesser-known Spreuer Bridge, which is also a great example of a historic covered bridge. Or, you can climb up the fully intact city walls (the Musegg Wall) for a great view of Lucerne and a visit to the inside workings of a clock tower. It’s actually Lucerne’s oldest and inside the Zyt Tower. It strikes one minute before all other clocks in town.
Once you have had your fill of old town history, you can head over to the lake shores and get a breath of fresh air, and epic Lake Lucerne views. I recommend first heading down the left-hand side along the shores. A little walk away is one of Lucerne’s more popular parks with the Lion monument and the nearby Gletschergarten.
After that, you can come back across the river and check out the modern Cultural Center and have a rest in Inseli Park. This is the area of town where all the boats and trains head from, so you will be back here at some point anyway.
Lucerne is perfectly located for some stunning day trips and I want to highlight three that are perfect for your day out from Lucerne. You can choose to do only one, and take it a little more easy (or do some more walking) or, you can squeeze in two if you really want to cram in the highlights.
One of Lucerne’s iconic mountains, Pilatus is the biggest and most “alpine” of them all. If you are going to pick just one day trip from Lucerne, this would be it.
The beauty of such day trips from here is that they all start on the Lake. That means taking a historical steamer boat across Lake Lucerne to the bottom of the mountain and your insanely steep cog railway train to the top, then a gondola down. They call it the Golden Round Trip. I have hiked up Pilatus many times for training and boy is it steep! This cog railway, at a 48-degree angle, is the steepest in the world!
Shorter Alternative: If you really want to squeeze two of the day trips in, the Silver Route uses the train, which is a little faster.
Once you get to the top, the views of Lucerne and the surrounding lake and mountains is breath-taking. You can have lunch up here on the terrace, or inside many of the restaurants or bars. Or, you can bring your own lunch if you like.
I also recommend a short hike while you are here. Nothing super-strenuous, but it’s worth getting to the very top for the view (and bragging rights!) or if you are with kids, taking the dragon trail.
When you are ready to head back to Lucerne, you can take the Gondola down, and then further public transport to town. This complete the Golden Round Trip.
My next favorite destination is another classic Lucerne day trip – a boat trip and cog railway trip up to (almost) the summit of Mount Rigi (1798m / 5899 ft).
One of the best parts of these trips is the boat ride in the old-timer steamboats. Take the boat from Lucerne to Vitznau, and then the cog railway from there. It’s not as steep as Pilatus, but scenic and nostalgic nonetheless. This railway dates back to 1817 if you can believe that!
Once you are up at the top (Rigi Kulm) you can walk the rest of the way for a fantastic 360-degree view of the Alps, and all the way back to Zurich.
There are a lot more hiking options up here because it is not as steep as Pilatus, so if you are in the mood for a walk or day out, you can get off the train at various stops and walk up or down to the next stop, or further if you are up for it.
The only trick with Rigi is that the alternative way down (the gondola to Weggis) starts at Rigi Kaltbad. So, if you want to take that instead (and then the boat back from there) you will have to change from the cogwheel train and head across to the gondola. No big deal, but just something to be aware of.
The best ticket option is the day ticket for Rigi, and a return boat ticket purchased separately on board.
A lesser-known alternative to the “big two” mountains around Lucerne is Bürgenstock. It is a smaller mountain opposite Rigi and Lucerne that looks a little like a lion sleeping on the shores of Lake Lucerne (if viewed from afar, after a few glasses of red).
There are a few noteworthy things about this trip:
To get here you have to take a boat to Kehrsiten-Bürgenstock and then the cog railway to the top. It’s a relatively short walk from there to the lift. Alternatively, you can to the whole loop walk – called the Felsenweg (about 1.5 hours) and then get the lift back to the top.
A stop at the resort is a must, especially given the amount of money the Qatari’s spend on creating this masterpiece!
Getting from Lucerne to Interlaken is not just something you “have to do” it’s actually a stunning train ride people pay good money to do.
They call it the GoldenPass Line and it actually runs all the way from Lucerne to Montreux on Lake Geneva. You are taking it to Interlaken.
This route passes through some of Switzerland’s best scenery including an often missed valley leading from Pilatus up to the Brünig Pass where you get a great view back down over the Lungern and Saner lakes. The train then descends down to the Brienzersee (Lake Brienz) offering more great views of the alps on the way down. The trip along the sparkling blue Lake Brienz is worth the trip on its own, especially with the Breinzer Rothorn in the background.
Once you arrive at Interlaken, you can drop off your luggage at your hotel, or head to Grindelwald if that is where you are staying. Both are great locations, but in my opinion, Grindelwald is the more picturesque location. (Murren is another option up the Lauterbrunnen Valley).
Below are some ideas for things to do and see in either location.
Interlaken is the obvious choice for most people because it is so well located and there are dozens of things to do here. Just be aware that it is more of a town than “deep in the alps”. So, although it is not busy per se, it is similar to Lucerne or Zurich (old town). If you want more of an alpine feeling, I suggest staying in Grindelwald instead.
Interlaken is also the adrenaline-center of Switzerland and you will find more action-packed sports to do here than almost anywhere else in the country. I recommend pre-booking anything you plan to do, although I am sure you might find spots if you just turn up.
Of course, it’s not all about getting an adrenaline rush and there are some other great things to see in town:
Just a short train ride from Interlaken and the starting point for tomorrow’s epic trip up to the Jungfraujoch is Grindelwald. This is a real mountain town and a great place to immerse yourself in the Alps for the first time. You are surrounded by some of Switzerland’s highest mountains – Jungfrau, Eiger & Monch. The Eiger’s north face is infamous for being one of the hardest climbs in the Alps and has killed more people than I care to name. You can see it directly from Grindelwald town.
If you base yourself in Grindelwald there are a lot more “outdoorsy” things to do here. Sure, some of the same adrenaline sports as in Interlaken, but also some more relaxed hiking and walking tours that take in some of the spectacular sites. For me, this is a great location for those that want a little more nature and escape from the hustle and bustle of the cities you have been to so far.
There are lots of things to keep you busy in this area, but here are some of the highlights:
Jungfraujoch is one of those trips that you will remember forever and is an absolute highlight of your trip to Switzerland. I remember the first time I went up and it was nearly 40 years ago!
Tip: Because weather plays such an important role in this trip you may want to hold of booing or planning this until you are a few days out. Check the weather prediction and plan this trip either the day you arrive or on this day. You can always swap things around depending on the weather. After all, you don’t want to get your stuff wet (unless you have a waterproof bag that is!).
The trip up to the Jungfraujoch is actually a few different rides:
Interlaken: Interlaken – Lauterbrunnen, Lauterbrunnen – Kleine Scheidegg, Kleine Scheidegg – Jungfraujoch (2 hours)
Grindelwald: Grindelwald – Kleine Scheidegg, Kleine Scheidegg – Jungfraujoch (1 hour 18 mins)
Either way is a great journey with the final leg being the highlight – a train ride through the heart of the Eiger mountain with stops for views of a Glacier (Eigergletscher) if you wish. You can check the train times here (just type in your departure and arrival points).
Tickets: This trip is quite expensive but is included in the Swiss Rail Pass if you have purchased that (which I whole-heartedly recommend due to the money it is going to save you, and stress from booking tickets).
There are so many spectacular things to see and do on the Jungfrau journey and I have listed them below:
Tip: You can choose to spend longer in Interlaken/Grindelwald or take the train to Zermatt in the afternoon of Day 5. Both regions offer stunning mountain experiences.
The train from Interlaken to Zermatt is a little over 2 hours (allow an extra 35-40 minutes from Grindelwald) so is an easy trip to take on Day 5 or 6 depending on what activities you want to make time for.
Zermatt is for me yet another highlight on your Switzerland tour (ok, so is Lucerne and Jungfrau) so get ready for some spectacular scenery. The train trip itself is quite amazing including the second longest train tunnel in Switzerland. The last leg is a slow and steady cog rail train trip up the Matter Valley all the way to the stunningly located town that is right below Switzerland’s iconic Matterhorn mountain.
Zermatt is a beautiful and quaint town in its own right. It is car-free, which is a plus (aside from electric taxis and delivery cars – small cars) and has some great Wallis architecture to keep your head turning as you walk. The highlights here are up in the mountains though, which means gondola or train rides up and then short (or long) walks to amazing viewpoints. Including reflections of the Matterhorn to post on Instagram!
Here are the highlights of a visit to Zermatt:
The train ride to Zurich is approximately 3.5 hours and to Geneva is only 20 minutes more. So, if you want to spend some more quality time in Zermatt, I can hardly blame you.
I recommend taking at least the morning to explore a little more of this glorious alpine region. If you have not gone for a walk yet, there are plenty of options in Zermatt for any level of fitness. You can head to the Gornergrat, Schwarzee, Rothorn or Sunnegga. Those who are more fit and adventurous can hike up to the Hornlihut at the base of the Matterhorn and watch the climbers tackle this very difficult summit.
I also can’t recommend enough a trip on a helicopter with Air Zermatt, if you can afford it. If the wind is still and the skies clear, while you are there, give them a call and book the panorama tour. You won’t regret it!
If you are heading to Zurich and still have some time there, you can also try some of the trips further afield like a day trip to Rapperswil or head up the local mountain – Ueltiberg for some amazing views of the city, lake, and mountains.
If you just want to relax head down to the parks on the lake or along the Limmat river (just follow it for about 15 minutes from the main station downstream). You can even go for a swim for free! And grab a beer afterward.
Like Zurich, Geneva has a lot to offer in terms of attractions, views, and places to eat. As another Swiss city located on a stunning lake with mountain views, just being here is an experience.
Of course, there are a whole bunch of highlights that you can try to squeeze in before you leave, and I have listed them below (you can walk them in more or less this order if you have enough time):
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.