Things to Do in Switzerland
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Switzerland
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
A masterful marriage of horticulture and technology, the Geneva Flower Clock is one of Geneva’s most striking landmarks, a gigantic clock face fashioned from over 6,500 plants and flowers. Located in the picturesque Jardin Anglais (English Garden), the iconic timepiece was built in 1955 in honor of the city’s internationally renowned watchmaking industry and is now one of Geneva’s most photographed sights.
This is no mere monument – the Geneva Flower Clock is also a fully functioning clock, among the largest of its king in the world, with a diameter of 5 meters and a seconds hand reaching over 2.5 meters long. The impressive floral arrangement now features eight dials and is replanted 4 times a year, with local landscapers creating ever-more elaborate designs each time, utilizing seasonal blooms and on-trend color schemes.
From Roman mosaics in the foundations to the neoclassical columns of its facade, the Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre is not only Geneva’s main house of worship, it is also a fascinating time capsule of the different influences that have dominated the city over the centuries. Depending on how you approach it, you could be forgiven for thinking the cathedral is actually a group of smaller buildings huddled together, as successive building programs – most notably Romanesque and Gothic – never completely wiped out previous traces.
Saint-Pierre is associated above all with the Protestant reformer John Calvin, who preached here in the 16th century; his rather uncomfortable looking wooden chair is still on display. And if you’re feeling energetic, just nearby is the entrance to the cathedral’s north tower, which will reward your 157-step climb with one of the best views of Geneva.
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.
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.
The Palais des Nations Unis - or Palace of United Nations - is a monumental structure worthy of the European home of the United Nations, the international organization’s most important seat outside of New York. The neo-classical complex was originally built in the early 1930s as the headquarters of the League of Nations, the predecessor to the UN. These days it hosts major global conferences as well as numerous smaller meetings at which diplomats work at the coalface of day-to-day international relations.
Highlights of the guided tour include the enormous Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber and an exhibit of official gifts. A short film detailing the work of the UN puts it all in context. There is no charge to enter the surrounding Ariana Park. Here peacocks roam freely and the landscaped gardens offer splendid views of the lake and nearby Alps.
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.
Things to do near Switzerland
- Things to do in Zurich
- Things to do in Geneva
- Things to do in Interlaken
- Things to do in Lucerne
- Things to do in Basel
- Things to do in Bern
- Things to do in Montreux
- Things to do in Davos
- Things to do in Lauterbrunnen
- Things to do in Monaco
- Things to do in Luxembourg
- Things to do in Swiss Alps
- Things to do in Central Switzerland
- Things to do in Lake Geneva
- Things to do in Rhône-Alpes