Zürich feels like the melting pot of Switzerland. Everyone seems to be there—and I mean that in a positive way. Zürich is the wealthy, efficiently run city with a reputation for being more of a business hub than a sightseeing city. I love being at the Zürich HB (Hauptbahnhof), the largest railway station in Switzerland. It’s such a bustling and happening place. On my first trip to Zürich last year, I was overwhelmed with the number of locals and tourists at Bahnhofstrasse: a pedestrianized street home to many world famous brands as well as large, impressive department stores. There were also at least two huge night markets in the area serving delicious Swiss and international food. To get away from the crowds head on over to the Old Town and wander around the side streets and alleys—there, you will come across a lot of interesting stores.
Zürich is also very special to me because I did my first solo travel in Europe last year. From Venice, I flew to Switzerland to meet up with my sister and her boyfriend (who was going to propose to her in Switzerland). We only had two full days in Switzerland so we spent the first day exploring Zurich, the next day at the Swiss Alps. Needless to say, I had an amazing time in Zürich–all that while trying to keep quiet about her boyfriend’s (now fiance) proposal!
Zürich is home to a number of architecturally impressive buildings from medieval churches and to houses which date back to the reign of Charlemagne. Zürich also stands out from other mainland European cities because of its lively café culture. But in the Old Town of Zürich, you can experience reliving history in the wide array of beautiful and rustic cafés. We got to visit Café Schober, a century-old cafe with high ceilings, velvet sofas and Baroque style interiors. We got to try the best hot chocolate in Switzerland plus some of their finest home-made chocolate! I suggest you avail of the walking tours (they have an office at the Zürich HB station) so your tour guide can take you to all these cafés and bring you to the hidden gems of Zürich.
Where to go: Old Town (Altstadt), Bahnhofstrasse, Lake Zurich, Museum of Art (Kunsthaus), Lindenhof, Great Minister Church (Grossmünster), Minster of Our Lady Church (Fraumunster)
Being in Lucerne was a breath of fresh air—figuratively and literally. Lucerne is the destination for many travellers on their journey through central Switzerland. If you’re planning to climb up to some well-known summits: the steepest cog railway in the world will bring you to the top of Mount Pilatus. Mount Titlis (more about this on my next post) has eternal snow and Mount Rigi is a popular destination all year round. Lucernse is your pit stop. Stay for a few hours and walk around this beautiful town. Most of the attractions and tourist spots can be easily reached by foot anyway. Stroll through the charming narrow streets of the old town and admire Lucerne’s still-intact medieval city houses and walls. Did I tell you that the view is pretty amazing as well? Lucerne is embedded within an impressive mountainous panorama and stunning lakes.
The centerpiece of Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke)—a covered wooden bridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss in the city of Lucerne. The bridge is pretty unique because of the number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century. As part of the bridge complex, the Kapellbrücke also includes the octagonal Wasserturm (water tower). However, they called it the water tower only because it is standing in the water. The tower was actually used as a prison and as a torture chamber. Creepy right?Just go outside of the Lucerne Railway Station and make a left turn, you will see the Kapellbrücke and Wasserturm right away.
Tradition and modernity seem to coexist in Lucerne. You have medieval architecture all around town then you have one of the most diverse museums in Europe (I will make a separate blog entry about this). Make sure you make a stop at Lucerne when you get the chance to visit Switzerland.
Where to go: Kapellbrücke, Lake Lucerne, Swiss Museum of Transport, Mount Pilatus, Mount Rigi, Mount Titlis
Visit Bern and I dare you not to burst out into a song. Every corner is like a scene from a broadway show or your favorite Disney movie. Just imagine living here! However, if you think of European capital cities, chances are, Bern doesn’t immediately come to mind, right? I thought the capital of Switzerland was either Zurich or Geneva, turns out, it’s really Bern! Yes, Bern may be on the small side but it shouldn’t be overlooked. As we were making our way to this beautiful, I had really no expectations. I heard about it before but I thought it would be the same as Zurich and Lucerne—charming picturesque and inspiring (just like any part of Switzerland). Bern was so much more than that. You have to be there to understand what I’m talking about.
It is quite obvious that Bern is my favorite city in Switzerland. Ha! Situated in the heart of Switzerland, at the center of Europe, Bern is shaped by the city’s cosmopolitan charm. Distinguished by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1983, Bern is the most preserved medieval city in Switzerland. The city is filled with gothic cathedrals, cobblestone streets, clock towers, shopping arcades, sandstone buildings with rosy red rooftops, stone bridges and a beautiful view of the turquoise waters of River Aare (the longest wholly Swiss river). The Aare kind of reminds me of Venice in a way the river is shaped like the letter “s.” Also, did you know that you can swim at the river? It originates from the Oberaar glacier in the eastern Bernese Alps where the crystal mountain waters then flow through Lake Brienz, famed Interlaken and Lake Thun before reaching the city and looping around the old town of Bern. The water is so clean and during summer, you will see people tubing down the river. I’m so jealous!
Bern also has an obsession with bears—you’ll see it all over the city. From the iconic Zytglogge clock tower, the logo of SC Bern, the manhole covers and even the hockey team! The city may even derived its name from it. Make sure you visit the Bear Park when you visit Bern, the live on the river side, just below the stone bridge. We also got to visit 49 Kramgasse where Albert Einstein used to live. You can go inside and see the tiny flat where some of his ideas were born. There’s also a quaint café underneath. If you have extra time to spare, check out the fountains around Bern—they have over a hundred of them (and you can even drink from it). My favorite one would be the fountain wherein you can see a man or an ogre devouring a baby (lol). Our tour guide told me there’s no meaning to that, but I thought it was pretty interesting. Let me know if you spot it when you get the chance to visit Bern!
Where to go: The Parliament Building, Zytglogge Clock Tower, River Aare, Bear Park
If Zurich, Lucerne and Bern takes you back to its distant past, Thun can transport you much more deeper. Since Thun isn’t as popular as the other cities/cantons, wandering around this small town can be quite eerie—or completely inspiring. You decide. I happen to enjoyed the peacefulness of the city. Keep walking and you will find the Thun Castle (from the 1100s) welcoming you (you can catch it right away because it is situated on top of a hill). Thun also has sweeping views of the Alps—definitely something out of a fairy tale (I feel like I always say this lol). We also got to stay in one of the most amazing hotels I’ve ever stayed in (it deserves its own blog post so watch out for that entry).
Explore Thun by doing an old town tour, a castle visit or maybe a stroll by the lake. Walk around, get into the open air at the cafés, the small alleyways and charming squares. Apparently, there are a lot of castle plays and festivals in Thun. During winter, they hold a lot of concerts and exhibitions. Thun has a population of 43,500 (as of December 2015). Imagine living in Thun and having 43,500 Instagram followers (lol my mind is drifting to far away places again). Generally speaking, Thun is different from any other cities I’ve visited in Switzerland and I’m glad I was able to explore it!
Where to go: Lake Thun, Thun Castle, Schadau Castle, Aare, Swiss Gastronomy Museum
Just when I thought every place in Switzerland seems to be frozen in time, Geneva completely changed all that. Located in the French speaking part of Switzerland is Geneva, a city that reveals its charm upon further look. Upon arriving in Geneva, I immediately thought “I feel like I’m in Paris.” Geneva is located on the glacier-fed shores of Lake Geneva, Western Europe’s largest lake. It is surrounded by breathtaking alps. From Geneva, you can even see Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. I was not able to fully explore Geneva (other than walking around Lake Geneva and experiencing their nightlife)—nevertheless, I had the most amazing time.
Lake Geneva is so striking to see with your own eyes. Having been able to only see the famous water jet on postcards and photos online, it’s safe to say that I was a little starstruck. The Jet d’Eau is a prominent feature in Geneva’s skyline, it pumps half a cubic meter of water per second (140m into the air). It is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Statue of Liberty and Big Ben! Geneva offers a great location to stop over between Italy and France, allowing a short visit to Switzerland. If you have more time, make sure you go around and uncover Geneva’s beauty.