Seeing Switzerland by Train

A quick trip to Switzerland? It may be easier than you think. I took a long weekend to do a circuit around central Switzerland, starting in Zurich and stopping in Bern, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen Valley and Lucerne to explore the Alps, shop Christmas markets and wander the picturesque, historic cities. Traveling by train makes it incredibly easy to see the country without having to rent a car.

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

St. Peter Clock Tower

Walking from the train station to my hotel in Zurich I passed through Lindenhof Hill, which provided this view of St. Peter clock tower. It is the largest tower clock face in Europe, and for centuries acted as Zurich’s source for “official” local time. 

A Game of Chess

While some onlookers watched a contemplative game of chess unfold on the oversized boards in Lindenhof Hill, other patrons were enjoying the fantastic views of Zurich, or having a picnic lunches on the old stone walls. 

Grossmünster Church

I took in a bird's-eye perspective of the city from the top of Grossmünster Church, and fell in love with the colorful agate stained glass windows created by Sigmar Polke. 

Christmas Market

Crowds of locals and tourists alike doing a little holiday shopping at Sechselautenplatz, one of Zurich’s many Christmas markets that pops up during the holiday season. The festive ambiance of the market was enhanced by sipping on Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and sampling local and international cuisines from the many food vendors making up the temporary village outside the Opera House. 

Limmat River Sunset

I took in this sunset view from one of the foot bridges crossing the Limmat River, which divides the heart of Zurich.

Zurich's Christmas Lights

Some serious warm fuzzies were had while wandering the illuminated streets of Zurich at night. If you need a dose of holiday spirit, this is the place to visit in the month leading up to Christmas (most markets open around November 24). 

Old Town Bern

I took the train from Switzerland’s largest railway station, Zurich Hauptbahnhof (Zurich HB) to Bern en route to the Alps, and spent an afternoon exploring the capital city. This is a view of the Old Town from the Barengraben across the River Aare.      

Zytglogge Tower

The Zytglogge Tower, with its ornate astronomical clock, has been a landmark in Bern for around 800 years. 

Bern Minster

Viewed here from the Rosengarten, construction of the Bern Minster cathedral started in 1421 and didn't finish until 1893. 

On to Interlaken

From Bern, I caught an early morning train, and had a couple free hours to wander around Interlaken at dawn before heading up to the mountains. On more than one occasion during this trip, I took advantage of the luggage lockers at the stations to ditch my bag and go explore unburdened. 

The Aare River

A stroll along the banks of the Aare made for a lovely morning.

The Bernese Alps

As the fog lifted, the Alps came into view.

Wengen

Passing another cable car on the way from Lauterbrunnen up to Wengen, a car-free village perched on the steep eastern hillside of the valley.

Jungfrau

Late day clouds roll across the summit of Jungfrau, the third-highest mountain of the Bernese Alps.

Cozy Cabin

In the small cabin I rented in Wengen, I took a break from a busy travel schedule and relaxed for a bit, enjoying the crisp air on an unseasonably warm December evening.

Hiking in Lauterbrunnen

After a good night’s rest, I took the morning tram from Lauterbrunnen up to Grutschalp and walked a loop to Murren, Gimmelwald, Stechelberg, then along the valley floor back to Lauterbrunnen.

The Eiger

At Grutschalp, I shot this close-up of the Eiger just after sunrise from across Lauterbrunnen Valley.

A Ride With a View

The train between Grutschalp and Murren winds through the snowy hillside above the valley.

Views from Gimmelwald

I caught fantastic, clear views of Tschingelspitz and Gspaltenhorn to the southwest as I rounded the steep hillsides of Gimmelwald. 

Take the Tram

As long as you aren't afraid of heights, the trams are not only an easy means of transportation around the mountains, but provide excellent views of the surrounding landscapes. Pictured is the Stechelberg-Murren Aerial Tram. 

Lauterbrunnen Valley

The late afternoon sun illuminates the massive eastern cliffs of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. 

Gimmelwald to Stechelberg

The steep trail winding down to the valley floor from Gimmelwald was beautiful and criss-crossed with vibrant turquoise streams. It is not a good route to take if you have bad knees — even with trekking poles, my legs were wobbly by the time I reached level ground in Stechelberg. 

Murrenbach Falls

With five cascades, Murrenbach Falls is the highest waterfall in Switzerland, and is best seen from deep in Lauterbrunnen Valley. 

Lutschine River

In Lauterbrunnen, I caught this view north along the Lutschine River. 

Pink Sky at Night

The last light of the day turned the eastern cliffs of the valley pink.

Lucerne

I took a very early train to my final destination, Lucerne. Pictured are the empty pre-dawn streets, and the lights of the Jesuitenkirche reflected in the waters of the Reuss.

Kapellbrucke

The Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) is one of many architectural landmarks in this beautifully preserved medieval city.

Lion Monument

The hand-carved Lion Monument (1820-21) commemorates the Swiss guards who were killed at Tuileries Palace in 1792 during the French Revolution.

Jesuitenkirche

This view of the baroque Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church) was capture from the Musegg wall.

Journey's End

Late afternoon light in central Lucerne closed out my weekend journey of Switzerland by train.

Next Up

Urban Height-Seeing

Trams in North American cities provide families with the opportunity to go sightseeing from above. Here are some of the best.

Volcanic Sight-Seeing Activities

Check out the best ways to see Hawaiian volcanoes and lava flows.

Ski Guide: Zermatt, Switzerland

This picture-perfect alpine skiing village has a convenient ski area high in the Alps, where the winter weather is ideal and the skiing is world-class.