The first time I visited, I remember thinking that this was a long way to go for little reward. It was during my study abroad, and I, of course, was not the traveler I am today—meaning I did zero research and blindly got on a train, bus, plane, etc. and ended up in random places throughout Western Europe each weekend. That weekend was no different, leaving immediately after school let out on Thursday morning and embarking on a long journey to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland—a place I knew absolutely nothing about. This quiet city was completely asleep when we arrived late at night and began the search in the dark for our hostel. What could this tiny, dark town have in store for us that was worth nearly 10 hours of travel? The next morning, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and there was a glorious waterfall directly outside our hostel.
It was the start of my love affair with Switzerland. More often than not, it’s my answer to that question people love to ask: “What’s your favorite place you ever been?” The word kind of falls out of my mouth before my brain catches up—and each time I am a bit surprised. But then I’m quickly transported back to the storybook houses, snowcapped mountains, and endless trails beckoning us to explore further, higher, deeper.
After only a few days in the Lauterbrunnen Valley and nearby Interlaken, I knew this was a place I would visit again someday in the distant future. It seemed so off-the-beaten-path, so hard-to-reach in my mind. I had a difficult time believing that I could be standing there again only seven years later. I returned (this time with Kyle!) at the end of our very first European road trip in 2017, flying out of nearby Zurich (only 90 minutes by car).
Interlaken is for adventure lovers. It’s a charming but active town nestled between two lakes (Brienz and Thun), where the Alps rise up spectacularly from the ground and paragliders dot the skies. It sits in the shadow of three massive mountains: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, and is the true gateway to heart-pounding adventures, whether it’s skiing the slopes, or riding a railway to the place called the “Top of Europe.”
To get a beautiful bird’s-eye view of the lakes and the city in between, take the funicular up to Harder Kulm, Interlaken’s own mountain. Very quickly you’ll ascend 730 meters and feel like you’re on top of the world, gazing out of the landscape from the viewing platform complete with a glass floor. There’s a restaurant at the top reminiscent of the castle. Luckily for us, the funicular was located right behind our hotel, the palatial Linder Grand Hotel Beau Rivage.
While in town, make sure to try two tasty dishes for which Switzerland is famous. Raclette comes from the French word meaning “to scrape” and is a traditional Swiss melting cheese. It involves heating a section of cheese and scraping it off, leaving you with melted goodness on your plate. We enjoyed this dish at the top of Harder Kulm, paired with some fabulous hot chocolate. Which brings me to my next suggestion: fondue! You’ll find plenty of fondue options in Interlaken, and you will be able to enjoy cheese or chocolate fondue. My sweet tooth was delighted by the Swiss chocolate fondue we found at Des Alpes, just down the street from our hotel.
This picture-perfect spot is nestled in a valley full of hiking trails and 72 waterfalls. It’s easily accessible via train from Interlaken-Ost, as well as Bern and Lucerne. Meaning “many fountains,” Lauterbrunnen is famous for the beautiful 300-meter Staubbach Falls—the one I awoke to directly outside my hostel years ago. I could easily spend a blissful week exploring the hiking trails throughout this stunning valley.
From Lauterbrunnen, you can take the cableway and an incredibly scenic train to the car-free town of Mürren. This tiny village lies at the foot of the Schilthorn mountain, which was made famous in the James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for which the ending is shot at the revolving restaurant atop Schilthorn. It can be accessed by cableway from Mürren.
Although I still haven’t made it there, I am determined to one day go to the place called the “Top of Europe.” High in the Alps at 3,454 meters above sea level sits a viewing platform granting sweeping panoramic vistas of the majestic peaks for as far as the eye can see. The Jungfrau Railway is open year-round—although make sure to only embark on the journey in good viewing weather—and is relatively easily accessible from Interlaken Ost. Journey to Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald on the Bernese Oberland Railway, and change to the Wengernalp rack railway bound for Kleine Scheidegg. From there, the Jungfrau Railway takes you directly to the Top of Europe. It takes about two hours to get there from Interlaken. If the incredible view isn’t enough, there are many attractions at the top like the Ice Palace, the Alpine Sensation which tells the story of how this railway was opened, and the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven.
This part of Switzerland is absolutely magical. It’s impossible to stand in the shadow of these mountains and not feel incredibly small, yet so grateful to be there to take it all in. It’s the kind of place that stays with you long after you leave, securing a place in your heart the never really melts away. I can’t wait to return!
This city is one that’s typically a bit higher on Swiss bucket lists—and it’s only an hour’s drive from Interlaken. It’s really hard to follow-up the places we’d just visited, and while it doesn’t hold a candle to Lauterbrunnen, Lucerne has its own charms. It’s a bustling city with more than 80,000 inhabitants, nestled on the shores of Lake Lucerne—a beautiful body of water to check out via an afternoon cruise. Also, be sure to stroll across Chapel Bridge in the heart of town.
Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Sphinx-Observatorium, 3801 Fieschertal, Switzerland