Switzerland: Bernese Oberland Region and Zurich
Fly in/out: Zurich (ZRH)
Recommended ages: 10 and up
Ball Park Price: $1,200 per person (airfare not included)
Currency: Swiss Franc
Language: Land of four languages
Time Zone: 7 hours ahead of Chicago
Best Time to Travel: For hiking and sightseeing, July or August
DAY ONE: Take train from Florence, Italy on to Interlaken, Switzerland via Rail Europe and connect to by train to the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Check in at Staubbach Hotel directly across from the Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen. Booked through Booking.com.
DAY TWO: Take the Jungfraujoch “Top of Europe” Rail Europe train tour from Lauterbrunnen for a spectacular trip to the highest point in Europe and scenic views of the Aletsch Glacier. At the top, visit the Ice Palace, the snow park and hike to the hut for lunch.
DAY THREE: Take the Mannlichen aerial cable car from Lauterbrunnen (or aerial gondola from the Grindelwald side) to reach the starting point for the Felix trail, the Apple Fritter Trail and a Tuesday evening BBQ.
DAY FOUR: Have a morning coffee and breakfast at the local cafe Airtime. Explore the Lauterbrunnen Valley Waterfalls and hike to Trummelbach Falls. Take a chairlift to First and take the First Flyer down the valley.
DAY FIVE: Take Rail Europe train from Interlaken to Zurich. Walk along the world famous Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most beautiful shopping streets, car free, in the world. Follow the recommended walking tour #1 published by Frommers. Stay at the centrally located Hotel Zurich Marriott.
DAY SIX: Fly out of Zurich on Swiss Airlines.
- The area of Bernese Oberland Region or also more specifically the Jungfrau area, is a summer playground for an active, outdoorsy family. This area is highly recommended by Rick Steves, which is why we chose this area of Switzerland. The area is positioned between two beautiful lakes, Thun and Brienz, with spectacular views of Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger (Ogre, Monk and Virgin) making it ideal for exploring charming towns and taking in breathtaking views. A less popular tourist area (and less expensive) than the Matterhorn, this area attracts the experienced and rugged mountain climber and active families wanting to try different trails and hiking experiences. At the local cafe over coffee, one can hear the mountain climbers discuss the conditions for the next climb and families plot their next hiking destination.
- The Jungfrau area is a tightly knit web of cable cars, trains, gondolas and chair lifts efficiently running on time to take your family to the next beautiful destination. The majestic trio of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau each have a unique destination point and a unique trail to offer. Although many trails require experienced hikers, we found all hikes doable with our youngest being 12. We didn’t experience any degree of difficulty for the hiking trails marked difficult. For a hiking trail overview of the area, look here.
- We chose our first full day to take the “Top of Europe” train journey to get an overview of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks. The Jungfrau peak is the highest point in Europe. The train weaves up to the highest point of 3,500 meters above sea level and traverses inside tunnels and around glaciers including the Unesco World Heritage Site the Aletsch Glacier. There are a variety of stops along the way for picture taking and exploring. (See Great Excursion).
- Our full day of hiking to Maennlichen started with a cable car ride from Lauterbrunnen right to the top of Maennlichen. Once there, we stopped at the guest house for food and chose from many family friendly trails to hike all of which were very well marked and had an educational theme to each hike.
- For a late afternoon, explore the Lauterbrunnen Valley area and take a quick bus stop from Lauterbrunnen Valley Falls to Trummelbach Falls. The falls were beautiful as they wind their way through the rocks and deep into some crevices and valleys. Kids loved exploring through the falls.
- We originally planned to stay at a airport hotel in Zurich, and we’re so glad we didn’t and had a full day to explore this magnificent city. After spending four days of hiking with the kids, it was nice to end the trip observing how the rich and famous live. The best things to see in Zurich are within walking distance: the world famous Bahnhofstrasse, Old Town, Lake Zurich, Opera House and museums. We just enjoyed strolling this gorgeous city, window-shopping and people watching. For a nice recap of great things to do in Zurich, visit here.
The “Top of Europe” train tour was one of the main highlights to our trip. About a four hour round trip experience, we caught the train at Lauterbrunnen and took the Grindelwald back to take in different scenic views. This train journey goes to to the top of Jungfrau at 11,332 feet above sea level, the highest-altitude railway in Europe. The route is an almost 6 mile route traveling you through literally up the side of the mountain and through a long tunnel cut right through the rock . The train stops for panoramic views at the Eiger North Wall and the Eismeer (Sea of Ice). Once on top you can stop for exhibitions including the Ice Palace and Sphinx observation terrace and research exhibitions. You can also stop and eat at the Crystal palace and stop for chocolates at Roger Federer’s new store Chocolate Heaven. The train trip was mesmerizing for the kids and the pit stops were perfect for exploring and taking in the views.
Places to stay
- The Staubbach Hotel in Lauterbrunnen. A traditional and reasonably priced Swiss Hotel with the family basics of adjacent rooms, hot breakfasts and a unbelievable view of the Staubbach Falls.
- For other family-friendly recommendations for the Bernese Oberland Region, see Ciao Bambino.
- Our last night in Zurich was spent in the centrally located Zurich Marriott Hotel. A modern Marriott perfectly located in the shopping district of Zurich.
- There’s no doubt the Swiss likes their chocolate and their cheese. Other food specialties include lots of veal and a potato hash brown dish called rosti. For kids, the food in Switzerland was not the item to write home about. However, we had a few favorites that we enjoyed.
- In Lauterbrunnen, we stopped here to catch the local information on weather, happenings, breakfast and a good cup of coffee.
- At the top of Jungfrau, stop at the new Chocolate Heaven store especially if you’re a tennis fan as it was recently opened by Roger Federer and Lindsay Vonn.
- In Mannlichen, a casual self-service restaurant and bar to enjoy at the end of a long hiking day.
- In Zurich, we chose from a recommended list by Frommers.
- A highly efficient transportation system including trains, trams, gondolas and cable cars, made getting around the Swiss Alps easy. We were able to get anywhere without a car using the Swiss train system timetable. We also purchased a Swiss Pass which was a great value for us based on the number of days and trains we took within Switzerland. To help decipher what type of rail pass might be most useful, read this Rick Steve’s article.
- Because the train system was so efficient, we found other than the long train rides (Interlaken to Zurich) we didn’t need to book train trips in advance. It might be worthwhile to decide on when to go to the Top of Europe train trip based on the best weather forecast.
- The weather can vary greatly from one peak to another, so bring multiple layers with you including water resistant gear and fleece as it can snow on some of the higher peaks.
- We kept the kids hydrated as possible to avoid altitude sickness and specifically chose not to do any rigorous hiking for the first day to allow us to adjust to the altitude. We always kept snacks, water and ibuprofen on hand for any headache developments.
Before You Go
All United States citizens entering Switzerland as a tourist will be allowed to stay for up to three months without a visa. The only requirements are having a passport that is valid for three months past the day of your departure.