Traveling in Switzerland
Recently, we decided to venture outside of the U.S. borders into the land where good cheese and good wine is plentiful. In specific, we visited Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. We had a total of 13 days to travel including travel days, so we wanted to get the most out of our trip and see and much as possible. We decided to split our trip up as follows, 4 nights in Switzerland, 4 nights in Austria, and 3 nights in the Czech Republic. In this article, will be talked about our experience in Switzerland which included stays in Zurich, Interlaken, and Lucerne.
When going on any trip, I find that it is important to set your expectations. If you set your expectations correctly, I feel you are much more likely to enjoy your travels, especially if there are two or more people. For this trip, it was me and my wife we wanted to see and experience as much as possible and put our outdoor and athletic ambitions on the sideline. For most trips, my wife and I usually like to do as much outdoor stuff as possible, but since we had limited time in each city, it was more important to site see than to explore the great outdoors. Below, I outlined our experience of each city including what you can expect to see and what tips we have to offer after our visit.
We only had one day to spend in Zurich, so it was important for us to hit the pavement (or cobblestone) as soon as we got off the plane. From the Zurich airport, there is a train station that is very convenient to take a train into town and it is a lot cheaper than taking a cab. It was approximately $12 (after conversion) for two people. Given that we are very budget oriented, we took the train into town which is approximately a 7 minute train ride into town. The train station is centrally located in town, so you can pretty much walk anywhere you need to go once you get off the train. We stayed in the Marriott which is located about a ¼ mile from city center and the train station and is very convenient to get to everything.
Since we were in Zurich Switzerland during the holidays, December 20th to be exact, there was a festive mood to the city. The city was decorated with lots of lights and there were a lot of people out on the streets getting their holiday shopping done. There were a few small Christmas markets where local vendors would sell their products and there were other food vendors for hot chocolate and other warm foods and drinks.
Compared to living in Colorado, we found that a lot of people smoked cigarettes in Zurich. It seemed that you couldn’t go 5 feet without getting second-hand smoke in your face. This was a shocker to us and since we were used to not a lot of people smoke where we live, it was hard to get used to, as it should! This was a common theme among all the cities and countries we visited in Europe which is a shame in my mind. We also found that people were not as friendly as we are used in the US and as we expected. It seemed like people pretty much stuck to themselves except for at the Marriott, and we found that the people at the hotel were very friendly. It is important to note that we were only in Zurich for a day and that our perceptions might be a little different if we were there longer.
As for the language spoken, most locals there speak German. For cost, we found that most products and services were 2-3 times as much as they do in a typical U.S. city. We knew that when we booked our trip, but it could be a rude awakening if you were not expecting prices to be much higher than the U.S.
The weather during December is usually between 25-40 degrees Fahrenheit and the city gets a good amount of rain. It was a cold rain most of the time we were there, but we were prepared with waterproof jackets and umbrellas. While in Zurich, we were provided the Zurich Card by Zurich Tourism. The card cost 24 CHF for 24 hours and gets you access to most museums and also gets to you access to the trains and cable cars including airport transportation as long as you purchase it before you travel. We visited the Swiss National Museum which consisted of lots of different artifacts from Switzerland and was cool to see, but we found it to be a little random lacking a consistent message and theme. The actual building that it was located in was very unique and different than anything you would see in the U.S. What I personally found most interesting was the old school body armor and weaponry. Unfortunately, this was the only museum we could go to since our flight into Zurich was delayed.
On our second leg of our trip, we traveled to Interlaken Switzerland from Zurich by train. For those not familiar with Interlaken, it is a small town that sits at the base of some very large mountains such as Jungfrau. The city itself is relatively small, but it has plenty of hotel accommodations that cater to outside travelers. From the train station in Interlaken, you can walk to pretty much any hotel in the city in about 10 minutes. That said, a car is not needed if you travel by train to Interlaken. I highly suggest taking the train as you get to see a lot of the beautiful countryside along the way without having to worry about what turn to take.
There were a couple reasons why we picked Interlaken, Switzerland to visit. The first is because it’s located in the mountains, and we love the mountains whether it’s in the U.S. or Switzerland. We were definitely interested to see how the mountains differ in Interlaken from the mountains we have at home in Colorado. In short, the mountains are much more dramatic in Switzerland. It’s like you’d be walking along and then all of a sudden there was a mountain in front of you with a peak a few thousand feet above you. The mountains get so tall in a very short distance and they are an incredible site to see.
The second reason we wanted to go to Interlaken was to go skiing. We are lucky to get some great skiing conditions in Colorado at resorts like Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Winter Park, Telluride, and Copper Mountain. And while we love our resorts in CO, it is always fun to ski other places. After all, you always here about how great skiing is in the Swiss Alps. We were very fortunate to get lift tickets from the Jungfrau Ski Region. One of the main differences we noticed while skiing the Jungfrau region as that the majority of the ski terrain is above tree line. Typically when skiing above tree line it can get pretty cold and windy. The day that we skied was neither cold or windy, so we were very happy.
Another thing that we found different compared to ski resorts in the US is that most of the locals stick to skiing and snowboarding the groomed runs. The resort had a lot of snow 4-5 days before we went skiing, so we expected all the fresh snow to get skied off. Much to our delight, the snow outside of the groomed runs was practically untouched. And while everyone has their own preference on ski conditions, we love skiing in powder. That said, we had first tracks on almost every area that wasn’t a groomed run and I remind you, this powder had been sitting there for 4 days. Typically fresh powder gets skied off in a day or two at almost any Colorado resort. Another difference at the Jungfrau Region ski resort is that the lifts have large plastic covers that you can pull over the whole chair lift that reached down to your knees. This was a treat for us because you can protect yourself from the wind and cold on blistery cold days. Since my wife tends to get cold easily, she really liked this feature.
Lift lines in Colorado can often get pretty busy, especially on the weekends. The day we skied, (Saturday December 22nd) we didn’t have to wait for one lift which allows you to get twice as many ski runs in. This was a big plus in my mind. If you plan to ski at Jungfrau and other ski resorts, it is important to note that most ski resorts don’t open until a week or two before Christmas. For ski rentals, we found the prices to be reasonable. We paid about $55 for premium ski’s, boots, and poles, this would typically cost $80+ in the U.S. To get to the Jungfrau Ski Region from Interlaken, you have to take a 20 minute train to Wagen and then take a tram up to the top of the mountain.
Our last stop on our Switzerland journey was Lucerne, a medium sized Swiss town. While in Lucerne, we stayed at the Renaissance by Marriott which was centrally located in the city and very nice. The bedrooms were a tad small, but the hotel was very nice on the inside. Lucerne sits at the base of the mountains in Switzerland and is very majestic. It is very cool because you have this old city with some good sized mountains in the background. If we could do it over, we would have spent more time in this city since it has a lot to offer people interested in athletic activities. Due to our schedule, we only spent a day and a half in Lucerne.
One of the most noticeable and most popular attractions in Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge that sits in the middle of town. This wood bridge is over 600 years old and gets use almost 24 hours a day. While in Lucerne, we took the liberty to go for a run around town and along the lake. There is a path that goes along Lake Lucerne that we ran out about 4 miles from town to do an out and back run. The path along the lake is a little crowded close to the city center, but after about a half mile, the number of people start to thin out. For dining, there are a number of good options for eating around Lucerne, but keep in mind prices are typically twice as much as what you would spend in an average U.S. City. To save on money and get a good selection of food, there are a number of grocery stores in town that you can get food from. The breads and cheeses are very cheap at the grocery store and are super tasty. We also found that sodas such as Coke and Pepsi were much less expensive at the grocery store. A vending machine or restaurant usually charges around $3-4
Switzerland is a unique country to visit for many of us that live in and out of the U.S. The country has a lot of history and almost everywhere you look, there is beautiful scenery whether it is green pastures, Swiss villages, or towering mountains. The country has amazing skiing and there is a ton of things to do if you are into the outdoors. A few of the downsides to visiting Switzerland include the large amount of people smoking cigarettes and the cost of products and services. For traveling around Switzerland, we found using the train system to be extremely easy to get around it was safe and clean. While in the cities, we did a lot of running which allowed us to see a lot in a short amount of time.
Please note that I didn’t cover everything that we did on this trip. If you have any questions on what to see and do, please feel free to leave a question in the comments section. If you have traveled to Switzerland and would like to offer up any additional tips and insights to traveling in Switzerland, we welcome your comments.