We often get asked by our travellers which city in Switzerland is most worth adding to their itinerary. It’s always such a hard question because each city is unique in its architecture, its traditions, its pros and its cons. So, to help you narrow down your decision, here is a comparison of the most famous Swiss cities. Though to be honest, if you have the time, we’d definitely advocate for a stop in all of them!
For… those who are fans of a “small town”, laid-back feel
Bern, the magnificent capital city of Switzerland. Often overlooked for its more renowned neighbours, it is one of the most beautiful cities you’ll come across not only in Switzerland, but in Europe. But we’re happy it’s not too much on the tourist map, as it means that it has kept its authenticity and unspoiled charm.
Many consider this UNESCO-protected heritage site to be a giant open-air museum showcasing the country’s impressive history. You’ll probably get the same impression as you admire its distinct architecture, walk along its cobbled streets, visit one of its many renowned museums, stop at the independent boutiques of local crafts or go for a hearty local meal.
The Plus Points:
- While you’ll also find some of the high-street brand names, Bern’s old town is a treasure of small independent boutiques filled with local crafts and specialties. It’s the perfect place for any souvenirs you want to take home!
- The summer is a fun time to visit as you can experience the iconic fast-flowing Aare river that runs around the city. You’ll find all the locals hopping in and letting themselves be whisked down the river!
- It’s very laid back and there’s definitely no need to rush around to survive. As a fun fact, the Bernese are known for being the “slowest” people in the country. Being in a hurry is not a very popular concept, so relax and enjoy the slower pace of life!
Nature is never far from a Swiss city and Bern is no exception. It is blessed to have one of the most spectacular alpine regions right on its doorstep – the Berner Oberland. Nearby, you’ll also find the medieval village of Gruyères with its idyllic meadows, Lake Geneva with its UNESCO-protected Lavaux vineyards and the lesser-known Gantrisch National Park!
For… those those who love the “art de vivre”
Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city and one of its most beautiful and vibrant one too. What we love about is not only its close proximity to nature, but that it beautifully blends contemporary savoir-vivre with traditional architecture and heritage. And clearly we’re not the only ones – Zurich is constantly ranked among the world’s top cities in terms of quality of life.
This “fun sized” metropolis is filled with things to do and see day or night, so you’ll never have a dull day (or night) here. In addition to the countless events throughout the year, it’s home to an impressive number of museums, a beautiful city center filled with boutiques for all tastes, and a sublime lakeside to take in some Vitamin D.
The Plus Points:
- It’s probably Switzerland’s most diverse cities when it comes to its culinary offering and the one with the most concepts: there is something for every mood and taste, for every budget and for every desired experience. Fun fact: it is home to the world’s first vegetarian restaurant (which we absolutely recommend, by the by!)
- If you’re a lover of cool and original hotels, you’ll definetly find the right sized shoe here. Zurich is filled with a number of high-class hotels, from the contemporary design to historic chic and from big brand names to independent boutique properties. Welcome to the art of Swiss hospitality!
- It’s home to Switzerland’s largest international airport, just 20 minutes from the city center. That’s why most of our travellers spend at least a few nights here after arriving or before departing.
You could easily spend 5-7 days in Zurich and use it as a base for a number of day trips from the famous Lake Luzern to the lesser-known canton of Glarus, without bypassing the medieval village of Rapperswil. On your bucket list, don’t forget the towns of Stein am Rhein and Schaffhausen which are impressive when it comes to their architecture!
For… those who want the 50/50 combo of city and nature
Welcome to the heart of Switzerland and the place where it all began back in 1291. The region of Lake Luzern is not only of great historical importance to the Swiss, but it is a truly spectacular sight, often compared to the Nordic Fjords. And there, amidst it all, you’ll find one of Switzerland’s most famous cities: Luzern.
Indeed, whilst Zurich and Bern have the nature at very close proximity, Luzern is truly immersed amidst its spectacular mountain and lake panorama. But that’s not all it has up its sleeves. It’s also a city of great historic importance.
Firstly, it is home to the famous medieval Chapel Bridge which is considered to be one of the oldest covered wooden bridges in Europe. And in addition to its historic houses in the picturesque town squares, you also have the Museggmauer – a wall that dominate Luzern’s historic skyline and that has been beautifully preserved in its original fortified state.
The Plus Points:
- This is one of the best places to experience Switzerland’s historic steamboats. They will take you through Lake Luzern’s beautiful landscapes, by its small lakeside villages and in front of the most spectacular mountains.
- It is home to the very famous Transport Museum which is a real treat for kids and adults alike!
- On your doorstep, you’ll find some of the most beautiful alps – perfect for hiking or just admiring the views!
In addition to the cities of Bern and Zurich which are just a short drive away, you also have the small town of Zug that is worth visiting and the region of Andermatt with its wild alps reminiscent of the Scottish highlands.
For… those who love a good museum!
Basel, located just near the border to France and Germany is a living melting pot of cultures. Many use it as a base to arrive/depart on river cruises, but we recommend lingering around a little while longer to explore this unique city.
Indeed, Switzerland’s third largest city is also often known as being its cultural capital, with no less than 40 museums of grand reputation for all interests that call it home! The city also hosts Art Basel, the world’s premier art exhibition. Oh, and in case you’re a tennis fan, you’ll appreciate it as the birthplace of Federer…
The Plus Points:
- Did we mention its museums? Some of its most famous ones include the Museum Tinguely, the Paper Mill Museum and the Fondation Beyeler.
- Its alternative old town is not only super photogenic, but also filled with local boutiques and super tasty mom and pop style restaurants.
- The foodie in you will be very pleased here! Basel is home to a number of food markets offering specialties from around the world… bon appétit!
Basel may be located in the tippy corner of the country, but that doesn’t mean there’s no exploring to do. It’s probably the best place to get the most of “Europe” with France’s “Alsace” region and Germany’s Black Forest right next door. But if you just want to stay in Swtizerland, we recommend a stop in the nearby towns of Liestal and Solothurn!
For… those who love to be surprised!
Geneva is one of the most famous cities in the world, but not always for the most exciting reasons: banks, luxury brands, watches, chocolate… and more banks. But actually, it has SO much more to offer than meets the eye, and most of it comes down to its amazing location, at the gateway of the alps, Lake Geneva, France (Annecy, Lyon and Yvoire are just a day trip away), and its vineyards – because yes, Geneva is the third biggest wine-producer in Switzerland! Knowing all this, imagine the endless possibilities of exciting adventure that are on your doorstep?
The Plus Points:
- Its charming old town, which is essentially a maze of historic cobbled streets, filled with small boutiques, local restaurants, galleries and museums. Don’t miss a fondue at the iconic Hotel des Armures while you’re here!
- It is home to a number of traditions and Swiss know how’s, from chocolate-making, to wine-making and you can even make your very own Swiss watch to take home alongside a talented watch-maker!
- There’s something for everyone: whether you’re a watch-lover and want to spend a few hours at the impressive Patek Philippe Museum, or science is more your thing and you’d rather visit the fascinating CERN… or perhaps you’d rather go shopping? Or maybe, you’re more of a nature lover, and so you find yourself having the endless possibilities that Lake Geneva and its alps will bring! And just relaxing by the lake is perfectly acceptable too.
From Geneva, you have the whole of Lake Geneva on your doorstep, including the cute town of Vevey, the Lavaux Vineyards, the alps of Gruyères, and so much more. But you also have some of France’s most beautiful gems, from the village of Yvoire (known as being one of France’s most beautiful villages), to Annecy (or the “Venice of France”) and without bypassing Lyon, with its world-wide reputation of fine gastronomy. Where to even start?
- Chantal & Max
Get ready to immerse yourself in the Swiss local culture, to discover secret spots only whispered about, and to make unforgettable memories.