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Switzerland just may be the most beautiful country in Europe, especially in summer. There’s something about the way the mountains still glisten with snow even into the sunniest of summer days, the turquoise lakes — all of which are amongst the cleanest in the world — the fields of alpine flowers… it just goes on and on.
Whether you opt for a luxury rental in Switzerland or try to experience the country cheaply by staying in hostels (to which I say good luck — I paid a crippling $40 for a bunk in a hostel, an experience I hope to never repeat), the best part is that many of the most stunning views in Switzerland are completely free!
In collaboration with Swiss Travel System, I obtained a 8 day Swiss Travel Pass to explore some of the best places to visit in Switzerland, all by train. I’ve compiled a list of some of the mwost scenic places in Switzerland to help you plan the best stops for sightseeing in Switzerland by train. Rather than just give the usual Switzerland tourist spots, I’ve tried to show some more off the beaten path towns that are even more scenic than crowded Zürich and Geneva.
Swiss Travel System offers a variety of different travel passes for different budgets and trip durations. Starting at 216 CHF for a 3 consecutive day 2nd class pass, there are also 4, 8, and 15 day passes, offering more value the longer you stay. There are also flex tickets where you can travel 3, 4, 8, or 15 days of your choice within a one-month period if you’re more into slow travel. To see a full breakdown of ticket choices and prices, check out their website here.
Plus, if you’re under 26, you’re eligible for an additional 15% discount! Oh, to be young again….
Before you get started reading this guide, why not check out this beautiful one-minute video I made about train travel through Switzerland?
My Top 6 Best Places to Visit in Switzerland
Montreux and Lac Leman
Montreux is a normally quiet town on Lac Leman near Geneva that pops off for two weeks each year when the Jazz Festival (and 200,000+ visitors!) come to town. Try to line up your time in Montreux with the Jazz Festival, when tons of musical acts (not just jazz) come to town and street food is available all up and down the main lakeside promenade. Or you can grab some food from the local Coop, take advantage of the open container laws, and have a lakeside picnic while buskers entertain you before the main acts at night.
But if not, there’s still plenty to do in Montreux to experience the beauty of Switzerland. Montreux is home to the stunning island Chateau de Chillon, a castle that dates back to the 11th century and which has been marvelously kept up over the centuries.
It’s certainly one of the most scenic places in Switzerland with stunning lake and mountain views framing the turrets of the castle. Entrance is 12.50 CHF (about $13) but entrance is included with your Swiss Travel Pass if you have one – a great tool for sightseeing in Switzerland!
If time (and weather) permits, you can also take the scenic train up to Rochers de Naye for an aerial lake view. Normally 70 CHF, if you have a Swiss Travel Pass you can make the journey for a much better 26 CHF roundtrip, as the first leg of the trip is included and you get a 50% discount on the second part of the trip.
Where to Stay in Montreux:
Budget: There’s only one hostel in town that I’m aware of, and that’s where I stayed (I was on a tight budget during my entire time in Switzerland). I stayed at the Youthhostel in Montreux. It includes breakfast– an excellent value in pricy Switzerland! Keep in mind their late 4 PM check in, which is common throughout Switzerland.
Mid-Range: Le Coucou Hotel has excellent prices, a breathtaking view, and a well-reviewed restaurant. It is a bit from Montreux proper, though it is close to a different train station (Haut-de-Caux).
Luxury: A favorite of celebrities like the late Freddie Mercury, it’s not surprising that Montreux offers no shortage of luxury options. The best balance of luxury to price ration is Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. I mean, just look at that building façade — it’s basically the architectural equivalent of the heart-eyes emoji.
Lauterbrunnen Valley and surrounding towns
Lauterbrunnen is an adorable, typically Swiss town nestled in a mountain valley famed for being home to 72 waterfalls — two of which are prominently but casually hanging out in the center of town like it’s no big deal. It’s definitely one of the best villages in Switzerland with super traditional architecture and flower boxes.
Just 20 minutes from Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen is an oasis of calm with tons of opportunities for hiking if you’re feeling tame and all sorts of adventure activities if you’re keen to get your adrenaline pumping – there’s tons of things to do in Switzerland in the summer and Lauterbrunnen is one of the best bases to experience it from!
Be sure to take the cable car and scenic train up to Mürren via Winteregg for stunning mountain and valley views — complete with lots of Swiss cows (and cowbells!). Afterward, you can either hike down to Gimmelwald or take a cable car. When in Gimmelwald be sure to check out the Honesty Shop — Europe’s first village store based entirely on trust.
No shopkeepers or cameras — just trust, and it works perfectly. For this jaded New Yorker, it was actually a bit of an emotional experience to see this shop in action.
Finally, be sure to check out the insanely powerful Trümmelbach Falls in between Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg. It’s a series of 10 glacial waterfalls which tumble INSIDE of a mountain, which has been carved out by both nature and man so you can see the insane power of the melting glacial water at work.
This is no dainty, Instagrammable waterfall — it’s sheer force and power, and an absolute sight to behold.
Where to Stay in Lauterbrunnen:
Budget: There are plenty of hostels in Lauterbrunnen. I stayed at Schutzenbach Backpackers and it was the cheapest hostel I stayed at during my entire time in Switzerland. It had an amazing location and everything was comfortable, but there were some weird quirks (like you had to pay for hot water by the minute and pay for using the electric burners!) that I found annoying. It’s a short walk out of town (20 minutes) but you can also take a bus.
Mid-range: If you have a medium budget, Hotel Staubbach is your best bet. It has great waterfall views and a super convenient location. It’s cozy, but not ultra-luxurious. You could also stay in Mürren, Gimmelwald, or one of the other cute mountain towns in the area!
Luxury: For those with money to spare, Hotel Silberhorn is one of the nicest hotels in town. They have a beautiful sun terrace with an amazing panoramic view of the Jungfrau mountains and an Alpine-style restaurant.
When in Lauterbrunnen or nearby Interlaken, you simply must take the scenic train up to Schynige Platte alpine garden departing from Wilderwil. The scenic railway will take you up a hill to incredible views of Lake Thun and the even more stunning turquoise Lake Brienz.
You end at the top of a mountain with views of the three of the tallest peaks in the Jungfrau region – Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau herself. The three mountains on one side; the lakes on the other… is this any wonder it’s one of the most scenic places in Switzerland?
Up at the top, you can enjoy a ton of different hiking trails of mild to moderate difficulty. There’s a kiosk selling surprisingly affordably priced coffee, wine, and beer, as well as a restaurant if you really feel like splashing out and getting fancy.
The best part? A return trip to Schynige Platte is 100% included on your Swiss Travel Pass, making it one of the best places to visit in Switzerland in the summer.
Where to Stay for Schynige Platte:
This is easy to do as a day trip from Lauterbrunnen, which I recommend, though you could also check out hostels and hotels in Interlaken if you want a bit more of a city feel than a country vibe. Check out hostels in Interlaken if you’re on a budget or check out hotel prices and availability if you prefer to stay in a hotel or guesthouse.
Lake Lucerne and Mount Pilatus
Probably one of the most fun days I had in Switzerland was the day I took the steamer boat across Lake Lucerne to Alpnachstad, then the cogwheel railway up to Mount Pilatus at 2073 meters. The cogwheel railway up to Mount Pilatus is literally the steepest in the world, with a staggering gradient of 48% incline!
You can get some stunning views over Lake Lucerne from the top of Pilatus, do some hikes through alpine flowers, see the adorable mountain ibexes who call it home…. then go back down to Lucerne via cable car and bus. 4 distinctly different modes of transit in one day, all included on your Swiss Travel Pass — all running with insane efficiency. Switzerland, you make my OCD heart very, very happy.
Where to Stay in Lucerne:
Budget: I stayed at Lion Lodge when in Lucerne. It’s okay and friendly to the wallet, but nothing that great.
Mid-range:: Had I not been traveling on such a budget, there is an Ibis in Lucerne. Ibis hotels are clean, affordable, and pretty inoffensive — but they’re not exactly luxruious. Still, if you want privacy and cleanliness, Ibis is reliable. Just be aware it’s about a kilometer’s walk from town, though Lucerne is pretty well connected when it comes to public transport.
Luxury: If you want the best of the best, Hotel Schweizerhof can’t be beat. It’s beautiful — just look at the front of that building all lit up at night! — with an amazing lake view, a Finnish sauna, a bio sauna (whatever that is), and a spa. One cool quirk about the hotel is that each room is furnished to a represent the personal style of a famous person who has stayed at the hotel in the past, making it a super unique place to visit in Switzerland.
Zermatt and the Gornergrat
Zermatt is one of the biggest Switzerland vacation spots. It’s rightfully famous for the glimpse of the Matterhorn’s famous silhouette which you can see from certain angles within the town. On a sunny day, the peak is clearly visible – other days, the Matterhorn shrouds herself in clouds, which makes sighting her even more majestic when it finally happens.
When you have a good weather day, it’s definitely worth it to go up to the Gornergrat station on the scenic railway. I took three mountain railways while in Switzerland and the Gornergrat was definitely the most awe-inspiring. As in, I almost wanted to weep when I saw the Matterhorn peeking from behind the clouds on my last day in Zermatt.
The Gornergat is not 100% included with the Swiss Travel Pass, but you’ll get a 50% reduction on the return ticket price of 94 CHF (for a total cost of 47 CHF, an insanely good deal for Switzerland).
Be sure to stop at Rotenboden for stunning views of one of the many alpine lakes dotting the region — if you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of the Matterhorn hanging out reflected in the Riffelsee.
Unfortunately, as you can see, it was rather cloudy when I went up to Gornergrat, so my views weren’t quite as good as they could be. Check the forecast (or just look at the Matterhorn to see if you can see it!) before purchasing your tickets.
Where to Stay in Zermatt:
Budget: As one of the more popular touristic places to visit in Switzerland, Zermatt has a wide range of options. I enjoyed my stay at Matterhorn Hostel and thought the price was really good for Switzerland.
Mid-range: A surprisingly good value is ARCA Solebad Wellness & Spa. It’s right by the center train station and, as the name suggests, is home to an excellent spa! It also has a salted heated swimming pool, steam bath, and sauna.
Luxury: One of the most romantic and beautiful hotels in all of Zermatt is Romantik Hotel Julen Superior. The outside of the building couldn’t be any more adorably Swiss, with wood design and flower boxes everywhere. I also really loved the warm, wood interiors and amazing detailing. Plus, the location can’t be beat — after all, Matterhorn views are never far away.
Nendaz and the Valais region
The Valais region is famed for its wines, cheeses, and mountains — literally three of my favorite things. Virtually everywhere in the Valais is stunning, but the beautiful mountain town of Nendaz is a fantastic place to enjoy scenic mountain views and traditional Valaisianne cuisine and culture.
I spent an entire week in Nendaz and you’re welcome to read all about it here if you want more detailed recommendations!
Where to Stay in Nendaz:
Budget: Nendaz is super small and there’s really not much in the way of budget accommodation — certainly no hostels! I’d recommend doing an apartment rental if you’re on a budget.
Mid-range: Your best bet if you are trying not to spend too much is to try to find an apartmental rental on Booking.com or to check out Airbnb (use my link for up to $40 off your first stay!)
Luxury: I visited the spa at Nendaz 4 Vallées & Spa and holy heck guys it was AMAZING. They have a ridiculous number of saunas and steam rooms, an ice room, indoor and outdoor pools, a salt/floating pool… and probably so much more that I’ve already forgotten. Even if you don’t stay here, I recommend visiting their spa on a day pass!
Note: This post was written in collaboration with Swiss Travel Pass. I received an 8-day travel pass for train travel in Switzerland while writing this post. All opinions are my own, as always.