Switzerland

Four Swiss towns you should include in your itinerary

September 12, 2016 (Last Updated: May 8, 2020)
by Carolyn
Grindelwald Switzerland

If you’re planning a holiday in Switzerland, you probably have cities like Zurich, Lucerne, Bern and Geneva already on your itinerary.  And if you’re a regular reader of this website, you’ll know that the village of Lauterbrunnen is one of my favourites, so you may have added that, too.

And whilst these places are all well worth a visit, there are a few other Swiss towns that I encourage you to include in your holiday.  These four towns may not be totally off the tourist trail but they are definitely less well-known and less visited than those I’ve mentioned above.

Here are four towns that have left a lasting impression on me and that I recommend you include in your Switzerland holiday itinerary.  They are so worthy of your visit that Switzerland Tourism has included them in their Grand Tour of Switzerland, too.

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Rapperswil

Building with frescoes in Rapperswil Switzerland

On the upper edge of Lake Zurich, just a 35 minute train ride from Zurich, Rapperswil is a pretty Medieval town well worth a visit. 

Known as ‘The Town of Roses’, visitors arriving between June and October can see more than 15,000 roses in bloom. I was a month too early to witness the roses in bloom but it didn’t make my visit to Rapperswil any less enjoyable.

It’s easy to fill a day wandering around the Old Town and alongside the lake where, in the warmer months, you’ll find a number of cafes and restaurants offer outdoor seating.

The town is also home to Switzerland’s longest wooden pedestrian bridge and you can walk the 841 metres from Rapperswil across the lake to Hurden. Other lakeside activities include cruises and pedal boat hire.

Rapperswil Castle

Perched above the lake you’ll find Rapperswil’s medieval castle set amongst lovely parklands and St. John’s church and it’s from here that you get wonderful views of both Lake Zurich and across to the Glarus Alps.

Many of the buildings around town feature beautiful frescoes and flower boxes bursting with blooms, so a walk around town is a real feast for the eyes.

Winding cobbled streets and alleyways lead to the town square filled with cafes and restaurants. There are also plenty of eating options along the traffic-free lakeside promenade.

Street in Rapperswil Switzerland

Why I love Rapperswil

Despite being so close to Zurich, it feels like a world away.  I love spending time by lakes and Rapperswil is the perfect lakeside town. In summer, the lakeside promenade has a real Mediterranean feel to it and the views from the castle are worth the climb up the steep streets.

Region: Canton of St. Gallen
Population: 26,000

Location: Rapperswil is located on the south eastern end of Lake Zurich. It is 40 kilometres from Zurich and 164 kilometres from Bern.

View of Lake Zurich from Rapperswil

Where to stay in Rapperswil

Click here to browse a range of accommodation in Rapperswil.


How to get to Rapperswil

By train – At least six trains per hour operate between Rapperswil’s main train station and Zurich Hauptbahnhof.  Travel time is about 35 minutes.

By lake cruise – A pleasant way to reach Rapperswil is on a lake cruise from Zurich (or vice versa).  Journey time is around 90 minutes.

By car – If you’re driving to Rapperswil, it will take you about 30 minutes from Zurich or 1 hour 40 minutes from Bern.


Schaffhausen


Old town Schaffhausen Switzerland

My visit to Schaffhausen was brief but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable and it’s one place I definitely plan to return to soon. 

Situated on the River Rhine, Schaffhausen is perhaps best known for the nearby Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfalls, but the town holds plenty of other charms that make it worth a visit.

The town is one of the best preserved cities from the Middle Ages and the oriel (bay) windows – 171 of them – featured throughout the Old Town are what makes it really special.  Whilst you’ll see oriel windows in other Swiss towns, it’s the sheer number of them in Schaffhausen that impresses.

It is thought they were built as a show of wealth and prosperity by the merchants who resided in the town centuries ago.

Amongst the car-free streets of the Old Town you’ll find many colourful buildings adorned with oriel windows and intricately painted facades. The Haus zum Ritter is a fine example, with its facade painted with Renaissance frescoes.

Haus zum Ritter Schaffhausen

Other highlights of the Old Town include Fronwag Tower which houses an astronomical clock made by Joachim Habrecht, and Kirche St. Johann, the parish church which was founded in the 11th century.

I also enjoyed my visit to the All Saints’ Herb Garden, a reconstruction of the herb garden planted by the monks in Medieval times. Located next to the cloisters of the ancient monastery, here you can also see the 4.5 ton Schiller Bell which was cast in 1486.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to head uphill to Munot Fortress, a circular keep built in the 16th Century, which is the town’s landmark.  The Fortress still has its own keeper who lives in the tower and rings the Munot bells every evening at 9pm!

Cloisers herb garden Schaffhausen

Why I love Schaffhausen

The many beautiful oriel windows give the town a real fairytale feel. Combined with the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town, you can almost imagine yourself as part of a Brothers Grimm storybook.

Region: Canton of Schaffhausen
Population: 34,000

Location:  Schaffhausen is on the River Rhine, close to the Switzerland/German border. It is 51 kilometres from Zurich,  92 kilometres from Basel and 168 kilometres from Bern.

Oriel windows in SchaffhausenImage © V. ZHURAVLEV / Adobe Stock Photo

Where to stay in Schaffhausen

Click here to browse accommodation options in Schaffhausen.


How to get to Schaffhausen

By train – Frequent trains operate between Schaffhausen and Zurich (journey time around 1 hour), Bern (1 hour 50 minutes) and other major cities in Switzerland.

By car – It takes just under an hour to drive to Schaffhausen from Zurich and two hours from Bern.


Grindelwald

Swiss chalet in Grindelwald

I’ve written before about my love of Lauterbrunnen in the Jungfrau region but another nearby town that I hold close to my heart is Grindelwald.

Larger than Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald offers more shops and services yet still retains that ‘small village’ feel.  There are so many things to do in Grindelwald that it’s no wonder it is a favourite holiday destination all year round.

My visits have always been in summer when there is an abundance of outdoor activities on offer.  Trotti bike rides, mini golf, alpine hikes and cable car rides are just some of the ways I’ve spent my time in the town.

View of Grindelwald valley

The scenery around Grindelwald is incredible.  In summer the fields are dotted with alpine flowers and fresh mountain air and the sound of cow bells clanging in the distance add to the beauty.

Skiers flock to Grindelwald in winter for over 160 kilometres of pistes which are served by around 30 lifts.  Tobogganing and winter walking are also possible in winter.

Alpine huts Grindelwald Switzerland

Why I love Grindelwald

Getting to Grindelwald is half the fun.  The route, whether by car or train, winds its way uphill amongst lush pastures dotted with typically-Swiss chalets. All around are spectacular mountains, snow-capped even in summer.   It’s the quintessential Swiss alpine village charm that makes Grindelwald a favourite of mine.

Region: Canton of Bernese Oberland
Population: 4,000

Location: Grindelwald is situated in the Bernese Oberland region. It is 20 kilometres from Interlaken, 74 kilometres from Bern and 140 kilometres from Zurich.

View of glacier from Grindelwald

Where to stay in Grindelwald

When it comes to accommodation options in Grindelwald, visitors are spoilt for choice.  Click here to browse the huge range of hotels, apartments and B&Bs in Grindelwald.

You can also read my detailed guide to the best hotels in Grindelwald.


How to get to Grindelwald

By train – Trains to Grindelwald travel via Interlaken Ost with journey times around 1 hour 45 minutes (from Bern) and 2 hours 45 minutes (from Zurich – via Interlaken Ost and Bern).

By car – If you have a car and are driving to Grindelwald you should around half an hour from Interlaken, one hour from Bern and 1 hour 50 minutes from Zurich.

Further reading: Things to do in Grindelwald in summer


St. Moritz

St Moritz Dorf

For many of us, the name St. Moritz instantly conjures up impressions of the rich and famous whooshing down the ski slopes but there’s more to St. Moritz than glamour and glitz.

For me, the lovely thing about St. Moritz is the fact that you have to make an effort to get there.  That’s not to say it’s hard to reach – in fact the excellent Swiss Transport System services St. Moritz daily and it is located on a major driving route from Italy though Switzerland to Austria.

But, being situated in Switzerland’s east, St. Moritz is not somewhere you’re likely to just drop into on your way from one of the country’s major cities to another.

And that – and its natural beauty – is what makes it so inviting.

Picnic by lake at St Moritz

Winter sports are the drawcard in winter. In fact, St. Moritz was the birthplace of winter tourism way back in 1864 and the small town has hosted the Winter Olympics on two occasions.

But a Summer visit also has many rewards. Nestled beside the tranquil Moritzersee (Lake Moritz) on a sunny alpine terrace at 1856 metres, the town is surrounded by stunning scenery. 

Outdoor pursuits are plentiful – including hiking trails for all fitness levels, summer ice skating and golf – but for those who prefer just to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature, this is the perfect spot to be.

St. Moritz has two districts with the main road and railway line into town separates them. St. Moritz-Bad, the spa district with mineral springs dating back to 3000 years ago is on the lower side of the town whilst St. Moritz-Dorf, where you’ll find the majority of shops and restaurants, is on the upper side.

Apart from the natural wonders, one sight definitely worth seeing is the Leaning Tower, part of the remains of the Mauritius Church which was built around 1500.  You’ll find it beside the alpine stream in St. Moritz-Bad.

Leaning Tower at St Moritz Switzerland

Why I love St. Moritz

If you’re looking for tranquility, St. Moritz comes up trumps.  I loved strolling around the lake with views of snow-capped mountains wherever I looked.  A picnic lunch, whilst breathing in the fresh mountain air, was the perfect lunch venue.

Region: Canton of Graubunden
Population: 5,100

Location: St. Moritz is located in eastern Switzerland 208 kilometres from Zurich and 328 kilometres from Bern.

St MoritzImage © Janis Smits / Adobe Stock Photo

Where to stay in St. Moritz

 Click here to browse hotels in St. Moritz.


How to get to St. Moritz

By train – Regular trains operate the 3.5 hour journey from Zurich and 4.5 hours from Bern but a really spectacular way to arrive is on the Bernina Express scenic train.  Operating between Tirano and St. Moritz, the journey provides wonderful views from panoramic carriages as it traverses switch-back tunnels and passes rushing mountain streams and lakes.

Alternatively, you can take the ‘world’s slowest Express train’, the Glacier Express, which travels between Zermatt and St. Moritz.

By car – St. Moritz is a two and a half hour drive from Zurich and just under four hours from Bern.  If you’re coming from Italy, the journey time from Milan is around two and a half hours.


These towns are just four reasons that I am #inLOVEwithSWITZERLAND.  Will you include any of them in your next Switzerland holiday itinerary?


This article is written in conjunction with Switzerland Tourism but all words and opinions are my own.

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