Interlaken is the outdoor enthusiasts’ paradise nestled between two beautiful lakes (Brienz and Thun) in the heart of Switzerland, offering experiences ranging from hiking, to river rafting, canyoning, kayaking and parasailing. I would compare it to Glencoe in Scotland because it provides the perfect starting point for many hiking trails and other outdoor activities in the Alps due to its excellent train connections and central geographical location.
My husband and I spent 10 days hiking and kayaking in the Interlaken area which was essentially our ‘babymoon’ before our little one arrives in November. I can wholeheartedly say that it has been one of the best holidays I have had – the scenery is jaw-dropping and you will certainly feel like you have just stepped into a scene from the movie ‘Heidi’. (In the unlikely event that you are not familiar with Heidi, it is a charming story of an orphaned girl living in the Swiss Alps with her goat herding Grandfather).
From the restaurants we tried, Restaurant Baren in Unterseen is definitely my top recommendation. Here you will find all of the traditional dishes at reasonable prices, in a friendly setting.
Switzerland offers many tastebud-tantalising treats for travellers and most of the restaurants serve their local, traditional dishes. I’ve listed my favourites and the ones you should try below.
A hearty flat potato cake dish which you can also recreate very easily at home. Typically, they fry grated potato with cheese and bacon/lardons in butter and decorate the top with a fried egg. It can be made vegetarian by leaving out the bacon.
A fun way to share a meal with friends, dipping bread cubes into melted cheeses which are infused with wine and garlic in a ceramic pot.
Aach area in Switzerland has its own type of cheese which make great afternoon snacks. The quality is exceptional as many of the cheeses sold in the local markets come straight from cows reared in the fresh Alpine pastures.
Opfel Waie (Swiss apple tart)
A popular dessert which you will find on the menu of most restaurants; it is served with cinnamon, cream and/or vanilla ice cream. A truly decadent way to finish any meal!
My husband and I based ourselves a stone’s throw away from Interlaken in a quaint little village called Wilderswil. We deliberately chose a spot that was well connected by trains, to take us to the starting points of many of the Alpine hiking trails. All the hiking trails are very well marked and it is impossible to get lost – all you need is a simple hiking map from the local tourist office (comes at no cost) and you are ready to go!
I can recommend the following ’tried and tested’ hiking trails.
Often referred to as the ‘top of Interlaken’, this is the highest viewpoint overlooking the valley, the two lakes and surrounding Eiger, Monch and snow covered Jungfrau mountain. We decided to hike up from Interlaken Ost train station which was a hilly 2 hour walk but the views from the top were well worth it in the end. Don’t forget to take a selfie from the ‘Two Lakes Bridge’ which resembles a giant tongue sticking out over the steep ridge. If you fancy a romantic night out instead of a heart-pumping hike up here, take a 10 minute ride in the cable car up to the top at dusk and enjoy the sunset from the Panorama Restaurant which resembles a small fairy-tale castle.
Eigergletscher to Kleine Scheidegg
This hike starts at the foot of the grim looking Eigergletcher mountain. As you start your walk on the slim ridge, you will find yourself surrounded by black and grey rocks and fog, but as you continue your steep descent further down into the valley, the scenery takes a dramatic turn. You will find yourself enveloped into sunshine and a rich carpet of wildflowers will stretch out under your feet until you reach Kleine Scheidegg train station which happens to be the finishing point of the famous Jungfrau Marathon which is thought to be one of the most beautiful (and toughest) ones in the world.
Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald via Alpiglen
This 15 km route provides you with plenty of thrills and chills so I would only recommend this to adventure lovers and experienced hikers. On this hike you will encounter breath-taking scenery around the magnificent Eiger mountain, sweet little farms with cows wearing giant bells; you will be navigating some challenging rocky ascents and descents, narrow paths and even snow covered slippery crossings that will certainly make your heart beat faster!
The railway station here is known to be the highest one in Europe, with an elevation of 3,454 metres. Stepping out of the train you will find yourself in a busy tourist hub – to get away from the hustle and bustle, follow the hiking trail on the crevassed glacier to the Monschjoch Hut. After a steep, 45 minute climb in the crunchy snow and bright sunshine (do wear your sunglasses!) you will be rewarded with stunning ‘Winter Wonderland’ – like views, not to mention the little tourist hut’s delicious offering of hot food, snacks and beverages! Finish your visit by going up to the Sphinx Astronomical Observatory to snap some Instagram-worthy pictures from the viewing platform.
Panorama trail on Schynige Platte (‘Bright Sun Terrace’ mountain)
If you have limited time in Switzerland and can only squeeze in one hike, I would definitely go for this one! Take the historic cog railway from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte and prepare yourself for a truly magical experience. Given the unprecedented popularity of this place, I recommend that you arrive quite early to avoid needing to dodge a multitude of tourists on the trails. Upon getting out of the train, follow the ‘Panoramaweg’ signs which will lead you along rocky ridges and rich wildflower pastures offering views over the two lakes and the snow covered peaks of the surrounding mountains.
Zermatt hiking trails
We decided to venture out a bit further away from Interlaken and the Jungfrau area on our final day so we drove South and ended up going up to Zermatt near the Italian border. Zermatt is a busy skiing resort and is a very interesting place – to start with, you can only go up by train from Tosch and no cars are allowed in! Rumour has it that Zermatt is kept a car-free zone to preserve the fresh air and prevent pollution from masking the stunning views over the Matterhorn which towers above the town like a shark’s fin. Once in Zermatt, take a short furnicular ride up to Sunnegga which is a popular starting point of many local hikes. We decided to hike up to two mini lakes then took a scenic trail along the rocky ridges offering us breath-taking views of the ‘mountain of mountains’, fairy-tale waterfalls and lush forests. The route we took was a combination of different hiking trails – as long as you have a hiking map with you, you can follow one particular route or connect a number of different routes.
If you’re looking to give your tired legs a break from hiking, I recommend exploring this medieval castle and taking a stroll in this pretty little town, only a short drive from Interlaken.
For a more active and yet relaxing day, head to Lake Brienz for a few hours’ of kayaking. We really enjoyed spending some time on the lake with Hightide Kayak School who offer kayak tours for small groups, from beginner to the more experienced. I especially recommend their chilled sunset sessions when the temperatures are lower and the lake is quieter.
Finally, I just wanted to share a few tips with you to make sure you get the most out of your visit in Switzerland if you decide to give it a try after reading this article!
Go for self-catered
Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world so I would recommend a self-catering holiday to reduce your costs on accommodation and food – there are plenty of Airbnb places to choose from and you will easily find big supermarkets such as Lidl to get your groceries from.
Although we decided to get around by driving most of the time, you can also get to most places by train, or in some cases, only by train if you are going up into the mountains – train tickets can be very expensive therefore I suggest that you invest into a Swiss Travel Pass if you are staying for longer than a week and are planning to move around a lot. This will give you a decent discount on many train routes.
Check before you hike
Switzerland has numerous hiking trails, but not all of them may be open during the time of your visit due to the often changing weather conditions in the Alps – to avoid disappointment, it is best to pop into a Tourist Information office on the first day of your visit and ask for a map that has the local routes and they can also advise you on which trails are open.
Get the gear
If you would like to do some serious hiking in Switzerland, make sure you bring along proper gear – sturdy hiking boots, layered clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen are a real must. In some cases, you might find that Nordic Walking poles might come in handy, too!
In Switzerland they speak Swiss German which you may find surprisingly difficult to understand at first if you speak the language (funnily enough, even some Germans struggle with that, too!) – fortunately, Swiss people speak and are happy to switch to standard German (‘Hochdeutsch’) when talking to tourists. However, it is worth learning some niceties such as Merci (instead of ‘Danke’ meaning ‘thank you’), Gruezi (instead of ‘Hallo’ meaning ‘Hi’).
If you have any questions about hiking in Switzerland or would like to connect with Timea, you can find her on Instagram.