Zurich is best known as a global financial center, but anyone who's been here knows that it's a great spot to relax as well. There are plenty of things to do in the city itself, but it's also a fantastic base for exploring the rest of Switzerland, particularly if you want to come home to big-city comforts at the end of the day. You're spoiled for choice when it comes to activities and attractions in the surrounding area; head into the Alps for hiking and picturesque views, stroll through the streets of an opulent Baroque town, or visit Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe.
Also known as the Appenzell Alps, Alpstein is part of the famous Alps mountain range system, and it's a true hikers' paradise. The beautiful trails wind through picturesque alpine scenery, along ridge lines, and past snow-covered peaks, and one of them even goes down to a cave system filled with Stone Age tools and cave bear skeletons. Some trails have ladders and chains to help hikers make it through the tricky terrain. As a bonus, you don't need to bring many provisions with you for the day; the trails are dotted with traditional alpine inns serving up hearty meals and cold drinks.
Set at the base of the spectacular Alpstein mountains, Appenzell is a cozy, colorful mountain town that looks like something off a postcard. The hilly pastures that surround the town are home to thousands of dairy cows, so it's no surprise that the town is most famous for producing delicious Appenzeller cheese, which is used in many of the traditional dishes served at local restaurants. Visitors can stop by the Appenzeller Showcase to watch the cheese being made before heading into town to admire the gabled houses and browse the craft shops and bakeries along the main street.
Nestled between two beautiful lakes, the tiny town of Arth Goldau is a wonderful place for a day trip, particularly if you're traveling with children. The entire village was destroyed by a massive rockslide in 1806, and although it has since been rebuilt, visitors can learn about what happened at the local museum. You can also walk along the “Landslide Trail”, which leads through the landslide area and past the beautiful orchids that sprung up in the slide's wake. Another major attraction is the Nature Reserve and Wildlife Park Goldau, which is home to more than 100 local and foreign animal species.
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Another excellent destination for families with kids, Atzmännig is an outdoor leisure park hidden away in the beautiful Swiss countryside. Visitors in search of an adrenaline rush will enjoy the ropes course, bungy trampoline, and enormous alpine slide, but if you're looking for something more relaxing, you can visit the animals in the petting zoo. There are also plenty of beautiful walking trails, which can be accessed by taking a chairlift up the hill. There is no admission fee for the park itself, but visitors must pay to use the chairlift, the ropes course, and some of the other attractions.
Atzmännigstrasse 1, 8638 Goldingen, Switzerland, Phone: +41-5-52-84-64-34
Located on the banks of the Rhine River, Basel is the third-largest town in Switzerland. It's widely recognized as the country's cultural capital, and it's home to around 40 museums, including the Museum of Cultures and the Basel Art Museum. The town is also rich in high-quality architecture, particularly in the medieval Marktplatz, where there's a unique red sandstone Town Hall. From here, you can walk through the cobblestone alleys to the picturesque Basel Minster cathedral, where you can climb up to the Pfalz for some wonderful views of the river and the city below.
Dating back to the 12th century, Bern has more than its fair share of claims to fame; it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the capital of Switzerland, and one of the most beautiful cities in the country. The cobblestone streets of the historic center are lined with covered shopping arcades, which are known to locals as "Lauben", and visitors won't struggle to find a cozy cafe or wine cellar that suits their tastes. If you venture outside the downtown core, you can visit the bears in Bear Park, stroll through the Botanical Gardens, or stop by the Albert Einstein House.
The city of Chur has been inhabited since 3000 BC, making it the oldest city in the country, and it's known for its charming medieval Old Town and its proximity to the alpine passes. You need to take some time to stroll through the car-free downtown streets, but don't forget about the town's other attractions as well, including the iconic St. Martin’s Church, the Bündner Kunstmuseum, and the Rätisches Museum. If you're here on a Saturday, you might also be lucky enough to catch the summer farmers' market or the vintage flea market, which is held on the first Saturday of the month.
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If you want to hop over to France for the day, the fairytale town of Colmar is an excellent choice. Photography lovers could easily spend the entire day snapping shots of the cobblestone streets and picturesque canals, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here as well, including the Unterlinden Museum, the Gothic-style St. Martin's Church, and the Covered Market Halle, which is full of local restaurants. The town is also surrounded by wineries known for producing world-class Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, and visitors can explore the many lush vineyards by car or on foot.
Sitting at the foot of the Glarus Alps, Glarus is in an ideal location for anyone who wants to enjoy outdoor activities no matter what the time of year. The beautiful Klöntal hiking region is just a short drive away, while the Kerenzerberg mountain pass provides plenty of opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. As for the town itself, many of the original buildings were destroyed by a terrible fire in 1861, so the town is now a stately 19th-century creation built on a grid plan. However, it still offers an excellent selection of shops and restaurants.
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Surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Swiss Alps, Grindelwald is an inviting Swiss village that draws mountain lovers from all over Europe. The village itself makes for a pleasant afternoon stroll, but the area's real attractions are found in the mountains, which offer world-class hiking and skiing. One of the best things to do regardless of the season is take the gondola up to Grindelwald First, where you can explore some of the area's most beautiful hiking and cross-country skiing trails. If you're looking for something more exhilarating, you can try trotter biking down the steep mountain roads.
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A well-known resort town in the spectacular Bernese Oberland, Interlaken is a significant transportation hub for visitors who want to explore this part of central Switzerland. The most popular thing to do is take the train up to the Jungfraujoch, a spectacular alpine viewing point, but other possibilities include going on a steamboat trip across Lake Brienz, taking the funicular up the mountain behind the town, and visiting the St. Beatus Caves. There aren't nearly as many attractions in the town itself as there are in the surrounding area, but there are more than enough shops and restaurants to meet your needs while you're here.
Fondly known as the "Top of Europe", Jungfraujoch sits in the Alps at an altitude of 11,300 feet, making it the highest train station in all of Europe. The train ride itself boasts spectacular views, but once you reach the top, the scenery is jaw-dropping. You can take an elevator up 380 more feet to the observatory, which offers 360-degree views, and other attractions here include an ice palace, a Lindt chocolate museum, and several restaurants. Most visitors board the train in Interlaken, but you can also catch it in Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald if that suits your itinerary better.
Whether you call it Lake Constance or the Bodensee, there's no denying that this massive body of water is one of the most spectacular natural attractions in Europe. The lakeshore is shared by Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, but no matter where you go, you'll find great swimming and plenty of opportunities for sailing. If the weather isn't nice enough to go out on the water, you can cycle along the lakeshore, tour the area's vineyards, or hike up the Pfänder for lovely views of the lake. The Austrian town of Bregenz features a floating stage that regularly hosts opera performances.
Lauterbrunnen literally means "many fountains", and that should give you an idea of the magnificent natural beauty found in the valley surrounding this tiny village. There are more than 70 waterfalls in the area, including the spectacular 1000-foot Staubbach Falls and the ten glacial falls on Black Monk Mountain, which can only be reached by taking a tunnel lift in the summer. The waterfalls are the main draw of the area during the warmer months, but when the snow starts to fall, the mountains are transformed into a wonderful destination for downhill and cross-country skiers.
If you want to see all the best things Switzerland has to offer in a single day, Lucerne is one of the best places to visit. The city sits right on the jewel-like Lake Lucerne, and thanks to the medieval Old Town and the snow-capped mountains in the background, it looks like a beautiful painting from almost every angle. However, there are a few must-see spots as well, including the Rosengart Collection, the artwork on Chapel Bridge and the glacial potholes at the Glacier Garden. If you want a dose of nature, head up into the nearby Rigi or Pilatus mountains to hike or ski. https://www.luzern.com/en/
Towering over the town of Lucerne, Mt. Pilatus is a multi-peaked mountain massif whose highest point stands at 6982 feet. Queen Victoria famously ascended the mountain peak by mule in 1868, but these days, the most popular ways to get to the top are by train or cable car. Once here, there are plenty of things to keep you busy, including a network of hiking trails, a ropes course, and a family-friendly adventure park. In the summer, visitors often choose to combine their trip up the mountain with a cruise on the nearby Lake Lucerne.
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Situated at the southern end of Lake Zurich, Rapperswil is a picturesque town filled with medieval buildings, outdoor cafes, and charming boutique shops. The most famous site in the town is the towering castle in the city center, whose walls house a Polish museum and a spectacular rose garden filled with approximately 600 distinct types of rose. If you'd like to stretch your legs, a long wooden bridge stretches from the town to the other side of the lake. Visitors often come here by train, but for a scenic end to your trip, you can take a boat cruise across the lake to Zurich.
The largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls are a truly breathtaking natural attraction conveniently located just outside the city of Schaffhausen. The best time to visit is between April and October when you can take a boat tour out to the rock in the middle of the falls, although the flow of water is at its peak in May and June. However, if you can't make it here before dark, don't worry. The falls are illuminated in the evenings throughout most of the year, and they're just as spectacular after dusk as they are in the day.
Rheinfallquai, 8212 Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland
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Schaffhausen is best known for being the location of the famous Rhine Falls, but the city is a beautiful place for a day trip in its own right. The pedestrian-only Old Town boasts a wonderful collection of lavishly painted houses and Baroque guild houses, but the highlight is the historic Munot fortress, which visitors can climb to get wonderful views of the city and the surrounding landscapes. Another great place to visit is the Kloster Allerheiligen monastery, which is home to a museum that details the city's history through a series of art and archaeology exhibits.
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Switzerland is full of beautiful Baroque towns, but it's hard to find one that compares to the grandeur of Solothurn. This charming town was home to the French king’s ambassador for more than two and a half centuries, and it's a wonderful blend of French, German, and Italian culture and architecture. Don't miss the St. Urs Cathedral, the Waldegg Castle, or the Verena Gorge Hermitage just outside town. The city is a great place to visit no matter what the time of year, but it's at its best during the Christmas season, when a delightful market is held in the city's oldest square.
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Tucked away in the hills of northeastern Switzerland, St. Gallen is a town that evolved from a hermitage established here in the 7th century. The biggest tourist attraction here is the Abbey of St. Gallen, a gorgeous Baroque cathedral that was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. The heart of the abbey is its famous library, which boasts a Rococo hall and a collection of approximately 170,000 documents, some of which date as far back as the 9th century. Aside from the abbey, the city's attractions include a Textile Museum, a botanical garden, and a nature museum.
22.Stein am Rhein
Sitting right next to the magnificent Rhine River, Stein am Rhein boasts one of the best-preserved medieval villages in the country. The layout of the Old Town has remained unchanged for more than a century, and it's full of colorful half-timbered medieval homes that make for some truly pretty photos. The city also offers several interesting museums, and visitors can learn about how people lived during the mid-1800s at the Lindwurm Museum, admire the frescoes at the St George’s Abbey Museum, or visit the KrippenWelt nativity museum to see hundreds of nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus.
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Towering over the town of Engelberg, Titlis is a glorious alpine mountain that reaches an altitude of almost 1000 feet. It makes a wonderful alternative to the better-known Jungfraujoch, particularly if you're on a budget, and you can reach the summit by taking an exciting cable car with a revolving section that offers spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. If you'd rather hike partway, you can get off at the mid station and take one of the hiking trails to the top. Once you're here, attractions include a breathtaking suspension bridge, a chairlift that soars right over the mountain's glacier, and an ice tunnel.
The city of Winterthur is best known as a hub for manufacturing and industry, and although it's not as popular as some of the other destinations on this list, it has a lot to offer. The car-free Old Town is the largest in Europe, and it boasts more than 15 informative museums, including the photography museum Fotomuseum Winterthur, the modern art museum Kunstmuseum Winterthur, and the historic art museum Museum Oskar Reinhart. The Swiss Science Center Technorama is a great place to visit with your kids, and if you love flowers, make sure to climb up to the hilltop Rosengarten to admire the beautiful blooms.
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With its large expat population, Zug is widely recognized as one of the best places in Switzerland to live, but it also makes a great day trip destination. Attractions include the Zug Castle, the Kunsthaus Zug modern art museum, and the Cantonal Museum of Prehistory, and there are plenty of excellent restaurants along the lakeshore. If you want to see the area from above, climb up the Zyt Tower for excellent views of the Old Town or trek up Guggi Hill to relax in the Rosengarten and enjoy the views of the city and the water below.
25 Best Weekend and Day Trips from Zurich
- Alpstein, Photo: Jonathan/stock.adobe.com
- Appenzell, Photo: pure-life-pictures/stock.adobe.com
- Arth Goldau, Photo: hachri/stock.adobe.com
- Atzmannig, Photo: rachid amrous/stock.adobe.com
- Basel, Photo: dudlajzov/stock.adobe.com
- Bern, Photo: rh2010/stock.adobe.com
- Chur, Photo: serjiob74/stock.adobe.com
- Colmar, Photo: JFL Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Glarus, Photo: santosha57/stock.adobe.com
- Grindelwald, Photo: Simon Dannhauer/stock.adobe.com
- Interlaken, Photo: Simon Dannhauer/stock.adobe.com
- Jungfraujoch, Photo: PixHound/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Constance, Photo: Yasonya/stock.adobe.com
- Lauterbrunnen, Photo: janoka82/stock.adobe.com
- Lucerne, Photo: Scanrail/stock.adobe.com
- Mt. Pilatus, Photo: xbrchx/stock.adobe.com
- Rapperswil, Photo: rachid amrous/stock.adobe.com
- Rhine Falls, Photo: deejaymd/stock.adobe.com
- Schaffhausen, Photo: swisshippo/stock.adobe.com
- Solothurn, Photo: photogearch/stock.adobe.com
- St. Gallen, Photo: yuko/stock.adobe.com
- Stein am Rhein, Photo: inesbodensee/stock.adobe.com
- Titlis, Photo: polarbearstudio/stock.adobe.com
- Winterthur, Photo: bill_17/stock.adobe.com
- Zug, Photo: rh2010/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Olena Z/stock.adobe.com