If you’re planning a winter getaway to Switzerland, lucky you! Winter is one of the best time’s to visit. Few destinations boast the natural beauty, country charm and vibrant city life that are all found in Switzerland. While snow-capped mountains overlooking lush green valleys, ample hiking trails and rushing rivers are a draw during warmer months, January through February is the perfect time to experience Switzerland’s winter magic. Below is a guide to exploring Switzerland in the winter.
WHEN TO VISIT
When researching prior to my recent trip to Switzerland, I went the week before Christmas, people advised against visiting during Christmas and New Year’s as ski resorts fill quickly and prices tend to be higher. Late February and early March is when schools in Switzerland observe their sports holiday when local families head to the slopes and prices also spike.
The trains in Switzerland run like clockwork and provide service to just about anywhere you wish to explore. But for greater flexibility, I recommend renting a car. Prices are reasonable and you’ll have the freedom to move about as you wish. Although parking in the larger cities of Zurich and Lucerne can be a challenge, it’s well worth the extra hassle especially if you plan to stay in one of the smaller ski towns.
WHERE TO STAY
While Zurich is an exciting city with much to see and do, the true beauty of Switzerland is found outside the city. Even in our short three day stay, we were able to squeeze in ample sightseeing and explored several of the towns listed below. Whether you want non-stop skiing, cozy relaxation or a bit more activity and nightlife, there is something for everyone.
The city of Lucerne is only 30 minutes from Zurich, but couldn’t feel more different. Some views are reminiscent of Venice. There are ample shopping and dining options and numerous popup markets to enjoy during the winter months. Take a walk across the Kapellbrūcke footbridge and enjoy the stunning views. The small ski town of Engelberg is nearby, which is a great option if you’re limited on time or don’t want to spend your entire stay on the slopes.
The ski town of St. Moritz is located southeast from Zurich about 3.5 hours by train or 3 hours driving. In addition to being a popular ski destination, it is also offers great shopping.
Zermatt is perhaps the most popular ski town in Switzerland. Located southwest from Zurich, it takes about 3.5 hours by train and 4 hours by car to reach it. It is famous for its skiing, resorts, shopping and the Klein Matterhorn peak which overlooks the town.
This small ski town is located in the mountains and can only be accessed by train. The train from Zurich to Wengen takes just under 3 hours.
Also just under 3 hours by train from Zurich, the mountain town of Mürren can only be accessed by taking a gondola from Stechelberg or by train. The town offers excellent skiing and some of the best views in Switzerland.
The town of Lauterbrunnen lies between Wengen and Mürren. It is small and takes only a few minutes to drive through, but the views are quite stunning and there are several shops, restaurants and hotels to make it worth the stay.
The town of Interlaken is nestled between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun about 2 hours from Zurich by train or car. It’s a bit larger than the other towns and boasts ample hotels, eateries and activities. The nearest skiing options are Grund and Stechelberg, both about 30 minutes away. Don’t miss Ice Magic, Interlaken’s winter village that features local artisans, numerous eateries, an outdoor skating rink and even Bavarian curling.
This small village is located a few minutes from Interlaken and is where I stayed. We booked a room at the cozy Bären bed & breakfast featuring a sauna and perfect views of the Alps. At night, we took the bus, which was free with our stay, to Interlaken for dinner and to explore the winter village.
Located on the shore of Lake Brienz, this tiny town is one of the most beautiful and is a member of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites. There are a few hotels here, perfect for those looking for a serene getaway. Even if you don’t stay in Iseltwald, it’s worth at least driving through for the views.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re in the mood for some retail therapy, Zurich and Lucerne offer ample options from designer to department stores typical of what you would find in any bustling metropolis. The ski towns of St. Moritz and Zermatt feature smaller boutiques and specialty stores where you’ll snag one of a kind finds.
A winter visit to Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without spending some time on the slopes. Although famous and undeniably beautiful, the Swiss Alps are not for the faint of heart. While several mountains offer a variety of runs, the level of difficulty is elevated. An intermediate run in the Alps would be considered difficult in most other places.
I had skied on numerous occasions, but found the slopes at Birg quite intimidating. Only one run was open the day we went due to high winds and it was a difficult one. I eventually made it down, but it wasn’t pretty! If you’ve never skied before, lessons are recommended.
Stechelberg Gondola Ride
If you’re not up for skiing, but still want to capture some incredible mountain views, take a gondola ride from Stechelberg. For 65 francs you can spend the day exploring the town of Mürren, the first stop on the ride, stand on the Plexiglas terrace 8,000 feet up at Birg with panoramic views of the Swiss Alps or head up to the summit of Schilthorn and snap some photos where 007 was filmed.
St. Beatus Caves Lookout
For a scenic excursion, don’t miss the lookout point at St. Beatus Caves. Although the caves themselves don’t open until the spring, you can still climb to the lookout point for some out of this world views of Lake Thun and the Alps.
There is so much to see and do in Switzerland throughout the year, but winter is a particularly special time to experience all that it has to offer. Have you ever considered a winter getaway to Switzerland? What would top your list of things to do? Share your comments below!