Last Updated on 21st January 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Alpine towns, lakeside resorts, and bustling cities, the landlocked country of Switzerland can be found in the very heart of Europe and is full of interesting things to do and even more places to see! Here’s your guide to the best of towns and cities in Switzerland you simply must visit…
The largest city in Switzerland is Zurich, a bustling metropolis with a charming old town (known in German as the Altstadt). However, don’t let the history fool you! After all, the well-connected city, which even has its own international airport, also has all of the amenities you’d expect from a city of its size.
Highlights of Zürich (which, incidentally, is a great place for solo travelling) include admiring the impressively tall Grossmünster (cathedral) and sampling some traditional Swiss cuisine (think plenty of fondue!) Visit during the winter, and you may well be treated to a winter wonderland complete with plenty of beautiful Christmas Markets.
Located on the shores of glittering Lake Maggiore, the beautiful city of Locarno is perfect for a girls weekend getaway, or a short break away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Dominated by the impressive Madonna del Sasso, a sanctuary and Sacro Monte dating back to the Middle Ages, the 14th-century ecclesiastical building is well worth a visit when in the city.
Located within the small hamlet of Orselina, which now feels more like a suburb of Locarno as opposed to its own community, you can opt to walk up the steep path to reach the Madonna del Sasso Sanctuary. Alternatively, there’s an early 20th-century funicular in operation throughout the day, transporting tourists and locals alike up and down the mountain.
Just across the lake from Evian-Les-Bains (the very same city where the Evian water you’ll find in any supermarket originates!), the stunning city of Lausanne is overlooked by snow-capped mountains and is popular all year ’round.
Home to one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in Switzerland, other highlights of the town include an impressive natural history museum and a pretty old town. If you have some extra time while in the city, be sure to take a day trip to Chillon Castle, a stunning medieval structure that’s the most visited monument in Switzerland.
Postcard perfect, Lucerne (also known as ‘Luzern’) is a fairytale city lying in the shadows of a snow-capped mountain. Pretty to visit all year round, once there you can soon expect to discover plenty of cobbled lanes, traditional Swiss architecture, and more photo opportunities than you can count on one hand.
Of particular note is the chapel bridge and water tower, which sits pride of place in the heart of the lake around which Lucerne is built. The roots of this covered bridge date all the way back to the 14th-century, likely making theKapellbrücke the oldest wooden bridge in Switzerland. Sadly, a fire during the 1990s destroyed much of the original bridge, though a faithful reproduction can now be found in its place.
French-speaking and close to the French border, Geneva is surrounded by the Alps and Jura Mountains. Should you have time for a day trip while in the city, you’ll definitely want to check out the French mountain of Mont Salève, an easy day trip from the city centre via local transportation.
Though there is no disputing that Geneva is certainly expensive (as is the rest of Switzerland!), the city has gained an unfortunate reputation for being ‘rather boring’. However, if you know where to look, you’ll soon discover that Geneva has plenty of stunning cobbled streets and is also home to the Palais des Nations, home of the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The art city of Switzerland, Basel, has its own international airport and is conveniently on the border with France and Germany, making the city a great place to base yourself for exploring the wider area. Home to a charming old town, many a museum (the city isn’t called ‘the art city’ for nothing!), and even more history, Basel is a beautiful place in which to enjoy a weekend break or longer escape. For more information on the city, here’s a full guide to Basel.
Home to charming houses and a car-free old town, pretty Ascona can be found on the shores of Lake Maggiore and is where those in the know choose to spend their holidays. Referred to by Vogue as the ‘St Tropez of Switzerland,’ this beautiful town is characterised by its many churches and jaw-dropping villas. While in town you’ll find a wide array of restaurants and eateries, the lake promises plenty of watersport-based activities.
The starting point for the world-famous UNESCO train ride, the Bernina Express, Chur has much more to offer than a simple journey start point. After all, Chur is officially the oldest city in Switzerland and dates all the way back to the Pfyn Culture, a Neolithic Culture dating back to between 3900 BCE and 3500 BCE.
The city first acquired its current name from the Roman word for the settlement, Curia. Though you might think that the word is easy to pronounce, ‘Chur’ is actually one of the hardest place names in Switzerland to pronounce. As my friend put it, ‘the word sounds like a cat purring’.
Highlights of Chur include a car-free old town that’s centred around a Cathedral dating back to the 12th-century and in the winter, the Chur Christkindlimarkt, one of the best Christmas markets in Switzerland. For the best view in town, you simply must head to MANOR Chur, Bahnhofstrasse, a department store with impressive rooftop views.
Filled with candy coloured houses and with little by way of attractions, the pretty town of Poschiavo is situated along the route of the Bernina Express. Nestled in the Valposchiavo and surrounded by impossibly high mountains, Poschiavo is the capital of this area. Home to a museum, several eateries, and characterised by its three church towers, wandering through this town feels akin to stepping back in time.
Bern is often mistaken as the capital city of Switzerland, though the truth of the matter is that Switzerland doesn’t have a capital city! Instead, the full name for Switzerland is the Swiss Confederation and this is made up of areas known as ‘Cantons’ which each have their own capital city.
However, as Bern is where much of the administration for the country is run, it has become a de-facto capital of sorts. Today, should you opt to visit this picture-perfect town, you’ll soon discover a 15th-century cathedral, plenty of pretty architecture, and the Zytglogge, a medieval tower dating back to the 13th-century.