My wife and I are evaluating 2020 travel plans. We are considering spending 12 days (including travel to and from / home base Louisville, KY) visiting Austria & Switzerland. Ideas regarding a potential itinerary? Can we see enough of both countries in 12 days? If so, what should we areas within each country should we focus on? Thank you.
Any recommendation really depends your interests: Hiking - maybe the Bernese Oberland and the Alpine valleys south of Innsbruck. Culture/Museums/Music: Vienna, Salzburg, Lucerne, Zurich, Lausanne... Etc. Raw beauty - the Swiss Panorama trains. You can spend a fun and busy 10 days (12 minus arrival and departure days) on the ground in either country. Trying to do both would be harder, mostly because you will lose a day moving from Austria to Switzerland. i.e. 4+ days in each and a travel day. Well rested travelers enjoy themselves far more than tired ones. Decide what you really want to see, and come back for a second visit.
Austria is more convenient to visit from Germany than Switzerland if getting around by train. Remember, it costs a lot to pick up a car in one country and drop it off in another. Similar to the US when renting a car in one state but dropping it off in another. Keep in mind, there's plenty to see and do in Switzerland. Here's what I would do:
Fly into Zurich and spend two nights with a day trip to Lucerne by train (check www.bahn.com).
Take train to Bern for two nights and take a 45m train ride to Murten on day two.
Take train to Lauterbrunnen that requires a transfer. Take cable car to Murren and either walk (it's steep) or take a cable car to Gimmelwald, three nights.
Rent car in Lauterbrunnen and drive to Zermatt (3h) and sleep there two nights.
Drive to Lausanne and sleep there until it's time to fly home, but fly out of (or into) Geneva. New York and DC have direct flights (check Skyscanner).
If your interests include enjoying mountain scenery by being outdoors, keep in mind that Alpine weather is very fickle. Your best bet is to allow a lot of time at a location so you have multiple chances of having a good day. Unless you're only interested in city sightseeing (which is not the reason most people go to very expen$ive Switzerland), hopping around every couple of days is a risky strategy in that part of Europe.
I would certainly not want to split 10 days in Europe (one of them probably jetlagged) between two countries unless I for some reason was especially interested in just two places on opposite sides of the border.
Keep in mind that you can book flights that have different arrival and departure airports. You may not get the cheapest pricing but you will be more efficient in time and travel. Identify what you would like to see/do before plotting where you go. With 12 days that means you are actually going to have 10 days to enjoy the trip and sights. 3 full days Vienna, 2 days Innsbruck, 3 days Lauterbrunnen/Interlaken, add a travel day for Innsbruck/Interlaken, 1 day in Zurich. You can reverse order on this as well, depending on wants and air pricing. This would be my recommendation. Pretty hectic but gets it done.
Travel time will eat up a lot of your time so I would NOT recommend it. You don't have 12 days when you have to figure in your travel to/from the USA. It's quite difficult to suggest what to do/see without knowing what you enjoy, fitness level, etc. and don't know what time of year you're traveling either. Vienna is a wonderful city and we recently spent a week there and were busy every single day. I would highly recommend spending time in Vienna if you are interested in Austria. If I were you, I'd pick either Austria OR Switzerland. Then start looking up what are the top attractions and start putting together a list. Look at a map and plot where things are to keep your travel efficient without expending massive amounts of time traveling from one area to the next.