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Germany and Switzerland

Looking for some advice as we are planning a summer trip. Our plan is to be in Europe for 8-12 days (not counting flight days to/from Europe, just days in Europe for exploring) likely in mid to late July. The trip is a graduation present for my 18 year old step-daughter and her main interest is visiting Germany (she takes German and believes she'd like to live there at some point). It will be 6 of us, my partner and I, my step daughter, and then our friends who have a 5 year old daughter who loves to travel (they live abroad and travel multiple times a year). This is the first time to Europe for all of us and are looking for the general experience. We are not big drinkers, so not looking for any kind of party scene. Likely want to see castles, visit Dachau (or another concentration camp) (the 5 year old would not be along for this, we'd break into 2 groups) and experience the general culture in the area. We would maybe take a day trip to Salzburg as well if it would be worth it.

Based on my initial research, I think we would probably like to make Munich our main hub in Germany and then I initially thought go to Zurich as it's only a 3.5 hour train ride it looks like. However, the more I look into Zurich, I am not sure that is the best place for us to visit in Switzerland.

The research I did for Switzerland looks more like maybe Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen or Zermatt might be better. We'd like to see the Alps and the scenery, but my step-daughter is not big into hiking.

I'm looking for general advice and guidance as we start to plan, if it make sense to have Munich as a main hub in Germany, and then recommendations for best places in Switzerland and where we could fly back home from then. We would like to see as much as we can, but also don't want to put an itinerary together that has us overly rushed and not able to enjoy the trip. That's why I originally thought 2 hub cities may be best originally, but we are open to all suggestions.

If it helps, as a family, our last big trip was to Mexico and the family enjoyed our time exploring the culture and not the touristy beaches. My partner and I have also been to China and enjoyed taking a trip into the rural area and seeing the smaller towns/mountain villages.

EDIT: a little clarification on visiting time and the 5 year old will not be along for the concentration camp part of the trip

Posted by
413 posts

I'll leave the advice re activities in the Munich area and places to visit in Switzerland to those with more expertise than I, but I'll say that it might make sense for you to fly out of Zurich and not backtrack to Munich. We weren't particularly interested in visiting Zurich, but we made our way from Munich (actually we started in Berlin, then Prague, and then to Munich) to Salzburg to fly home from Zurich, and the train trip between Salzburg and Zurich was quite beautiful. We had two nights in Zurich and spent one full day of that on a day trip to Lucerne, which is a charming city. So you could end up in Zurich for convenience's sake but not spend much time in the city, if you don't want.

Posted by
744 posts

Is there anything sacred about Switzerland? Based on what you've written, I wonder if Innsbruck might make more sense. Still the Alps, a great cultural destination in and of itself, and access to a lot of scenic villages, railways, etc. Hiking if you want it, but other options for sure. Also from Innsbruck you can easily head into Northern Italy, which also has a wealth of art, architecture, etc.

Posted by
21 posts

Switzerland was more because it was close to Germany and I've heard that it has great scenery so at some point, I'd like to go into Switzerland. However, we'd love to see most of Europe and will plan more trips in the future. Italy is definitely on our list as well. Would our trip be long enough, to make Munich a hub for 4-5 days, see Innsbruck and then also be able to explore northern Italy for 2-3 days, or would it be too rushed/too much train time?

Posted by
11292 posts

How many nights do you have? “8 days” including travel might actually only be 6 full days on the ground, so it is best to start with a count of nights.

Your instincts are right regarding Zurich: not the Switzerland we think of. That is indeed more in the greater Jungfrau Region (Lauterbrunnen area great base) and hiking is not mandatory.

If you only have 6 or 7 full days, I would recommend staying in Germany. Pick a second location (Garmisch comes to mind for mountains) in Germany and make the most of your week.

If you can expand your trip to 12 nights, you’ll have 11 full days and could split your trip among 3 locations including needing to spend the final night near your departure airport. Perhaps 5 nights Munich (4 full days of fun), 6 nights in Switzerland, and a final night near the airport. (Good advice above to fly out of Zurich instead of backtracking.)

There is a ton to see and do in the Jungfrau Region. Light hiking, riding gondolas and mountain trains, amazing vistas from mountain tops, cruises on scenic lakes.

This is a nice pace, allowing for ample day time excursions and a pace suitable with younger folks. Getting a teenager out of bed to hit the sights early every morning can be daunting and remember, a group only travels at the pace of its slowest member! 😉

Posted by
6308 posts

If your step daughter studies German, taking her to Switzerland might be a great way to crush her self esteem and make her think that despite all her time spent studying German she haven't learned a thing. Austria sounds like a better option.

Posted by
21 posts

I am not counting travel days in the 8-12 day range. So if we only do 8 days, traveling to/from would be additional. I was initially thinking travel there, take 8 days visiting the area and then flying back after the 8 days. However, the more I looked into it and the train travel, I was thinking we might need more like 10-12 days on the ground in order to make the most of the trip. Thanks for helping me clarify that!

We would really like to see more than 1 country. Germany is the most important one, but we would like to explore another area as well. Switzerland was our initial plan, but if it would make more sense to do Austria and Italy like the other poster mentioned, we could do that too.

Posted by
32683 posts

I don't think that going to Switzerland would crush a German student's study of German. Swiss German is very different, so different that I, who studied German and use it on every trip to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, find it hard there. Just treat it like a foreign country - it is one.

I wouldn't say that the Austrian dialects are any easier, in fact because it is a bit more similar to high German I find the dialect words more confusing. And it depends on where in Austria you are talking about.

Perhaps play a youtube from Feli from Germany, who comes from Munich, to your step-daughter to ease her in. The one I am linking has only been up a day or two and in it Feli has friends with different German accents and vocabulary and usage from different parts of the German speaking world exchanging how they say things. Lübeck, Berlin, Upper Bavaria, Linz in Austria and Olten in north central Switzerland.... see if it would bother her...

https://youtu.be/UqF-rhoVILM?si=GHhhnWePDi1-1yi9

Posted by
32683 posts

oh, and do please count in nights - it really helps us be less confused and prevents double counting days.

Posted by
8421 posts

Under your conditions for 12 days, if it were me, I'd plan a Munich-Salzburg-Luzern trip. Flying multi-city, in to Munich, home from Zurich. Rail from Luzern direct to the Zurich airport, but skipping Zurich itself.

Posted by
4787 posts

...we might need more like 10-12 days on the ground in order to make the most of the trip.

Agree with that as the air fare will probably be the same or close to the same regardless on the number of days on the ground.

Consider staying in one (or two at the most) locations and doing day trips from there. Depending on the distance between locations, you'll lose anywhere from one half (at the least) to most of the day each time you change places.

If your step-daughter has an interest in the WWII aspect of Germany, have her check a site named thirdreichruins.com. It has many photos of places taken just after the war, and then photos of the same places taken much later.

She should not be surprised or feel badly about her German. Many places in Germany has local dialects that don't exactly conform to the German one learns in the classroom. Much like the U. S. in that respect. There are some places in the Northeast where I have a hard time following their speech. And I'm sure they are in the same boat when they come to some parts of the South.

Posted by
7634 posts

OK, it appears that you have 12 days of touring. If you have a group of 6 you will need to consider that everyone wants to see. Suggest you research what and where you will do and confer with the others prior to a decision. Since you will have a 5 year old in your group, you will find that pre-schoolers will tire more easily. Also, if you visit any museums, you will find kids that age will be ready to leave after 5 minutes.

Still, you can have a wonderful trip. Even small kids love scenic places with mountain covered with snow even in the Summer.

Word of warning, I would strongly recommend not taking a 5 year old to the Dachau Concentration camp. I have been there and discussions of mass murder can create serious nightmares even for adults. After my wife and I visited Auschwitz in Poland, that has more graphic displays, we had nightmares for some days.

I advise against doing Salzburg on a day trip from Munich. There is much to see in this wonderful city. There is Mozart's house, the Cathedral (shown in Sound of Music movie) as well as the castle on the hill. You can't do this in one day, especially on a short day trip from Munich. Further, there is a great Sound of Music tour and visiting nearby Berchtesgaden's Eagles Nest (the scenery there is amazing). You should at least do 2 full days in Salzburg.

Switzerland is great, I love Interlaken and Lucerne. Note that this country is more expensive than Germany and Austria. Your meals and lodging will be around 30%-40% more. Zurich is not a great tourist city.

Suggest 4 days in Munich, 2 in Salzburg, 2-3 in Garmish/Fussen area. Go up to the top of the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, there is a cog train or a cable car. There are castles in the Garmish/Fussen area.

You might consider spending all your time in Germany-Austria and save Switzerland for another trip. If you do, consider visiting Augsburg (50 miles west of Munich) and/or Nuremberg or Regensburg.

Posted by
32683 posts

I had skipped over the 5 year old on the trip.

From the Dachau KZ website:

Is a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial suitable for
children?

The concentration camp memorial does not offer a specific
exhibition for children and some content is not suitable for children
under 13 years of age. For this reason, we advise people under the age
of 13 not to visit the memorial and recommend that underage visitors
only visit the memorial when accompanied by a legal guardian.

The concentration camp memorial's educational offerings (e.g. guided
tours and audio guides) are aimed exclusively at people aged 13 and
over .

Posted by
21 posts

Yeah, the 5 year old would not be on Dachau part, we’d be splitting in 2 groups for that. I wouldn’t want to bring anyone under 13. I saw the Holocaust Museum in DC at 13 and that’s about the youngest I’d go. Our group will be good at splitting up into 2 here and there based off what people want to do.

Posted by
6620 posts

Laurel recommends...

Jungfrau Region (Lauterbrunnen area great base)

I could not agree more.

Rick Steves is spot on about this region:

https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/switzerland/lauterbrunnen-valley

Best approach is from Freiburg (SW Germany) - 3 hours by direct train to Interlaken, with a 20-minute connecting train ride to Lauterbrunnen.

**It will be 6 of us, my partner and I, my step daughter, and then our friends who have a 5 year old daughter..likely want to see castles, visit Dachau (or another concentration camp) and experience the general culture in the area."

Don't take a 5 year-old to a concentration camp. The official Dachau policy is to discourage visits by children under 12.

https://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/en/your-visit/guidelines-for-visitors/

CASTLES: Rick Steves' favorite castle in Europe (Burg Eltz) along with Marksburg Castle, Rheinfels Castle, and Reichsburg Castle are located quite near one another in the Rhine/Mosel Valleys NW of Frankfurt Airport. All can be toured. Certain other castles in the same area serve as hotels...

Auf Schoenburg

Reichenstein

Stahleck (hostel with family accommodations)

Liebenstein

Map of area showing Rhine/Mosel castles: https://www.burgen-schloesser-impressionen.de/uebersicht/karten/burgen-schloesser-rheinland-pfalz-uebersicht.png

The Rhine/Mosel area is great for families... old-world half-timbered towns, walking/hiking/biking, river cruise opportunities, wineries, chair and gondola lifts, a summer bobsled ride, and more.

So... I would suggest 3 bases for 3-4 days each.

- Rhine/Mosel

- Freiburg (southern end of the Rhine) + Colmar + Basel... or Freiburg + the Black Forest

- Lauterbrunnen + Bernese Oberland

Posted by
2391 posts

I suggest you stay in very small accomodations where the owner knows very little English. My favorite is Irmgard Orth’s 3 room b&b in Bacharach. She can use google translate on her ipad, but I usuually speak 90% German with her.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you all for the recommendations so far, definitely will help guide my planning for the trip! Glad to take any more recommendations people have, but we will research the places everyone has mentioned and try to come up with the best game plan for us.

Posted by
21 posts

Also, with the mention of skipping Switzerland and doing Austria instead, would it be possible to do:

Fly into Munich
Munich for 3-4 nights
Salzburg and/or Innsbruck for 2-3 nights
Venice and/or Trieste for 3-4 nights
Fly out of Venice

Posted by
32683 posts

if you consider that plan then please consider turning it upside down.

My experience is that many flights arrive at the Venice airport at good times during the day but flights out of Venice to connect with transatlantic flights are a real BEAR. Most are early in the morning, and you have that watery lagoon between the islands of Venice and the airport. This often means getting up at silly o'clock and starting your trek to the airport before dawn. A private water taxi will get you there fastest but you need to see your bank manager first, figure on 120€. You can get a hotel close to Piazzale Roma where the land buses go from (about 6€) but then you are in my opinion in one of the less attractive parts of the city. I prefer Dorsoduro or the Ala towards La Fenice. The Night Vaporetto does run hourly down the Grand Canal but I far prefer to move about during the day.

So I'd suggest to start in Venice and fly home from Munich

Posted by
4674 posts

I'd recommend less time in Munich, and adding more time in Salzburg and nearby Berchtesgaden, ( beautiful lakes and Alps.)
And I never discourage anyone from spending as much time as possible in Venice.
So I agree, if this is your final itinerary, fly into Venice and out of Munich.
Thanks for updating us as your trip evolves, we all like following folks' itineraries as they grow and develop. Safe travels!

Posted by
21 posts

If anyone is still following - With some of the advice, and discussion with our group over the weekend, it looks like we will be doing Munich and Switzerland. Tentatively we would get into Munich about 1 PM Jun 9th and then would be flying out of Geneva in the afternoon of June 19th. We are leaving out of Geneva because we know someone in Geneva and would visit them on our way out. It seemed like traveling out of Zurich or Geneva was pretty similar, slightly longer train to Geneva but not a huge deal. From pricing/timing of flights, it looks like it makes more sense to fly into Munich and out of Geneva opposed to the other way around.

Stay in Munich from June 9-14th so 5 nights
Travel early to the Lauterbrunnen region via train, likely staying in Wengen, so a pretty full day of travel, I believe like 8 hours?
Stay in Wengen from June 14-18 so 5 nights
Travel to Geneva via train
Stay in Geneva the 18th and fly home on the 19th, leaving early afternoon

There is a chance we would take a short trip to Salzburg from Munich and spend 1 night there instead of in Munich. We could also take an extra night in Switzerland instead of Germany, or maybe add 1 night to our trip as a whole if it would be worth it.

Does this sound like a good travel plan?

Posted by
11292 posts

Munich 5 and Wengen 5 sounds like a solid plan. I love you are not bopping all over the place trying to check boxes!

Posted by
15 posts

For Switzerland I recommend staying out of the Cities, your intuition in my opinion is spot on. We were in Germany, Austria and Switzerland for three weeks in 2023. For Switzerland I watched Rick Steve's shows and they were very helpful. I would highly recommend the Jungrau Region and Zermatt. We spent three full days in each place. We did a lot of hiking but you can see a lot of the mountains by just taking the Gondola and train rides mentioned below. In the Jungfrau region we stayed in Wengen (no cars allowed you drive to Lauterbrunnen and park at train station there and take the short train ride to Wengen). While staying in the Region the top thing to to in my opinion is to take the train to the Jungfrau and then hike along the glacier to the Monck Mountain Hut. Make sure you start in the morning as the last train down from Jungfrau is around 5:00 p.m.. Another great experience is to take the Mannlichen cable car from Wengen up to Mannlichen mountain. First walk the short (5 to 10 minutes) Royal Walk up to the peak and then backtrack and hike from Mannlichen to the railway station of Kleine Scheidegg. Wow, the views are incredible. While in Wengen go back down to Lauterbrunnen for the day and hike up the valley to the waterfalls and beyond. In Zermatt, if you are driving you drive to Tasch and park there and take a taxi or train to Zermatt (5 to 10 minutes). I love driving especially in the mountains and Switerzland was fantastic to drive - watch the speed limits stay strictly within them, more photoradar installations than cows in Switzerland I think. The starting point of the Five Lakes trail is at Blauherd mountain station at 2,571 m. To get to there you need to take the underground funicular to Sunnegga, then switch to a gondola that goes to Blauherd. Go first thing in the morning to get the best photos of the Matterhorn. In the afternoons the sun will be pointing in your lens when looking at the Matterhorn and pictures will not be that great. In Zermatt take the Glacier Paradise Gondola up to the Klein Matterhorn, on the way I recommend getting out at the Schwarzee stop (had a great lunch here) and hiking to the Furi stop and getting back on (or you can hike all the way back to Zermatt). Check out Rick Steve's guidebook for more details. One unusual but really fun thing I did while staying in Zermatt is I booked a mineral hunting excursion in the Binn Valley (Binntal). I was part of a group that went hunting for crystals up over 9000 feet. It is an all day excursion and you need to drive to Binn. The guide was Ewald Gorsatt, he does not speak English only German. Link is https://gorsatt.ch/. The hike was worth it and the bonus is that we found nice stuff. Another great excursion in Zermatt is to go up to Gornergat on the train. We drove from Switzertland to Austria and since I did not want to drive more than 5 hours we stayed in Lucerne overnight. Very nice spot. Along the way we drove the Furka Pass which was amazing. It is featured in the James Bond Movie Goldfinger its a lot of fun to drive with all the hair pin turns and incredible views. In respect of Germany, I love Munich but in my opinion not a great hub to see the rest of the Bavarian countryside and sites. If you want to see sites in the Bavarian Alps like Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, Hohenschwangau and Zugspite you are better off staying in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Mittenwald or Oberammergau. In the Salzburg area, Berchestgaden across the border in Germany is beautiful especially the boat ride on Kongisee. If you want to see a castle that is authentically medieval and not as big a toursit attraction as other places I suggest Burghausen in Bavaria (1 hour from Salzburg) or Hohenwerfen (about 1/2 hour from Salzburg). Another amazing castle in Austria but I think off your routes is Hochosterwitz Castle. In a second response I will suggest some things in Austria.

Posted by
15 posts

Further to the post above things to see in Austria I would suggest the following especially if you are driving:

Drive from Zermatt to Innsbruck, from some fun get of the highway in Lichenstein just to say you were there.
Innsbruck is amazing. Don't miss the Hofkirche (Court church).
From Innsbruck head to the Grossglockner High Alpine Road in the Hohe Tauren National Park. One of the best scenic drives I have been on. Stay at the end of the road in the little alpine town of Heiligenblut.

From Heligenblut there are numerous options you can head straigth to Salzburg via the way you came or south and looping back north through another scenic route. We opted for the later and stayed in Mittersill in the castle hotel there - Schloss Mittersill which was an incredible experience. Then its a relative short and scenic drive from Mitersill to Salzburg but we went first to Hochosterwitz in Carinthia and then took a off the beaten path route to Salzburg via the Solk Pass (definitely not where North American tourists generally go but nothing uncomfortable). We stayed outside of Salzburg (30 to 40 minute drive) in St. Gilgen on Wolfgang See (Lake). Great place to rent a bike an cycle around the lake to St. Wolfgang or you can take the boat ride across the lake.

Posted by
15 posts

One thing I would add to my reply about Switzerland is if you drive between the Jungfrau region and Zermatt I would suggest stopping at Chateau Chillon on Lake Geneva. Its an amazing medieval castle in a beautiful setting. You only need a couple of hours at the castle.