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12-14 days in Switzerland, Northern Italy, and Austria


My friend and I are looking to backpack around Switzerland and its neighboring countries this July. We will most likely be using public transportation to get around and will be staying in hostels to keep costs low. Unfortunately, given our jobs we can only go for two weeks max (including travel time from USA to Europe). Our main points of interest are architecture, food, and outdoor activities/sightseeing in the area (i.e. hiking, zip lining the alps, etc.). I need some help constructing our itinerary because there are so many places we each want to go in such a short time frame and I don't want it to seem rushed. One area that seems very popular is berner oberland in switzerland. We plan to stay there for at least 3 days. If possible my friend would like to see the Ludwig castles in Germany (it seems like there are day trips from innsbruck but it may be best to stay in fussen or munich for a night or two). Some other areas of interest to include (if possible) are one of the switzerland scenic rail journeys, Milan (to see the last supper painting/duomo), lake como/other swiss/italian lakes, and the dolomites. Also I have already traveled to Vienna and Salzburg on another trip so I would rather see new places. We haven't booked a flight yet so we can fly in/out of different places. Any help is appreciated! Thanks!

Posted by
10665 posts

I can offer advice on the Berner-Oberland and Dolomites. In the B-O, I would plan at 4 nights for 3 full days of hiking. You will likely get some rain so plan a day of lost hiking. :-) By staying a little longer you will hopefully get some really clear day(s), plus there are so many hiking options! By a pass for the lifts and trains.

In the Dolomites, my favorite area is the Val Gardena. Again worth at least 4 nights for 3 full days of hiking. same problem with weather so ther emay be a day of rain. My experience is that it often rains early, clears by late AM, then may storm about 18:00 or 19:00. The Val Gardena pass will allow you to ride the lifts to some magnificent hiking locales including the Puez-Odle and the Alpe di Siusi.

If you like real mountain hiking, I would skip the Italian Lakes and I would not devote time to go to Milan for only one sight. If you have to fly out of Milan, then build seeing the Last Supper around your departure. It's a magnificent piece of art, but in a short trip like yours, I would not detour for it.

If you spend 4 nights in the B-O and 4 in the Dolomites, pick one other location for what is perhaps your remaining 4 nights. Others can comment on hiking in Germany or Austria.

Posted by
215 posts

I LOVED the Castelrotto/Alpe Di Suisi area. We actually bumped into Rick Steves in a gift shop in Castelrotto. We did some walking up in the Alpe Di Suisi. It is gorgeous.
The area around Fussen and the Ludwig castles is another gorgeous area. We stayed in Schloss Lisl Hotel right across from Hohenschwangau Castle. Its a short walk up to Neuschwanstein from there. We walked as far as Marienbrucke but there must be more hiking beyond there. Not a far drive from the castles is Weiss Church, very beautiful.
We've been to Zermatt, that is another beautiful area. We went skiing while there but the hiking has to be awesome. I would love to go back to do some hiking.
Lake Como and Lake Garda are beautiful.
We've landed in Milan twice but have yet to stay and see the Last Supper. Once on the way to Cinque Terre(which is beautiful and has some nice hiking) and once heading up to Lake Como, the Ludwig castles and beyond. While at Lake Como my husband and I hiked up Monte Grona. It wasn't the most spectacular hike we've ever done but it had nice views of the lake.

Posted by
16890 posts

If you start with Switzerland, then you can loop by train via Lake Como, Milan, and Bolzano (plus bus connection into the Dolomites, roundtrip), then train up toward the Innsbruck or Fuessen area, ending in Munich. You have to plot out the travel time on a calendar to make sure it fits. Or, if you start in Munich, head to Switzerland, then end in Milan, you'd see plenty of mountains, including more of the Tyrolean Alps but not the Dolomites. If you follow Laurel's suggestion of skipping Como and Milan, then trains through Austria will be most direct and are also scenic.

If you want to take one of Switzerland's most scenic rail journeys, and you want to visit Lake Como, then you can train from the Interlaken area to Pontresina (roughly 7 hours and 3 train connections). That's along the Bernina Express route, but the scenery is the same whether you take a an official departure or a regular, local train. Another day, head south through Tirano to Varenna on Lake Como (4 hours and 1 connection).

For schedules Tirano-Varenna-Milan, see For most everything else, the recommend DB schedule link works great.

You don't need a car for any of the destinations mentioned above, but if you wanted more driving freedom through the mountains, then it's cheaper to pick up and return a rental car within one country.

Posted by
223 posts

Gary - I did a trip similar to this last fall. Our itinerary was: Fly to Geneva (one night in Lausanne for vineyards / recovery) - Murren (3) - Lake Como / Varenna (2) - Dolomites (2, but 3 would be better) - Salzburg (2) - Vienna (4). You could always replace Salzburg and Vienna with Innsbruck and Munich. We thought this was a well paced trip (for us) and really enjoyed every location.

We changed train in Milan to go to Varenna. You could always make a pit stop in Milan and then continue on to Lake Como. I wouldn't suggest it for hiking, but if you need a day to relax between hiking stops, it is very scenic.