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13-day itinerary review based on RS itinerary

Hello everyone! I'm planning our 13-day (+1 for arriving at/departing Zurich) Switzerland visit in May for 4 people (including my in-laws, moderate activity OK). It will be a milestone birthday trip for my mother-in-law so want to make this trip special!

Currently at the early stages of planning where I'm deciding how many days per city and how to get there. It will be the first time Switzerland trip for most of us; priorities are beautiful views / scenes of the country and charming towns.

I've adjusted down based on the 15-day itinerary suggested by RS, got our 15-day Swiss Travel Passes, and had a few questions before we began booking reserved seats / hotels and such.

QUESTIONS:
1) TRAVEL: Day 5 has a long travel period (5.5 hours = 3h boat + 2.5h train) from Luzern ending with a single night stay in Lugano, before another long travel period (6 hours = 3h bus + 3h train) to Pontresina for two nights. This was suggested in the original RS itinerary and seems out of place (for RS anyway!) since it's back to back long travel days with just a single night's stay in between. Any thoughts on this / is it as ambitious as it sounds? (The 3h bus sounds uncomfortable)
2) TRAVEL: Day 8 has the longest travel time (8 hour Golden Pass) to Zermatt. The idea of an 8-hour train ride sounds daunting; is it wise to do this in one shot vs breaking up the train ride and taking away from our other planned days?
3) LUGGAGE: my in-laws are accustomed to traveling with large bags (likely 1 checked size + 1 bag/backpack per person for them; my spouse and I will have 1 carry-on + 1 bag each). Will this be problematic with the itinerary including lots of scenic trains / transfers?
4) Any other feedback or suggestions welcome!

ITINERARY:
Day 1: Arrive Zurich, Stay Appenzell (2 nights)
Day 2: Appenzell, Ebenalp
Day 3: Luzern (2 nights)
Day 4: Luzern
Day 5: Lugano (1 night) via Gotthard Panorama Express (5.5 hours)
Day 6: Pontresina (2 nights) via Bernina Express (6 hours)
Day 7: Pontresina, St. Moritz, Samedan
Day 8: Zermatt (2 nights) via Glacier Express (8 hours)
Day 9: Zermatt
Day 10: Lausanne (1 night)
Day 11: Gimmelwald (2 nights) via Golden Pass (2.5 hours)
Day 12: Lauterbrunnen Valley (Gimmelwald, Murren, lifts, hikes)
Day 13: Bern, Zurich (1 night)
Day 14: Depart Zurich

Posted by
16178 posts

You are wise to question this RS itinerary; it would be way too much time on trains (and a bus); and too little time with feet on the ground enjoying those towns and villages you came so far to see.

I suggest you skip the Glacier Express, which is redundant in terms of alpine scenery, after you have ridden the Gotthard Panorama Express and the Bernina Express. Also omit the bus portion of the Bernina Express. Instead, after a night in Lugano, you travel to Varenna on Lake Como by train (via Milan) and spend a night or 2 there. Then take the train north to Tirano and pick up the Bernina Express to Pontresina. Then take the train to the Berner Oberland village of your choice. (I am questioning whether Gimmelwald is the best choice for your group).

Or you could go in reverse, Pontresina to Varenna, Varenna to Lugano, Gotthard Parorama Express train and boat to Luzern, then scenic train to the Berner Oberland. This direction actually makes more sense.

If you want to include Zermatt, put it between the Berner Oberland and Lausanne.

Here is a map of the Swiss rail system, with scenic routes highlighted, to help you plan. There are other ways to do this than what I suggested, but in any case I suggest you cut down on the number of long train rides.

https://www.mystsnet.com/en/download/swiss-travel-system-map-en-2023/?wpdmdl=14294&masterkey=63a023c8da36c

Posted by
408 posts

Rick Steves can be helpful for info on specific areas, but his itineraries are just nuts. Moving this much and covering this much ground is just not fun and unnecessary. It’s one thing if you’re on a guided tour, but otherwise it’s just a mad race through the country on trains dragging luggage and checking in/out of hotels. It also doesn’t allow for time to really explore an area, allow for poor weather, etc. Slow down a bit and savor. It’s ok to not see everywhere and to actually spend time seeing the places you do go.

I also disagree with some of his stop suggestions. For example, Appenzell if you’re not a hiker really isn’t necessary. The actual town is nothing special and you have to hike in to get any epic views. Lausanne is not the ideal base in Lake Geneva. It’s a steep city that’s a lot to navigate. Montreux is better. For 14 days I’d narrow down to 4 stops and do day trips from there if you want.

Do you have flights booked? If not, flying into Geneva and out of Zurich or vice versa would save you some backtracking. If you already have flights, you can still make it work, just slightly more convenient to do multi city.

Maybe something like….
Day 1: Arrive Zurich (or Geneva) > Montreux
Day 2: Montreux
Day 3: Montreux
Day 4: Montreux > Zermatt
Day 5: Zermatt
Day 6: Zermatt
Day 7: Zermatt > Murrren
Day 8: Murren
Day 9: Murren
Day 10: Murren
Day 11: Murren > Luzern
Day 12: Luzern
Day 13: Luzern
Day 14: Luzern > Depart Zurich

Posted by
20017 posts

wanderweg has posted a very good itinerary with 4 stops over 14 days. More time to see and enjoy these wonderful places, with less stopping, unpacking, then repacking and moving on.

If you want scenic train rides, on Day 7 of that itinerary from Zermatt to Muerren, put "via Kandersteg" in the trip planner or app. then you will take a more scenic route than the standard route that uses a 20 mile tunnel completely under the mountains. It will take about an hour longer than that route, but no more changes along the way. My review:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/switzerland/ride-the-bls

As far as heavy luggage vs light, lighter is always better, but not a deal breaker, as long as they can handle it. Most of the train changes are roll-on roll-off at platform level, so wheeled luggage and spinners work well. Occasionally you will encounter an older train that requires steps up into the carriage. Also, some trains are double decker with luggage racks in the entry vestibule for big bags, but you might want to go to the upper level for the views. Also, many stations do not have elevators or escalators, but they do have pedestrian ramps which are helpful with wheeled luggage.

I recently traveled with heavy luggage as I was carrying ski equipment, boots, helmet ski clothing as well as street clothes. I am no spring chicken, but I managed. They should just be aware that they will have to manage their own luggage.

Posted by
152 posts

The pace of RS tours is to my mind is wonderful— and they are very popular and get rave reviews. Copying his routes sounds like a great idea for me. When my wife I would do it, we’d typically substitute trains, flights or rent-a-car for one or more his high bus travel days. (Group bus travel can slow you down with all the bathroom stops.) The choice is yours of course!

Happy travels!

Posted by
408 posts

Of course everyone has their own preferences for how to travel. If your priority is to cover as much ground as possible and whisk in and out of places to say you’ve been there, his itineraries are perfectly fine for that. And for some people they may truly enjoy the whirlwind. To each their own.

We’ve been spending our summers in Switzerland for many years and I’ve run into people with the Rick Steves book quite often and in talking to them, I’ve encountered a lot of tired and overwhelmed people. Changing hotels every day or every other day can get exhausting and inevitably you find somewhere you’re really enjoying but before you can settle in to really explore it, you’re onto the next place. I think the itineraries can be fine, but they are not for everyone and in my experience, it’s not necessary to cover the whole country in 2 weeks to feel like you’ve enjoyed Switzerland. The idea sounds fun when you’re sitting on your couch at home dreaming up all you could see, but the reality is different and I think a good amount of people would benefit from narrowing down their list a bit to actually enjoy the places at a more manageable pace.

Posted by
16178 posts

If you would like to adopt the 4-stop itinerary suggested above (Montreux, Zermatt, Berner Oberland, and Luzern), you could incorporate a scenic train ride by taking the Treno Gottardo from Luzern to Locarno and back as a daytrip. The first time we did this scenic train (in 2022) we shared the first class coach with only 2 other people, a pair of Swiss women enjoying a daytrip. Have lunch in Locarno, maybe spend a little time along the lake—take a swim, rent a boat.

https://www.ascona-locarno.com/en/what-s-on/stories/beaches#:~:text=There%20are%20an%20incredible%20number,fee%20%2D%20but%20all%20are%20beautiful.

Use the buttons on this page to see photos and a video of the Treno Gottardo:

. https://www.mystsnet.com/en/experiences/scenic-routes/treno-gottardo/

This train uses the same route and tracks as the Gotthard Panorama Express, except for the boat portion between Luzern and Flüelen. But you can easily add that on your own on one direction. We did that last September with our family and it was very enjoyable.

This itinerary will then have 4 scenic train rides: the Kandersteg route from Brig to Spiez suggested by Sam; the Treno Gottardo; the Golden Pass route between Luzern and Interlaken Ost, plus the section of the Golden Pass route between Montreux and Spiez on your way to Zermatt. None of them as long and tiring as the RS itinerary.

Posted by
25 posts

Thank you all for your helpful reviews, thoughts, and validating that perhaps a fast pace is not the end-all-be-all to exploring Switzerland. My husband and I are fine with that but our travel partners will certainly appreciate time to savor!

While we did already have flights booked in and out of Zurich, the simplified 4-stay itinerary sounds more manageable, and I appreciate the many resources and suggestions on alternative stops and scenic train routes (including a detailed personal account!)

Handy to know that the luggage situation just needs to be manageable for the transfers and the lesser number of stops certainly helps. Also handy are the insights on not having to force the itinerary around Appenzell, and Murren being a better base than Gimmelwald which may be charming but very small to stay in for 2 nights. All things hard to know unless you've been there :)

I'll do some rework to our itinerary. Thanks again for your expertise! What a wonderful community.

Posted by
16178 posts

You are a quick learner. We have beeen to Switzerland at least 6 times, and yet to have to make it to Appenzell. Everything in Switzerland is good, and one cannot do it all in one trip. Better to have fewer transfers with 3-4 nights in each place.

Posted by
152 posts

"We’ve been spending our summers in Switzerland for many years and I’ve run into people with the Rick Steves book quite often and in talking to them, I’ve encountered a lot of tired and overwhelmed people. "

So you're saying I looked tired and overwhelmed! Huh. And to think I thought I looked marvelous too. Live and learn!

Looks like you know your stuff and have given the OP great advice and they modified their plans based on your experience. Good outcome!

But it seems to be a common refrain on this forum that RS' advice and his tour pace are too fast. Maybe. All I can say is that I have loved his tours, I have loved his books and everyone I've talked to on the tours are similarly singing his praises. (With all of that said, the advice give here all seems to make sense to me so, yeah, I'm just glad everyone is happy!)

Posted by
20017 posts

Rick's tours are a little slower paced than the "If today is Tuesday, this must be Belgium" pace. There are certain efficiencies inherent to charter bus travel. You only have to hump your luggage to the bus hold which is parked outside the hotel (provided you are not in Venice). You can stop at sights on the way to the next destination for a quick tour. Traveling independently by train, you need to make your way to the train station and handle your own luggage on and off the train and to your next lodgings. But you have more time to explore places you only wish you could have seen with only a 2 night stay before you're off to your next destination.

Posted by
408 posts

David, I’m sure you looked fabulous :)

I should preface my statements with a few things. I found Gimmelwald/Murren/Wengen because of Rick Steves books back in 2006, so I am not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think his information can be very helpful (such as self guided walking tours in various cities) and I speak nothing of his group guided tours, which I’m sure people enjoy.

My experience back in 2006, as I read his books, was to get excited and frankly over optimistic about how easy his books made a “Switzerland in 15 days” on your own tour seem. Sitting at home not thinking about the realities of jet lag, moving luggage, checking in/out of hotels, language barrier, weather, etc. etc. I was tempted to go for it. He has it laid out in such simple terms & who doesn’t want to see all those places? However, I quickly learned that for me personally it wasn’t an enjoyable pace and that I got more out of slowing down and being okay with not seeing all the places, but really savoring the places I did go.

There are people (like David) who love a “jog” through a country. Totally great! I just want to point out to people that a “see the country in 15 days jog” sounds fun, but inevitably a good majority of us start getting winded and realize we would have been happier with a scenic stroll :)

Posted by
16178 posts

David from Cleveland , I will justbpoint out that wanderweg is not talking about people on RS tours, but people following his fast-paced suggested itineraries for self-guided trips. M