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2 weeks to see Switzerland and Italy

Hi - we are a family of 4 (two adults and two teens) and we want to visit Switzerland (first) and Italy (second) the first 2 weeks of July 2018. It will be our first trip to Europe. Any recommendations as to what to see, where to stay, how to travel throughout would be welcome. Our thought is to fly from Toronto to Zurich and end the trip in Rome (fly home from Rome). We could reverse this if better to start in Italy??

Thanks

Posted by
6478 posts

When you say 2 weeks, exactly how many days on the ground in Europe (not counting flight days to and from)? That is important when suggesting an itinerary.

Also, what kind of travelers are you? Do you want to see a little bit of a lot of places and change hotels every couple of nights? Or do you want to explore a place a little bit slower, 3+ nights before moving on? What do you like to do, what are your interests - museums, art and architecture, history, outdoor pursuits, scenic places, photography, food, etc.? How will you travel - car, train, intra-European flights? Do you prefer staying in cities or smaller towns/villages?

All of this will help with our suggestions.

Posted by
21038 posts

It can be quite hot in much of Italy in July. You might want to tip your trip more toward Switzerland from the weather standpoint (not going all the way down to Rome), but Switzerland is extremely expensive, so that factor must also be considered.

Do you want to see Swiss scenery passively or actively (meaning hiking/walking)?

Two weeks doesn't even scratch the surface in Italy. That's why it's important to know what sort of activities you are interested in. And will you be uncomfortable if a great deal of your time in Italy finds you in the middle of a throng of other tourists? The typical Big 3 in Italy (Venice-Florence-Rome) are intensely touristy if you stick to the top sights. On a short trip (and yours is extremely short by the time you peel off time for Switzerland), it can be hard to find time to move away from the places you've seen in calendar photos, which are exactly the same places all the other travelers want to see.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi there - thinking it will be 14 days on the ground. We don't travel a ton - this is a new experience for us - we typically take one week vacations to sunny spots and chill in one or two areas but have wanted to do a Europe trip for a while now. We are happy to see bits of lots and change hotels (since we have not been would like to take advantage of seeing as much as possible). We love scenic spots, museums, architecture, outdoor excursions. Our oldest son is studying photography and would love some great photo sites. We are thinking of train through Switzerland and not sure how to travel Italy? Open to recommends for that.. We would love to visit smaller towns and villages but are open to city as well. Our youngest is a shopper! Hope that helps - I am a bit nervous that I will make a mistake so any ideas are much appreciated. :)
June

Posted by
219 posts

June, for your first time to Europe, you wouldn't want to miss the main sights that are so awesome, they attract people from all over the world. So I recommend you consider stays in Luzern (Lucerne) and in the Jungfrau alpine area of Switzerland (villages to choose from there are Lauterbrunnen, Mürren, Wengen, and Grindelwald). For Italy, you shouldn't miss Venice, Florence, and Rome. Rick Steves guidebooks and videos are extremely helpful in planning and in getting around.

Posted by
21038 posts

It's hard to go wrong in Switzerland and Italy as long as you are prepared for the prices in Switzerland and don't spend too much of your time in Italy standing in line or sitting on trains and buses.

I think you'll find that trains work really well for the places you end up choosing, though you'll need other transportation to get way up high in the Swiss Alps.

Keep in mind that the more cities you go to, the fewer actual sights you will see (not counting scenery), because the time you spend packing, getting to the train station, riding on the train, getting to your new hotel, and unpacking is pretty much a loss from the sightseeing standpoint.

Posted by
219 posts

Swiss trains connect seamlessly to everything you need to get up high in the Swiss alps, like cable cars and cog rails. In fact, no cars are even allowed in Mürren or Wengen or Zermatt.

Posted by
10052 posts

Balancing seeing bits of a lot of places and still being able to remember where you have been and not be exhausted at the end: that is the challenge! Traveling with teens you may need to accommodate those who hate to get up early in the morning, so I would caution against moving too fast. A group can only move as fast as its slowest members and latest sleepers.

For a possible itinerary that is not too fast, I offer

Day 1 - arrive Zurich and transfer to Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner Oberland. This is a 2-or-3 hour train ride from the Zurich airport. Easy. You can choose to go one further and stay up in Muerren or Wengen for a village experience. 3 nights.

Day 2 & 3 - explore Lauterbrunnen Valley with gondolas, cogwheel trains, hiking

Day 4 - transfer to Florence. This will take 6 to 8 hours via train. It takes just as long and is much more stressful to drive. It is not easy going from the mountains in Switzerland to Italy nor vice versa. Just accept it as a relaxing day on the train. Take naps. 3 nights

Day 5 & 6 -- Florence, possible day trip to Siena

Day 7 -- transfer to Venice, 2 hours by train 3 nights

Day 8 & 9 -- Venice

Day 10 - transfer to Rome, 3.5 hours by train 4 or 5 nights (not certain how many you have)

Day 11-12-13-14 -- Rome

If you have not done so, read Rick Steves' "Europe Through the Back Door," a must for first-time travelers. Rick's guides to Italy and Switzerland are important as well. Do not skimp on guidebooks. You don't know what you don't know....

Posted by
12 posts

Thank you all so much for some really great information. It is amazing how the amount of visits is getting a little smaller as I plan this. I am thinking we would like to enter into Italy through Lake Como (visiting and possibly staying a night in Lugano Switzerland first) then to Milan, Florence and fly home from Rome? Does this sound plausible? Is there a way to travel to Lugano from the Interlaken area? I think I will pick up a couple of Rick Steve's books tomorrow - sounds like they will really help out. I really appreciate all of the advice.
June

Posted by
21038 posts

Interlaken to Lugano takes a bit over 4 hours. You'll probably be starting from Lauterbrunnen or one of the mountain villages (at least I hope you will be), so that will add some time. Lugano to Lake Como depends on where you want to go along the lake. Como--not where most people stay--is less than an hour from Lugano. The more popular (on this forum) Varenna takes at least 2 hours.

With as little time as you have, I wouldn't spend any of it in Milan.

To explore travel times you can use the Deutsche Bahn website. For rail fares you'll need to go to the countries' rail websites (SBB for Switzerland, TrenItalia and possibly also Italo for Italy), or you could use trainline.eu to see fares throughout Europe. Around Lake Como you may need lake boats and/or buses as well as trains.

Posted by
31465 posts

june,

As this is your first trip to Europe, I second the suggestion from Laurel and would highly recommend that you read Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. That provides a lot of useful information on "how" to travel well in Europe, and describes some of the differences you'll find there. After that use the RS Italy and Switzerland books to plan hotels, sightseeing, transportation, etc. You should be able to find copies at your local Library or larger book stores.

I'd recommend using Money Belts, as you will have to be concerned with pickpockets, especially in Italy. If you're travelling with technology (cell phones, etc.), you'll need Plug Adaptors appropriate for the countries you'll be visiting. If your teens have cell phones, you'll have to consider the cost of roaming with these. It's probably safe to say they won't be able to use their phones the same way they do at home, unless you have a very large budget.

"How to travel throughout" - trains and other local transportation is by far the easiest and quickest choice, especially when using the high speed trains which travel at up to 300 km/h. There are a few potentially expensive caveats to be aware of when using trains, especially in Italy, in order to avoid hefty fines.

"What to see" - perhaps you could elaborate on what piqued your desire to go to Europe? That should provide a good starting point to plan sightseeing. What other places in Italy are you interested in seeing besides Rome?

Could you clarify that you'll have 14 days on the ground? Keep in mind that you'll usually arrive in Europe the day after you depart from Toronto, and the last day will be used for the flight home. You may be a bit jet lagged for the first few days, so won't get as much touring done as you planned. That may not be as much of a problem from Toronto as it is for those of us from the west, but still something to consider.

Based on what you've posted, you might consider something along these lines.....

  • Flight to Zürich
  • Arrive Zürich, take train from the airport to Lucerne.
  • Lucerne, 3 days *(while there you could take a trip to Mt. Pilatus or wherever - the Museum of Transport in Lucerne is excellent).
  • Take train to Berner Oberland / Lauterbrunnen Valley - stay either in Lauterbrunnen or Mürren - 3 days (be sure to budget more for Switzerland, as it's expensive). Lauterbrunnen is the most convenient location as it's the rail hub for the area, and will facilitate your ongoing journey. However it doesn't have the same ambience as Mürren.
  • Take train to Florence (about 6 hours, with 2-3 changes) - 4 days including day trips (there are lots of day trips possible from Florence, take your pick - Venice, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Cinque Terre, but also allow some time to see the sights of Florence).
  • Train to Rome - 4 days, including day trips (one easy day trip from Rome is the small Umbrian town of Orvieto - you could also visit Pompeii or Naples).

I can provide a more detailed version of this if you're interested.

To determine rail travel times and details, one of the easiest websites for trains all over Europe is the Germain Rail site - https://www.bahn.com/en/view/index.shtml . You won't be able to buy tickets there, but don't worry about tickets at this point. In some cases it's just as easy to buy tickets locally at stations.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
14885 posts

Take into account that more stops means more packing/unpacking, checking in/out, getting to/from train stations . . . . You will only move as quickly as the slowest person (which is not always the same one). I'm certainly not saying less stops, just be honest with yourself about how efficiently your family will move, whether it's getting out of bed, out of the shower, away from the breakfast table or just walking down the street (think window-shopping, photo ops). Also remember that you'll have to do laundry, either everyone washing out by hand or taking time once or twice for laundry, though there's always the expensive option of sending it out. Italy will be hot - light clothes, sandals, sun hats, sunscreen, but for the mountains you'll want warm jackets and hats, where it can be chilly even in the valleys and pretty cold on the peaks. And you'll want good UV sunglasses for everyone at the higher altitudes.

Consider skipping Rome this time and staying in northern Italy, especially if you want to visit Lake Como. Venice is one of my favorite cities, Florence is lovely, Bologna has its charms and great day trips. Fly home from Milan (but don't spend time there).

Posted by
12 posts

We will arrive in Zurich on the morning of the 30th of June. Our flight home will be on the 15th of July from Rome. I do think I would prefer to stay longer in Florence area and just do shorter time in Rome. I am thinking Zurich to Grindelwald area then to Bern area because it looks like the train ride to Lugano is shorter from Bern. I am thinking base camp would be Grindelwald area with day trips out of there? We would stay a night in Bern and leave to Lugano - or can and should we just go straight to Lake Como? Or stay in Lugano and skip Como? Skip Milan by what most are saying and go right to Florence from Como?
The whole trip we will be on ground for 15 days
Thanks again all of you - this is fun with a teeny bit of stress ;)
June

Posted by
6618 posts

junececol, what website are you using to look at rail timetables? Not RailEurope. Just use the Swiss Rail site sbb.ch/en and let it figure out connections for you. The site will show you Grindelwald to Lugano trains with the fastest travel times and connections. I wouldn't stay overnight in Bern (less than 2 hours from Grindelwald), when you can just keep going all the way to Lugano. Its less than 5 hours total via Luzern.

Posted by
12 posts

So - the reason we are thinking of going into Lugano and into Lake Como area is because my husband has relatives that are in Italy in and around that area. If we would get more out of Switzerland by going through Zermatt area than we would do that and skip visit with relatives. (does that sound mean - the trip is more for us as a family to see the sites) The relatives visit Canada and we can see them here.
June

Posted by
219 posts

You're already going to see the most beautiful part of the Swiss alps when you stay (in Grindelwald) in the Jungfrau region of the Berner Oberland. Given the choice of adding Zermatt/Matterhorn or visiting your husband's relatives who live in Lugano and on Lake Como, I say by all means, visit the relatives! It will make your trip far more meaningful. I haven't been to Lake Como, but Lugano's beautiful! It's on Lake Lugano. I always go back there every time I visit Switzerland.

Posted by
31465 posts

June,

Is there a particular reason you chose Grindelwald for your stay in the Berner Oberland? It's a bit off the beaten path which will add time and cost to other sightseeing in that area.

How important is visiting the relatives on this trip? I suspect they'll want to show you the area, which could take several days out of your already very short Itinerary.

The trip from Florence to Rome is only 90 minutes by high speed train, so spending more time in the Florence area and less in Rome is certainly possible.

I'll ponder this a bit more when I'm back on a "proper" computer.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Ken - no particular reason - friends of ours did a trip and stayed there and they really enjoyed it but if there is a more central place to stay that would be better I welcome the suggestions. So far we are looking at doing the Top of Europe and possibly the Top of Schilthorn for the revolving restaurant - also we would like to maybe visit Thun for the Oberhofen Castle....
June

Posted by
219 posts

Other villages are closer to what you want to do than Grindelwald is, although Grindelwald is still in the general area and easily accessible. Wengen is a bit closer to the Jungfraujoch ("Top of Europe") and Mürren is much closer to the Schilthorn. Each of those two villages are on mountains on opposite sides of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and you have to connect through the village of Lauterbrunnen to get from one side to the other, but it's very easy to do.
Here's a link to a map:
http://www.regionalpass-berneroberland.ch/assets/karte-und-partner/Regionalpass-Panoramakarte-2017.pdf

Posted by
31465 posts

June,

Given that you want to visit both the Jungfraujoch and the Schilthorn, Lauterbrunnen would be the logical place to stay as it's the transportation hub for both sides of the valley. The two sites you want to see are on opposite sides.

For your visit to the Jungfraujoch, I'd suggest checking the forecast and local webcams before you go. That's a very pricey trip and you won't see as much if the top is shrouded in fog.

You may find it worthwhile to check out the various Swiss passes, as that might save you some money. You could look at something like the Half Fare card, the Berner Oberland pass or the Jungfrau VIP pass.

Posted by
12 posts

Looking at possibly changing to Wengen from Grindelwald. When do we purchase the Half Fare Cards (should I purchase these on SBB before we leave home?) and when do we book the trip up to Jungfraujoch? If we want to wait to see what the weather is like on the day we plan to go do we risk there not being seats? Not sure how that all works - newbie...

Posted by
10052 posts

When do we purchase the Half Fare Cards (should I purchase these on SBB before we leave home?) and when do we book the trip up to Jungfraujoch?

Buy the HFC in advance, if you like, or at your first train station in SW.

We booked the Jungfraujoch the day prior when we had a good idea of the weather plan. Take the earliest train, if possible.

Posted by
710 posts

June,

You can wait and purchase rail passes at Zurich airport. It its very easy - we walked right up to the counter. (just opposite Starbucks and near to the Coop and a couple of ATM's). After purchasing your tickets, buy some snacks from the Coop for the train ride. I would go to Luzern for a quick afternoon visit and a nights stay or go straight to Interlaken Ost for the connection to the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Grindelwald is pretty but I, like others who have posted, would suggest Murren or Wengen. Wengen may be more suited for your teenagers. (just a little bigger and more shops etc). But you will not go wrong with either location. Check the weather for the Top of Europe. We brought our Jungfraujoch tickets the day before at the TI office in town. You rail passes will not cover the cost of this trip but will give you a discount. I believe I paid 135 CHF for one adult ticket last summer. We actually enjoyed the Schilthorn more - go early in the morning before the crowds arrive. You need to spend at least 3-4 nights here in the valley. I would skip Zermatt and go onto Lake Como. We spend a night in Varenna at Michelangelo B&B (one of the best accommodations on our trip) It is just beautiful and run by a very nice young man - he will pick you up and drop you off at the rail station.

Download the sbb.ch app on your phone and start using it now to help you plan. It will give you the platform you arrive at and the platform for your connection - its a great tool to have. - Don't be overwhelmed - The Swiss train system is so easy and efficient.

Have a wonderful trip - you are going the exact two weeks we went this year and we had 80 degree weather everyday with no rain. It was perfect! The photo ops are amazing! I had over 2000 pics when I got back home!

Posted by
12 posts

Hello mpaulyn of Missouri,
Thank you for your reply and advice. I think we have determined to stay in Wengen happily. So funny - I was just looking at the Michelangelo just before I read your reply :) You have given me great info - much appreciated. This forum is so so helpful! I can just imagine the pictures! Glad to hear your trip weather was wonderful. I will download the SBB app for sure. Thanks again!
June

Posted by
12 posts

THANKS TO ALL FOR GREAT ADVICE - IT IS VERY VERY HELPFUL!

Some help getting into Italy: Thought is Wengen (thinking spending 4 days) to Varenna (2 days) then on to Florence (4 days) then quick trip in Rome (2 days) then home?
Does this sound do-able?
June
am I asking too many questions?

Posted by
31465 posts

june,

While Wengen is certainly one location to stay, there are two minor points to consider......

  • that will add slightly on your trip to the Schilthorn. You'll first have to take the Wengernalpbahn down to Lauterbrunnen, connect with the cable car to Grütschalp and then take the mountain railway to Mürren to connect with the Schilthornbahn. You can also take the Post Bus from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg and connect with the Schilthornbahn there.
  • that will add slightly to your ongoing travel time to Varenna (Lake Como), as again you'll have to make the trip down from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen, and then to Interlaken Ost to connect with the trains to Italy. I've found that the quickest and easiest (fewest changes) rail trips to Italy usually leave early in the morning (i.e. ~07:00). Some of the later trips have as many as eight changes and that's a bit much even for experienced rail travelers!

You may find this website very helpful - https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/switzerland-rail-passes

For checking rail trips and travel times, the Bahn.de website that I mentioned earlier is one of the best, and more "user friendly" than some of the others (IMO).

Posted by
10052 posts

Some help getting into Italy: Thought is Wengen (thinking spending 4 days) to Varenna (2 days) then on to Florence (4 days) then quick trip in Rome (2 days) then home?
Does this sound do-able?
June
am I asking too many questions?

I think Varenna after Wengen will seem dull. I would skip that and add time in Rome.

It is a good idea to think in terms of nights in a location, not days. 2 nights = 1 full day. If you have 4 nights in Wengen, you have 3 full days. I am concerned your "2 days" in Rome is only one night and that is not worth even trying.

Posted by
949 posts

Wengen 5 nights - 4 days
Varenna is boring regardless to me I'd pick Bellagio over Varenna 3 nights - 2 days
Florence 4 nights - 3 days
Rome 3 nights - 2 days = 15 nights

I'd start in Italy since it will only get hotter as summer progresses - fly into Rome and out of Zurich