My husband and I are considering a short, somewhat last-minute trip to Switzerland in the fall (no time to coordinate a more expensive extended trip). I'm thinking we'll take Rick's recommendation of 3 nights in the Berner Oberland, plus a day in Lucerne before heading to Salzburg, Austria for another couple days. However, I picked up a Rick Steves Switzerland guidebook from the library, hoping that it would lay out a good itinerary for the Berner Oberland, and it doesn't seem to do that. I'm having a hard time making sense of what the best way is to see the highlights of this area during his recommended 3 night stay without being inefficient with our route. My husband and I are not avid hikers, but would be up for some more easy hikes. Does anybody have any strategies they can share for a young couple that may not be able to return to this area again, but would like to see the highlights in three nights? We welcome any thoughts! Thanks!
Stay up out of the valley. We stayed in Murren and loved it. Don't go all the way to the Alps and not stay in the mountains.
Thanks, Carol. Yes, in the brief searching of these forums that I've done, it looks like Murren is generally the most popular suggestion for where to stay, so I think we will do that. Does Murren make an easy home base from which to explore the other areas of the valley? Wish Rick had a recommended itinerary of "Day 1: do x, y, and z. Day 2: do a, b, and c" so that we can plan our route efficiently :)
The views of/from Muerren are absolutely stunning, but because it is up on one side of the valley it will add a modest delay to getting to places on the other side of the valley - you will need to get down to the valley floor then go back up the other side for them. Not a deal-breaker but it takes some time. Many people stay in Lauterbruennen itself for that reason. You might want to make a list of places you want to see in order of their interest and make up your own 'itinerary' to help you imagine where you will be going and when. There are relatively straightforward 'hikes' (walks really) on both side of the valley - for example we walked down from Muerren to Gimmelwald - it is a paved road (no vehicles) and there were a couple of benches along the way where we just sat and admired the views. Unless it has started to snow when you are visiting all it will take is a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
Another thing to keep in mind - the weather moves in fast in the area. You might end up having to switch what you are doing one day to the next simply because one side or the other of the valley might be in the middle of a cloud :-) Checking what the weather is like at the place you want to go to that morning at the front desk is always a good idea.
The area is really great, but what you do Day 1, Day 2, etc., is not like museums in the city and is dependent on how hard you want to hike versus joyride the lifts. For NON-hikers who will do easy hikes and assuming good weather I might suggest you stay in Lauternbrunnen as it is easy in-and-out, affording access to both sides of the valley.
Arrival day - settle in and take a walk to Staubach Falls, and to Trummelbach whether by bus or walking. The valley is flat and this is easy.
Another day: If it dawns sunny and webcams show it clear at the top go to the Schilthorn. Back down for lunch in Muerren. Look around the town and walk down to Gimmelwald (20-30 minutes downhill, paved) and take the cablecar to the valley floor, bus back to Lauterbrunnen.
If the weather holds, go up to Mannlichen and take the walk to Kleine-Scheidigg. Easy and beautiful.
Other easy and beautiful walks include Grutschalp to Muerren, about 90 minutes mostly flat adn a good trail.
Laurel has some great ideas and I agree with them. I'd add one more hike, and it could be tacked on to the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike (which is great!), if that was done in the morning. From Kleine Scheidegg, take the train down to Grindelwald, walk thru town to cable car line going up to First. Take the lift to First, and take a 45 min. walk to Bachalpsee (Google image it!).
Thanks so much for these helpful suggestions!
Oh, PS, to those of you who have suggested here and on other forums to stay on the Lauterbrunnen Valley floor for convenience (vs. having to come all the way down from Murren every time you want to tour the valley floor and go up the other side of the valley)...am I right in assuming that this is cheaper due to fewer gondola rides? The fact that everyone says Switzerland is insanely expensive has these budget traveler thinking twice about whether or not we can go.
Expensive depends on your budget. We did a Switzerland trip once. It is expensive in my opinion and for our budget. Sadly, have never been back. We have been to the Austrian and Bavarian and even the Italian Dolomites 10 times, where we can stay and dine for close to half as much as we spent in Switzerland.
Thanks for your reply, Paul. We're not on a hostel budget, but probably one or two steps above...we do tend to stay in the most affordable accommodations we can find that still have good reviews (even if is is just a basic room) and are definitely budget-conscious with our dining/tours/etc. That's good to know that it will be about twice as much - thanks for the clarification.
We don't stay in hostels either, but in local, family owned/run Pensions, etc. and our average for a double room for two adults, with bathroom, balcony and with buffet breakfast, is around 65 to 70 Euro per night, not per person.
Paul, it sounds like we are probably pretty similar budget-wise then. In light of your budget, were you glad you went to Switzerland the one time so that you could experience it, or was it mostly just sticker shock?
Switzerland is mostly sticker shock. We just spent 7 nights between Luzern and Lugano and felt a bit fleeced, especially in Luzern and especially at restaurants in Luzern. We realize the Berner Oberland is expensive, but it is not as bad as Luzern!
The Swiss half-fare card is a good thing, and the regional Berner Oberland pass can be useful as well, if you want to ride most of the lifts at no additional charge.
Some of our budget moves in Switzerland (4 trips now) include picnicking, having an aperitivo in our room before dinner as the cost of a bottle of wine in a restaurant is beyond ridiculous, and skipping the bottle of wine in favor of wine by the glass. We usually only have one course in a Swiss restaurant because as opposed to in Italy, the meals are huge. Of course an apartment rental can really save money if you are willing to do food prep, but I find an apartment for less than 4 nights to be less appealing for a variety of reasons.
You might want to consider, as mentioned above by Paul, the Dolomites in Italy instead. The trip from Bolzano to Salzburg is over n4 hours by train, though. If you went to Italy instead of Switzerland you could perhaps stay a couple of nights longer. And the food is better!
We are glad we went the one time. It was 11 nights total. St. Moritz (could have skipped), Zermatt, Wengen and Luzern. Then after visiting the Bavarian and Austrian Alps and the Italian Dolomites, we really never felt the need to spend a lot of $ to do another Swiss trip. There are so many pretty villages, situated among spectacular alpine scenery especially in the Austrian alps and Italian Dolomites.
If interested, we have pics of most of our trips here:
We prefer staying in Lauterbrunnen to up in Mürren, Wengen, or Gimmelwald: there's more to do, there are more places to eat, and it's easier to get to other places from there than from, say, Mürren. Hiking: Grutschalp or Winteregg to Mürren, Mürren to Gimmelwald, Stechelberg to Trummelbach or Lauterbrunnen along the valley floor, some of the milder hikes around Almendhubel (if it's open), Kleine Scheidigg to Mannlichen, and Suhlwald to Isenfluh are all pretty easy and scenic. Lots and lots of options. We visited the Aare Gorge in Meiringen on a rainy day on our last trip and enjoyed--could be paired with a boat trip on Lake Brienz.
Thanks again for sharing your opinions and experiences...that is very helpful!
If the budget is tight, the hostel in Lauterbrunnen did have a nice private room with a shared bath on the hall. I have also stayed at the Hotel Oberland and the Hotel Staubbach which were both nice, and I would lean towards those just for the private bath, but the room at the hostel was just as nice if you don't mind the bath.
If you want to go up to the Jungfraujoch, do the early morning ticket which is a bit less expensive While you are up there, take advantage of the sledding, which at least used to be free. You give a deposit and get a saucer and they have a little run carved out of the snow - take your sunglasses because even if it's cloudy below, there can be bright sun glaring off of the snow up there. If you do the early morning ticket, you come down by 1pm which leaves lots of time to tour that side of the valley. I took my young son to Grindelwald to do the sommer rodelbahn. We had a swiss rail pass so riding the trains, other than the high passes, was covered.
Riding up to the Schilthorn is a completely different experience, also lots of fun, and you look back at the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. My son got a kick out of the James Bond movie connection up there. If you are on a budget, it's less expensive than the Jungfrau and you might not want to do both, even though they are different. But, if you choose the Jungfrau, you can get a great view back onto the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau without going all the way up to the top of the Schilthorn.
I believe the swiss rail pass still includes admission to some sights. In our case, we used it to go to the Ballenberg open air museum. We got there via boat from Interlaken, also included. To know whether it's a good deal for you, you would need to do the math. For me, since I had a child who was free with the family pass, it was a good deal for our 4 days and 3 nights which included our day riding to the Bernese Oberland from France and leaving on day 4 to Austria. The staff at the Lauterbrunnen station will sell you the ticket for the connecting part of your journey beyond what is covered by the pass.
I was in the Berner Oberland last June with a Rick Steves tour group, and we did all the big ticket activities. I would strongly suggest that you stay in the Lauterbrunnen valley rather than up on the ridge in Murren. I would 100% be sure to visit Murren during the day. With 3 days you are able to explore both sides of the valley, On the West side you have the Schilthorn and the East side, Jungfrau...
If you stay in Murren, you will have the time and cost of the tram ride to do anything other than admire the view.
Try to stay at the Hotel Oberland. Very good food, family owned, and operated and if lucky, a wonderful view of the waterfalls.
My 2 bits.
There is hardly any place on earth as beautiful as the Bernese Oberland. I would not substitute anything for it personally. You can be budget conscious while there. It is cheaper than proper cities in Switzerland. While there, I would eat soup, raclette or fondue for dinner, which is very filling and not all that expensive in one of the little family run restaurants. I actually did better cost wise than I did in Italy, because I would just order one thing vs. wanting fifteen different items in Italy. LOL
Mmmm, you don't have to tell me twice to subsist on fondue...that sounds amazing!
Tigerfan, if you do the early morning ticket to Jungfrau, does that leave you enough time to appreciate the area, or are you rushed? Also, if you had to pick between Jungfrau and Shilthorn, is there a clear winner?
Sounds like the basic bare-bones itinerary would be three days - one to explore the West side of the valley, one to explore the East side, and one to be on the valley floor? As my travel plans take shape, it's looking like the Berner Oberland will need to be a smaller part of our trip (paired with another country)...too many places on our list to spend the whole trip in Switzerland, sadly, but I'd like to at least stop in for a few days to see the region in person since it has come so highly recommended.
Just had my first reality check of the expense of Switzerland...looks like just getting from the airport in Zurich to Lautenbrunnen, then back to Zurich again would be $328 for the two of us :( That doesn't include any of our day-to-day travels around the region..bummer. And if we want to train in from another country as I was thinking, it could be up to $758! Hard when comparing other plans for a much longer trip, from northern Italy to southern Italy, which only costs $148 round trip for a much longer train ride for the two of us. I guess Italy has spoiled me with affordable train rides! More to consider....
I saw your sticker shock on the train ticket. Switzerland is one country where you probably do want either a rail pass or a half fare card. You will need to add up the rides you will take and do the math. But even so, you are right to note that this will be more expensive that Italy, for sure.
Between Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn is a tough question. I have been to the Jungfraujoch three times - once with each of my kids - and up Schilthorn only once. I think the deciding factor for me, with the kids, was getting out on the snow and sledding. They also have sled dogs and you can pay for a short ride - we did not - or hike across the snow, and there is an ice cave to see. It just feels like a more unique experience when you can do that in the summer. The downside is that there is a long train ride inside the mountain (it stops once, I think, for everyone to go look out of view windows), it can be crowded, and every time I have been there, I got a bit light-headed due to the altitude and had to really slow down my walking. If you get there on the first train - very early, I think you will be ready to leave by 1pm unless you become an avid hiker and want to set out across the snow to the Monchjoch hut. The website says this takes about an hour but we have not done it. We always stop for a hot chocolate in the snack bar, but I don't recall any nice restaurant.
At the Schilthorn there are clips from the James Bond Movie and a fairly nice restaurant. I have a picture of my son eating spaghetti there with the great views out behind him. We did not go out and try to hike or anything. The views are great, but I don't think there are as many activities for casual visitors. But to ride up in the gondola (a much quicker trip with better views than the train inside the mountain), have a meal in the restaurant and enjoy the views, it's nice too - just probably not as fun for kids. I'm sure you could set out for a big downhill hike from there, but we have not done that.
One point to re-emphasize over and over again, since we seem to be drifting into "intinerary planning" again. Weather will often make the decisions for you. Some days, it really comes down to stepping outside your hotel and looking to see which way the clouds are moving. It's not a matter of making a schedule to "hit all the highlights", it's a matter of setting priorities, keeping a flexible schedule, and taking advantage of every favorable opportunity granted to you by the Alpine weather gods. I suspect this is the reason Rick Steves has not published a suggested itinerary for the Berner Oberland. More often than not, it wouldn't hold up due to weather conditions.
That is a good point, Tom. I guess I was just trying to get a feel for what to make a point to see (weather permitting) vs. having a day-by-day schedule, but I appreciate you clarifying about the weather. Sounds like the things I should try to see might include: either Jungfrau or Schilthorne, Murren, Gimmelwald, Kliene Scheidegg, and some of Rick's suggested hikes.
Thanks for the tips about Jungfrau vs. Schiltorne, Tigerfan, that is helpful to hear! In the end, I do think I'd really like to see this area at some point in life, so perhaps I'll have to cut Vienna out of my trip and just bite the bullet with the train tickets here...will hopefully decide soon!
just getting from the airport in Zurich to Lauterbrunnen, then back to Zurich again would be $328 for the two of us
I just checked SBB.CH for a week from today and without a half-fare card it is 306.40CHF for two. This is a good example of where a half-fare card may pay off quickly for you. You would invest 240.00CHF in the cards and save >150.00CHF just on this roundtrip Zurich-Lauterbrunnen-Zurich.