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About 2 weeks in Switzerland & Italy

Hi all, I am planning my first trip to Europe for Apr-May 2023. I have narrowed it down to Switzerland & Italy. I will be travelling with my mother, both of us enjoy walking and exploring new cities and eating good food. Our plan is to fly from Singapore to Zurich and return home from Rome. As of right now I am considering getting the Half Fare Card.

Our rough plan is:

Day 0: Depart Singapore for Zurich.

Day 1: Arrive Zurich in morning, train to Lucerne (2 nights). Rest of the day at leisure to explore Lucerne and get over jet lag. (maybe we could explore Zurich city centre a bit before heading to Lucerne as it is only 15mins away from the airport by train?)

Day 2: Full day to explore Lucerne - Chapel Bridge, Old Town, Lion Monument etc.

Day 3: 2h train train to Interlaken (we chose Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland as a home base as it is a central transport hub that allows us to travel around with more convenience, and also it has cheaper accommodation and more options). We will stay in Interlaken for 3 nights. Rest of the day at leisure to explore Interlaken.

Day 4: In the morning, train from Interlaken up to Murren, explore Murren for a while before heading up to the Schilthorn (we chose Schilthorn over Jungfraujoch as it is a cheaper option and has equally good views). After lunch on the Schilthorn, head down to Gimmelwald, then explore Lauterbrunnen Valley before going to Grindelwald to spend the rest of the day then head back to Interlaken when done. Is this day's itinerary too much?

Day 5: Cruise on Lake Thun, explore the surrounding towns. I have found out that there is a Monday day pass for CHF 39 that allows unlimited access to both lakes for the day, however, I also know that there is a Saver Pass for CHF 29 only if I have the Half Fare Card. I will spend the morning to afternoon exploring the surrounding towns and for sunset I may consider going up Harder Kulm, but maybe 2 mountains is too much for one trip for my mother.

Day 6: Train to Florence. We will change trains at Spiez and then stop at Milan for lunch and see the iconic Duomo. Will the shops be open around 10am-12pm for lunch? With regards to our train tickets, do I purchase the Interlaken-Milan portion in advance, or buy on the day itself? Then buy Milan-Florence separately? Florence 5 nights, rest of the day to explore Florence at leisure.

Day 7: Full day to explore Florence's main sights - Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Duomo etc.

Day 8: Day trip to Bologna (1h20m by train one way). Full day to explore Bologna.

Day 9: Day trip to Siena (1h30m by train one way). Full day to explore Siena.

Day 10: Second full day to explore Florence. Accademia Gallery, Piazzale Michelangelo etc.

Day 11: Train to Rome (5 nights). Rest of the day to explore at leisure.

Day 12: Vatican City & Castel Sant'Angelo if time permits.

Day 13: Colosseum day. Baths of Caracalla too maybe.

Day 14: Explore Rome's main city centre sights - Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps etc.

Day 15: Wander about Rome's neighbourhoods - Trastevere & Testaccio.

Day 16: Depart Rome!

How does the itinerary look? Any suggestions to change? I am still a little stumped by the Swiss transport fares (not sure if the Half Fare Card will be beneficial to us with my itinerary, maybe someone could suggest if it would be? Or if I should visit somewhere else to make it more beneficial? Or the Swiss Travel Pass?).

If it matters, our budget is about 4K USD per person, we would like to stay in decent clean hotels for the most part that don't have to be luxurious, just those 2-3 star budget hotels will do fine. But after research, likely we will have to stay in apartments for at least half the trip. And we love eating. So a lot of the budget went there ;-)

We really appreciate whatever feedback we get to improve our itinerary so that we can have a wonderful first trip to Europe.

Thanks,

Joel

Posted by
2118 posts

Hi,
This seems pretty well thought out to me.
A few comments:
- Day 1: I would head straight to Luzern, and perhaps do a short cruise on the lake as a jet-lag activity.
- Day 3: I would still look at accommodation in Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald, not necessarily more expensive than Interlaken and better positioned for mountain excursions, which are the real highlight.
- Day 4: they will probably be no time for Grindelwald, but you will see! No bookings are needed anyway.
- Day 6: do book ahead, it is mandatory to book international trains from Switzerland

No particular comments on the Italy section. I would not prioritize Bologna over, say, Pisa or Lucca for a day trip from Florence, but it is mostly a matter of personal interests!

As for the half fare card: it does provide discounts on most mountain excursions so it should be worth it; in any case the cost is fairly low and you are guaranteed to recoup most of it! Schilthorn alone saves you Fr. 54 with the card, i.e., almost half the cost of the card.

Posted by
2118 posts

Oh, and I see you are coming in April, from Singapore. It can still be cold in Switzerland in April, with snow in the mountains. Schilthorn is perfectly possible to visit, but it can be very cold (-10C can happen and 0C would be very typical, with a chance of wind too). Make sure you have appropriate clothing!

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you very much for your feedback! As for Day 4, is it better to visit Lauterbrunnen early in the morning or after coming down from Schilthorn? Is there a lower chance of fog in the morning in the valley? I will take a look at the accommodation prices in Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Murren & Wengen, and hopefully I will be able to get a good deal (preferably under 150 USD per night for a hotel?) Any recommendations? Thanks a lot!

Posted by
1292 posts

Trying to do both valleys on day 4 will likely be too much, but you can give it a try. I agree regarding the Schilthorn vs. Jungfraujoch.

Be ready to shuffle your agenda a bit on days 3-5 in the event of poor weather. Snow is common in the alps even in early May.

The HFC is probably the most economical option among the Swiss rail passes.

Posted by
5912 posts

itsjoelha, to your last question, make your visit to Schilthorn based on the current weather. If its clear up on top the mountain, go as soon as you get there. It can cloud over later in the day. The weather in the mountains is tricky and changes pretty quickly.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you all for your help, I am looking into staying in either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald airbnbs. Would you recommend I spend 2n lucerne & 3n bernese oberland or 1n lucerne and 4n bernese oberland? Seems like there is only the Chapel Bridge & Lion Monument that interests me in Lucerne. I don't think I will be going on the cruise on day 1 in Lucerne if I am already doing the lake cruise on lake Thun. So maybe 1 night in Lucerne is enough.

So if I have 4n in the bernese oberland, and perhaps I stay in Lauterbrunnen, I'll have 3 full days there. First full day itinerary up to Schilthorn, explore Lauterbrunnen Valley, Gimmelwald & Murren, second day itinerary to take the cruise on lake Thun and maybe explore Interlaken, and the third day itinerary to explore Grindelwald & Wengen? How does this sound?

Thanks,

Joel

Posted by
7 posts

Hi all, another question, regarding the snow, if it is end-April, will there still be snow in Lauterbrunnen Valley, Murren, Wengen, Grindelwald etc? Or is it lush greenery already? Or is it only higher up at the Schilthorn peak has snow?

Thanks,

Joel

Posted by
2118 posts

Indeed, 1 night in Luzern is enough to see the historical centre, including the Lion monument (not a must-see for me, but to each their own!).
And 4 nights in the Berner Oberland will be better.

As for snow on the ground in Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald: there is a lot of variability in snow heights from year to year. This year saw a lot of late-season snowfall, but otherwise snow at the bottom of the valleys is unlikely by mid-April. However, Wengen might still have some patches, Mürren, more so, and slopes above 2,000 metres will probably still have plenty. You will not have to walk in deep snow, but might need to walk over packed snow and/or gritty pavements. Sturdy footwear will do.

And under 150 USD for a hotel in touristy areas of Switzerland is very challenging. It might mean shared bathrooms, which, given Swiss standards of cleanliness, is worth considering.

Posted by
25594 posts

Every year is different, and the weather can (will) change from the forecast.

The spring before covid - 2019 - we spent time in Mürren in mid-April (earlier than I normally go in late May/Early June) because we were driving from home to see a friend in Switzerland and spend time in Northern Italy. We had about a metre of snow in Mürren which was happily melting, with plenty of paths cut through it, although with slushy areas and a bit of ice in the shade. Lauterbrunnen had areas of snow in gardens and the sides of roads, but the roads were clear all the way from the far end of the valley down to Interlaken.

I'm glad you're looking past Interlaken. It took me years of visiting with all sorts of friends telling me to stay in the mountains (Interlaken isn't) before I finally caught on - I've never looked back.

As far as specifics for lodging, April is between ski season which will have finished some time before but before the summer season because it is too muddy and snowy for serious hiking so many places shut for some of that time, and the various lifts will be doing annual maintenance. You can always get around but may need to be flexible. When you know your dates (2023 is still a way off), check the websites of the transport systems for their annual closure dates. It may not be open in April, and we don't know which businesses have failed to survive covid, but have a look at the budget hotel and apartments in Mürren by a lovely lady called Denise - the rooms are at Chalet Fontana. Looking at her webpage (you may get a unsecure flag on your browser because she wrote in original html but it is fine) http://www.ferntree.ch/chalet/fontana.htm April probably is too early but May is OK. Rooms are simple with shared baths but comfy and inexpensive and Denise is a very friendly and extremely knowledgeable lady.

Why did you pick a ride on the Thunersee over the Brienzersee? Lake Brienz IMHO is far superior including waterfalls and wood carving....

Don't completely rule out a lake boat from Luzern until you've arrived - the views on Lake Lucerne (English spelling, the German spelling is Vierwaldstättersee) are fabulous and very different from Brienzersee and Thunersee.

Posted by
6519 posts

Yes Interlaken is a transport hub but do NOT stay there when you are near such incredible beauty in Grindelwald, Murren and Wengen! We found Grindelwald perfect with train connections all over. We felt like we could touch the Eiger from our balcony!

Posted by
508 posts

Sounds like a well-planned itinerary.

If your dates overlap with Easter, then make sure that you book well in advance. Also, though you plan to travel in 2023, Covid is still a dynamic situation and therefore pls ensure that all bookings can be canceled without penalty. Finally, since you are covering quite a bit of distance, make sure that you don't over pack and travel light.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi all, thanks for all your comments, it has really helped me. I have one more question: Is end April a good time to visit the Bernese oberland region? I have read that it could be quiet and shops and hotels will be closed and it is also the “muddy” season. I would really want to see the beauty of the swiss alps region but without the dirty melting snow in the valleys/murren/wengen area (I would prefer lush greenery).

Thanks,

Joel

Posted by
2118 posts

If you want to see the mountains in full spring mode, then June is better.
But they are beautiful year-round... If end April is convenient to you, go then. It will be springtime in the valleys.
And it is impossible to predict weather anyway, especially these days, so don't fret too much over this :-)

Posted by
1288 posts

Regarding Swiss trains and the pricing, the system is set up assuming one has at least the Half Fare Pass. Note that there is a 25% off sale for select Passes purchased this July. There is a lot of info here discussing the sale, under Switzerland section of the Forum.
Safe travels.

Posted by
1288 posts

Sorry- I didn't see your dates - the STP discount can't help.
Safe travels!

Posted by
151 posts

If at all possible, I would consider making this trip in June, with Italy on the itinerary first. The later you visit Switzerland, the better the chances of hiking trails being open. But regardless, even if you visit in April, Switzerland is incredibly scenic. As regards Italy, we enjoyed Cinque Terre (scenic) and Pisa (less crowded), than places like Florence and Rome, with long lines in most places. That has to do with our limited interest in art and museums.