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Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen?

My family (me, wife and 12-yo son) wants to visit Jungfrau when we go to Switzerland in June. This is our very first time to visit Europe. We are considering to stay for 2 nights in Jungfrau Region.

Between Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, where is better to stay and why? Are they pretty much similar or any difference from each other? RS guidebook doesn't mention Grindelwald but Lauterbrunnen. Does that mean Lauterbrunnen is a better choice?

Posted by
12040 posts

" RS guidebook doesn't mention Grindelwald but Lauterbrunnen. Does that mean Lauterbrunnen is a better choice?"

Why Rick Steves chooses one location over another is a mystery known only to the man himself and his editorial staff. But to compare and contrast...

Grindelwald sits higher in a different valley adjacent to Lauterbrunnen. It caters more to skiers in the winter, so it tends to have more upscale hotels. Access to the Jungfrau is easier from Grinedelwald, but much less so to the Schilthorn. Some people prefer the views from Lauterbrunnen, I personally think they both offer stunning, if different, vistas. Looking at the north face of the Eiger every morning from my hotel in Grindelwald was a pretty impressive sight. I've not stayed in Lauterbrunnen, so I can't be certain, but just at a glance, Grindelwald appears to offer a better selections of restaurants.

Lauterbrunnen sits lower in the valley of the same name. Because access to the ski pistes (which become hiking trails in the summer) is less direct, it caters a little more to sight-seers than mountain sport enthusiasts. It looks a little "folksier" (which might explain why Mr. Steves prefers it), but both towns largely cater to similar, if not identical tourist needs. Lauterbrunnen has easier access to the Schilthorn, less easy acces to the Jungfrau than Grindelwald. There's more cascading waterfalls visible in Lauterbrunnen.

I'm guessing that if you're picking between these two towns and not considering Mürren and Wengen that you will probably have a rental car. These two car-free villages are even higher up their respective mountain-sides.

I think either is a reasonable choice in summer. In winter, though, no question, Grindelwald wins hands down for the easier access to the ski pistes.

Posted by
7205 posts

Either get rid of the rental car or park in the Lauterbrunnen garage and head up into the alpine villages of either Murren or Wengen. You've not been here before so you can't possibly imagine what you've been missing. You can't possibly imagine the stunning beauty. You probably can't even imagine a car-free village like Murren or Wengen being able to function without vehicles. But they do. Travel to these villages is totally by gondola, funicular and train - no access roads for cars...only for the occasional tractor or electric luggage cart.

While you're in that area my thought is why wouldn't you just go all out and experience the alpine villages and just choose one of them as home? 2 nights is TOO short. Add at least one more night.

Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald are both beautiful, with Grindewald being the town where the most tour buses drop the most tourists...some are daytrippers and some will stay the night. Avoid Grindelwald and choose either Lauterbrunnen or the better option of either Murren or Wengen. We stay in Murren every year and visit the Jungfraujoch every year. We usually leave Murren after breakfast by 9:30 or so and return by 5-6pm. It's a long day but so incredibly WORTH it. Get yourself a Half Fare card and a free Swiss Family Card for your 12 year old and he/she will be 100% free on all public transport in Switzerland (local city trams, buses, boats, gondolas, funiculars, trains) even to the expensive Jungfrau the 12 year old is free. That's a bargain.

Our first trip to this area we drove and parked in Lauterbrunnen and stayed up in Murren. Love love loved it so much we've been back more times than I can count. We've brought dozens of visitors with us back here, and they're all just amazed and speechless and the dramatic alpine scenery. After the first time we never brought a vehicle back with us. Public Transport is so simple and effective.

Posted by
31471 posts

jw,

First of all, could you clarify whether you're using a rental car, or travelling by train. You didn't mention a car in your OP, so wasn't sure how that got into the discussion?

Regarding the two locations you mentioned.....

  • Grindelwald - As Tom mentioned this is a somewhat more upscale ski resort in the winter, with more posh hotels, sports shops, etc. For touring various parts of that area, it's not a particularly convenient location. One other point to mention is that one of the RS favourites in that area is a smaller community with a similar name, Gimmelwald, and that will be mentioned in the guidebook.
  • Lauterbrunnen - this is the rail transportation hub for the area and in a very central location to get to both sides of the valley. That includes Wengen, Grindelwald and Jungfrau on one side, and Gimmelwald, Mürren and the Schilthorn on the other side. You may have seen the Schilthorn and Piz Gloria, as it was used in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service many years ago. There's a revolving restaurant there at 10K feet which is a great place to enjoy views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau while enjoying a fine hot meal (a bit pricey but a somewhat unique experience). Trust me, the restaurant did NOT explode! FWIW, I like staying in Lauterbrunnen simply because it's a great central location for exploring that area, although the higher locations like Mürren are higher so get more sunshine.

From Lauterbrunnen the transportation to other locations will vary according to where you're going. The guidebook has information on that but if you have any questions post another note here. When you see the scenery there, you may wish you had booked more time. Two nights will only allow one full day of sightseeing.

One other point to mention is that Switzerland can be expensive, so budget accordingly. That's especially true of the cable cars and other mountain transportation. If you're planning to take the trip to the Jungfraujoch (which is one of the most expensive trips in that area), you'll need some room on your credit card. You may want to look at one of the Swiss Passes to reduce these costs somewhat.

Posted by
34 posts

After reading comments by Tim and Ken, I'm more puzzled now.... Tim got the idea of car hire from my other posting.

OK, here was my original plan. We arrive in Geneva from Paris by TGV train and visit Reformation Museum, St. Peter's Cathedral, Bastion Park and the UN (Palace of Nations with a guided tour if possible). Then, we'd like to rent a car and move to Lausanne and visit Olympic Park and Museum. I thought we would stay one night near or in Lausanne after it.

While staying for 2 nights in Lauterbrunnen, we'd like to visit Jungfraujoch (depending on the weather). If we have time, we'd also like to see Bern and Murren. After that, we'd like to visit Lucerne and stay there for one night. Then, we move to Sion area and drive around the beauties there and stay overnight getting ready for the Euro City train going to Venice direct. The reason for picking Sion is because it is not only beautiful but it's the only city in that area for me to return my rental car (Hertz). Europcar has a location in Brig, and that's why I asked in another posting if I had to spend a night in Sion or Brig.

But after reading the comments by folks here, I don't know if I have to cut Geneva or Lausanne or Lucerne and stay in Lauterbrunnen longer. Would it be possible to do a day trip to Lucerne and see the essentials there? What about Bern? Do you think I have to stay in Lauterbrunnen for 4 nights instead of splitting my short stay? To be safe to catch the train to Venice, I would stick to the plan staying in Sion for the last night.

One of the main reasons for car rental is that I really really want to drive on Susten Pass, Grimsel Pass and Furka Pass or at least one of them.

If you have better suggestions, please let me know. Thank you, all!

Posted by
12040 posts

The Grimsel Pass is amazing. Drive it if you get the opportunity.

Posted by
34 posts

Thank you, Tom, for encouraging to drive there!

I have a question on driving in Switzerland. Do you know anything about highway taxes? When I calculate the direction using Via Michelin, it always returns "highway tax". What is it? Does it mean that I have to pay that much money every time I use their highways?

Posted by
12040 posts

Switzerland operates on a vignette system. You have to purchase the sticker at the border to legally drive a foreign-registered car on the country's Autobahn network. Otherwise, there's no tolls.

If you rent the car in Switzerland, I would assume the car already has all the proper registration...

Posted by
34 posts

Tom, thank you for the information. Since I'm going to rent a car in Switzerland, I don't have to worry about it then. ^^

Posted by
2717 posts

I just wanted to also mention that 2 nights is way too short for the Berner Oberland. We stayed 4 nights in Wengen and never wanted to leave. You'll understand once you get there. Also, with just 2 nights, one full day, if the weather doesn't cooperate on that 1 day, it will be a shame. If it does cooperate and you see the amazing beauty all around, and you still have plans to move on after 2 nights, I think you will wish you planned more time there. To choose between Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, I'd choose Wengen every time :)

Paul

Posted by
27728 posts

Vignettes are for locals as much as for foreigners. I would expect cars hired in Switzerland to have one on the windscreen, but I don't think anything is guaranteed. I'd look at the car to be sure, and if it is missing ask.

The vignette is approximately 2 inches square, with rounded corners, against a different coloured background each year, an icon of the autobahn symbol and the two digits of the applicable year in big numbers (15 for this year). Decent photos of previous years are at http://www.myswissalps.com/motorwayvignette

Posted by
27728 posts

It is your trip, and organise it how you'd like. I'd do things a little differently to save time, stress, and money.

Your plan as you currently have it has a lot of zig zagging across the country and a fair bit of duplication.

This is your first trip to Europe and there is often a tendency in first timers to wish to "do it all" and, to a degree, I see signs of that here. It is always a good idea to tell yourself that you will return.

Geneva... Then, we'd like to rent a car and move to Lausanne

The best way to go between those two cities some say is by boat, others say by train. I agree that both are excellent. Lausanne is not a place I would like to try to find parking. It is a city which is as vertical as it is horizontal - the lakeshore is linked to the town and the upper town by funicular. Easy by train and funicular - less so by car.

While staying for 2 nights in Lauterbrunnen, we'd like to visit Jungfraujoch (depending on the weather).

Others here and I think you now recognise that that is nowhere near long enough in the Berner Oberland. The weather can vary so much, you really need to be on the spot so when all is clear you can shoot up to the top and enjoy all the walks. I find that the walks from Muerren and from above Wengen are excellent in many weathers but the Schilthorn and Jungfraujoch can be socked in.

I prefer Muerren myself. To be able to look out and feel that you can practically touch the mountains across the valley is incomparable, and because it is higher than Wengen you can look down across the valley to Wengen, and you can easily take the funicular up to Allmendhubel. I remember hearing an Alphorn recital there and eating raclette sitting on the terrace surrounded by mountains, then walking down. That was so nice. For me, 4 or 5 nights is a short visit there.

If we have time, we'd also like to see Bern and Murren.

Bern is the national capital, and is pretty nice, and has old fountains in the streets, but on a first visit the mountains are more unique. I spent a day there the first trip I took to the Berner Oberland - I made the mistake of staying in Interlaken but I did have the lovely pleasure of meeting and visiting with Fritz Hutmacher - sadly no longer with us - but in retrospect I would have done what I did the next year and actually stay up in the mountains.

You say Murren.. Do you mean the one I described earlier, or is that a misspelling of Murten? If Murten I would leave it for a third or fourth visit.

After that, we'd like to visit Lucerne and stay there for one night.

That barely enough time to do more than walk across the covered bridge. I would take the time for a ride on a ship on the Lake of Lucerne to the mountain called Rigi, or up in the revolving gondola
at Titlis. There is so much to do there. A car is of little help, and parking is expensive, just like it is in the Berner Oberland. Count on over CHF 25 a day. And if you drive you will miss the very scenic narrow gauge rack train between Interlaken and Luzern over the Brunig Pass. The car also can go over the pass but it is nowhere as scenic.

Then, we move to Sion area

It is very nice, but why backtrack? You already are in the midst of beautiful villages and fab towns. Great scenery.

You can get the Venice train from Spiez, just down the lake from Interlaken. It is the very same train which goes through Brig. Or a very similar one from Luzern which goes through more beautiful scenery as it flies through the mountains - at one point passing the same white church in a valley three times as it dog bones up through tunnels and spirals to gain altitude.

I hope you have have a great holiday. I'm with you in spirit. I'll be there in July.

Posted by
34 posts

Thank you, Paul and Nigel.

I have only 5 nights in Switzerland and want to see Jungfrau for sure. I want to also visit cities like Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Lucerne (and maybe Zurich). Do I have enough time when I move with a rental car? Or should I stick to Bernese Oberland for 4 nights?

Posted by
2717 posts

Hi,

Where we'd stay and where you'd like to stay may be different f course. I don't see a car helping at all. With 5 nights and a city/town and the Jungfraujoch as priorities, I'd split the time between Lucerne and Wengen in the Berner Oberland. Me, I'd spend all my time based in Wengen.

Paul