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Our First Trip Abroad

My wife and I are just starting to plan our first trip to Europe and we chose Switzerland as our main destination! We're planning on a 21-night stay in late Aug - Sept 2020. Any help with a suggested itinerary (including hotels) would be helpful. We are in our mid-50's and active. Love walking, hiking, and nature. We want to see all of Switzerland, (12-14 days?), some of Austria (5-6 days?), and maybe southern Germany (Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle (2-3 days?). We can fly in and out of any city (Geneva, Zurich, Munich, Vienna). We plan to travel by Rail in country (Swiss Rail Pass, Eurail Pass). Any suggestions on itinerary or what to see or not, is greatly appreciated.

Posted by
34 posts

First off, congrats you’re going to have a great trip. Switzerland/Austria/Germany/the alps never disappoint.

I’d start with buying/checking out the Rick Steves Switzerland/Germany/Austria books and videos.

I personally also use lonely planet for all those destinations. Just to get a few different perspectives.

You can’t see “all” of Switzerland in 12-14 days. But you can pick a few great spots.

The Berner Oberland gets high praise on this board for all the right reasons. It’s stunning. You could spend a full week or more just in murren/wengen/gimmelwald/etc. It just depends on what you want to do. You said you like nature and walks so the Lauterbrunnen Valley might be just what you need.

I’ll let others here give you more advice but Appenzell, Lichtenstein, the Tirol, even dipping into Italy for the Dolomites and Lake Como are all places worth exploring.

Posted by
6847 posts

I've found that driving a rental car is the best way to efficiently see this region. Trains are fine getting to and from big cities, but when you're wanting to visit small towns and villages, they're often not even on a train line.

Posted by
7205 posts

That’s not true for switzerland. Some of the most beautiful places in Switzerland are off-limits to cars. Public transport is the only way. If a train doesn’t go where you want to go then the Post Bus picks up where the train stops and continues to every nook and cranny.

Posted by
694 posts

As HeyitsPhil says, Berner Oberland is your best bet. To check out the nature and hiking in that area, click on my name and you'll find a link to our dozen favorite trails in the area, with pics.

Posted by
807 posts

I've found that driving a rental car is the best way to efficiently see this region. Trains are fine getting to and from big cities, but when you're wanting to visit small towns and villages, they're often not even on a train line.

Having lived here in Switzerland for the past thirty years, I have to say that is just not true. Pretty much everywhere of interest to the tourist is connected by some form of public transport - train, bus or boat at least once an hour. And on top of this some areas are not accessible by car or are made deliberately difficult to navigate to discourage car usage.

And then there is the environmental issue - using a car in areas where a good public transport system exists in just inexcusable.

Posted by
77 posts

If you enjoy hiking, be sure to include the Berner Oberland for a few days of your trip. Just south of Interlaken, the two valleys of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald are the entryways to the Bernese Alps in central Switzerland. In my opinion, it is one of the premier hiking destinations in the world.
Late August and September is a great time to go. Check out Shoe's photos for a dozen of his favorite hikes in the B.O. Also, I posted a trip report about "Hiking in the Berner Oberland" that might be of interest.
There are many interesting day trips if you stay in Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald or any of the smaller villages in the B.O. (Murren, Wengen, Gimmelwald, Stechelberg). I'd recommend Bern, Thun, Meiringen, Kandersteg, and Murton as day trips. It's also very easy to get into Interlaken for some sightseeing or to go to a restaurant.
If you go to Lausanne, try to take a boat trip on Lake Geneva. We went from Lausanne to Vevey, and it was a fantastic day trip.
The boat trips on Lake Luzern are also very good.
Hope you have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for all the great tips. The hiking trail maps are terrific. We're absolutely traveling by train. Don't want the hassle of car rental, driving, parking, gas, etc. Just want to relax and take it all in.

Austria - we've decided to fly into Vienna arriving the morning of Sept 9. Vienna (2 nights), then on to Salzburg (2 nights), and on to Innsbruck (2 nights). For our Austria rail travel, between are destination cities and the Swiss border, we plan to use the OEBB Sparschiene tickets. For public transit in Vienna, we're looking at the Vienna City Pass Card. Not sure on what Salzburg & Innsbruck public transit has to offer yet?

Switzerland - We plan to purchase the 15-day Swiss Travel Pass. We'll cross into Switzerland (from Innsbruck) on the morning of Sept 15 and on to Zurich for our first night in Switzerland (still working on the Swiss itinerary). We hope to hit all the highlights along the way (Luzern, Berner Oberland, Zermatt, Lugano, St.Moritz, Montreux, Bern), and finally into Geneva where we fly out on the morning of Sept 30.

Thanks again and keep the tips and suggestions coming.

Posted by
243 posts

Given your interest in hiking and outdoors, you should enjoy the Berner Oberland region as well as others on your list. I would encourage you to focus on several key places you want to visit to allow time to enjoy each and to adjust your schedule for the weather and other disruptions.

For example, my first day in Zermatt (Sept. 21), a trail I wanted to hike was closed for an international mountain biking competition, so I hiked it two days later.

In the Berner Oberlander, the first day was cloudy and rainy, so I enjoyed the Trummelbach Falls and a walk back to Lauterbrunnen (very beautiful, but no spectacular views of the Alps that day). The next day was also cloudy with intermittent sunshine until late in the day, so I hiked a mid-elevation trail. Then I had several sunny days and enjoyed the cable car to the Schilthorn and a hike to Eiger.

Here is a link to an older post you might find helpful:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/switzerland/rainy-day-cloudy-day-things-to-do-in-jungfrau-region

Also, there are a number of fall festivals you might enjoy:

https://swisswanderlust.com/justistal-chasteilet-cheese-distribution/

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/switzerland/swiss-autumn-festivals

A rail pass is a great way to enjoy Switzerland. The Swiss Rail web site has some useful planning features as well.

https://www.sbb.ch/en

The phone app is great to use once you’re there. You can quickly check schedules (including the platform numbers of the trains).

https://www.sbb.ch/en/timetable/mobile-apps/sbb-mobile.html

All the best,

Raymond

Posted by
4639 posts

Two nights in Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck means one day. That's really no time at all. I suggest dropping Innsbruck entirely as it isn't as fabulous as Salzburg or Vienna. Since you are focusing on the Alps in Switzerland, then I'd weight your days in Vienna which is an entirely different experience from the mountains. You also will have jet lag upon arrival which potentially makes the first 1-2 days a loss. I'd also suggest dropping Neuschwanstein Castles. They aren't what you think they are.