Suitable base in berner oberland

We (My 10 year old son, wife and me), are planning to visit Switzerland in August. We will be flying in to Zurich from SFO(reaching @ 15:40 p.m). Our trip spans 15 days in Switzerland and Italy with may be 6 days in Switzerland and 8 in Italy. We were planning to explore the Berner Oberland area and were thinking of going there directly from Zurich. We had some questions and would really appreciate some guidance from the gurus here :-)

  1. What would be the best base for Berner Oberland? We would like to stay at a place more friendly to family. Rick recommends Gimmelwald but reading on other forums I also found out that Murren and Wengen are other popular options. What would you guys advice?
  2. My wife is vegetarian. Would love to know about vegetarian options/restaurants that we can explore in the area.
  3. It is a 12 hour flight from SFO to Zurich and we would have 3 suitcases(lightest that my missus can pack :-)) to deal with.So I am wondering if going to the base(e.g. Gimmelwald) is good idea? Or shall we stay in Zurich or Interlaken for a night.
  4. We plan to spend 4 days in Berner Oberland. Will that be sufficient?
  5. We were thinking of going to Lucerne for a day or 2 (total 6 days in Switzerland). Is that good? Or are there other better places to consider(e.g Lake Geneva).


Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
22580 posts


A few thoughts on your questions.....

  1. Which place to use for a "home base" is somewhat a matter of personal opinion. Some here prefer Gimmelwald, Mürren or Wengen, but my personal favourite is Lauterbrunnen. It's the best hub to use for transportation to both sides of the valley, so if you're doing a lot of sightseeing, staying there will probably save you some time and money.
  2. I'm not vegetarian so haven't really noticed that type of item on the menu, but you shouldn't have any trouble finding vegetarian options anywhere in Europe. For example, in Lauterbrunnen the Hotel Oberland menu lists Walliser Rösti which consists of Rösti topped with tasty Swiss cheese, slices of fresh tomatoes and freshly ground pepper (the main ingredient of Rösti is hash brown potatoes). THIS is the Oberland Rösti, which is not a vegetarian item, just to give you an idea what it looks like.
  3. You can easily travel from the Zürich airport to the Berner Oberland by train on your day of arrival. There's a rail station right at the airport. Check the website for times and other details. I haven't checked the schedules, but there will likely be a change in Bern and most certainly a change at Interlaken Ost, where you'll transfer to the small local train for the ~20 minute ride to Lauterbrunnen. If you decide to go right to Gimmelwald, add another 40 minutes or so to that.
  4. Yes, four days will give you a good opportunity to explore the area, so that's a good time frame (but be sure to plan your touring efficiently so you don't waste any time!).
  5. I'd suggest at least two days in Lucerne as it's a beautiful city with lots to see. Your 10-year old will likely enjoy the fantastic Museum of Transport. It would be easy to spend almost a full day there (I certainly did). You can also take cruises on the lake, excursions to Mt. Pilatus, tour the park where the famous Lion of Lucerne is displayed (which Mark Twain referred to as "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world").

For travel in August, I would highly recommend getting accommodations booked SOON! Also, for travel anywhere in Switzerland, be sure to bring money as it's NOT cheap.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5216 posts

By "vegetarian", how strict? Are milk products and cheese allowed? Seems a shame to visit Switzerland and not indulge in the cheese since it is such an integral part of the local dishes.
I like staying higher up on the mountain in some place like Muerren which is sunny and car free, although Lauterbrunnen would be less expensive and more convenient for visiting other places.
I too vote for Luzern. Look at getting 2 Half Fare cards for 120 chf per adult, and a free Swiss Family Card so your son can travel with you for free. Without the Family Card your son would be charged half fare on all you journeys. Although your 3 nominal travel days only comes to about 180 chf per person, when combined with the Family Card and day trips on the rails and lifts in the Berner Oberland, you will come out ahead.
And by "be sure to bring money as it's NOT cheap", take that figuratively, not literally. ATM's are the best way to get spending money.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
6424 posts

Mürren has an Asian restaurant (Tham's) with lots of good options for vegetarians. Other restaurants generally have options such as pizza or pasta that appeal to "lacto" vegetarians (who eat cheese and milk). You might try Chalet Fontana which is very family-friendly as well as budget friendly. If her apartment is available, you can cook your own meals with groceries from the Coop across the street. Mürren also has a sports center with pool that might appeal to a 10-year-old, and tennis courts that appealed to our daughter when she was that age. It is an easy and pleasant walk down to Gimmelwald if you wish to see what all the fuss is about.

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
3879 posts

We love Murren best, have stayed there twice. Definitely pack LIGHT. You will enjoy your trip so much more.

Posted by Ajay
San Ramon, California, United States
5 posts

Thanks a bunch guys !! This is really helpful. Sam, my wife is fine with cheese and milk and so that won't be a problem. Dick, practicing walking a block with luggage seems to be good idea :-)
As I mentioned earlier, our trip includes Switzerland and Italy. We have almost finalized the itinerary but would again appreciate any tips/insights from the travel gurus here :-) Here is the itinerary(15 day trip)
Day 1: Arrive at Zurich from SF(3:40 p.m). Train to Luzern. Night in Luzern.
Day 2: Luzern
Day 3: Luzern to Berner Oberland(Stay in Gimmelwald or Murren or Lauterbrunnen).
Day 4-6: Berner Oberland
Day 7: Train to Venice. Night in Venice
Day 8: Venice
Day 9: Train to Florence
Day 10: Florence
Day 11: Florence(Day trip to Pisa?). Evening train to Rome. Night in Rome
Day 12-14: Rome (Day 14 - day trip to Pompeii)
Day 15: Back to home.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the itinerary. Few questions:

  1. Thinking of traveling to Venice by train in day 7. Is this doable in a day or it will be too hectic? We definitely want to cover Venice, Florence and Rome.
  2. On day 11 planning a day trip to Pisa and then taking an evening train to Rome. Is it too ambitious? Also, is Pisa worth the pain or should we just keep it simple by spending that day in Florence.
  3. On day 14, a day trip to Pompeii. Same question as #2 above.

This is by far the most ambitious trip that we have ever taken. This is going to be our first time at all these places but we are really excited and looking forward to taking this trip. Thanks again for helping out. Can't wait to hear your thoughts/feedback.


Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
22580 posts


A few thoughts and comments......

You will of course have to add one day (Day 0?) for the flight to Europe, as you'll arrive the day after you depart SF.

  • Day 1 - you'll probably be able to connect with the 16:47 departure from the airport which is good, as that's direct to Luzern.
  • Day 3 - the trip from Luzern to Interlaken Ost will be 1H:50M direct. I'd suggest the 11:05 (or later) departure as if you arrive too early, your room may not be ready. However, if you want to arrive early to start touring, the hotel will store your luggage until the room is serviced. Are you clear on the route that you'll need to take to reach Lauterbrunnen, Mürren or Gimmelwald?
  • Day 7 - the trip to Venice will take the better part of a day. One of the shortest and easiest routes will be a departure from Interlaken Ost at 08:00, arriving Venice at 14:40 (time 6H:40M, two changes at Spiez and Brig). Changing in smaller stations will be slightly easier than changing at Milano Centrale. Note that your destination station will be Venezia Santa Lucia. That will of course mean an early departure from your hotel in the Berner Oberland as you'll have to be AT Interlaken Ost by 08:00. There are numerous other trains you could take - check the website for details.
  • Day 11 - a day trip to Pisa is certainly possible although whether it's worth the effort is a matter of debate. I'd suggest using Pisa San Rossore station (travel time ~1H:17M each way if you use a direct train). That station is a bit closer to the tower than Pisa Centrale.
  • Day 14 - a day trip to Pompeii is possible, although it will be a long day. Take a Freccia train to Napoli Centrale (~90M), and then transfer to the Circumvesuviana (~1H) to Pompeii Scavi station. You can find the Circumvesuviana in the Garibaldi station, which is downstairs from the main station.

Regarding your questions.....

  1. Travelling to Venice is absolutely "doable". I suggested the 08:00 departure from Interlaken as the travel time and ease of travel will be easier than using some of the other trains that have longer travel times and more changes.
  2. A short trip to Pisa is not too ambitious. If it's important to you, it would be possible to visit Pisa for a few hours and still be in Rome in the later afternoon.
  3. Answered above.

There are some potentially expensive "caveats" when using trains or other public transport in Italy. If you need further details, post another note or send me a PM.

Once you've decided where you'll be staying in the Berner Oberland, it would be a good idea to get some hotels booked SOON!

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5216 posts
  1. Not too bad. It depends in part on where you decide to stay. If in Gimmelwald, you will not be able to make the early good connections to Venice, so starting at noon you can get there by 8:10 pm. You will have 5 connections to make, but 2 of those are just to get from Gimmelwald to Lauterbrunnen. If staying in Lauterbrunnen you can get an earlier start and leave at 7:33 am and be in Venice by 2:40 pm.
  2. You can decide this when you are there, as it is an easy regional train ride to Pisa. You can check your bags at Florence station in the morning, take a train to Pisa, return late after noon and retrieve your bags and take a fast train to Rome. The fastest way from Pisa to Rome is through Florence.
  3. Again, you can decide this when you are there. If you are worn out, you can bag it. If you are still full of energy, you can go for it.
Posted by Jer
Seattle, WA
39 posts

Besides being beautiful and on the mainline, Lauterbrünnen also has vegetarian options at the CO-OP next to the train station from what I've read online:

As far as how many days to spend in the Berner Oberland, that's a hard one. If the weather is good and you love exploring the outdoors then you could spend two weeks or more in the Berner Oberland. If you're going to see more cutlural sites and museums in Italy, then maybe the ones in Luzern are not quite as full of the classics...though personally I'm planning on cruising on Lake Luzern.

I put a link on another thread in this forum about the magical train ride to Tirano that most tourists miss. I found Rick's videos and Google very helpful...just look at the pictures and street views on the satellite image version of the maps and see which ones you emotionally respond to.

One more thought, there are a lot of youth oriented activities around First (near Grindelwald).

Posted by Chris
Jersey CI & Mürren CH, Twitter :@murrenlover
590 posts

All the restaurant here in Mürren have a vegetarian option with more of a choice in the hotel restaurants which you can visit as a non resident. (

As suggested above, I would always stay in Mürren as you get a true vibe of what mountain life is about here and in under 40 minutes walk you can visit lovely Gimmelwald. Why would you travel so far and not what to spend your nights in the Swiss Alps instead on the valley floor (Lauterbrunnen).

As per my twitter feeds ( -

It was all going on last Friday, over 450 people had to be evacuated from Birg, Schilthorn and 2 x cablecars with the use of 6 x helicopters due to a mechanical fault....

Also the Skywalk at Birg 2677m is coming along (live webcam view)

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
8841 posts

Your plan is coming together well with all this advice. Once you've booked hotels though, I would keep the train plans flexible. Perhaps you'll want more time in Venice and leave later in the day. As already stated, you need not commit to the side trips in advance. Ostia Antica can be a lower-stress, lower-commitment alternative to Pompeii, if that feels more right at the time.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
5193 posts

I just booked hotels in Switzerland (Luzern, Muerren, and Lausanne). I learned that by e-mailing hotels directly, I got better rates and a much larger assortment of rooms than I did by any other method, including booking dot com, hotels dot com, and even the hotels' own websites. So, if there are hotels that interest you, be sure to e-mail them, even if they seem to be more expensive than you want, or don't seem to have the rooms you need showing as available on their websites.

Posted by Ajay
San Ramon, California, United States
5 posts

Thanks guys !! For booking hotels, I also found that calling them directly works much better than the online hotel sites. I am done booking for Luzern and Gimmelwald. Now looking for Venice, Florence and Rome. Any tips?

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
5193 posts

"Now looking for Venice, Florence and Rome. Any tips?"

Yes. Start a new thread for these places, in the Italy section of this Forum. Not everyone checks every section, and you want to make sure your post is seen by the Italy specialists who may not open a thread about the Berner Oberland.

Posted by John
Whitesboro, NY, USA
136 posts

With a ten year old, I think Pisa is a good idea. Just a thought. It's not far from Florence but, of course, Florence is worth even more time than you are giving it. You can always come back in the future without a ten year old.

Posted by cynhcho
2 posts

Hello! I'm planning a 7-day trip to Switzerland and have found this thread very helpful. So thanks to everyone! I have two questions about Murren/Gimmelwald.

  1. Re: where to stay in Murren/Gimmelwald, there are several hotels that get good reviews on TripAdvisor but I was wondering if any of you have specific hotels in the area that you can recommend? (Ajay and Harold, where did you book?)

  2. Re: what to do while we are there, we'll only be there for two nights and three days so are there any absolute must-dos while we are there?


Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
3879 posts

Cyn, I suggest you send Chris (above post) a private message re: where to stay in Murren as he has great advice for places to stay there. He may see your question here, but he may not.