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Zurich and surrounding sites

My husband and I are senior citizens, first time to Europe. Our "base" is Zurich, our nephew and family are there. We'd like to go to Italy, France, Spain, and Germany. Trip is 3 weeks-- Is that too much? We'd like to travel by train but not spend too much time on train travel. It's our very first time at our age. The big cities ( Paris, Rome, Madrid) all seem too far. ANy suggestions or help are welcome.



Posted by
20297 posts

Paris is only 4 hours away on the TGV Lyria. Milan and Munich are 4 hours on the EC trains. Strasbourg is 2 hours and 45 minutes with a single connection in Basel. You have a ton of options, especially spending a couple of nights away.

Posted by
9 posts

Yes-- a ton, but we are traveling by train and have the itinerary to fly into Zurich and out of Berlin-- and 30 days to go around those countries. The only city in Germany we are visiting is Berlin and flying out of there. So I'm having a hard time sketching a "round" trip sort of -- South then back up North and cities in between


Posted by
795 posts

Actually, Europe is far more compact than the USA and Zurich can make an excellent base.Train travel is our favorite too. You can get a Eurail pass ( ) and go to all the places you want to. My goodness no, 3 weeks is not too much. In fact, stay long if you can. From Zurich and Switzerland you can easily travel over the Swiss border to all of the wonderful German cities and go to Austria easily too. You would love Austria- Salzburg and Vienna are magnificent cities and do add on Prague in the Czech Republic which is easy to reach from Germany. I'd skip Spain and go to both France and Italy. The trains are comfy and you can get sleepers. Don't skip Paris- France borders Switzerland. Also in Italy, visit Florence and Venice as well as Rome. Italy also borders Switzerland.

Posted by
991 posts

Hi Mary Helen,

Since you are staying with relatives in Zurich you will have one big advantage over other travellers - your relatives can buy one day unlimited travel tickets on the Swiss transport system for as little as 40 francs. One very nice trip you can do out of Zurich with that ticket is the Voralpen-Express it is not a very touristy route so there is usually plenty of space on the train so no need to worry about reservations and of course you can always hop off along the way, have a walk around, get a coffee or whatever and join a later train.

Another easy hop from Zurich would be Chur, the capital of Graubünden. From there you could join the Bernina Express, which will take you over the border into Italy. You could then either go on further into Italy or take the Bernina Express Bus across into the Italian speaking part of Switzerland and reach Lugano. Here again, you could join yet another express - The Wilhelm Tell Express which would take you back to Lucern and another hour would get you back to Zurich. All of this can be done with the day tickets I mentioned above, so each leg would cost you 40 francs and 120 francs for the complete journey. Which is very good value by Swiss standards.

Of course Zurich is a major hub for international train connections, so you can easily venture further a field with trains to Milan, Munich, Paris etc... if the whim takes you. It is also possible to catch trains to Spain, but I think it would be too long a haul.

You don't say what time of the year you are coming, but it is worth keeping in mind that summer can be hard on older people here because most places do not air conditioned (no disrespect intended). My mother-in-law spends most of the summer at our holiday home in the mountains and we're glad to join her every weekend we can!

Posted by
16894 posts

I'm wondering now much time you actually have to spend with the relatives, and how much time away. Every return trip to Zurich takes some time and money. Work on choosing your top priorities and fitting them onto a calendar.

Rick's over view Time & Cost map shows in hours how long the fastest trains take. There are no overnight trains to France, Italy, or Spain, but there are to Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna, for instance.

Flying to major cities in other countries can be cheaper and faster than trains, if booked ahead; see

If you travel with a rail pass, be aware that you must reserve ahead for faster trains in France, such as the direct TGV Lyria to/from Paris. TGVs limit the number of seats available to rail pass travelers and the reservation fee for direct France-Switzerland trains is $40 in 2nd class or $80 in 1st. (Seat reservations on the train between Paris and Strasbourg or Germany are cheaper. Advance-discount tickets can be as cheap as this particular pass holder reservation, if purchased right when they go on sale, three months ahead.) Other train routes are not so limiting.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you for your replies and helpful tips. After many hours and debates (between us) of where and how to go, we have a tentative itinerary. I would like honest feedback if this is too much and/ too much money (in internal travels). This is our first (and may be last) trip to Europe. We have our plane tickets returning from Zurich.

Thank you.


Arrive Zurich Monday 6/15 10:15 pm
Leave to Paris: Sat. 6/20
To Barcelona: Wed. 6/24
To Bilbao: Sun. 6/28
To Florence: Wed. 7/1
To Padua: Fri 7/3
​Back to Zurich Sun. or Mon 7/5 or 7/6
return home Tue. 7/6​ 7 am

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks, all for some very good trip ideas. I should have paid more attention to Jim from Berne (great trip ideas) and go into Italy first because ti is looking very difficult to get from Bilbao, Spain to Florence. We have to go there because my husband, the artist, has to see the Guggenheim by Gehry in Bilbao. Any ideas, please?

Thanks everyone.

Mary Helen

Posted by
33004 posts

While you are with the family in Zurich there are a few things in the immediate vicinity that you might have a look at:

Just down the train line is Zug, a nice little town which has its own lake and on the lakefront is a collection of bird cages with all the birds inside. Such a strange thing to find and really fun and a nice town to visit.

Across the Zugersee, and visible from the aviary is Cham. Cham has its own station and just towards the water from the station is a small free arboretum and there is a coffee shop in an old municipal building. We love it there. They even have a couple of redwoods. It is very relaxing on the Zugersee.

North of Zurich are two attractions - Schafhausen and the Rheinfalls which can be visited by boat; and just over the border into Germany is Mainau Island which is a beautiful island which has lovely gardens on the whole island. The island has been in the same family for a long time, a branch of the Swedish royal family, currently managed by the Countess and the Count.

And then, of course, there are the mountains... ah, the mountains...

Posted by
7415 posts

I would not use the word "base" for Zurich in the itinerary you posted. Except that you have relatives there, there is absolutely no reason to return there. As first-timers to Europe, you may be unfamiliar with the term "open-jaw" air ticket. And the time and money spent on the return are better used seeing other cities. You also may not have learned yet whether you prefer to take short daytrips in the area of a big city, or change rooms often (like Rick's tour books often do) to see many more cities. It's a matter of temperament and preference.

You also need to do a little more research before you firm up the itinerary. Even if your husband's interest is, say, modern architecture and modern ( ... not "contemporary"?? ) art, I see little reason to schlep to a fading post-industrial city that has nothing but the Guggenheim Bilbao. Even Santiago de Compostela has "more" to see and do than Bilbao-to pick another slightly isolated destination. In fact, you could go to the Vitra Design Museum campus (steps from Basel, Switzerland) and see a Gehry building from the outside, and tour every inch of Zaha Hadid's first constructed project, the Vitra Fire Station. (You could also visit a Gehry building in several U.S. cities.) But Switzerland, Germany, and France (among other countries) are loaded with a staggering quantity and quality of both old and new art museums. The Fondation Beyeler (in Basel) is among the most important modern art collections in the world. If only they had more display space.

I don't mean to pick on your husband, but I think you have not done enough preparation to use the three weeks to best advantage. Have you bought (or read at the library) Rick's introduction to travel books, (like Mona Winks, for example), and skimmed the books for the individual countries you're considering? Have you checked how expensive your time in Switzerland is going to be - even if the room is free?

I'm 63 myself, but have traveled enough that I don't find getting to the train station very stressful anymore. But you mentioned your desire not to spend too much time on train travel. The first trip we took to Europe was a week in Paris and a week in London, with local daytrips (like Versailles and Greenwich, for example.) Maybe you should think about closer together locations and fewer countries? Although I hate going through Heathrow, we went home from Santiago de Compstella because there are so many flights from Northern Spain to London. Could you interest yourselves in big cities that are well-connected? Look at a map of just Thalys trains, for a start. I mean like London-Brussels-Cologne-Amsterdam and home. Or if you have to include Zurich, London-Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Basel-Zurich. Did you give the month of travel yet-are you interested in mountain-Switzerland?

Another issue is whether your budget will permit only one trip to Europe in your retirement. That would justify a lot more time on trains.