Switzerland’s spectacular mountain scenery and chocolate box villages draw satisfied crowds year after year. From mountainous sheep farms to metropolitan cities, this tiny European nation offers plenty for its crowds of tourists. But where should you go if you need some space for yourself? Here are eight of Switzerland’s most underrated places and why you should visit.
For many countries, the capital city is the main drawcard, yet the capital, Bern, is often overshadowed by Geneva, Basel, and Zurich. But a visit to Bern is anything but disappointing. Scare the kids by showing them the Kindlifresser, or Child Eater, one of the city’s oldest fountain sculptures. Visit Albert Einstein’s flat on Kramgasse where he lived while publishing some of his most important work. And don’t leave without following the trail of the creatures that give the city its name. Though the Bärengraben no longer has resident bears, the city’s ursine connection is reflected in sculptures, cookies, and souvenirs aplenty.
While the Pilatusbahn basks in the attention it receives as the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, its popularity means you’ll garner no bragging rights for taking a ride. Instead, head to the underrated and overlooked Niesenbahn. This funicular has linked the village of Mülenen to the summit of the Niesen since it opened in 1910. With a maximum gradient of 68%, it is one of the country’s most incredible feats of engineering. As you climb higher and higher, enjoy postcard-perfect views of the Alps and the glittering Lake Thun.
Bellinzona, often passed over for its more glamorous neighbor Lugano, has not one but three medieval castles and makes the UNESCO World Heritage list. Pause on the way to wander its alleyways and piazzas, admiring elegant mansions and centuries-old churches. Escape the cobblestone streets and take to the hills for some light hiking that will offer gorgeous views of the mountain-backed castles. And definitely don’t miss the Saturday market.
Pretty old towns are spread liberally throughout Switzerland’s diverse cantons but Thun is a smart choice if you want all of the charm with none of the hordes. Located on the River Aare, the old town’s a delightful pit stop if you’re planning to explore the Bernese Oberland. Get your bearings with a visit to Schadau Park to see the Thun-Panorama. Standing over seven metres tall and 38 metres long, this 360° circular painting shows you what you’d have been looking at had you visited Thun a couple of hundred years ago.
This emerald green body of water is one of the Bernese Oberland’s hidden gems and is easily reached from Kandersteg. A gondola carries you up the mountains above the village and from there you can hike to the shore of the lake, hire a boat, and row, row, row away. Hike back the scenic route to the valley below, or there’s an Alpine slide if you want to come down the easy way.
Rail enthusiasts riding Switzerland’s famous Glacier Express will pause only briefly at Chur’s railway station, but savvy travelers will know they should break their journey here. It’s thought that Chur might just be the oldest city in the country and they have the archaeological remains to prove it. Plus, there’s a whole host of other historic attractions including a pedestrian-only old town with enough churches, museums, shops and cafés to make it worth missing the next day’s train as well.
Lavaux Wine District
Often touted as the world's most beautiful wine district, the sloping vineyards of Lavaux offer a restful respite from endless Alpine hiking. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the vineyards in this region are more than a pretty face. This region has been producing wine since the days of the Romans, and were built by monks in the eleventh century. They produce some spectacular wine, which you can enjoy in the many towns surrounding Lake Geneva.
This oft-passed over village has never gotten its proper due. Squished between adventure capital Interlaken and on the way to the famous Jungfraujoch, most travelers simply pass through this little gem. But if you're seeking a quiet respite in the middle of the action, Wengen can be a wonderful place to stop. Hike through dairy farms fields, admiring the incredible views of the photogenic Lauterbrunnen Valley. Take the cablecar to the top of Manlichen and hike into nearby Grindelwald for a "cosmopolitan" afternoon. With delightful hikes in the summer and ski trails in the winter, Wengen is an adorable gem that offers the best of Switzerland.