Switzerland 5-Day Itinerary: The Best Of Central Switzerland

5 day itinerary switzerland

Switzerland has so many gorgeous places to see that it can be overwhelming trying to fit everything in just five days. But it’s possible as long as you don’t prioritize sleep during the trip, and you’re willing to focus on just one region.

This itinerary explores all the top sights in Central Switzerland, from the Old Town of Zurich to the tall summits around Grindelwald. It includes busy cities, medieval old towns, rivers, lakes, and some of the country’s highest peaks, so it covers all the best of Switzerland’s spectacular nature. At the same time, it leaves plenty undiscovered for subsequent trips!

Day 1 – Zurich & Lucerne

Arriving At Zurich

The SBB ticket office at Zurich airport
The SBB ticket office at Zurich airport

The Zurich airport is the largest and busiest one in Switzerland, so I’m assuming that’s where you’re going to land. You can easily get from the airport to the city center in 10-15 minutes if you take the train.

Full-price tickets for the trains are just under 7 CHF, and there’s a new train every 5-10 minutes. Uber and taxis are also an option, but they’re significantly more expensive (30-45 CHF) and can take longer than the train depending on traffic conditions.

Morning Tour of Zurich

Grossmunster in Zurich
Grossmunster in Zurich

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and you could easily spend five days discovering just its attractions. But I’m trying to pack many sights into this itinerary, so you only get half a day in Zurich.

You can still see the city’s most important landmarks in just half a day. Whether you want to do a self-guided tour or book a guided one is up to you, but I would recommend a guided tour because it will be quicker. A Segway or bike tour of Zurich is particularly great for discovering most of the city in a short amount of time. 

zurich bahnhofstrasse shopping
Bahnhofstrasse

A standard tour of Zurich’s Old Town almost always includes: 

  • Bahnhofstrasse (the longest shopping street in the city)
  • Fraumunster
  • Grossmunster
  • St. Peter’s Church
  • Zurich Opera House
  • Lake Zurich
Grossmunster, Zurich
Grossmunster, Zurich

Some tours include a quick tour of Lindenhof, the hill near Zurich’s Old Town. It offers a pretty view of the city’s rooftops, but there’s really no reason to prioritize visiting it if you have very limited time in Zurich.

When you’re done with the tour of Zurich’s top sights, head to the Zurich HB train station and board a train to Switzerland. You can buy sandwiches at the station and eat them on the train to save the most time.

Afternoon in Lucerne

The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne
The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne
  • Train from Zurich: 40-50 minutes

Lucerne has an entirely different vibe from Zurich, which you’ll notice if you explore both cities in a single day. Its old town is absolutely lovely with walkable city walls and many medieval buildings.

Because Lucerne is much smaller than Zurich, you can easily see all the top attractions in a single afternoon. There’s no need to book a guided tour because most landmarks are in the old town.

LandmarksTime To Spend HereWalking Time to Next Place
Torbogen Luzern5 minutes6 minutes
Jesuit Church10-15 minutes5 minutes
Spreuer Bridge10-15 minutes5 minutes
Lucerne Old Town30-60 minutes10 minutes
Museggmauer10-20 minutes15 minutes
Lion Monument10-20 minutes8 minutes
St. Leodegar Church10-20 minutes8 minutes
The Chapel Bridge20 minutes
Average times for a self-guided walking tour of Lucerne
The Lion Monument in Lucerne
The Lion Monument in Lucerne

Depending on how much time you allocate for each of the attractions, expect to spend 2-4 hours exploring Lucerne. A few things to note:

  • The Spreuer Bridge features artworks just like the Chapel Bridge
  • See the city squares and Town Hall with Clock Tower in Lucerne Old Town
  • Three (of nine) towers along Museggmauer are open to the public
  • The Lion Monument is an iconic Lucerne landmark carved into the rock face
  • The churches are small, so you don’t need much time for those
Musegg Wall Lucerne
Musegg Wall Lucerne

If you’re going to do the itinerary in this order, it makes sense to see the Chapel Bridge last so you don’t waste any time walking back and forth. It’s illuminated at night and you can easily see all the artworks even if there’s no daylight, plus the view from the bridge is entirely different after dark. 

You deserve a break in the evening and the best way to relax in Switzerland is to enjoy a fondue with a glass of (white) wine. There are several excellent fondue restaurants in Lucerne, but Hotel Des Alpes has by far the best views of the Reuss River and the Chapel Bridge. Just make sure to follow the proper fondue etiquette and you’ll fit right in with the locals. 

Day 2 – Interlaken & Surroundings

Interlaken from above
An aerial view of Interlaken
  • Lucerne to Interlaken train: 1 hour 50 minutes

Depending on where you’ve spent the night in Lucerne you might get a chance to cross the Chapel Bridge again to get to the train station. A direct train will take you to Interlaken in less than two hours, but you can also choose not to take the direct train.

Heck, you can even travel via Bern if you want – it doesn’t make much sense because the journey is at least half an hour longer, but it’s an option.

Note: At the moment of writing this, it’s necessary to travel by bus on part of the route because of engineering work on the railroad.

Skydiving in Interlaken
Skydiving in Interlaken

The direct train from Lucerne to Interlaken is the best option to save time, but also because the journey is incredibly scenic. You’ll pass next to several lakes on either side of the train (sit on the left to see Lakes Lucerne and Brienz) and experience views of the towering Alps. 

A visit to Interlaken is the perfect opportunity to try something new and exciting. This town has the most adventure sports operators in Switzerland, and if you’re into that kind of thing you’ll have the time of your life in Interlaken. Most adventure sports operators in Interlaken offer:

  • Rafting
  • Paragliding
  • Sky diving
  • Bungy jumping
  • Canyoning

If any of that sounds even remotely fun to you, then great. Outdoor Interlaken is one of the top companies for these things, and they usually operate in the summer. Spend the morning paragliding or jumping out of a helicopter from a height of 4,000 meters, and then go for a quick cruise on Lake Thun.

Boat Rides On Lakes Thun and Brienz

Steam boat Lake Thun
Steam boat Lake Thun

Tip: The BLS day card for lakes Thun and Brienz allows for a cruise on both lakes, as well as free transport between Interlaken West and Interlaken Ost. 

  • The boat from Interlaken to Thun takes approximately two hours
  • The boats run from April to November
  • See the Thun Castle
  • Alternatively, see the Oberhofen Castle (shorter cruise)

A cruise on Lake Brienz is the perfect way to spend your evening in Interlaken. The lake is turquoise because of the glacial waters, and it’s just mesmerizing to observe the water from the deck. Head to Giessbach and see the waterfalls – the cruise on Lake Brienz is only an hour long and you’ll also get a glimpse of the lovely town of Iseltwald along the way. 

Day 3 Schilthorn & Lauterbrunnen

Schilthorn
Cable car from Murren to Schilthorn
  • Interlaken to Schilthorn: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Operating Times: 7 AM to 10 PM year-round

Get up as early as you can (around 6 AM would be great) to really make the most of your day in Interlaken. First, we’re heading to Schilthorn, so you can walk in the shoes of James Bond for a couple of hours. 

Interlaken To Schilthorn

View from Schilthorn
View from Schilthorn

Schilthorn is famous for Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant at the top of the mountain that was prominently featured in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This was such an important event for the place that there’s a museum dedicated to the film at the summit, as well as a restaurant where you can have a martini (shaken, not stirred) and a 007 burger.

Here’s what you need to know about traveling from Interlaken to Schilthorn:

  • The easiest route is via Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg
  • Total travel time is 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Tickets are 75 CHF (full-price, one-way)
  • All roads lead to Murren, where the cable cars to Schilthorn run every 30 minutes
  • Travel early in the day to avoid crowds

At Schilthorn you can see an interactive exhibit dedicated to James Bond, which even includes a simulation helicopter ride. An observation deck in front of the restaurant offers a panorama of the surrounding summits, and in the summer it’s even possible to explore the hiking trails atop the mountain.

Consider getting out at the Birg station as well, if only for the observation deck and the Thrill Walk. The views are great, but it’s also very exciting to stand on a platform suspended from the mountain with only a thick layer of glass protecting you from the abyss below.

Schilthorn – Stechelberg – Lauterbrunnen

Trummelbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen
Trummelbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen

When you’re done with Spy World and the other fun things at Schilthorn, head back to Murren in the cable car. Retrace your steps back to Stechelberg, but this time take a bus there to Trummelbach Falls

This is a very popular system of glacier waterfalls inside a mountain, so it’s a very fascinating attraction. There’s a walking path that guides you through the tunnels, and the only thing you need to know is that it’s very slippery, so sturdy footwear is required. It’s possible to visit the falls between April and November.

Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen
Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen

Next, get back on the bus and head to Lauterbrunnen and go see the Staubbach Falls before your train back to Interlaken. This is the most famous waterfall in Central Switzerland, and at the very least you should take a photo at the bottom of the fall. You can also check out the church in town – it’s small but lovely. 

Alternatively, you can hike from Stechelberg to Lauterbrunnen. It’s only about an hour and 15 minutes and you’ll see many waterfalls along the way. But, do it only if you have enough time left over in the day, and then head back to Interlaken or wherever you’re staying.

Day 4 Jungfraujoch

The Sphinx Observatory at Top of Europe, Jungfraujoch
The Sphinx Observatory at Top of Europe, Jungfraujoch

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  • Interlaken to Jungfraujoch: Approximately 90 minutes
  • Operating Hours: 8 AM – 6 PM

I won’t go into too many details here because I already wrote a super detailed guide on Jungfraujoch that covers every little thing you should know about the trip. 

It takes approximately an hour and a half to travel to Jungfraujoch from Interlaken, and it includes a ride on a regular train, then a gondola ride (Eiger Express), and then a cogwheel train (Jungfraujochbahn). This trip should only be done on clear days because fog and clouds will obstruct the views and you won’t see anything.

The Eiger Express gondola to Jungfraujoch

Jungfraujoch is home to Top of Europe, a visitor’s center that’s home to Europe’s highest train station and post office. Highlights of the Top of Europe are:

  • Eismeer (the train stops here for 5 minutes before climbing to Jungfraujoch)
  • Jungfraujoch Panorama (video exhibit on the area)
  • The Ice Palace (featuring ice sculptures, it’s freezing inside)
  • The Alpine Corridor (homage to workers who built the complex)
  • Sphinx Observation Deck (fabulous panoramic views of the Alps)
  • Lindt Chocolate Shop (highest in the world)
  • Snow Fun Park (skiing, snowboarding, sledding, tubing, zipline)
The Ice Palace at Top of Europe, Jungfraujoch
The Ice Palace at Top of Europe, Jungfraujoch

There’s also Monchjochshutte, a hut for hikers to spend the night if they want to climb the Monch. The hut is open from March to October and it only takes 35 minutes to walk to it from the Top of Europe.

Plan to spend at least 4-5 hours here so you can really make the most of your visit, and try to get there as early as possible in the morning to avoid crowds. The early morning trains are usually not busy and you don’t have to pay for a seat reservation.

Jungfraujoch – Grindelwald

Grindelwald village

You should be back in Grindelwald at 6-7 PM at the latest, and take this time to explore the town a little bit. If it’s still relatively early in the day, don’t ride trains the entire route back to Grindelwald. This is doable only in the summer, but you can walk from Eiger to Kleine Scheidegg. It’s only an hour on a well-developed hiking trail, and the entire time you’re going downhill so it’s suitable for non-hikers.

It’s even possible to walk from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald via the Eiger Ultra Trail, but it will take nearly three hours and the trail is suitable only for hikers in good physical condition. Consider a quick trip to the Grindelwald Gorge/Canyon instead, if there’s still daylight when you’re back in town.

Day 5 – Grindelwald First

Gondola from Grindelwald to First
Gondola from Grindelwald to First
  • Interlaken to Grindelwald First: 50 minutes

Day five is your last day in Switzerland, and you’re about to make the most of it. Sleeping in is out of the question, so set your alarm for dawn and make a gallon of coffee to keep you fueled throughout the day.

Take a train to Grindewald – if you’re still in Interlaken, it should take you about half an hour to get there. The car-free village is picturesque, with spectacular views of Jungfrau, Eiger, and Monch. Take a few photos and get on the cable car to Grindelwald First, where you will spend most of this day – the gondola ride should take approximately 25 minutes.

First Cliff Walk
First Cliff Walk

The First mountain peak is a spectacular place known for enchanting and dramatic views, countless hiking trails, and Alpine lakes. It’s the epitome of the Swiss landscape, and you can spend your time there however you like: 

  • Bring a picnic basket and lounge on the grass the entire time
  • Hike to Bachalpsee Lake for fabulous reflections of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in the water
  • Do the First cliff walk (steel walkway beginning at gondola station)
  • Ride the First Flyer (zipline that develops speeds up to 84 km/h during the 800-meter run)
Trottibike in Grindelwald, First
Trottibike in Grindelwald, First

Another fun thing to do at First is to ride the mountain go-carts from Schreckfeld to Bort. Schreckfeld is the gondola station just below First, and the dirt track to Bort is incredibly fun and exciting. It’s suitable even for kids who are at least 135 cm tall. But you should only do this once you’re ready to descend from the mountain back to Grindelwald.

Then at Bort, you can get Trottibikes to ride all the way down to Grindewald. This is very fun and thrilling, but it’s not recommended for people who have little to no experience in mountain biking. The road down to the village is shared with cars and you might encounter some along the way. It’s a steep descent and if you’re not confident controlling the speed on the bike, it will probably be scary and not really exciting for you.

Männlichen and Wengen

Eiger view from the Männlichen Panorama Trail
Eiger view from the Männlichen Panorama Trail
  • Interlaken to Wengen: 37 minutes

First is a relatively busy mountain with lots of fun things to do, which often attracts visitors who don’t usually spend their free time on the mountain. If you’d prefer to avoid crowds and spend your final day in Switzerland exploring mesmerizing nature, you don’t have to go to First or Grindelwald at all.

Instead, go to Wengen and Männlichen. The village and the mountain get fewer visitors than Grindelwald and First and offer even more hiking trails, so they’re the better destination for travelers who just want to go out and explore.

Panoramaweg, Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg
Panoramaweg, Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

Tip: Book a seat on the roof of the cable car from Wengen to Männlichen. It’s a unique and wonderful experience.

You can hike from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg in a little more than an hour, and even to Fallbodense in an extra 20 minutes. The Alpine lake is very scenic, and you might even see cows grazing nearby. 

From Kleine Scheidegg you can ride a cogwheel train back to Lauterbrunnen. Enjoy the views one final time before you head back to Interlaken and eventually Zurich.

Alternative For Days 4 and 5

Car-free Zermatt
A view of Zermatt and Matterhorn

If one 3,000-meter summit is enough for you, skip Jungfraujoch on day four and take a train to Zermatt instead. Zermatt is a car-free village known for fabulous views of the Matterhorn, excellent skiing opportunities, and the Gornergrat Railway.

Ride the train all the way to Gornegrat (33 minutes) and you can:

  • Hike to Monte Rosa Hut
  • Hike to Riffelhorn
  • See a glacier
  • Hang out with sheep
  • Go mountain biking

… and much more!

You can also visit the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise from Zermatt, and definitely do this if you didn’t go to Jungfraujoch and you missed the Aletsch glacier. A gondola can take you from the station at the southern end of the village, and it’s only 30 minutes to Klein Matterhorn. 

What To Bring To Switzerland

backpacking switzerland
Hiking in Switzerland

Make sure to bring the following things so you have everything you need in Switzerland:

  • Insulated jacket (you’ll need it for the tall summits even in the summer)
  • SPF (the sun is no joke at an altitude of 3,000 meters)
  • Reusable water bottle (tap water is safe for drinking, don’t waste money on bottled water)
  • Postcards (mail them from Europe’s highest post office)
  • Waterproof hiking boots (for the mountains and rainy days)
  • Portable charger (a necessity if you are buying tickets through the SBB mobile app)

Train Passes For Switzerland 5-Day Itinerary

Here’s an overview of the cost of train tickets, versus what you can expect to spend if you buy the half-fare card or the Swiss Travel Pass:

This is an overall estimate and you should use it as a guideline. Ticket prices are subject to change, and supersaver tickets (for trains at a specific time) are cheaper than standard tickets. As it stands, the monthly Half-Fare Card offers the best value for money overall.

Tip: The Swiss Travel Pass is available only for four or six days. It’s cheaper to buy the 4-day pass and activate it on your second day while paying the full price for train tickets from Zurich to Lucerne, especially if you can get supersaver tickets.

Best Time To Visit Switzerland

Eiger in the summer
Eiger in the summer

The best time to visit Switzerland is between May and October for this itinerary. I’ve included a few boat rides, which are only possible in the summer and shoulder seasons.

The same goes for many hiking trails and fun adventure activities – some might be available in the winter season, but the vast majority are only in operation in the summer, when there’s no snow on the ground.

Where To Start/End The Journey

zurich airport switzerland
Zurich Airport

Zurich is the ideal beginning of the journey because it has the biggest/busiest airport and the most connections to other destinations in Switzerland.

This itinerary explores multiple destinations in Central Switzerland, but I’ve imagined it so you’re staying in Interlaken for most of the journey. That’s because Interlaken has some of the most affordable accommodation options in the region, as well as plenty of connections to the surrounding villages and cities. A direct train will take you back from Interlaken to Zurich Airport in 2 hours and 15 minutes, so it should also be effortless to travel back for your flight home.

Map for the 5-Day Switzerland Itinerary

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is Five Days Enough For Switzerland? 

Five days is almost enough time for Switzerland. You won’t have enough time to explore a lot of the country, but you can do a speed run of the top sights in the most famous towns and the best natural landmarks in Central Switzerland.

How Much Money Do I Need For Five Days In Switzerland?

You need approximately 1000 CHF for five days in Switzerland. This should cover the cost of train passes and experiences and (cheaper) accommodation and meals. If you want to stay at mid-range hotels, eat at restaurants, and travel first-class, you’ll need a budget of at least 2,000 CHF. 

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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