Zurich and other larger cities in Switzerland are well worth a visit for sightseeing, shopping, museums, and exciting nightlife. However, for the most complete cultural and picturesque Swiss experience, visiting a few of the Alpine nation’s small villages is a must-do. Dozens of small towns dot the Swiss countryside oozing charm and surrounded by unforgettable views.
You’ll get an up-close look at medieval architecture, the ski resort culture, and post-card-perfect scenery while feeling as though you stepped into a Tolkien novel. Don’t leave Switzerland without visiting at least one of the following fairytale towns in Switzerland.
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Situated at the northwest end of its eponymous lake, Thun is considered the gateway to the Bernese Oberland. In addition to stunning views of the Aare River and Lake Thun, one of Switzerland’s largest and loveliest lakes, the town boasts a dazzling white 12th-century castle.
The castle itself is reason enough to visit the town of Thun. Located less than a mile from the lake, its five floors feature a historical museum with exhibits that highlight the region’s rich and fascinating history. From the castle’s corner towers, you’ll have marvelous views of the Alps and the lake. The Knight’s Hall is still intact in the mostly-original dungeon and hosts concerts and public events.
While exploring Thun’s famous castle is a must-do, you’ll want to stroll along the town’s cobblestone streets and ancient raised promenade to admire the row of traditional houses and browse the shops on different levels.
Lugano is the largest town in the Ticino region and is visited for its more temperate climate and Mediterranean flair. It has all the appearance of a world-class city and is Switzerland’s third most financial and conference center. Even so, it has all the eminence of a small town with quaint villas and flower-laden parks.
The town is situated on lovely Lake Lugano’s northern side with splendid views of numerous surrounding peaks. Monte San Salvatore and Monte Brè are the closest mountains. From here, you’ll have a panorama of the lake, the town, and the alpine scenery.
Lugano’s historic town center is traffic-free and features Mediterranean-style squares and arcades lined with Italianate Lombardy-style architecture. Located right on the shores of the lake, the Parco Civico is a magical place with subtropical foliage like olive and palm trees. The lakeside promenade will lead you to beautiful Belevedere Gardens filled with camellias, magnolias, and modern works of art.
Lucerne is located in the mostly German-speaking part of central Switzerland on the banks of Lake Lucerne. The town has stunning lake views along with views of Mt. Pilatus and Mt. Titlis.
Since the town straddles the Reuss River, it boasts several historic and modern bridges. One of the most memorable landmarks is the Chapel Bridge built from wood in the 14th century. It’s thought to be one of Europe’s oldest covered bridges and features 17th-century paintings that tell the story of the city’s history.
Lucerne’s Old Town is traffic-free and beckons visitors to stroll the streets to admire the medieval architecture and browse the Swiss authentic shops and stop by the inviting cafes.
Visiting Lucerne is a must-do day trip while in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city. It’s only a 45-minute ride away by train.
Interlaken is a popular tourist town located in the Bernese Oberland region. Its sparkling lakes and snow-capped peaks were the inspiration for artists during the 19th century, and the town’s beauty is captured in the works of Swiss artists such as Franz Niklaus König.
Today, Interlaken is frequented by backpackers and outdoor adventurers such as watersports and winter sports from windsurfing and kayaking to skiing and tobogganing. Because of its position, Interlaken has become a popular paragliding spot. Thrill-seeking paragliders fill the sky to take in glorious views of the lakes and mountains.
Interlaken is also the gateway to Switzerland’s Jungfrau region where you can climb aboard the Jungfraujoch Express to reach what’s called the “Top of Europe” at an altitude of over 11,332 feet.
Travelers who come to Interlaken can stay in one of a number of Victorian hotels that are listed as Swiss heritage sites of national significance.
Sometimes called the “Swiss Riviera,” Montreux is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland’s French-speaking region. It’s a pretty town with stunning historic architecture and a vibe that attracts artists, writers, and musicians. Home to the famous Montreux Jazz Festival, its storied musical history dates back to 1946 when the September Musical was founded. You’ll see a statue of him in town.
Then in 1991, Freddie Mercury made his final recording at the Queen Studio. Shania Twain used to call Montreux home, and Deep Purple recorded their iconic album Machine Head here.
In addition to a host of cultural attractions and events, Montreux has lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures all year long. You can go skiing and snowboarding in winter and hiking and biking through the vineyards of Lavaux in summer.
Zermatt is best known for the Matterhorn —brought to international attention when English explorer Edward Whymper conquered climbing the jutting peak in the mid-19th century. It’s also home to a world-famous skiing resort, one of the highest in Europe with skiing all year long.
Combining the charm of an Alpine village with the infrastructure of a modern town, Zermatt was founded on mountaineering. You can learn all about it at the Matterhorn Museum. Other historically significant attractions include the rock carvings and Hubelwäng’s prehistoric grinding stone.
There are countless things to do in Zermatt, many of which involve cable cars, chair lifts and mountain trains like the Gormergrat Bahn, Europe’s highest open-air railway. The views of the Alps are incomparable and the Matter Vispa river adds to the beauty. Its location on the border between Switzerland and Italy imparts a defining international flair to this small town that you’ll notice in the cafes and all around town.
Like many Swiss towns, Brig has a grand old historic quarter. Located in the Upper Valais, its history is linked to Simplon Pass, a thrilling alpine pass that begins just outside the town’s gates. During the 19th century, Napoleon built the first manmade road in Switzerland through the pass to move his armies.
You’ll find Stockalper Palace, an old baroque castle built between 1658 and 1678 in the historic quarter along with stately homes, hotels, and inns. The Bahnhofstrasse is lined with interesting shops to browse.
Brig is also a popular holiday destination for the Swiss and has a lot of amazing activities to offer for travelers. It’s near the best hiking and ski regions and has its own thermal baths. The exhilarating Brigerbad Baths is one of Switzerland’s largest open-air thermal centers. The town is also situated along the route of the Glacier Express, a scenic railway that connects Zermatt and St. Moritz via Andermatt.
St Moritz is a luxury resort town in Switzerland’s gorgeous Engadin Valley and home to one of the world’s most exclusive ski resorts. A notable sporting town, it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948, is home to the Cresta Run world champion bobsled race, and has an outdoor Olympic ice rink. Cricket, polo, and even horse racing are held on the town’s frozen lake. Other sporting events held here include sailing and windsurfing competitions.
Thanks to an elevation of 1,856 meters (6,089 ft), St. Moritz gets plenty of sunshine all year long. The sun became an emblem for the town in 1930. The altitude also makes for some dizzying views.
St Moritz also has mineral springs that were discovered 3,000 years ago. This helped establish the town as a summer spa.
Andermatt is a small town located in the heart of the Alps at the center of the Gothard Massif. A traditional, rustic ski village, it’s situated in a valley where eight mountain passes come together. The town is very picturesque and an excellent destination for winter sports. It’s known for the fluffiest fresh powder and the high altitude ensures plenty of it. Winter sports enthusiasts come to Andermatt for off-piste skiing. The ski lifts run from the village to Natschen and Gemsstock.
Visitors also come to Andermatt in the summer for hiking, mountain biking, and fishing. Explore Andermatt and the surrounding scenic panoramas on foot, in a horse-drawn post coach, or with a slow train ride aboard the Glacier Express.
Andermatt has some excellent eateries that serve classic Swiss dishes and some of the best places to enjoy a traditional fondue.
The small town of Gimmelwald (often confused with the better-known Grindelwald) is a hidden gem in the Bernese Alps. There are no roads to Gimmelwald and its remote location is only accessible by foot or by cable car.
The traffic-free sleepy farm village is so small there isn’t a school. The children have to travel to Lauterbrunnen to attend school. There are no glamorous ski resorts or fancy restaurants in Gimmelwald. Instead, you’ll feel happily stuck in the past amid quaint timber homes and creaky old hotels.
Perched high on a cliff, Gimmelwald has some of the best views in the Alps with towering peaks and valleys with alpine meadows.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get to the Swiss Alps?
Visitors coming from outside of Switzerland can take a flight to the nearest cities of Zurich, Geneva Bern, and Basel. Once inside Switzerland, the country’s excellent train system will get you there. You can also hire a car.
Which Swiss city is closest to the Alps?
Thun is the closest Swiss city to the Alps.
What is the nearest Swiss Alps town to Zurich?
At 52.6 km, Lucerne is the nearest Swiss Alps town to Zurich.