Best Boat Rides in Switzerland (10 Lakes)

boat rides in Switzerland

Boat rides are immensely popular in Switzerland, whether we’re talking about short lake cruises or multi-day river cruises. From passenger ferries to the best gastro tours, I’ve compiled an extensive list of all the best boat rides in Switzerland. 

Whether you want to spend half an hour on a boat or do a cruise that will take up half a day, you’ve got options. Even week-long river cruises are available, which will take you to a different country and allow you to explore the heart of Western Europe. From Lake Constance to Lake Geneva, here are all the best boat rides in Switzerland! 

Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne offers some of the best boat rides in the entire country. Sure, all of the lakes mentioned in the rest of this guide are lovely and offer scenic views, but cruises on Lake Lucerne are actually included in Switzerland’s panoramic train excursions. The Gotthard Panorama Express includes a boat ride from Fluelen to Lucerne, and it’s just as good as the train ride. 

Trips to Mt. Pilatus can also include a short but scenic boat ride (from Lucerne to Vitznau), and it’s the best way of traveling to the summit. It’s the same with Mt. Rigi, which is on the opposite lake shore. Whether you want to travel to a tall mountain summit or just experience a romantic dinner during a boat cruise, Lake Lucerne doesn’t disappoint. 

Other popular cruises on Lake Lucerne take you to Weggis, Hersiwill, and Beckenried. Many towns on the shore have piers, and each has something wonderful to offer, so don’t hesitate to get off the boat and explore whenever you see a sight you like. Don’t worry about the tickets if you have the Swiss Travel Pass because all passenger ferries are included for free with the pass. 

Lake Zurich 

Lake Zurich

Lake Zurich is a relatively small lake, at least when compared to some others in Switzerland. But it has a lot of traffic, and it’s a great lake for boat rides. Whether you want to go on a romantic sightseeing cruise or travel to another town on the shore, Lake Zurich is a great destination. 

Ferries to nearby towns are best if you’re looking for cheap rides. I recommend a boat ride to Kilchberg – it’s short and affordable, and when you reach the destination you can tour the Lindt Home of Chocolate. Standard passenger ferries should be covered with the Swiss Travel Pass, but not themed and gastro cruises. 

Boat rides to Rapperswil are also very popular. Adults visit the city to explore the historic buildings in the old town, while families with children prefer to spend their time at the local zoo. 

Finally, I must mention that Zurich offers the unique opportunity to combine a river cruise with a lake cruise. Head to the docks at Bürkliplatz, where you can board boats that will take you on a cruise on the Limmat River, which offers spectacular sights of Zurich’s old town. Then you’ll turn around and set sail on Lake Zurich, for even more wonderful views. 

Lake Brienz and Lake Thun

Lake Brienz

Lake Brienz and Lake Thun are both very popular for boat rides. Both lakes are easily accessible from the docks in Interlaken, and one daily pass allows you to go on as many boat rides as you want on either lake in 24 hours. 

If you already have a travel pass for Switzerland, you can get a 50% discount on the daily pass. It’s excellent value for money because you can explore many lovely towns and landmarks on the shore of either like. Some highlights include: 

  • Thun Castle
  • St. Beatus Caves
  • Iseltwald
  • Brienz
  • Giessbach Falls

There’s more to enjoy but those are the top sights on the shores of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, and you could visit them all in one day! 

One thing to note is that both lakes also offer themed cruises and culinary cruises. Tickets for these experiences are significantly more expensive since they include meals, but are a very romantic way of experiencing either Swiss lake. 

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) is the largest lake in Switzerland. As such, it offers a wide variety of fun and interesting boat rides, from quick transfers between towns to gastro cruises. All standard rides on passenger ferries are free with the Swiss Travel Pass. The best season for Lake Geneva boat rides is April to October because cruise frequency is reduced in the colder season. 

Some of my favorite cruises on the lake are from Geneva and Montreux. Ride a boat from Geneva to Lausanne, stopping at the charming town of Morges. Plenty of other towns on the western shore are worth visiting, on both the French and Swiss sides of the lake. 

I prefer the eastern shore for the dramatic views of the tall mountains. Boat rides from Montreux are always fun, especially the quick trips to Chateau de Chillon

Lake Constance 

Lake Constance

Lake Constance is in the northeast of the country and cruises on this lake are special because you can visit two countries during one boat ride. Depart from Rorschach or Arbon to lakefront cities in Germany or Austria. Rides to Mainau Island are always a fun and delightful experience. 

My favorite cruises on this lake are all in the Lower Lake Constanz section. Ride a boat to Reichenau Island from the Swiss part of the lake, and you’ll experience a wonderful cruise on both a lake and a river. Travel to Konstanz to enjoy a panoramic cruise followed by a walking tour of a medieval old town. 

The most popular cruise on the eastern side of the lake is the round trip from Rorschach to Lindau and back to Rorschach. You’ll cover more than 60 kilometers during the two-hour boat ride and pass next to the Rhine River delta. 

Lake Lugano 

Lake Lugano

Straddling the border of Switzerland and Italy, Lake Lugano is a very popular destination in the south of the country. Boat rides on the lake allow you to explore two different countries, and numerous smaller towns and villages along the shore. 

One of the most popular cruises on the lake is from Lugano to Gandria. The 30-minute boat ride is covered with the Swiss Travel Pass, and it’s the only way to reach the quaint Swiss Customs Museum in Gandria. 

Swissminiatur Park in Melide also has its own pier. If you can, travel from Lugano by boat to the theme park, and then spend a couple of hours enjoying all the miniature versions of Switzerland’s most famous attractions. The boat trip is only 30 minutes long, and you can always travel back by train or bus. 

Finally, don’t miss out on the chance to visit Campione d’Italia. The small Italian enclave is entirely surrounded by the Ticino Canton and it’s a lovely place to visit. 

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore is one of the largest lakes in Switzerland, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s also one of the best for boat rides. Cruises on Lago Maggiore offer wonderful scenic views, but also the opportunity to visit some unique Swiss landmarks. 

I’m thinking of the Brissago Islands with their famous botanical garden. This is one of the best things to do in the area in the summer, so head to Ranco sopra Ascona for a quick boat transfer to the small islands. 

Ascona and Locarno are the two largest towns on the northern shore of the lake. But keep in mind that only a small part of this massive lake is in Switzerland; the vast majority is on the Italian side, and some of the best cruises actually take place in Italy. 

Stresa has some of the best cruises on Lake Maggiore. Arrange a private tour of Borromean Islands to discover a fabulous Palazzo floating on the lake, or just board one of the standard ferries and let it take you to a charming Italian town on the lake shore. 

Lake Zug 

Lake Zug

Lake Zug is the 10th largest in Switzerland with some of the best culinary boat rides in the country. If you’re tired of fondue dinners, Lake Zug is the destination for you because it offers a variety of gastro cruises that don’t include cheese in any form. Sushi cruises are popular on Lake Zug, as are their unique Crepes cruises! 

Culinary cruises have a special price and aren’t covered with travel passes, so keep that in mind. A cheaper way of experiencing a boat ride on Lake Zug is to board one of the standard passenger ferries. The most popular ride is from Zug to Arth; it takes about an hour to cross the distance of some 14 kilometers, allowing you to explore almost the entire length of the lake. 

From Zug, you can also go to Cham. It’s only a 15-minute ride, and once you disembark you can explore the lovely Park Villette. The vast green space is an oasis of serenity, offering stunning views of the lake and beautifully landscaped surroundings. 

Three Lakes Cruises

Lake Neuchatel

If you travel to western Switzerland you’ll have the unique opportunity to visit three lakes on one boat ride. Lakes Biel, Murten, and Neuchatel are connected by narrow canals, which allow to you explore all three lakes during the same cruise. And you don’t have to get off the boat anywhere!

Board a boat at either Biel or Murten and enjoy the 4-hour ride. You’ll see vineyards, tall mountain summits, and quite a few charming towns during this wonderful experience. 

The only downside of this unique cruise is that you don’t get to spend too much time on Lake Neuchatel. I recommend returning to the majestic lake once you’ve completed the 4-hour cruise; it is the largest lake that lies entirely in Switzerland and offers many wonderful sights along its shores. 

Rhine Cruises Basel

River Rhine in Basel

Lakes aren’t the only bodies of water that offer cruises in Switzerland. River cruises are also popular and Rhine River offers some of Europe’s best river cruises. By far the best one is the cruise from Basel to Amsterdam, which takes approximately 8 days. 

Travel through four different countries and discover some amazing landscapes in Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. You’ll stop at several big cities, each with its own unique historic landmarks and natural attractions. 

Castles, medieval towns, and fabulous views are all to be expected from Rhine River cruises from Basel. Also, boat trips to Frankfurt and Nuremberg are available. They’re shorter than cruises to Amsterdam, and generally a bit more affordable. 

Tips for Boat Rides in Switzerland

Consider these tips to ensure you always have the best time when riding boats in Switzerland: 

  • Always check if the boat ride is included in the Swiss Travel Pass (passenger ferries should be free)
  • Purchase tickets online a couple of days earlier when visiting in peak season
  • Reserve a table at the onboard restaurant for a guaranteed seat during longer boat rides
  • Don’t be afraid to get off the boat and explore – you can always travel back by another boat, train, or bus 
  • Gastro and themed cruises are more private but also expensive
  • Private boat tours of some Alpine lakes are available 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which lake cruise is best in Switzerland?

A panoramic cruise on Lake Lucerne is the best boat ride in Switzerland. Cruises on lakes Brienz, Thun, Zurich, and Geneva are also a wonderful experience. 

Is a boat ride in Interlaken free with the Swiss Pass?

Yes, the Swiss Travel Pass grants you free boat rides from Interlaken. You can travel on both Lake Thun and Lake Brienz for free, but only on the regular passenger ferries. 

Is the Lake Brienz cruise free with the Swiss Pass?

Yes, the Swiss Travel Pass includes a free cruise on Lake Brienz. Only the regular boat transfers are free; themed and culinary cruises have an extra surcharge. 

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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