Interested in seeing all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Switzerland has to offer on your next visit to this beautiful country?
Switzerland has a number of gems on the UNESCO World Heritage list and we’ll take a look at them all in detail below. For where they are, what makes them special, and how to get to each one.
Table of Contents
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings Around the Alps
One of the oldest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Switzerland is the prehistoric pile dwellings. There are more than 100 pile dwellings spread around the Alps and 56 of them are in Switzerland.
The prehistoric pile dwellings date back to between 5000 and 500 BC and showcase how humans existed in the Alps up to 7000 years ago in the Bronze and Neolithic ages. A lot of the pile dwellings are still intact, which says something about their build quality.
Almost all of these dwellings were built around water such as lakes or rivers and you can find a lot of them around the shores of Lake Zurich. There is actually a site in Zurich where the Limmat river exits Lake Zurich on the former island of Grosser Hafner with dwellings from all ages.
You can also find some of the best pile-dwelling sites around the shores of Lake Biel.
Old City of Berne
One of the best-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Switzerland is the Old City of Bern. Bern’s medieval Old Town dates back to the 12th century and apart from a fire in the 15th century which created some need for restoration, it has pretty much remained unchanged.
The appearance and layout of Old Town Bern have been immaculately preserved and features old cobblestoned streets, small alleyways, Renaissance fountains, traditional houses, and lots more.
In fact, you have more than 6 km of streets to explore in Old Town Bern and some of the sites not to miss are the stunning cathedral, clock tower, churches, and the prison tower too.
Nestled on the banks of the Aare River with the Alps in the background, wandering around this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a great experience in Switzerland’s capital.
You can find info about Bern’s Old Town here.
Monte San Giorgio
Would you have thought that parts of Switzerland were more than 100 meters under the ocean millions of years ago? Monte San Giorgio is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that proves this.
Known as the “wooden mountain” as it is covered in forest, Monte San Giorgio is located on the shores of Lake Lugano in southern Switzerland, right next to the Italian border.
Monte San Giorgio is home to an incredible number of marine fossils which were deposited there some 240 million years ago in the Triassic Period and is recognized as one of the top records of marine life from that time.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Monte San Giorgio also holds valuable fossils of plants, land animals, and insects as it was also near land. It truly is a treasure trove for fossil hunters and you can see what was found from the mountain at the Meride Museum.
Monte San Giorgio is also a wonderful place to hike with stunning views across the lake and into the pre-alps.
Three Castles of Bellinzona
Another of the great UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Switzerland is also in the Lake Lugano area. The Three Castles of Bellinzona are the only example of medieval military architecture in the Alpine Arc that you can visit today.
The Three Castles of Bellinzona consist of Castello Montebello, Castello Sasso Corbaro, and Castelgrande which also feature ancient fortified walls.
They were built between the 13th and 15th centuries in order to protect the town of Bellinzona and the important trade route through the valley and the Saint Gotthard pass.
Visiting the Three Castles of Bellinzona is a delight. You can actually see them all in one day by starting at the highest one and walking down to the next two. The architecture of each castle is very impressive with towers, gates, walls, and lots more.
Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces
Most people don’t know that the Swiss make wine, and this is mainly because most of it is kept and drunk in Switzerland.
But, as is evidenced by one of Switzerland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Vineyard Terraces of Lavaux on the shores of Lake Geneva, the Swiss have been making wine since the 11th century and perhaps before.
The Vineyards of Lavaux are close to 900 hectares in size and encompass towns, villages, and a large part of the hillsides along Lake Geneva. The vineyards begin outside Lausanne in the Vaud and stretch for 30 km along the lake to Chateau de Chillon.
It is thought the vines became established when monasteries started managing the land. Enclosed in stone walls, the vines are said to benefit from 3 suns. The sun, reflection off Lake Geneva, and the heating effect of the walls.
Abbey of St. Gall
Sitting in northern Switzerland close to the shores of Lake Constance is another of the great Swiss UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Abbey of St. Gall is located in the town of St Gallen and was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983.
One of the most famous Swiss churches, the Abbey District of St Gall dates back to the 8th century and today is made up of a series of different buildings including a Cathedral and the Abbey Library.
The Library is one of the oldest in the world and is home to an astounding collection that includes more than 170,000 manuscripts and books. A part of this collection includes an architectural plan written on parchment, the earliest of its kind.
While the library is astounding, the architecture of the Baroque hall and cathedral are also incredible. You can also see an old Egyptian mummy that is more than 2000 years old. A visit to the Abbey of St Gall is very much worth it!
Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch
One of my favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit in Switzerland is the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region.
Located in south-central Switzerland, the Jungfrau-Aletsch region UNESCO World Heritage Site is a part of the Bernese Alps and is made up of an area of 82,400 hectares.
It was listed as a world heritage site due to its beauty and being a valuable hive of information about glaciers, mountains, and the changing climate.
The Jungfrau-Aletsch region is the largest glaciated part of Western Eurasia. Home to the beautiful Aletsch Glacier as well as mountain peaks, valleys, and a load of special flora and fauna, it is both an interesting and stunning place to see.
The views are incredible, you can ski on the glacier, even in summer, and hiking around the range of landscapes and habitats is nothing short of spectacular.
Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes
One of the great UNESCO World Heritage Sites that you can still ride on today in Switzerland is the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes.
The Rhaetian Railway has been in use since 1904 and is an incredible example of Swiss railway engineering that connects Thusis in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy. The railway traverses the Alps over 120 km and via two mountain passes and is made of 196 viaducts and bridges, 55 tunnels, and passes through some 20 alpine settlements.
The implementation of the railway changed life in the remote Alps forever and along with being an incredible feat of engineering gave it what it needed to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Riding this route is nothing short of amazing as you wind your way through some of the most stunning mountain scenery the world has to offer!
Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair
Sitting in Eastern Switzerland close to the Italian border is another of Switzerland’s great UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair.
The Benedictine Convent of Müstair dates back to the 8th century and is listed as a site due to it being a fantastic example of a Christian monastic structure from that time (the Carolingian period).
Inside the convent are Romanesque frescoes and stuccoes as well as murals that date back to around 800 AD which are the greatest examples of such work in Switzerland.
Today, it is a religious place of practice for Benedictine nuns. It is a wonderful place to visit and the natural sites around it are also a delight to explore. Home to incredible wildflowers in spring, and close to the Swiss National Park, this remote region of Switzerland is a must-see.
La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning
The La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning became one of Switzerland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2009. Sitting in the Swiss Jura region, the area is the capital of watchmaking in Switzerland, something that Switzerland is world famous for.
After La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle suffered a terrible fire, the towns were rebuilt with watchmaking as a part of the design. It included watchmaking workshops and homes being built alongside each other, maximizing light and ensuring efficiency for the watchmaking industry.
The architecture and layout of the towns are still the same today and showcase how the traditions of watchmaking influenced this part of Switzerland, hence why it is a part of UNESCO.
It is a fascinating place to visit and while you are there, a tour around the Horlogerie Museum is also a must.
Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona
The Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona is a huge area in northeastern Switzerland. It became one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008 as it is one of the best examples of continental collision creating mountains in the Alpine region.
Made up of more than 30,000 hectares with seven mountains rising up above 3,000 meters above sea level, you can clearly see how older sections of the earth have been thrust into new ones, one of the clearest places you can see evidence of tectonic thrust.
At this site, you can actually see evidence of the European and African tectonic plates pushing into each other to create the Alps. It is quite incredible!
You can find the Swiss Tectonic Arena in the Glarus Alps, an area that has been studied by geologists since the 1700s. It is also a wonderful place to go skiing and hiking with its many valleys, trails, and snow-covered slopes.
The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier
Recognized as an “Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement” The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier consists of multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the world.
Le Corbusier was responsible for designing new architectural styles that encompassed the needs of the modern world and he did so all over the world.
There are, in fact, 17 sites across India, Belgium, France, Japan, Germany, and Switzerland that are all part of the works of architect Le Corbusier. You can find two of these Swiss architectural master’s sites in Switzerland, both of which are along the shores of Lake Geneva.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of l’Immeuble Clartè and La Petite Maison au Bord du Lac Léman are stunning architectural examples of modernism and very much worth visiting if you are in the area.
Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe
The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe are also a series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread across Europe.
There are 94 sites in total that make up the multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites and two of them are in Switzerland.
Beech trees are one of the most important species of tree in Central Europe as they can adapt to different climates and conditions. But, a lot of them have been destroyed due to humans and the remaining beech forests are designed to protect the genetics of these ancient trees.
The two Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests in Switzerland are the Lodano Valley and Busai/Soladino valleys. They not only protect the trees but all the fauna and flora that flourishes around them.
Walking in these beech forests is nothing short of spectacular as there are trees over 170 years old that carry quite a special energy to them.