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Switzerland: Lucern, Basel, Bern, Zurich, and Geneva

I’m going to start my European Honeymoon recap by going over all the major cities we visited in Switzerland. I see Switzerland tourism split into two parts: the cities vs. the majestic railroads that take you through the Alps. For the most part, Swiss cities take about half a day each to explore, as you will cover a lot by seeing their major shopping street, river/lake fronts, and some old architecture. I recommend a total of 6 days to explore Switzerland, 3 – 4 if you do not plan on training through the Alps.

Shang’s Recommended Switzerland Itinerary

Day 0: On your travel day, select an evening flight out of New York City. Be sure to sleep really early the night before, get up around 5 / 6 AM the day you fly, and then sleep on the plane after your meal is served. This will start your body on the way to adjusting to the new time zone.

Day 1: You will have a morning arrival in Zurich. Spend half a day in Lucerne (45 minute train ride), then another half a day in Basel (1 hour train ride). You will start getting sleepy, so take the train to Bern (1 hour train ride) and sleep there.

Day 2: Wake up in Bern and visit the beautiful city cast in a soft morning light. Take the train to Zurich (1 hour) and spend the rest of your day in Zurich.

Days 3 – 5: The three train rides which I will blog about in the future (Bernina Express, Glacier Express, and Golden Pass – in that order)

Day 6: Geneva

Lucern

Lucern is one of Switzerland’s most darling cities. Situated along a river, its main tourist attractions are the historic chapel bridge filled with historic paintings, a soulful lion memorial, and the waterfront. We recommend walking along the chapel bridge, into the Old Town, then visiting the lion memorial, winding your way to  the Court Church of St. Leodegar, before coming back around the waterfront to the train station

Very tempting chocolates and sweets

The lion memorial

Court Church of St. Leodegar

I was so happy to see flowers blooming

Basel

Basel feels like one of the most industrious cities of Switzerland and is famous for its Art Basel festival. This city is best explored by jumping on its trams. It has a gorgeous central square, and the area around it is filled with shops, street markets, cafes, great for people watching.  The beautiful red building at the center is its City Hall (Rathaus) which is open for tours on Saturday. We arrived too late to see it

City Hall

I have a thing for bikes in European cities

Bern

Bern is Switzerland’s capital and also visually, one of the most stunning cities. It sits on top of a hill surrounded by a river. In the morning, go to the east side of the city where the Bern Bear Park (under construction) is to get fantastic photographs of the entire city surrounded by water, punctuated by its steep roofs and narrow chimneys.

Just a random favorite – a woman and her dog who is carrying her groceries in a basket

Zurich

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. It is a busy finance town, but you can also come here for its many museums, most notably, the Kunsthaus Zurich which we were able to visit for free (happened to be free that day, I’m not sure why!). If you have the Swiss Pass, it will grant you free admission to many museums in Switzerland, though this is not one of them.

Unfortunately this is one of the very few photos I took in Zurich (my husband holding our bread during a bread, cheese, and chocolate break). I was pretty tired in Zurich!

Geneva

We traveled to Geneva as the last leg on our trip in Switzerland, as you could easily connect to France via Geneva. Geneva is known for being situated on the southern tip of beautiful Lake Leman and is the headquarters of many NGOs. I highly recommend walking around the waterfront during sunset when the lights come on. Geneva is in the French speaking region of Switzerland. During the day, be sure to check out the Jet d”eau (huge water monument), the St. Pierre Cathedral (a gorgeous Bach organ piece was being played when we visited, makes you truly appreciate what Bach’s music was meant for), and Parc des Bastions, which is a graceful, tree-lined park that also hosts large statues of Geneva’s Calvinist founding fathers.

Helpful information

The SBB mobile app is amazing and your best friend, it allows you to quickly search train schedules and even predicts train capacity and tracks trains in real time. Swiss trains are divided into two classes (having ridden in both, there isn’t that much of a difference, except that 1st class has more business travelers so is often less crowded and more quiet), and are on time – so don’t be late! Transfers can be as quick as 1 – 2 minutes, so be sure to check the app for the track number where you will be arriving and departing. The tracks will display signs that direct you to which sections the different train cars will be parked.

Nächste halt – German for “next stop”. Most Swiss announcements are made in Swiss-German, French, and English

Information booths – There is usually a city tourist information kiosk at every city’s major train station. Stop in there for free maps and guidance

Where we stayed

Zurich: Guesthouse Dienerstrasse– a no-frills hotel that required a digital code to enter and retrieve your keys (we jokingly called it the robot hotel). No customer service and we did not pick a room with a kitchen, but comes with free wi-fi and a quick 5-minute bus ride from the train station. It is located near several bars and it can get quite loud at night.

Bern: Bern Backpackers Hostel – I loved, LOVED this hostel. Extremely clean, well-run, great wi-fi and a large kitchen in the common room areas.

Geneva: Hotel Lido. Geneva has no shortage of extremely high-priced hotels, so we were very pleased with our experience at the 2-star Hotel Lido. The staff was very friendly, bed is comfy, room is cleaned every day promptly, and they provide a delicious breakfast. Centrally located and close to train stations. Wi-fi was not great.

Don’t miss these related blog posts

1. How to travel well on a budget

2. Switzerland: Lucern, Basel, Bern, Zurich, and Geneva

3. Switzerland: Riding the Bernina Express

4. Switzerland: Riding the Glacier Express

5. Interlaken, Thun, GoldenPass train, and flying business class on SWISS

6. Lyon in 10 hours

7. Paris: Museums and Eats

8. Paris: The Beautiful City

9. Versailles Palace

I was able to take this trip in part because I won the ‘Feel the Music’ Facebook Contest from SWISS and Switzerland Tourism! Remember, SWISS is a great way to fly from the US to Switzerland!

Shang Chen Photography has rebranded to Saavedra Photography
Based in NYC | Open for select photography commissions on Sundays only

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