Odds are, when you think of Switzerland and Swiss things, you likely think of cheese, chocolate or banks. When it comes to destinations in Switzerland, you probably think of the Alps and mountains like Pilatus, Jungfrau and the Matterhorn. Maybe instead you think of the country’s main cities like Zurich, Geneva and Lucerne. Who can blame you, as these are all fabulous, iconic spots.
And yet, there is so much more to Switzerland than these specific spots. For every set of breathtaking mountains, you’ll find a serene valley. For every world-class city, you’ll come across dozens of truly endearing towns and villages. So in the hopes that I can entice you to gaze just a little bit further for your next Swiss holiday, here are just some of the other wonderful destinations in the nation of Switzerland. For now, I’ve kept it just to Germanic Switzerland for simplicity’s sake.
Known as the Town of Roses, Rapperswil lies at the end of the single bridge that spans Lake Zurich. Situated on the upper end of the lake, Rapperswil is a popular spot lunch spot for those cruising about on the lake from Zurich. This is with good reason, as the town is home to an appealing town centre full of elegant, historic houses. That’s not to mention the noble castle that rests above the town, with views over the lake and into the mountains.
As for its popular moniker, the town is decorated throughout with roses in window boxes, rose gardens and even on its coat of arms. Despite the day trippers, Rapperswil comes across rather quiet and overlooked, which only benefits those who choose to visit.
Impossibly charming, this small medieval town sits on the banks of the Rhein river, as its name suggests. This town of Stein-am-Rhein in the country’s far north is bursting with half-timbered houses decorated with wonderfully detailed painted facades. Where the town walls once ran a ring around the town, you can now find people’s houses, but several fantastic gates have been preserved.
It may only be a small town with a few thousand people but it packs an awful lot of winsome moments into its tiny confines. I do have to say, my photos don’t half do it justice. While admiring all its half-timbered houses and painted facades, you may completely forget that you are also just by the Rhine. Make sure to visit the waterfront as the Rhine is always worth a look.
Little more than a village in an alpine valley, Einsiedeln would be completely unknown were it not for its medieval monastery. Instead, it’s seen as an important place of pilgrimage in Switzerland, with a history spanning back a millennium. The current baroque buildings of the abbey date from the 18th century, but pilgrims have been venturing here for far longer. Its main point of pride is the statue of Black Madonna, as in the Virgin Mary, with a golden shrine. Even for those without any religious inclination, it’s a striking sight.
Beyond the monastery, the village of Einsiedeln has several beautiful buildings and some pristine surrounding meadows. Upon a nearby hill is a cross of Christ looking down on the village. Einsiedeln also lies upon a stretch of the Way of St James, the immense pilgrimage route that crosses Europe, most famously known as the Camino de Santiago.
A visit to the village of Meiringen is almost more about what lies near than the village itself. Wedged in a valley near some seriously impressive mountains, Meiringen has some fantastic natural sights to explore. Flowing right by Meiringen is the Aare River that just upstream passes through the Aareschlucht gorge. This 200m deep gorge passes through limestone rock and shows the river’s colour at its most vibrant. A walk through the gorge is a must to admire the powerful geological formation.
Just over the river from the village you’ll also find the thundering Reichenbach Falls, made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in “The Final Problem” featuring Sherlock Holmes. Accessible by a funicular, you can view the 250m high falls from above, but they’re definitely at their most impressive below.
Meiringen’s final claim to fame is that it contends to be the birthplace of the meringue. For lovers of this sugary treat, make sure to head into the village’s cafes or restaurants and treat yourself to a decadent dessert. The one I tried was a meringue, topped with whipped cream, ice cream and a strawberry on top. Good and sweet!
Lying along the famous Rhine River by the German border, Schaffhausen is a wonderfully ignored Swiss town. The town is centred around the imposing Munot Fortress, that has its own vineyard and sweeping views across the town and river. Down in town, there are a number of beautiful churches and a former Benedictine monastery to admire.
Just a few kilometres downstream you’ll find the surging Rhinefalls, Europe’s largest plains waterfalls. When I visited the falls, there had been terrible floods throughout Europe and the falls really were a sight to behold. For the best view of the falls, it’s best to head up to the Laufen Castle that overlooks them.
Despite being a small city in the country’s northeast, it’s unlikely that you’ve heard of Frauenfeld. While it did have some significance during the Middle Ages, it’s only in the last century that it has blossomed into a city. In the city centre you’ll find several nice pedestrian streets and buildings with delightful colour-coordinated shutters. There are also some elegant churches, but the big attraction of Frauenfeld is its castle.
Sitting next to the also impressive town hall, Frauenfeld Castle sits upon a large stone base that elevates it above the surrounding city streets. Inside you can visit the local city museum that has many art displays and takes you through the city’s history. The views from the castle tower over the city and to the countryside are worth the creaky staircases you have to climb.
Weesen and the Walensee
Hidden in a valley in the east of Switzerland is the serene Walensee Lake, tightly wedged between two imposing mountain ranges. At its western end you’ll find the quiet village of Weesen, which offers great views along the lake.
Since I said I wouldn’t talk about the Alps, I won’t mention the cute alpine town of Amden nearby that overlooks the lake. Instead, if driving out of Weesen you hug the shore of the Walensee, it will take you to a series of small rolling hills. It is here that you can find the ruins of the medieval Strahlegg Castle. These ruins actually lie atop even older ruins of a Roman watchtower from 15BC. Despite the ruins, this area is better known for its hiking trails than anything else.
Yet another spot tucked away near the German border is the quiet municipality of Eglisau. The small town runs along both banks of the Rhine River, bestowing it with some beautiful riverfront views. With its reformation church its only really landmark, you may be forgiven there isn’t much to do here. But honestly, that’s kind of the point. It’s just a lovely old town with some quaint half-timbered buildings and some serene waterfront to just while the day away. If you’re looking to experience an authentic small Swiss town, you could do a lot worse than Eglisau.
I have to admit, there was only one reason that we veered off the motorway and popped into Sargans – its castle. In fact this town in the country’s east, just shy of Liechtenstein, is best known because of its castle. Popped up on a hill over the town, the castle dates back to the 12th century. Surrounded by vineyards and dwarfed by the epic Gonzen mountain, the castle has sweeping views over the town and valley. Not a bad rest stop if you’re coming from Austria, Liechtenstein or the country’s south.
Perched a top a hill just beyond the limits of Zurich sits the traditional town of Regensberg. This tiny hilltop town was formed as a fortified castle town and divided between those inside the castles walls and those outside. Today not a lot of the castle remains with much of it converted for private houses and a school building. Still, you’ll find the castle’s tower and plenty of adorable half-timbered houses.
Only a brief drive from the city of Zurich, a visit to Regensberg is a great excuse to get out in the countryside. As we were driving up the hills to get there, the area was blanketed in a mystical fog and we actually came across a man practicing on his Alpine horn down into a valley, creating a truly magical experience.
Winterthur is actually a moderate-sized city, but thankfully its old town is easy enough to explore on foot. At least to my knowledge, Winterthur’s biggest tourist attraction is its Swiss Science Center Technorama, but that sits a ways outside the city centre. I have it on good authority that it is an excellent science museum, for adults and children a like.
Generally however, a visit to Winterthur is more about strolling its lovely pedestrian streets, enjoying its many parks and generally just taking it easy. The city is really a very cultured place with a number of museums and plenty of charming, historic buildings. As with many destinations on this list, Winterthur is positively bursting with half-timbered houses. Curiously, I also noticed the presence of lots and lots of individually painted benches in the city centre. The significance of which I have no idea, but why not I suppose?
Where else in Switzerland outside the Alps and major cities, would you recommend? Which of these destinations most appeals to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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