Interlaken is one of those dream European destinations – nestled between two lakes amidst breathtaking mountains, Interlaken is gorgeous, with views that make you feel on top of the world. We chose Interlaken as quick family getaway this summer in Europe because both hubby and I had lovely memories of visiting there with our parents many moons ago. It was also a chance for the kids to see snow for the first time, at Jungfraujoch ( a saddle in the Bernese Alps, a short train ride from Interlaken, that is touted as the Top of Europe).
Interlaken is an adventure destination all year round, offering plenty of sport in both summer and winter, but it also works well as a family destination for a range of ages as long as the elders in the family are fairly mobile – we loved meeting some Gujarati grandmas from India on our way to Jungfraujoch. There’s so much to do and see in the Interlaken region that I would recommend at least 3 full days there even on a short trip.
I know people say that the northern areas of Pakistan are as beautiful but they don’t have nearly the same amount of infrastructure or amenities. In Switzerland, we were able to flit from one area to another on regular trains, buses and funiculars, making this an easy way for a family to experience the beauty of the region.
In summer, there are numerous hiking trails, caves and waterfalls, cable cars and gorgeous panoramas as well as adrenaline fueled experiences such mountain carting, paragliding, parasailing, zip-ling and more. If you have younger children or grandparents with you, you can stick to trains, cable cars and funiculars and still enjoy a memorable experience.
Interlaken doesn’t have a great deal happening in the evening and many restaurant kitchens close at 10 so do keep that in mind when planning your day.
Where to Stay in Interlaken
Like most of Switzerland, Interlaken is expensive but there really is something to suit every budget. At the top end, there are only two five star hotels in town and only one of those, the Grand Hotel Victoria, has air conditioning. Not an issue at this time of year but in July when it was 30 degrees C, it is an issue for many. The Victoria is grand old building, smack bang in the middle of the tiny town, with gorgeous views and good reviews. We however chose to stay at the Hotel Royal St. Georges – a four star a little further down the street, away from the Hooters and the watch shops that are right by the Victoria. The St. Georges doesn’t have air conditioning but many of the rooms have been refurbished recently, making them up-to-date while retaining an olde world charm. The breakfast there was superlative and the in-house restaurant superb – which was useful after a long day out and about. In the past we have stayed at the Hotel Krebs and friends have stayed at the Hotel Bellevue and both of these get a thumbs up too.
If you’re on a budget, there are quite a few listings on Air BnB but it’s also worth looking at spots outside Interlaken itself. Lauterbrunnen is nearby and well connected for trips in the region, as are Grindelwald and Wengen though Grindelwald can be expensive at times, particularly in winter.
What to see and do in Interlaken
Depending on how active you are, there are so many things to see and do in Interlaken. A trip to Jungfraujoch has to be top of the list, and it’s unmissable, but be prepared for a tiring and crowded day. Other highlights include the Trummelbach Falls, the Beatbus Caves, the Hader Kulm Funicular, cable cars, paragliding, ziplining, Gridelwald, mountain carting and the Alpine Botanical Garden.
A trip to Jungfraujoch is a full day affair. It is a VERY popular trip and gets very busy so start as early as you can in the day. It takes about two hours to get there from Interlaken and you must change trains twice: once at Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen and then again at Kleine Scheidegg. Generally folks like to go up by one route and down by the other. Personally I like going up via Lauterbrunnen, where you can see an alpine river bubbling along on the way, and down via Grindelwald for gorgeous views of the Eiger but either way works fine. At Kleine Scheidegg you change to a train that goes mostly through tunnels and it starts to get chilly so that’s a good time to start layering up.
Jungfruajoch is very high up and it will be COLD. I can’t emphasise enough that you should take plenty of layers – or you may end up having to buy more layers at the pricey shop up there. Even in July, you will need gloves and a woolly hat – and children will need more layers than you realise. After tobogganing down a gentle slope for a hour or so, in many layers and a hat and gloves, my youngest was so chilled that I ended up giving him one of my layers. Also make sure to take sunglasses – the glare off the snow is fierce.
There’s lots to do at Jungfruajoch so pace yourselves. For us, the snow was a MAJOR draw. You can make snowmen, have a snowball fight and try some gentle winter sports. They offer snow tubing, tobogganing and snow boarding and there’s also a zipline up there.
Tobogganing and snow tubing was simply incredible for us winter sport newbies – it’s a super gentle slope but working out how to steer the sled can be daunting – both hubby and I took major spills. Be warned the snow gets everywhere when you fall off – my ear ended up full of snow while hubby had it down his back. The sleds get wet so we all ended up with wet lowers (not brilliant in the cold). The kids were better off because they had cute little sleds that had a steering wheel and a brake so they were zipping down the slope while us adults tried to work out how not to look like total wimps. It took a couple of spills to work out that the best way to steer is NOT by leaning but by using your boots. To steer to the left, simply put your left foot out into the snow on that side and vice versa to steer to the right. To brake out both feet down into the snow. If you’re going to try sledding, I recommend trying it earlier in the day when the snow is smoother on the slope. Snow tubing required no skill or thought whatsoever and was a fun ride down.
For the more experienced and braver souls, there’s a glacier hike from Jungfraujoch to Monchsjoch hut but make sure that you’re properly equipped and dressed. The high altitude hike there and back takes two hours and is open in good weather only from the end of March till mid October.
Once you’ve had your fill of the snow head back in to warm up at one of the restaurants. They offer a wide selection of food and drink ranging from hot chocolate to ramen noodles in a pot to Swiss specialities to Indian food (though we didn’t try that).
Another must-do up there is the Sphinx Observation deck which offers fabulous views of the Aletsch Glacier, the longest ice stream in the Alps. On clear days, the panorama extends over the Swiss border to Italy, the Vosges in France and the Black Forest in Germany. However, being so high up, the summit can be shrouded in clouds an awful lot of the time – the day we went there was nothing to see though it was a fun experience being in the middle of a cloud. There is a film called the Jungfrau panorama that plays at the bottom of the Sphinx that shows a 360 wrap-around experience of the mountain, complete with descents into ice crevices but obviously it’s nothing like seeing the view yourself.
Last but not least is the Ice Palace, which is at the end of the Alpine Sensation moving walkway. The walkway tells the history of the Jungfrau railway but its the Ice Palace that you shouldn’t miss. it’s full of gorgeous crystalline ice sculptures created afresh every year by local artist Bruno Haenggi. The hall is cooled to minus 3 degrees Celsius to allow for the body heat given off by visitors so make sure you stay wrapped up warm. To be honest, we missed the Ice Palace because we’d been so busy doing other things and it wasn’t sign posted that well and we actually forgot about it in working out which train to take down ? – I remembered when we were on the train down and was so upset because it was actually one of the best bits of my trip to Jungfrau as a child. Still we had a fabulous time in the snow and were pretty cold and exhausted so IA next time. But to give you an idea of what we missed, here are a couple of pics of the Ice Palace this summer.
There’s also a Lindt chocolate heaven up there but we didn’t even think of checking it out – I’d love to know if anyone has and what they thought of it.
First is a minor summit on the slopes of the Schwarzhorn in the Bernese Oberland. It is mostly known as a cable car station above Grindelwald and as a popular hub for extreme sports. It’s the start of a slew of varied hiking routes, all of which pass in front of awe-inspiring Alpine peaks. It’s also the starting point for the amazing First Cliff Walk, which incorporates a suspension bridge, a winding rising walkway and a viewing platform – definitely not for those who don’t have a good head for heights.
Thrill seekers can also try out the First Flyer, an adrenaline-fuelled flight through four parallel zip-lines in a special seat resembling a paragliding harness, and the First Glider, which sends you soaring up and down from Schrekfeld to First in a contraption resembling a glider at speeds of up to 83 km/h.
First also offers mountain carting along with Trottibiking,and an Alpine playground at the Bort midway station.
Bachalpsee is at an altitude of 2,265 metres, and its reflective waters, grassy banks and mountain backdrop make up a quintessentially Alpine scene. When the skies are clear the mighty Schreckhorn, Wetterhorn and Finsteraarhorn are reflected perfectly in the water for postcard-quality photos. The walk from First is a surprisingly light one, sound-tracked by cowbells and in pastures scattered with wildflowers in mid-summer.
Gletscherschlucht is a glacial gorge just outside Grindelwald. You can catch the bus to the mouth of this ravine and be there in ten minutes from Grindelwald’s station. The ravine was cut by the Lower Grindelwald, which has retreated significantly up the slope since the Little Ice Age in the middle ages. Walkways have been fastened to the walls of the ravine, and in summer you can even make use of the “SpiderWeb”, a large net suspended over the roaring meltwater. The walkways carry you a kilometre in the ravine and you’ll pass beneath climbers and canyoners clambering up or rappelling down the craggy rock-faces. The walkways have interpretive signage and pass waterfalls and striated limestone walls.
Wengen-Maanlichen cable car
In Wengen, take the cable car up to Maanlichen for breathtaking views of the Lauterbrunnen valley. There’s a fun playground up there for children so do allow time for them to play if you have kids with you. If you’re up to it, you can hike the Maanlichen Panorama trail to Kleine Scheidegg – a walk that is fairly flat and apparently not too difficult though we didn’t have time for it ourselves so I can’t talk from first-hand experience.
Schynige Platte Railway
The Schynige Platte Railway is a historic cog-wheel railway that uses vintage rolling stock from the early 19th century for an unforgettable railway experience in the Swiss Alps. The route from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte winds through mountain forests and Alpine pastures, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and countryside. The mountain station sits at a height of 1967 metres and is the starting point for several circular hikes. It’s also home to the Apline Botanical garden and a restaurant with panoramic views.
Alpine Botanical Garden
The Alpine Botanical Garden on the Schynige Platte is home to around 700 species of alpine plants, and a habitat for bees, butterflies and birds. It’s a great way to enjoy the ecological diversity of the region, amidst commanding views of the surrounding mountains. A new wheelchair friendly path through the garden opened in 2018, winding its way past varied collections of Alpine flora and fauna to a large seating area in the middle of the garden.
The Trummelbach Falls are the largest underground waterfalls in Europe and the only glacier waterfalls in the world that are accessible in this manner. Lifts, galleries, tunnels, paths and platforms allow you to experience the thunderous roar as the falls carry the meltwater of the glaciers from the Jungfrau down to the valley – up to 20,000 liters of water per second. The water carries with it over 20,000 tons of boulders and scree per year and causes the entire mountain to shudder with the force of its passage.
The falls are a 10 minute bus ride from Lauterbrunnen. Once you enter the Falls, there are 10 viewing platforms – 6 are accessible by elevators but you have to climb to the remaining four. It’s not a very taxing climb even if you don’t use the elevators at all. Spray and misting can make it cold and slippery so take a jacket and wear appropriate shoes. Do note that children under 4 aren’t allowed. This is one of my top attractions in the region. The noise and power of the water is incredible and it’s wonderful to see the power of nature up close.
St. Beatus Caves
The St. Beatus Caves are an impressive system of limestone caves which are a 15-20 minute drive from Interlaken. Legend has it that an Irish monk, St. Beatus slew a dragon that had been holed up in these caves sometime in the 6th century. The dragon may be a myth but apparently there was a St. Beatus who lived and was buried here and it was for many years a place of pilgrimage. Whether the caves are of historical significance or not, they are definitely worth seeing from a geological point of view. Well-lit walkways take you through a labyrinth of tunnels and caves carved out of the mountainside, complete with mirror rock pools, stalactites, stalgamites and flowing streams. Although the various walkways all have explanatory panels, it’s worth taking the 45 minute guided tour – the guides are full of interesting facts and figures and you can always take time on the way out to explore further if you like.
It does tend to be somewhat chilly inside so do take a light jacket and, as the footing can be wet and slippery, it’s better to wear sensible shoes. You can take the number 21 bus from Interlaken Ost station or take a boat from Interlaken West on Lake Thun to Beatushöhlen. It’s a slightly longer walk from the boat stop to the caves whereas the bus stops right outside the complex but be warned – it’s a 10 minute climb to the entrance from the road whether you take a bus or a boat and the caves are not accessible by wheelchair.
Hader Kulm Funicular
The Hader Kulm funicular is the most convenient way to view a spectacular panorama if you’re staying in Interlaken. The station is located within minutes of Interlaken Ost station and the main street and a mere ten minute ride takes you to the viewing platform 1,322 metres above sea level. Poised high up above the meeting point of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, the spot offers a mesmerizing view of Interlaken, the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. There is a restaurant where you can enjoy a drink or a meal while soaking in the view and also hiking trails for the more adventurous.
This wasn’t such a fad the last time I was in Interlaken, many years ago, but now para-sailers area common sight above Interlaken and there are several companies offering parasailing experiences above Interlaken. Most include a pick and drop from your hotel and summer days see a steady stream of adventurers landing in the field near the main street.
4 day itinerary for Interlaken
Day 1 – Jungfraujoch
Try to go early to beat the crowds and be sure to check out the Snow Fun, the Sphinx Observatory and the Ice Palace. It’s a two hour trip up there and a two hour trip back. If you’re particularly energetic you may want to stop at Wengen on the way up or down but it’s such a tiring day that if you have time, I recommend not doing anything else that day.
If you stop in Wengen take the cable car up to Maanlichen. Enjoy a hike if you’re up to it – the Royal Walk to the Summit or something more challenging. Do make time for the playground in Maanlichen if you have kids – from the giant cow slide to a ladder toss game, your kids won’t want to leave in a hurry.
Day 2 – Grindelwald /First/Gletscherschlucht
Grindelwald is the quintessential Alpine resort, full of adorable Alpine chalets and incredible vistas. Its a popular resort in both summer and winter and has a museum, mini golf, spas and many shops, restaurants and cafes. Start off exploring Grindelwald and from there take a the Goldola up to First for some hiking or adventure sports. Alternatively take a 10 minute bus ride to the mouth of the Gletscherschlucht ravine.
Day 3 – Trummelbach falls, Schynige Platte Railway, Alpine Botanical garden
Head to Lauterbrunnen and take a bus from there to the Trummelbach Falls, Europe’s largest subterranean waterfall. Allow an hour or so to see the falls. Then from Lauterbrunnen take a train to Wilderswil. There are trains every hour and the journey takes 15 mins.
From Wilderswil, take the historic cog-wheel railway up to Schynige Platte. The wooden benches of the vintage trains are fabulously nostalgic. At the mountain station, there’s a restaurant with panoramic views and the Alpine Botanic Garden which hosts 700 species of plants from the Swiss mountains. There’s another lovely playground for kids here which gives them the opportunity to let off some steam.
Day 4 – St. Beatus caves, Neiderhorn OR a Boat trip on Lake Thun and the Hader Klum Funicular
Take the number 21 bus to the St. Beatus caves or a boat from Interlaken West. Take a guided tour of the caves if possible and do check the bus timings to know when to come down as it only runs every half hour. There’s a steep 10 minute climb to the entrance of the caves so this may not be suitable for elderly members of your party. The caves are open from March to October
From the St Beatus Caves, take the number 21 towards Thun to Beatenbucht. From there a funicular will take you to Beatenberg and then a cable car will take you up to Niederhorn. The whole process takes about an hour but can be more if you have to wait for the bus. Once at the top it is only a short walk to reach the summit (wheelchair accessible) and you will get magnificent views of the Bernese Oberland encompassing the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfraujoch.
For a gentler day, start with a boat trip on Lake Thun in the morning and after lunch take the Hader Kulm Funicular (the bottom end is a very walkable distance between Ost station and the high street) up to the viewing platform which offers a spectacular view of Lake Brienz and Lake Thun and the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. You can even combine the St. Beatus Caves and the Hader Kulm Funicular if you don’t want to go all the way to Neiderhorn.
Travel tips for Interlaken, Switzerland
If you’re in Switzerland, consider getting a Swiss Travel Pass or a half fare card for rail travel. The Swiss Travel Pass gives you unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. The Swiss Travel Pass is available for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in 75 towns and cities and offers a 50% reduction on most mountain railways and cable cars. The Swiss Travel Pass also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Kids go free if you buy a family card (even on routes where the parents only get a discount) and what I love about Swiss Pass is that you don’t need to buy tickets for individual trains – you just jump on or off at a whim. Bear in mind however that you only get a 25% discount on the train to Jungfraujoch so if that’s your only major trip you may want to do the maths. as a Half-fare travel card may be more cost-effective. Just bear in mind you will have to buy tickets with the half-fare card and that may restrict you to certain train timings and may end up costing you more if you don’t prebook. Prices for a Swiss Pass range from CHF221 -456 in 2nd class depending on the number of days and CHF351-718 in 1st Class. The Half-fare card is CHF120 per person but you have to pay 50% for each journey you take.
Many attractions such as the Beatbus caves close fairly early by Pakistani standards (5pm) so its preferable to follow an early to bed, early to rise schedule if you want to make the most of your time in Interlaken.