With its shimmering turquoise lakes, charming mountain villages, and creamy chocolate, it’s not hard to fall in love with Switzerland. While cities like Bern and Zurich have an appeal all their own, for that quintessential Swiss experience you need to go…up. Here are five of the best ways to experience the majesty—and sheer magnitude—of the Swiss Alps:
Swiss National Park
One of Europe’s first national parks, this 67,000-acre wildlife sanctuary is a wonderland of Alpine forests, glaciers, meadows, and waterfalls. Twenty-one hiking trails traverse 50 miles of the park’s terrain, showcasing the best of the Lower Engadine Valley. Be sure to stop by the visitors’ center in Zernez for information, souvenirs, and exhibitions on the park’s history. After that, you’re off to prance about with chamois and ibexes and search for such ethereal blooms as lady’s slipper orchids and fairy thimble bellflowers. (Everyone together now: Awwww.)
Imagine the most Switzerlandy of Swiss experiences. Does it include a series of panoramic cable car rides? Do jagged, snow-crowned peaks stretch as far as the eye can see? Are the wildflowers so vivid and joyous that you swear you saw them busting a move in the breeze? You, my friend, have just envisioned Schilthorn—gem of the Bernese Alps. This paradisal peak has it all: winter and summer hiking trails, a walkway built into sheer rock face, a thunderous glacial waterfall, even a flower-themed playground at 6,300 feet. Oh, and did we mention the observation deck with 360° views of over 200 peaks? (It was also the filming location of portions of the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.) And, because all that picking your jaw up off the ground will leave you famished, there’s a rotating restaurant that offers everything from snacks to full-blown regional specialties.
What awaits you beyond Europe’s highest railway station? What doesn’t? UNESCO-protected rock massifs, world-class skiing, lush, rolling meadows, an observation terrace, an ice palace, and a snow park where you can soar down a rope slide or try your hand at snowtubing. The Jungfrau Region features some of the most iconic destinations in Switzerland, including the famous trio of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks and the scenic villages of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen.
Cradled in the shadow of the Matterhorn, the car-free resort town of Zermatt is an adventure in any season. Spring, summer, and autumn allow for hiking and mountain biking on over 300 miles of trails. Alpine meadows burst with wildflowers in the spring. The crisp air, bright blue skies, and shifting colors make Zermatt an ideal destination in the fall. Skiing and snowboarding are popular here year-round, and the area’s 38 13,000-foot peaks attract mountaineers and rock climbers from around the world. Be sure to visit the Matterhorn Museum, which houses equipment used in the first ascent of the mountain in 1865.
Opened in 1928, this panoramic route spans 170 miles of Alpine fairyland, from Zermatt to St. Moritz. Notable portions include the six arches of the Landwasser Viaduct and the Oberalp Pass—the highest point of the journey at 6,670 feet.