Picturesque Paragliding, Authentic Fondue, and a Trip to the Top of Europe: The 4-Day Weekend in Switzerland

Paragliders in Interlaken, Switzerland
Olena Z / Shutterstock

There’s a magical air to Switzerland that makes it seem fictional, what with its storybook-worthy villages and Pixar-perfect landscapes. But the chill of mountain air on your face as you paraglide, swooping in wide arcs down to earth; and the familiar ache in your legs as you trek a hiking path; or better yet, the rush of adrenaline as you conquer a war-time-era via ferrata all serve as tactical reminders of this very real, very remarkable place.

Switzerland is a bona fide playground for thrill-seekers because of its year-round roster of activities. Try your hand at hang gliding, skydiving, or bungee jumping. Conquer the Bernese Highlands by foot or mountain bike. Explore a medieval fortress. Come winter, you’ve got a buffet of alpine pursuits, from snowshoeing to skiing.

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If this sounds like your kind of trip, and you’ve only got a long weekend, position yourself in Interlaken, the unofficial adventure capital of Switzerland. It’s earned the distinction, with an exhaustive range of soft and hard adventures. Moreover, with Switzerland’s seamless public transportation, the resort town is the perfect springboard with which to launch mini-ventures from. For example, you can spend two days in Interlaken, then pop over to Montreux before departing out of Zurich.

Use our four-day weekend guide to Switzerland to maximize your stay. And if you want to extend your trip (you will), check out our long-weekend guide to Bad Ragaz, home to a famed natural hot spring and the 5-star Grand Resort Bad Ragaz.

How to Get Around Switzerland

Download the Swiss Railways SBB app for timetables and transfer info; it makes public transportation a breeze. Consider purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass. It gives you unrestricted access to train, boat, and bus transit with 3-, 4-, 8- or 15-day travel options, as well as up to 50 percent off some mountain excursions and free entrance to over 500 museums. For this itinerary, once you fly in to Zurich, follow signs for Zurich Flughafen train station and catch the train to Interlaken Ost station (~2 hours).

Jetboat Interlaken
Jetboat Interlaken tour in Lake Brienz Courtesy Image

Days 1-2: Interlaken

Where to Stay

If you’re the kind of traveler who reserves time in a hotel strictly for sleeping, opt for something affordable and centrally located, like Hotel Du Nord (rates start at $189 per night). It’s a quick walk to/from the Interlaken Ost train station, right along Höhematte park. There are no extraneous bells and whistles, but you can step outside and watch paragliders floating in lazy circles before landing right before your eyes. Walk along the adjacent street, Höheweg, for a long strip of shops, restaurants, and more luxury accommodations. One such spot is the 5-star Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa. It overlooks Jungfrau mountain and maintains the splendor of its original 1856 aesthetic, complete with crystal chandeliers and gilded mirrors.

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What to Do

Go on a High-Speed Jet Boat Tour: Inject some excitement into your day with a trip to Jet Boat Interlaken. Tours of Lake Brienz extend through the winter, and bring guests from the port at Bönigen to the Grandhotel Giessbach and equally majestic Giessbach Waterfalls. During the 45-minute tour, your guide will skip the jet boat across the green-blue waters and expertly spin 360 degrees, all the while pointing out attractions of historical significance. You’ll get doused (they provide splash coats) and leave with a face-splitting grin—guaranteed. Take advantage of the free road transfer to/from your hotel, if you’re staying nearby; and purchase the GoPro photos as a little memento.

Journey to the Top of Jungfraujoch: Take the train from Interlaken Ost to Jungfraujoch via Grindelwald. Jungfraujoch—considered the “Top of Europe” because it’s the highest train—is a winter wonderland, perfect for families or travelers looking for a soft adventure. Is it touristy? Yes. But that doesn’t take away from its stellar vantage point, and it puts you on the right path, geographically speaking, for more adventures throughout the day. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is always covered in ice and snow, so dress appropriately no matter the time of year. Snap photos of Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger peaks along the Sphinx observation deck; walk through the Ice Palace and marvel at its sculptures; make the most of Snow Fun Park by snowtubing, skiing, and snowboarding. Try to sink a hole in one at the Omega-sponsored attraction, where successful putters will win an Omega Seamaster Golf Edition. If you’d like to go with a tour guide, book through Jungfrau Railways.

Author, Brittany Smith, on top of Rotstock mountain with Hansueli of Grindewald Sports
Author, Brittany Smith, on top of Rotstock mountain with Hansueli, a guide at grindewaldSPORTS Brittany Smith

Summit a Mountain, Via Ferrata Style: Coordinate a tour with a guide from grindelwaldSPORTS, who will meet you at the Eigergletscher train station on the Jungfrau railway (you can set this up after exploring Jungfraujoch). The Eiger-Rotstock Via Ferrata is the perfect introduction to via ferrata, as it’s overall grade is just K2/K3. You’ll hike along the Eiger Trail toward Eiger Nordwand, passing below the mountain’s north face, a perilous limestone buttress that’s taken the lives of more than 60 climbers, including Toni Kurz, whose demise was depicted in the German historical fiction film North Face. Don’t worry, you won’t be climbing this (it is the largest north face in the Alps, after all). Just marvel at it, then continue on to the base of the via ferrata. You’ll strap on a harness and helmet, then learn the basics. (E.g. one person should be clipped in to a single line of cable at a time to prevent crashing into fellow climbers in the case of a fall; one carabiner should always be attached to the cable, so detach and attach one at a time when moving to the next anchor point.) The initial ascent is the most technical. You’ll climb steel ladders (one dates back to 1899) and rungs, then scramble across stacked rock and loose scree. The higher sections have some safety ropes along trickier spots, but traversing the rest of the climb is relatively simple. It takes most travelers a little over an hour to summit. At the top (Rotstock is 3,699 m tall), you’ll get sweeping views of the Aletsch Glacier; the Swiss cantons of Valais, Grindelwald, and Lauterbrunnen; and the Bernese Alps.

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Visit a Neighboring Canton: If you’re not dead-tired from exploring Jungfraujoch and completing the via ferrata, make a pit-stop at Lauterbrunnen or one of the other nearby villages. Lauterbrunnen’s Staubbach Falls is spectacular year-round, but especially so when there’s plenty of rainfall or snowmelt. Go to Gimmewald to escape the crowds; it’s nestled high in the Alps, so the mountains feel especially close. Wengen has plenty of trails for hiking in the warmer months, while Grindelwald is the ideal winter destination, as it’s home to the largest ski resort in the Jungfrau area.

Get a Bird’s-Eye View of Switzerland: Depending on your penchant for adrenaline, opt between tandem skydiving or paragliding with Paragliding Interlaken. The former can be done out of an airplane or helicopter, while the latter has a couple options depending on how much airtime you want. For the sake of sightseeing, opt for paragliding. The pilot(s) will pick you up from your hotel (or train station), then drive the 20 minutes to Beatenberg, during which you’ll get briefed on safety. The only thing you have to concern yourself with is running off the edge of the hillside—the parachute and your pilot will take care of the rest. You’ll float high above Interlaken and Lake Thun, and your pilot can add in roller-coaster-worthy twists and turns. Opt in for the GoPro photos and videos. They’re reasonably priced and so worth it.

Harder Kulm Panorama Restaurant
Harder Kulm Panorama Restaurant at sunset Courtesy Image

Where to Eat

Harder Kulm Panorama Restaurant: The journey to this fortress-esque hot spot is part of its appeal. Take a 10-minute funicular ride from Harder Railway valley station, a short walk from Interlaken-Ost railway. Just note it only runs from mid-April to Dec. 1 and the last descent is 9:40 p.m., so you’ll have to get a taxi during off-peak times and dates. Feast on regional classics like grilled fillet of lamb and wiener schnitzel, and get The Eiger North Face fondue to share. It’s served with bacon, onions, and garlic with a side of bread and potatoes for dipping.

Restaurant Stadhaus: For a local favorite, head to this alpine eatery located in the historic old town. In the mild seasons, you can eat outside on the terrace and enjoy homemade Swiss beer on tap. Standouts include the hamburger, hot dog, and rösti—a Swiss dish likened to hash browns or potato pancakes but crispier, topped with ingredients like raclette, sauerkraut, and fried eggs.

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Days 3-4: Montreux

Walk to Interlaken Ost and take the train to Montreux via Zweisimmen – Goldenpass Line (~3 hours).

Where to Stay

If you want convenience and affordability, the 4-star Eurotel Montreux is mere blocks from the train station, right along the banks of Lake Geneva. It doesn’t have the the old-school charm of, say, Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, but nearly every room has a balcony with excellent views and a decidedly Mediterranean feel. If you’re flying out of Zurich to make your way back to the States at the end of the trip (and it’s not a red eye), do yourself a favor and stay at the Radisson Blu Hotel, located within Zurich Airport. The hotel bar is sleek and cozy, and the breakfast is exceptional.

Château de Chillon
Château de Chillon in the fall Courtesy Image

What to Do in Montreux

Visit Château de Chillon Castle: From Eurotel Montreux, walk to the “Escaliers de la Gare” bus stop and catch bus No.201 until you get to the Chillon Castle (stop on request). Select a guided tour of the medieval fortress, opting for one centered around wine (the castle makes its own vino); art; or an in-depth look at its history. Wandering through the castle’s courtyards, great halls, and chambers will pluck you right inside an episode of Game of Thrones. The rooms are furnished with original pieces, bedrooms have children’s toys on display, and the weapons room displays 11th-century swords, crossbows, and bludgeons. The dungeons are especially impressive, as they were cut into the base of the castle.

Get Some Souvenirs: Walk to the pier of Montreux and take the CGN Belle Epoque paddle steamer (“Italie”)—a renovated diesel-electric paddle boat—until you get to Vevey-Marché. Regarded as one of the “Pearls of the Swiss Riviera,” Vevey is a charming stopover. Mosey in to Bravo Boutique, a concept store that strictly sells goods made and/or designed by Swiss artisans; it’s also a café, so you can enjoy a cappuccino while you peruse. Next, make your way to Confiseur Läderach for their Chocolate Experience. The chocolate boutique offers live exhibitions, so you can watch Swiss confectioners hard at work. If you’re a history buff, visit the Charlie Chaplin statue. Fancy art? Check out the The Big Fork statue. Want to marry your passion for food and history? Head to the Alimentarium, the first museum dedicated to food.

Explore Wine Country: From Vevey, board the train to Chexbres-Village in Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walk from the train to the Lavaux Vinorama property is gorgeous. You’ll wander through the hillside vineyard (~20 minutes), and may opt to do a wine tasting. The neighboring Auberge de Rivaz restaurant is the real gem, though. Warm service, exceptional Swiss wines, and fare that reflects the local terroir await.

Auberge de Rivaz outdoor terrace
Auberge de Rivaz outdoor terrace Courtesy Image

Where to Eat and Drink

Auberge de Rivaz: Ask your server to recommend/pair a wine with each course. The menu is seasonal, but autumn highlights include wild raviolis, roast chicken with risotto, and beef tenderloin with chateaubriand sauce.

La Rouvenaz: It’s part Italian trattoria, part French brasserie—and wholly amazing. Dine on the terrace, and watch as the sun sets over the lake. Sip on seasonal Swiss wines, and feast on Italian specialties and seafood. We recommend sharing a thin-crust pizza to start. You can’t go wrong with the Diavola pie (hot pepper, olives, and hot salami). The Pesce Misto alla Plancha is a standout entree suitable for two. Mixed grilled fishes (depending on market) and shellfish are served with vegetables and basmati rice.

Le Coucou Hôtel-Restaurant: If you want the traditional Swiss chalet experience, this rustic hotel and restaurant fits the bill. Get the Fondue Champagne, Truffes & Fromage de L’Alpage de Jaman. Cured local meats from a local farm, truffles, and champagne make this fondue truly exceptional. Come for the views, stay for the tarte tatin.

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