The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland, which includes the small city of Interlaken, the valley of Lauterbrunnen , and little towns high in the mountains like Murren and Wengen that can only be accessed by cable cars, may just be the coolest place my wife and I have visited. We stayed in Murren for 4 nights during the first week of June in 2016, after spending 2 nights in Amsterdam and before spending 3 nights in Zermatt, Switzerland.
Why Visit The Bernese Oberland?
Some of our friends and family were surprised to hear that we chose this rural area in Switzerland as the place to spend the majority of our time in on our first trip to Europe. Why not London, Paris, Florence, or Rome? Well, I’m sure those cities are great, and we’ll make it to those places eventually, but after doing our research on Europe, we found that Switzerland stood out as the most beautiful places to visit in Europe, especially the mountainous Bernese Oberland region.
If you like seeing cool places, if you like beautiful landscapes, if you like spending time outdoors, and/or if you like adventure, check out the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. There aren’t many other places like it in the world.
When To Go?
In the summer, late spring and early fall, enjoy walking, hiking , bicycling or more extreme activities like paragliding and sky diving. In the winter, of course, it’s all about the skiing. The summer is an especially beautiful time to visit because the valleys will be lush and green and the mountains remain snow topped throughout the year. When we went in the first week of June, it was unfortunately a rainy and cloudy week. That’s the only negative about going here; your experience greatly depends on the weather. The rainy season is unfortunately during the summer, when it’s also the most beautiful when its sunny, so just stay as many days as you can and hope for sunny days!
Interlaken is the hub of the Bernese Oberland and the gateway to the Jungfrau Region, which is the most popular and scenic part of the Bernese Oberland. You can fly into Zurich and take a 2 hour drive or train ride to Interlaken or fly into Geneva and take a 3 hour drive or train ride to Interlaken. Or of course you can really fly into ANY city in Europe and take the train into Switerland.
We flew from Boston to Amsterdam, spent 2 nights there, then took an overnight sleeper train through Germany to Interlaken. A sleeper train seemed like a great idea because you wouldn’t lose any sight seeing time while you travel and you’ll save money on a hotel, and we thought we would sleep well because you get a private cabin with bunk beds, but as cool of an experience as it was, we got pretty terrible sleep! Oh well, we still didn’t have to waste half a day on the train or pay for another night in a hotel, right?
“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”
You’ll probably travel by train and cable cars in the Jungfrau region, which was a big part of the appeal for us. No car needed, in fact no cars allowed in Murren or Wengen. Where else do you have to take a cable car up the mountain to get to your hotel?!
A 20 minute train ride takes you from Interlaken to the beautiful valley of Lauterbrunnen. From there to Murren, you take a cable car up to Grutschalp, then a quick train from there to Murren. Alternatively you can take a bus through the Lauterbrunnen valley to get to Stechelberg, then take a cable car to Gimelwald, and another cable car from there to Murren. From this station, another cable car could take you up high to Birg and Schilthorn.
On the other side of the valley, a train takes you from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen, and from there you could take a train to Kleine Scheidegg and all the way up to Jungfrau. Or, from Wengen take a cable car to Mannclichen and another cable car to Grindelwald. There is also a train to Grindelwald from Sweilutschinen, which is in between Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen.
Does all of this sound confusing? It’s really not. Switzerland has one of the most advanced rail infrastructures I’ve ever seen with easy to understand schedules and frequent stops. We got the Swiss Half Fare Card to save some money on the train and cable car tickets. There are several passes available on Switzerland’s rail website. Be warned, train travel is expensive in Switzerland. Here’s a tip: If you’re booking a train between Germany and Switzerland, book it on Germany’s rail website, the fare will be cheaper.
Where To Stay
Interlaken is a convenient location for exploring the greater Bernese Oberland region. It offers plenty of hotels, restaurants and shopping. You can drive here or take the train. However, if you’ll be spending most of your time in the Jungfrau region of the Bernese Oberland, there are more interesting places to stay like the following places.
Grindelwald is the most developed resort area in the Jungfrau region and has the most options for lodging, dining and shopping. This is one of the few places where cars are permitted but parking is limited. A train connects you from Grindelwald to Jungfraujoch where you can spend the day high in the mountains. A cable car connects you to First, which has a whole bunch of really cool adventures.
Murren is a small quaint car-free village in the mountains with terrific views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains. You can get to Murren from a cable car in Lauterbrunnen or Stechelberg. We stayed here during our trip in June 2016 at a lovely B&B called Hotel Alpenblick. There are B&Bs to stay at or dine at in Murren, access to lots of hiking trails, and a cable car can take you from Murren to Schilthorn.
Wengen is a car-free village in the mountains. To get there, you take a quick train ride from Lauterbrunnen. Wengen is similar to Murren but busier and much more developed.
Lauterbrunnen is the valley between Murren and Wengen. This is a convenient location for accessing the mountains on either side of the valley. The village is very quaint like Murren.
What To Do
It’s all about enjoying the outdoors in the Bernese Oberland. You can keep the activity level light by just taking trains, cable cars and funiculars to the many scenic areas. In the summer, enjoy the hiking trails that traverse the mountains. On many hikes, you can take a cable car up, then hike down, making the hikes much easier. If it’s adventure that you’re looking for, there’s the Via Ferrata in Murren, which looks absolutely terrifying, or the thrill walk and skyline walk in Birg above Murren, or paragliding off the mountainside in Murren into the Lauterbrunnen valley, or zipling, mountain carting and more at Grindelwald-First. This is just scratching the surface. This area really is an adventurer’s paradise!
Some of the many experiences possible …
All images above are property of Jungfrau Region Tourism
Our Visit: June 2016
Day 1: The first thing we did upon arrival in Interlaken was stow our suitcases in the lockers at the train station and take the bus to St. Beatus Caves. After exploring the caves and having lunch at the restaurant with views of Lake Thun, we walked about 20 minutes down a steep hill to the ferry dock and took a cruise back to Interlaken, then took the train to Lauterbrunnen and the cable car up to Murren where we checked in to Hotel Alpenblick.
Day 2: Murren was totally clouded in so we took the cable car down to Lauterbrunnen where it was a little clearer. We walked on the paved path through Lauterbrunnen valley, stopping occasionally to watch the farmers herd their cattle and of course to just admire the views of mountains, waterfalls and wildflowers around us. At Staubbach Falls, we walked the trail that goes up and behind the falls. Unfortunately, when we got to Trummelbach Falls, which are seen inside the mountain, it was too late in the day and they were closed!
Day 3: It was rainy and cloudy again when we woke up so we spent the morning at the spa at the Alpine Sports Centre in Murren. In the afternoon, although it was still cloudy, we walked from Murren to Gimmelwald. This is a really nice walk through the little village of Gimmelwald that Rick Steves loves so much. There isn’t much to do there, so I don’t recommend staying there, but it is gorgeous. At the end of our walk we had some drinks at the Hostel and took the cable car back up to Murren.
Day 4: This day was rainy and cloudy again so a trip up to Jungfraujoch or Schilthorn just wasn’t in the cards. We took the train up to Wengen to see the other side of the valley. Wengen was a lot more developed and busy than Murren. More hotels, more restaurants and more shopping. While we walked around Wengen, it started raining pretty hard, so we called it a day and headed back to our hotel in Murren.
Day 5: Our time in The Bernese Oberland was over and it was time to take the 3 hour train ride to Zermatt, the next leg of our journey. On the train ride from Murren to Grutschalp, the clouds finally parted and we briefly got to see the famous skyline of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains. It’s too bad that we had such crappy weather, but that’s how it goes, you never know if the weather will cooperate during your vacation. Fortunately the weather was fantastic in Zermatt!