Interlaken: the ideal base in Switzerland for outdoor adventures
Updated: May 7
Where do I start? Interlaken is just simply amazing. Located in the Bernese region, the town is the main transport hub and gateway to all the natural wonders like the nearby mountains of the Jungfrau region, the lakes of Thun and Brienz and the Lauterbrunnen valley. When visitors come to this part of the country, Interlaken will always be the first place they will hit up. Either to buy supplies from the shops which cater for all types of tourists, use accommodation here (which is usually cheaper than in the valley and up the mountains) then hop on a train and go exploring, hiking, sightseeing or simply just relax here whilst taking in the breathtaking view of the snow capped peaks of the mountains to the south. The town with 23,000 people (mostly German-Swiss dialect speaking) living here, lies between the two main lakes of the region, Brienz to the east (Brienzersee) and Thun to the west (Thunersee). Hence the name Interlaken (Town connected by two lakes).
We have stayed here a few times and used the town as a base to go exploring in the region or do train rides. Sometimes we have stayed here to compete in the annual Jungfrau marathon which is held in September and runs from the town through to Kleine Scheidegg, over halfway up the Jungfrau mountain.
So again, the question, where do I start? I think I go with what to do and see in the town and surrounding area. That’s the main reason why visitors come here right?
Interlaken - the town itself
Interlaken as I mentioned earlier is a great place to stay for all travelers. From five star hotels to hostels. As the place is cheaper than accommodation in the mountains itself, this makes Interlaken the ideal destination for backpackers to stay. However, away from accommodation, the town has companies providing services for the adventurous people and can take visitors skydiving, canyoning, paragliding, skiing and hand gliding.
The main street to check up in the town is Höheweg, where one side of the street has the huge park of Höhematte, which is not built on so visitors staying at the Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel can have clear views of the Bernese Alps. There are also some nice boutique shops, bars and cafes to enjoy and in the evening, the casino is located here.
However one of my favourite buildings on the street is the Reformierte Schlosskirche which is a castle-church built in the 12th century. First started out as a monastery (which is one of the oldest buildings in the region since 1133AD) was later converted to a castle-church in the 18th century. One thing to note is the stained glass work on the windows. The building is also amazing to take photos of especially when there are the mountains to the south behind it. My favourite viewpoint is near the Harderbahn.
The Harder Kulm is the place to get one of the top views in Switzerland and took our breath away. Located at 1,321 meters (4,334ft) above sea level and around 800 meters above the town of Interlaken which lies below it, we would highly recommend visitors to this region to check this out. Easily signposted from the centre of Interlaken, the funicular is located at the eastern end of the town near Interlaken Ost (east) train station. At the bottom of the funicular station is the start of a few hiking routes which go up the mountain and there is also a small wildlife park where the main attraction is to see alpine goats.
The journey up the mountain takes about eight minutes but at the top the views are just mind blowing. Olga and I stood on the viewing platform and took in the extensive views looking over Interlaken and nearby Unterseen plus the lakes of Brienz and Thun whilst right in front of us was the start of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. On a clear day, the peak of the Jungfrau can be seen. Also at the top is a restaurant to get the perfect rosti in with a beer. Just one tip, the funicular only runs between March and November.
At the western end of Lake Thun (about thirty minute train journey from Interlaken West train station), is the town of Thun (pronounced Toon in English) and lies on the River Aare which flows out of the lake. The population of 45,000 (Swiss-German dialect speaking) towns makes visitors very welcome here in the bars, cafes, restaurants as well as the places of interest here. We love Thun, we just simply love the views from the top of the hill overlooking the town and towards the lake.
The main place where visitors come and check out is Thun Castle which has stood here since the twelfth century and these days houses the Thun Museum. The castle is still in mint condition as it was never used in battle, no one attacked it and no one has ever raided it (well, someone nearly did raid it but was told to bugger off).
One memory we always have is walking down the cobble path from the castle towards the town, passing many beautiful houses with flowers in their baskets. Part of the path has a wooden cover also which gives the place a more medieval feel to the place. I think I remember that more than the castle when I strolled around and it was a very enjoyable (but short) walk. One other noticeable building is in the main square and that is the Rathaus (Town Hall). We love the architecture of this building, the arches on ground level and the clock at the top. Simply sums up Swiss architecture for us.
To the east of Thun on the northern side of Lake Thun is the beautiful castle of Oberhofen which lies on the lake shore. Like Thun Castle, rarely saw a battle and was used more as a residential palace in the later years. Dating back to the thirteenth century, the castle has rarely changed since being built but when it went into private ownership in the nineteenth century, the castle was slightly rebuilt in a Romantic style which visitors can see today. A park was added also and I have to admit, this was stunning. Olga & I loved seeing the beautiful colourful flowers with views of the lake in the background in the summer but our favourite view of the castle is from the west by the lake shore as seen in my photo below.
Jungfraujoch - Top of Europe
One of the most scenic railways in Europe is located in Central Switzerland, the Jungfraubahn (Jungfrau Railway) which is also known as the ‘Top of Europe’. Don’t be shocked about the high prices which have to be paid to go for a ride to the highest train station in Europe; this train ride is for those who love outstanding views of valleys, mountain peaks and beautiful villages. We have done this journey twice and we can totally say that every penny spent on this journey is worth it.
The views from up here are totally amazing. After a few minutes of acclimating to the cold temperatures and the short lightheaded spell which I (Danik) encountered, we were out on the viewing platforms just taking in the breathtaking views. From here views across Switzerland and into nearby Italy, France and Germany were to be had. Surrounding us were also the peaks of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch mountains where in the past, the world’s best mountaineers tried to conquer, to which some lost their lives. Now it takes over two hours from Interlaken to get to the summit and take in these amazing views.
Another good day out from Interlaken is the town of Meiringen to the east (a great train ride as we got to see beautiful views of Lake Brienz). The Aare Gorge (Aareschlucht in Swiss-German) is the main place to visit. The gorge is a section of the River Aare that carves through a limestone ridge and just has to be explored.
We always say that Unterseen is a suburb of Interlaken. It practically is, however, Unterseen is it’s own town. This historic town means ‘Lower Lake’ which is basically right as the town is located on the flat area of the eastern shoreline of Lake Thun and north shoreline of the River Aare. However the current of the River Aare comes from the east from Lake Brienz, which means as the river is flowing westwards, the town is of course slightly lower this side of Interlaken than the eastern side. Hope I have explained that well. There are a few accommodation places located here and ideal if using Interlaken West train station a lot. What we love about this place is walking across the bridge from Interlaken and seeing the small square as well as taking in the walks by the river.
To the south of Interlaken is the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Most visitors usually catch the train from Interlaken Ost and head south. There are a few stations where the train stops at but the main places are Wengen, Grindelwald (see below) and Lauterbrunnen. We love Lauterbrunnen as a place to walk around with mountain peaks on both sides of the valley overlooking us, however the top sight to see has to be the waterfall. There is a staircase which runs alongside the waterfall and eventually goes behind. The sound of the crashing water from below is truly mesmerising. This is the main waterfall but there are another seventy-one waterfalls to explore in the valley.
Grindelwald and First
From Interlaken Ost, there are trains which take visitors to Grindelwald which is located 1,034 meters (3,392 ft) above sea level. We truly love this alpine town, great food, bars, and good for shopping especially when it comes to hiking needs. This is another town like Interlaken which is an excellent base for hiking. There are just so many trails from here. Staying here would save the train journey from Interlaken and get visitors on the trails as soon as possible. One of our favourite places to check out also is doing the ride on the cable car to First where there are also more great hiking trails and an excellent restaurant at the station.
Other things to do and see is the railway line of Schynige Platte, which is one of the highest railway lines in the country and goes up the nearby Schwarzhorn mountain. Another funicular ride to the west of the town is the Heimwehfluhbahn. The two minute journey takes visitors to the top of Heimwehfluh Hill (it's more of a hill compared to the mountains in the area but is still quite tall at 680 meters - 2230ft above sea level). At the top there is a restaurant, model railway, bobsleigh run, children’s playground and an observation tower. A boat trip on the two lakes must be had, the most popular being Lake Brienz, the amount of times we have gone past this lake and seen tour boats with passengers on them in the summer months is quite overwhelming. A top place to see in the Lauterbrunnen Valley is the Schilthorn mountain where there is a cable car which whisks visitors to the top. A lot of movie fans will know this place from the James Bond movie ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’.
There we go guys. We hope this will make you think about doing a stay in Interlaken and checking out all that nature! From hiking to going on trains, to doing boat rides, walking around medieval towns and doing a bit of shopping, or sampling the Swiss Fondue or Rosti’s, we can’t highly recommend Interlaken and the surrounding region enough. It is truly amazing.
Have you been to Interlaken before? Have we missed anything? Is there anything else you can recommend to our readers here? Please leave a comment below.
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