Hiking, mountain biking, skiing – a vacation in Switzerland is almost perfect for that. If you are looking for something different during your trip, you should take a closer look at the Swiss cities. Between magnificent mountains, sparkling lakes and imposing valleys you can enjoy a colorful cultural program away from the original wilderness. Are you curious what Switzerland has to offer you besides the fantastic nature? Here are our 22 best cities to visit in Switzerland.
Lucerne is the capital of the canton of the same name and one of the most popular Swiss cities for international tourism in the country. The city is located at the northwestern end of Lake Lucerne in central Switzerland and offers a lot of culture. There are three major theaters such as the Lucerne Theater, which stages music, dance and drama performances. Many festivals are held in Lucerne, such as the renowned Lucerne Blues Festival.
Event highlights include the Lucerne Festival as a folk festival in summer or the Lucerne Festival with sacred music at Easter. The historic Old Town with the world-famous Chapel Bridge and the Water Tower offers many sights such as the Town Hall from the late Renaissance or the wooden Spreuer Bridge over the Reuss River. There are a number of museums in the city, including the Museum of Transport, the most visited museum in Switzerland, which exhibits historic ships, aircraft or locomotives. Especially the collection of railway vehicles is extremely popular in Switzerland. In Lucerne there are several art museums such as the Hans Erni Museum or the Picasso Museum.
Switzerland’s third-largest city is also its cultural capital. There are around 40 museums and 25 stages in Basel, and the renowned “Art Basel,” a trade fair for modern art, gathers the international art scene in the city on the Rhine. Nevertheless, Basel is tranquil and down-to-earth and offers its guests not only a comprehensive cultural program but also a well-kept city center, some of whose buildings date back to the Middle Ages, numerous green spaces, an exciting gastronomic scene and many shopping opportunities.
Basel is located on the so-called Rhine bend in the north of Switzerland, in the border triangle near Germany and France, and is correspondingly cosmopolitan. The Rhine also shapes the city, dividing it into the older Greater Basel on the left bank and the Little Basel on the right bank, with its important industrial sites. The Jura Mountains extend to the south of Basel.
Worth seeing in Basel is especially the old town on the left bank of the Rhine. Here you will also find the city’s landmark, the Basel Cathedral with its elegant Gothic towers, sandstone façade and colorful roof, whose construction history dates back to the ninth century. The town hall impresses with late Gothic arcades in the central building and its magnificent town hall clock.
With its two towers crowned by battlements and its pointed roof, the Spalentor is the most splendid of the three preserved city gates from the 14th century. At the Fischmarktbrunnen (fish market fountain), the stylistic elements of the Gothic period can once again be found, but the Fischmarkt is surrounded by somewhat more recent architecture with Art Nouveau facades worth seeing. It was not until 1977 that Jean Tinguely’s slightly whimsical Fasnacht fountain was created, which is characterized by its movable metal elements.
The heart of French-speaking Switzerland beats in Geneva. Switzerland’s second largest city and financial center is home to the World Peace Council, the UN and the permanent missions of more than 160 countries. There is a cosmopolitan, international climate in which the city’s guests can feel at home. For all its modern cosmopolitanism, Geneva is also a city with history, which can be experienced, for example, in the historic city center. The well-kept promenades and green areas invite you to stroll.
Geneva is located in the extreme southwest of Switzerland. Here the Rhône River leaves Lake Geneva, which also forms the border with France. On the French south side of Lake Geneva rise the Savoy Alps with Mont Blanc as the highest peak. The landscape between Lausanne and Villeneuve on the eastern shore is called the “Vaud Riviera” and is characterized by vineyards, ginkgo trees, magnolias and rhododendrons.
Even in Geneva itself, one can enjoy a lush display of flowers. At the Jardin Anglais, a flower clock with a diameter of four meters is arranged every year. The Jet d’Eau, a 140-meter-high water fountain that is visible from afar and is Geneva’s landmark, points the way.
Another landmark for strolling through the historic old town is the crossing tower of the Cathédrale de St-Pierre on the highest point of the old town hill. The Romanesque church building was erected from 1150 and its interior is characterized by Calvinist austerity. The four Calvinist reformers Guillaume Farel, Jean Calvin, Théodore de Bèze, and John Knox were immortalized in the Monument de la Réformation a little further southwest. In the nearby Hôtel de Ville, with its Renaissance façade worth seeing, the Red Cross was founded in 1864 with the first Geneva Convention.
19. St. Gallen
St. Gallen looks back on a rich past as a textile city. Embroideries from St. Gallen achieved world fame and are still present throughout the city today. The city, officially founded in 1180, boasts a very well preserved old town. This is characterized, among other things, by the Collegiate Church, which, together with the surrounding district, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the capital of the canton of the same name, St. Gallen is also the center of eastern Switzerland and therefore, and thanks to the university, has a rich cultural and nightlife.
St. Gallen is located close to the German border and not far from Lake Constance. The city in the northeast of Switzerland is located at an altitude of almost 700 meters, making it one of the highest cities in Switzerland. St. Gallen is surrounded by two rivers, the Sitter and the Steinach. The city lies in the middle of a small basin.
A good view of the city is offered by the Rosenberg, an elevation on the city’s territory, where the university is also located. From there, an impressive panoramic view of the region and the Eastern Swiss Alps can be enjoyed. The collegiate church, seat of the diocese of St. Gallen, is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Switzerland. The old town with ornate bay windows and the Abbey Library, whose holdings date back centuries, are also considered sights of interest. An interesting natural landscape is offered to the observer in the local recreation area Drei Weiheren.
Zurich, the economic and cultural center of Switzerland, which has become prosperous through banking, the stock exchange and trade, is considered the only real large city in the Swiss Confederation. Well over a million people live in the approximately 90 square kilometer city area and the neighboring suburbs. Anyone who has never been to this metropolis cannot claim to have truly traveled through the multifaceted Switzerland. Apart from this geographical and cultural anthropological insight, Zurich offers its visitors a wide range of cultural and natural attractions.
The city of Zurich is scenically located at the outlet of the Aare tributary Limmat from Lake Zurich. Nearly 150 museums and galleries, such as the renowned Kunsthaus or the Museum Rietberg, as well as monuments and historic buildings bear witness to Zürich’s rich culture and city history. Visitors to Zürich are especially recommended to take a stroll through the old town.
With its medieval and early modern alleys along the banks of the Limmat, history can be experienced at first hand. Also worth seeing are the districts that were built around the old town in the 19th century, whose ensembles of buildings convey the feeling of comfortable bourgeoisie. The most important sights in these districts include the imposing Grossmünster with its twin towers and the Frauenmünster Church, famous not least for its Chagall paintings.
In the canton of Bern at the gateway to the Bernese Oberland lies the worth seeing city of Thun, the largest garrison town in Switzerland with many historical sights such as the old town. The city on the Aare and Lake Thun offers a high quality of life in a historic ambience in the center. The old town of Thun with the upper main street and the unique Hochtrottoirs is ideal for strolling. Here you will find many stores, cafes and bars. A popular attraction is the shopping island Bälliz. With numerous beautiful places, the island on both sides of the Aare is popular with locals and tourists alike for shopping. You can find markets, traditional stores, cafes and restaurants here.
Numerous markets are held in the center, including the crafts market and the flea and antique market, both of which take place once a month. Many beautiful sights distinguish the Bernese city center, such as Thun Castle, built in the 12th century under Berchtold V of Zähringen. It is home to a castle museum, which, among other things, focuses on Swiss military history. Imposing buildings in the lively town are the town hall and the Thun town church.
A cultural highlight is the Thun folk festival Ausschiesset, which has been celebrated as a shooting festival since the 16th century. The folk festival attracts many visitors to the city and takes place at the end of September. The focus is on the jester Fulehung and the crossbow shooting of the cadets. A special musical event is the Thuner Seespiele, which takes place July to August. The lake stage is built directly on the nearby Lake Thun.
Lugano has long been a very popular tourist destination. The city is mainly visited by day trippers from German-speaking Switzerland, northern Italy and southern Baden. However, many vacationers also spend their vacations there for longer periods. The reasons for this are manifold: the mild climate, the wonderful bathing bays at the lake, the rich cultural offer, as well as the Mediterranean flair. This was already appreciated by famous personalities. For example, the famous author Hermann Hesse lived near Lugano for over 40 years.
Lugano is located in the south of the Swiss canton Ticino. The city is located on the shores of Lake Lugano, not far from the Italian border. With about 55,000 inhabitants, it is not only the largest city in southern Switzerland, but also its cultural center. Its location on the southern edge of the Alps gives Lugano its mild climate, which already has a strong Mediterranean feel. Lugano is easily accessible both from the north, thanks to the Gotthard tunnel and the San Bernardino, and from the south.
The most important sights are the cathedral of San Lorenzo from the 9th century and the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli from the late Middle Ages. In general, the southern ambience of the city center alone is worth a trip to Lugano. The promenades Piazza Riforma and Via Nassa, as well as Via Pessina are also worth a visit. Also worth seeing is the Parco civico with its beautiful vegetation. There is also the Villa Ciani.
The baroque city of Solothurn is one of the most beautiful cities in northwestern Switzerland and offers many sights in the old town. Solothurn on the Aare is a popular cultural city in a beautiful historical ambience. The historic old town offers many interesting buildings from the 15th to the 18th century. The river Aare divides the city into a northern and southern part. The city is a regional cultural center with facilities such as the city theater, the Solothurn Nature Museum and the city’s renowned cultural museum.
Numerous events take place in Solothurn throughout the year, such as the renowned Solothurn Film Festival. A popular summer festival is the Solothurn Classics, which are evening concerts held in the St. Ursus Bastion in a romantic setting. The carnival season also brings many guests to the city of culture, which is also a popular shopping destination in the region. The surroundings of the Swiss baroque city offer many scenic beauties, which are ideal for hiking, climbing tours or paragliding. A river trip on the Aare from Solothurn to Biel is relaxing. The river trip is considered one of the most beautiful navigation routes in Switzerland. Restful and atmospheric are also riverside walks along the Aare.
Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is one of the best preserved cities in Europe. Founded in 1191, the Zähringerstadt awaits with its characteristic arcades, medieval buildings such as the Zytgloggeturm or the imposing Bundeshaus as the seat of government. The old town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical quality. The city also assumes an important central function and therefore has a lively cultural and nightlife.
The city is located in the densely populated part of Switzerland known as the Mittelland. Bern is situated at a little more than 500 meters above sea level. The city is located about halfway between Zurich and Lausanne in the western part of the country and only a few kilometers from the Bernese Alps and the popular hiking and skiing region of the Bernese Oberland. The city covers an area of about 50 square kilometers.
In addition to the old town with its famous buildings such as the Zytgloggeturm, the observatory or the Marktgasse, popular sights include the Bear Pit, where several specimens of the Bernese heraldic animal are kept and can be visited. The Bundeshaus, the seat of the Swiss government, is also an imposing and photogenic building. With the Federal Terrace, a viewing platform is available. In summer, the Marzilibad is also very popular, where residents and visitors can swim and float in the river Aare, which runs through the city of Bern.
Lausanne in the French-speaking canton of Vaud lies idyllically on the northern shore of Lake Geneva. The metropolis in the west of Switzerland is one of the most beautiful cities in the Alpine country and looks back on a history rich in tradition as an industrial and commercial metropolis. The prosperity of the city was mainly founded in the 19th century. Today, the metropolis is known, among other things, for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has its headquarters here. The city center of Lausanne is located around the Place St-Francois.
The historic old town with many sights is designed without traffic and radiates a lot of Mediterranean charm. North of the old town is the shopping district around Rue du Bourg, which, like the old town, is very popular with visitors. Magnificent sights include Notre-Dame Cathedral, as one of the most important sacred buildings from the Gothic period. In the center of Lausanne sits the Château Saint-Maire. The castle is one of Switzerland’s cultural heritages and is used as the seat of government. To the west of the city is the Flon district with numerous art galleries.
One of the most famous vacation destinations on Lake Geneva is the jazz metropolis of Montreux with its Mediterranean climate. Montreux developed as a tourist resort for nobles and monarchs as early as the 19th century. Queen Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi) or Russian intellectuals such as Lev Tolstoy were among the most famous vacation guests of the era. Today, Montreux is best known for the Montreux Jazz Festival, which attracts about a quarter of a million jazz fans every year over 20 days. The cultural metropolis on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva is situated on the steep mountain slopes and attracts many tourists because of its Mediterranean flair.
The Montreux waterfront is the city’s promenade and the tourist flagship. From here you have a great view over Lake Geneva, Mount Grammont and the Dents du Midi in the Western Alps. The cultural and musical city of Montreux offers many cultural attractions. There are several museums such as the Musée de Montreux and renowned events such as the Montreux Christmas Market.
Many remarkable hotel and residential buildings from the time of early tourism have been preserved in Montreux and Clarens. Historic hotels such as the Montreux Palace, which opened in 1902, add to the charm of the resort. Lake Geneva lends itself to numerous leisure and sports activities. Among the excursion destinations is Chillon Castle, one of the most beautiful water castles in Switzerland on a rocky island on the eastern shore.
Locarno is located on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore in the canton of Ticino and is a popular vacation destination for those seeking relaxation and nature lovers. The charm of the city is the Mediterranean flair. Locarno is considered one of the warmest cities in Switzerland and is especially popular with vacationers in the winter with its pleasant climate and scenic beauty. The scenery is characterized by Lake Maggiore and the Alpine panorama. Locarno has a lot of culture and leisure activities to offer.
Popular all year round is the lake promenade, which invites you to stroll or linger. There are many activities that can be done in and around Locarno. The offer ranges from water sports to golfing to fantastic hiking and biking tours. In winter you can go snowshoeing or winter hiking in the nearby mountains, among other things. The city has many beautiful buildings to offer and exudes an Italian culture in the old town. In the city center, in Piazza Grande, events take place throughout the year, such as the Locarno International Film Festival in August. The town’s landmark is the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, which stands above Locarno in the municipality of Orselina.
The capital of Ticino, Bellinzona, is considered the Italian city in Switzerland and has a rich cultural and commercial history. Due to its geographical position, the city was politically and economically important for the region from very early times. Bellinzona has many sights to offer, such as the castles of Bellinzona, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The city fortifications, which were already developed under the Roman Empire, later included three castles and the fortifications. Among the famous buildings is the elective church of Madonna del Sasso, built in the late 15th century and towering high above Lake Maggiore. Bellinzona offers many restaurants, cafes and stores with a Mediterranean flair. The pleasant climate in winter makes Ticino with its tourist metropolises Bellinzona, Locarno, Lugano and Ascona a popular winter holiday destination for those seeking relaxation and active vacationers. Due to the unique fauna and flora, many hikers and cyclists come to the region, which also offers many leisure activities in winter. One of the highlights of the events is the traditional carnival, which attracts many visitors.
Interlaken offers the visitor everything for a perfect vacation. The visitor can expect a magnificent mountain panorama and wonderful alpine lakes. But also the diverse and attractive leisure activities in Interlaken can be seen. There is something for every taste. Traditional festivals alternate with modern events. The convenient location of the town makes it possible to visit other interesting regions. The Valais, Lucerne or Montreux can be reached quickly and easily.
Interlaken is located in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. The municipality is also considered the center of the eastern Bernese Oberland.
Interlaken has numerous sights. The town’s castle used to be a monastery. The Kursaal with the casino is located in the beautiful Kurpark. If you want to see model railroads, the “SBB Historic” is the right place. Twelve model train layouts tell of over 100 years of railroad history in Switzerland.
The “Unspunnenfest”, an alpine festival, has been celebrated in Switzerland and also in Interlaken since 1805. Every year the festival around the national hero William Tell takes place here.
Biel is the largest bilingual city in Switzerland and is located directly on Lake Biel in the canton of Bern. The city, called Bienne in French, offers a charming mix of modern city quarters and the historic old town. Among other things, Biel/Bienne is known as a watch city. World-famous brands such as Omega or Swatch are based in the German-French speaking metropolis. The noble watch brand Rolex also produces in Biel. The city at the foot of the Jura Mountains is one of the centers of cultural life in the canton of Bern. The watchmaking city is considered cosmopolitan and lively, with all lifestyles reflecting Francophile cultural influences.
The old town of Biel with its numerous historic buildings and medieval alleys is a sight to behold. The old town is ideal for lingering and strolling. Here you can find many cafes, restaurants and stores in a quiet old town atmosphere. The town church is the prominent building in the historic center, which offers many places worth seeing from the past history of the town, such as the Burgplatz or the Ober- and Untergasse. Culture is part of the savoir vivre of Bienne. Numerous museums are of interest, including the CentrePasquArt, the center for contemporary art and the Musée Omega, which exhibits historical watches of the famous Swiss watch brand. The impressive collection includes about 4,000 exhibits ranging from watches to photographs and posters.
In the French-speaking part of Western Switzerland, Neuchâtel is a cultural city beautifully situated on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel. Neuchâtel has an interesting cultural history and was partly owned by the King of Prussia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, Neuchâtel is known as a cultural city that is home to some prestigious events, such as the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival. The Neuchâtel Wine Festival is one of the popular events in the city, which has developed along the shores of Lake Neuchâtel.
The historic city center and pedestrian streets with many bistros and restaurants add to the charm of the city. Tradition and modernity combine here with the French savoir-vivre. Lake Neuchâtel with its beautiful lakeside promenades offers a high quality of life. Boats operated by the Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Morat Navigation Company offer a relaxing way to explore the lake. Three interesting museums are located in the city, such as the internationally renowned Ethnological Museum Neuchâtel. The city’s landmark is the Collegiate Church of Neuchâtel, an imposing Gothic-style church. The surrounding area of Neuchâtel is known as a wine-growing region, where there are many varieties of high quality grapes. The French way of life in Neuchâtel includes good food with many fish dishes and excellent cheeses.
The vacation resort of Chur is considered the oldest city in Switzerland and is situated with the beautiful old town in a magnificent mountain setting. The beautiful squares of Chur include the Kornplatz, the St. Martinsplatz and the Postplatz. The promenade of Chur is the Bahnhofsstraße and the Poststraße in the old town, where you can store. Among the magnificent buildings are the Episcopal Court and Cathedral of Chur and the Old Building in Baroque style, which was built from 1727 to 1729.
The alpine town lies at around 600 meters and is popular as a vacation destination both in summer and winter. On Chur’s local mountain, the Brambrüesch, lies the winter sports area, which can be reached by taking the Brambrüeschbahn from Chur. From the city center you can reach the skiing and hiking region Brambrüesch with the high plateau in a few minutes.
The ski area extends with about 20 kilometers of slopes up to about 2,200 meters above sea level. In summer, the Grisons resort is especially popular with active visitors such as hikers. Arosa is located about one thousand meters above Chur. The Arosa Railway is one of the attractions and travels up the mountain to Arosa through tunnels and gorges.
5. La Chaux-de-Fonds
Swiss World Heritage Sites include the watchmaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds in western Switzerland. La Chaux-de-Fonds and the neighboring town of Le Locle in the Neuchâtel Jura are traditional sites of the Swiss watchmaking industry, whose historical value was recognized by UNESCO in 2009. The development of this beautiful town is closely linked to the industrialization of the watchmaking industry. La Chaux-de-Fonds was also awarded for its efforts to preserve the historic buildings, which were built mainly in the 19th century.
The architectural heritage of La Chaux-de-Fonds includes the historic residences with attached bright watch workshops, which brought a lot of quality of life for the workers in the watch industry. The Swiss city was laid out in a checkerboard fashion and is known for many cultural institutions. There are a number of museums in La Chaux-de-Fonds, such as the International Watch Museum in an underground structure created in the 1970s.
The museum uniquely explores the history of the watch industry in the region. The art museum or the natural history museum are also worth visiting in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The city has many beautiful buildings to offer such as the 19th century tower clock of the Grand Temple in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the historic center. La Chaux-de-Fonds is a very compact city with few suburbs, as is common elsewhere in the region, which facilitates explorations of the historic town. The surrounding area with the Swiss Jura offers many excursions.
The Swiss metropolis of Winterthur is located about 20 kilometers from Zurich and is primarily a cultural city with many museums and theaters. The city with about one hundred thousand inhabitants is located in northeastern Switzerland and is known as a green city, which also offers many sports and leisure activities. Beautiful buildings in the old town, parks and cultural institutions characterize the image of Winterthur. Due to the excellent transport infrastructure, one can quickly reach Zurich and Eastern Switzerland.
The city is also known as a shopping metropolis in Switzerland, with about 300 stores in the city center and the largest pedestrian zone in the country. The cultural offerings include 16 museums, such as the Museum of the Fotostiftung Schweiz (Swiss Photo Foundation) and the Villa Flora, which features 19th- and 20th-century French painting. The Winterthur Art Museum exhibits one of the finest Swiss collections of modern art. Cultural institutions include various theaters, such as the Casinotheater as a comedy house or the Summer Theater Winterthur, with the oldest summer stage in the country. There are many art houses for the trendy scene of artists.
In the Swiss canton of Valais, Sion, French Sion, is a popular vacation town with a lot of historical charm. The French- and German-speaking resort is centrally located in the Valais vacation region and offers itself as a cultural and shopping city. Sion or Sitten is easily recognized by the towers of the historic Tourbillon and Valeria castles, perched on hills overlooking the city. Sion is one of the oldest cities in Switzerland with a 7,000-year history and has a historic old town with numerous monuments.
The medieval townscape characterizes the charm of the city in the center, which has the Cathedral of Our Lady, a place of worship worth seeing as the seat of the bishop. The medieval facades are enriched with modern buildings in the cityscape. The shopping district in the center of Sion is one of the attractions of the city, which also has much to offer culturally. There are museums worth seeing on the subjects of art, history and nature, among others. Sion has a very good transport infrastructure and the largest bus station in Switzerland.
Sion is thus an ideal starting point for summer and winter vacations in the Valais. In winter, you can quickly reach famous ski resorts such as Anzère or Crans-Montana. Many interesting places with thermal spas enrich the wellness offer in the surrounding area of Sion.
On the cultural border with French-speaking Switzerland lies Fribourg, one of the most interesting medieval cities in Europe. Fribourg offers many historical buildings from the Gothic cultural epoch of the 15th century. The special charm of the city is conveyed by the medieval old town in a unique form in Switzerland. The most magnificent building of the German and French speaking city is the Fribourg Cathedral with the magnificent stained glass windows by Józef Mehoffer, built from the end of the 13th century. The church is dedicated to St.
Nicholas and overlooks the popular old town of Fribourg. From the cathedral you have a great view over Fribourg in Üechtland. One attraction is the Funiculaire, a funicular railroad that connects the city center with the lower town. The university town is a culturally bustling Swiss city with several cultural institutions such as the Museum Espace Jean Tinguely et Niki de Saint Phalle, a museum of art with works by Jean Tinguely and his wife. Renowned events such as the Jazz Parade or the Fribourg International Film Festival are among the cultural highlights. On the first Saturday in December, the St. Nicholas Festival is one of the most visited events.
At the foot of the Simplon Pass in Valais lies the idyllic vacation town of Brig. The two-season resort offers many sports and leisure activities for guests in summer and winter and is an ideal starting point in the Valais for active people such as hikers, mountaineers or bikers. The historic small town offers an old town with many gastronomic establishments and patrician houses. The central Bahnhofstrasse is an inviting place for shopping. A place of interest is the Stockalper Castle, one of the most beautiful palace buildings in the baroque style in Switzerland. The castle in the historic old town was built in the 17th century.
Century by the Valais merchant and military leader Kaspar Jodok von Stockalp. It has housed the town hall since 1960. Brig is geographically convenient to the hiking areas on the Lötschberg and the Simplon or interesting ski resorts. The history of the town is closely connected with one of the most beautiful Alpine passes, the Simplon Pass in the Valais Alps. Under Napoleon I, a fortified military road was built in today’s hiker’s paradise for the war against Italy. Since that time stagecoaches already drove over the pass into the Valais. Excursions can be made from the Valais vacation resort to well-known winter sports resorts such as Zermatt. The ski resorts of Zermatt or Saas-Fee are among the best winter sports areas in Switzerland.