The Swiss Alps are perhaps the biggest attraction for visitors to Switzerland, especially with all year round snow 365 in several regions. But not everyone is looking for an adrenaline rush, right? There are so many cities in Switzerland for you to explore, no matter your interests.
If you want to take in the best of Switzerland there is no lack of places to go for visitors seeking the buzz and energy of a lively city. And, although Switzerland is a small country, it can certainly give you some bang for your buck in terms of cities. Zurich is the largest, most popular, and perhaps famous city you might know. However, with 32 cities in Switzerland, there are some other great destinations I want to show you.
The Swiss capital city of Bern is unlike any other capital in the world. At least in my opinion!
There are no towering buildings and people rushing from one place to another here. This makes Bern a welcome respite for visitors looking for a break from their hectic lifestyles but still wishing to travel to a wonderful European city.
The main attraction in the city of Bern is the Old Town, which is in fact, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is both a center of culture and history where visitors can walk down cobbled streets lined with stunning limestone buildings. It is also a playground for shopaholics looking for both modern styles and antique finds, something on most visitors agendas I am sure. This six kilometers of independent shops is also considered the longest covered shopping promenade in the world. So, if it is raining, you know where to come.
And no visit to this area of Bern is complete without heading to the iconic Clock Tower, which is right in the center of it all.
Other places of interest include the House of Parliament, as well over 50 museums, and more than 100 art galleries.
Any trip through central Switzerland requires a stop at the ever-popular metropolis of Lucerne. This city is the perfect combination of both modern and medieval structures, mixed with the great outdoors. With easy to reach excursions in the mountain regions or on Lake Lucerne, Lucerne is renowned amongst travelers.
One of the city’s most popular landmarks is the Water Tower, which is characterized by its octagonal shape and built as part of the city’s fortification. In the 1300s, it was used as an archive, treasury, prison, and torture chamber. However, perhaps even more famous is the medieval Chapel Bridge. It is also one of the oldest wooden bridges in Europe, and certainly one of a kind with paintings on the inside of the roof all along its spine.
Several churches also exhibit impressive décor and architecture, but more modern designs such as that of KKL Luzern or the Cultural and Convention Centre of Lucerne give the city a different feel to the rest of Switzerland.
Lucerne also boasts an impressive list of shops both in the city center and the Old Town. Most notable in the city, though, is the thriving food scene of both local and international cuisine. There are several Gault Millau awarded restaurants which will be a hit for the foodies.
Geneva is where the world comes together in Switzerland with over 20 international organizations headquartered in the city. This includes the International Red Cross and the United Nations, just to name a couple. French is the main language here, in a city that is also surrounded by the towing Alps and the Jura mountains. Let’s not forget about the location either. Geneva is right where the Rhone River leaves Lake Geneva. As a result, most of the hotels and shops in the city sit right at the shore of the lake with a view to die for!
The star attraction in Geneva is the Jet d’Eau, a landmark situated at the center of the harbor that shoots 500 liters of water 140 meters into the air. Geneva is also deeply involved in science with one of the most impressive Physics experiments in the world (CERN) easily within reach.
As with all the cities in Switzerland, Geneva is also filled with a variety of museums, restaurants, and shopping districts that will surely keep you busy and entertained.
Basel is a pocket-sized city that is home to 40 local and world-renowned museums that attract culture vultures and connoisseurs year-round. It is also Switzerland’s oldest university city with a beautiful Old Town nestled within some wonderful modern architecture. Basel has a whole lot to offer including a bunch of beautiful botanical spaces to help bring some green to the city, and give you a place to relax when you come.
Sharing a border with Germany and France, the city forms the so-called Dreiländereck ( that’s “three countries’ corner” in German) which alone makes for a fascinating mix of cultures. The impressively wide Rhine River curves through the city, creating some geographical divisions: the south and west bank is Grossbasel (Great Basel) with the medieval old town at the center, and the north bank is Kleinbassel (little Basel), which holds much of the nightlife.
Basel’s most impressive celebration, and quite frankly a “must see”, is the Fasnacht (Carnival), which celebrates the “three best days” of the year. It takes place on the first Monday after Ash Wednesday and begins with the Morgenstraich. Starting at 4 AM, all lights in the city center are shut off, and lanterns with over 200 Carnival themes painted on them, start glowing in the dark. Once the signal is given, drummers and piccolo players strike up the march and mark the beginning of the three-day celebration. I was there almost 10 years ago, and I have never seen anything quite like it since. So, if you get a chance, try to make it once in your life
The city of Lugano is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in Switzerland. Situated on Lake Lugano, with a background of the stunning green mountains, a stroll in this city is a magical experience in itself.
The Mediterranean flair here is strong in both the city vibe and décor. This is perhaps not so surprising because this is the Italian corner of Switzerland. This gives this largest town in Ticino all the advantages of a world-class city combined with some rustic small town charm. What more could you want in a city?
Lugano’s mild climate makes it an ideal vacation spot in the spring when the camellias are in bloom. Parco Civico, situated on the shore of the lake, is a popular park with subtropical plants perfect for this season. Art galleries such as the Museo Cantonale d’Art and architecture are also quite popular which might just be because of the high standard of exhibitions held in this “little” city.
Finding Unique Cities in Switzerland
No matter which city you put on your itinerary when visiting Switzerland, you will certainly not be disappointed. There is so much to see and do, as well as experience, your vacation memories (and camera) will come home full!
About the Author
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn’t know about travel, ain’t worth knowing! You can find him blogging about his experiences at Expert World Travel.