Switzerland is a wonderful country to visit in Europe. With its pristine and beautiful lakes, cable cars, rolling hills and a high standard of living, Swiss places always find a desired spot in travel bucket lists. In this post, we will discover the most beautiful cities in Switzerland that you must explore.
Swiss Statistical Agency recognizes 20 places as “cities” or big towns. In this list we have included the best cities to visit in Switzerland regardless of their size – just that these are super gorgeous destinations and totally worthy of your time and money.
11 Most beautiful cities in Switzerland – Guide to best cities to visit in Switzerland
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Switzerland is a confederation of 26 member states and it has 4 official languages – French, German, Italian, and Romansh. It is not uncommon for people including locals and tour guides to refer to the French side or the German side – when they refer to different cities in Switzerland.
Did you know that – Switzerland is also known as “Confoederatio Helvetica”? “Helvetica” is derived from the Latin word “Helvetier”, and you will see the abbreviation “CH”, commonly used for Switzerland. And “Confoederatio” stands for “confederation”.
Essential Tips for Best cities to visit in Switzerland
Suggested Switzerland Itinerary
Switzerland as a country is not very big. You can easily keep a major city in Switzerland as a base and take day trips to explore more of the country. If you are visiting Switzerland for 7-10 days and arriving into Zurich, you might find our suggested itinerary useful. READ: 7 -10 days in Switzerland Itinerary
Swiss Travel Pass
To explore all of the beautiful cities in Switzerland – purchase a Swiss Travel Pass. The Swiss Travel Pass allows you to take unlimited train rides across the country (for a set duration of time) and also comes with discounted entry fees to many iconic landmarks in the city.
Use the Travel Card to design your own Switzerland itinerary and get unlimited train rides across the country. Buy your Swiss Travel Card here.
Are cities in Switzerland expensive?
Switzerland is an expensive place to travel to and stay for long term. If you budget things well, stay in a mid range hotel with access to trams and trains (use public transportation), you can explore the country within affordable means.
Switzerland has a very high standard of living, amazing landscape (which is free to view) and safety while traveling in the country makes up for the high price tag that comes with vacationing here. Come to think of it – all expensive cities/countries have a high living standard, clean public spaces (including toilets), less crime and good infrastructure.
Zurich – the largest city in Switzerland
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. It is a wonderful place as a base city, to start exploring this beautiful country. Zurich offers a state of the art infrastructure, a high standard of living with a charming old town center.
In Zurich, you cannot miss the Altstadt, which is the historic old town. Spend most of your time in Zurich by exploring iconic landmarks such as the Grossmünster Church and the Münsterbrücke and the Fraumünster church.
Zurich is also home to the most expensive retail or shopping street in the world, called the Brahonstrasse. The beauty of Zurich Old Town is magnified by the Limmat river that flows through the city. Take a stroll along the river banks or hop on a cruise, either way you won’t be disappointed.
Lindenhof Hill is a nice oasis in the heart of the city of Zurich, which is also a MUST visit to soak in amazing views of the historic town. The Lindenhof was the site of a Roman Castle in the early middle Ages. Today it is a popular hang out place, to unwind and relax under the shade of trees.
Other popular attractions in Zurich include the FIFA World Cup Museum, which is a must visit for soccer lovers. It is located just a few minutes outside of old town.
Lake Zurich Promenade is also located in the same district and this is where most cruises to Lake Zurich depart from. It is a lovely place to explore during summers, whether or not you wish to take a cruise.
Zurich is an easy option for first time visitors to Switzerland. Keeping Zurich as a base, you can explore a lot of other places like Rhine falls, Bern, Lucerne, Interlaken and Basel.
Zurich is a financial capital of the country and a global city – definitely a must visit as it is one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland.
Bern – Capital City of Switzerland
Bern may be the capital of Switzerland but that doesn’t mean it’s boring and business-like. The Old Town, in particular, offers many charms and it’s easy to spend a day or two exploring. In fact it has so many treasures it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
The city dates back to the 12th century so there’s plenty of history to discover and your first stop should be the Zytglogge, Bern’s famous clock-tower. It features an intricate clock face and mechanical figures which ‘perform’ every hour.
As you wander the cobbled streets of Bern’s Old Town (Altstadt in German), you’ll notice the many covered arcades that house the shops, cafes and galleries. There are around six kilometres of covered arcades in total, making this the longest covered shopping arcade in Europe.
Keep an eye out also, for the numerous fountains in the Old Town which were built to commemorate significant historical events.
For wonderful views over the city, head to Berner Munster – the city’s cathedral that was built from 1421. If you’re energetic enough to climb the steps of the 100-metre tower, you’ll be rewarded for your effort. Prefer to stay on the ground? No problem, be sure to check out the impressive 12-metre-high stained glass windows inside the cathedral.
Your next stop should be Einstein’s House. This is the exact residence that Albert Einstein lived in when he developed the theory of relativity.
Just across the Nydeggbrucke (Nydegg bridge) which spans the turquoise River Aare, you’ll find the Bern Bear Park. This is home to a number of Pyrenean Brown Bears, the symbol of the city. In this large riverside park, the bears are free to roam amongst forested areas and caves and swim in a large pool. Visitors can watch the bears from behind secure fences.
If you have more time available and would like more things to do in Bern, we highly recommend visiting Gurten Park which is located just outside the city centre. Sitting on a hill which overlooks Bern, this is a great place to come for spectacular views. If you are travelling with children, they’ll love the miniature train rides and adventure playground – and the funicular ride to get to the park. Gurten can be reached by tram from the city centre.
Geneva – City of UN Importance
Geneva is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and absolutely worth a stop during your trip throughout Switzerland. Located between three picturesque mountain ranges and beautiful Lake Geneva, the city is an outdoor playground. Walk around and get lost in its many beautiful green spaces and parks, and don’t miss the infamous flower clock made up of thousands of live flowers.
Lake Geneva is also home to the Jet d’Eau, a 140-meter-high vertical water jet that has become synonymous with the city and can even be seen from a plane. Explore the lake further by taking a cruise, going sailing, doing water sports, or hanging out at one of its beautiful beaches.
The lake is not just the largest in Switzerland, it’s also one of the largest in Western Europe. Stroll around it for a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.
Next, head to Geneva’s old town and discover its hidden corners, buildings full of history and stories, picturesque cafes and charming restaurants. Walk up Rue Verdaine and find yourself in the oldest place in the city, Bourg-de-Four Square. The old town is filled with sights to visit, but don’t miss the 16th century Calvin College, Saint Peter’s Cathedral and the Chapel of the Maccabees, the Reformation Wall and the Molard Tower, located in Molard Square as you exit the old town.
Take a tour of the United Nations building, Palais des Nations, and learn more about the history of the UN and the initiatives that are spearheaded here. The building is quite impressive. Time permitting, head to the League of Nations Museum and Ariana Park while you’re in the vicinity.
If you love city viewpoints as much as we do, you’ll want to leave yourself time for a beautiful panoramic view of city and the lake from Mont Saleve. A cable car will take you to the top (1100 metres) for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
Zermatt – The Gateway city of Switzerland’s Matterhorn
One of the cutest cities to visit in Switzerland is Zermatt. This charming city is located in Southwest Switzerland on the border of Italy. It is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in this wonderful country.
There are many activities to do in Zermatt. One of the most popular activities is skiing in the winter. Three main ski areas offer wide-open slopes for beginners while the more advanced skiers enjoy the challenge of Tiefbach, Aeroleid, and Momatt. You can even ski over to the Italian side of the mountains!
Another outstanding activity is to go hiking in the summer. Zermatt has a 400 km hiking trail network! It is a perfect spot to start any hiking adventure. The views of the grand Matterhorn throughout the hikes will take your breath away.
If hiking and skiing isn’t your cup of tea, there are still so many other things to do. You can take the world-famous Gornergrat Bahn (the train) for outstanding panoramic views of Matterhorn and all the surrounding mountains. The Gornergrat Bahn was the first, fully electric cog railway in Switzerland.
You can also experience Glacier Paradise where they have the highest cable car station in Europe. In this are, you can visit restaurants, an ice palace, or you can just take in the lovely views.
One of the most popular things to do in Zermatt is to explore the small city. This city has so much shopping, restaurants, and bars to explore! The best part is that no cars are allowed so you can walk all around the village and take in all the cute shops and mountain views.
RECOMMENDED HOTEL: Search hotels in Zermatt
Lucerne – The compact city of Switzerland
Lucerne is a picturesque city located in central Switzerland. It is super compact and can be easily explored in a day trip from Bern or Zurich. Lucerne is also known as its German name – Luzern – yes they are the same city.
Lucerne is one of the beautiful cities in Switzerland with a backdrop of the lake Lucerne, making it forever picturesque.
Take time to wander the historic old town of Lucerne. The medieval old town is connected by Bridge Chapel – a covered bridge of the 14th century, built over the Reuss River. The old town is also home to a 17th century old clock tower, which is hard to miss as you explore the city.
Lucerne city has a lot of remnants of the military past including the Lions Monument – a tribute to the fallen soldiers who were killed by revolutionaries at the Tuileries Palace in France.
With a relaxing vibe and loads of picturesque landscape, it not a surprise that Lucerne makes it to the most beautiful places to visit in Switzerland.
Basel – Most beautiful City in Switzerland with a vibrant cultural life
Basel, like all of Switzerland is a really expensive city. However, for your money, you will normally get a very good quality of food and stay, so a long weekend in Basel can be a great idea.
To start your visit in Basel, make sure you see the old town. The main sights there are the colourful Townhall, Münster, Spalentor City Gate, Spalenberg Street and Barfusserplatz. If you happen to visit Basel on a weekend, come by Marktplatz square and buy some local delicacies at the Farmers’ market.
After you are done with the old town, check out some modern architecture. Basel has plenty of very interesting buildings, and you may need to use public transport to reach some of them, but there are a few within a walking distance. Some of the must-sees are the Tinguely Water Fountain and iconic Messe Basel New Hall. If you feel like walking, go further to admire Messeturm and Warteck and pay a visit to the Hammering Man on Aeschenplatz.
If you are in Basel on a rainy day, it still has a lot to offer. Check out the museums, for example, the Fine Arts Museum or Museum Tinguely, full of mysterious machines. Or spend a day among the green plants at the Botanical Gardens of the University of Basel. And on a sunny day, you have to visit the Three Country Corner One. It has a little bar, where you can slowly sip one cocktail in Germany, Switzerland and France at the same time.
For your stay in Basel, we recommend the East-West Hotel. Honestly, it was one of the best hotel experiences we have ever had. It is small and cosy and located just next to the river and the main promenade. Even if you decide to stay in your room for the evening, you will feel like a part of the action.
When you check-in, you will also usually get your Basel City Card, which will give you free access to transport and wifi, as well as some discounts to the main sights and museums.
Winterthur – Sixth largest city in Switzerland (north)
Located in the canton of Zurich is the beautiful city of Winterthur in northern Switzerland. Often overlooked by travelers for Zurich, Winterthur is an offbeat city in Switzerland to visit. Allot at least one day or two, to experience Winterthur.
It has arts, history and gorgeous natural landscape everywhere. Winterthur is the sixth-largest populated city in Switzerland. It is a service and high-tech industrial satellite town within Zürich canton.
Winterthur has a medieval old world charm with a bustling city center full of life. There are shops, restaurants, markets and museums – all to keep you busy during your stay or a short visit to the city. A city filled with cultural nuances, Winterthur is home to largest art collections by Oskar Reinhart – an art collector showcasing one of Europe’s finest photography museums.
Winterthur also serves as a great stop-over for places in Eastern Switzerland and Germany and Austria. You can visit Winterthur in 20 minutes by train from Zürich.
Lugano – Ninth largest city in Switzerland (south)
Located in the southern part of Switzerland is the stunning city of Lugano. Bordering with Italy, Lugano is home to the largest Italian speaking community, outside of Italy.
Lugano is nestled on Lake Lugano and surrounded by mountains of the Prealps, making it forever picturesque. With a stunning backdrop, Lugano boosts of many pretty villas and sacred monuments, green spaces and parks. The city of Lugano treats its visitors real nice, with luxurious boutiques and fine dining places, and many gorgeous cobblestone lanes, filled with a Mediterranean charm.
Lugano belongs to the canton of Ticino and is the ninth largest Swiss city, in terms of population. It is also the third most important financial and a business conference center with a focus on banking sectors.
Interlaken – Getaway city for many lakes, towns, Bernese highlands
Not a city, as per your usual definition but the Swiss town of Interlaken is not to be missed from your bucket list. Located in the canton of Bern – the capital city of Switzerland, Interlaken is super pretty with the Bernese highlands and the Swiss Alps in their backdrop.
Most popularly known as a town between two lakes – Brienz to the east and Thun to the west and alongside the river Aare, Interlaken is a tourist magnet. Boat tours are conducted here during summers both at Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. Both lakes are unique – one with turquoise tones and the latter with deep blue colors!
Interlaken serves as the main transport gateway for the Interlaken-Oberhasli district, and there are many towns and mountains that you can explore within 10 minutes distance. Harder Kulm can be ascended in a few minutes, and the towns near Lake Thun are picturesque and makes for a quick and nice day trip options.
Interlaken can also be visited as a day trip destination from Zurich or Bern.
If you are staying in Interlaken for a few days, explore the Jungfrau region. This is the most popular day trip from Interlaken. Jungfraujoch is known as “Top of Europe”, because it’s the highest train station in Europe at 3,454 meters and it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lausanne – the Olympic Capital city
Lausanne is the capital city of the canton of Vaud, located on Lake Geneva. It faces the French town of Évian-les-Bains and is situated on the southern slope of the Swiss plateau. With an elevation of about 500 metres, Lausanne showcases a gorgeous panoramic views of the lake and the Swiss Alps.
Lausanne has undergone tremendous changes over the centuries. Its charming old center was the site of an ancient river, the Flon. It has been covered for so long and today there are gorges formed in and around the city center. These gorges make the old town center quite unique and interesting to wander through.
Once upon a time, Lausanne was an intellectual capital, attracting great thinkers such as Rousseau and Voltaire. You will find many museums and buildings that are a living testimony to the era.
When you visit Lausanne, you are in the midst of history engulfed by dramatic landscape all around. Lausanne is also a perfect place for those who love water sports – swimming and sailing.
The International Olympic Committee is headquartered at Lausanne.
Montreux – A modern Swiss city known for its Jazz Festival & Christmas markets
Montreux sits on the east side of Lake Geneva on the Swiss side of Lac leman. The lake has three names depending on which language you use. It’s a pretty place and combines the rural charm of alpine Switzerland with a bustling and modern city.
Inside the city you can visit the Swiss Camera Museum, Swiss Museum of Games, Freddie Mercury Statue and Queen recording studios and Chaplin’s world museum. If you fancy a bit of gambling, Montreux casino has 3 restaurants, 24 gaming tables, 377 slot machines, shops and a swimming pool.
If you’re looking for something more energetic, you can walk all the way from Montreux to Villeneuve along the 3.5 km promeade that stretches along the lake taking in the numerous gardens, statues, shoreline art and the Chateau de Chillon. From the shoreline you could catch one of the numerous ferries around the lake or if you’re brave enough you could try stand up paddle boarding or even learn to sail. Alternatively, cycle north on the 5 kilometers promenade from Montreux to Vevey, by renting a bike from the Montreux youth hostel.
Montreux is a steeply sloped city that has maintained its old town. If you’re after a bit of Swiss culture – visit the Montreux Museum which revives the rich history of the area, the Visinand House offers exhibitions and the Riviera Theatre has repertoires throughout the year.
The old city is also the starting point of a number of hikes – one of which is the path of Chauderon Gauges which leads you to the village of Glion. You’ll need snow shoes in winter months.
If you’re driving, do not miss the scenic route de Caux which takes you up on a high zig-zag road, giving you elevated views over the lake. The rochers de naye may have snow on them in February but they make for an exhilarating hike if you wrap up warm.
Further away from Montreux is the Lantern Trail Of Les Pléiades where you can catch a train and follow a trail lit by lanterns. Alternatively you could explore the 800 hectares of the Lavaux vineyard, the Swiss Vapeur Parc or visit Maison Cailler and take a chocolate workshop.
This Swiss city is also know for its music fests. The Montreux Jazz Festival is a music festival in Switzerland, held in early July ever year in Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline. It is the second largest annual jazz festival in the world after Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival.
Important resources – Best cities to visit in Switzerland Travel
Let’s talk a little about Switzerland in preparation of your trip.
While preparing for your trip to Switzerland, ensure you have the right travel documents and currency. Switzerland is not a part of the European Union, but they follow the Schengen visa guidelines for travel requirements for non-visa exempt passport countries. You will have to apply for Schengen Visa in your country of residence prior to arriving in Switzerland. Read our detailed guide to applying for Schengen visa.
If this is your first time to Europe, read our handy guide – Planning a trip to Europe 101.
Currency and credit cards
As Switzerland is not a part of the EU, Euro is not the official currency, but it is widely accepted. Swiss Francs is the official currency of Switzerland. The conversion rate of Euros and Swiss Francs are almost at par.
If you pay in euros (cash), you will receive francs in return. Credit cards are widely accepted in all major Swiss cities.
When is the best time to visit Switzerland?
Depending on your travel agenda, Switzerland has something every month. As a general rule, off season is the best time to visit Switzerland. These months include June, September and early weeks of October. The weather is pleasant during this time, and the cities in Switzerland are not super crowded.
June and September are perfect to wander around the historic old towns in various cities of Switzerland. Warm weather, less crowds and cheap air fares and hotels.
September and October are great for hikers and other adventure sports.
Ski season is from mid January to mid March – around this time the slopes are very crowded. Particularly in February, you can expect bigger crowds and difficulty in booking accommodation, if not booked in advance, especially in the mountain city of Zermatt – which is the gateway to the Matterhorn.
July and August are busy months especially in various cities in Switzerland. Being surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountain views, tourists visit Switzerland for sunbathing and other water activities in the summer. Things get booked quick (and they could get expensive if tours and hotels are not booked in advance).
End of November and December are also great months to visit these beautiful cities in Switzerland for their Christmas Markets. The popular Christmas market is held at Montreux – marche de Noel – they start early in November and continues until the end of December. Other popular Christmas Markets are held at Geneva, Lausanne and Rapperswil (outside of Zurich).
Packing tips for visiting the most beautiful cities in Switzerland
Switzerland experiences a mix of humid continental and temperate oceanic climate. Cities in Switzerland have a warm humid climate and it can be rainy during summer months. Autumn is perfect for experiencing Indian summer and September is also the least rainy month.
In the mountains, expect low temperatures and hence packing to the weather and activities is essential. It is often told that you can look at the weather forecast as much as you want, but Switzerland will never follow that.
So here are some essential items you must pack and carry
- Lightweight jacket – You MUST pack a lightweight, preferably waterproof jacket to Switzerland at all times of the year. I am in love with this jacket from Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket and it looks very smart!
- For ski or snow related activities or winter travel, pack your hooded parkas and ski gear.
- READ: Our guide to Travel jackets for women
- Daypack – With so many day trip options from major cities in Switzerland, a day-pack is super essential to pack your essentials. We recommend that you invest in a good anti-theft backpack – which will be handy all over Europe, especially if you plan on visiting Italy or France from Switzerland.
- Comfortable walking shoes or hiking shoes – If you are a city hiker like us, wear comfortable walking shoes as most of the cities in Switzerland are car free. Plus who doesn’t like to wander around medieval cobblestone lanes? Here is my favorite pair.
- If you are planning to hike, we recommend this pair.
- Camera – Don’t forget to pack your camera for capturing amazing pictures. Also include this high capacity SD card to store all the memories on the go.
- Portable battery backup or juice – Pack this battery backup for charging your electronics on the go. With one nightly charge, you can use it for a 2-3 days.
- Universal Adapter – Invest in a good universal adapter that you can keep using for all of your travels. Our North American or Asian power plugs will not work out in Switzerland. Here is what we recommend.
- Multi-port charging cables – And here is my absolute favorite piece of electronics – this multi-port charging cable – is super handy on the go, especially if you have an iphone and your camera uses micro-usb port. They come in a variety of colors are super versatile. I also use them while commuting to work.
We hope you enjoyed our selection of best cities to visit in Switzerland and found our tips useful!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.