The very title of this tour is a misnomer. No one can see all of Switzerland in 1 week -- it's time enough merely for a few of its highlights. But you can have a memorable vacation in Switzerland in 1 week if you budget your time carefully. Because of its great highways and rail connections, you can virtually cross the country from one end to another in 1 day. Of course, that wouldn't leave much time for sightseeing.
One week, however, provides just enough time, although barely, to introduce yourself to the most visited cities in the country, which include Zurich, Lucerne (our favorite), Bern (next on our list), Lausanne, and Geneva. If you're on an even more rushed schedule, and you have to choose between Geneva and Zurich, make it Geneva, which is far more scenic and grand.
Days 1 & 2: Zurich: Gateway to Switzerland
Because of its superior transportation connections, chances are you'll arrive in Zurich, especially if you're winding your way across the Alps. If you can, hit the town as early in the morning as possible to get in a full round of the city's attractions. After checking into a hotel, take our walking tour of Bahnhofstrasse, which is lined with some of the world's most elegant shops. Even if you can't afford to purchase anything, it's fun to just look at the luxury merchandise, especially the Swiss watches and jewelry. Follow this with a boat trip along Lake Zurich, departing from the lake end of Bahnhofstrasse. Depending on your time, tours last from 1 1/2 to 4 hours. In the afternoon, take the city's best walk by promenading along the quays of Zurich, such as the finest and most famous, Limmatquai. As the afternoon fades, check out the stained-glass windows at the church, Fraumünster. That night, dine at Zurich's most famous beer hall, Bierhalle Kropf, or at the Zeughauskeller, a formal arsenal dating from 1487.
Begin Day 2 with a walking tour of Zurich's Altstadt (Old Town). Check out the Romanesque and Gothic cathedral of Grossmünster as you continue the walk. Before lunch, head for Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum), which is a virtual case history of the culture of the Swiss people. After lunch, head in the afternoon to the Kunsthaus Zürich (fine art museum), with one of the greatest art collections in Europe. With time remaining in the afternoon, take another tour, this one by boat and aerial cableway to Felsenegg at 795m (2,608 ft.). You can view one of the greatest panoramas in this part of Switzerland here: a fit ending for your last day of Zurich sightseeing.
Days 3 & 4: Lucerne: Mountain Magic
Either by rented car or train, head 50km (31 miles) south of Zurich to the city most favored by American visitors, lying on the western edge of Lake Lucerne. Check in to a hotel for 2 nights. In the late morning, take our walking tour of Lucerne, which will not only be a beautiful experience, but will also give you an orientation of the area. After lunch, visit the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Transport Museum), one of the finest museums of its kind in the world. With time remaining, you can take in one or two of the minor sites that interest you, such as the Picasso Museum, the Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden), or the Neues Kunstmuseum (Modern Art Museum). For atmosphere and good food, dine that night at the Old Swiss House.
While based in Lucerne, Day 4 can be devoted to two mountain excursions, each among the most important attractions in all of Switzerland. First, head to Mount Pilatus, 15km (9 miles) south of Lucerne. The best way to go is to take a steamer from Lucerne to Alpnachstad, where you transfer to a cog railway. With careful planning, you can also visit Rigi, 24km (15 miles) east of Lucerne. Rigi (1,680m/5,510 ft.) is the most famous mountain view in Switzerland. Even Mark Twain climbed it. Return to Lucerne for a final night.
Day 5: Bern: The Great Medieval Capital
On Day 5, leave Lucerne early and travel by train or car 111km (69 miles) west to Bern, the capital of Switzerland. Trains leave every 30 minutes during the day, and the trip takes 1 1/2 hours. Check in to a hotel for the night and set out to discover a city declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 because of its medieval architecture. To see the highlights, take our 2-hour walking tour of the historic Altstadt (Old Town), finishing at the Swiss Parliament (Bundeshaus). Sample a typical lunch like bratwurst and rösti, then head for Mount Gurten at 844m (2,768 ft.), for the grandest panoramic vista in the area. In the afternoon, visit the Kunstmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) to see the capital's largest collection of paintings by European masters. No visit to Bern is complete without a stop at the famous Bärengraben (Bear Pits). Spend the better part of the evening enjoying the regional food and plenty of wine at Klötzlikeller, the oldest wine tavern in Bern.
Day 6: Lausanne: Gateway to Lake Geneva
From Bern, travel 101km (63 miles) southwest to the lakeside city of Lausanne, where you can enjoy boat trips and also wander the medieval labyrinth of its Vieille Ville (Old Town). Enjoying a great heyday under the Romans, the town has long been a favorite of expats and a choice watering hole for literati -- everybody from Dickens to Thackeray; T. S. Eliot even wrote The Wasteland here. After checking in to a hotel in the morning, wander for 2 hours or so around Haute Ville, the Upper Town, visiting the Cathedral of Lausanne and other sights before lunch. Spend the afternoon exploring Ouchy, the port and resort area of Lausanne, opening onto Lake Geneva. You can enjoy 2 or 3 leisurely hours exploring the quay-side flower gardens, which stretch for half a mile. The lakeside promenades of quai de Belgique and quai d'Ouchy are of particular interest. You can also rent pédolas (pedal boats) for fun in the lake itself.
Day 7: Geneva: A Summer Garden
Just 60km (37 miles) away, reachable by car or train in as little as 50 minutes, Geneva is very different from Lausanne. Straddling the Rhône River as it opens onto Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), the city itself will easily fill up one very busy day of sightseeing, so arrive as early in the day as you can. Spend the morning exploring Vieille Ville (Old Town); the highlight is the Cathédrale de St. Pierre. For a fast preview, take our 2-hour walking tour of Geneva's quays and Old Town, viewing the famous fountain, Jet d'Eau, and the Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais. At some point before the afternoon fades, consider one of the boat tours of Lac Léman. Stay overnight in Geneva, which is one of the major transportation hubs of Switzerland. In Geneva you can usually link up by train or plane to where you're going next in Europe. It can also be a link in your journey homeward.