Of course you can’t see all of Switzerland in a week, but with the help of the country’s smooth highways and speedy rail connections, you can introduce yourself to its “greatest hits.” One week provides just enough time to visit the cultural hubs of Zurich, Lucerne, Bern, Lausanne, and Geneva, and to take in a few splendid mountain views.

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 your hotel, make a beeline for Bahnhofstrasse to gawk at the luxury watches and jewelry sold along Switzerland’s priciest shopping street. The road dead-ends at Lake Zurich, so use the opportunity to hop on a boat trip around this lovely body of water. Depending on your time, tours last from 1 1/2 to 4 hours. In the afternoon, have a leisurely walk along Limmatquai, Zurich’s finest waterside promenade. As the afternoon fades, check out the Chagall-designed stained-glass windows at the church, Fraumünster. That night, dine at Opfelchammer, or, if you forgot to reserve a table there, 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 to the Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum) for a virtual case history of the culture of the Swiss people. Spend early afternoon at the Kunsthaus (fine art museum), perusing one of the greatest art collections in Europe, and take some time after that for shopping or to drop by the police station’s Giacometti Hall. Before sunset, get to ETH Zurich’s Polyterasse terrace for panoramic views of the whole city.

Days 3 & 4: Lucerne: Mountain Magic

Either by rental car or train, head 50km (31 miles) south of Zurich to the city 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 lead you through the highlights while getting you oriented with the area. After lunch, visit the Swiss Museum of Transport , one of the finest museums of its kind in the world. If there’s time, visit the stunning Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden). For atmosphere and good food, dine that night at the Old Swiss House.

With the town of Lucerne covered, devote Day 4 to a mountain excursion. Your first priority should be Mount Pilatus, 15km (9 miles) south of Lucerne. The best way to go is to take a lake steamer from Lucerne to Alpnachstad, where you transfer to a cog railway, but if time is tight, you can also take a bus from town to the cable car base station. At the top, you’ll find rugged-feeling walking paths—and, if you’re lucky, some ibex. 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. Check in to a hotel for the night and set out to discover the fascinating medieval architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. To see the highlights, take our 2-hour walking tour of the historic Altstadt (Old Town), stopping to watch the city mascots at the BearPark and finishing at the Swiss Parliament (Bundeshaus). Have a hearty bratwurst or rösti for lunch, then head for Mount Gurten at 844m (2,768 ft.) for the grandest panoramic vista in the area. Or if the weather is more suited to museums than mountains, visit the Kunstmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) to see the capital’s largest collection of paintings by European masters. Spend the evening enjoying Bern’s chilled-out nightlife, and be sure to pop down into the Kornhauskeller, housed in the city’s former granary.

Day 6: Lausanne: Gateway to Lake Geneva

From Bern, travel 101km (63 miles) southwest to the lakeside city of Lausanne. The town enjoyed a great heyday under the Romans; more recently, it’s 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. Check in to a hotel in the morning, then spend a couple hours wandering 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 promenades of quai de Belgique and quai d’Ouchy are of particular interest. If the weather permits, rent a pédalo (pedal boat) on the lake.

Day 7: Geneva: A Summer Garden

Just 60km (37 miles) to the south, reachable by car or train in as little as 45 minutes, Geneva is a world away from Lausanne. Straddling the Rhône River as it opens onto Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), the city 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, take one of the many boat tours of Lac Léman, or visit a sampling of international Geneva—either the United Nations European headquarters at the Palais des Nations or the Musée International de la Croix Rouge et du Croissant Rouge. The next day, take advantage of Geneva’s many transportation connections to get home, or to your next destination in Europe.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.