6 great activities around Interlaken
Interlaken is a very popular Swiss holiday destination, located between the beautiful emerald lakes of Thun and Brienz. From the town center, you have the most incredible views on the majestic Jungfrau towering above.
Today it has become a very popular destination for adventure-seeking holiday makers as it offers a fantastic range of activities, from paragliding to canonying. Whilst there isn’t an enormous amount to visit in Interlaken itself, it is a fantastic starting-point for the many famous tourist destinations surrounding the town. You no doubt will have heard of places like Grindelwald, Wengen, and Lauterbrunnen to name just a few. I am happy to share below some of the most spectacular places to see and fun things to do in this beautiful part of the Bernese highlands.
1. Go up to the Schilthorn
Going up to the Schilthorn in the cable car is a wonderful high-alpine experience if you've never visited the alps. From the terrace at the top, you have sweeping views over the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger opposite. Towering at 2970 meters above the village of Mürren, it is also quite famous for having been featured in the 1968 Bond movie "On her Majesty's Secret Service". If you didn't realize that then you certainly won't forget this fact by the end of your visit as everything here is set to remind you of this. The theme is a little too present in my opinion, but it doesn't spoil the sheer beauty of the views from the panoramic platform and the very cool 360 degree Piz Gloria revolving restaurant. Just be warned, from the moment you enter the gondola bringing you up right up to the viewing platform at the summit, the Bond theme is omnipresent as is the 007 signature tune; but it shouldn't put you off coming up here, the views are simply breathtaking.
What I actually enjoyed most was stepping off the gondola at the Birg intermediary station and discovering the sky walk that just opened in June of this year. This is a 200 meter long steel walkway hugging the cliff edge, hanging over a very steep vertical drop, with stunning views on the Jungfrau opposite. With its glass floor in some places, this is not for the faint-hearted, but is quite the thrill. Don’t forget to take some time to stop off in the pretty, alpine village of Mürren on your way down, where no cars are allowed, this is the perfect place for a quiet stroll and perhaps cake and coffee.
2. Ride a cog-wheel train up to Jungfraujoch
Popularly called the Top of Europe (3454 m), the Jungfraujoch – officially the highest rail station in Europe - is the place to go to if you want spectacular views on the Aletsch glacier, the Jungfrau and Mönch. The spectacular train ride from Interlaken will actually take you through the Eiger and Mönch on the last stretch. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and worth the trip (and expense). You really get an incredible close up view of Jungfrau and Mönch. For many visitors it is there first ever contact with snow to the great amusement of onlookers! There are a number of things to do up here from visiting the ice palace, with its sculptures of ibex, bears and eagles, to embarking on a two-day hike across the Aletsch glacier.
If you're visiting during the summer months, I would really recommend booking a seat on the train from Kleine Scheidegg. It's a bit of a zoo getting up as you will be competing with hordes of Indian and Chinese pre-booked groups. Don't be surprised to come across a Bollywood restaurant serving exclusively Indian food at the top. Everything here is geared towards tourism from the souvenir shops to the inevitable chocolate shop.
If you want to escape the crowds and have some time to really soak in the scenery, it is possible to take a 45 minute hike on a snowy trail to the Mönchsjoch Hütte which is the base hut for people climbing the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch. It's the world's highest altitude mountain hut offering meals. I didn't get a chance to do this personally, but feel that it could be a really nice way to make the most of your time up here, enjoying the high-altitude scenery and escaping the crowds.
3. Go paragliding above Interlaken
If you want a thrill and really get to soak in the beauty of the lakes and mountains, then book yourself a tandem paragliding flight. I used the company Paragliding Interlaken. I must say they were brilliant, offering first-class service from beginning to end.
They will pick you up from your hotel in Interlaken before driving you up in the company van to Beatenberg above Lake Thun at 1130 m. During the 15-minute drive you are given a full security briefing and introduced to your pilot. Within 5 minutes of arriving at the top, the colourful parachute is unfurled, you are strapped and harnessed in and ready to go.
There really isn't much to it. Taking off is the tricky part, you just need to start jogging then pick up your pace and before you know it you're up in the air with spectacular views on the Bernese Alps and lakes. You can chat with the pilot during the 15- to 20-minute flight. If requested he'll take photos and a video of the whole thing for an extra fee, it's well-worth it. You gently land in the main meadow in front of the Victoria-Jungfrau hotel in Interlaken. The experience is really spectacular, and far less scary than I expected, something to add to your bucket list as long as you're not afraid of heights!
4. Have lunch at the Grand Hotel Giessbach
The Grand Hotel Giessbach is a beautifully preserved historical hotel, perched up on the hillside above Lake Brienz, next to the thundering waterfalls of Giessbach. When you step into this fairytale-like castle, you step back into history. Built in 1873-74, it offers traditional elegance in a unique, peaceful setting. To reach the hotel, you will need to ride their own private funicular built which has been restored to its 1879 glory. It was the first funicular to employ a single, two-rail track along its entire length – somewhat of a mechanical engineering novelty back in the 19th century!
If you have time, I would really recommend leaving your car in the picturesque village of Iseltwald on the shores of Lake Brienz and walking to the Giessbach hotel. This is a gentle walk, along a narrow lakeside path through the woods with amazing views on the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz and the steep mountains rising beyond. It will take you one-and-a-half hours to reach Giessbach that is also famous for its 400-meter high waterfall. Here you can enjoy a lunch on the beautiful terrace with the waterfalls roaring in the background and after lunch take a scenic boat-trip back to Iseltwald, Brienz, or Interlaken. The food is very good, with a wide-range of dishes on offer, including lighter salads. They also serve their own spring water. The hotel offers four-star accommodation, furnished in the style of the early 20th century – with modern ameneties - should you wish to linger here.
5. Have a spa day at the Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel, Interlaken
Sometimes it rains… The spa at the Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel is a great place to escape to on a grey and rainy day if you have nothing else to do. If you book a one-hour long treatment here, you can enjoy the spa's full facilities for the day. This is a fabulous destination spa with facilities spreading across 5500m2; these include a sauna complex, steam baths, a number of relaxation areas, massage options, beauty treatments, a gym and the standout feature has to be the pool area with its 20 meter white mosaic swimming-pool. The pool is flanked by two very inviting hot tubs. The whole area is light, airy, and benefits from lots of natural light. Tennis courts are also available indoors and outdoors.
I did treat myself to a wonderful massage, with a very attentive therapist who took some time to discuss my specific needs which I really appreciated. I would really recommend spending at least two to three hours here to make the most of the very luxurious facilities.
6. Visit the pretty village of Brienz
On the North-Eastern shore of Lake Brienz the very pretty village of Brienz holds a special place in my heart as this is where my Swiss roots lie. My grandfather was brought up here and a number of my relatives still live in the area. The ornate wooden chalets and sculptures you find here are a testimony to Brienz's rich past as a wood-carvers' village. If you visit in the summer, after taking a leisurely stroll along the lakeside promenade where you will find a number of wooden sculptures, I would really recommend meandering through the narrow streets of the old part of Brienz, starting from the Brunngasse. Most of the chalets in this neighbourhood date back to the 18th century and are richly decorated with woodcarvings and boxed geraniums. Stroll up to the church for a good viewing point on the lake. Just below the church you will also find Switzerland’s only wood carving school that is open to visitors. You can actually watch students as they carve and see their work exhibited. I had a very interesting chat with a young woman who was busy carving out wooden hands for a puppet she was making. I was really impressed to see this traditional craft being kept alive by a new generation of both male and female wood carvers.
From Brienz you can also catch a steam train that has been in operation since 1892 to the Brienzer Rothorn at 2350 meters. The hour-long ride will take you past pretty alpine meadows, through the woods up to the summit. The panoramic views from here over the lakes and the mountains beyond are spectacular with no less than 693 peaks in sight on a clear day.
This article first appeared on Swiss Bliss Travel
Catherine Mikton is a Swiss-American travel and luxury lifestyle blogger. She enjoys all things beautiful, be it a moonlit landscape or a five-star hotel. Her blog is intended as a gateway for the discerning traveller to Switzerland - an essential guide to help you discover this beautiful country and all it has to offer, whilst relaxing in some of the best Swiss accommodation.