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Summer city breaks in Switzerland
City breaks are a welcome escape from everyday life
Swiss towns and cities offer unparalleled variety around every corner: magnificent sights, art and architecture, urban gastronomy, authentic shops, and proximity to water and nature.
Pay a quick visit to an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, join the locals for a splash in the Aare, explore the fine Swiss wineries, take in the majestic alpine views, or simply have a picnic and relax. Here are some ideas to get you going for summer city breaks in Switzerland.
Not many cities have managed to retain their historic features quite as successfully as the capital city of Bern. The medieval air of this city with its many fountains, sandstone facades, narrow streets and historic towers is utterly unique. Thanks to its 6 km of arcades—the locals refer to them as ‘Lauben’—the city boasts one of the longest weather-sheltered shopping promenades in Europe.
Bern’s Old Town on the Aare peninsula was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1983. The Swiss capital is a magnificent example of mediaeval European urban architecture, mellowed by an enchantingly relaxed pace of life. The boutiques, bars and cabaret stages of the Old Town, some of which are located in vaulted cellars, and the small street cafes attract locals as well as tourists.
The Bern Bear Pit is known far beyond the borders of Switzerland. Since 2009, the bears of Bern have a modern 6,000-square-meters park at their disposal, which they can reach by tunnel. Since 1513, bears have been at home in Bern; until 1857 in the town itself, then in the bear pit, and since 2009 in the new and spacious bear park. Take a tour of the old bear pit as well as the new bear park.
Swimming in the Aare is a fixture of life for the people of Bern. In no other city in the world can you enjoy such clear, fresh river water while gently drifting past the picturesque old town. You can hop in almost anywhere, but Insiders have their favourite spots where they jump in, drift along and get out—from one point to the next. It’s also a prime spot for boating, picnicking, and mingling with the locals.
Tour the brewery, taste a local beer, have a hot pretzel and enjoy a meal at the Alte Tramdepot. Come and be pampered at this hip, well-kept pub/restaurant, with its integrated brewery. It’s located right next to the new Bear Park and offers a fantastic view of Bern’s Old Town and the Aare river.
The city of Thun, at the lower end of Lake Thun, is the gate to the Bernese Oberland. The historic Old Town is situated about one km from the shore of the lake, on the river Aare.
Thun Castle, in the center of town, is an almost completely preserved symbol of power from the 12th century. The castle’s Knights’ Hall is one of the few surviving halls of its type from the Middle Ages. The five floors of the castle now house a historical museum highlighting the region’s history—and the corner towers provide an unforgettable view over the city of Thun, Lake Thun and the mountains.
Make your way to the top of the Niederhorn above Lake Thun for a spectacular panoramic view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks. Lengthy ridge hikes, observing ibex and other game in natural surroundings, cave excursions, tasty mountain restaurant lunches and downhill scooter rides all add to possible adventure on the Niederhorn.
Winterthur is a treasure trove of art, history and nature. The medieval heart of the city is full of life no matter what the time of day. Shops, restaurants, markets and festivals bring the charming Old Town to life. Being small enough to get around conveniently while also having a big-city atmosphere makes Winterthur a popular spot to visit.
In Sulzer, the large machines have been shut down, but it’s far from quiet. It’s a different kind of city within a city—it’s a creative space for students, designers, entrepreneurs or residents. Between modern spirit and nostalgia, it’s the perfect place for all to realise their ideas. The Lagerplatz (“warehouse district”) has evolved into a cultural hotspot and is fascinating to explore—on a guided tour or on your own.
The Kunst Museum Winterthur possesses one of the most beautiful modern art collections in Switzerland. The mature old building now houses an overwhelming collection of French masterpieces from the impressionist period, as well as works by Monet, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Picasso and more contemporary artists.
Plan a tour of Goldenberg Vineyard to find out how Winterthur’s unique grapes are turned into full-bodied and fruity wines. You’ll see the various stages of the winemaking process, followed by wine-tasting sessions.
Lausanne, the second-largest city on Lake Geneva, combines a dynamic commercial town with the ambience of a holiday resort. Home to the Olympic Committee, Lausanne is also a lively university town, where sports and culture are given a high profile. The Old Town is dominated by the Gothic cathedral, surrounded by parks, shops, museums, fine restaurants and grand hotels.
Treat yourself to a boat ride on Lake Geneva—Europe’s largest inland lake. The Belle Époque boats have been navigating the lake for 140 years and offer fantastic cruises between France and Switzerland. You can board and/or get off on both the Swiss and French sides. The views from the boat extend past castles, over vineyards to the snow-covered summits of the Swiss and Savoyan Alps.
Go on an entertaining Treasure Hunt up and down the hilliest city. The one-hour treasure hunt takes you to eight stop-off points. Each one is located at an important sight in Lausanne and the puzzle you’ll find there refers directly to that sight. At each stop, you’ll hear playfully told stories and anecdotes—and the solution to each puzzle is usually right under your nose, so be sure to look around! Follow the route on the treasure map and solve the puzzles right through to the last one, where the treasure lies within walking distance.
The Terraced Vineyards of Lavaux—a UNESCO World Heritage site—form Switzerland’s largest contiguous vineyard area with terrace after terrace offering magnificent views. Narrow alleyways and characteristic winegrowers’ houses are landmarks of villages such as St-Saphorin, Dézaley and Epesses. Lavaux is a wine-taster’s dream come true—with charming pintes (mini-restaurants) sprinkled throughout.
Lugano, on the shore of Lake Lugano, is surrounded by dramatic mountains offering splendid views. The traffic-free historic town centre, the Italianate Lombardy-style buildings, the exclusive museums, the mountains, lake and a packed calendar of events are all reasons to see the sights, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the sweet life. It’s a wonderful place to explore on foot—a world-class city with the cachet of a small town.
More than a tasting tour, the Food & Wine Tour Lugano is a real travelling menu! A guided tour through the historic city centre takes you inside the many curiosities of the most characteristic inns, bars and restaurants of this boutique town. Along the way, you’ll make several stops to enjoy various specialties from Ticino, including the delicious white Merlot.
Take a guided Architectural Tour and discover the 20th- and 21st-century structures that characterize Lugano, embarking on a fascinating trip between the recent past and a present projected into the future. The Ticino architectural tradition has its roots before the year 1000 AD and has been renewed over the centuries up to the present day—you’ll be able to admire it from a different perspective.
Small but beautiful, the city of Zug is nestled between the lake shore and its very own mountain, the Zugerberg. The Counts of Kyburg are said to have founded the city at the beginning of the 13th century and the 52-meter-high Zyt Tower dates back to the same era. Zug has a delightful ancient quarter, the Old Town, and it’s known for its spectacular sunsets with hues of red, orange and yellow—all reflected in the lake.
Hop on a Moped Tour and you can putter along at 30 kph while enjoying the beautiful countryside and wind in your face. Several routes offer nice views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. You can choose to follow the GPS device or put together your own route. Stop at a cozy country inn or barbecue sausages on the open fire by the side of the forest—the restaurant reservations or picnic order will be handled for you.
For something a little different try the Zug Design Tour. A young designer scene with an international reputation has grown up in Zug. From clothes, jewelry, glass and ceramics to furniture, Zug’s talented fashion creators and product designers develop new forms of luxury and convey a modern attitude to life. A tour put together by the city offers the unique chance to discover these “made in Zug” creations.
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