8 Top Tourist Attractions in Interlaken & Easy Day Trips
Interlaken is a fantastic base for seeing the best of central Switzerland's magnificent scenery while enjoying the comforts of a chic lakeside resort. Tourist attractions are all around it, with boat tours on Lakes Thun and Brienz at either side of the town, and thrilling train and funicular rides to the spectacular surrounding mountain peaks. Interlaken is one of the oldest, best known, and most popular summer holiday resorts in Switzerland. The first visitors arrived in the 17th century, and as transport facilities improved with the coming of the railroad, boat services on the lakes, and most recently the expressway, Interlaken became the major tourist center of the Bernese Oberland. Along with the almost endless variety of walks, climbs, and outdoor excursions, there are many other sports available for active travelers. On the right bank of the Aare, opposite the Kursaal, is a swimming pool, and visitors will find a golf course in Unterseen, as well as sailing and windsurfing on the lakes, parasailing, horseback riding, and tennis.
See also: Where to Stay in Interlaken
An area of 14 hectares that belonged to the Augustinian convent was acquired in 1860 by a group of 37 hotel owners and private persons to be left as an open space, a remarkable example of farseeing town planning. Through its length runs the Höheweg, a splendid avenue between the east and west rail stations that affords a magnificent view of the Jungfrau, surrounded by hotels and flower-beds. Alongside it is the Kursaal, with a theater and a café and beautiful gardens with a flower clock, as well as a number of hotels, including the 150-year-old Victoria Jungfrau Hotel. Next to the Hotel Interlaken, you'll find the small Garden of Friendship, the first Japanese garden in Switzerland, a peaceful spot with flowering plants, water, and koi carp.
Beyond the bridge over the Aare River is the Harder Alpine Wildlife Park where you can see marmots and ibexes. Here, too, is a funicular that climbs up Harder to an altitude of 1,322 meters. From the Art Nouveau-style Panorama Restaurant at its top are magnificent views of the Jungfrau area, Interlaken, and the lakes. You can return along forest paths via the Hardermannli lookout pavilion at 1,116 meters and the Hohbühl pavilion, where there is a memorial to the composers Mendelssohn, Wagner, and Weber.
3 Schynige Platte
From Wilderswil, a five-minute walk from the Interlaken Ost railway station, you can take a rack-railroad that has been carrying sightseers up to the Schynige Platte since it opened in 1893. At the top, along with the Hotel Kulm and an excellent alpine garden with 600 species of flowers, you'll find one of the finest panoramic views of the Alps, encompassing the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks as well as Lake Thun.
The Marktgasse runs northwest from the Interlaken post office and across the Spielmatten islands and the river to the little hamlet of Unterseen, at the foot of Mt. Harder. This is one of several villages that form Interlaken, and in this old part of town is the 1471 parish church, with a Late Gothic tower. Here, you'll find some beautiful wooden chalets of the kind you'd expect to see in tiny mountain villages, not in a busy resort center like Interlaken. Set in green gardens, these may even have farm animals grazing on the lawns. Small restaurants around the pretty Stadthausplatz serve traditional Swiss dishes.
5 Lake Thun
On the west side of Interlaken is Lake Thun, a long, narrow lake surrounded by mountains. The best way to explore the lake is on one of the cruise boats that operate from Interlaken year-round or in the summer on the beautifully restored historic paddle steamer. At the western end of the lake, you can stop in Thun with its medieval Old Town and lakeside castle with a striking keep that overlooks the lake. It was built in 1191 and enlarged in 1492, and today houses a historical museum with 14th-century arms and armor, tapestries, furniture, and prehistoric and Roman artifacts. Other castles and several Romanesque churches are in villages that dot the shore of Lake Thun. Schloss Shadau, easy to spot right on the water, is a smaller replica of Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, on the Loire in France.
6 Lake Brienz
On Interlaken's east side is Lake Brienz, a narrow body of water that's really an enlargement of the valley of the River Aare. Lying between the limestone ridge of the Brienzer Grat and the Faulhorn mountains, it is seven meters higher than Lake Thun, on Interlaken's west side. Like Lake Thun, it is best seen from one of the five boats that connect Interlaken to towns around its wooded shores. The most atmospheric of these boats is the restored steamer the Lötschberg, built in 1914; other boats offer special dining cruises with Swiss food specialties.
7 Touristik-Museum (Museum of Tourism)
The history of tourism in the Jungfrau Region is shown here in three floors of exhibits that cover everything from early transport and hotels to travel clothing and skiing. Housed in a lovely restored 17th-century timbered house, the museum includes models of early postal coaches, rack railway locomotives, and lake steamers, as well as actual historical carriages and vehicles.
Address: Obere Gasse 28, Unterseen, Interlaken
8 Interlaken Monastery and Castle
Interlaken's former Augustinian monastery dates to the 12th century. You can see the 14th-century bell tower along with a Gothic cloister and remains of a chapel dating from 1452. Notice especially the variety of window designs in the castle church. Before the property was turned over to the state in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation, the monastery was an important hostel for pilgrims headed to the former hermitage of Saint Beatus in the caves above Lake Thun. These caves were a stop for pilgrims on the Way of St. James, known as Jakobsweg in Switzerland, leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Where to Stay in Interlaken for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Interlaken is along the Höheweg, the avenue that runs through expansive green space and connects Interlaken's East and West train stations. Many of the best hotels lie along this lovely stretch, which offers beautiful views of the Jungfrau. Within walking distance of the town of Interlaken, over a bridge across the Aare River, the little village of Unterseen also makes a popular base. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: In a prime position on the beautiful Höheweg, the resplendent Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa, with a colonnaded terrace and world-class spa, has welcomed guests since 1856. Also on the Höheweg, the more affordable Hotel Interlaken sits a short walk from Interlaken East train station and the town center and offers cozy guest rooms behind its charming green-shuttered facade. Breakfast and parking are included in the rates. Right next door, Hotel Royal St. Georges Interlaken - MGallery Collection occupies a beautiful old building, but parking costs extra.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In Unterseen, a seven-minute walk from Interlaken West train station, the family-run Hotel Beausite offers cheery rooms, a charming restaurant, and complimentary afternoon tea. Also in Unterseen, Hotel Goldey is known for its friendly staff and lovely setting on the River Aare. Breakfast and parking are included in the rates at both of these hotels. On the Höheweg, the Art Nouveau-style Carlton-Europe Hotel is a short stroll away from Interlaken East train station as well as many restaurants.
- Budget Hotels: In Unterseen, Hotel Roessli has helpful staff and clean, comfortable rooms, while Hotel Alphorn just across the river, near Interlaken West train station, is also popular for its friendly staff. About a five-minute drive from Interlaken, in a quiet location, the family-run Waldhotel Unspunnen offers excellent value and is a great choice if you have your own car. All three hotels offer complimentary breakfast and parking.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Interlaken
An organized tour is a great way to see Interlaken's spectacular scenery and surrounding attractions without the hassle of navigating and driving. Along the way, you'll learn fascinating stories about the sights from a professional guide. Below is a fun day trip tour that guarantees the lowest price:
- Day Trip Tour: Spectacular scenery and jaw-dropping views over the Alps are the highlights of the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe Day Trip from Interlaken. This full-day guided tour takes you by luxury coach to the charming village of Grindelwald, where you board a cogwheel train and ascend to Europe's highest railway station. From the Sphinx Observation Terrace here, you can see mesmerising views of the Alps and the Aletsch Glacier. Then you have the chance to walk through a glacier at the Ice Palace. A professional guide, transport by luxury coach, and round-trip tickets on the cogwheel are all included in this exhilarating adventure.
Day Trips from Interlaken
Swiss Open-Air Museum Ballenberg
One of Europe's finest living history museums, Ballenberg spreads across 124 acres of alpine countryside in a series of village and farmstead groups representing different Swiss regions and their traditional ways of life. Historic houses, barns, shops, and other buildings were brought here from their original sites, with their furniture, decorations, utensils, and implements. Old crafts and traditional customs are revived here, and in the course of a visit, you may see everything from woodcarving and cooperage to lace- and cheese-making demonstrations. The homes represent all styles from the most modest cabins and rustic farmhouses to elegant homes of the well-to-do, but the focus is on how people lived, how they produced their own goods, and how they traded and shared within their communities. Special exhibits may examine one facet of life in detail, such as child labor on farms or a particular craft and its evolution. You could easily spend an entire day seeing all the buildings and exhibits in this fascinating look back in time. Ask at the Interlaken Tourist Office for information on packages that include boat and bus travel from Interlaken to Ballenberg.
Address: Museumsstrasse 131, Hofstetten bei Brienz
To reach Giessbach Falls, take the Lake Brienz boat to the Giessbach See landing-stage and either climb about 20 minutes or take the oldest funicular railway in Europe. The Giessbach tumbles down the beautifully wooded hillside to the lake from a height of 500 meters, in a series of 14 falls over successive rock ridges. The best view is from the terrace in front of the historic Grand Hotel Giessbach, about 100 meters above the lake. There are footpaths up both banks to the highest of the three bridges, where the stream emerges from a narrow gorge and plunges into a rock basin 60 meters deep.
The lakeside town of Brienz is the center of the Oberland craft of woodcarving, examples of which you can see in shops and studios and on houses with beautifully carved friezes on the facades. Above the town rises the 2,350-meter Brienzer Rothorn, reached in about an hour via Switzerland's oldest steam rack railway, the Brienz-Rothorn Railway. From the top are views of the Appenzell, Uri, Engelberg, Berne, and Valais Alps extending from Säntis to the Diablerets. Wear hiking boots, and you can take a four-hour hike to the Brünig Pass, returning to Brienz by the Brünigbahn. Built in 1888, this is the smallest rack-and-pinion railroad of the Swiss network.