This 5-day Switzerland itinerary will cover a few of the main highlights if you only have a few days to visit that fantastic country in the middle of Europe.
If you are planning a two-week tour around this region of Europe with stops in Germany, Italy, or Austria, then adding Switzerland to your itinerary is a must. It’s also one of our favorite places to visit in Europe in December.
Switzerland is small but due to the number of mountains and deep valleys, many of the natural sights such as the famous Matterhorn Mountain or the Aletsch Glacier are not easily accessible.
This 5-day Switzerland itinerary is a mixture of picturesque alpine landscapes and high mountains as well as Swiss traditions and cities worth visiting. It is absolutely packed full, so if you want to take your time a little bit more, consider using this as a guide for a longer trip, and linger in each of these towns for another day or two along the way.
Best time of the year to visit Switzerland
Switzerland is worth a trip at any time of the year. In winter, the country offers the best ski slopes and most popular ski resorts on the highest peaks in Europe.
In summer, when almost all the snow has melted, the picturesque peaks and valleys can be explored and experienced through any kind of outdoor sports.
For hikers and mountain bikers, the Swiss Alps are an absolute paradise in summer.
How to get to Switzerland
There are three international airports in Switzerland. Basel is located in the northwestern border triangle with France and Germany and is almost exclusively served by low-cost airlines.
Geneva, on the picturesque Lake Geneva, on the western border with France, is mainly approached from the south and west of Europe.
Zurich airport, in the north of the country, is the largest airport in Switzerland and the best and easiest starting point for your 5-day Switzerland itinerary because of its location and accessibility from everywhere.
Best ways of traveling around Switzerland
Switzerland is a small country in Central Europe that consists of 60% mountains.
In the north, it is partly flat. For this reason, some beautiful destinations in Switzerland are only accessible with a long and often winding journey or even more exciting, a cable car.
Some streets, mountain passes and villages can even only be reached by car during the summer months.
Therefore, the easiest, fastest, and most stress-free way to travel between destinations on your 5-day Switzerland trip is by train.
Unlike almost all other countries in the world, Swiss trains are 99% on time and even a 3-minute change-over is no problem.
I spent many months enjoying the incredible train network in Switzerland when I studied abroad there as a student and after many years of traveling elsewhere around the world, I can still say with confidence this is the best train network in the world (ok, except maybe for Japan).
Additionally, even the furthest mountain valleys are accessible by public transport.
Tip: The Swiss Travel Pass allows you to use all means of public transport in Switzerland (incl. boat, bus and train) flexibly throughout the country. In addition, you also get free admission to over 500 museums and 50% discount on cable cars and mountain railway tickets for the period of use. Purchase the Swiss Travel Pass here.
5 days in Switzerland: Zürich – Luzern – Interlaken – Bern – Zürich
This 5-day Switzerland itinerary will take you to some of the country’s most beautiful mountain areas as well as two of the country’s best cities (in my humble opinion).
Day 1: Zurich
Zurich, located in the north of the country, is the biggest city in Switzerland. Trains from Zurich airport run every 5-10 Minutes reaching Zurich main station in 15 Minutes.
The charm of the country’s capital lies not only in its vibrant cityscape but also in the harmonious blend of historical charm and natural splendor.
The old town with its charming ambience is a must for every visitor. The Grossmünster and Fraumünster, two famous churches dating back to the 12th century, dominate the image of this historic district.
It is best to drift through the winding cobblestone streets of the old town to admire picturesque half-timbered houses.
A completely different option is to stroll along the nearby Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. High-end boutiques with exquisite jewelry, clothes, and bags, sit alongside trendy cafes and restaurants. All of these invite you to spend perhaps more money than you would like to.
An outstanding end to the day is a short round trip by ferry from the Quaibrücke across the picturesque Lake Zurich.
The surrounding landscape is reflected in the calm water and the white peaks of the majestic Alps shine in the distance.
Where to stay in Zurich: Swiss Chocolate by Fassbind
This hotel is in the city center as well as being close to the train station. It is affordable and has a chocolate fountain in the lobby! What more do you need? Book a stay at the Swiss Chocolate by Fassbind here.
Day 2: Lucerne
Take an early train from Zurich to Lucerne. There are connections every 30 Minutes taking about 50 minutes for the ride.
Use the morning to explore the beautiful city which is well-known for the breathtaking Lake Lucerne and its surrounding mountains.
The city’s historic old town is interspersed with picturesque alleys, historic buildings, and impressive, old bridges.
The Chapel Bridge, a 14th-century covered wooden bridge, is one of the most famous Lucerne landmarks. That bridge is decorated with paintings from the 17th century.
Another important place in Lucerne is the Lion Monument. It is a sculpture of a dying lion carved out of rock in 1819 to commemorate the approximately 1,000 Swiss soldiers who died in the service of the King of France.
End your city sightseeing tour by enjoying the fabulous lake on a ferry boat, a swim in the deep blue water, or just by enjoying the view.
In the afternoon you should take the train to Pilatus Mountain and enjoy the best views of magnificent Lake Lucerne from high above. The mountain offers various activities such as hiking or paragliding.
The journey by bus and cable cars from Luzern to the mountaintop takes approximately 1 hour and all rides are included in the Swiss Travel Pass.
Day 3: Interlaken
On day 3 of your 5-day-Switzerland itinerary, you will take the PanoramaExpress Train which leaves Lucerne every hour to ride towards the town of Interlaken.
This fantastic train ride belongs to the Swiss “Premium Panoramic Trains” passing through the stunning landscape of central Switzerland.
During the 2-hour trip, you will be able to admire five beautiful mountain lakes as well as some waterfalls and rivers through the big panoramic windows.
In the city of Brienz, the station before Interlaken, you may even decide to change onto a ferry boat to cross Lake Brienz on the water to reach Interlaken. All rides are included in the Swiss Travel Pass.
The city of Interlaken is ideally located in a narrow, elongated valley between the emerald-green Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, surrounded by picturesque Alpine peaks.
Take the rest of the day to enjoy the natural surroundings along the lake shores. Romantic or not, for sunset, you should take the cable car to Harder Kulm, one of the most beautiful viewpoints above Interlaken.
Where to stay in Interlaken: Carlton-Europe Vintage Adults Hotel is only 100m from the train station with breakfast. Ideal when being on a tight schedule to discover Switzerland in only seven days and want to continue your journey early morning. Book a stay at the Carlton-Europe here.
Day 4: Jungfraujoch
Approaching the final leg of your 5-day Switzerland itinerary, it’s advisable to rise early today. Within a 2-hour train and cable car ride, you’ll traverse through the mountain village of Grindelwald en route to the majestic Jungfraujoch, also known as the Top of Europe.
Jungfraujoch is a mountain pass in the Bernese Alps, located at an altitude of 3471 meters, making it the highest railroad station in Europe.
The observation deck offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountain peaks and the 23km long Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps.
The train ride itself, aboard the Jungfrau Railway, is an unforgettable experience, gradually ascending to this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Upon reaching the Jungfraujoch, prepare to be amazed by the Sphinx Observatory, boasting an exceptional viewing platform, as well as the Snow and Ice Palace.
For this fantastic experience, you will need warm winter clothes. Even in summer, you will be surrounded by ice and snow.
This not to be missed trip to one of the main Highlights in Switzerland is not included in the Swiss Travel Pass, but you only pay 50% of the regular price.
Do not return directly to Grindelwald after your visit. Get off at the train station Kleine Scheidegg, halfway between Jungfraujoch and Grindelwald.
The 4km long panoramic trail takes you high above the valley to the Männlichen-viewpoint. From there you can return by cable car to Grindelwald and Interlaken to stay there for a second night.
Day 5: Thun & Bern
On your last day, you want once again to start early and take the ferry boat from Interlaken across Lake Thun towards the city of Thun.
From the water, you’ll be treated to a close-up view of the famous triumvirate of Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch, which you encountered the day before.
The beautiful city along the river Aare is worth a short stroll. The town’s landmark is the mighty Thun Castle, built between 1180 and 1190, which towers majestically over the old town.
A swift 20-minute train ride from Thun will take you to your last stop during your 5-day Switzerland itinerary: Bern, the Swiss capital.
The city’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is as well beautifully nestled alongside the River Aare.
You can relish the refreshing river water and revel in the panoramic sights from its gentle currents, during the summer months.
Bern’s Old Town is renowned for its impeccably preserved medieval structures, including the magnificent Zytglogge Tower with its 13th-century carillon.
The Bern Cathedral, an exquisite Gothic cathedral dating back to the 15th century, is another notable landmark. Ascending the tallest church tower in Switzerland rewards you with a breathtaking panoramic view.
For an entirely different perspective of the city, venture to the Rose Garden, an exquisitely landscaped garden situated on a hill across the Aare River.
After your jam-packed 5-day Switzerland Itinerary, this vantage point is a great place to say farewell and enjoy a captivating panorama of Bern’s enchanting cityscape as a last impression.
Trains between Bern and Zurich leave every 30 Minutes and only one hour later you will be back in Zurich where your fantastic Switzerland trip started.