Swiss lake steamers
ABOVE: Steamers in convoy on Lake Thun.
Where the boats are
Lake Zürich. You'll encounter commuters, school groups, and retirees on the boats that connect the Zürich waterfront to pleasant suburbs on both sides of the lake. The longest route goes to Rapperswil, about two hours away. The season runs from early April to late October.
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). You can tour this big lake in a single day, but it's much nicer to break up your journey with overnight stays in Lausanne, Montreux, or other cities along the shore. Even better, use the boats as an alternative to the train on your way to or from Geneva at any time of the year.
Lakes Thun and Brienz. These sister lakes are on either side of Interlaken ("between the lakes") in the Bernese Oberland. The Thunersee is open to the sky and almost subtropical in ambience, while the Brienzersee is hemmed in by mountains and forest. Passenger boats run from April to late October.
Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee). Boats on Lake Lucerne, also known as the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons, sail mostly from spring through fall. The Lucerne-Brunnen route operates throughout the year. To enjoy the many villages along the shore, simply leave the boat whenever you see an appealing spot and catch another boat in an hour or two.
Lakes Neuchâtel, Biel, and Murten. These three lakes are joined by canals. You can sample all in one day with the Drei-Seen-Fahrt or Tour des troi lacs circular excursion that leaves Biel/Bienne at 9:50 a.m., stops at Murten on its way to Neuchâtel, and arrives back at six o'clock. Other boats offer shorter cruises and crossings on the individual lakes.
Lake Lugano. This large mountain lake between Switzerland and Italy is shaped like a wishbone, and cruising opportunities range from local excursions to half-day trips. The season runs from spring through fall, and the regional boat pass is a good value for frequent sailors.
Lake Maggiore. From the sunny resort town of Locarno, you can sail to Arona, Italy and catch a train via Domodossola to Lake Geneva or the Bernese Oberland. If you're less ambitious, it's only a 20-minute boat ride to Ascona, a traditional refuge for well-heeled artists and celebrities.
Other lakes. The Halwilersee, Zugersee, Ägerisee, and Greifensee have scheduled sailings. Boats on Lac de Joux and Lac des Brenets occasionally run charter excursions for groups. The German Federal Railways operate steamers on the Bodensee (Lake Constance), which you can board at various points in Northeastern Switzerland. For details on these and other boat services in Switzerland, check with local tourist offices or consult the Swiss Offzielles Kursbuch (official timetable).
Lake Lucerne by steamer
Lake Zürich by steamer
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