Tourist Information and Travel Guide
ABOVE: Interlaken lies between Lake Thun (foreground) and
Lake Brienz in the Bernese Oberland.
I've always had a soft
spot in my heart for Interlaken,
and not just because my ancestors lived in the neighborhood. Rather, it's
because this overgrown Swiss village has been the tourist hub of the Bernese
Oberland for nearly 170 years without turning into a Las Vegas, Blackpool, or
Torremolinos. You'll still find cows and sheep on the outskirts, and there are
few high-rises, motels, and fast-food joints to spoil the landscape.
Snobs might claim that
Interlaken is a tourist town, but so what? Tourism has long played an important role in
Swiss history, and the visitor who contemplates the Jungfrau Massif from the Matten (the
meadow in front of the town) is sharing in a tradition that dates back to the early 19th
You needn't stay in Interlaken to enjoy its convenience as a tourist
center. Just as all roads once led to Rome, most rail lines in this part of Switzerland
lead to Interlaken. This makes it easy to take day trips from just about any resort in the
area, especially if you have a Swiss Pass or Berner Oberland Pass that allows free or
reduced-price travel by train, bus, boat, funicular, cable car, or chair lift.
Here are just a few of the things you'll find to do in or near Interlaken:
Lake steamer cruises. Take a boat to Brienz, a picturesque
woodcarvers' town at the far end of the wild and scenic Brienzersee. Allow time for a
morning or afternoon at the Swiss Open-Air Museum at Ballenberg, near Brienz. Or catch a
steamer to Thun, where Lake Thun feeds into the River Aare, and enjoy the views from the
towers of its medieval castle.
Mountain excursions. The Jungfraujoch Railway is Europe's
highest. It takes you through Alpine meadows, then plunges into a stone tunnel on its
ascent to permanent snowfields and spectacular views.
Other (and less expensive)
excursions include the Schilthorn aerial cable car, the
Schynigge Platte cogwheel railway,
the Brienz-Rothorn-Bahn with its antique steam-driven locomotives, and funiculars such as
Harderbahn, which carries tourists up Interlaken's "Hausberg."
Hikes. Whether you're an experienced trekker or a casual walker,
you'll find a plethora of well-marked trails in Interlaken and nearby resorts. (Note:
Paved footpaths along Lake Thun and Lake Brienz are suitable for wheelchairs, strollers,
and baby carriages.)
City, town, and village sightseeing.
When the weather turns dreary, head for Bern (the Swiss capital), where
you can shop in arcaded passages, visit museums, and enjoy other activities that
don't require an umbrella and galoshes. Even when it's sunny, you should allow
time to visit Thun, Brienz, and some of the mountain resorts and villages in the
area. All are easy to reach by train, bus, and/or boat.
Europe for Visitors articles
ABOVE: View the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau from
Interlaken, or get a bird's-eye view with a mountain excursion by cogwheel railway,
funicular, or cable car.
This aerial cableway uses small gondolas to transport hikers and tourists up the
mountainside. You'll enjoy spectacular views on the ride up and from the upper station,
where you can have a meal or snack before hiking or riding back down.
The affordable 12-minute funicular ride starts near Interlaken Ost station. From the upper
platform at 4,337 feet, you can go hiking and enjoy the views of Lake Brienz and Lake
Europe's most spectacular mountain railway is high in elevation, popularity,
Explore a tourist attraction carved inside Europe's longest glacier.
Ride a 90-year-old funicular to spectacular views, hikes, and a mountain inn
overlooking Lake Thun.
Ride a cable car, hike a nature path, or try a 100m bungee jump on the Stockhorn, near
Lake Thun, where you can also enjoy a meal or rent a room on the summit.
Resort towns near Interlaken
On a mountainside just minutes from Interlaken, you'll find an unspoiled paradise
for hikers and skiers.
This pretty town near Interlaken has woodcarvers, an antique steam cogwheel
railway, and the Swiss Open-Air Museum. It's easy to reach by train or, better yet, by
Is this bucolic village really off the beaten path? Many fans of the Rick Steves Europe
Through the Back Door guidebooks think so, but Gimmelwald's backwoods charm has
attracted tourists (and travel writers) for a century or more.
Ride the train or drive to a valley with 72 waterfalls--including the Trümmelbach
Falls, which you reach by descending into a gorge by funicular.
Interlaken's lakeside neighbor is just minutes away by train, bus, car,
footpath, or lake steamer.
You won't find any cars at this mountain resort near Interlaken, but you will
find the Jungfrau, the Eiger, and some of the best hiking in the Swiss Alps. The setting
is unbeatable: Wengen lies on a steep shelf overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Accommodations range from grand hotels to youth hostels.
(winter resort report)
There are no cars here--just plenty of great hiking and winter skiing. You can ascend the
Schilthorn via aerial cablecar. (The revolving restaurant at the top was featured in a
James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.)
Move those cows out of the way, because 2,500 runners chase medals in the Bernese
Oberland every September.
Even a weekend adventurer can enjoy a white-knuckle experience on white water.
This medieval city on Lake Thun is 26 minutes from Interlaken by train or about
two hours by lake steamer. (It's also a stop on the train route to Bern.) Thun has an unusual main
shopping street with shops on two levels. Its castle offers great tower views of the town
Pits of Bern
The Swiss capital is 48 minutes from Interlaken by train. The famous bear pits
are a little depressing, but there are plenty of other things to do in Bern--most notably,
exploring and shopping in the arcaded passages of the medieval downtown area.
After you've seen the carvings and stained-glass windows, climb the tower for a
panoramic view of Switzerland's capital city.
In the summertime, grab your bathing suit and catch the funicular to a riverside
swimming area below the Parliament building..
When it's raining outside, the Federal Assembly chamber offers the best alpine
view in Switzerland.
External Web links
ABOVE: Boats offer excursions and point-to-point
transportation on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
The city's official tourist site has a plethora of information on activities, excursions, and more.
Hotels, hostels, and vacation rentals
Interlaken our partner
Our Europe-based hotel partner has a huge selection of properties in and
around Interlaken. Listings include photos, ratings, and reviews by paying
guests, and the reservations process is secure.
Schilthorn (Piz Gloria)
This revolving restaurant and observation deck was featured in the James Bond movie, On
Her Majesty's Secret Service. It offers spectacular views and is reached by cablecar
from Stechelberg, near Lauterbrunnen.
Great mountain views, and not too outrageously expensive. Accessible by
cogwheel railway from Wilderswil.
Attractions and activities
Interlaken's congress center has a low-stakes casino, a restaurant, space for
weddings, afternoon tea dances, concerts, and other events.
This company's activities range from mild-mannered river excursions and horse
trekking to bungee jumping, canyoning (sliding down "natural waterslides" in wet suits),
and "houserunning," where you go head first down the side of a building.