Green Traveller's Guide to Interlaken, Switzerland
Interlaken is nestled between the alpine lakes Brienz and Thun, and overlooked by the mighty Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains. It was originally known as Aarmühle until the name officially changed in 1891. At the foot of the Bernese Oberland mountain range it's a great base for exploring the region - it is now the starting point for the Jungfrau Marathon, which climbs to 5,960 feet, and is a great place to go for watersports on the lakes or hiking and cycling to the impressive waterfalls in the surrounding moutains.
Here is our green guide to Interlaken based on my recent trip to the region as part of our SprInterRail Sporting Adventure around Europe with RailEurope, plus a selection of the many tips that have been sent in by readers via our twitter account: @greentraveller and via the Green Traveller Facebook page.
Watch the video of our visit to Interlaken:
What to do
Lake Brienz A deep blue stretch of water ringed by snowcapped mountains above and sleepy alpine villages below, Lake Brienz is a wonderful place to explore throughout the year. Adventure-seekers can chose from a huge selection of activities on or around the lake – sea kayaking, river rafting, windsurfing, canoeing, abseiling, rock climbing. Or you can cycle round the lake’s shore - a round trip takes about 4 hours. For summer visitors, no visit would be complete without a trip on one of the steamers which criss-cross the lake daily from April to October, ferrying passengers between the quaint villages that line the shore’s edge (trips are free for those with a Swiss pass which you can pick up from your hotel - see below). Themed cruises (Indian, Swizz BBQ, halal BBQ) run between May and August. www.bls.ch/schiffe
Giessbach Falls The Giessbach Falls, which tumble down 500m into Lake Brienz in 14 tiers, are a magnificent sight. A path leading to the falls was created in the 19th century and allows you to get right under the falls – a refreshing thing to do, particularly in the heat of summer! You can reach them by car, but we’d recommend taking a boat across – then taking the funicular up to the Grandhotel Giessbach for a spot of lunch at the Parkrestaurant (see below).
Train to the ‘Top of Europe’ At 3454m, Jungfrau railway station is Europe’s highest, and is a definite highlight for anyone visiting the area. Trains have been making the steady climb up here for over 100 years; you can jump a train aboard at Kleine Scheidegg, to the south of the lake. The 50-minute journey takes you through a world of snow, ice and rock, and the panoramas from the windows as you climb are awesome. From the top, marvel at the snowy scene below from various vantage points, including the Aletsch Glacier or the Ice Palace. On a clear day you can see as far as the Vosges mountains or Germany’s Black Forest. A ticket to the top may be a little on the expensive side, but well worth it. www.jungfrau.ch
Hiking in the Bernese Oberland By the beginning of the 19th century, the area around Interlaken had already become a bit of a hiking mecca. Sandwiched between lakes Thun and Brienz, and at the feet of the three famous peaks - Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau - the Bernese Oberland has a dense network of trails and routes. Tinkling cowbells, picturesque picnic spots, and myriad paths and trails that meander through wildflower meadows and valley bottoms – hiking in this corner of the Alps isn’t technical or particularly strenuous, and cable cars can take the strain if the going gets tough. There are some 200 km of pistes too to keep skiers and snowboarders happy during the winter, too.
Eco-friendly wheels Perfect for those that want to cover more kilometres than their legs will allow. The e-bikes do the hard work, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and descend happily to the valley bottoms without dreading the ascent on the other side! Your guides are a mine of information on local culture and traditions; you can chose to stop off at farms, explore remote villages and sample the delicacies at local eateries en route.
Three Waterfalls Trail This trail is a 6 km route which hugs the lake all the way from Bönigen, (a kilometre or so east of Interlaken), to Iseltwald (your picture-perfect Swiss alpine village). It’s an easy 2-hour hike, and takes in some lovely waterfalls and beautiful lake views. You can then hop on a boat back to Bönigen.
Where to eat
Restaurant Des Alpes Handy restaurant serving decent Swiss food (such as fondue, fried potato dishes and meat grills) and wood-fired pizzeria (evenings only) with an outdoor terrace and childrens play area, on Inerlaken's main high steet, a few minutes walk from Interlaken Ost train station. www.desalpes-interlaken.ch, tel: +41 (0)33 822 23 23
Restaurant Laterne Characterful, family-run restaurant in a quiet quarter of Interlaken, which specialises in local, traditional Swiss dishes, including. www.restaurant-laterne.ch, tel: +41 (0)33-822-11-41.
Parkrestaurant Les Cascades at Hotel Giessbach Bang opposite the thundering Giessbach falls, the Parkrestaurant at Hotel Giessbach is located in the fairytale castle hotel and is a fabulous place to eat. Set in the orangerie with glass on all sides, it’s all starch white tablecloths and wicker chairs, silver candlesticks and table lamps. If you can tear your gaze away from the views, the food is dressed to impress.
Where to Stay
Hotel Metropole If your heart sinks on the approach, don’t be put off. It may be no beauty from the outside, but as soon as you’re settled in your room and you’ve clapped eyes on the views from your balcony, you won’t regret coming here. Handy for the train and bus stations (five minutes’ walk), this place is the tallest building in Interlaken (hence the fabulous views). Buffet breakfasts are good and plentiful, rooms are spacious and light, and the staff are efficient and friendly. It’s modern, clean and welcoming, and great value for money, too.
Getting around by public transport Interlaken is small enough to cover on foot. Local buses are regular and hotel guests receive a visitor's card on arrival that allows free rides within the town on buses and trains. You can also use bus No. 105 from Interlaken West station to Wilderswil (every half hour, journey time 9 mins) for all mountain-bound trains. The visitors card also includes discounts at various area attractions.
How to get to Interlaken by train We travelled to Interlaken East station via Milan, and then returned to the UK via Interlaken West station via Basel and Paris. From the UK, the easiest way by train is to take the Eurostar to Paris, then change to catch the TGV-Lyria train to Basel (about 3 hours) then the local trains from Basel to Interlaken East (in just under 2 hours.). For more information, see our guides to How to travel from the UK to Italy and How to travel from London by train to Interlaken.
-- This green guide to Interlaken, Switzerland, was researched and compiled by Florence Fortnam, Richard Hammond and Andy Hix. Thanks to Meret Geissbühler, Interlaken Tourism for hosting greentraveller.