From snow-capped mountains to lush valleys to green-blue rivers that quietly flow through medieval towns, Switzerland has no shortage of picture-perfect places to visit. But there are a handful of cities that, for whatever reason, get all the attention. While we certainly can’t find fault with Zurich or Geneva, here are three smaller Swiss cities that might not be on your travel bucket list… yet.
Bern might be Switzerland’s capital, but it rarely gets the credit it deserves. For one thing, the city boasts medieval architecture dating back to the 12th century, and, for a few Swiss francs, visitors can climb the 344 steps to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of the city and the distant Alps. While Switzerland has a well-deserved reputation for amazing ski slopes, a trip to Bern in the summer or fall is equally thrilling. Take advantage of the Aare River, which is clean and open to swimmers during the warmer months.
The Perfect Day Trip: Emmental
Swiss Cheese anyone? Emmental is a quick train ride from Bern’s train station and is easily toured in a day (although we’d argue that a weekend getaway, if you can swing it, is ideal). There are four main cheese dairies here, each from a different era, so you’ll learn how the cheese-making process has evolved over time. Rent an electric bike and make your way through the hilly valley, stopping at shops and attractions along the way.
Lausanne is home to the Olympic Museum and Archives, so if you’ve ever wanted to see a gold medal up close, this is your chance. In fact, the International Olympic Committee considers Lausanne to be the “Olympic Capital.” As its name might suggest, Lausanne is part of the French-speaking Vaud region and is located on Lake Geneva. If you didn’t get your fill of medieval architecture in Bern, you will here. There’s a grand Gothic cathedral from the 12th century and two museums — one dedicated to art and one to science — housed in the 19th-century Palais de Rumine.
The Perfect Day Trip: Lavaux
With quaint villages, panoramic vistas, and terraced vineyards, Lavaux looks like the backdrop for a Disney movie. Of course, it’s a great destination for wine, too — the region is known for lovely, light whites made from Chasselas grapes. Most travelers know little about Swiss wine, and there’s a simple explanation for that: Only about one percent of Switzerland’s wines are exported outside the country. We suggest strolling the walking trail that weaves among several vineyards (like Caveau de Vignerons, Lavaux Vinorama, and Terres de Lavaux) or hopping on the tram that follows the same path.
Art Basel aside, this city is effortlessly alluring. Located on the Rhine River in the northwest part of the country, its location borders both Germany and France. Stroll through the old town or visit one of the city’s many art museums and galleries. Architecturally, there’s a lot of diversity; keep an eye out for several distinct styles, from Romanesque and Renaissance to more modern buildings. If your visit happens to coincide with Carnival, you’re in luck — the yearly festival draws thousands of masked participants and eager spectators in February or March.
The Perfect Day Trip: Thun
Long and narrow Lake Thun is located on the west side of Interlaken and is surrounded by mountains. Spend an hour or two in the medieval old town before heading to a castle that dates back to 1191 and offers great views of the like. There’s no nobility residing in the castle now, but there is a history museum with 14th-century tapestries and armor.