It’s easy to explore much of Switzerland on a day trip from the vibrant, well-connected city of Zürich.
From this metropolitan city, the Alps beckon – and within a couple hours, you can hike or mountain-bike beautiful trails, or explore the charming old towns and contemporary art scene in easily reachable regional cities.
Here are the best day trips from Zürich.
Head to Basel for the art; stay for the riverside dining
Thousands of art and architecture lovers visit Basel each year for the world-famous ART Basel festival and the city’s wealth of galleries, museums and iconic buildings. Basel’s position at the juncture of the French, German and Swiss borders adds to its multicultural appeal, and it’s perhaps the place where Switzerland's Franco-Germanic roots are most evident, even if the dominant language spoken is Swiss German. It's easy to spend a day wandering the cobbled streets of the lofty and beautiful Altstadt in Grossbasel (Greater Basel) on the Rhine’s south bank before crossing the Mittlere Brücke to Kleinbasel (Little Basel) for a more “everyday” vibe, including riverside alfresco dining.
How to get to Basel: Frequent trains operate between Zürich and Basel, with the journey taking about an hour.
Wanter Winterthur’s charming old town and world-class museums
Often eclipsed by the buzz of nearby Zürich, Winterthur, Switzerland’s sixth-largest city, packs a real cultural punch. It’s home to truly stupendous collections amassed by art collector Oskar Reinhart, one of Europe’s foremost photography museums and a kid-pleasing science museum – not to mention an archetypal turreted castle topping a crag just south of town. Beyond the appeal of its sights, Winterthur also has one of Switzerland’s largest pedestrian-only old towns, lined with pastel-painted, terracotta-tiled cafes and bars, plus boutiques ideal for a leisurely wander around.
How to get to Winterthur: Several trains per hour run to Winterthur’s main station from Zürich, taking less than half an hour. Buses to Zürich depart from stands opposite the train station. If you’re driving from Zürich, take the A1 freeway.
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Take to the trails of Lauterbrunnen
Lauterbrunnen’s wispy Staubbach Falls inspired both Goethe and Lord Byron to pen poems to the site’s ethereal beauty. Today, the postcard-perfect village, nestled deep in the valley of 72 waterfalls, attracts a more laid-back crowd of nature lovers. Full of chalet-style lodgings, Lauterbrunnen is a fabulous base for hikers or climbers, and a magnet for thrill-seeking BASE jumpers.
How to get to Lauterbrunnen: Trains run from Zürich every 30 minutes, requiring changes in Bern and Interlaken. The total travel time is about two and a half hours.
Take one of the world’s most spectacular train trips, to the top of Jungfraujoch
The train ride up to Jungfraujoch (11,332ft/3456m) is one of Switzerland’s classic experiences. Following an audacious route directly through the heart of the Eiger, the railway was completed in 1912 and today carries more than two million people a year through some of Europe’s most phenomenal high-Alpine scenery. The icy wilderness of swirling glaciers and 3962m (13,000ft) turrets that unfolds up top is staggeringly beautiful, with views of the moraine-streaked, 22.5km(14-mile)-long tongue of the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alps and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The views across rippling peaks stretch as far as the Black Forest in Germany on cloudless days. Inside the adjacent Sphinx weather station you’ll find ice sculptures, restaurants, indoor viewpoints and souvenir shops.
How to get to Jungfraujoch: Jungfraujoch makes for a long day trip from Zürich, a journey well worth making. The fastest trains from Zürich can take you to the mountain in just over 3.5 hours, so get an early start.
Get bragging rights by crossing the border to tiny Liechtenstein
A pipsqueak of a country, Liechtenstein nestles between Switzerland and Austria, among mountain ranges that rise steep and rugged above the Rhine. Besides the sheer novelty value of visiting one of the world's tiniest and richest countries, Liechtenstein is the stuff of pure fairy tales: a mountain principality governed by an iron-willed monarch, embedded deep in the Alps and crowned by turreted castles.
The western, more populated side of the country is in the Rhine Valley and relatively flat, while the east is mountainous. Outdoor enthusiasts are in their element here, with a remarkable number of trails to hike and slopes to ski given the country’s size. When you strike out into the Alpine wilderness beyond Vaduz, this landlocked sliver of a micronation suddenly no longer seems quite so small.
How to get to Liechtenstein: Only 25km (15.5 miles) long by 12km (7.5 miles) wide at its broadest point, Liechtenstein doesn’t have an international airport, and access from Switzerland is by local bus. From Zürich, hop on a train to Sargans, a Swiss border town (journey time 55 minutes). From there, frequent buses head to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, taking about 30 minutes. For drivers, the Swiss Autobahn 13/E43 follows the Rhine along the border, and minor roads cross into Liechtenstein at each freeway exit.
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Hit the heights of Mt Titlis
Central Switzerland’s tallest mountain, Mt Titlis is known as the site of the world’s first revolving cable car: completed in 1992, it’s still one of the few on the planet. And this wonder is just the last leg of a breathtaking three-stage journey. First, the TITLIS Xpress takes you from Engelberg (1013m/3323ft) to Trübsee (1800m/5905ft) and on to Stand (2450m/8038ft). For the final ascent, you’ll board the Rotair (only the cabin inside revolves) for the passage over the dazzling Titlis Glacier.
The Titlis station (3020m/9908ft) has all the usual array of restaurants and tourist attractions, such as an adventure park, scooter bikes and Alpine flower trails. At the top of the list would have to be the Cliff Walk: at 500m (1640ft) above the ground, Europe’s highest suspension bridge is 100m (328ft) long, under a meter (3ft) wide and absolute thrill. Expect an additional 45-minute hike to get to the 3239m (10,625ft). Wear comfortable shoes, and be sure to take your time – it doesn’t look far, but at this altitude you need to take it slowly.
How to get to Mount Titlis: Trains from Zürich to Engelberg run once an hour, with a journey time of one hour and 45 minutes. A change is required in Lucerne.
Explore the covered arcades of historic Bern
The picture-postcard, Unesco World Heritage–listed old town of Bern belies its status as the capital of modern Switzerland. Rebuilt in distinctive gray-green sandstone after a devastating fire in 1405, Bern’s flag-festooned, cobbled center is an aesthetic delight, with 6km (3.75 miles) of covered arcades, cellar shops and bars, with fantastical folk figures frolicking on 16th-century fountains. From the surrounding hills, you’re presented with an equally captivating picture of red roofs arrayed on a spit of land within a bend of the Aare River.
Bern seduces and surprises at every turn. Its museums are excellent, its drinking scene dynamic and its residents happy to switch from their famously lilting dialect to textbook French, High German or English – which all goes to show that there’s much more to Bern than bureaucracy.
How to get to Bern: Trains run at least hourly from Zürich, and the journey takes between an hour and an hour and a half.
Feel (or at least see) the power of the Rheinfall
Formed by tectonic shifts during the last ice age 15,000 years ago, the Rheinfall is a real crash-bang spectacle, raging at a speed of around 700 cu meter (24,720 cubic ft) per second as it spills 23m (75ft) into a basin in a series of swirling cascades, billowing plumes of spray and raging white water. Europe’s most powerful waterfall is best surveyed on the trail that wends down from medieval Schloss Laufen or on one of the boats that cross to the rock that rises above it.
How to get to Rheinfall: The S9 train from Zürich drops visitors at Neuhausen Rheinfall station after a journey of 55 minutes.
Soak in the sheer beauty of Lucerne
The recipe for a gorgeous Swiss city: take a cobalt lake ringed by storybook mountains, add a well-preserved medieval Altstadt (old town) and a reputation for making beautiful music – then sprinkle with covered bridges, sunny plazas, candy-colored houses and waterfront promenades. Stunning Lucerne has been deservedly popular since such visitors as Goethe, Queen Victoria and Wagner savored its views in the 19th century. Legend has it that an angel with a light showed the first settlers where to build a chapel in Lucerne; this city simply has amazing grace.
How to get to Lucerne: Frequent trains connect Lucerne to Zürich, with a journey time between 45 minutes and one hour. If you’re driving, the A14/A4 freeway provides a direct road link to Zürich.
Admire Zürich from above atop Uetliberg
Marking the swift transition between the urban and the wild, 870m(2860ft)-high Uetliberg is the mountain on Zürich’s doorstep, ablaze with wildflowers in spring and daubed with russets and golds in fall. When city dwellers want to stretch their legs, they head up here to hike, jog or mountain bike on the trails that criss-cross the woods and countryside. Topping the mountain is Uetliberg Aussichtsturm, a steel lattice observation tower with fine views over Lake Zürich and the city. Sunset is prime-time viewing.
How to get to Uetliberg: Train line S10 runs from Zürich's main station to Uetliberg twice hourly, and the journey time is under 30 minutes. From here, it's a 10-minute uphill walk to the viewpoint. At Felsenegg vantage point, a cable car descends every 15 minutes to the town of Adliswil, from where frequent S4 trains return to Zürich.