The best summer adventures in Interlaken, Switzerland

From endless alpine hikes and scenic rail journeys, to some of the world's most thrilling mountain escapades. Welcome to Interlaken, Europe's Adventure Capital...

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“Do you want to hear my advice?” my instructor asks. I can barely hear him over the rapid heartbeat in my ears. “Don’t wait, just jump.” I had just listened to the same man tease the people who went before me, but he could see the fear in my eyes – joking was not the right approach. I repeat his advice in my head, along with his earlier tips, “it’s all about mindset” and “don’t look down”. He attaches me to whatever equipment I need to be attached to, and hands me a rope to hold. I find a point to focus on far in front of me, and somehow my feet manage to shuffle forwards until I’m standing on the edge of a 90-metre high platform. After a 3-2-1 countdown, I don’t wait. I jump.

And it was terrifying and electrifying all at once. A three second death-defying freefall feels like a lifetime, before the rope catches and I begin to swing between the walls of a narrow gorge. My fear instantly turns into exhilaration. I let out a shriek of pure joy and can finally begin to appreciate the remarkable landscape I’m flying through. Leaning back in my harness, I listen to the gushing white waters of the Lütschine river below, while gazing up at the cloud dotted sky glowing between the dark canyon walls. This is Interlaken, Europe’s Adventure Capital.

Sitting central in the Bernese Oberland, Interlaken is Switzerland’s answer to an adult’s playground. Built in a narrow valley with mountains everywhere you look, the traditional resort town is sandwiched between two lakes: Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, the latter getting its unique emerald hues from the sediments in glacial particles. The scenery in and around Interlaken makes it a dreamlike landscape for both soft and hard adventure. So, let the fun begin...


The best summer adventures in Interlaken

Enjoy a scenic train journey there

The Lucern-Interlaken Express (Shutterstock)

The Lucern-Interlaken Express (Shutterstock)

The adventure starts before you even reach Interlaken. There’s no denying Switzerland has some of the most spectacular train journeys in the world, and for those who haven’t experienced it before, get ready to have your breath taken away.

If flying into Zurich, catch a train and change at Lucerne to board to the Lucerne-Interlaken Express. With large panoramic windows, you’ll find it difficult to put your camera down as you trundle past some of the Switzerland’s wow-factor landscapes: lucent blue lakes contrasting against the luscious green hills, countless waterfalls and an eclectic mix of architecture, from Swiss chalets to Belle Époque structures. The journey is just less than two hours of pure scenic joy.

Ride to the top of Interlaken

The lookout platform at the top of Harder Kulm (Shutterstock)

The lookout platform at the top of Harder Kulm (Shutterstock)

You can’t visit Interlaken without riding its funicular up Harder Kulm – known best as the top of Interlaken. Board the red carriage and take the 10-minutes journey up through the tightly-knit coniferous balanced on the mountainside. Once above the treetops, Interlaken’s most spectacular views are revealed. Disembark from the funicular and stroll a hundred metres or so to Zwei-Seen-Steg, an overhanging platform at 1,322 metres above sea level. This is an ideal place for that ‘Instagramable’ shot, and a chance to see the contrasting Lake Brienz and Lake Thun from up above.

The scenery can continue being admired from the cosy Harder Kulm Restaurant. Although a variety of choices on the menu – from European to Arabic cuisine – there are plenty of hot cheese delights for those who want to try a classic Swiss dish. Tuck into a fondue or rosti and gaze out across the snow sprinkled mountain peaks.

Paddle the lakes at your leisure

Paddleboarding on Lake Thun (Toby White)

Paddleboarding on Lake Thun (Toby White)

Don’t just admire to beauty of the lakes – get afloat on them.

Join a kayaking session on Lake Brienz with Hidetide Kayak for a wonderful and active way to learn more about the destination from one of the school’s knowledgeable guides. You’ll launch your kayaks from Bönigen beach, before gliding past forests and sheer cliffs perched on the lake’s edge. For some history, take a pit stop to explore 12th century Ringgenberg castle, climbing its tower to enjoy picturesque Brienz from above and looking back at where you’ve just paddled. Top tip: Join the sunset kayaking session, so you can savour the evening glow as make your way back to the school.  

Alternatively at Lake Thun, pick up a stand-up paddleboard from MountainSurf Rental for slow-paced exploring of these translucent waters. The lake is even more beautiful once gliding on top of it, and those courageous enough can jump in for a refreshing swim. Paddleboarding in the morning offers a tranquil start to your day, but make sure to keep out of the path of the passenger boat which docks every hour.

Choose your perfect alpine hike

View from the top of Schynige Platte (Jessica Reid)

View from the top of Schynige Platte (Jessica Reid)

The Swiss mountains are notorious for hikers. With Interlaken located in the heart of these alpine wonders, it offers an ideal base to take on many routes for different abilities. Believe it or not, the mountains were not used by locals for leisure until the 1830s, when the British came over and taught the Swiss how the peaks can be their outdoor playground. Many farmers and hunters were first to become mountain tour guides, with young men following in their footsteps.

Schynige Platte is located in the Jungfrau Region, with the base of the mountain ridge a 30-minute walk from Interlaken, or short train journey. What makes this hike special is the century-old mountain train – one of the slowest in Switzerland – that takes you on a charming trundle up to the top Schynige Platte. From here, a variety of hikes can be picked. Those who require just a couple hours of walking can select one of the smaller looped routes with miniature peaks to get the quads burning. If seeking a longer adventure, continue walking along the ridge to Faulhorn and onto First – a hike which takes approximately six hours.

Tackle the white waters of Lütschine River

Rafting the river (Jessica Reid/Outdoor Interlaken)

Rafting the river (Jessica Reid/Outdoor Interlaken)

For those ready for some hardcore action, white water rafting down Lütschine River is one way to get your adrenaline pumping. You and your rafting team will be driven up to the launching point beneath the north face of the famous Eiger, before hopping into the sturdy inflatable boat and taking on the rapids. Of course, you'll be accompanied by an expert guide who will instruct and navigate your journey. This grade 3-4 river requires attention at all times, but in between sections of ferocious white waters, there are moments of calm where you can appreciate the magnificent mountain peaks you are paddling beneath. After a few hours of heart-racing exhilaration, the white waters begin to relax and flow out into Lake Brienz. And breath!

Brave the canyons

At the bottom of the canyon (Outdoor Interlaken)

At the bottom of the canyon (Outdoor Interlaken)

Still on a high from the white water rafting? Keep the adrenaline pumping by visiting the canyons in and around Interlaken. A half-day canyoning trip to Grimsel begins with a 50-metre abseiling challenge into the gorge. You’ll then take on a fast-paced trek through the canyons, leaping and zip-wiring off its walls into the icy-cold pools. It’s one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Switzerland’s great outdoors.

But that’s not all the canyons have to offer. Although only lasting a matter of moments, the Canyon Swing in Grindelwald is for those searching for an experience of a lifetime. The view from the 90-metre platform is enough to make the bravest adventurer’s legs quiver. Once strapped into a harness and attached to the swing, you’re ready to jump. The terrifying three-second freefall feels like it lasts an eternity, before swinging between the narrow canyon walls where you will hear your screams of joy (or pure terror) echoed back to you.

About the trip

The author stayed at Carlton-Europe Hotel, a convenient location less than five minute walk from Interlaken railway station.

Activities including the white water rafting, canyoning and canyon swing were booked with Outdoor

To get there, Swiss airlines fly into Zurich. Get a Swiss Travel Pass for unlimited use of public transport within the country, including buses and trains, plus access to 480 museums.

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