Lucerne sits on Switzerland’s fourth-biggest lake, shrouded by lush hills and peaks. Interlaken sits astride two beautiful blue lakes. It’s tough to pick a winner - so don't! Here's how to combine them...
The towns of Interlaken and Lucerne are blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful waters. Lucerne sits on Switzerland’s fourth-biggest lake – a pleasingly twisty and multi-armed expanse that’s shrouded by lush hills and imposing peaks. A little further south-west, Interlaken sits astride two beautiful lakes – one deep-blue, one vivid turquoise – and faces the headiest heights of the Bernese Oberland. It’s tough to pick a winner – so don’t. It’s easy to combine them both on one trip for a magical mix. Read on to discover how…
Ufschötti Park (Switzerland Tourism)
Sitting on the shores of its namesake lake, on the banks of the River Reuss, Lucerne is a water-hugged wonderland of glittering views, handsome bridges and elegant promenades. It’s a delight just to stroll around the old town, perhaps watching the boats come and go or stopping for a drink at a pavement cafe. To cool off you could spend a lazy afternoon in Ufschötti Park – relax on the lawn and go for a paddle from the little sandy beach. Or stroll to the Reusszopf, the confluence of the Reuss and Kleine Emme rivers, where you can go for a river swim, fire up a barbecue or order a sundowner from the Nordpol bar.
A large fleet of lovely vessels glides across 38km-long Lake Lucerne, serving little waterside villages and opening up a range of adventures beyond. The main boat dock is right by the train station, making it easy to hop off one form of transport straight onto the other. You could simply board a classy motor vessel for an hour-long cruise to get a feel for this multi-faceted lake; expert commentary will reveal history and legends. Or you could plan a longer journey – it takes almost three hours to sail from Lucerne to Flüelen, a pretty port tucked down the lake’s easterly fjord-like arm, where you’ll find good hiking and biking trails, and a small 13th-century castle. The classic lake day-trip is to take the paddle steamer from Lucerne to the resort of Vitznau, where you can board the old cogwheel train to the top of Mount Rigi. The view from this 1,797m icon is simply magnificent.
Cruise Lake Lucerne (Christian Perret)
The Culture and Convention Centre (Switzerland Tourism)
The countryside around Lucerne is inspirational. Certainly the English Romantic artist JMW Turner felt that way. He visited the area many times in the early 19th century and painted many Alpine scenes. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Lucerne Art Society – a special exhibition focusing on Turner’s time in Switzerland will be held at the Kunstmuseum Luzern, on the top floor of the Culture and Convention Centre (KKL). Admire the watercolour landscapes, then pop to the café for a slice of cake with a real-life picture-perfect view.
Luzern-Interlaken Express at Lake Brienz (swiss-image.ch)
It takes just two hours to travel between the beautiful lake-side cities of Lucerne and Interlaken by express train. But what a ride. The journey is more scenic tour than transportation. For a start, the carriages are supremely comfortable, air-conditioned and well-served by a bistro car. But best is the view out of the huge panoramic windows, as the glorious midlands gradually rise to the full drama of the Bernese Alps. Gliding away from Lucerne’s central station, the train passes no fewer than five lakes, as well as rolling meadows, tumbling waterfalls, geranium-bright chalets and deep-green trees. En route it crosses the 1,008m Brünig Pass, a historic thoroughfare that was even immortalised in a watercolour by JM Turner himself on a visit in around 1847. Once over the pass, the scenery becomes ever more dramatic as peaks such as the Eiger and the Jungfrau get closer. Once you arrive in Interlaken, this high mountain playground is on the doorstep.
Brilliant-blue Lake Thun spills west of Interlaken amid a phalanx of looming mountains. The prevailing light breeze makes it ideal for sailors and windsurfers, and there are also plenty of lovely swimming spots if you want a day of relaxation by the beach. But it’s also enchanting to explore. Paddle steamers ply the lake, providing scenic access to an array of sites. Pay a visit to St. Beatus Caves, a stalactite-hung limestone cavern that was once a refuge for the sixth-century saint. Hop off for Hünegg castle, a pretty 19th-century mansion that now houses a Renaissance Revival and Art Nouveau Museum. Or stop near Spiez to ride the steep funicular up the Niesen, a pointy 2,362m peak that’s known as the ‘Swiss Pyramid’.
Lake Thun (Mike Kaufmann)
The vintage Lötschberg paddle steamer on Lake Brienz (Jost von Allmen)
The clear, vibrant-turquoise waters of Lake Brienz lie east of Interlaken, glittering below the mighty mountains. One of the loveliest ways to explore is aboard the vintage Lötschberg paddle steamer, which cruises across the lake, stopping at ports en route. If you like, you could combine sailing with strolling. For instance, you could hop off in the charming town of Brienz to ride the steam-powered rack railway up the 2,350m Brienzer Rothorn for one of the region’s best views. Or you could disembark at little Iseltwald and walk along the lovely lakeshore path to Giessbach, admiring the 14-tier Giessbach Falls before picking up the next boat.
Giessbach isn’t the only impressive cascade in the region – the landscapes around Interlaken are splendidly dripping. Easily accessed by train from the town, the Lauterbrunnen Valley has over 70 waterfalls and has inspired countless artists and writers; JRR Tolkien used it as the basis for the Elven town of Rivendell in his epic The Lord of the Rings novel. The Trümmelbach is Europe’s largest subterranean waterfall, a noisy, thunderous plummet of glacier melt, churning inside a mountain; a network of underground lifts, tunnels, paths and platforms enables you to get up close. The Staubbach Falls are quite the opposite, plunging out in the open from the top of the valley in a glorious 300m-high plume – Switzerland’s third-tallest cascade.
Staubbach Falls (Christof Sonderegger)
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