8 Days in Switzerland: Zurich, The Alps, and Geneva

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An eight-day journey from Geneva to Zurich

In Switzerland, the staggering beauty is so much more than visual. It is noticed first in the crisp, invigorating air—the cleanest country air you can breathe. Cities feel more like large, inviting villages, with deep-rooted international flair. Just minutes outside, the Alps beckon with skiing in the winter, and biking and hiking in the summer, calling to mind Johanna Spyri’s classic Heidi, where she feels the “high jagged peaks of the mountains looking down on [her] like old friends.” It’s an image that still rings true today. Best explored by high-speed trains, the country will continually call you back.

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Day 1-2: Lake Geneva

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Geneva is a global powerhouse of a city on Lac Léman (as locals call Lake Geneva), that is known for banking, watches and its landmark fountain, Jet d’Eau. Visitors can schedule a visit to CERN (best to book months in advance), where the World Wide Web was invented, and ponder what technological advances are coming next. But there’s another small-town side to Geneva. Shop on Rue du Rhône for watches, and climb the hill to Old Town’s art galleries and furniture shops. For eclectic nightlife, explore Rue de Pâquis and stop at Café Restaurant Art’s for lively conversation and simple but delicious food.

Geneva is also an ideal base from which to explore the Old World villages nearby, and the UNESCO-protected Lavaux wine region, with terraced vineyards dating back centuries. Small cities like Lausanne, with a fascinating Olympic Museum, and Montreux, home to the beloved summer jazz festival, are charming. In Vevey, visitors can savor chocolate in the birthplace of Nestlé, and cheese in the small town of Gruyère. Not to be missed is the postcard-ready residence of the Savoy family, Chateau de Chillon, which has survived unscathed for centuries.

Day 3-6: Alps (Zermatt and Gstaad)

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Spend two nights each in Zermatt and Gstaad, picture-perfect villages for travelers seeking an authentic Swiss Alpine experience. The snow-capped peaks of the Alps slope down to green meadows, dotted with grazing cows and 17th-century log cabins. In car-free Zermatt, the iconic Matterhorn is often shrouded by clouds, but when it does reveal itself, the site is one of the world’s most memorable to behold. Hop on the Gornergrat railway for a panoramic viewing platform and sweet apple strudel in the café. Don’t miss the pleasant hike to Restaurant Blatten, on the trail beyond the chair lift, where your only companions will be wandering sheep and distant ringing bells. For fondue, local favorite Whymper-Stube is unassuming and cozy, serving meltingly delicious regional cheeses.

Gstaad strikes a more sophisticated vibe as a ski town where Europe’s most storied families come to relax and indulge. The Chesery serves an ever-changing menu in a gracious, chalet-style setting, while visitors still love Wally’s Burgers for casual post-ski fare.

Day 7-8: Zurich

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Situated on picturesque Lake Zurich, bisected by the Limmat River, this stylish, urbane center of Swiss industry feels effortless, with chic residents and pristine streets. The center of Swiss banking lies on Paradeplatz, where you can also browse the flagship Confiserie Sprüngli, a delightful chocolate emporium (the macaron-like Luxemburgerli are the thing to get). Nearby is Bahnhofstrasse, lined with global brands, upscale boutiques and swanky coffee shops. One of the city’s best views can be found in small Lindenhof Gardens near the water. But for a nostalgic change of pace, Old Town entices with cobblestoned streets, colorful buildings, fromageries, and patisseries. Cafe Schober holds the distinction of being the oldest café in Zurich, and serves a celebrated cup of dense, sweet hot chocolate. For delicious, healthy fare, try Hiltl, Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant.

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