Expats Soaking Up the Swiss Alps - The 8 Alpine must-see locations in Switzerland

By: Melinda Schoutens

Not everyone can say with gusto that they love the town in which they live. We are among the fortunate few, who each time we step back and see our city for what she is worth, we tend to smile with deep admiration. Basel, though small for city standards, is perfect to us in everyway. Hosting impressive museums, restaurants, yearly events, great work opportunities, charm, ample green space, essentially all the makings of a wonderful city, but on a rather small scale.

But when the hurried pace of city life becomes too much and we long to feel the wind in our hair and the earth below our feet, we seek refuge in the mountains. There is no other way to explain the Alps other than to say they are simply magical. Every snow covered peak, each crystal clear lake, the vibrant wildflowers that decorate the landscape - magic. The tinkering of cow bells and the vast skies, incredible trails, the smells and sites - magic. And each magical moment we spend in the Alps reminds us what it means to fall deeply in love and that is exactly why Switzerland has captured our hearts.

Listed below you will find a concise list of alpine towns that in our humble opinion all contribute to the old world charm of Switzerland. Whether an avid hiker, or just looking for a relaxing, accessible weekend away, the list below offers it all. Each alpine village holds its own appeal and character, which makes it easy for visitors to feel drawn to one village over another. In additon, each location invites one to: explore, hike, bike, ski, sled, run, breathe and shake your head at the magnificence that sits right in front of you.

  1. Grindelwald – Grindelwald is stunning, but often times overlooked because of its touristy feel; don’t let that deter you. Above the center, mountains, streams and lakes all wait to show you their beauty. A hike to Bachalpsee is a perfect way to spend a day. The path to this magnificent alpine lake is paved and well marked and once at the lake, the views do not dissapoint. Pack a picnic lunch, hope for good weather and bask in the glow of the Alps right in front of you. If hiking isn’t your thing, enjoy the town of Grindelwald and then take the gondola up to the Bort stop. Once off the lift, you can enjoy a lovely drink or lunch all the while taking in one of Switzerland’s most famous peaks- the Eiger. If children are with you, do not worry. Bort has a fabulous alpine playground that is suitable for children of all ages. On a side note, if the weather is clear, a trip up to Jungfrau is highly recommended. The train ride in itself is rather impressive and is the highest railway station in Europe!

    Bachalpsee above the village of Grindelwald
    Bachalpsee above the village of Grindelwald


  2. Obersteinberg - Obersteinberg sits high above the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Accessible by mule, helicopter or foot this mountain retreat is nestled among some pretty inspiring peaks.  This no frills mountain hotel, open from June to September, boasts 15 double rooms and dormitory style accommodations.  There is no electricity or warm water, just old-fashioned water jugs and bowls that are provided for guests upon arrival. The hotel is also a working dairy farm, with deliciously fresh milk, cheese and butter always available to visitors.  Part of the charm of this location, in addition to the mega – mountains and sick views, is how simply perfect it all is. But be warned, the hike to Obersteinberg, though well –marked is not a leisurely stroll through the woods.

    Hiding away in the mountains: Obersteinberg
    Hiding away in the mountains: Obersteinberg


  3. Mürren - The car free village of Mürren is small, but certainly has a lively charm.  For the littlest visitors, there is an incredible outdoor playground that was a huge hit with both of our children. Visitors can also enjoy the well – marked, theme trails in the area.  Hiking options include: the Flower Trail, which is they say is best between the months of June and September, the North Face Trail, which is a personal all time favorite of ours with breathtaking views of the North-faces of the Bernese peaks visible almost the entire hike.  For children, the Children’s Adventure Trail starts off at the playground at Allmendhubel, and weaves through picturesque meadows and trails all the while incorporating playgrounds, zip lines, and climbing towers. Our son only three at the time, didn’t complain a bit about the hike and though considered still a bit young, had a wonderful time along the trail.

  4. Gimmelwald - When in Mürren we can highly recommend a visit to the small and sleepy town of Gimmelwald.  With just over 100 residents, the town is quaint, and extremely picturesque.  Upon arrival in Gimmelwald (a 35 minute hike from Mürren) you might just stop and ask yourself if you are dreaming, but let us assure you, the town is real.  With a few small, but charming hotels/hostels, an honesty shop (incredible in its own right), a wonderful patio to enjoy some delicious food served up by Pension Gimmelwald – the town is so engaging that you might just want to stay awhile, basking in the views of this storybook village.

  5. Zermatt – No trip to Switzerland would be complete without witnessing the famous Matterhorn. The town of Zermatt is old, charming and quintessential Switzerland, but to see the Matterhorn is a sight that is certain to stay with you for years to come.

  6. Gornergrat - Sits high among the Alps at 3100 feet – the highest hotel in Switzerland. The world is quieter at this altitude, a peaceful, welcome quiet. There is not much to do up here except marvel in the beauty and breathe the thin air. For the super fit and hardy, hiking, skiing and other recreational activities can be found. From every room of the 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat hotel, there are commanding views of famous mountains and icy cold glaciers. Don’t forget to pack your camera. While we visited this magnificent location, we were fortunate enough to witness one of the most dramatic sunsets we have ever come across. Just a visit to the website makes one long to experience this incredible location. Oh, and did we mention they host a night – sky guide onsite? This is the stuff dreams are made of.

    Epic sunset over the Matterhorn
    Epic sunset over the Matterhorn


  7. Engelberg – Ski, sled, hike, mountain bike or just take a leaisurely walk arround the lake. Engelberg is tucked away in a high alpine valley located in central Switzerland, which makes the area easily accessible from Luzern. Take the gondola up to the lake for stunning Alpine views.

    Hike around Trübsee above Engelberg
    Hike around Trübsee above Engelberg


  8. Appenzell – The Appenzell region closely borders Austria and is a hikers paradise. If you enjoy rugged mountains, strenuous hiking, Appenzell just might be the place for you. With berghaus’ sprinkled across the terrain; a hearty Swiss meal and a warm bed are the perfect way to end a day spent trekking through scenic mountains.

    Early Autumn on Seealpsee, Appenzell
    Early Autumn on Seealpsee, Appenzell


Oh, and before you venture out the door, be warned that some preparation goes a long way in the Alps. We are not guides and certainly do not claim to be, but having the right gear can make the difference between enjoying the Alps, or simply wishing you had stayed home.

And finally, we know if you are currently residing in Switzerland or are a long time native our list of Swiss alpine locations may not resonate with you. No worries, as we have come to realize the Alps mean different things to different people. To us, they symbolize what it means to truly be alive witnessing nature at its absolute best. Each alpine location and new experience changes us for the better and as always, we are grateful for the opportunity to live and work in such an absolutely gorgeous country!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMelinda Schoutens is an American expat living in Switzerland. Blog description: Get Out & Go (by More2Explore)
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Contest Comments » There are 3 comments

Mary Angelini wrote 7 years ago:

Awesome post, definitely worth the vote!!

Susan Walsh wrote 7 years ago:

Wonderful post. Hope to visit sometime in the future.

DannyZ wrote 7 years ago:

Great list Melinda. Your descriptions were wonderful, and painted a beautiful picture of what it's like to experience the Alps. Thank you. The Alps are definitely on our must see list while we are in Europe. I loved your wrap up at the end too, well put. One question, do the "dormitory style accommodations" in Obersteinberg come with certified Resident Assistants equipped with sawed-off pool cues for knocking on residents doors in case of a fire?

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