If you’re thinking of visiting the Swiss Alps, these tips will give you a leg up. Or if you’re like me, they’ll at least make you less anxious about getting everything right.
The Alps cross several countries but this post is about the part of the Alps that are in Switzerland. I included a couple of maps below to help orient you.
The area of Switzerland where we visited the Swiss Alps is called the Bernese Oberland region, which is the highest and southernmost part of the Canton of Bern.
The Swiss Alps are an all-year playground but activities vary widely depending on the season. We were there in the fall for hiking which is the context for these tips, so if you’re going in the winter just sub “skiing” any time you see the word “hiking.” Haha, kidding.
Tip #1: Don’t stress about planning hikes
I am a meticulous planner and was a little anxious about not knowing ahead of time exactly which trails we’d take, how to get to them, how long they’d take, etc. There’s no need to stress! Once you’re in the general vicinity there will be a plethora of materials at your hotel/airbnb/chalet, plus a million signs telling you exactly where to go to get to which trails. (Many show how long they are – in distance AND time!) Not to mention that simply wandering around will practically land you on one of the trails. It’s a good idea to have an idea of trails you might like to take, as well as a general gist of the layout, but there’s no need to micro-plan!
Tip #2: Cable cars and gondolas close early
Well, earlier than trains anyway. Pay attention to their hours of operation, specifically their closing times. When we were visiting the Swiss Alps in September, cable cars and gondolas closed around 4:30pm or 5pm. You don’t want to get stuck on a mountain with no way down! We were able to take trains, which keep running a bit later, but there were some daily activities we just couldn’t pull off in our schedule given the timing of when the cable cars closed. Most of the mountain towns in the Swiss Alps are car free so you’re at the mercy of public transport to get from point A to B.
Tip #3: The Swiss Alps are very dog friendly
If you’re visiting the Swiss Alps, don’t hesitate to bring your furry friend along! So many travelers had dogs and they seemed to be allowed nearly everywhere. We enjoyed seeing dogs romping along the trails and basking in the sunshine at outdoor eating areas. We saw many dogs…that I took no photos of. Oof, womp womp.
Tip #4: Tennis shoes are all you need
If you are casually hiking and it’s not going to be wet or slushy, regular sneakers will do the trick. I could hardly find any information about footwear online before we went. Lucky for me I didn’t need hiking boots, because my suitcase had no room to spare. Most of the trails were either dirt or gravel/decomposed granite and were totally walkable/hike-able in running shoes. (The slope on the Männlichen Royal Walk was still a bit slippery but not sure different shoes would have helped.) If you have weak ankles or other considerations, or are going on more serious hikes, hiking shoes or shoes with more support are totally warranted. Wear what you feel comfortable in, but if that happens to be trainers, it’s no problemo.
Tip #5: The SBB train app will make your Swiss Alps trip so much easier
I highly recommend downloading the SBB Mobile app for looking up train schedules, routes, and buying tickets. It’s especially useful if you are purchasing single tickets (versus using a train pass). Since the stations here can be very small, it’s not always clear where to go to buy tickets. They don’t have turnstiles to get onto the platforms like in Japan or on the NYC subway. That means you can walk right on the train. You just need to show train personnel the ticket on your phone when they come around.
There were several times that Brian and I were in a rush to catch a train and we jumped on, then bought our tickets using the app after getting seated. That came in handy especially when waiting for the next train would have taken another an hour or so. Train personnel does walk the train regularly so I wouldn’t risk riding without a ticket. (Not that anyone would do that!)
Those are my quick tips for preparing for an amazing trip to the Swiss Alps. Hopefully these are helpful if you’re planning a visit there. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has already been, let me know in the comments if you have any tips to add!