Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

It’s often said that Tolkien’s Middle-earth was inspired by the Swiss landscape, with its quaint old towns overlooked by staggering peaks, crystal-clear waters enshrouded by dense forests, and ancient ruins hidden in plain sight. And many of the towns themselves—with their decorated facades, original architecture, and Alpine backdrops—look torn from the pages of a storybook. Here are 10 of the best such magical towns to explore in Switzerland.

1. Montreux

A cruise passes past Chillon Castle in Montreux.

Take a cruise past the Chillon Castle in Montreux.Photo credit: Nyokki / Shutterstock

Fairy-tale tradition meets modern fantasy.

A charming resort town on Lake Geneva, Montreux offers plenty to get you in the magical mood. Take a leisurely stroll around the sculptures, gardens, and belle époque facades that decorate the town’s pretty promenade, or soak up views of high-rising vineyards on a lake cruise. Don’t miss your chance to play princess at Chillon Castle, either—it’s said to be the inspiration for Prince Eric’s home in Disney®’s The Little Mermaid.

2. Gruyères

A view of Gruyères, a magical town known for its namesake cheese.

Gruyères is a magical town known for its namesake cheese.Photo credit: canadastock / Shutterstock

Fortresses, fairy tales, and cheese factories.

This pre-Alps town boasts undulating cobblestone paths, street fountains, and a famous 13th-century fortress, making it the ideal location to belt out a few tunes from Beauty and the Beast as you explore its car-free streets. When you’re done with medieval charm, the HR Giger Museum is also there to transport you straight into a surrealist future, while La Maison du Gruyère cheese factory offers insight into the town’s most famous legend.

3. Bern

The Zytglogge clock in Bern, Switzerland.

The Zytglogge clock alone makes Bern worth the visit.Photo credit: Marina Datsenko / Shutterstock

Switzerland’s de-facto capital still has Old Town magic.

Discover the UNESCO–listed city’s most beautiful scenes on a walking tour—from the Gothic Bern Minster to the zodiac-inspired Zytglogge, and even resident bears—or head out into the Bernese Oberland for a glimpse of the sublime at Jungfraujoch or Lake Thun. Closer to home, the local mountain Gurten boasts a funicular railway, restaurants, and fun park, where kids can live out their own fairy-tale adventures.

4. Grindelwald

A street in Grindelwald in Switzerland.

Take a tour of tiny Grindelwald.Photo credit: Julia Chan Kar Wai / Shutterstock

Small but mighty, Grindelwald has an appeal all of its own.

Nestled beneath Eiger’s north face, Grindelwald is one Switzerland’s most spectacular Alpine gateways. Its position on the Bernese Oberland Railway makes it easy to get to, and from here you can access both Kleine Scheidegg and Jungfraujoch. You won’t need a lot of time to explore the tiny village, but hours of adventure await in the valley beyond, where you’ll find fairy-tale sights such as the Staubbach waterfall and a glacial gorge.

5. Chur

A train passes through Chur's Old Town in Switzerland.

Chur’s old town is a beautiful spot to soak up the magic.Photo credit: Mor65_Mauro Piccardi / Shutterstock

Don’t underestimate this town’s historic appeal.

As Switzerland’s oldest city, myths and legends are the very foundation of Chur. The picture-perfect Old Town boasts fantastical facades, a relic-rich cathedral, and a regular schedule of farmers markets, ideal for exploring on foot. Just north of Chur, the tiny village of Maienfeld is better known as the home of Heidi, the star of one of Switzerland’s most famous fairy tales.

6. Stein am Rhein

The town center in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.

Stein am Rhein’s colorful town center is a delight.Photo credit: Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

Riverside enchantment awaits in this Rhine-straddling town.

Situated on the banks of the Rhine, Stein am Rhein is best known for its intricately decorated townhouses, which immerse passersby in medieval myths, local legends, and traditional Swiss architecture. Kids will love spotting the animals, knights, and monarchs among the village scenes, while parents can kick back in one of the alfresco cafés. Not far away, one of Europe’s biggest waterfalls provides a magical backdrop for out-of-town adventure.

7. Lausanne

A view of Lausanne in Switzerland.

Lakeside Lausanne is home to many notable attractions.Photo credit: trabantos / Shutterstock

Chateaux and cathedrals characterize this lakeside favorite.

It may not be the home of Quasimodo, but Lausanne’s own Notre Dame Cathedral evokes a similar feeling of Gothic fantasy. There’s also magic to be found in the lakeside town’s many murals, pretty parks, and surrounding forests, as well as in the Château Saint-Maire, a quintessential European castle fit for a fairy-tale queen.

8. Lucerne

The interior of the passage at Chapel Bridge in Lucerne.

Chapel Bridge is a particular Lucerne highlight.Photo credit: Benny Marty / Shutterstock

Magical activities abound in this fairy-tale town.

You’ll feel straight out of a Swiss fairy tale as you trip-trap over Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge, the oldest such structure in Europe. Notice the 17th-century depictions of local life in the triangular frames as you stroll the wooden walkway, or soak up sweeping vistas of the medieval Old Town on a Lake Lucerne cruise. If you’re after a more hair-raising quest, embark on the Golden Round Trip, which combines a lake cruise with a cog-wheel railway ride to the peak of Mt. Pilatus, plus a gondola descent.

9. Interlaken

Visitors take in the view at The Harder Kulm viewpoint in Interlaken.

The Harder Kulm viewpoint is a notable stop for Interlaken visitors.Photo credit: S-F / Shutterstock

Legendary Swiss landscape at its finest.

Hidden in the narrow valley between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz—and cradled by the Aare River—the Interlaken backdrop is among Switzerland’s most magical. Explore the city by horse-drawn carriage around Höheweg, visit the fabled ruins of Weissenau Castle, or ascend to the Harder Kulm viewpoint. Mountaineering isn’t the only option here though, with kayaking, night sledding, and paragliding all offering a different perspective on the landscape.

10. Lugano

A view of Morcote near Lugano in Switzerland.

Morcote is a convenient day-trip destination from Lugano.Photo credit: Boris-B / Shutterstock

This southern Swiss town is home to much magic.

Deep in southern Switzerland, this lakeside town boasts two home mountains—Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore—an abundance of olive tree trails, and ancient landmarks infused with Roman and Celtic myth. For more magic, you can head to neighboring Morcote to see traditional village life, discover medieval castles on a tour to Bellinzona, or search for emerald pools and magical forests in the Verzasca Valley.


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By Lala