Brienz is one of my most loved places in Switzerland. It has everything… a stunningly beautiful glacial-blue lake, mountains on every side, and proximity to an abundance of other fantastic places.
When I was looking for a place to move to from Interlaken, Brienz was at the top of my list. I ended up finding the perfect place just one stop away on the train, in Meiringen, which is now even closer to my heart because of that time. (If you want to hear more about that, you might like my book, Mountain Song.)
Despite my love for Meiringen, when I spent a week in Switzerland last summer, it was Brienz where I chose to base myself. It reminded me both how much I love it and how under the radar it can be versus the touristy towns around it, especially Interlaken.
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One great place to stay in Brienz
I booked a room at the Brienz B&B, which offers charming rooms just above the main town and right next to the tracks of the Brienzer Rothorn railway (literally right next to – it basically runs through the garden).
My pick of the best things to do in Brienz
1. Chill by Lake Brienz
The Brienzersee is the undisputed champion of Brienz, and you can’t help but carve out some time to enjoy it during your trip. Bring your swimsuit and go for a paddle, but be warned, the glacial water is absolutely not going to be warm.
2. Wander the wooden sculpture trail at Axalp
The 2.7km woodcarving trail (or Schnitzlerweg) at Axalp, just a short way above Brienz by bus, is fantastic. Brienz has a reputation for woodcarving (there’s a specialised school for it in the town), and I’m so happy that they decided to showcase their artists’ work this way – out in nature and free to enjoy.
There’s a backstory behind why this area was chosen. In the winter of 98-99, avalanches and storms caused huge damage to the area and resulted in a mess of fallen trees. Some locals came upon the idea of carving sculptures out of the remaining tree stumps, and many other sculptors from the Brienz region quickly became enthusiastic about the project. Over the years since then, more than 100 figures have been created along the trail.
Getting to Axalp is simple: you can take the PostBus from Brienz station which takes a little over half an hour.
Pack some bread, cheese, and chocolate and stop for lunch along the easygoing trail or a little further away by the beautiful shores of the Hinterburgseeli. Here’s a 7.4km loop you can take from Axalp to Hinterburgsee and back to the bus station.
3. Take the train up the Brienzer Rothorn
Brienz takes a lot of pride in is its cog railway. The Brienzer Rothorn Bahn has been in service since 1892, and still operates daily from around May to October.
You can check timetables and details over on the Brienzer Rothorn Bahn website.
4. Hike from the Brienzer Rothorn
Once you’re up at the Brienzer Rothorn, you might as well enjoy a wander – especially if you’re blessed with clear and sunny weather. On a cloudy summer day, the panorama from the top can be a little anticlimactic, but if you continue on a hike you’ll often find that things clear up as you reduce altitude.
Here are some of the best hike options with various timings and difficulty levels:
|1.||Brienzer Rothorn → Schönbühl → Turren (→ Lungern)||3 h (5 h)|
|2.||Brienzer Rothorn → Brünigpass||5 h|
|3.||Brienzer Rothorn → Planalp||2.30 h|
|4.||Planalp → Brienz||2.30 h|
|5.||Brienzer Rothorn → Lättgässli → Chruterenpass → Planalp||2.45 h|
|6.||Planalp → Mettli → Brienz||2 h|
A more strenuous and less formalised option (which you should absolutely reserve for a day with reliable weather and dry footing) – is to hike 23.3km from the Hardergrat in Interlaken over to the Brienzer Rothorn, before taking the steam train down to Brienz. It’s one of the most stunning hikes in Switzerland, but definitely not the easiest option.
5. Go along the valley to Meiringen
Brienz is only ten minutes by train away from Meiringen, so why not enjoy a visit? I’ve previously shared some ideas of what to do in Meiringen in summer, including marvelling at geology at the Aare Gorge, visiting the Reichenbach Falls of Sherlock fame, or even hiking over the mountains to get to Grindelwald.
There are also some great restautants in Meiringen. Some of my favourite options are to book a table at the Hotel Victoria for gourmet food with a strong connection to the Alps with Asian influences, or more traditional fondue, raclette, or rösti at Hotel Alpbach.
6. Enjoy a city day in picturesque Luzern
There’s a direct train from Brienz to Luzern that takes just an hour, which makes for an ideal day in the city during your trip. Luzern is especially beautiful in summer when the flower baskets along the bridge are in bloom and the sun’s shining on the lake.
Train tickets in Switzerland aren’t cheap, but you’ll get good value for money with all of the gorgeous lakes you pass on the way (including Lake Lungern).
If you’re looking for some reading material for your trip to Switzerland, you might like my book about my time living there, Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps. It’s available as a lovely illustrated hardcover, or you can pick up a copy on Kindle.