By virtue of living there for a year, working in the town for three, and living nearby for one more year, Interlaken is one of the places I know best in Europe.
That said, before I moved there, I didn’t realise quite how beautiful it was going to be. I’d visited Switzerland before and been to places like Zermatt and St Moritz, but I’d never been to the Berner Oberland.
I remember how stunned I was by the train ride from Bern to Interlaken as it skimmed the edges of Lake Thun, and couldn’t quite believe I was going to live around here. This part of Switzerland is sublimely beautiful.
So, with all that said, what would I recommend doing during a trip to Interlaken?
Here’s my selection of the best things to do in and around Interlaken, starting with the best places to visit around Interlaken…
The best places to visit around Interlaken
The best things to do in Interlaken? There are several things I love about Interlaken, but a lot of the best things to do are around Interlaken.
Interlaken is the town that is known and marketed, but its neighbouring towns aren’t actually so different… and most of them avoid the huge number of tourists that flock to the area in summer.
(Note: If you’re looking at this post about things to do in Interlaken, you’ve probably decided to stay there. But if you’re still working out the details of your trip, I’d highly recommend staying in nearby Brienz or Meiringen instead of Interlaken to avoid the crowds.)
The best places around Interlaken to visit on day trips:
- Brienz – Lake Brienz (Brienzersee) is one of two lakes surrounding Interlaken, and it’s one of the most stunning lakes in Switzerland. Brienz is on the train line between Luzern and Interlaken, and is the perfect base for a hiking trip in Switzerland. Here are some of the best things to do in Brienz if you love nature and hiking.
- Thun – Lake Thun (Thunersee) is the lake on the other side of Interlaken, and I didn’t spend anywhere near as much time there as Lake Brienz. That said, it’s still absolutely stunning. You’ll pass through here if you get the train from Bern to Interlaken.
- Meiringen – I spent three amazing years living in Meiringen, which I write about in my book Mountain Song. This is one of my favourite places in Switzerland, and the gateway to so many incredible hikes. Here are the best things to do in Meiringen.
- Grindelwald – If you think of famous alpine towns, you’ll probably think of Grindelwald. There are some stunning hikes nearby, but I find it a bit too touristy compared to the previous towns on this list.
- Lauterbrunnen – Generally agreed to be the inspiration for Tolkien’s Rivendell, Lauterbrunnen is a picture-perfect mountain valley. Like Grindelwald, I find it a bit too touristy (and it can get quite dark in the valley), but it’s a must-visit for many hikes.
- Kandersteg – Kandersteg is the home to the Oeschinensee, a.k.a. one of the most incredible lakes in Switzerland. You can take in the Oeschinensee on a day hike and even stay overnight at the Blüemlisalphütte if you’re well-prepared.
What about the best activities? Let’s look at some of the best things to do in Interlaken and the surrounding towns…
The best things to do in and around Interlaken
1. Hike to the top of Harder Kulm
Harder Kulm was essentially my gym when I lived in Switzerland and worked in Interlaken.
Just on the other side of the train tracks from Interlaken Ost train station, Harder Kulm is a viewpoint at 1,322 metres overlooking Interlaken, the neighbouring lakes, and the iconic local mountains.
When I needed to let off steam in the late afternoon, I’d put on my trail shoes and try to reach the summit (and run back down again, sorry knees) in as short a time as possible.
2. Get the cogwheel train to the Schynige Platte Panorama Trail
Visiting Schynige Platte is one of the most popular things to do in Interlaken, and there are a few variations you can adjust around your ideal level of adventure and exertion.
Firstly, the trip to Schynige Platte is iconic in itself. From Interlaken, you’ll get a regular train (which only takes a few minutes) to Wilderswil, and here change to a cogwheel train which will take you up a staggeringly steep railway to Schynige Platte.
When you get to Schynige Platte, taking in the gorgeous surroundings is enough to justify the short trip from Interlaken. (Hopefully you’ll get a clear day, but the clouds can be atmospheric too.)
There are also several hiking routes you can enjoy at the top of Schynige Platte. The easiest is the 6km Schynige Platte Panorama Trail, showcasing a gorgeous botanical garden including the best of alpine flora.
I’ve included this in my list of the best hikes in Switzerland, as an easy-ish hike near Interlaken.
I loved this little hike in August 2021, but I wanted to do a little bit more with my day… so I hiked back down to Wilderswil afterwards. You can also continue along the flat farmland from here to Interlaken.
On the hike from Schynige Platte to Interlaken, you’ll get some stunning views of Lake Thun and the area around Interlaken. (And an extra bonus of hiking down from Schynige Platte is that you save on the extra train fare.)
3. Walk in the footsteps of Tolkien at Kleine Scheidegg
If you visit Interlaken, you will hear a lot about the local mountains: the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.
You can enjoy the views of the Jungfrau on a clear day from Interlaken, but you can also gain some altitude to get closer to the famous mountains.
The best place to do this is probably Kleine Scheidegg, which you can easily reach from Interlaken. First, you’ll need to take a standard train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald, where you’ll change to a cogwheel railway to Kleine Scheidegg.
If you want to go to the Jungfraujoch, you can get another train from Kleine Scheidegg that will take you all the way to the stunning “top of Europe” viewpoint at 3,454 metres above sea level.
However, if you’re on a budget, you might be wondering if it’s worth it… and honestly, I think just going to Kleine Scheidegg is outstanding in itself. (At least if the weather’s cooperating.)
When you walk from Kleine Scheidegg down towards Wengen, you will be walking in the same footsteps as J.R.R. Tolkien on a trip that likely inspired the world of Middle Earth.
From Kleine Scheidegg, you can also take the Jungfraubahn railway to the Eigergletscher station, which is the start of the iconic Eiger Trail hiking route.
The Eiger Trail is 6km and takes about two hours, all the while giving you the closest possible view of the famous Eiger North Face.
4. Hike a section of the Via Alpina
If I could be an ambassador for any multi-stage hike in the world, it would be the Via Alpina. 100%.
The Via Alpina is an incredible hiking route that spans the entire width of Switzerland (from the border with Vaduz in Liechtenstein to Montreux on the French side).
The entire Swiss part of the Via Alpina is 400km, but you can easily just do one day hike of the trail.
The closest sections of the Via Alpina to Interlaken are:
- Meiringen to Grindelwald
- Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen
You can reach each of these start and end points of the Via Alpina hikes directly from Interlaken train station. I think they’re some of the best day hikes in Switzerland.
5. Take the train to Lake Brienz for a swim
It’s no secret: Lake Brienz, or the Brienzersee, is one of my favourite lakes in Switzerland (although on some days I’ll say the Oeschinensee).
On a good day, it’s one of the bluest blues you can imagine, surrounded by gorgeous mountains. Brienz is a town known for woodcarving, and there are always stunning wood sculptures on the path that runs alongside the lake.
If you love the sound of that: one of my favourite things to do in Brienz is hiking the woodcarving trail at Axalp in the mountains above the town, which has turned the ruins of a storm into stunning artwork.
When you take the train to Brienz, definitely walk along this path next to the lake, and in good weather (or any other day, depending on your courage), enjoy a swim in the water. Warning: it will probably feel cold all year around thanks to the local glaciers.
I’d also recommend packing a picnic or at least some drinks and just sitting on the rocks or small beach by the water’s edge to enjoy some time taking in the natural beauty.
For more adventure, I’ve also loved kayaking on Lake Brienz (I went with Hightide Kayaking) and it’s also a perfect place for paddleboarding near Interlaken (along with neighbouring Lake Thun).
6. Marvel at the Aare Gorge in Meiringen
Another Tolkien-inspired (and just all-round amazing) thing to do near Interlaken is to visit the Aare Gorge. Get the direct train from Interlaken to Meiringen and take in the geological splendor of the gorge, carved by the River Aare over 10,000 years.
7. Kayak or paddleboard on Lake Thun
I’m unfairly biased towards Lake Brienz because it was my local lake, but Lake Thun is also gorgeous. On a day trip to Thun from Interlaken, you can catch a short train to the town for a wander – and, if you’re feeling adventurous, some kayaking or paddleboarding. You can rent a paddleboard from Honu SUP in Thun.
8. Unwind at the Hotel BEATUS Spa on the shore of Lake Thun
Ever been to a spa with a view of the mountains? For some relaxation just a bus ride away from Interlaken, Hotel BEATUS in Merligen has an excellent spa right on the edge of the water.
It’s a gorgeous spot to visit for a couple of hours to unwind in warmer waters, and one of my go-to places to go with friends in the Interlaken area.
9. Sample the local cuisine in Interlaken
Cheese, chocolate, a wide array of other dairy products… one of the best ways to get to know Interlaken’s local cuisine is with a food tour (sometimes called a Cheese & Chocolate Tour).
As a lifelong vegetarian, I feel bad including this lovely guy under a caption for “local cuisine”, but I met him on a food tour of Interlaken. And some chocolate shop owners.
10. View Interlaken from above while paragliding
Okay, this recommendation isn’t verified. I have never had an urge to go paragliding. Ever. But lots of other people seem to!
I’ve heard from reliable sources (read: friends who paraglide a lot) that Interlaken is a great place for this. Most paragliding providers will land in the green space at the centre of the town, right in front of the stunning view (on a clear day) of the Jungfrau.
If you’ve always wanted to try paragliding, Interlaken is one of the best places in the world to do it.
11. Drink Interlaken’s local beer
I’ve absolutely had my fair share of Rugenbrau, Interlaken’s local beer. And I don’t even drink beer much. It’s just something that happens when you end up spending a lot of time in Interlaken.
Head over to easy-going beer bar Hüsi Bierhaus for a pint of Rugenbrau with good pub food. You can check out their wider selection of fun craft beers while you’re there too.
For more inspiration and resources for your trip to Switzerland, you might like reading…
- The best day hikes in Switzerland for stunningly beautiful views
- The best things to do in Brienz if you love nature and hiking
- The best things to do in Meiringen in summer (from someone who lived there)
If you’re looking for some reading material for your trip (or to start getting excited), you might also like my book, Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps. You can get a Kindle copy on Amazon, or buy the hardcover here.