City hopping in Switzerland

In this article, Katrina explains how a visit to Mount Pilatus turned into a city tour of Switzerland. A whole lot of Switzerland in just one day.

Luis, a friend of mine from Hamburg, visited me on the weekend. He wanted to see as much of the country as possible during his time in Switzerland. Before his arrival, I thought about what I would show him of my home country. One thing was certain – we would take the train, and so a GA Travel Card would be needed. The plan was to start in Zurich, then continue to Lucerne and finally take a trip up Mount Pilatus. But things didn’t quite work out as planned.

Spontaneous change of plan

“The early bird catches the worm.” Who actually came up with this saying? We met at the Zurich Main Station at 8 o’clock in the morning. Luis was, of course, staying at the Zurich Youth Hostel during his stay in Switzerland. Equipped with some strong coffee, we sat on the train to Lucerne together with what felt like thousands of other people. The loudspeaker announced where the train would stop next: “Next stop Zug.” Luis looked at me and asked: “How about we get off and check out Zug?”. No sooner said than done.

Another great swimming spot – the beautiful Zugersee (Lake Zug).  ©Katrina

Just a few minutes later we were strolling leisurely towards Lake Zug. It was looking its best. We let the view work its magic on us and immediately fell in love with this small but somehow impressive city. But as our actual destination was Mount Pilatus, we decided to move on. But one thing was certain: We’d be back! And stay longer the next time, definitely spending the night at the Zug Youth Hostel, which is just 220 paces from the lakeshore.

Typical tourist programme in Lucerne

We reached Lucerne invigorated by a fresh pain au chocolat we bought in Zug. The station was like an anthill, and after being jostled three times, I was getting really annoyed. Luis laughed at me and told me to stop being so silly. Since the introduction of the €9 ticket in Hamburg, there are five times more people about here than usual, so you can hardly find your way through the crowds.

Did you know that the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) spans 205 metres?  ©Katrina

In Lucerne, our first attraction was Chapel Bridge – where we felt just like tourists for once. But time was short as our boat to Alpnachstad left at 10.38. The sun was shining as the boat left the harbour in Lucerne and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. But the weather gods did not look kindly on us. About an hour into the journey we could see heavy rain ahead and the weather front was rolling towards us. We could hardly see anything and soon we were wet through and through.

The weather is good, so we take to the water for a boat tour of Lucerne. ©Katrina

A short time later, pouring rain. ©Katrina

Mount Pilatus – we’ll be back

We reached the valley station of the world steepest rack railway just after midday. It took us to Pilatus Kulm in just around 30 minutes. At the halfway station, Nicole, the train driver, delivers a yodelling serenade – you can’t get more Swiss than that. We were thrilled.

But at the top, we first needed something to keep us going. Our stomachs were already growling with anticipation. What could be better than alpen macaroni with apple sauce? Luis was sceptical at first, but then couldn’t stop raving about it.

With that under our belt we continued on to the viewing platform. We had hardly reached the platform before the storm broke. We were soaked and didn’t know from which direction the wind was coming. Back down – quick! We decided to return via Kriens. We took the aerial cable car from Pilatus Kulm to Fräkmüntegg and from there the small panorama gondola to Kriens. But we couldn’t see much of the view. The bus then took us back to Lucerne.

Despite the pouring rain, we are enthralled by the stunning scenery. ©Katrina

In under 4 minutes, a cable car takes us from Pilatus Kulm to Fräkmüntegg – or “Fräki”, as the locals call it.  ©Katrina

The journey continues in a comfortable Panorama Gondola. It is not quite as fast, but the ride is very relaxing. ©Katrina

The original plan had been to return to Zurich from here, but because we had spent less time on Mount Pilatus because of the bad weather, we decided on the spur of the moment to visit another city. The choice was between Bern, Interlaken and Thun. Because we are both already a bit tired and I felt that Bern had to be seen at least once, we quickly reached the decision to visit our mighty and charming capital.

Bern, you’re really something


A small taste explosion. ©Katrina

Not yet fully recovered from the train ride, we walked to the parliament building and then on to the Bear Pit. What impressed Luis most was probably the beautiful buildings, which he marvelled at time and time again. After saying hello to our federal counsellors and the bears Björk, Ursina and Finn, we sauntered through the Mattequartier towards Marzilli. Anyone who has been to Bern knows that this route passes the Youth Hostel. We headed to the Gelateria di Berna next to the Marzili Lido. After indulging in a huge ice-cream sundae, we started our journey back home. The Marzili Funicular took us back to the station, where we boarded a train for Zurich.

The Aare shows its best side, which is what we came to see. ©Katrina


It was an eventful day and I am really amazed at what we were able to experience in one day in a country that is actually so small. The next time we go city hopping, we will plan to stay a night or two in our City Youth Hostels.
Which city and its Youth Hostel should we explore next time?
Let us know in the comments.

Couples Families Friends Hostel tips In the city In the mountains

1 reply on “City hopping in Switzerland”

I enjoyed being reminder of lovely Switzerland. ( Kiwi now back in NZ) I have used hostels in Zurich, ( very friendly, helpful staff) Kreuzlingen ( I love that one – have stayed a few times over the years) Shaffhaussen, Basel ( perfect setting near the Rhine, best breakfasts ever) Geneva (sterile, but convenient) and Engelberg (most ill-mannered staff member ever) . Whilst living in Switzerland, the best one-day trip I did with a visitor, was to whisk my 18 yr old nephew onto the SBB for a trip from there, to Bern, ( took him to see the clock) Interlaken, Lautterbrunnen, ( to the waterfall in the cave, coffee and icecream at the nearby cafe) Wengen, Jungfrau, down via Grindelwald, back somehow to Luzerne for a riverside dinner, then to Zurich in time for him to catch his flight back to Copenhagen. He still recalls it as one of the highlights of his year away as an exchange student. 🙂 Switzerland: I will be back again mid 2023, with my touring bike and with Swiss YHA/HI membership. 🙂 🙂

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