10 Day Travel Guide to Switzerland and Lake Como
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Ask people why they travel and the answers will be different across the board. “To experience new cultures, sample different cuisines, to collect art, take photos, cross off bucket-list items,” etc. But I would like to argue that the real reason we long to go abroad, is to share in the moments which remind us that we humans are more alike than we are different. Despite varying cultures, languages, beliefs, skin color, traditions, religions or upbringing – we all experience joy, adventure, creativity, suffering and connection in similar ways. Being able to transcend the barriers that make us different is one of my favorite aspects of international travel. It’s chatting about color with a painter in his studio. It’s watching an artisan craft her masterpiece rug. It’s getting directions from a farmer on the side of the road. For me, travel is really about connecting with people all over the world, and Delta Airlines has helped make that possible.
I’ve had my heart set on exploring Switzerland for years. I’ve dreamed about skiing the alps, hiking through green pastures while singing The Sound of Music, eating fondue and getting to know the people of my scandenavian heritage.
So this spring, Dylan and I decided to make it happen. We had briefly spent time in the Alps last summer and fell undeniably in love with the region and knew we needed more. We needed bigger mountains, more adventure, more pizza, and more storytelling. We decided to plan a tour through to Switzerland (and stop into Northern Italy for a few days - since we were there, afterall ;).
This is my 10 day itinerary from Zurich > Interlaken > Zermatt > Como, which you can recreate as your own when you book using Delta.
Part 1: Traveling to Switzerland
When to go:
Most people might not consider going to Switzerland in spring because it’s considered “off season,” but there are great financial incentives to go during this time and you can still do/see as much as you would during peak season. Off-season is considered the months in between ski season and summer. Many of the resorts and restaurants in small villages are closed for maintenance, but you can get a great deal on flights, hotels and airbnbs AND beat the crowds during this time. Major cities like Zurich and Como are still bustling and fully open. We planned our trip for the last week of May which was perfect because it still felt like winter in Zermatt, but was heating up nicely in Italy. We were able to play in the snow, hike green pastures, stroll the city centers in tank tops and get a tan laying under olive trees. It was the best of both worlds.
Planning your flight:
Start by booking your flights on Delta.com, you can find great deals on roundtrip flights to Zurich. Zurich is a major metropolis of Switzerland and Delta offers multiple flights a day out of New York (because so many business bankers fly back and forth for work). If you travel during off-season flights are even more affordable.
The flight from JFK to Zurich itself isn’t long - it’s only 7.5 hours. And if you’re on a red eye, with the time change, that’s just long enough to be confused if you should try to sleep, or force yourself to stay awake. My excitement about being in Delta One, however, kept me awake for the majority of the flight. I wanted to make sure I soaked up as much of the experience as I could! I ordered dinner, sipped wine, watched movies, kicked my feet up and chillaxed, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. One of my favorite perks is of Delta One is that each passenger gets a mini traveler’s case complete with compression socks, sleeping mask, lip balm, moisturizer, toothbrush and paste! I usually back my own kit, but this really helps eliminate added luggage when flying abroad. And I have to admit, the meal service was far beyond my expectations. I never knew that Delta was working with culinary experts and sommeliers to craft these dishes - nor did I expect to be kicking off our European eating tour on the flight, but there we were sipping Gewürztraminer before take off (I still can’t pronounce that). Four hours later we were landing and I was stoked to have been able to fully recline and zonk out hard for the hours I did. Is it weird that I wish the flight was longer?
Arriving to Zurich
When you arrive to Zurich, it will likely be early morning, and you’re gonna have to beat the jetlag… there’s too much to do and see! I recommend renting a car for this particular 10 day itinerary, although you could probably do it by train with a few less stops / time in each city. Ahead of our departure, I reserved a cute orange Fiat we named clementine online for $21 USD/day. Even though the daily fee for a car is cheap, be warned; parking in Zurich IS NOT and is extremely limited. Try $7 every two hours / 24hours a day. We definitely got a parking ticket overnight because, what!?
The Currency Exchange / General Pricing:
The currency exchange in Switzerland is currently about 1:1 and they use the CHF (Swiss Frank). Similarly, Italy is on the Euro and is about a 1:1 exchange. Be sure to check the exchange rate before you go, and be sure to take out some cash. Many places in Europe are still cash-only businesses. I will reiterate, Switzerland is alarmingly expensive, so bear down. Consider $9 for a bottle of water, $23 for a pot of fondue, $16 for a glass of wine, $6 for a cup of black coffee. In Italy, however, things get much cheaper. Expect to get a glass of wine for $3 and an entire pizza for $8. Hopefully it will all balance itself out. ;)
Day 1: Zurich
We spent our first day exploring Zurich. We stayed in what is known as Old Town, where everything is walking distance from our town square. Zurich is filled with vibrant people watching, cuisine sampling and hip/young culture. Every cafe we sat down to, we ended up having conversations with young travelers visiting from all over the world; proving that Zurich is a great starting point for your Europen adventure. Zurich isn’t a sleepy little Swiss village like you might assume – the people like to party, eat, drink and have long courtyard happy hours! There is plenty of historical sightseeing as well as modern, city center shopping. If you prefer quiet sleeping situations - consider staying outside of the town square. The noise from clubs and party-goers didn’t let up until the birds started chirping. Ear plugs and a sleep mask were needed.
Day 2: Interlaken
Try to get up and on the road by 10am – you’ll have a long day ahead of you and about 2.5 hours in the car before reaching Interlaken. Along the drive, we stopped by many scenic overlooks, and flowery green pastures. It’s EXACTLY what you think of when you think of The Sound of Music.
We reached our hotel, Bellevue Au Lac in Hilterfingen, around 2pm. Hilterfingen is an adjacent town on the lake, about 40 minutes from Interlaken proper. We decided it was still early enough to squeeze a hike in and headed up to Hardergrat. This is the highest point in Interlaken, and is a very popular tourist destination. You can either hike the to the top, or take the tram, or both! The hike was NO JOKE. With almost 2,000 feet vertical gain, I was huffing and puffing. It’s about 5 miles out and back - we decided to take the tram down. It’s $16 each way. Get more detailed hiking info here.
There is a free bus that picks up right in front of the hotel and will take you anywhere around the perimeter of the lake, but be sure to check (or ask someone who speaks English to help you) with the bus schedule. We missed the last bus back to our hotel and it cost us a $102 taxi ride back. Did I tell you Switzerland was expensive? Figuring out the bus schedule can be very confusing, but is a great way to break through communication barriers and step outside of your comfort zone and chat with the locals.
Day 3 - 5: Zermatt
On day 3, you’re ready to head into Zermatt! We woke up early, eager to arrive and complete the 2 hour drive. I had wanted to see the Matterhorn Mountain ever since I was a little girl and been on the ride at Disneyland with my dad. This was definitely a bucket list item for me.
When you arrive to Zermatt, you will actually be arriving to small town called Tash. This is where you will have to park your car in a garage and take the tram into Zermatt. I didn’t realize prior to arriving, but there are no cars in Zermatt, which is why they shuttle everyone in. The town is so small and historical that everyone either walks, or has electric golf cart type cars. It feels strangely futuristic, yet very old fashioned. We were greeted at the train station by our hotel host who picked us up and took us back to the Hotel Welschen.
What to do in Zermatt:
Spring Skiing – If you want to say you skied Zermatt in spring, you’ll be in luck because the resort stays partially open year round. The majority of lifts and runs will be closed however, so don’t go in with high expectations.
Hiking – There are many hiking trails that start right in the town of Zermatt and can take you all the way to the Matterhorn (if you’re adventurous). If you visit in spring, some of the trails will still be snow packed and closed at higher elevations. We were not able to hike to the famous reflection lake because there was still too much snow. Chat with your hotel host or locals in the cafe about what’s good and open to hike. It’s always best to defer to those who know their terrain best! For more hiking ideas check here.
Ride the Gornergrat Tram – For the most iconic views of the Matterhorn, take a ride on the Gornergrat Railway. This train will take you to the top of the Gornergrat Glacier with scenic stops along the way. It’s unfortunately very expensive, but one of those things you kinda just have to do! It’s about $90 roundtrip per person. From the top of the Glacier, you’ll have panoramic views of the alps and Ms. Matterhorn herself. If you’re up for it, hike down from the top like we did! Be sure to wear LOTS of sunscreen. I got toasted from all the snow reflection. More information here.
Eat Fondue (lots of fondue) – We had traditional fondue dinner two nights in a row, at two very different restaurants. The first was at Ferdinand, a fancier alpine dining restaurant, catered to high-end crowd. The restaurant is very quaint and idyllic. Just what you imagine when you think of eating a pot of melted cheese at a Swiss chalet. The wine was incredible as well.
The second restaurant was Du Pont, the oldest, family-owned restaurant in Zermatt. Our server was the daughter of the original founder who shared with us her father’s story of opening the restaurant. She then gave us a demonstration of how to “properly” eat fondue. Apparently there are techniques and it was so cool to hear her story and learn from the woman who knows fondue best! This restaurant was a little less frills and more rooted in traditional, basic fondue, potatoes and bread, house wine and beer. Between the two, we agreed the food and wine itself was better at ___, but the vibe and experience was better at Du Pont. Both meals were very expensive, regardless of atmosphere and calibre of food.
Hike to the World’s Largest Suspension Bridge – On our way out of Zermatt (after we retrieved our car from Tash, we stopped in the next village over called Randa. Randa is literally taken from a fairytale book - the architecture, the gardens and animals are picture perfect. Randa is also the trailhead for the hike to the Charles Kuoneon Suspension Bridge, aka the LONGEST pedestrian bridge in the world. The round trip hike is only about 5 miles, but don;t be fooled, it is straight up and has zero switchbacks. Something about the swiss, they don’t believe in switchbacks. This hike was greuling, I’ll admit, but worth the butt burner. The bridge itself is quite terrifying - even for those not afraid of heights. I do not consider myself to be afraid of heights, and I had to walk across the majority of the bridge with my eyes closed, clinging to Dylan’s backpack.
Part 2: Traveling to Como, Province of Italy
Day 5 - 9:
After your final day spent in the alps, it’s time to head to Italy! It’s still about a 4 hour drive before you reach Lake Como, but the drive is incredible! You have two route options: you can either take the autobahn for an expedited drive, or you can take the pass for a more scenic adventure with sightseeing pullouts.
Where to stay in Como, province of Italy:
Most people hear Lake Como, and they think of George Clooney and his expansive estate. If you’re like me, you might think Lake Como is the town. Wrong, Como is a province of Italy and the lake is MASSIVE. When choosing where to stay, there are endless villages outlining the perimeter of the lake to select from. They will all offer different experiences ranging from metropolitain vibes (Lecco) to high-end (Bellagio) touristy (Como) and romantic Italian (Varenna). They’ll range in price and will draw different crowds. But if you want to stay in a more authentic, rural village, look into some of the smaller towns in between the major ferry ports. Don’t feel committed to where you sleep each night, because you can access the entire lake by ferry and will likely go out for day trips to each town every day.
We stayed in Lecco, which serves as the modern, metropolitan city of the lake. Lecco is where the majority of local working class live and commute to and from Milan. This appealed to us because we knew we wouldn’t be charged mark-up tourist prices and could get a taste for how Italian folk like us live day-to-day. It was also the closest access point to rock climbing - which is world class in Northern Italy. Even though we started and ended our day in Lecco, we were out and about in different ports throughout the trip. If you’re looking for an iconic, romantic, aesthetically perfect Italian experience, I would steer clear from staying in Lecco and opt for somewhere like Varenna. Although, we feel the view from our Airbnb in Lecco was unparallelled to any other we saw on the lake. Biased opinion, of course ;)
What to do in Como:
Drive into Como – We spent our first day in Como, a 30 minute drive from Lecco, where we were staying. There is a ferry port in Lecco that we could have taken to Como if we didn’t have a car, but it would have taken upward of 3 hours each way due to the layout of the lake. Cutting across land was much more convenient. We walked the boardwalk, looked at swans, ate gelato, sipped wine and had photoshoots in the alleys. While Como wasn’t particularly our jam, it was still a great introduction to the province and lake culture of Como. If you only have a few days, I might advise you to skip Como and go straight to Varenna or Bellagio.
Take a ferry to Bellagio – On our second day, we took an afternoon ferry to Bellagio, approximately 1.5 hours each way. Bellagio was, well, gorgeous. I can see why this is where Clooney decided to root down. It’s magical, historical, and has that joie de vivre you come to italy for. However, it is the most popular spot on the lake, and most visitors are coming by ferry from other towns. It feels similar to a cruise ship port in that when the ferry drops off, town explodes with tourists, and when the ferry leaves, it calms again. Be sure to check the ferry schedule thoroughly and plan accordingly. The last ferry leaves each night at 6pm. This might be earlier than you want if you’re wanting to have dinner in town, so you will need to decide ahead of time.
Go world-class rock climbing in Lecco – When we visited Arco, Italy (on Lago Di Garda) last summer, we got bit by the Italian rock climbing bug. Northern Italy is all granite and limestone - similar to the rock formations in Yosemite and the Western US – making for spectacular rock climbing. We brought all of our climbing gear with us from the states, and purchased a rope from a sporting goods store in Lecco. Dylan chatted with the climbing guide at the store to get some beta on routes and where to go. The EU climbing guide and rating system is different than that in the states, so it’s wise to consult with a local about how climbing rates convert. We drove about 20 min north of Lecco and set up our routes for the day. The climbing was relatively challenging but fun for all levels of climbers. Dylan and I will do a separate post on the climbing for those interested in more detail.
Drive to Dinner in Varenna – After we finished climbing, we were only another 20 minutes from Varenna and on top of the mountain, so we decided to drive in for dinner. Driving through the windy mountain roads at sunset was spectacular. The road spits you out above Varenna and you descend into the town just in time to catch dinner on the lake. Varenna was by far my favorite town on the lake – and, as timing would have it, it was our last night. If I could do it over I would stay in Varenna next time, or at least commit an entire day to exploring. There are so many romantic restaurants to choose from, you can’t go wrong. We ate at Il Cavatappi, a small, authentic restaurant tucked away in the back streets of Varenna – and apparently were very lucky! Most restaurants in Varenna take their last seating around 8pm, because the meals last so long. We wandered into this restaurant because of the incredible aroma coming from the door. Initially, the maitre d’ refused to seat us because it was too late, but suddenly had a change of heart and invited us back into his 4-table, intimate dining space. Upon seating us, he told us that the restaurant has a 3 week wait list and the chef only serves 6-8 seatings per night because the suschefs in the kitchen are all students of the master chef. (Very cool!) I don’t know much about food, and do not consider myself a foody, but Dylan and I both agreed this was the most incredible meal of the trip. I had the most savory rotisserie chicken of my life, and dylan had a swordfish bologneses! For dessert we had a mango panna cotta that literally made my mouth gush.
After 5 nights in Switzerland and 4 nights in Italy, it is time to make your way home, and I recommend driving the pass from Lecco to Zurich. The drive back to Zurich will take some time - expect 5-6 hours especially if there is weekend traffic. Driving over the pass will knock your socks off, though! We stopped at the stop of the pass to get a few more climbs in. We met some incredibly talented German climbers who were also stopping through. They were so friendly and wanted offered to belay us a few times (since Dylan and I are different levels). We exchanged info with them and invited them to come climbing with us in the states soon!
After the scenic drive back into Zurich, you’ll likely get in pretty late. I recommend staying at a hotel close to the airport so you can be ready to fly home the next morning.
All in all, our trip to Europe was incredible and flying into Zurich made the trip efficient, convenient and diverse enough for us to get a taste of it all. I hope you’ll consider making this itinerary your own some day, and be sure to fly Delta for the best routes in and out of Europe. Happy traveling!