A guide to traveling in the Berner Oberland. Below are some travel tips for spending 72 hours in the Berner Oberland.
Walter and I spent 2 weeks in May in Eastern Europe and Switzerland. We visited Vienna, Prague, Munich and Salzburg before heading into Switzerland where we started off in the Jungfrau Region. I had visited Interlaken briefly when I was studying abroad in college, during my short visit I feel in love with it’s natural beauty and since then I have been telling people it is my favorite place I had ever visited. I always knew I wanted to go back, so when we planned this trip we did it with the Interlaken region in mind. When we left Munich and to headed to Switzerland I told Walter that I was nervous that I had set our expectations too high and I didn’t want us to be disappointed when we got there if it didn’t live up to what I had been boasting about. Before we could even get off the train we realized that I had had nothing to worry about. Our expectations were already blown away. It was even more amazing than I had remembered and my aspirations to move there some day or at least vacation there on a regular basis are 10 times stronger than they were before we left 🙂 The Jungfrau Region (aka the Berner Oberland) is a giant nature lovers paradise with so much natural beauty to explore. It’s relaxing because you are in the midst of a beautiful paradise, but there is also so much to do you can never be bored – my favorite kind of place!
Where to Stay:
Interlaken is the main hub and jumping off point for the Berner Oberland, if you were to take a train to the region you would have to transfer in one of Interlaken’s 2 train stations to get to any of the many small towns up in the mountains. Interlaken is situated between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, hence the name “Interlaken” which means “between lakes”. The lakes are picturesque and the mountain views are breathtaking, but if you are spending a few days in the region I would recommend staying in one of the smaller, surrounding towns up in the mountains.
We chose to stay in Wengen, a small, picturesque, resort town that overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley and sits in the shadow of the 3 highest peaks in Europe. Needless to say, the views are jaw dropping. It is a car-less town accessible by train through Lauterbrunnen. If/When we return we would stay in Wengen again because of it’s accessibility to the region. Maybe just because we were staying there I felt this way, but it felt very centralized to everywhere you would want to visit in the region. It’s one of the stops on your way up to Jungfrau, and in 30 minutes you can be to Murren or Interlaken. Grindelwald is about a 45 minute train ride, but it is one of the most beautiful train rides in all of the world. Grindelwald is another popular base for visitors because it is a short train ride from Interlaken and you can easily access the peaks of First and Mannlichen. Grindelwald is larger than Wengen with more hotels and restaurants, but the views are not as great and the vibe was not as serene.
As I mentioned, we were quite happy with our choice to stay in Wengen and were even more impressed by our hotel – Hotel Belvedere. The rooms are modest, but the views are spectacular. We had a clear view of Jungfrau from our room window. The staff were particularly helpful and accommodating, it had a “Grand Budapest Hotel” vibe in the best kind of way. Plus they had a free breakfast buffet which is a huge plus in a place lacking in small coffee shops/breakfast options.
(looking down onto the town of Wengen)
Rick Steve’s Advice:
We are loyal Rick Steve’s followers, we willingly heed much of his advice and wouldn’t visit a place without checking out his guide. It’s almost embarrassing, but then you look up and see other travelers nose deep in his book and think he must be doing something right, right? We agree with him on a lot of things and his advice has added so much value to our trips, but he really pushes you to stay in a small town called Gimmelwald and has little to say about Wengen.
We followed his advice to hike from Murren to Gimmelwald on the North Face Trail. It was an awesome hike that we had all to ourselves. We made friends with many a cow and hiked down through the Sprutz waterfall. It was the only real hike we got to do while we were there due to our timing and the weather and it was one of our favorite experiences of the whole trip.
(cows spotted on North Face hike)
(one of the 4 farms along the North Face trail)
(hiking through the Sprutz Falls)
After leaving the waterfall we hiked down to Gimmelwald, population 130. Tourism and farming the only industry. We checked out Rick’s recommended self-serve shop with fresh cheese, milk, eggs and jerky. It was literally a fridge is someone’s workshop where you took what you wanted and left payment in a box – so cool! We thoroughly enjoyed our short visit in Gimmelwald, however it is only accessible by cable car (or foot 🙂 ) making getting around a bit more difficult than where we stayed in Wengen. Also, not that Wengen had a lot going on, but there were multiple choices for restaurants and some slightly larger hotels. I think we would have felt a little too isolated and had a bit more trouble doing all that we were able to do had we stayed in Gimmelwald.
Travel Pass – Yay or Nay?
There are many travel pass options for the region. The Swiss Travel Pass, a Half Fare Card and the Jungfrau Travel Pass to name a few. We ended up opting for the 3-day Jungfrau Travel Pass. It was 180CHF and covered all of our transportation up to a certain elevation. That meant we were able to ride all the trains, cable cars and gondolas as much as we wanted for 3 days and got discounts on our trips to the higher elevations. We purchased the pass at the travel info center in Wengen when we arrived. Everything I read leading up to the trip about the different passes did not give a clear opinion on if a pass was worth it and if yes, which one was the best, so we did not buy anything in advance. I realized now that the reason the advice is so indecisive is because it really depends on how much you are planning to do while you are there, where you are coming from, where you are going to and where you are staying. We took a bit of a gamble when we bought it because if you do not get the opportunity to go up to Jungfrau (the top of Europe) it economically may not make sense. You get around a 100CHF discount on your trip to Jungfrau with the Jungfrau Travel Pass making the value totally worth it.
Even if we had ultimately not gone to Jungfrau we still think the travel pass was worth it because it allowed us freedom. Freedom to go where ever we wanted for the 3 days we were there and not worry about how much it was going to cost. And the freedom to take the more scenic train routes that are more expensive, but are included in the pass. One morning we took a long journey from Wengen up to the top of First only to get there, find out the hike we wanted to do was closed and the weather so cloudy we could barely see our hand in front of our face… although disappointing, it would have been so much more disheartening if we had paid for tickets to get all the way up there. Instead we said, “ok, well where are we going to go instead” and pressed on with our day. As opposed to, “well, lets hang out up here in this cloud since we paid good money to get here.” Additionally, it was a convenient and a time saver to be able to hop on whatever train, cable car or gondola we wanted without having to buy a ticket each time.
(cable car up to Schilthron)
(Jungfraubahn – Train to the Top of Europe)
Timing Your Visit:
We found out when we arrived that we were 1 week short of “summer”, that meant that a few of the cable cars and many hikes were still closed for the season. There is SO much to do in the region that it didn’t really have a big impact on our trip, but if we went back to enjoy “summer” activities we would probably go 1-2 weeks later, so the first or second week in June. The further you get into summer the more crowded it gets. It was already pretty crowded and we were technically in the off-season, so I can only imagine how it gets in the height of their travel season. I would also love to visit in Winter to do some skiing!
Schilthorn vs. Jungfrau:
(James Bond at the top of Schilthorn)
Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger are the 3 famous peaks in the Swiss Alps. Jungfrau is the most famous because of it’s Sphinx observatory which is the highest point a man can go in Europe (hence the “Top of Europe”). You cannot get to the summit of Monch or Eiger, but there is another popular peak called Schilthorn where you can visit for views of the 3 famous peaks. Schilthorn’s other claim to fame is it’s revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, which was featured in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Schilthorn is a less expensive trip than Jungfrau, it is only 9,740 feet in elevation, verse Jungfrau at 13,642 feet. Unless you are a James Bond super fan the reason you go to Schilthorn is for the views of the 3 famous peaks. On a clear day it is definitely worth the trip. We asked many locals if we could only go to 1 peak which should we chose and we could not get a straight answer…
Having visited both I can see why. They are totally different experiences. The views of the peaks from Schilthorn (in the right weather) are spectacular. However, the Top of Jungfrau is like nothing you have ever seen before. How many times in your life are you able to venture out on a glacier at the top of Europe?
So… my advice is, if you have great weather do both. In bad weather neither is worth the time or the money. You have to be careful with the weather because it is very unpredictable. I would not suggest pre-booking your tickets for either peak. Both peaks have live cams online where you can check the visibility before you go. If you do not get great weather, don’t sweat it. There is so much to do and see in the region!
(glacier at the Top of Europe)
(glacier at the Top of Europe)
(view of the sphinx from the glacier)
(from left to right – peaks of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau)
For the Thrill Seeker:
If you are a thrill seeker the Jungfrau Region will not disappoint. There are plenty of options for the adventurous. Sky Diving, Canyoning, Hang Gliding and Paragliding to name a few, are all easily accessible. We opted for Paragliding which was the least expensive and probably the least “thrilling” of the 4 options I mentioned. We did not have any set adventure plans going in to the trip because, again, you don’t want to make any plans until you know what the weather is going to be like.
We booked through Skywings Paragliding and had a great experience! We signed up around 2pm for a 5:30pm flight. The weather was a little unstable that day, but right before we took off the sky cleared and the sun started shining. Our glides were great and it was as relaxing an experience as running off a cliff can be. The views were amazing and it added just the right amount of thrill to our trip!
(paragliding over Interlaken)
(paragliding over Interlaken)
If you are planning a trip to the Jungfrau Region I hope this post helps answer some of your questions! And if you aren’t, I hope this inspires you to think about it as your next travel destination!
(saying goodbye and see you soon 🙂 )