While famous for its chocolate, cheese, and majestic mountains, the land-locked country of Switzerland is also home to an extraordinary number of lakes. Fed by the snowmelt of the surrounding Alps, the crystal-clear Switzerland lakes are perfect stopping spots for travelers in search of postcard-worthy views of the Alps, charming lakeside villages, and fairy-tale castles. Switzerland’s lakes are also a great place to kick back and enjoy an afternoon or day of relaxation on the water. With so many of the must-see, small towns in Switzerland anchored around these high-altitude gems, any tour of Switzerland will bring you to their shores. You just might find them the most memorable part of your Swiss adventure.
Read on for some of our favorite lakes and nearby towns to explore when you visit Switzerland. While many of our suggestions are included on our guided tours with a local expert, there are plenty of fun adventures for you to uncover in your free time, too!
When your tour lands you in the luxurious city of Geneva, a favorite of celebrities, there’s no missing Switzerland’s biggest and most popular lake: Lake Geneva. Europe’s largest alpine lake serves as a sparkling foreground to the majestic, snow-capped Alps looming over it. Once you’ve got the lake in your sights, your eyes no doubt will be drawn to the Jet d’Eau, one of the tallest fountains in the world with a plume that shoots nearly 500 feet high. And if the weather cooperates, you can also catch a glimpse of the peak of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. There’s no better way to take in the sights (picturesque castles and vineyard-dotted hillsides!) surrounding Lake Geneva in Switzerland in your free time than on one of the many boat cruises available at the lake.
Make sure to use some of your free time for a leisurely exploration of the cobblestone streets of Geneva, which cozies right up to the shores of Lake Geneva. The city’s slow pace can be a welcome respite from days on the go. Outdoor cafes and quaint shops in its Old Town offer a laid-back alternative to the more cosmopolitan parts of a city, which was home to the United Nations for decades . And once you wander down to the lake, you can take advantage of the parks, promenades, and gardens to contemplate the beauty that surrounds you.
Staffer Chloe had the chance to visit Switzerland on an EF Ultimate Break trip a few years back and hiked through a vineyard near Lausanne in Lutry. “The vineyard itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site and you really just get to walk down this charming, rolling hillside along Lake Geneva,” said Chloe. “The colors are magical and the wine at the end of the trail is pretty great, too.” On a trail on the mountain Rochers de Naye near Montreux, she took in a bird’s-eye view of the town and the lake. Chloe says visiting the giant Freddie Mercury statue down by the lake is a “can’t miss” experience.
When relaxation, quiet, and even a dip in the water are what you’re after, there’s no better Swiss lake to escape to than Lake Zurich. Once primarily a transportation route, Lake Zurich has become one of Switzerland’s most sought after vacation destinations. The banana-shaped lake juts right into Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city and home to art and architectural wonders. The lake is the perfect jumping off spot to take in the inspiring views that surround it. For the best views of Zurich’s charming villages, and the grand homes and villas along its “Golden Coast,” take a cruise during your free time on one of the lake’s historic paddle-steamer boats. In the summer months, you’ll find plenty of swimming areas for a refreshing plunge.
“I lived on Lake Zurich for 3 years and it is truly the most magical place,” said staffer Gabriela. “Whether snow-covered in the winter or crystal clear in the summer, there is ALWAYS something to enjoy. Near Stadelhofen station there is usually a congregation of swans and people in paddleboats. My favorite memory is of a summer day going on a paddleboat with friends and jumping into the lake to cool off before getting some Movenpick ice cream! There are also some wonderful lakeside restaurants and Badis (local swimming areas) dotted around the entire lake, and locals enjoy packing a bathing suit so that on their walk home from work they can jump in.”
Any time of year, chocolate lovers will delight in the Lindt Home of Chocolate, located in Kilchberg, just 20 minutes from Zurich by boat. There you can experience the spectacular Lindt chocolate fountain, take an interactive chocolate tour, and visit the biggest chocolate shop in the world. And on the eastern end of Lake Zurich, you can take in a medieval castle, take a lakeside stroll, and delight in over 600 varieties of rose bushes in the public garden.
“As we all know, Switzerland is known for its chocolate,” said staffer Everett. “One of my favorite memories from my time in Zurich is sitting lakeside on a prime fall day snacking on truffles and cranberry chocolate from the Laderach chocolatier shop. My friend and I stopped to sit on a bench and enjoy our treat when we noticed a flock of swans just down the path on the edge of Lake Zurich. We made our way over, found a new bench, and sat and gorged ourselves with chocolate while watching the dozens of swans dawdle around us.”
You would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful Swiss lake than Lake Brienz—and that's a pretty high compliment! The lake is set against a backdrop of soaring Alpine peaks and some of the prettiest villages in Switzerland, and its waters are an incredible turquoise color that’s evocative of Caribbean waters. In the calm of morning, the Alps of the Bernese Oberland are magnificently reflected on its smooth surface. The effect is so mesmerizing, you’ll be tempted to take photo after photo in search of the perfect shot. Lake Brienz is more than just beautiful—at 853 feet deep, it’s one of the five deepest Swiss lakes. As is true of the best Switzerland lakes, a boat trip is the preferred way to take in the magnificent scenery surrounding Lake Brienz. There are plenty of boating options, including vintage paddle steamers that serve Swiss culinary delights along with the fresh lake air and panoramic views.
Lake Brienz is dotted with small villages and towns to explore, including the resort town of Interlaken and the lakeside village of Iseltwald. As the gateway to the region’s towering mountains and pristine lakes, Interlaken is the perfect starting point for excursions. A popular excursion to add when you have a full free day is our Jungfraujoch: The Top of Europe that you can add on to our tour of Switzerland, Alsace & the Black Forest, which takes you by train more than 11,000 feet above sea level with plenty of opportunities to snap photos of the surrounding mountain scenery. When you crave some quiet downtime, the fairy-tale village of Iseltwald, set on the southern shore of Lake Brienz, is well worth even a short visit. Its traditional Swiss chalets and gardens, along with enchanting views of the lake, perfectly capture the charm of Switzerland.
Add a thrilling experience to your tour of Lake Brienz by hiking up to Geissbach Falls and riding the funicular railway to the Grand Hotel Geissbach. Or for the coolest of experiences, especially in winter, try a llama trek through forest and fields covered in snow. If you have a free day on tour, traveler Bob said a trip to Lauterbrunnen village is not to be missed. “The steep valley walls and free-falling waterfalls are magical,” he said. “You’ll see immediately why they say it served as the inspiration for the landscape in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.”
If you had to pick just one of the lakes in Switzerland to visit, Lake Lucerne, one of the most popular destinations in Switzerland, would be a great choice. Surrounded by the Alps, the fourth-largest lake in Switzerland entices with its breathtaking beauty, ever-changing atmosphere, and mild climate. Depending on the day or the season, you could enjoy beautiful sunshine or mystical fog. Each has its own enchantments. Winter brings dazzling snow-covered landscapes best appreciated from the cozy saloon of a steamship (a great free time option!), while a summer’s day is perfect for “enjoying an afternoon swim, lunch, and an Aperol spritz at Seebad on Lake Lucerne!” said staffer Julie. “Seebad is a floating wood structure with a lively bar on Lake Lucerne made for swimming and sunbathing.”
When you come ashore, the ancient town of Lucerne awaits. Filled with markets, picturesque squares, historic houses adorned with frescoes, and countless restaurants serving traditional Swiss specialties, Lucerne is perfectly designed for leisurely strolling. Of all the towns and villages in Switzerland, this is an idyllic one you’ll want to savor slowly. From the cobbled streets of the Old Town to the Kapellbrücke, the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe that you'll visit on our sightseeing tour of Lucerne, there’s both history and grandeur lining the streets of this easy-to-explore, photogenic gem on the shore of Lake Lucerne.
“Other than walking over the famous Lucerne bridge, I had a unique experience on a dinner cruise at the end of a long day,” said staffer Everett. “My friend and I were looking for something to do for dinner when we found Luzern Bahnhofquai—the ferry port off of Lake Lucerne. There was an option for a dinner cruise that went around the lake and had a full dining room on board. We ordered delicious Swiss quiche and, of course, a glass of wine while admiring the mountains and quaint town of Lucerne from the comfort of this ferry. Highly recommend as a dinner treat!”
Of all the Switzerland lakes, Lake St. Moritz falls into the smaller—or one might say “more charming”—category. There’s no doubt the lake’s picturesque setting will enchant you, but at just one mile long and 2,000 feet wide, its smaller size also makes it easier to explore. A stroll around the lakeside path on a free afternoon rewards with Instagram-perfect vistas of the usually calm lake, green hillsides that gently descend to the shore, and the dramatic backdrop of surrounding mountains. If you’d like a more rigorous pursuit, check out the hiking trails. The lake district is one of the world’s best hiking destinations. Expect a sunny day for your visit, even in winter! With more than 300 sunny days a year and dry air, St. Moritz is known for its “champagne climate.” But, of course, St. Moritz is best known as a winter sports destination. When the lake freezes, the real action begins. Everything from polo matches to horse races are held on the frozen surface.
Of all the lake villages in Switzerland, St. Moritz is the most prestigious, attracting the rich and famous from around the world. Opened in 1864, St. Moritz is not only the world’s oldest ski resort, but still one of its best known. It has hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice (in 1928 and 1948). But you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy some of the best snow in Europe. From the village, skiers have direct access to more than 217 miles of ski slopes. And with over 100 restaurants and a vibrant nightlife, the entertainment options are as Olympian as the winter sports. For all the attention its winter activities attract, St. Moritz first became famous as a summer spa resort, thanks to the mineral springs discovered here 3,000 years ago. No matter the season, St. Moritz will be a memorable stop on any of our tours to Switzerland.
Our fellow travelers tell us that if you visit Lake St. Moritz in winter, a magical experience is taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Wrapped in sheepskins and thick blankets, you’ll be pulled through snowy forests and around frozen Lake St. Moritz—all the while enchanted by both the landscape and the tinkling of the horse’s bells.
We can’t think of a more enjoyable way to drink in the beauty of the prettiest villages in Switzerland than cruising the deep blue waters of Lake Thun. From the comfort of a paddlewheel steamboat, you’ll enjoy magnificent views of charming lakeside villages, storybook castles, and the majestic peaks of Jungfrau and Eiger. There always seems to be a pleasant breeze on Lake Thun, but if it’s warm enough for a dip in the lake, you’ll find plenty of inviting swimming areas along the lake’s shore to cool off during a free day. In fact, it’s one of the best lakes to swim in Switzerland. And as is true of most of the Swiss lakes, a lake cruise also provides a great opportunity to enjoy some of the country’s most appetizing cuisine.
The town of Interlakensits on a sliver of land between Lake Thun and Lake Briez, and is a convenient jumping off point for both lakes. At the opposite end of Lake Thun, sits the town of Thun, one of many picturesque towns ringing the lake. All of them worthy of a short visit, especially if you love castles (and who doesn’t?). During your free time on tour, the 12th century Thun Castle (which looks straight out of a fairy tale) and its medieval Great Hall are worth the trip across the lake from Interlaken. From its towers you can take in views of the lake, the town, and snow-capped Alps. On the Interlaken end of Lake Thun, you can explore St. Beatus Caves with its subterranean waterfalls, stalactites, and stalagmites. Legend has it that a dragon once terrified local citizens until it was slayed in the 6th century by Beatus, a wandering Irish monk. Thankfully, today’s travelers can explore the cave without fear of encountering a fire-breathing dragon.
Have a free day in Interlaken? Head to Lake Bachalpsee in Grindelwald, which was one of staffer Tom’s favorite experiences on an independent trip to Switzerland. “Early in the morning we began at the Interlaken Ost train station and headed to Grindelwald,” he said. “We wandered through town, through the village, and finally up to “First,” where all of the ski lifts/gondolas lead to, and had an Aperol Spritz. During the entire hike up, I had never seen scenery so beautiful. From there, we hiked another several miles up the trail to Bachalpsee, where I had some of the fondest memories of my life. As the sun began to set, we headed back down to the gondolas, but they were closed, so we had to walk down the mountain in the dark. We made it four miles down before a dairy farmer who only spoke Swiss German kindly drove us down to the train station and we bought a bottle of wine to enjoy on our way back, while reminiscing on one of the best days of our lives.” (Don't worry, on our guided tours, your Tour Director is only a phone call away—even during your free time.)
If you find yourself with a full free day on tour and want to capture an iconic photograph of your trip to Switzerland, head to Riffelsee Lake near the village of Zermatt. There you’ll find a spectacular view of the most photographed mountain in the world—the Matterhorn. Not only is the view from the lake breathtaking, but the calm waters of Riffelsee provide a majestic mirror image of the Matterhorn. Whether you use your smartphone or high-end digital camera, you’ll come away with a photo you can proudly splash across your social media. The image is well worth the trip on a narrow-gauge railway from Zermatt.
No matter what season you find yourself in Zermatt, you’ll find both locals and travelers enjoying the outdoors, be it skiing or hiking. One of the most thrilling things you can do is combine hiking with a cogwheel railway ride and cable car ride to and from Gornergrat, 10,000 feet above sea level. The cogwheel ride features endless views of the Matterhorn. And once you reach Gornergrat, the panoramic mountain views stretch as far as you can see.
“There aren’t many cars or taxis allowed in Zermatt,” said staffer Chloe. “So be sure you know when the last train out for the night leaves, lest you get stuck in town and have to track down taxis to get you back to your hotel at two in the morning like our group!”