Why you need to visit Switzerland in summer
The Alps may spread across central Europe, but they've saved their greatest hits for Switzerland. The Matterhorn, Eiger, Jungfrau - they're just a few of the glorious peaks that range across the country. As two-thirds of Switzerland is covered by the Swiss Alps - plus the Jura mountains up by the French border - you get a mountain playground that's like no other.
Tucked into the wide green valleys are exquisite Alpine lakes with impossibly clear waters. Follow the paths of sparkling Swiss rivers to reach some of the country's most sophisticated cities. Better still, explore Switzerland by train and discover why it's one of the world's most efficient - and beautiful - railways.
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Deep in the Bernese Oberland, the lively village of Grindelwald* sits at the foot of the towering Eiger and Wetterhorn peaks. Hikers make a beeline for Grindelwald-First, which, at 2,168 m above sea level, offers scenic trails for all levels thanks to its gondola.
Feel the thrill of being in mid-air on the First Cliff Walk, much of which is suspended over the cliff edges. Then strap yourself into the First Flieger and whoosh down the mountain on an 800 m cable at speeds of more than 80 km per hour.
For more thrills, take the Jungfrau Railway to Europe's highest train station on the plateau of Jungfraujoch for year-round walks in the glacier snow. Take in the incomparable views from the Sphinx observation deck and go sledging in the Snow Fun Park. You can even try to win an Omega watch by getting a hole in one in a unique Alpine golf game.
The biggest draw for mountain adventurers is the Eiger Trail, one of the toughest tests for climbers as they scale the forbidding north face of the Eiger. But you don't have to be a thrillseeker to enjoy hiking along the trail and sweeping views of Grindelwald Valley.
Sandwiched between the glittering lakes of Thun and Brienz, Interlaken* (which, aptly enough, translates as "between the lakes") sits in the shadow of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks.
As it's the railway hub of the region, just hop on a train to get closer to these marvellous mountains. In just eight minutes you can reach Harder Kulm, from whose peak you can see the classic vista of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains as well as a gorgeous view of Interlaken down below. Those vistas will be your constant companion as you follow the hiking trails, stopping at mountain huts along the way.
Back on low ground, explore the lakes along waterside paths, where snow-capped mountains are reflected in the clear waters. Look out for Lake Brienz's Iseltwald lakeside path that takes you to the splendid Giessbach Falls. If you're feeling lazy, take a trip on a paddle steamer.
There's more than a hint of the fairy tale about Lucerne*, a beautifully preserved fortified city on the shores of Lake Lucerne. The first thing you spot is the enchanting Chapel Bridge, a medieval covered footbridge spanning the River Reuss that empties into the lake.
Take a walk along the pedestrianised streets of the Altstadt (Old Town), a delightful collection of fresco-covered historic houses squeezed into atmospheric little squares including Weinmarkt, one of the prettiest.
Lucerne has a cutting-edge modern side too, notably in the sprawling Culture and Convention Centre (KKL for short). It's the gorgeous lakeside setting for Lucerne's many festivals and cultural events throughout the year, but especially the summertime Lucerne Festival. It's one of the lake's architectural highlights, and it looks just as impressive when seen from a steamship cruise.
From Lucerne, it's easy to take a trip into the nearby mountains. Take the mountain railway that chugs its way up to the peak of Rigi and enjoy sweeping views. Hop on a ferry across the lake to reach the mountain of Bürgenstock, where the Hammetschwand lift whisks you up to a lookout point.
Montreux* has an air of the Mediterranean about it, helped by its microclimate and picturesque setting on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva. For two centuries, it's been attracting artists and writers from Lord Byron to Tolstoy.
Walk along the waterfront and you'll see the statue paying homage to Freddie Mercury, who was a constant visitor to the town. And jazz fans have been making their pilgrimage to Montreux for the annual July jazz festival for more than 50 years.
Wine lovers can take a tour of the terraced vineyards of neighbouring Lavaux, which are so unusual that they've been made a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Just south of Montreux is one of Switzerland's most romantic sights, the lakeside Chillon Castle. Explore its evocative medieval vaults and courtyards, and stay for one of the many cultural events held throughout the year.
If you're looking for the classic Swiss Alpine village scene, surrounded by lush green meadows and white-tipped peaks, then Wengen* is the place. It's car-free, which makes it even more charming as you wander past its traditional wooden chalets and belle époque hotels. Set in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the village is only a 20-minute train ride from Interlaken.
From Wengen, you can follow hiking trails that offer dizzyingly beautiful views. One of the highlights is the route between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, where you can gawp at the sight of the Jungfrau and Eiger.
Zermatt* is pure magic, from its horse-drawn carriages to the jagged peak of the Matterhorn that looms over the car-free village. The drama begins even before you arrive, thanks to the breathtaking scenery you can enjoy from the Glacier Express train that winds through the mountains.
The action never lets up all summer: when you're not swimming or waterskiing in one of the lakes, you can ride down the mountains on a trail scooter or a kick-bike. Take a hair-raising canyon walk along the Gornergorge, or relax with a game of golf in neighbouring Täsch.
Skiers can still get their summertime fix on the Klein Matterhorn glacier, where there's also the icy interior of the cave-like Glacier Palace you can explore. In the village, the Matterhorn Museum tells the fascinating history of efforts to scale the mountain and its place in Swiss folklore.
Weather in Switzerland
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The giddy heights of Switzerland ensure it's a destination renowned for its crisp mountain air and generally low temperatures, although the sun can be strong given the altitude in both summer and winter. Find out more about the weather in Switzerland in summer to help you prepare for your trip.
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