Interlaken is one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, and it has the cleanest water and air on earth. It’s the perfect outdoor destination for mental health and wellness, so it stands to reason that living in Interlaken would be lovely. But not everything is as perfect as it appears.
Interlaken and the entire surrounding region looks like a postcard. Its perfectly clean lakes and rivers reflect the massive mountain ranges of the Bernese Alps. Not only does it look like a postcard but it makes you feel like you’re in a postcard – just happy, relaxed, and picture-perfect. Despite the insane amounts of tourists that are attracted to the area, Interlaken feels calm and joyful. When you see locals riding bikes or running into friends while walking their dogs, they seem just as happy to be there as you are when you’re having a nice lunch on your vacation. They go hiking along the lakes and wave off the ferries as they set off on an afternoon walk. They sit down for dinner with their families and dogs, and drink beers with friends until the sun sets and the night grows cold. With a natural but unforced friendliness, the locals make you feel like you’re a part of regular life, which makes Interlaken just as warm and welcoming as it is beautiful.
Locals in Interlaken are unbelievably friendly, which is straight-up shocking considering the level of tourism they have to deal with on a daily basis. People just seem so happy that they don’t have the impulse to be rude and closed off to outsiders. While those are ideal conditions for a foreigner to be made to feel at home, the people you run into on the street or on local trains are about 30-40% locals and 60-70% tourists. And the tourists couldn’t be further in personality from the locals. They crowd otherwise small and quiet spaces, they’re loud, they don’t respect personal space, or European rules for queuing and other common-sense etiquette. And I am not nearly as serene as the Swiss in Interlaken. It makes me want to tell a lot of people to fuck off.
The food scene in Interlaken is quite varied. Perhaps as a way to meet the needs of visiting tourists, you can find great Korean, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian alongside traditional Swiss fare. The food is so delicious and high-quality that it totally makes you forget that it’s outrageously expensive. So despite being a small resort town, you wouldn’t have to sacrifice eating well. In fact, by the time we left, I already had a favorite pizza place, a favorite Thai place, and a favorite cocktail bar – the latter of which is my barometer for place cool enough to actually live and not just visit. Don’t even get me started on the quality of the chocolate.
One of the biggest downsides of Interlaken (and Switzerland as a whole) is that everything from transportation to food is extremely expensive. To its credit, being there is so amazing that it makes you forget the cost. I’ve come to realize that things only feel expensive when they’re not worth the expense. But if we’re talking long-term living here, my retirement savings would probably last at most three months. On the other hand, the median salary for someone of my background and experience is a whopping 9,000 CHF a month according to their official wage calculator. So if I got a job locally, I could absolutely afford a very comfortable existence.
Interlaken is so well-connected to other major cities like Bern and Zurich that even though you are on the foothills of some of the most incredible natural wonders in Europe, you can still be at a nearby major city for a concert or to catch an international flight in a matter of hours. The trains run like clockwork and using them is easy and convenient. Perhaps the biggest downside is that popular routes are always packed with tourists. On the other hand, the possibilities for beautiful and relatively peaceful hikes are limitless in a place like Interlaken. Like restaurants in New York City, you could discover a new hiking path every day for a year without repeating any.
Total Livability Score 7/10
Interlaken is the perfect example of how detrimental overtourism can be. Were it not for the rude and annoying visitors, the city would be an absolutely perfect place to live. Nonetheless, the city stole my heart.