Interlaken is the most famous and most visited resort town of the Bernese Alps. It also provides a convenient gateway to the rest of the Jungfrau region, which only grows more majestic and awe-inspiring the higher up you travel. But a successful visit to Interlaken and the Jungfrau region requires a bit of planning, and knowing what to expect can go a long way. Here are some important tips to know for your Interlaken visit.
You can go straight to Interlaken from the Zurich airport.
If you’re traveling to Switzerland through the country’s largest international hub in Zurich, you can conveniently reach Interlaken by direct train, though some routes have one or two connections. That means you don’t have to go into city center to transfer to a train to the Jungfrau region. For instance, if you’re flying out of Zurich in the evening, you can take the train directly to the airport in the afternoon and save yourself an entire night in Zurich, which is a huge waste of time compared to Interlaken. Trains run regularly throughout the day.
Trains have barrier-free access, but you still need a ticket.
When you buy a point-to-point ticket, your ticket will be valid on your chosen route at any time that day. This means that if you miss your intended train, the ticket is still good for the next train out. You also don’t have to validate or scan your ticket in order to board. Switzerland uses a barrier-free honor system for trains and boats. Your train ticket will be checked by an attendant at some point on your journey. The exception to this is cable cars or certain railways like the Harder Kulm funicular or the Jungfrau railway, which require a special ticket.
If you have a multi-day travel pass, you can show that to the attendant in lieu of a ticket.
Interlaken restaurants can get busy for dinner.
As one of the most popular resort towns in Switzerland, tables at dinnertime can be hard to come by. Even in October when we visited, we were turned away from some of the city’s best-rated restaurants because they were full. The problem is probably much worse during peak season. I recommend eating before peak time at 7-8 pm or making a reservation. If all else fails, you can go to McDonald’s.
Look up reviews carefully.
Many of the restaurants in Interlaken are located in guesthouses or hotels. This means that the Google Maps reviews can disproportionately represent the establishment as an accommodation or as a place to eat and it will be hard for you to determine which it is. You’re better off searching for hotel and guesthouse reviews on websites like Booking.com or Hotels.com, which are designed for reviewing accommodation. When you’re looking for a place to eat, check out TripAdvisor in conjunction with Google reviews.
You should leave Interlaken as much as possible.
Though Interlaken is adorable and peaceful and has great food, the best thing about the town is how convenient it is to get to other amazing towns and hikes in the area. I recommend spending at least three days in Interlaken but taking as many day trips elsewhere in the area as you can. You’ll have more than enough time to get to know Interlaken even while you spend most of your days exploring Lake Thun or the Jungfraujoch.
If you wait to have breakfast in town, you’re too late to avoid the crowds.
Interlaken is slow to wake up – most cafes and restaurants don’t open until 9 am – only a few open at 8 am. The problem with this? Almost everyone in Interlaken is hightailing it up the mountains first thing in the morning. So if you have breakfast first, you’ll find yourself standing in a crowded car at 10 am for the 40 minutes it takes to get to Grindelwald or waiting in line to board the Eiger Express.
To avoid this, you can buy some fruit or bread the day before to have as a light breakfast. You can also get going without your morning coffee and fill up at your first stop when everything there is just opening up.
The Jungfrau Pass is probably worth it.
Swiss transportation is conveniently centralized, and they offer a variety of passes for locals and tourists alike. One of those is the Swiss Half Fare Care, which grants you unlimited half price tickets on trains, buses, and even boats. However, unless you’re traveling extensively within Switzerland, that may not be worth the cost. On the other hand, the Jungfrau Pass is designed for some of the most visited places in the Jungfrau region including Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Murren, and the Jungfraujoch. It can be purchased with 3 to 8 days of validity.
For comparison, visiting Harder Kulm, Grindelwald, First, Lauterbrunnen, and the Jungfraujoch would cost 332.2 CHF if you were buying individual tickets. If you buy the 3-day pass, you can do all this as many times as you want for 190 CHF + a 63 CHF Jungfraujoch supplement. The pass also includes unlimited travel on the ferries. So you can travel as far as Thun on a relaxing lake cruise.
The Jungfrau website has live webcams and weather.
Though the weather is out of your control, you can control what you do in inclement weather. And it would be a shame to spend upwards of 200 CHF round-trip to go visit the Aletsch Glacier up in the Jungfraujoch and see nothing but clouds. Luckily, the official Jungfrau website offers up-to-the-minute webcams and weather information for many of the most popular locations on the mountain. It’s good to be flexible with your plans and stay informed to avoid visiting during bad weather that might dampen your experience.
You may experience altitude sickness at the Jungfraujoch.
The Jungfraujoch is a glacier saddle between two of the major peaks of the Bernese Alps. It lies at an altitude of 3454 meters. The Sphinx Observatory, which is accessible by elevator goes up to 3572 meters. Altitude sickness can set in at altitudes above 2400 meters. So it’s very possible that you’ll feel a little funny when you get up to the Jungfraujoch. It’s important to stay hydrated before you go and while you’re there. Though there is plenty of activity and hiking to be done, you may want to take it slow and give your body time to acclimate. If you feel lightheaded, out of breath, or oddly winded, just stop and wait for it to pass. If you push yourself, you might end up making your symptoms worse.
Getting to the Jungfraujoch is a pain – save time by making a reservation.
From Interlaken, the route to Jungfraujoch takes up to two hours and involves at least two connections. The fastest route takes you to Grindelwald Terminal where you’ll switch to the Eiger Express gondola and then to Eigergletscher station, where you’ll switch to the final railway that takes you up to the Jungfraujoch. At both connections, particularly the second one, you may encounter a bottleneck of people waiting to board. Making a reservation will put you at the front of the line and save you what could be potentially hours of waiting at Eigergletscher station.
The term reservation here is a bit of a misnomer since trains run continuously and you’re not booking a specific timeslot or seat exactly. Rather it works like a fast pass, wherein you can use the reservation line and skip everyone who does not have a reservation.
Get to Grindelwald-First early if you want to enjoy the thrills.
Some of the most popular activities in the Jungfrau region are located at Grindelwald-First, a summit on the Schwarzhorn that is accessible by a 25-minute cable car trip. Some of the adventure activities at First include popular attractions like First Flyer, First Glider, and mountain carts that you can drive all the way back down. If you leave Interlaken by 9 am, by the time you get to Grindelwald and the First cable car, the wait for any of these attractions will be upwards of 90 to 120 minutes.
Alternatively, you can do the First Cliff Walk around the mountain for free and with no line. You can also enjoy a one-hour hike to the mountain lake, Bachalpsee. So it’s still more than worth your time to visit, but if you want to do the pulse-pounding activities, it’s only worth it to go first thing in the morning.
Do the Harder Kulm first or not at all.
Harder Kulm is the highest peak in Interlaken and out of sheer proximity, it’s pretty busy all day. It’s accessible by an 8-minute funicular ride or a grueling 2.5 hour hike. The lines for the funicular can get very long and it might feel like you’re waiting and traveling in a cramped funicular far longer than you’re actually enjoying the peak at Harder Kulm. If you’ve already seen all the spectacular areas up in the region, this will definitely fall flat. I recommend doing this first as an introduction to the region before moving on to bigger and better things – emphasis on bigger. Emphasis on better, too.
The ferries on the lakes make for great transportation.
Though the ferries are not specifically designed for sightseeing, taking one to one of the other cities or sights on Lake Thun or Lake Brienz can be a great way to enjoy the lakes. Best of all, with the Jungfrau Pass, the ferries are free. The lakes are large and the routes are long so you may want to take the ferry one way and the bus or train back to Interlaken or vice versa. For instance, it takes two hours to get to Thun by ferry but only 30 minutes by train. So unless you want to spend four hours on the lake, you can mix and match transportation types.
Your accommodation comes with an Interlaken pass.
Everyone staying at least one night in Interlaken and paying tourist tax receives an Interlaken Pass which is activated online and provides you free city travel on all the local buses. The pass also provides you with discounts to some local activities.
Interlaken buses are not the most reliable.
Though convenient and free, the buses may leave you high and dry if you’re trying to get somewhere at a specific time. For instance, the ferries depart every hour or two hours at different times of the day. If you’re taking a bus to get to the ferry terminal, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to account for delayed buses.
You might want to budget for paragliding.
During your time in Interlaken, you’ll probably see more paragliders than you’ve ever seen in your life. That’s because from sunup to sundown, paragliders spend all day taking off from the mountain and landing at Hohematte Park. Even if you’ve never had the desire to paraglide, after watching a couple hundred of these bright parachutes peacefully floating in the Interlaken sky, you might get inspired.