Twenty Days in Europe, Part 4: Interlaken and Lake Brienz
Located in the Bernese Oberland region of central Switzerland, Interlaken is situated between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. You'll find alpine forests, turquoise water, and a plethora of hiking and biking trails. In addition, you can easily access the Jungfrau region, one of the most popular mountainous regions to visit in Switzerland, by rail. Another popular destination from Interlaken is the Schynige Platte which offers a view of the lakes and the surrounding mountains. If you are a backpacker, you should consider adding Interlaken to your itinerary as it is backpacker-friendly and offers accommodations that will satisfy your budget!
Arriving in Interlaken
By train: You will most likely arrive at the Interlaken Ost Station, the city's main train station. There are two stations: Interlaken East and Interlaken West.
By car: Interlaken is easily reached by the flawless road system in Switzerland. Be mindful that the Autobahn requires tolls. Check with your car rental company about the laws governing tollways. We drove from St. Witz, a suburb north of Paris, to Interlaken in approximately four hours. Be aware that you will be required to stop at the France/Switzerland border in order to enter the country. The trip took us through small French and Swiss towns, and occasionally Google Maps did not lead us down the right path. (Bring an atlas! Ours saved us a couple of times!) Always keep your gas tank filled up as you may not encounter a petrol station for a long time.
By plane: There is no airport in Interlaken, so your best bet is to fly into Geneva, Zurich, Basel, or Paris and then take a train into the city.
What To Do in Interlaken
If you have an unlimited amount of funds, by all means, go shopping. The array of retail shops in Interlaken is comparable to any city that draws tourists. There are tons of high-end jewelry shops selling Swatch and Swiss Army brands. You will also find a large assortment of designer clothing stores.
Take a walk. Seriously. Take a walk. Grab a map from the Interlaken tourism office and get lost. The town is not very large, so you can easily see it in a day.
Stock up on provisions for the next leg of your trip. Be warned, however, that you’re going to have to elbow your way to the chocolate aisle. I’m not joking when I say that I almost had a Grade A meltdown in one grocery store because there were so many people fighting over Toblerone. I may or may not have said a few audible curse words.
Take a hike, rent a bike, go swimming, go hang gliding (You can do that near Interlaken, you know.).
Take a boat ride on Lake Brienz. Seriously, if you don't do anything else while visiting this area, DO THIS. The trip, without stopping, takes around 75 minutes. However, you'll want to stop along the cruise to visit Iseltwald, Giessbach Falls, and Brienz. You will not regret it!
TIP: We took a bus from our hotel in Wilderswil (Thank you for the bus pass, Hotel Baeren!) to the Interlaken West train station, where we purchased tickets that included a train ride to the Interlaken Ost station as well as our boat tickets. Make sure you get to the station in the morning so that you can maximize your time on the lake. Believe me, you don’t want to skip any stop.
Lake Brienz Cruise: Iseltwald
Oh, how I adore this little village! It’s not a large town at all, but the gardens and architecture more than make up for size. The boat stops at the Strand Hotel which also has a lovely restaurant with outdoor seating. It's impossible to get lost in this jewel by the lake, so start your walk headed in any direction. If you are traveling during the summer months, you’ll find that Iseltwald is dotted with lovely private gardens. When you're ready to catch the next boat, head back to the dock at the Strand. Boats arrive regularly, so there is no need to panic if you miss one. The boats will either take you back to Interlaken or on to the next stops of Giessbach Falls and Brienz.
And, can you imagine picking your vegetables while seeing this view?
The longer you explore, the more you'll discover quirky and charming architecture...
After hiking up and down the hills of Iseltwald, stop by the Strand Hotel for lunch with a view! The menu is typical of most Swiss restaurants catering to tourists, and the prices are elevated, but the view more than makes up for your tab. You'll want to fill up before your next stop at Giessbach Falls where you'll do your share of hiking and walking.
Lake Brienz Cruise: Giessbach Falls
The next stop on the cruise takes you to the beautiful Giessbach Falls. You will most likely spend the bulk of your time here as there is much to see and do. The boat will drop you off at the base of the funicular that will take you up to the Grandhotel Giessbach.
Upon arrival at the hotel, you will find a trail that leads you up the series of waterfalls with plentiful landings to stop and take pictures or to rest. This series of waterfalls fall from approximately 500 meters into Lake Brienz. While the hike is not rigorous, it can be slippery in parts. Don't skip out on hiking to the top. The reward is priceless!
Once you make your way back to the Grandhotel Giessbach, you will find snack and beverage vendors and picnic areas. Families with children will also appreciate the small playground. When you are ready to head to the next stop of Brienz, make your way to the funicular queue that will take you back to the boat dock.
Lake Brienz Cruise: Brienz
The final stop on this tour takes you to the quaint town of Brienz. This small Swiss town of about 3,100 people is a perfect place to end a day of hiking and sightseeing. You will find an assortment of restaurants and cafes to grab a snack or beer before heading back to Interlaken. The promenade by the lake is a perfect place to take in the beautiful views before boarding the boat! We enjoyed the town so much that we returned the next night to have dinner at the Steinbock Hotel Restaurant.
As you can see, the cruise around Lake Brienz is worth every minute. The vistas are unrivaled, and there is plenty to see and do for all members of your traveling party. Don't forget to arrive at the cruise dock in Interlaken in the morning. The line will be long, and you'll want to plan to spend the entire day exploring around the lake.
In my next post, I will highlight our daytrip from Wilderswil to Mannlichen and points between.