Central Switzerland Travel Guide

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The majestic Grosser Mythen peak, Switzerland © Michal Stipek/Shutterstock

The diverse region of Central Switzerland is usually accessed via the gateway of Lucerne . Beyond this undoubted highlight of Switzerland, the region offers lakeside luxury, magnificent mountain scenery and excellent opportunities for outdoor adventuring. Plan your trip to Central Switzerland with our guide to Central Switzerland, based on The Rough Guide to Switzerland , your travel guide for Switzerland .

What to expect when travelling to Central Switzerland — your Central Switzerland travel guide

Easily reached from Zurich , Central Switzerland is dominated by Lake Lucerne. Discover more about this ultimate slow travel destination in our dedicated Lucerne travel guide .

It's also worth knowing you can enjoy day-trips to Basel , Bern , and the Bernese Oberland from Lucerne and its environs.

Lucerne aside, Central Switzerland is also known for Mount Rigi, which rises to 1798m between Lucerne and Zug lakes.

In the shadow of Rigi, the villages of Weggis and Vitznau attract day-trippers and holiday-makers in search of longer-term lakeside tranquillity.

The top-quality ski resort of Engelberg boasts an excursion to the highest point in central Switzerland. The station sits at 3028m, just below the distinctive summit of Mount Titlis.

Meanwhile, the Schwyzerland area takes in a series of lush valleys overlooked by the twin peaks of the Mythen.

The canton of Uri, which begins at the Urnersee, and shares borders with Schwyz, Nidwalden, Bern , Valais , Ticino, Graubünden and Glarus, holds the keys to the great trans-Alpine Gotthard route.

Lovely Lucerne is a gateway to the charms of the area, and a feature of any good Central Switzerland travel guide © Benny Marty/Shutterstock

Weggis and Vitznau

On a sheltered, south-facing bay, Weggis has been a popular summer resort for a few centuries. It basks in its own subtropical microclimate, with naturally growing palm trees, figs and magnolias.

A couple of hours’ stroll east from Weggis, tranquil Vitznau is the base station for Europe’s oldest rack railway. Set in a sheltered west-facing bay, it has plenty of character.

If you're staying in Vitznau, treat yourself to a trip that combines Mount Rigi with a visit to Rigi Kaltbad Mineral Baths.

Where to stay in Weggis and Vitznau

  • Best for epic views: Hotel Alexander, Weggis. This comfortable central hotel has a spa, bar, two pools, and panoramic views of Lake Lucerne and the mountains.
  • Best for creature comforts: Beau-Rivage, Weggis. Right on the lakefront, the classy Beau-Rivage offers a spa and lakeside lawn with a heated pool.
  • Best for couples: Seehof Hotel du Lac, Weggis. A charming, family-run place, with pricier rooms offering lake-view balconies.
  • Best for budget travellers: Hostel Rotschuo, midway between Vitznau and Gersau. Located in a lovely spot on the lake, this has dorms and a chalet with private wood-panelled rooms.

Discover more places to stay in Weggis and Vitznau.

Engelberg

Situated at the southern end of the valley road and rail line from Stans, Engelberg is presided over by mighty Mount Titlis, with its arresting crest-of-a-wave summit.

Beat the crowds by booking your trip to Titlis in advance. From riding in the world's first revolving cable car, to seeing the eternal snow of the glacier cave, to traversing Europe's highest suspension bridge, it's sure to be a highlight of your Central Switzerland travel experience.

Unsurprisingly, life in Engelberg revolves around the surrounding mountains.. Along with Titlis day-trippers and Lucerners up for a weekend on the slopes, the peaks' freeriding possibilities attract dedicated off-piste skiers.

Come summer, mountain-biking, climbing and hiking take over.

Where to stay in Engelberg

  • Best for home comforts: Hotel Engelberg. This comfortable, welcoming place on the pedestrianized main street boasts warm, cosy rooms.
  • Best for Scandi style: Ski Lodge Engelberg. An attractive Swedish-run hotel with — as its name suggests — a focus on skiing.
  • Best for couples: Hotel Sonnwendhof. This beautiful lodge-style hotel at the foot of the mountain is ideal for couples seeking a cosy getaway.
  • Best for groups and families: Spannort. Somewhere between a hotel and hostel, this excellent-value option has large multi-bed rooms.

Explore more places to stay in Engelberg.

Engelberg sitting pretty in the shadow of Mount Titlis, Central Switzerland © Sizhe_hu/Shutterstock

Zug

22km from Lucerne on the north side of the Rigi, Zug is the richest place in Switzerland, which makes it very rich indeed.

Framed by the high wooded plateau of the Zugerberg to the east, the town’s location on the crystal-blue Zugersee is beautiful. If that wasn't enough, the peak of the Rigi rises on its southwest shores.

The picturesque medieval churches and cobbled waterfront lanes of Zug's compact Old Town are a wonder to wander, and a world away from its business-focussed new town.

To see the best of Zug, book a fun self-guided tour and scavenger hunt.

Where to stay in Zug

  • Best for Old Town ambience: Löwen am See. This attractive hotel on the Old Town square is a stone’s throw from the water.
  • Best for city chic: Ochsen. Behind a sixteenth-century exterior, this business hotel boasts well-designed rooms, some of which overlook the Old Town.
  • Best for nature-lovers: TCS Camping Zugersee. A friendly campsite located right on the lakeshore.
  • Best for budget travellers: Jugendherberge (HI hostel). This friendly hostel is just a few streets from the water.

Discover more places to stay in Zug.

Schwyzerland and Schwyz

Schwyzerland occupies the picturesque northeastern corner of Lake Lucerne, extending north to the wild hills bordering the Zürichsee.

Something of an unsung area, Schwyzerland boasts broad valleys enclosed between Alpine foothills, all presided over by the Mythen's pair of peaks.

The gentle resort of Brunnen lies on the lake, while a short distance inland is the cantonal capital Schwyz.

The central Hauptplatz of this graceful old town is dominated by two great buildings. The large parish church of St Martin perches on a terrace above town, while the fresco-adorned Rathaus sits on the square itself.

Where to stay in Schwyz

  • Best for foodies: Wysses Rössli. This large traditional hotel with has an excellent restaurant — try the local fish.
  • Best for backpackers: Hirschen. Located above a pub, this convenient hostel/hotel has dorms and doubles.

Explore more places to stay in Schwyz.

The magnificent Grosser Mythen peak looming large over Oberiberg, Switzerland © Michal Stipek/Shutterstock

Top attractions and things to do in Central Switzerland

Rigi

The titanic chunk of the Rigi has long been famous as a majestic viewpoint. A steep-scarped grassy ridge with several summits, Rigi divides Lucerne and Zug lakes, and offers wonderful views south to the Alps — catch the cogwheel railway to reach the summit.

Come summer, Rigi is speckled with hundreds of wildflower species, with gentle walking routes to wander.

Foodies looking to add flavour to their Central Switzerland vacation might want to book a Rigi day-pass with a delicious Swiss lunch included in the trip.

Outdoor adventures in Engelberg

Engelberg is surrounded by three main peaks — mighty Titlis, smaller Brunni on the sunnier side of the valley, with Fürenalp in between.

As a result, this end-of-the-road village is a great destination for hiking, summertime mountain-biking, and winter skiing.

Ttravelling with kids? The family-friendly Brunni sector is reached via a cable car that starts just beyond the monastery. A chairlift reaches the Brunnihütte, which offers walks through hillside meadows and down through forests to the village.

Weg der Schweiz and the Urnersee

The Weg der Schweiz is an impossibiy scenic lakeside walking route that follows the wild, rocky shores of the Urnersee (Lake Uri).

Running from Brunnen down to the small town of Flüelen, this is one of the country’s most historically resonant areas.

The Urnersee is the setting both for the legend of William Tell and for an ancient pact of mutual defence, which laid the foundations for the Swiss Confederation as it survives today.

Lake Lucerne, as seen from the Weg der Schweiz © Dave Cutts/Shutterstock

Tell Museum, Bürglen

If you've been bitten by the Tell bug, grab a bus to Bürglen — a village that's celebrated as Tell’s birthplace.

Bürglen's Tell Museum is crammed with curiosities, with a top-floor video room giving a playful account of the history of the legend.

The chapel sitting beside Bürglen’s village church on the site of Tell’s house was dedicated as early as 1582. Interior frescoes depict the legend dating from the 1750s, while the Tell fountain out front dates from 1786.

Based in Lucerne? Book a full-day boat and hiking trip that takes in a whole lot of William Tell attractions.

Andermatt

Half the fun of visiting Andermatt is the journey there. Surrounded by the High Alps on all sides, it's bypassed by the Gotthard rail and road tunnels.

By train from Flüelen, you climb slowly and dramatically up the wild valley. Around Wassen, a series of tightly spiralled tunnels gain maximum altitude at minimum gradients.

You’ll pass Wassen’s famous onion-domed church three times — first high above you, then on a level, and finally far below you.

At Göschenen, you change to the smaller train that climbs up to Andermatt — look out for the gravity-defying Devil’s Bridge off to the left.

Gotthard Pass

The most famous of all Alpine passes, the Gotthard pass divides northern Europe from the south.

At Gottard Passhöhe, you’ll find a wild windswept spot with a handful of buildings, including a restaurant and small museum, clustered around a small lake.

From the pass, rather than follow the new road down to Airolo, take the old cobbled road that snakes towards Ticino — you'll be rewarded with truly spectacular views.

Winding roads of Via Tremola, Gotthard Pass, Switzerland © Freedom_wanted/Shutterstock

Great day tours and excursions in Central Switzerland

Stans

Rising 1900m above the old village of Stans, the beautiful Stanserhorn is the highest peak in the area. As a result, it's a pretty great place for heart-pumping paragliding trips.

Back on terra firma, the village’s hub, Dorfplatz, is overlooked by the impressive Pfarrkirche St Peter und Paul. From the Middle Ages this was the sole house of worship in the entire canton.

The alleys surrounding Dorfplatz are well worth a wander. Don't miss exploring Altes Postplatz and the Rosenburg House — a turreted medieval building with a rear courtyard overlooked by beautiful Italianate loggias.

Brunnen

Of all the resort towns on the lake, Brunnen is perhaps most dramatically located, which might explain why Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria took a shine to it in 1865.

Vistas from its jetty are stupendous. Directly across, you'll see the misty cliffs of Seelisberg, with the Uri Rotstock and Titlis rising behind.

To the west, the length of Lake Lucerne is visible, with the Urnersee and snowy peaks around the Gotthard to the south.

Beautiful Brunnen, Switzerland © Andy Faessler/Shutterstock

Einsiedeln

Tucked in the hills of northern Schwyz, the small village of Einsiedeln has been Switzerland’s most important site of pilgrimage for a thousand years.

It still draws a million visitors each year — some for pilgrimage, others for winter sports, with good cross-country skiing routes starting from right by the mighty Benedictine Kloster (monastery).

Furka Pass

The main draw of the Furka Pass is a volunteer-run antique mountain steam train.

In summer, it puffs up from the hamlet of Realp to a station near the pass. From here, it travels on through the Muttbach tunnel to Gletsch and Oberwald.

As an alternative to the train, summer postbuses from Andermatt cross the Furka Pass westwards into Valais .

Oberalp Pass

Directly east of Andermatt the Oberalp Pass (2044m) runs into Canton Graubünden .

Come summer, a quaint open-air, 1930s carriage is added to the regular train network.

Local trains to Disentis/Mustér can drop you on the pass itself. Here you can soak up the beauty of lovely little Oberalpsee lake, and enjoy a host of summer hikes.

Two scenic routes run through the invigorating high country down to Andermatt — one via the Lolenpass (5hr 30min), the other via the Maighelspass (6hr 30min).

Glacier Express passing Oberalp Pass © Swiss Tourism

Sports and activities in Central Switzerland

Sports and activities in Engelberg

Engelberg’s mountains attract adventure-sports fans in summer and winter.

On the lower slopes of Titlis, the Gerschnialp area offers a network of fine blue runs and cross-country skiing. Further up, you can access red runs from the Titlis station down to the Trübsee, with off-piste routes from the top.

Head to Trübsee for activities like snowtubing, snow-biking and sledging.

The Engelberg Skischule also runs a summer programme, including mountain-bike trips, kayaking and guided hikes that make use of the Buiräbähnli, a network of small cable cars run by and for farmers.

Talking of summer, if that's when you plan to travel, discover the best things to do in Switzerland this summer .

Sports and activities in Schwyzerland

The easiest adventure excursion from Brunnen is to the nearby Urmiberg peak. Hiking trails include ones as far as Rigi Kaltbad, or shorter circular routes from Brunnen.

For more extensive hiking, there are numerous options, including the Weg der Schweiz, and hiking around the car-free mountain village of Stoos.

Meanwhile, the tucked-away valley of Muotathal is home to the Hölloch caves. At 190km long, this is one of the largest such systems in the world. Trekking Team run various cave excursions, from short tours to overnighting.

Into adventure sports? Read up on the best outdoor experiences in Switzerland .

Female travellers might also want to discover a host of women-only outdoor activities in Switzerland .

How to get around Central Switzerland

The Tell Pass

The Tell Pass is the regional pass for Central Switzerland. It covers all regional trains and buses as far as Zug, Engelberg and Andermatt.

In addition, it includes boats on Lake Lucerne and other lakes, plus cable-car and railway routes to Rigi, Pilatus, Stanserhorn and Titlis.

You can buy the pass from tourist offices and train stations throughout the region, and becomes good value if you do more than a couple of mountain trips.

Travelling more widely? You might want to invest in a Swiss travel pass.

Invest in a Swiss travel pass to take advantage of Switzerland's swish train service © Shutterstock

Inspired by this Central Switzerland travel guide? The Rough Guide to Switzerland  and our run-down of things not to miss in Switzerland  will help you plan — think of them as your personal travel guide to Switzerland.

Not a fan of planning? Book a hassle-free tailor-made trip to Switzerland, with customisable itineraries curated by local experts covering everything from unforgettable highlights of Switzerland , to touring the Grand Circle .

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updated 8/11/2022
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