Although definitely not a budget destination, Interlaken, Switzerland remains one of the most stunning places I’ve been lucky enough to visit. A tiny, Swiss town surrounded on all sides by towering mountains and sparkling blue lakes, Interlaken is Europe’s extreme sport capital and home to every outdoor activity you could possibly imagine. If you are a study abroad student thinking of visiting Interlaken, I would recommend booking your Interlaken trip through Bus2alps. With so many activities to chose from, it can be extremely helpful to have knowledgeable guides ready to help you at the drop of a hat.
Where to stay
Unless you have a much much higher budget than I did when visiting Switzerland, hostels are going to be your best option for accommodation. Interlaken is crazy expensive, but it’s also a popular student destination. Thankfully, this combination means that there are plenty of good hostels to chose from in the city center.
Only the cutest hostel in existence, Balmers Hostel has been operating in Interlaken since 1907 and is a favorite for students traveling through Switzerland. Balmers has a great location and is also home to the only nightclub in Interlaken, Metro Bar.
Another great option in the same part of town, Backpackers Villa trades the cutesy decor for a functional feel (basically a livable IKEA). The hostel faces the paraglider’s landing field and is only a short walk from the city center.
What to do
Whether you’re traveling on a budget or not, there’s no shortage of unforgettable experiences to have in Interlaken. As the adventure sport capital of Europe, Interlaken is truly an adrenaline junkie’s paradise. If you happen to be in this category of thrill seekers, you’ll have the time of your life skydiving over the Swiss Alps, night sledding through the mountains or skiing from the highest point in Europe. If you’re a little too afraid of heights to jump out of a helicopter, like myself, don’t worry, there’s plenty to do in Interlaken with both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Most of the best activities to do in Interlaken require at least some sort of specialized gear. The best place to rent supplies is Outdoor Interlaken, conveniently right down the street from both Balmer’s and Backpacker’s Villa. In additional to rentals, Outdoor Interlaken also runs their own activities and excursions. You can find everything on their website!
Note: Switzerland takes the Swiss Franc, not the Euro. Fortunately, the Franc is almost neck and neck with the dollar so you know exactly what you’re spending.
Kayaking is one of my absolute favorite things to do in any season, so I instantly jumped at the chance to join a winter kayaking trip on Lake Brienz in early February. Hightide Kayak School runs a great three hour excursion that includes a guide, heavy-duty winter wetsuit, life jacket and kayak rental. The scenery is breathtaking and the wetsuits keep you warm and dry in even the most extreme Swiss weather! *
*If being on the water in winter isn’t your thing, Hightide also offers a summer kayaking trip.
Skiing the Swiss Alps
Kind of a no brainer, Interlaken is home to some of the best skiing in the world! In the winter months the entire town is full of tourists and locals hauling skis up and down the mountain. If you stay at Balmers or Backpacker’s Villa, they’ll provide you with an included bus pass, which covers the first leg of your journey to get to the slopes.
You can rent all your gear, including jackets, gloves and snow pants, down the street at Outdoor Interlaken!
I’ve never heard of night sledding anywhere else besides Interlaken. During my second Orientation with Bus2alps the company took us all night sledding and it was terrifyingly fantastic. Picture a pitch-black Interlaken night with a sky full of starts in frigid temperatures gripping a toboggan for dear life as you zip down the Swiss alps. Don’t worry, it’s not as dangerous as it sounds.
Marvel at Lake Brienz
Lake Brienz is one of my favorite spots in Interlaken. The water is sparking blue, completely clear and it’s so clean you can actually drink it! Kayaking, both winter and summer, is done on Lake Brienz and you can also rent stand-up paddle boards. This viewpoint is only about a 45 min walk from the hostels.
If you’re looking for a fantastic sunrise, Lake Brienz is the place to be. If you’re looking to watch the sun set, head to Lake Thun on the other side of Interlaken.
Explore downtown Interlaken
Downtown Interlaken, although small, is full of yummy restaurants and quaint shops selling all types of outdoor equipment, watches and Swiss army knives. In addition to lots of chocolate and Swiss fondue, Interlaken has a wide variety of fantastic foreign restaurants.
Hike to Bachalpsee Lake
The hike to Bachalpsee Lake was one of the most extraordinary days I’ve ever spent in Europe. Picture a stunning blue lake framed littered with grazing cows and framed on all sides by the Swiss alps…what more could you want in a hike?
Unfortunately, as spectacular as the hike was, it was far from free. Since it’s too far away to start the hike from Interlaken, you’ll need to take two buses and a gondola each way. These costs add up in Switzerland, where everything is very expensive. Take my advice, the money is worth the views.
If you’re interested in hiking up to Bachalpsee Lake, follow these simple directions from Interlaken.
- Use your free bus pass to take the 105 bus from Matten b.I., Hotel Sonne to Wilderswil station.
- Purchase a bus ticket from Wilderswil station to Grindelwald (8.90 CHF).
- Make your way to the gondola (Grindelwald Firstbahn) and purchase a one-way ticket to First (30 CHF). It’s a 25 minute ride and the views are absolutely breathtaking!
- Start the hike in First and follow the signs to Bachalpsee Lake. If you have time, stop by the Coop before you leave and grab food for a picnic near the lake!
- Loop around the lake and continue down the path to Bort.
- Purchase a one-way gondola ticket from Bort to Grindelwald (16 CHF).
- Purchase a bus ticket from Grindelwald to Wilderswil (8.90 CHF).
- Take the 105 bus from Wilderswil station to Matten b.I., Hotel Sonne station (using your free bus pass).
…admire the views along the way.
On our way down, we got caught up in a herd of cows that Swiss shepherds were trying to bring in for the night…and yes, they were yodeling.
Hike to Harder-Kulm
Another great way to spend a day in Interlaken is hiking up to Harder Kulm! Three hours straight up, this hike is not easy…but it is free. The views at the top are well worth the burning in your calves and it’s a great excuse to eat even more Swiss fondue.
Hotel Metropole Rooftop Bar
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love a good rooftop bar. The outside of Hotel Metropole is a huge eyesore, but it’s stunning on the inside and they have a killer rooftop bar. Prices are very reasonable and you have a view of both Lake Brienz and Lake Thun!
One of the highest points in Interlaken, and all of Europe, Schilthorn was the filming site of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and is now home to a Jame’s Bond museum. It takes three gondola rides to get to the summit and, on a clear day, it offers 360 degree panoramic views of Lauterbrunnen and the valley below. Unfortunately, when we visited in January the entire summit was engulfed in a cloud so the views were impossible to see. While visiting, make sure to stop for a drink or a meal in the rotating restaurant!
Switzerland has no shortage of yummy food, the challenge is finding somewhere that doesn’t completely break the bank. The following restaurants are reasonable by Swiss standards…but not by anyone else’s.
An adorable chalet-type hotel, The Hirschen Hotel is just down the street from both hostels and serves traditional Swiss cheese fondue. Swiss fondue is yummy, but it’s different from any fondue I’ve had in the states. The cheese has an interesting aftertaste that tastes almost like vodka…
If you’re in the market for some melt-in-your-mouth, delicious Swiss macaroni & cheese (Älpler makkaroni), look no further than Hüsi Bierhaus. Swiss macaroni is served with applesauce on the side, which sounds very strange but is actually very good. If you don’t like apples with your cheese, they have a large menu with lots of great options (and a great beer list!).
Funky Chocolate Club
I’ve had some pretty amazing hot chocolate in my life, but nothing compares to the mind-blowing hot chocolate at Funky Chocolate in Interlaken. When it’s negative 10 degrees in the Swiss mountains, it’ll be the best part of your day. They serve an iced summer version that’s also delicious but doesn’t have quite the same effect as drinking a steamy cup of melted Swiss chocolate in the snow!
Funky Chocolate also hosts chocolate making classes for those rainy days in Interlaken.
Although probably the most expensive restaurant on this list, Layaly Beirut serves some fantastic Lebanese food. Everything we ate was delicious and the staff was super friendly. Unfortunately, seeing the check at the end hurt a little bit. It’s the perfect restaurant if you’re not worried about price and looking for some great Lebanese food in Interlaken!
I recently spent two weeks in Thailand so you can trust me when I say Little Thai has amazing Thai food. You know it’s authentic when spicy actually means SPICY. Food is a bit expensive but completely normal for Swiss prices. Great location as well, located right outside the Balmers front door and just a five minute walk from Backpacker’s Villa.
I’m always in the mood for some great Indian food, and Rang Mahal delivered. I went for Bus2alps Orientation in the winter where we were served the whole spread, buffet style. Located in downtown Intelraken, the staff is friendly and the food is fantastic!
Although it’s pretty much impossible to find cheap food in Interlaken, it’s possible to find cheaper food if you stay away from the sit down restaurants. Try out these suggestions near the main hostel area.
Baracuda, across the street from Balmers, serves a variety of yummy wraps and sandwiches that are pretty affordable by Swiss standards (12-14 CHF). They turn into a bar late night and also offer a great selection of draft beer and tasty cocktails!
Across the street from Baracuda, X-Port is another good option for cheap eats. They offer everything from kebabs to pizza to chicken nuggets and are your best (and only) option for late-night food.
I’ve only scratched the surface of things to do in Interlaken. There’s so many options for outdoor thrill-seeking activities it’ll make your head spin. I’m not one for skydiving, but if you’re a fan of heights there’s no place in Europe better to skydive than Interlaken. You could also go paragliding, hang gliding, bungee jumping, canyon swinging, canyoning…basically any outdoor activity you can think of. There’s no limit to what you can do in the Swiss alps!
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