Although definitely not easy to navigate on a budget, Interlaken remains one of the most stunning destinations 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 highly recommend booking your weekend trip through Bus2alps. With so many activities to chose from, it can be very useful to have knowledgeable guides ready to help you at the drop of a hat. Keep scrolling for a list of my favorite budget activities in Interlaken!
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 very expensive, but it’s also a popular destination for study abroad students. Thankfully there are plenty of great hostels options to chose from in the center of town.
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 in the middle of town and is also home to the only nightclub in Interlaken, Metro Bar. Balmers Hostel is the perfect accommodation for any student or solo-travelers and is the best place in Interlaken to have a few drinks and make some friends!
Backpackers Villa Hostel
Another great option in the same part of town, Backpackers Villa trades the cutesy decor for a functional feel (picture a Swiss version of IKEA). The hostel faces Harder Kulm and the paraglider’s landing field and is only a short walk from the center of town.
Switzerland takes the Swiss franc, which is convenient for Americans because the conversion is currently 1:1 with the U.S. dollar. When withdrawing cash in Interlaken, make sure to withdraw from bank ATMs and avoid currency conversion booths and Euronet ATMs.
What to do in Interlaken
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 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 points 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 planted firmly on the ground.
A lot of the best activities 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. Browse through the activities they offer on their website!
Kayaking is one of my favorite activities to do in any season, so I obviously jumped at the chance to join a winter kayaking trip on Lake Brienz in early February. Hightide Kayak School runs a fantastic 3-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
Interlaken, and Switzerland in general, is home to some of the best skiing in the world! In the winter months the town is filled with 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 offered anywhere besides Interlaken. During my second Orientation with Bus2alps, the company took us all night sledding and it was terrifyingly amazing. Picture a pitch-black Interlaken night with a sky full of stars 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.
Stroll to 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 minute walk from both of the hostels.
If you’re looking for a fantastic sunrise, Lake Brienz is the place to be. If you’re hoping 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 while traveling. Picture a stunning blue lake framed on all sides by the Swiss alps and littered with grazing cows.
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. But 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 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 some snacks 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).
…and admire the views along the way.
On our way from Bachalpsee Lake to Bort, we got caught in a herd of cows that Swiss shepherds were trying to bring in for the night. And yes, they were actually yodeling.
Hike to Harder Kulm: The Top of Interlaken
Another great way to spend a day in Interlaken is hiking up to Harder Kulm! Taking roughly three hours straight up, this hike is anything but 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. Unless you get tired and decide to take the funicular, the hike to Harder Kulm is the perfect budget activity in Interlaken! We contemplated jumping in Lake Brienz after, but sadly didn’t have time before our orientation activities.
Have a Drink at the Hotel Metropole Rooftop Bar
If you follow me on Instagram (@madisonsfootsteps), you know I love a good rooftop bar. To be franc (haha) the outside of Hotel Metropole is an ugly eyesore. However, the hotel is stunning on the inside and they have a killer rooftop bar. Prices are very reasonable, even for Switzerland, and you’ll have a view of both Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. A drink on this rooftop makes for a perfect evening and is one of my favorite budget activities in Interlaken!
Ride the Gondolas to Schilthorn
As one of the highest points in Europe, Schilthorn was the filming site of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and is now home to a James 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!
Take a Chocolate Making Class at Funky Chocolate Club
If you wouldn’t describe yourself as an “adrenaline junkie,” a chocolate making class is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Interlaken. The best chocolate making classes in town are put on by Funky Chocolate Club and it’s always a good idea to book in advance.
Even if you’re not in the mood to learn how to make chocolate, I would definitely suggest stopping by for a hot cocoa. I’ve had some pretty amazing hot chocolate in my life, but nothing compares to the mind-blowing hot chocolate at Funky Chocolate Club. 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!
Skydiving and Paragliding
Although I prefer activities that require my feet firmly planted on the ground (or in a kayak), a lot of tourists flock to Interlaken for the skydiving and paragliding. Both activities are extremely weather-dependent. If you have your heart set on one, or both, I would suggest booking it for the first day of your vacation. That way, if it gets pushed back due to weather concerns, you’ll have plenty of other opportunities to reschedule.
Book your skydive through Skydive Switzerland.
Where to Eat in Interlaken
Switzerland has no shortage of yummy food, but 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-like hotel, The Hirschen Hotel is just down the street from both hostels and serves traditional Swiss fondue. Swiss fondue is yummy, but it’s different from any fondue I’ve had in the U.S. 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 delicious. If you don’t like apples with your cheese, they have a large menu with lots of other great options (and a great beer list!).
Although probably the most expensive restaurant on this list, Layaly Beirut serves fantastic Lebanese food. Everything we ate was delicious and the staff was super friendly. Unfortunately, seeing the check at the end of the night hurt a little bit. Layaly Beirut is 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. Little Thai has a great location right outside of Balmers and is 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 Interlaken, the staff is really friendly and the food is delicious!
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 my two favorite hostels.
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 the cafe into a bar at night and also offer a great selection of tap 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 better place in Europe to skydive than in Interlaken. You could also book 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!
And if you’re planning on seeing more beautiful destinations in Europe, make sure to check out more of my guides to the region’s top destinations! Like…A Beginner’s Guide to the Amalfi Coast, How to See Dubrovnik in a Week and What to See in Lisbon.
If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to follow my blog and my adventures on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps!
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