This is going to be a quick stop on Zurich and Grindelwald. Last year I had the pleasure of spending my birthday in Switzerland and boy was I in for a treat!
I decided to rent out a car as I was staying in Zurich but also wanted to do a day trip to one of the Swiss Alps. Switzerland is known for it’s beautiful views and mountains so how could I not visit and see the majestic landscapes? A few articles that I read mentioned that the Swiss public transport system was very efficient and could not be faulted however, it calculated to be a lot cheaper, more time efficient and less effort (for me anyway) to go by car.
Note: We used approximately half a tank driving from Zurich to Grindelwald and back and the average cost for half tank of petrol: CHF 40.
Switzerland is also known to be one of the most expensive countries but I managed to find a decently priced hotel on booking.com. In Zurich I stayed at 25hours Zurich West, a cool and quirky chain. For you instagram lovers – almost everything is instagrammable. An additional feature we wanted was a car park (exciting I know!), which we ended up getting for free as a birthday treat otherwise, parking is CHF 25/day.
Hotel: 25hours Zurich West
After passing through security and customs I met with my friend who had been waiting for me at the airport however, greetings were short lived as we had to rush off to the car rental (at the airport). Note: The car rental closes at 23:30, so ensure you get an early-ish flight to give yourself sufficient time to collect your car. My flight had landed at 22:00 and whilst you think that would be enough time – I almost missed it.
Driving out of the airport was an embarrassing mission. We spent ages trying to figure out which way the exit was and although we had the satnav on we still missed the exit signs (mainly because the signs were in German). After looping in and out of the car park, we made it out and to our hotel.
Hours of Google-ing led me to the decision of visiting Grindelwald, which is a village surrounded by several mountains and many fun activities to do whilst on one of the mountains (for more information on Grindelwald scroll below to Grindelwald extras). My friend and I set off at 06:00 in the morning and after a fun drive of singing and bopping to music we arrived at Grindelwald at around 10:00. Note: Parking is super easy and there are plenty of places/spaces to park your car. Prior the trip I was slightly worried about where to park but once in Grindelwald, everything is well sign-posted so it wasn’t a problem.
Once parked up, we headed towards the gondola’s that would take us up Mt First. You can choose to hike it up (which would take approx 2.5hours) or if you’re feeling a little lazy or short for time (like us); take the gondolas. At the ticket counter you have the option of buying just the gondola return ticket or the gondola pass with activities to do up the mountains. If you’re unsure whether you want to do the activities, you have the option of buying it whilst you’re there. However, I would highly recommend buying the pass with the activities as it calculates to be cheaper. Due to time constraints we bought the gondola pass with two activities and I already had in mind, which activities I wanted to do.
We hopped onto the cable cart and made our way up the mountain, which took about 25minutes. Up the mountain, the sun was shining, the skies were blue and the cowbells were ringing. It was beautiful and better than I had imagined. My friend and I explored the area when we came across the “cliff walk”. The cliff walk is a bridge on the side of the mountain where you’ll come across a few obstacles (requiring you to duck) and you’ll eventually end up at a picture point. Highly recommended, as you’ll get an incredible view of the Eiger however, get there early as queues can get quiet long. We waited around 20minutes before we made it to the front of the queue to take a picture.
After walking and exploring, we had built up an appetite and so, we head towards the mountain restaurant. A hot cooked meal was priced at approximately CHF 15-20. As I’m a vegetarian, my options were limited and considering the price paid for the food, I would recommend bringing a packed lunch. The Bailey’s latte on the other hand, was quite yummy.
After stuffing ourselves with a load of carbs, we head towards the First flyer, which is a zip line down part of the mountain. It looked scary and very high. Every step I took towards it, my heart rate increased that bit more. Once zipped up, I held onto my GoPro tight, close to my chest. The doors opened, I took one look down and screamed as I was pushed away. It wasn’t so bad. It was a pleasant flight and I actually felt like I was flying. With breath-taking views of the mountains and the wind blowing in my hair – I loved every second of it. The zip line felt like it last a long time and I’m sure I was told that it would last about 5 minutes, but I’m not complaining.
As soon as we hit ground, I was still shivering with excitement. Next to the landing, were the mountain karts. Onto our next activity. We put our helmets on, jumped onto the kart and let gravity work its magic. Speeding down the mountain was so much fun! The views again; incredible. Every now and again I would stop to take picture snaps. The mountain kart (along with picture stops) took us around 45 minutes. Also, along the way we passed some cows… Note: stay away from the red tape around the cattle – it has electric currents running through it and can give you a shock. I obviously learned the hard way.
The kart trail ended half way down the mountain. From there we handed in our helmets and karts, and head towards the gondola’s, which took us back down to the bottom.
Leaving Grindelwald was sad. If you’re not short for time I would definitely recommend lodging a night or two as there was much more to explore and other mountain activities to try out (scroll down to see the list).
Whilst we were driving back we decided to pass by the lake in Interlaken. Again, this is another place I would recommend visiting if you have more time. A lot of tourist websites organise day bus tours from Zurich to Grindelwald and Interlaken so, if you want to do a quick stop tour, a bus tour is another option to consider.
Note: this is a small touch of Zurich as we only spent an evening and a morning here but I have listed a few places we were recommended by a friend.
After driving back from Grindelwald, we were hungry. Switzerland is known for it’s cheese and I really did not want to leave without trying the fondue. We were recommended a place called Frau Gerald, which was really cool and quirky looking. If you’ve been to Shoreditch in London, then you’ll notice the similar vibes to it. Lot’s of coloured light bulbs hanging from tree to tree, an open bar with live cooking, and we soon discovered that there was no fondue. Note: fondue is a winter dish and commonly served almost everywhere in Switzerland but during the winter season. Though, there are a few places that do still serve it all year around. When we asked, we were told that Fondue season starts mid October – we were a few days early. But we had a few more recommended restaurants on our list and finally got there in the end.
So, we ended up at a restaurant called Walliser Keller, which was a little quieter with candle lit tables and a hygge atmosphere. By the end of night I was forever finished with cheese. We tried the Mountain cheese mix fondue. The rich flavours can get a little sickening after a few bread pieces – even if you are washing it down with some wine, so if this is your first time trying a fondue then go for the simple cheese fondue.
The following morning we caught a tram into central Zurich. The trams are super easy to catch and very efficient. You can choose to either Google map your routes or if you’re feeling old school, outside each tram stop you have a map, a ticket booth and the schedules so not to worry if you’re worried about getting lost.
A friend recommended Conditorei Peclard im Schober for brunch, which is a cute café (see pictures below), located in what is commonly known as the sweet corner in Old Town Zurich. The busy tables outside the café may put you off even going inside, but not to fear, as there are many tables inside the café. As soon as you enter there are tables piled with chocolates, biscuits and tinned sweets. By the counter you have cheesecakes, tarts and creamed cakes.
I know I mentioned that I’m vegetarian however, since it was my birthday, I decided to have a cheat day. For brunch I had the salmon and soft cheese bagel, which was slightly disappointing. But I did manage to steal a bite from my friends’ eggs royale that was a lot tastier. The hot chocolate is definitely recommended. The thickest and richest hot chocolate I have ever had in my life. By the end, I was on a sugar high – no cake for me!
After, we strolled through the cobbled alleyways of Old Town (Altstadt) admiring the colourful shop displays and cute cafes. We visited a few points of interest, which included Lake Zurich. During the summer months, you can even go for a dip in the lake or even hire out a paddleboat.
Hassenburg Hotel (Japan on a budget)
This was an unusual treat. Located just outside Zurich in the countryside, this hotel is designed to give you a Japanese experience. Yoshi, our extremely friendly and polite housekeeper, showed us to our room. The rooms are like a small apartment. As you slide open the Japanese style doors, you’re greeted by the strong scent of lavender. You walk into the reception then, another set of sliding doors, which brings you to the dining room and another which lead you to the bedroom and so on. We were also provided with clogs and kimono’s to use in the apartment, as shoes worn outdoors should be left outdoors. Outside on the balcony, a hot tub overlooking the countryside then, inside, another hot tub with your personal sauna.
Downstairs, there are 3 restaurants; the gourmet Kaiseki restaurant, Usagiyama the à la carte grill and Kappou restaurant Irori, and the sushi bar restaurant Nouveau. Seeing as we were dining at the sushi bar, I had a cheat day and became pescatarian for the evening. This was another delightful experience. Yuki, our chef, put on a small show whilst he prepared the sushi. He then placed it on the conveyer belt that delivered the food around the bar. You can make requests from the menu or simply pick up a plate. The food was exceptional and definitely recommended. To top it off at the end, a sweet treat with birthday wishes from everyone.
Country: Switzerland Capital: There is no capital; Bern is the federal city and Zurich; the largest city
Head of state: Switzerland has a collective head of state. The seven-member Federal Council also doubles up as the country’s cabinet
President (2018): Alain Berset.
Religion: Language: German, French and Italian
Currency: Swiss Franc
Time Zone: GMT+1
Switzerland is well known for its mountains, skiing, snow, cheese, chocolate, banks, watches, cuckoo clocks, cows and high prices. The excellent transport system allows efficient travel and less congested roads. Known as one of the safest countries in the world, here strangers greet each other with “good morning” and “goodbye” when leaving a shop. But beyond these real clichés, is an intricate and layered reality.
Switzerland is surrounded by France, Italy, Germany and Austria. Therefore, depending on what part of Switzerland you’re in, you’ll notice the language and cultural differences between each region. Switzerland also has the highest foreign to resident ratios in the world and whilst the Swiss culture is characterised by diversity, the Swiss are also extremely protective of their culture and traditions.
Entry requirements (2018)
Europeans don’t need a visa to enter Switzerland.
Gondola adult prices (October 2018)
+ 1 activity CHF 67
+ 2 activities CHF 86
+ 3 activities CHF 104
+ 4 activities CHF 120
Prices may be cheaper if you’ve bought the Swiss Travel pass. But for more information on prices check out: www.Jungfrau.ch/adventure-package
Activities whilst on Mt First:
- First flyer – which is basically zip lining down a 800-meter long steel cable. A lot of fun and definitely recommended!
- First glider – Similar to the first flyer but initially pulls its four passengers up from Shreckfield to First, and then glides headfirst back down.
- Mountain cart – it’s just like go-karting except you’re karting down a mountain and it was so much fun! If you only had one activity to choose from this is something I would definitely recommend. Gravity rolls you down the mountains with only breaks that control your speed. The views along the way down are stunning and you can always stop to take a picture or two.
- Trotter biking – not quite a scooter but also not a bike. You stand upright on a wide footboard and scoot down the mountain to the very bottom. Again not an activity I tried but definitely looked like a lot of fun.
Other things to do see in Grindelwald:
- Hiking – hike routes and maps available when you get there
- Lake Bachalp – the blue gem