I took a fast-paced 8-day solo Couchsurfing trip through much of Switzerland and Liechtenstein to see the region’s historic cities, mountain views, and top-notch hiking without breaking the bank. Follow my blog in its entirety or click here for a travel guide to Switzerland.
Photo: Unterseen from Alplodge Interlaken
Rain, Rain, Go Away
I was excited to head to Interlaken, a resort town that is the gateway to the Swiss Alps, but devastated that the weather for the two days I’d be there was very rainy according to the weather report (this luckily didn’t turn out to be completely true). Since I didn’t think I’d be able to hike that day, I opted to sleep in a bit and my Couchsurfing hosts graciously made me a savory breakfast. I bid them adieu and headed to the main train station, where I got on a train toward Interlaken.
The Tourist of Thun
Because of the weather, I decided that I might as well stop in a small town which I had heard good things about and was one of the stops right on my way: Thun. This town is so historic that settlement in this area dates back to 2,500 BC! Damn!
I exited the train and walked 5 minutes into the center of the town. I stopped at a hotel hoping I could pretend to be a guest checking in later that day and leave my things while I walked aorund. The friendly front desk attendant unfortunately asked for my name so that gig was up. I brilliantly thought of the cover story that I had forgotten which hotel I was staying at and needed to use the wifi to figure it out and she had no choice but to believe me and hand over the wifi password 😂
After enjoying some wifi time, I took off with giant backpack and suitcase in tow to explore the town, which is built on the intersection of the River Aare and Lake Thun (Thunersee). A large portion of Thun is actually on a small island in the River Aare. I crossed over to the other side of town and walked a few blocks down Obere Hauptgasse, one of the main streets lined with businesses and cool old buildings. I found a staircase heading up toward my main destination: Schloss Thun, the town’s castle. Unfortunately, it was a very long, excruciating steep staircase up which to lug all of my luggage 😳 but after some struggle I made it.
Schloss Thun was built in the 1100s and is a quintessential castle building that looks incredible perched above the city. It has a museum which I read was mostly a display of historic artifacts so I passed on it but did enjoy a walk around the castle grounds.
A Sweet Riverside Walk
Post-castle, I walked back downhill toward the river. I passed a restaurant that called itself “American food,” but had a picture of a sombrero and seemed to be serving Mexican-style food. At first, I found this funny; but then I realized it was actually quite cool since “American” more accurately refers to the entire Americas, not just us estadounidense people. The English language needs a better term for us!
Now walking along the river, I passed an ice cream shop and couldn’t resist getting my first cone of the trip. I ordered Kinder Bueno flavor (based off the hazelnut chocolate bar), which turned out to be the best decision of my trip. It was seriously the sweetest, most yummy ice cream cone I’ve ever had!
Continuing to enjoy my cone, I walked through the town’s covered bridge (Untere Schleuse). Anyone who has gone to New England with me (lol) knows that I love covered bridges and European-style ones are especially charming. It was also fun to watch the peaceful aquamarine blue water flowing by. I then made my way back to the train station, where I balked at the 1 franc admission price for the restroom, tried to find an unexposed bush, failed, and finally decided to hold it as I got on my train to Interlaken.
Interlaken is a tourist town. Not just a bit touristy, but definitely the #1 tourist town in Switzerland. All of the locals I met in Swiss cities on my travels scoffed at my mentions of Interlaken and expressed wonder that so many tourists went to such a basic place. I disagree! Despite it obviously having far more tourists than locals and a less authentic Swiss experience than other towns, Interlaken is an adorable town that is in the perfect location to explore the Swiss Alps, two of the country’s most beautiful lakes, and several other noteworthy towns. I definitely think it’s better to stay in Interlaken over a smaller town in the mountains like Grindelwald, Wengen, etc. just because it’s so much easier to access, has a more central location, and is likely to have better weather.
I departed the train at the Interlaken West station and walked 5 minutes to my hostel (Alplodge Interlaken) – most hotels are actually closer to this station than the main rail station so be sure to check ahead of time if you’re coming into town. Too early for check-in, I dropped off my belongings, got advice from the front desk attendant on where to go, and began a walk through town.
Hungry, I first walked toward the Balmers Hostel, a larger and more famous hostel than my own which was surrounded by the town’s cheap eats. I went to Xport Pizzeria and ordered a gyro sandwich for 9 franc which turned out to be gigantic and therefore a tremendously good deal! As I walked back toward the center of town, I ate about half of the sandwich and had to save the rest for later since I was so full.
I made it to Hohematte, the town’s very large central meadow. On clear days, it provides excellent views of the 2 peaks that tower over Interlaken; unfortunately, it was too cloudy at this moment to see much. I continued past Casino Kursaal, which is renowned for its beautiful gardens. I enjoyed the fountains and flowers and then crossed the River Aare to walk on the Riverside Walk, a path which follows the river for the extent of Interlaken. I was considering taking a gondola to the top of Harder Kulm which was known as providing the best view of Interlaken but it was 14 franc and I didn’t think I’d be able to see much in the cloudy weather so I passed.
I began to walk back toward my hostel down Hoheweg, Interlaken’s main street and center of activity. I first passed the town’s main church (Schlosskirche), an adorable small chapel with colorful stained glass windows inside. Next, I walked through the Garden of Friendship, a Japanese garden on the grounds of the Hotel Interlaken. It’s a very tranquil spot that pairs really well with the historic hotel building.
Passing by the Hohematte meadow again, I walked inside one of the town’s most elegant hotels: Victoria Jungfrau, named for the Jungfrau peak that is the area’s most famous mountain. I’m a fan and frequent visitor of fancy hotel lobbies, and I have to say that this was my favorite of all time! It’s historic and modern at the same time and there’s a beautiful unique shade of blue throughout. Definitely a great architectural sight to see in Interlaken.
Just steps past, I went to the top of the Metropole Hotel and shopping area to the approximately named Top of the Met rooftop restaurant. I had no interest in paying their exorbitant prices for a meal, but shamelessly walked around and enjoyed the panoramic views of Interlaken and surroundings. I later noticed this building from my hotel – it stands out because its 12 or so stories make it by far the tallest in Interlaken and it’s a super ugly concrete building. Who approved it?!
Back at my hostel, I gathered my things and walked over to a bus stop to catch a bus toward the St. Beautus Caves (Beatushohlen), which the front desk attendant had recommended as a good rainy day activity. I was also happy that staying at a hostel/hotel in town made me the proud owner of a pass granting me free transport on all of the city’s buses.
After a scenic 20 minute bus ride along Lake Thun, I got off the bus and was immediately awed at the sight of a giant waterfall flowing beneath a castle-like building. I took a 10-minute walk up a trail that looped back and forth around the waterfall and at the top, paid 14 franc to enter the caves. The ticket seller warned me that the caves were closing soon and that I wouldn’t have time to see all of them which to me meant “challenge accepted”!
I entered the caves through a turnstile and heard the sound of rushing water. For much of my time in the caves, a marked path followed alongside or above river rapids which made a really unique sound in such a closed and otherwise silent environment. I passed small ponds which had absolutely still water that perfectly reflected the cave walls, tons of stalactites and stalagmites, and even huge waterfalls. I mostly had it to myself which was wonderful since it’s a such a silent, tranquil place (besides the frequent and pleasing sound of rushing water). Defying the expectations of the ticket seller, I made it to the end and back.
What To Do, Where To Go?!
Having bused back to my hostel, I went to the hostel’s rooftop and enjoyed the beautiful view of the city and mountains (which were now more visible with most of the clouds gone) while eating the second half of my giant sandwich from lunch. I befriended one of my roommates who was from Korea and spoke perfect English; the friend he was traveling with didn’t speak much English so we had trouble communicating since my Korean is nonexistant. Most of the other people who hung out in the common area during my stay were also Korean and had a big fun group playing games and chatting, but unfortunately for me, they were only speaking Korean so I didn’t feel like it made sense for me to join.
After watching the sunset from the rooftop, I went for a dusk walk along the river and across a beautiful Covered Bridge that connects Interlaken to its rustic neighbor Unterseen. Unterseen is a far smaller and less touristy town with beautiful historic buildings, so it was a lovely place to take a walk. I passed a tiny park with parents playing with children – so cute. I walked by Unterseen’s chapel which was small but lovely (unfortunately closed for the night).
Back at my hostel, I struggled to plan out my next day up in the nearby Swiss Alps. There were so many options of towns to visit, trains and gondolas to take, hikes to do…plus the weather was supposed to be rainy so it was quite overwhelming. I walked across town to Balmers Hotel, Interlaken’s largest and most famous hostel, hoping it would be more social and I could meet some people. It sadly wasn’t much more social than my own hostel, but I did ask the front desk for help planning the next day and one of the attendants helped me formulate a great plan. I went back to my hostel and went to bed excited for my first European hiking day.