We just finished a nine day trip to Zurich and Lucerne, and had a great time, thanks in no small part to the MySwissAlps website and forums. As others have said, the Swiss Travel Pass, Traveler’s WiFi, and SBB timetable app are must haves for an extended trip to Switzerland, especially if you don’t have a set schedule or itinerary. We used all three extensively, and I couldn’t imagine going back without them. The STP and timetable were wonderful for spur of the moment trips or unanticipated changes in plans, and several times we were able to catch a boat or train in the last few minutes because of them. The Travelers WiFi worked everywhere we went, trains, towns, boats, mountains, no matter.
Day 1 & 2 – Flew into Zurich in late afternoon, picked up the WiFi, took the train to the hotel about three blocks away from the train station, and got settled in. Not much time for walking, but we made up for that on the second day. We spent most of the day walking along the riverfront opposite the old part of town, exploring churches (Grossmunster Church should not be missed) and the Bahnhofstrasse, before finally working our way back to the train station where we found an Oktoberfest tent set up inside, just in time for a brat and beer lunch. Good thing too, we were hungry by then.
Day 3 – Caught an early train to Lucerne, checked into our hotel two blocks away from the train station, and headed for the boat dock for a trip to Vitznau and Mt. Rigi. We rode through the clouds for the mid part of the trip, but it was bright and sunny at the top. Although we couldn’t see the lake through the layer of clouds below, all the surrounding peaks poking up through the cloud layer were impressive. We came down to other side to Arth Goldnau and took the train back to Lucerne. Headed over the concrete pedestrian bridge across the river to have dinner at the Rathaus Brauerei, dodging many other tourists taking photos of the Chapel Bridge along the way.
Day 4 – We took the train to Alpnachstad, planning on taking the cogwheel train up to Mt. Pilatus, but since we got off to a late start, the next train up was 1:45 away. While we had a coffee trying to decide whether to wait or not, the next train sold out, pushing the time back 2:30 until we could go up. So we took the train back to Lucerne and hooped a boat downlake to Brunnen. While it was a nice sunny boat ride, the Victorinox Visitor’s Center wasn’t all that great and offered nothing you couldn’t find elsewhere, so we had a drink in the sunshine at the Waldstatterhof Hotel before hopping a train back to Lucerne. Had dinner at the Pfistern restaurant along the waterfront of old town, which was very good.
Day 5 – Took the train to Brienz for a trip up the Brienzer Rothorn on the oldest (and only?) steam-powered cogwheel railway in the mountains. Another trip through the clouds before breaking into sunshine before getting to the top. A bit too cold for a mountaintop beer, so we settled for coffee before heading back down. I will say that Lake Brienz is a startling turquoise blue when the sun hits it and we had an excellent view of it approaching town on the way down. Had a beer at a sidewalk café across from the train station before grabbing the next train back to Lucerne.
Day 6 – This was a lazy day, spent exploring old town Lucerne, including the old city wall and towers. Finding a small pasture with 3-4 cows grazing in it next to the high tower closest to the river was a bit of a surprise, and seemed odd in the middle of the city. We caught a boat to Weggis for a sunny lunch at lakefront Restaurant Oliv. As luck would have it, the next boat back was one of the old steam-powered paddlewheel boats, which exhibit a completely different style if interior furnishings than the newer boats.
Day 7 – We got off to a fairly early start and caught the train to Alpnachstad for another attempt at Mt. Pilatus, getting there 6 minutes before the next train headed up the mountain. Very steep incline, and the train seats are basically mounted at a 45-degree angle to compensate for it. Once again through the clouds before getting into brilliant sunshine at the top. The infrastructure at the top is much more extensive than at Rigi or Rothorn, with a modern entrance hall, huge terrace, hotel with large outdoor terrace, and several pathways up to the three small peaks at top. One unique feature is a small tunnel carved through one of the peaks, with multiple cut rock windows and viewing platforms overlooking all sides. Very scenic indeed. A quick beer on the terrace of the Pilatus Hotel before heading back down to catch a boat from Alpnachstad back to Lucerne.
Day 8 – We took a boat to Weggis for lunch, but Weggis is pretty small and most of the restaurants were closed, so we went back to Lucerne and a couple beers and pretzels along the river before picking up our bags from the hotel and taking a train back to Zurich.
Day 9 – Checked out of the hotel after breakfast and took the train to the airport for a midday flight out. We were sorry to be leaving. We weren’t even on the plane before I began hearing “We’ve got to come back.”
We chose the 1st class Travel Pass, but in reality, the difference between it and a 2nd class pass would probably not be that much on most trains, just a little less crowded on some trains. Still, I liked the 1st class section on the trains. However, it does make a difference on the boats because it gives you access to the upper deck, which usually has better seating, better views, and far fewer people. I did calculate the prices of individual tickets vs. the Travel Pass using the excellent spreadsheet linked in this site, and found we saved a bit over $80 each by buying the Travel Pass. And the convenience of changing trains or boats on the fly was wonderful.
All in all, it was a great trip!