photo of tower near waterfront
Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Switzerland 101: 4 Northern Cities

Northern Switzerland is modern Europe at it’s most efficient. It’s a bit like the highways in New England. Sometimes picturesque and sometimes full of commercial buildings. All of the cities that we discuss today are all about an hour to hour and a half from each other by train


Basel is an art centric river port where so many of the river cruises start or end their voyages. With a few sites to see, Basal is a one and done kind of town. Walking through the busy downtown makes this working city a cement jungle. Much of the old world charm and creative art lies just under the surface past the utilitarian feel. Use it for its transportation hub.

  • Look for Basel to host the best festivals and have some of the best outdoor art.
  • Take a walk around the historic area for the few old world gems including the town hall.
  • Maybe stop at one of the many cosmopolitan stores and grab lunch from the deli. My favorite part was sitting by the fountain below. 
  • Above all know where the train station is to catch your train to the next destination. 


Zurich Modern Switzerland: Lots of buildings and perhaps missing a little bit of the charm that’s plastered all over Instagram. While the lakeside definitely is pleasing to the eye, the downtown and cement laden suburbs are built for swiss efficiency and modern living. That said, as always, the local people are so very nice and it makes the experience beyond worth it. Use it as a layover city.

people standing on a railway platform next to a train
Photo by Fede Roveda on
  • Enjoy a walk through the downtown lakefront while you wait for your plane.
  • The food is great and the ever efficient swiss train system will speed you right to the airport.


Lucerne is simply lakefront perfection, This gateway to the south of Switzerland does not disappoint. the entire lakefront and riverside areas as well as the surrounding countryside.  Use it for a perfect day trip.

tourists walking on wooden bridge near medieval tower
Photo by Gotta Be Worth It on
  • Use the Rick Steves’ walking tour to enjoy a lap around the historic old city center including the iconic bridges.
  • Enjoy a cruise on the lake whether by taking a charter or using your own power on a pedal boat.
  • Have your camera ready!


By far, Bern which is full of bears and boasts the unbelievably beautiful Aare river is a capitol well worth the time. The picturesque streets that begin at the main train station and continue all the way to the river views are full of interesting sites and wonderful shops. Bern is the perfect gateway to the south where some of the more famous vistas can be seen. Make it a home base for many of your day trips by train.

grizzly bear beside river and trees
Photo by Leonard Dahmen on
  • Check in with the Bern bear!
  • Enjoy the riverside square perched above the river just behind the cathedral. Then, get a book at the tiny library or take on a local with a game of Patong.
  • Join in the Swiss outdoor fun. Take a swim right down the Aare River like the locals. Here are the instructions.

Getting Around

The Swiss train system is one of the best in the world and well worth the time it takes to arrange a pass. Using the train system is very easy. Simply check the multilingual boards, find your track and hop on. Late trains are a rare bird so connections are sometimes close but totally doable.

man walking on train station
Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on

Driving in Northern Switzerland is a breeze. Modern roads and highways make this an enjoyable road trip country. Southern Switzerland is full of mountains covered in windy switchbacks. If that stresses you out, use the train and enjoy the view.

Where To Next?

brown wooden house and mountain reflecting on lake
Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Switzerland 101: 5 Experiences Not To Miss

Have you ever wondered about those fabulous activities that you see on youtube, tik tok, and tv? I always ponder whether or not those moments are VIP or available to the average traveler a.k.a. us! So, I’ve scoured a few of the coolest experiences I’ve come across in Switzerland and tracked down whether or not we can. Here are my top 5. Ready?

Swimming in a Swiss glacier river

Finding your way to Bern, Switzerland is a luxury in itself but as Samantha Brown found out there are a few quirky moments in this amazing capitol that might have you wondering what in the world is going on! Local do truly take their work clothes and toss them into a waterproof duffle bag and take the express current down the river home! It’s true! Yes you can! One word of warning, the currents in the Aare River can bit a bit swift, find a guide to help if you do not have a ton of swimming experience. Get a tiny glimpse with this hand held video showing the float from the water. It moves along at quite a clip!

Play With St. Bernard Puppies

Oh yes you can!!! According to the Barryland website, over 20 puppies are born in their breeding program each year. Much like sled dogs, the foundation encourages puppies to play with strangers so that they are even tempered in their subsequent training. The only catch? You need to be there when the puppies are and that’s completely up to mother nature!

Sliding down a mountain in the Alps

The Alps have been know for their swishing snowy slopes for centuries. Have skis? It’s for you! But what happens on some of these mountains in the Summer months when the snow is apres ski? You slide down that mountain toboggan style!!! Many little mountain resorts offer this super cool roller coaster during the warm months so that they can keep revenues up. Here’s an example of one in

Hiking in the Alps one way

One of the best traditions of old school tourism was the super cool trek through the Alps. Hiking from France to Austria was a right of passage for so many. But does that capability even still exist? It turns out, the answer is yes!!! The mountain hospitality of the past is alive and well with tons of modern day extras. For example, as you make your reservations, you can also opt for take ahead service which gets your bag to your next overnight spot for you. This means that if packing or carrying your bag was your barrier, you are all set. Check out how our old buddy feels about it then check in on some great guides that help you make the most of your journey.

Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Catch a Cruise from A Swiss City

No you say? I say “oh yes you can!” While Switzerland may be land locked, the great city of Basel is a prominent cruise port in the European river cruising industry. So, I’m not talking about a little swing around Lake Lucerne, I’m talking about a serious launching pad for travel well beyond the Swiss borders. Great companies such as Viking, Ama, and Uniworld all call Basal a homeport where they launch their iconic Mosel and Rhine cruising. Check out Samantha Brown’s take on this incredible take on this amazing experience. P.S. be sure to book into Basel a few days before your launch. It’s great town with an artsy feel.