Interlaken or Lucerne: Which Swiss City to Visit?

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by Neota Langley

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If you are planning a trip to central Switzerland, you are sure to have asked yourself – Interlaken or Lucerne. Both offer crystal-clear alpine lakes and snowcapped surrounding mountains, characterful medieval buildings and traditional Swiss cuisine. With only 60 km between the two, there are plenty of similarities, but each offers something unique.   

The biggest difference is in size. Interlaken is a town with an intimate, rustic feel, whereas Lucerne is a vibrant city full of hustle and bustle.

In general, choose to visit Interlaken if you’re looking to engage in adventure and to really make the most out of exploring the Swiss Alps. On the other hand, Lucerne is a great choice for those after a small city vibe with gorgeous lakeside scenery and plenty of things to do.

Deciding between the two can be a difficult task, there are plenty of memorable activities on offer in both places. Use this guide to help you discover which destination to choose in this ultimate Swiss showdown.   


A popular tourist destination in central Switzerland, Interlaken is well-known for its breathtaking natural beauty and outdoor adventure pursuits, including skiing, hiking, and paragliding. Tucked between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, this charming town is surrounded by the picturesque Bernese Alps, offering stunning views of alpine meadows and timber-framed buildings.

Interlaken Town
Interlaken Town


When considering a trip to either Lucerne or Interlaken, accessibility is often first on the agenda. 

Both destinations are served by Bern and Zurich airports, depending on where you are flying in from. Interlaken is closer to Bern, but accessing this town from the more major, Zurich airport is equally as convenient using the airport transfer service. 

The Swiss rail network is efficient and affordable, so it is easy to reach Interlaken from nearby locations such as Zurich, Grindelwald, Geneva or further afield. Make sure to book a window seat on the train to enjoy views of the snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes as you journey into the town. Click here to view train schedules.

Interlaken is a relatively small town, so once you have arrived, the centre and immediate surroundings can be explored on foot.

The town centre is based around a 700m long boulevard, lined with shops and cafes, but if you want to explore the scenic valleys that surround this town and take part in some of the outdoor pursuits this area is known for, you may have to use public transport or hire a car.

However, if you are participating in an organised activity, several providers offer transfers from Interlaken to the starting points. 

The bus network is well connected, with regular local buses to whisk you away to nearby villages, cablecars or trailheads.

Train Station in Interlaken
Train Station in Interlaken


It’s no secret visiting Switzerland can be expensive, but it’s easy enough to explore this beautiful area, whatever your budget. When it comes to cost, Interlaken vs Lucerne are on a similar level, but there are some minor differences to bear in mind. 

Interlaken is commonly referred to as the ‘Adventure Capital’ of Switzerland, home to a myriad of activities from skiing to paragliding, scuba diving, to white water rafting and it’s a great place to get your adrenaline pumping. Because of all the activities on offer, spending a little more during your stay in this town may be easier. 

Generally speaking, eating out in cafes and restaurants in both places will cost the same but seeing as Interlaken is a much smaller town, there are a handful of smaller, rustic restaurants frequented by locals that tend to be slightly cheaper than those in the town centre. 

It is a similar story when it comes to accommodation. There are plenty of options in both destinations, from campsites to 5-star hotels and everything in between.

Prices are roughly the same, but again, Interlaken can be slightly cheaper especially if you head out of the town centre to a nearby village.

If you are visiting as part of a wider trip around Switzerland, purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass is an excellent way to save on travel. This pass, available to tourists, offers unlimited travel by boat, train or bus and also gives you a 50% discount on mountain railways such as the nearby Jungfraujoch. 

Train from Jungfraujoch
Train from Jungfraujoch

Things to do in Interlaken

Interlaken is truly one of those places that has something to suit everyone, whether you are dreaming of a relaxing break, evolving a serene boat trip surrounded by incredible views or an adventure-fuelled, high-adrenaline holiday tearing up the mountain bike trails or leaping from a plane above the lakes.   

For the perfect view across the town, lakes and out to the dramatic Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains, head up to Harder Kulm – a spectacular viewpoint perched 1,300m in the air.

You can either hike up the 700m or take the funicular railway. Visit on a clear day for sunset to experience views you will never forget.  

One of the most popular activities in this region is paragliding, if you have a head for heights, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and is well worth doing. Soar above the town, with views across the Swiss Alps and beyond. There are several companies offering tandem flights such as this paragliding experience.

Interlaken is also a cultural hotspot, with several museums dotted around the town and the Interlaken Augustinian monastery and castle, which is free to enter.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Switzerland without sampling some of the iconic cuisine. There’s nothing quite like tucking into a Swiss fondue, a bubbling cauldron of melted cheese served with bread and charcuterie. Other alpine dishes include raclette, rosti and Älplermagronen. Don’t forget to pick up some world-renowned Swiss chocolate for dessert.    

Interlaken is the perfect base for exploring the local area, acting as a gateway to the Jungfrau region. Iconic Swiss villages such as Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen are close by and can be easily reached by car or by public transport.

During the summer months, this area comes alive with hikers and mountain bikers. Scenic trails snake through pine forests and out into alpine meadows.

Winter sports are also popular in the region from Dec – April, covering 2 valleys, there are 211 km of perfectly groomed pistes to enjoy. You could also opt to go to nearby Mount Titlis for excellent skiing.

Harder Kulm Viewpoint
Harder Kulm Viewpoint

Where to Stay in Interlaken

Swiss Inn & Apartments – Located in a quiet, residential area outside the centre of Interlaken, this hotel is a great option for mid-range visitors to this alpine city. They offer a number of clean and comfortable rooms along with apartments.

Hotel Interlaken – If you’re looking for a luxury stay in Interlaken then this hotel is a great choice. Offering a number of opulent rooms to choose from, they also have plenty of other grand amenities along with a great location in the city.

Interlaken City Apartments – Those looking for a self-catering option in Interlaken will love these fully-furnished apartments. They have a number of different flats to choose from that come equipped with all you need and a great location.

Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof – This hostel in the centre of Interlaken is great for solo and budget visitors to this city. They offer both dorms and private rooms along with breakfast being available each morning.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Interlaken hotels!

Lake Brienz in Interlaken
Lake Brienz in Interlaken


Lucerne is a charming Swiss city perched on the banks of the Ruess River and the magnificent shores of Lake Lucerne. Surrounded by the serene Swiss Alps, this is a city that feels at one with nature. Lucerne is a popular destination and it’s not hard to see why.

Incredible views combined with mediaeval architecture, historical landmarks, mountain excursions and of course, the mouth-watering Swiss cuisine. 


Both destinations have excellent transport links, but seeing as Lucerne is a larger city, you will find there are more direct transport links for onward travel here. If you are visiting as part of a day trip on your way through Switzerland, you may find that Lucerne is the more convenient option. 

If you are arriving into Switzerland by plane, Zurich is the main airport for reaching Lucerne. Bern airport is also nearby if Zurich is not a viable option. Both airports offer excellent rail transfer services into the city centre, taking around an hour from both airports. 

Once you have arrived in Lucerne, you will be able to explore primarily on foot. Although it is a larger city, most of the attractions are concentrated around the old town, so there is no need to take a bus or drive between them. 

Public transport around Lucerne is excellent, with buses and trains covering the majority of local villages, other nearby cities and nature spots. There is also a scenic boat service across the lake if you want to visit Mount Pilatus, starting in Lucerne and terminating in Alpnachstad, where the cog railway begins. 

Lucerne's Old Town
Lucerne’s Old Town


When deciding on Lucerne vs Interlaken, affordability is an important factor. Both destinations are on the more expensive side of travel within Western Europe, but don’t let that put you off. 

Being a more major city, Lucerne can be slightly more expensive, especially in the main tourist areas. Whether you are using Interlaken or Lucerne as a base, budget options for activities, hotels and restaurants can be discovered if you head out of the central zones. 

To save some extra pennies, remember to pick up any essentials before arriving, as the supermarkets can be pricey. 

Lucerne is home to plenty of free activities, and many of the iconic must-see places such as Chapel Bridge and the Lion Monument can be explored free of charge. 

Hiking is one of the most popular summer activities in this area, and it is a great way to immerse yourself in the beautiful surroundings without spending a penny. A ride on a cableway can cost anywhere from 20CHF for hikers, but you don’t have to pay to experience beautiful views.

Plan a route online using the Swiss Topo, where you can discover all of the official hiking trails for free.  

The public transport system in Switzerland is excellent – efficient and affordable. If you want to explore the wider area, the Swiss Travel Pass is available to travellers and will provide you with unlimited travel by train, bus or boat for the duration of your ticket. You can also get 50% off mountain railways, including Pilatus. 

Chapel bridge
Chapel bridge

Things to do in Lucerne

Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of activities in Lucerne, from historical and cultural sites to breathtaking natural scenery and outdoor pursuits.

The Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) is perhaps one of the most iconic symbols of Lucerne. A covered wooden pedestrian bridge with stunning paintings overhead from the 17th century.

Wander across the bridge, taking in the views across the lake, then explore the nearby Water Tower, a famous structure that was formerly a prison and a torture chamber. You can explore independently or with a guide such as on this city walking tour.

Another popular destination a short walk up the hill from the Old Town is the Lion Monument (Löwendenkmal). A thought-provoking sculpture of an injured lion carved into a sandstone cliff commemorates the Swiss Guards who lost their lives during the French Revolution. 

For art enthusiasts, the Rosengart Collection displays an impressive collection of works by renowned artists such as Picasso, Klee, and Chagall. Visitors can also explore the Richard Wagner Museum and the Bourbaki Panorama, a massive painting that depicts the French army’s retreat during the Franco-Prussian War.

Lucerne is an excellent base for exploring the Swiss Alps. The city is the starting point of several hiking trails, the sound of cowbells echoing across the valleys. One of the most popular ways to explore the nearby mountains is by taking a boat across the lake to the Mount Pilatus area.

You can reach the top by taking a cogwheel train and then a cable car up above the clouds. There are several activities to do at the summit, including tobogganing, ziplining and paragliding.

You will also find cafes and restaurants with panoramic views where you can enjoy typical Swiss cuisine. It is also possible to go on an organised trip here like on this half-day tour or this half-day tour.

If you’re visiting during the winter months, there is also the opportunity to go skiing in Rigi Kaltbad, a nearby ski resort.

Mount Pilatus
Mount Pilatus

Where to Stay in Lucerne

Hotel Central Luzern – This 3-star hotel is perfect for those visiting this Swiss city on a mid-range budget but want to stay in a central location. They have several different rooms to choose from along with breakfast and on-site parking.

Cascada Boutique Hotel – Luxury visitors will love this quaint boutique hotel in central Lucerne. Located close to all this beautiful little city has to offer, they have a range of gorgeous and comfortable rooms to choose from and plenty of great amenities for guests.

KoBi Apartments Hirschenplatz – If you’d like to have your own flat while visiting Lucerne, then these apartments and an excellent choice. Fully furnished with everything you may need, they are centrally located and there are several different flats to choose from.

Backpacker’s Lucerne – Those looking for a great budget option will love this highly-rated hostel in the centre of Lucerne. Offering both private rooms and traditional dorm beds, they also have good common areas and self-catering facilities.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lucerne hotels!

Town of Lucerne
Town of Lucerne

Interlaken vs Lucerne: Which is Better to Visit

Whichever destination you choose, one thing is for sure. You are guaranteed to experience picture-perfect views and make memories that will last a lifetime. 

At first glance, it may seem as if these lakeside destinations are very similar. Both offer incredible views across the Swiss Alps, glistening turquoise lakes and a wide range of activities to suit all travellers. But there are a few key differences to bare in mind. 

If you are looking for more of a city experience, Lucerne is the option for you. There is certainly more going on in terms of culture, and spending 1, 2 or 3 days in Lucerne will give you plenty of opportunity to explore everything this city has to offer.

Whilst Lucerne also offers beautiful natural surroundings and access to outdoor pursuits, it’s definitely the place to go if you thrive in the vibrant atmosphere of a city.   

Interlaken is a much smaller town, but if you are looking for an action-packed adventure holiday, it doesn’t get much better than this. The scenery is more dramatic, giving you the feeling of being in the heart of the mountains.

Interlaken is also the perfect base for exploring Jungfrau and the valleys below, so if you want to fully immerse yourself in the alpine environment this is the perfect destination. 

Regardless of which city you choose, consider buying a travel insurance policy before you leave for your trip. Heymondo offers flexible policies which covers delays, unforeseen medical expenses & more!

Of course, it is entirely possible to visit both Lucerne and Interlaken during a tour of Switzerland. They are only 60km apart and there is a direct train running between the two, taking around 2hrs. But, take into account your main priorities before deciding on whether to use Lucerne or Interlaken as a base. 

Are you trying to decide between Interlaken and Lucerne? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Neota Langley

Neota is a writer for The World Was Here First. Born and bred in Cornwall, she can usually be found with hiking boots on, ready to embark on an adventure. For the last 6 years, she has travelled throughout Europe in her self-built campervan with her trusty canine companion, Ivy. She loves exploring France, the Nordics and spending time in Alpine destinations.

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