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: Schwarzmonch peak from Murren
And I’m Off!
With an aggressive plan for the day and the weather report looking questionable, I woke up early and went upstairs for my free hostel breakfast as soon as it opened. It was a pretty decent breakfast – with yummy Swiss cheese, French bread, yogurt, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. I indulged myself and then rushed to catch a bus to the Wilderswil train station, the closest Interlaken train station to the mountains which I caught with seconds to spare.
At the train station, I bought a ticket for my day’s itinerary: Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen to Wengen to Mannlichen to Grindelwald and back to Interlaken. It came to over $90, but I felt that this experience would be totally worth it. I barely caught the train on time and it took us up into the mountains along a river and beside beautiful cliffs.
I got off at Lauterbrunnen and took a short walk through the town, which was stunningly perched below huge mountains that were mostly shrouded in clouds at the moment. I stopped at a tourist information center and got directions on where to begin my loop hike to the car-free town of Murren.
I found the path to begin my hike a few blocks away next to the Hotel Silberhorn. I began climbing up on a paved path, passing frequent yellow signs which indicated the direction toward and time to allot for various destinations. After a few minutes, I started hearing cowbells and was delighted that the path crossed right next to countless pastures of cows, some of whom were very curious and friendly and came up closer to see me. All of them wore cowbells, which made the most peaceful sound and were a huge contributing factor to the completely unique vibe of this hike.
The hike was steep and at one point I followed a side dirt path that was more direct but even more steep to save some time. I had to get on my hands and knees at a few points and it was really tough, but it was fun to get onto a smaller path and make my way through the tranquil forest.
On the way up, which took probably about an hour and a half, I didn’t see a single other person! What I did get to see were incredible views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley (which is epically known as the Valley of 27 Waterfalls), the mountain town of Wengen on a hill across the valley, and more and more glimpses of the gigantic Swiss Alps peaks, including the largest of them all: Jungfrau.
At the top of the hill (mountain? mountain range? Idk), the path veered to the left and I soon had my first encounter with other humans, who happened to be farmers herding a dozen or so cows along the trail! I was delighted as I passed this hilarious roadblock and the farmers yelled at me in German to indicate the direction I should go. I continued for an hour on a mostly flat path toward Murren, finally encountering some fellow hikers as I passed the gondola station of Winteregg, several small waterfalls and creeks, and great views of the huge mountains across the valley.
The “Car-Free” Town
There are no roads to Murren, but as I finally walked into town, I did notice several vehicles and had to step off the road several times to let cars (mostly commercial-looking seemingly delivery vehicles) pass. So much for the car-free town I had heard about! I don’t know how these few cars got there, but it was a mostly car-free town so still cool.
Murren consisted mostly of homes, hotels, and restaurants. I walked over to a viewpoint area and got a breathtaking view of Jungfrau, other peaks, and gorgeous green valleys which hadn’t been in my line of vision so far on the hike. There was a tennis court next door – that would be a damn good place to get a game in! Back on the main path through Murren, I passed a trampoline that was covered in small rocks which confused me since it was one of those trampolines that had a cover over the top and saddened me since I wanted to jump on it.
Downhill At Last
Toward the end of town, I saw a sign toward Stechtelberg, a downhill town on the end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley that was my next destination before I looped back to my origin in the town of Lauterbrunnen. I now was on a small dirt path for my journey downhill. A few minutes out of town, I saw a couple playing with a cat on the trail; once the cat saw me, it ditched those boring people and ran over to show me some love. I had a great time cuddling with this mountain cat (to be clear, it was a small cat not a mountain lion lol) and struggling to get some selfies with it hehe.
Not long after, I passed a small pasture with a giant herd of cows hanging out right next to the trail and several tourists enjoying this fun encounter. I got an epic cow selfie and continued onward, passing an incredible hostel in the middle of nowhere with stunning mountain views and then a group of young guys struggling to mountain bike uphill on the trail – sure wasn’t jealous of them! 😅
Close to the bottom of the mountain, I passed over a creek and then a wonderful, fairly large waterfall. I felt like I was so close to the bottom and it was starting to sprinkle so I began jogging. I know that jogging downhill is bad for you, but I just had to this once 😇
Valley of 27 Waterfalls
Once downhill, I walked through the tiny town of Stechtelberg, passed another waterfall, went on a cute wooden bridge over a river with clear glacial water, and then connected onto the riverside path that would take me back to Lauterbrunnen. I was now in the Valley of 27 Waterfalls and would get to see quite a few of them!
At this point, it was raining quite hard. I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt and shorts since it was actually quite warm but had my trusty rainbow umbrella so the rain wasn’t a problem at all now that I was on a flat path. I passed two more waterfalls, the rain began to die down and be replaced by sunlight, and then found myself at the edge of Lauterbrunnen, which is quite a spread-out town! Soon after entering town, I passed the incredible Staubachfall Waterfall, which reminded me so much of Yosemite’s waterfalls as this thick layer of water rushed over a granite cliff.
I continued for 20 more minutes through this seemingly huge town and finally made it to the train station, where I boarded a rail to Wengen after a short wait. I enjoyed a lunch of trail mix and pretzels as we took the short ride up the mountain, which provided incredible views of Lauterbrunnen, the Valley of 27 Waterfalls, and the Jungfrau peak.
Lost in the Clouds
Once in Wengen, I took a short walk across the tiny town to the gondola which would take me to my highest point of the day: Mannlichen, a mountain peak with a restaurant, observation deck, and hiking. It was a large gondola that could hold probably up to 40 people, but there were only 5 of us plus the attendant who went up after a 15 minute or so wait. The ride up again provided stunning views until we got so high that we were shrouded in clouds and couldn’t see anything!
Once at Mannlichen, I left the gondola and walked a few hundred feet on a path to the other gondola that would take me downhill to Grindelwald. On this walk, I befriended a Swiss woman who had lived in D.C. for several years and was headed to a business meeting (!) at the Mannlichen restaurant. Such an extreme venue!
When I got to the downhill gondola, I realized that it was quite different from the large one I’d taken up. These were the small, seated 4-person gondolas and I got in one by myself. Once inside the gondola, I couldn’t see a thing but pure whiteness as I was completely enveloped in clouds. It was a surreal if creepy feeling. I noticed some text on inside the gondola that told me for the first time that this was the longest cable gondola in Europe! I realized I was in for a long ride.
A bit creeped out by being by myself in a gondola in a storm unable to see anything but the color white, I began to take selfies (including shirtless ones hehe 😂). Then I began to play music and belt out some hella fun karaoke to my favorite songs. It made this long, lonely ride a lot more fun!
After a while, the gondola finally took me beneath the clouds and I could see the surrounding hills and down toward the town of Grindelwald. There were these incredibly tall pine trees that almost reached the height of the gondola. Now the ride was even scarier since it was raining hard, windy, and the gondola kept rocking back and forth. I focused on my karaoke and after what seemed like forever, finally made it to the bottom, happy to have survived!
While I had escaped the rain on the other side of the mountain, it was still in full force here. I walked over to the nearest train station, where I soon boarded a train to the center of Grindelwald. Once there, I stopped at a tourist information booth on the main street and asked about any sights in town I should see. The worker didn’t have many specifics to share, but suggested a loop walk I could take to see most of the town which sounded perfect to me. I also saw a sign for free 2017 calendars; upon requesting one, I realized that it was huge but kept it anyway and lugged it across Grindelwald.
I walked down Dorfstrasse, Grindelwald’s main street, and passed plenty of charming hotels, restaurants, and homes. It’s a very cute town with quaint, historic-looking buildings. I made it to a small chapel toward the end of town, at which point I looped back toward the train station. Along the way, I saw a few sort of nice mountain views but it was cloudy and raining so it wasn’t nearly as magnificent as I’m sure Grindelwald is on a clear day.
I timed my walk perfectly to catch a train back to Interlaken. Soon after the train began to go downhill, the sun came out and the ride back was gorgeous with stunning cliffs, waterfalls, rivers, and meadows.
The Woodcarving Town
From the main Interlaken Ost train station, I transferred to a bus to Bonigen, a town only 10 minutes away known for its old wooden homes that have apparently survived for centuries without fire damage. I took the bus to the last stop on the edge of Lake Brienz (Brienzersee), the other large lake for which Interlaken is named (it’s right between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun). The weather was perfectly clear down here in the valley so the waterfront view was lovely and the mountains looked incredible.
I saw a map with suggested walking paths through town and led myself on one, curving between the main street and small side streets to see cute home after cute home (still lugging my giant Grindelwald calendar 😳). It only took about 20 minutes to see the whole town, so I then waited for the bus on the other end of town, taking a quick side walk to a pretty view on a bridge over the Lutschine River before hopping on a bus back to Interlaken.
After a quick bus ride back to the Interlaken rail station, I decided to walk back across town to my hostel since the weather was so much clearer than the day before. I spent the most time in the Hohematte meadow savoring the incredible view of the Jungfrau and Eiger mountain peaks I hadn’t been able to see at all the day before. This is the view for which Interlaken is famous and I was so thankful that blue skies had appeared and allowed me to enjoy it!
I relaxed at my hostel for a while, planning to have dinner at Coop, a food court near the train station. I caught a bus there, but once I arrived, I realized that it was closed (despite what Google Maps had said!). There were no buses back to my direction for a while, so I decided to walk despite the fact that I had painful blisters from my moist hike. I got to again savor the mountain views and actually ended up just getting a hella cheap and quite large cup of noodles and a pastry I hadn’t heard of before from a small Coop grocery store in the center of town.
I enjoyed my cup of noodles and vanilla pastry on my hostel rooftop, watching the sunset and enjoying the relaxation at the long day. I called it a night early so I could get an early start to the city of Luzern the next day!