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10 Best German Switzerland Cities and Towns to Explore

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by Darla Uhl

If you hear the words “German Switzerland,” you might picture a unique blend of Swiss and German culture, where the Swiss-German Schweizerdeutsch dialect is the primary language spoken. German-speaking Switzerland boasts the largest cities in the country, a substantial chunk of the Swiss Alps, and many historical landmarks. In this article, we’ll look at some of the best cities and towns to visit and discover in German Switzerland.

Image of Lucerne by

Discovering German Switzerland is a joy, with its well-preserved medieval old town in Bern, the picturesque lakeside town of Lucerne, and charming places like Solothurn and Schaffhausen.

Without further ado, here are some of the best cities and towns to visit in German Switzerland:

10 Best German Switzerland Cities and Towns

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The third-largest city in German Switzerland, Bern, is known as its Federal City. Bern is home to the federal government, international postal, and railway unions. With a UNESCO World Heritage site on its doorstep, its Old City in particular, Bern managed to retain its old-world charm.

Found west of central Switzerland, Bern is definitely more laid back than Zurich and Geneva. Flowing through the city of Bern is the River Aare, whose waters are crystal clear and turquoise. The city itself has its own share of interesting things to do. 

Wander through Gurten to take in the city’s sights and sounds. Following that, you can visit the bears (yes, real ones) and then walk further to explore the old city. In the city, you can walk along the 15th-century arcades, maybe go shopping a bit, or eat at one of the many restaurants. You’ll even come across some fountains from the 16th century on your way. Colorful figures and crafted pillars decorate the old city. 

Among Bern’s other notable landmarks are the Parliament Building, the Cathedral, and the Historic Museum, which is Switzerland’s second-largest historic museum. 

Don’t miss these attractions in Bern
* UNESCO World Heritage Old City of Bern
* Parliament Building
* Bern Minster Cathedral
* Historic Museum
* Bern Bear Pit (Bärengraben)
* Bern Zoo (Tierpark Dählhölzli)
* Zentrum Paul Klee
* Gurten

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The city of Lucerne is one of the most popular tourist spots in German Switzerland. In Lucerne, you’ll find everything you’d want in a typical Swiss city. The beauty of its fjord-like blue lake, charming old town, and mountains is unbeatable. For those who want to spend some time in Lucerne city, there’s so much to see: the Transport Museum, the Lion Monument, the Rosengart Collection, and Chapel Bridge, just to name a few. 

You can get around Lake Lucerne with the Lake Lucerne ship company. Various basins and bays provide exhilarating and changing views of the landscape on the lake – Stansstaad, Weggis, Buochs, Gersau, and Uri.

For those who want more details, we have an article about the best things to do in Lucerne: 9 Best Things To Do in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Don’t miss these attractions in Lucerne
* Lion Monument
* Chapel Bridge
* Transport Museum (Verkehrshaus)
* Rosengart Collection
* Glacier Garden
* Bourbaki Panorama

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Basel is the second-largest city in German Switzerland and one known for its numerous cultural attractions and excellent weather throughout the year. It is also quite close to France and Germany. Basel has also been included time and again in the list of most livable cities in the world.

Basel is also known as Switzerland’s cultural capital. It has more than 40 museums, including the Kunstmuseum, the Fondation Beyeler, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Additionally, it hosts Art Basel, an international art fair that attracts thousands of artists, art collectors, and art enthusiasts from Europe, the US, and Asia. 

One tradition that you might want to observe is the Basel Carnival festival. Sometime during the months of February and March, the country’s largest festival starts with what’s called the Morgestraich. It lasts a good 72 hours. As a highly anticipated and important tradition, the Basel Carnival was inscribed in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage back in 2017.

There’s more to Basel than just culture. Also in Basel are world-renowned institutions, like the University of Basel, the Bank of International Settlements, and FC Basel. Some of the biggest pharma companies are based in Basel, like Roche, Novartis, Lonza, and Actelion.

Don’t miss these attractions in Basel
* Kunstmuseum
* Basel Minster
* Fondation Beyeler
* Museum of Contemporary Art
* Art Basel
* Basel Carnival and Morgestraich (UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage)
* Zoo Basel

Image of Zurich from Polyterrasse by

Zurich is the most populous city in Switzerland.

Switzerland’s biggest and most populous city, it’s no wonder that people tend to visit Zurich. Home to the country’s biggest airport and train station, it is also logistically typically the easiest city to reach from abroad. It is located in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Zurich lies along the shores of Lake Zurich. It also has a charming old town and beautiful churches such as the Grossmünster and the Fraumünster. The city has a lot of restaurants, nightclubs, and bars compared to other cities in the country.

If you take the Polybahn up to the Polyterrasse, you will get fantastic views of the city. Another option is going up the Dolder. For those who want to see the greater Zurich area as well as see further away, Uetliberg Mountain is also relatively close.

For those who are interested in museums, Landesmuseum Zurich or the Swiss National Museum is right next to the Zurich Train Station. This castle-like museum is Switzerland’s most visited museum. You’ll find Bahnhofstrasse on the other side of the train station. This main shopping street (Bahnhofstrasse) has watches, jewelry, clothes, and souvenirs.

Don’t miss these attractions in Zurich
* Grossmünster
* Fraumünster
* St. Peter Church
* Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum Zurich)
* Polyterrasse and Polybahn
* Uetliberg
* Museum Rietberg
* Kunsthaus Zurich
* Limmat River Cruise

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My secret tip in German Switzerland is the city of St. Gallen. Admittedly, it is often overlooked but it is very charming. The city of St. Gallen is the location of the Cathedral of Saint Gall, a historic Catholic church from the Carolingian era. In 1983, UNESCO declared the Abbey Cathedral a World Heritage Site

The Abbey Library in St. Gallen, built around the same time as the Abbey Cathedral, has the oldest book collection in Switzerland, and one of the oldest and richest in the world. 

St. Gallen, in northeastern Switzerland, is just a few kilometers from Lake Constance. The old-world vibe of St. Gallen should appeal to those who love old cities. It’s a pretty city with 75,000 residents who mostly speak Swiss-German.

St. Gallen’s textile industry played a major role in Switzerland during the 19th and 20th centuries. Once, St Gallen was famous for textiles; embroidery was particularly valuable. St. Gallen’s Textile Museum is an excellent place to learn about textiles and the industry.

Don’t miss these attractions in St. Gallen
* Old Historic Town
* St. Gallen Abbey Quarter
* Abbey Library
* Textile Museum St. Gallen

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The best alpine city to visit in German Switzerland is without a doubt Chur. The city of Chur is the oldest in Switzerland, having been inhabited for more than 11,000 years. Early trade also made the city important.

You may have passed Chur en route to Davos, St. Moritz, or another mountain resort in the canton Grisons. It is also the starting point of the Bernina Express train, one of the most beautiful train journeys that you can take in your lifetime.

In 1803, canton Grisons (Graubünden in German) recognized Chur as its capital. Chur might not be your first choice to visit in Switzerland, but it is definitely an alpine city worth visiting.

Don’t miss these attractions in Chur
* Old Town of Chur
* Bernina Express Train
* St. Mariae Himmelfahrt Cathedral
* St. Martin Church
* Fontana Park
* Brambrüesch Mountain
* Rhaetian Museum

Described as the gateway to Bernese OberlandThun in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is also one of the biggest cities in Canton Bern. You can find it on the northern part of Bernese Oberland sitting on the northern edge of Lake Thun. 

Thun boasts of beautiful castles, the reformed town church on the Schlossberg, an old church, a park, an accessible lower bridge, and majestic views of the mountains.

Between April and October, you can take passenger boats on Lake Thun. Boats in Lake Thun stop in Interlaken West, Neuhaus (Unterseen), Beatushöhlen-Sundlauenen, Leissinge, Beatenbucht, Merlingen, Faulensee, Spiez, Gunten, Einigen, Gwatt Deltapark, Längenschachen, Oberhofen am Thunersee, Hilterfingen, Hünibach, and Thun.

Image of Thuner Wasserzauber by

If you happen to come by Thun in September or October, you might want to check out the water show called Thuner Wasserzauber. We have been there and I can highly recommend watching it (it’s free!).

Don’t miss these attractions in Thun
* Old Town of Thun
* Thun Castle
* Lake Thun
* Schadau Castle and Park
* Wocher Panorama
* Art Museum
* Scherzlingen Church
* Aare River
* Thuner Wasserzauber (September/October)

Solothurn is generally regarded as Switzerland’s most beautiful Baroque city. It is located in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, in the canton of Solothurn. The city is situated along the Aare River and at the southern end of the Jura mountain range.

Combining French charm with German practicality, Solothurn is a fascinating small city. The old town is a pleasant place to walk among historical monuments, patrician houses, and strong fortifications. It is closed to cars and has many small shops and hotels. Aside from its impressive past, Solothurn offers a wide range of contemporary art and entertainment.  

Image of Solothurn by

Those looking for a place with a stunning view should visit the St. Ursus Cathedral. With beautiful stained glass windows and interiors, this stunning Cathedral was built between 1762 and 1773 by the architects Gaetano Matteo Pisoni and Paolo Antonio Pisoni. It is the city’s main attraction.

Don’t miss these attractions in Solothurn
* St. Ursus Cathedral
* Historic Old Town
* St. Verena Gorge and Hermitage
* Jesuit Church of Solothurn
* Solothurn’s Clock Tower
* Museum of the Old Arsenal
* Weissenstein Mountain

If you would like to learn more about Solothurn, check out our article Solothurn – 9 Best Things to Do in this Beautiful Baroque City.

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One of the prettiest Swiss towns in German Switzerland, Schaffhausen lies in a wine-growing region bordered by Germany on three sides. Schaffhausen is a pretty town with baroque buildings and decorated facades in the medieval old town, as well as the 16th-century Munot Fortress.

Schaffhausen has many historical sites such as the All Saints Abbey, the Münster Schaffhausen, guild houses, and the Church of St. John. There are also other great attractions near Schaffhausen, such as Stein am Rhein and the Rhine Falls.

Don’t miss these attractions in Schaffhausen
* Old Town of Schaffhausen
* All Saints Abbey and Museum
* Munot Fortress
* Münster Schaffhausen

Image of Arbon by

Along the shores of Lake Constance is the charming, historic port city of Arbon in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Located in Canton Thurgau, it is not only an excursion destination but also a holiday region. Arbon also offers lots of possibilities for biking, hiking, and water sports.

While visiting Arbon, you can begin by strolling in its historic old town. You can also visit the following sites:

  • The Arbon Castle – is currently a regional historical and cultural museum. It also has a 33-meter-high tower
  • The Roman watchtower of the fort “Arbor Felix” was built back in 280
  • The Gallus Chapel from the 12th century was built in honor of the Irish messenger Gallus
  • St. Martin’s Catholic Church – is probably the oldest Christian community in Lake Constance

There are more historical buildings to visit aside from the list above. A more comprehensive list is available as a PDF from the Thurgau Bodensee tourist center.

Once you are done visiting the historic sites, you can also ride the Lake Constance ship, go to the swimming pools, or cycle along the famous Arbon terrain overlooking Lake Constance. For old-timer fans, the Saurer Museum presents 20 historic vehicles produced in Arbon (trucks, buses, military vehicles, and fire trucks).

Don’t miss these attractions in Arbon
* Old Town
* Arbon Castle
* Arbor Felix
* Gallus Chapel
* St. Martin’s Catholic Church
* Lake Constance
* Saurer Museum

If you want to read more about Arbon, check out our article The Historic Town of Arbon, Switzerland.

Final Thoughts: Best German Switzerland Cities and Towns

When visiting Switzerland, you’re likely to spend time in the German-speaking regions, as they make up a significant part of the country. While the culture here shares similarities with Germany, it also possesses distinctive traits. Swiss-German culture is marked by a commitment to neutrality in international matters and boasts more mountainous terrain compared to its larger neighbor to the north. I have visited all of the cities and towns mentioned above and can vouch that these are all worth visiting.

Key places to explore in German Switzerland include its three largest cities – Zurich, Bern, and Basel. Additionally, you have other charming towns Solothurn and Thun, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Abbey Center in St. Gallen. Lucerne is also special, with its Chapel Bridge and numerous tourist attractions, as well as Chur in conjunction with riding the Bernina Express train.

I can highly recommend that you check out some of the best cities and towns in German Switzerland. Enjoy your stay!

In case you would like to discover the Italian and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, you can check out the following articles:

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Darla Uhl is the owner of Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.

Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.

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