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Geneva vs. Interlaken: Which is Better?

(Last Updated On: January 29, 2024)

Geneva vs. Interlaken: Two of Switzerland’s Most Popular Tourist Bases

Geneva and Interlaken are two of Switzerland’s most popular tourist regions. On the one hand, Geneva is renowned for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and bustling city life. Conversely, you have Interlaken, close to some of Switzerland’s most picturesque mountains and landscapes. While Geneva offers a taste of city sophistication, Interlaken provides a quick escape into Switzerland’s stunning alpine landscapes.

This article focuses on both Geneva and Interlaken. So which is the better place to stay while traveling in Switzerland? Is it better to stay in Geneva or Interlaken?  


Key Differences: Geneva vs. Interlaken

The key differences between Geneva and Interlaken are as follows:

GenevaInterlaken
Population: approx. 200,000Population: approx. 5,600
Total Area: 15 km2 (5.8 mi2)Total Area: 4.4 km² (1.7 mi2)
Elevation: 375 meters (1,230 ft)Elevation: 568 m (1,863 ft)
Switzerland’s second-most populous cityMain transport gateway to the Bernese Oberland Region
Highlights: Cathedral St-Pierre, Notre-Dame Church, Ariana Museum, Bains des Paquis, Maison Tavel, Jet d’EauHighlights: Harder Kulm Mountain, Heimwehfluh
Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)Lake: Thun and Brienz
River: RhôneRiver: Aare
Canton: GenevaCanton: Bern
Overview: Geneva vs. Interlaken

Geneva vs. Interlaken

Geneva

Image of UN Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com

Geneva is a global city in every sense, and soon after arriving here, you’ll hear people speaking languages from all over the world. On the shores of Lake Geneva, it is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous in the French-speaking part. 

Thanks to its many international organizations, Geneva is a global city, a financial center, and a diplomatic hub. As home to the United Nations, Red Cross, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and many more, Geneva truly is an important city for diplomacy, international cooperation, and humanitarian engagement.

As a major financial center, Geneva ranks fifth in Europe after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg. The Pictet Group, Bank Lombard Odier & Co., Union Bancaire Privée, Mirabaud Group, Bordier & Cie, Edmond de Rothschild Group, and One Swiss Bank are just a few banks with headquarters in Geneva.

Interlaken

Zurich vs. Interlaken: Image of Interlaken
Image of Interlaken by TouringSwitzerland.com

Interlaken serves as more of a base than anything else. Located between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, Interlaken is also surrounded by two lakes.

Around these lakes, there are many pretty towns and villages like ThunSpiezBrienz, and Iseltwald. Also nearby are multiple castles, St. Beatus Caves, and more. You can also go on the Aare River

There aren’t as many high mountains nearby in Interlaken as in the Jungfrau Region. However, if you reach a good viewpoint like Harder Kulm or Heimwehfluh, you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views. You can also easily visit LauterbrunnenWengenGrindelwald, and Mürren within a day from here.

Places to Visit: Geneva vs. Interlaken

Places to Visit Around Geneva

While there are many things to do and places to visit in Geneva, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:

  • Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. In addition to Saint Peter’s Cathedral, you’ll find Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the Treille Promenade, and more.
  • United Nations Building – If you want to see one of the world’s most important diplomatic centers, the Palace of Nations is a must. There are tours available upon request. 
  • Jet d’Eau – Check out Geneva’s water jet, the Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby.
  • St. Pierre Cathedral – The Cathedral was built between 1160 and 1252. It was used by John Calvin, one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. St. Pierre Cathedral is one of the most important landmarks in Geneva.
  • Visit the museums – Geneva also has its fair share of museums.
    • A standout is the Maison Tavel, which is an example of medieval civil architecture. 
    • You can also see ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics at the Ariana Museum. You can also check out nearby Ariana Park.
    • If you’re into watches, you can visit the Patek Philippe Museum.  
  • Lake Geneva – On top of all of that, you can stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise in a boat, or just stroll around. 
  • Enjoy a walk in one of the parks – The two parks worth mentioning are Parc de la Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives. These parks have well-tended flower beds, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through them. Come see the flowers when they are blooming.

Places to Visit Around Interlaken

There are many places to visit near Interlaken. There are many tourist attractions nearby, such as those around Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.

  • Harder Kulm – Harder Kulm can be reached from Interlaken by walking through the English Garden and crossing the bridge to the Interlaken Harderbahn. It is located 1,321 meters above sea level and provides fantastic views of Interlaken. Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Lake Thun, and Lake Brienz can be seen from Harder Kulm, too.
  • Iseltwald – Iseltwald with its peninsula, the Seeburg castle, and its lakeside promenade is a peaceful little village to visit near Interlaken. Boats stop here in summer.
  • Lake Thun – The bigger of the two lakes beside Interlaken, you can cruise around Lake Thun, swim, or try one of the water sports.
  • Lake Brienz – Lake Brienz is great for sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, and more. Take a ride on the Brienzer Rothorn to get some great photos of Lake Brienz.
  • Giessbach Waterfalls – Giessbach Waterfalls get their water from the high Faulhorn-Sagis Valley. From there, it flows into Lake Brienz
  • Rosenlaui Valley, Glacier, and Gorge – An absolutely beautiful and peaceful pocket of land in the Reichenbach Valley. The gorge has thundering waterfalls and bizarre cliff formations. It is definitely worth visiting.
  • St. Beatus Caves – The caves and the museum are located inside the Niederhorn Massif. Outside, you can walk around a garden with beautiful waterfalls. Take good walking shoes and bring a jacket since the cave can get chilly.
Image of Reichenbach Falls by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Reichenbach Falls – Beautiful waterfalls famous for being featured in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem.
  • Aare Gorge – Known for its limestone formations, Aare Gorge is a large piece of bedrock that stretches 1,400 meters long and 200 meters deep between Innertkirchen and Meiringen. 
  • Ballenberg Open Air Museum – This open-air museum features various centuries-old buildings from the different cantons of Switzerland. They have typical farm animals such as donkeys, cows, chickens, rabbits, and cats. In some houses, you will learn about specific trades or you will be able to interact with musical instruments or handicrafts.
  • Bönigen – Bönigen is a traditional village with wooden houses and chalets from the 16th century. You can find the village of Bönigen on the lower shore of Lake Brienz.
  • Axalp – Axalp, right above Lake Brienz at 1,535 meters above sea level, is the starting point for a lot of hiking trails from spring until autumn. In winter, it is transformed into a small ski resort with 15 kilometers of slopes for young and old alike.

Places to Visit Near Interlaken – Jungfrau Region

It takes only a short train ride from Interlaken to reach the Jungfrau region. From Interlaken Ost train station, many of these places are accessible in an hour.

  • Staubbach Waterfall – The Staubbach Waterfall is a waterfall in Switzerland located just west of Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Highlands. It falls 297 meters from a valley overhanging the Weisse Lütschine, before the end of the overhanging cliff.
  • Trümmelbach Waterfalls – There are ten glacier-fed waterfalls in Switzerland’s Trümmelbach Falls. It is accessible by a tunnel-funicular built back in 1913. 
  • Wengen – Wengen is 1,274 meters above sea level. On a terrace with a spectacular panorama, Wengen offers views of both Lauterbrunnen village below and the surrounding high mountains above.
  • Mürren – Mürren is positioned a bit higher than Wengen, at 1,645 meters above sea level. There are also spectacular views of the bottom of the valley, and the town is quiet and car-free. It is smaller than Wengen.
  • Schilthorn – This is the summit above the village of Mürren and the highest mountain north of Sefinenfurgge Pass. It is around 2,970 meters above sea level.
  • Stechelberg – Stechelberg is a small village located at the base of the Schwarzmönch mountain in the Bernese Alps.
  • Mürrenbach Waterfall –  In five cascades, Mürrenbach Waterfall drops 417 meters to the ground, making it Switzerland’s highest waterfall.
  • Gimmelwald – A small car-free village, Gimmelwald is located between Stechelberg and Mürren. It is 1,363 meters above sea level.
  • Kleine Scheidegg –  Kleine Scheidegg is a mountain pass at an elevation of 2,061 meters. It is located between Eiger and Lauberhorn. Kleine Scheidegg makes a great starting point for excursions to Jungfraujoch and Lauberhorn. It is also the meeting point of two rack railways.
  • Männlichen – Männlichen is a 2,343-metre mountain easily accessible from Wengen and Grindelwald. From Männlichen, you get a fantastic view of Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau.
  • Eiger Glacier – The Eiger Glacier lies on the northwest side of the Eiger mountain.
  • Jungfraujoch –  The saddle between Jungfrau (at 4,158 m above sea level) and Mönch (at 4,110 m above sea level). It is also the location of the highest mountain railway in Europe at 3,454 meters above sea level.

Advantages: Geneva vs. Interlaken

Advantages of Staying In Geneva

Image of Brunswick Monument, Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • If you’re traveling from another country, getting to Geneva is easier compared to Interlaken if you fly into the Geneva Airport. The airport is just a short train ride away from the city, and the main train station is near the city center. Geneva is also closer to France should you wish to visit it before or after your trip to Switzerland.
  • Geneva offers a broader selection of hotels, museums, and restaurants compared to Interlaken. They also offer a range of hotels from five-star hotels to inexpensive hostels.
  • Geneva has a healthy mix of indoor and outdoor activities. Especially on rainy days, you will have more options in Zurich compared to Interlaken.
  • You have various options to join different tour groups right from Geneva. If you want to visit the mountains, there are also other mountains near Geneva such as Col du Pillon and Glacier 3000. Furthermore, you are also close to the French Alps should you wish to visit Chamonix and Mont-Blanc.
  • Many lakes, towns, and ski resorts are easy to reach from Geneva. Furthermore, many trains run frequently between Geneva and other cities.

Advantages of Staying in Interlaken

Image from Harder Kulm, Interlaken by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Compared to Geneva, Interlaken is smaller. This is a great place for people who like a smaller, quieter place.
  • A variety of hotels are available in Interlaken, ranging from luxury hotels to more budget-friendly hostels.
  • If you want to enjoy two beautiful lakes instead of just one, Interlaken is a good choice. Lake Thun and Lake Brienz are just right at your doorstep.
  • Interlaken is closer to the mountains in the Jungfrau Region. Choose it if you want to visit the mountains near and around Jungfraujoch.
  • It’s better to go to Interlaken if you want to spend more time outdoors and enjoy nature. From Interlaken, you’ve got the highlights of the Bernese Oberland right at your fingertips.

Hotels: Geneva vs. Interlaken

Hotel options in Geneva are more extensive compared to Interlaken. Listed below are some recommended hotels in both places:

Hotels in Geneva

Image of Beau-Rivage Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva (5-star) – Set in a historic building from 1834, Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Geneva. You can’t go wrong with this hotel with its elegant interiors, fine dining restaurant, indoor infinity pool, spa, business services, and multi-lingual concierge.
  • Beau-Rivage Genève (5-star) – With its panoramic views of the lake and Mont Blanc, this elegant 5-star hotel is right on Lake Geneva. Cornavin Train Station is just a five-minute walk away. This hotel has a highly-rated French restaurant called Le Chat Botté.  There is a 24-hour front desk, fitness center, concierge service, a business center, and more.
  • Hotel Bristol (4-star superior) – Between Geneva’s train station and the lake, this 4-star superior hotel Hotel Bristol makes a great choice for tourists. This hotel has a wonderful spa area with saunas, a hot tub, and a hammam. Besides that, it’s got a great restaurant called Côté Square.
  • citizenM Geneva (4-star) – citizenM Geneva is close to some main attractions, including St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, the Flower Clock, and Geneva Town Hall. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, too. 
  • Hotel Bernina Geneva (3-star) – Located opposite Geneva’s train station, the Hotel Bernina Geneva is a convenient 3-star superior hotel with clean, modern rooms. 
  • MEININGER Geneve Centre Charmilles (Hostel) – Although this hostel isn’t in the center of the city, it’s well connected, so you can easily get to all the sights. With 24-hour reception, free WiFi, luggage storage, a washing machine, a dryer, a kitchen, a bar, and a game zone, you’ve got everything you need for your stay in Geneva. 

Hotels in Interlaken

Image of Hotel Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa (5-star) – A luxurious and elegant hotel with distinctive design and decor, marble bathrooms, and views of the Jungfrau mountain.
  • Swiss Hotel Apartments (5-star apartments) – With spacious rooms equipped with a kitchen, balcony, dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker, it’s the most affordable and convenient place to stay in Interlaken. It’s also just 80 meters from Interlaken Ost train station, so you can easily get there from Zurich and Geneva airports. 
  • Hotel Royal St Georges (4-star superior) – Close to the Harderbahn Funicular and Interlaken’s center, Hotel Royal St. Georges has a large, elegant lobby, restaurant, spa, and relaxing rooms. I loved staying here.
  • Hotel Bellevue (4-star) – This boutique hotel is near Interlaken West train station. Each room has a balcony with a view of the mountains. 
  • Hotel Bernerhof (3-star) – The Hotel Bernerhof is an affordable, central hotel right opposite Interlaken West train station. It has modern rooms and a restaurant that serves Swiss food. 
  • Interlaken Youth Hostel (Hostel) – A convenient hostel located near the Interlaken Ost train station. They have clean and basic accommodations, plus breakfast is included.

Final Thoughts: Geneva vs. Interlaken

If you want a convenient place in Switzerland with plenty of hotels and restaurants and a good starting point for your trips, both Geneva and Interlaken are excellent options. As each place has its advantages and disadvantages, it is difficult to recommend one over the other.

Interlaken will be a better choice if you plan to do more outdoor activities, exciting adventures, hiking, or skiing. A more laidback person, who enjoys history and museums, shopping and restaurants, and visiting cities, yet wants the flexibility to visit the mountains for a few days, will love Geneva.

Having visited the Lake Geneva area several times, I’m quite familiar with the region. The area around Lake Geneva offers a variety of activities, and its excellent connectivity makes it a solid choice for first-time and practical visitors to Switzerland. On the other hand, if you’re keen on being closer to the mountains and interested in activities like hiking or skiing, Interlaken serves as an excellent base.


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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. 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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