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Zurich vs. Interlaken: Which is Better?

(Last Updated On: March 4, 2024)

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

Zurich and Interlaken are two of Switzerland’s most popular tourist regions. On the one hand, Zurich 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 Zurich offers a taste of city sophistication, Interlaken provides a quick escape into Switzerland’s stunning alpine landscapes.

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


Key Differences: Zurich vs. Interlaken

The key differences between Zurich and Interlaken are as follows:

ZurichInterlaken
Population: approx. 415,000Population: approx. 5,600
Total Area: 87.88 km2 (33.94 mi2)Total Area: 4.4 km² (1.7 mi2)
Elevation: 408 meters (1,338 ft)Elevation: 568 m (1,863 ft)
Switzerland’s most populous city, Switzerland’s Financial CapitalMain transport gateway to the Bernese Oberland Region
Highlights: Grossmünster, Uetliberg, Lindenhof, FIFA Museum, LandesmuseumHighlights: Harder Kulm Mountain, Heimwehfluh
Lake: ZurichLake: Thun and Brienz
River: LimmatRiver: Aare
Canton: ZurichCanton: Bern
Overview: Zurich vs. Interlaken

Zurich vs. Interlaken

Zurich

Image of Grossmünster Church in Zurich by TouringSwitzerland.com

Zurich, as the largest city in Switzerland, surpasses Interlaken in size and activity. Offering a bustling cityscape, Zurich boasts a vibrant nightlife scene with numerous restaurants, nightclubs, and bars. The city’s old town is a picturesque area filled with charming shops and eateries along the Limmat River and Lake Zurich. Additionally, Zurich is home to several notable churches, including Grossmünster, Fraumünster, St. Peter, and Predigerkirche, adding to its cultural richness.

Zurich’s logistical advantages further contribute to its appeal. The city is easily accessible for international visitors, both by air through Zurich Airport and by train via Zurich Train Station. This accessibility contrasts with Interlaken, which often requires visitors to transit through Zurich and/or Bern first.

Moreover, Zurich offers opportunities for day trips to charming nearby towns such as Rapperswil, Arbon, Stein am Rhein, Lucerne, Rhine Falls, and Laufenburg, enhancing the overall travel experience for those based in the city.

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.

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Places to Visit: Zurich vs. Interlaken

Places to Visit Around Zurich

  • Grossmünster Church – The Grossmünster Church (Great Minister) is a beautiful church in a central location.  The Church was built between 1100 and 1250. The end of the 15th century saw the towers added. Located along the Limmat River, the Grossmünster Church is only 950 meters or 12 minutes by foot from the train station. Zurich’s most famous landmark is a Romanesque-style church with slender and striking towers. The Grossmünster Church is known as the cradle of the Zwingli Reformation; Zwingli himself took over the house in 1519. 
  • Polybahn funicular – The Polybahn funicular has been running since January 1889. It brings visitors from Zurich Central to the Polyterrasse. It is still a cool thing to do to go up from the city center to the vantage point 41 meters higher. To avoid crowds, come in early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It gets busy during lunchtime.
  • Uetliberg – Uetliberg is one of the four popular viewpoints near Zurich. You can also hike 400 meters up from Triemli or Albisgüetli instead of taking the train. But if you want the more comfortable option, it is accessible in 27 minutes with the S10 Train from Zurich Train Station. It is a steep standard adhesion railway, traveling with a 7.9% gradient. It is an easy walk to the peak from the train station. Uetliberg offers great views of Zurich city, the Glarus Alps, and Central Switzerland. If you want to eat, there’s a restaurant on the mountain called Uto Kulm. 
  • Landesmuseum Zurich (Swiss National Museum) is the most-visited museum in all of Switzerland. It is located next to the Zurich Train Station (Zürich Hauptbahnhof in German). Opened in 1898, the museum has had exhibitions from prehistoric times until the present. Landesmuseum contains over 820,000 objects. It has the largest collection of all cultural history and handicrafts in the country. The permanent exhibitions cover prehistory and early history. The museum has weapons, art, jewelry, clothing, and everyday objects from various eras. It also has temporary exhibitions, sometimes with subjects appealing to children as well. 
Panoramic View from Lindenhof by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Lindenhof – Lindenhof is a charming and picturesque place on top of a hill with fantastic views of Zurich’s Old Town, Grossmünster Church, and the Limmat River. It is a popular tourist destination and meeting area accessed via narrow, mostly uphill streets
  • Fraumünster is the smallest of the 34 Evangelical Reformed churches in the city. Even so, it is very beautiful. There used to be an abbey on its grounds. The abbey was dissolved in the face of reformation. In 1898, the abbey was eradicated to give way (eventually) to what we now know as the Fraumünster Church. Fraumünster also contains the works of world-famous Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti. The installation of the windows by Giacometti was done in September 1945. The delay was due to the Second World War. It is the last of Giacometti’s over 20 glass paintings. This masterpiece is 9 meters high and twice as large as Chagall’s Christ Window. In 1970, Marc Chagall added the five-part choir windows of the church, as well as the rose window in the south transept.
Image of Kunsthaus Zurich by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Kunsthaus Zurich is a fine art museum in Zurich. There are works by Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Andy Warhol in the museum. Other renowned artists from various times and styles also contributed to it. In October 2021, a new section designed by David Chipperfield opened, effectively doubling the public space previously available. Kunsthaus Zurich is now the largest art museum in Switzerland.

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: Zurich vs. Interlaken

Advantages of Staying In Zurich

Image of Zurich by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • If you’re traveling from another country, getting to Zurich is easier compared to Interlaken. The airport is just a short tram or train ride away from the city, and the main train station is right in the center of Zurich.
  • Zurich 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.
  • Zurich 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 Zurich. You can choose Zurich as your base and head over to Interlaken once for a day trip if you wish to do so.
  • Many mountains, lakes, towns, and ski resorts are easy to reach from Zurich. Furthermore, many trains run frequently between Zurich and other cities.

Advantages of Staying in Interlaken

Image from Harder Kulm, Interlaken by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Compared to Zurich, 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.
  • I believe Lake Thun and Lake Brienz are some of Switzerland’s most stunning lakes. If you enjoy spending time in the water or love lake cruises, Interlaken would be the ideal choice for you.
  • 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: Zurich vs. Interlaken

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

Hotels in Zurich

Image of Zurich by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Storchen Zürich – Lifestyle Boutique Hotel (5-star) – Located in the heart of Zurich, this boutique hotel even has a boat stop in front of its doors. The hotel is within walking distance of the city’s most popular attractions, including Grossmünster Church, Fraumünster Church, Limmat River, and Lake Zurich. In the summer, enjoy breathtaking views of the Limmat River and Grossmünster Church from the picturesque terrace. The hotel’s classic and modern rooms and suites offer unique views of the picturesque Old Town.
  • Dolder Grand Hotel (5-star) – This fantastic hotel is located on the Zürichberg hill overlooking Zurich. Located next to a Cog Railway Station, Dolder Grand has 2 outstanding restaurants, an exclusive spa, fitness facilities, and superior service.
  • B2 Hotel Zurich (4-star) – One of the cool things about this hotel is its public thermal bath and spa, which features different swimming pools, a wellness area, and a steam bath, right in the heart of Zurich. In addition to that, it’s located in an old brewery.
  • Hotel Schweizerhof Zurich (4-star) – A short walk from Zurich’s main train station, this hotel is a great choice for people who want something stylish and convenient. Schweizerhof Zurich has noise-proof rooms, a great location, and free access to Holmes Place Fitness & Spa next door.
  • citizenM Zurich (4-star) – Located in a great location with a fantastic lounge offering free Wi-Fi, this hotel is a fantastic value for money. This modern hotel in the center of Zurich offers friendly service and the quality you would expect from a CitizenM hotel.
  • Motel One Zurich (3-star) – I’d highly recommend Motel One to anyone looking for something more inexpensive. Having stayed at Motel One Basel, I am 100% sure that the Motel One hotel in Zurich is just as nice, clean, and affordable. Plus, it’s incredibly close to the train station, Grossmünster, and the heart of the city.

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: Zurich 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 Zurich 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 Zurich.

Having worked in Zurich for several years and living nearby, I’m quite familiar with the city. Zurich 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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