From Zurich To Lucerne To Engelberg—Here’s How I Spent My Winter In Switzerland

Switzerland

Leaning in closer to the window on my flight, I get a bird’s eye glimpse of the snow-clad Alps. The mesmerising sight fills me with excitement. After all, it was going to be my first time experiencing a legit winter season with snow. Everyone knows how beautiful Switzerland is in winters and the ideal place to experience what they call a Winter Wonderland. But it’s only when I landed and stepped out of the Zurich airport that I realised I’m on a winter vacation–‘cause that’s when the full force of the temperature of -4°C hit me. 

Wrapped in four layers, I switch my winter burrito mode on and gear up for that much-anticipated winter getaway. As soon as I get my luggage, I head to Zurich airport train station (yup, it’s connected to the airport) and catch a train to Zurich HB, the city’s main station. The credit for my ease of travel is courtesy of the Swiss Travel Pass. It sorts your travel plans within cities and even while travelling intercity. Its perks? Unlimited access to public transportation including the train, bus, and boat in more than 90 cities and towns. And if you love museums, the STP will guarantee a free admission to more than 500 museums throughout Switzerland. From Zurich to Lucerne to Engelberg and back, the STP made my travel smooth and hassle-free!

Planning a trip to Switzerland in the winter months, just like me? Take a cue from all the places I visited and how I spent my time there. 

Zurich

A multi-cultural city that has a mix of the new and old town charm, Zurich has lots to offer in terms of sight seeing, museums, cafes and restaurants. I visited the city in December, so I went Christmas market-hopping, besides exploring the rest of the town, of course. 

City Tour

Dedicate a day for a Zurich city tour if exploring new towns is something you fancy. Walk around lanes and by-lanes of the city to come across charming spots. For instance–Kaminfegergasse is short alley where you see quaint houses and architecture. The Lindenhof is a place of historical significance–it was a site where the Romans built their fortified settlement in the fourth century to defend against migrations from the North. Today, it’s a hilltop park overlooking the old town and the Limit river where locals like to spend their leisure time. 

Switzerland
Schipfe | Photograph Courtesy: Isha Mayer

Step down from this spot, and you reach Schipfe, which will give you a close up view of the river and its beautiful inhabitants–swans, ducks and seagulls. Ahead, you’ll come to Rathausbrücke–a bridge where a farmers market takes place on Saturday mornings. You can’t miss out on the main church Grossmünster (standing in an open terrace above the river dominating the city skyline with its twin towers) and Zürich’s Town Hall, the Rathaus (a Renaissance era building that boasts of rich design and baroque style architecture and exhibits historical objects and works of art that depict Zurich’s political life).

Love to shop? Then bookmark Bahnhofstrasse – it’s the main shopping street. And there’s also Niederdorf or as the locals fondly say Dörfli, which is on the other side of the river Limmat and comprises shops coffeehouses, bars and restaurants. 

Christmas Markets 

Set against the backdrop of the Opera House around Bellevue Square, Zurich’s Wienachtsdorfor Christmas Village is the biggest Christmas market in the city, comprising around 100 market stalls grouped together with a tall Christmas tree shining bright at its centre. Other markets to check out include Zurich Old Town (it makes for a strong case for a romantic walk with your partner), Zurich Main Station (a market located right in the heart of the Zurich train station) and my personal favourite–Zurich Werdmühleplatz, where you have a kids choir singing melodious Christmas carols. Whether you want to purchase little trinkets or enjoy hot fondue or freshly roasted chestnuts while you sip on a glass or two of glühwein, Switzerland’s Christmas markets are a must-visit in December.

Hotel Recommendation

I spent two nights in 25hours Hotel Zurich Langstrasse—a 10 minute walking distance from the Zurich HB. The cosy hotel comes with artsy interiors, quirky decor elements and comfortable rooms with a good city view. But what I like the most about this hotel is its sustainable initiatives. For instance, they offer dental tabs instead of toothpaste, reusable shampoo and body wash bottles, as well as encourage you to drink tap water–which is fresh and safe. This hotel, in particular, supports the Nepal Water Project and instead of buying a bottle of water, you can spend that money by donating to this project. The best part? The hotel is one of the first pawn shops. So if your don’t have enough money to pay, pretty, valuable, decorative and/or useful things are accepted in place of payment. The hotel’s in-house restaurants and bars has you covered for all your meals.   

Switzerland
25hours Hotel Zurich Langstrasse

Other recommended hotels are Marktgasse Hotel and Hyatt Place Zurich Airport The Circle.  

Museums 

There’s a museum for every kind, whether you’re an art appreciator or a sports fan. When in Zurich, check out Kunsthaus Zürich (housing several art collections including paintings of Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso), FIFA museum, Lindt Home of Chocolate and the WOW Museum – Room for Illusions.

F&B

Café & Conditorei 1842 is a cosy, centuries-old cafe with high ceilings, Baroque style & a terrace, and is known for its home-made chocolate & cakes. This is the spot where I took a break to warm up with a cappuccino and enjoy the buzzing Zurich crowd. Dinner was at Bernadette, a charming restaurant that has static gondolas to sit in and have a dinner date with your beau with some mulled wine and hot fondue. Sternen Grill offers some lovely street food and grilled snacks to savour in the cold–I tasted the Swiss snack Currywurst and devoured it. 

Switzerland
Bernadette | Photograph via Bernadette

Lucerne

After spending 2 days in Zurich, I headed to Lucerne, where every spot is fit for a postcard. I was greeted with fog on the day I arrived and while it was a bit difficult to see some of the scenic locales clearly, I still enjoyed the vibe of the city. 

Spots To See

I began the city tour with the Lion Monument, which commemorates the sacrifice of Swiss guards who were defending the place during the French Revolution. I then headed to the famous Chappel Bridge together with the Water Tower. A devastating fire in 1993 destroyed most of the timber structure along with its 17th century paintings in the ceiling pediments. While some paintings are still intact in the panels, many are missing as it got damaged during the arsenic disaster. Right across the  bridge, you’ll find the Church of St. Francis Xavier standing mighty and tall. But the true beauty of the church lies inside with its 17th century Baroque architecture, frescoed ceilings and lavish altars. Walk around the rest of the Old Town and every building is adorned with paintings that tell a story. 

Chapel Bridge | Photograph via Switzerland Tourism

Being a cheese lover, I also dropped by Chäs Barmettler–a 50-year old family owned cheese shop, where the owner served some fresh, hot cheese tart which was like a warm hug to my belly. And if you ever need an energy boost or something to uplift your spirit, there’s always a chocolate shop around in Switzerland. Max Chocolatier—named after Max, a proud chocoholic with Down syndrome and son of founder Patrik König—is a chocolate boutique you must visit and try its rich handmade chocolates.  

Switzerland
Photograph Courtesy: Isha Mayer

Winter Attractions 

Sip on some hot mulled wine at Lozärner Wiehnachtsmärt at Franziskanerplatz and Rudolf’s Christmas Spectacle at Inseli Park–two of my favourite Christmas markets in Lucerne. Visiting Lucerne in January? Then you’ll be welcomed by the city’s famous Lilu aka Light festival, where beautiful light installations are spread across the city. February greets you with The Lucerne Carnival where bizarre figures in fantastical masks and costumes parade through the alleyways. The Lake Lucerne region is also known for many skiing and ice skating activities. 

Photograph via Lucerne Tourism

My visit to Lucerne was short so I couldn’t explore much of the restaurants and bars. However, I would have loved to visit the Old Swiss House restaurant. Oh well, hopefully I get another chance.  

Engelberg

Another scenic train ride from Lucerne brings us to the popular ski destination Engelberg. First things first, I check myself into the recently renovated Kempinski Palace Engelberg, which is 5 minutes away from the Engelberg train station. My spacious room with a balcony offers a breathtaking view of the Swiss Alps. I spend the evening devouring the food at the hotel’s Cattani restaurant. From a duck soup to some lovey grilled fish accompanied with white wine, my dinner brought me comfort after an exhausting day. 

Switzerland
Kempinski Palace Engelberg

Mt. Titlis

The next morning, I woke up to the most gorgeous view–the snowfall had formed a white blanket on the garden. Adding to the charm were snow-covered tress, houses and snow-capped mountains serving as the backdrop. I would have liked to sit all day and stare at this landscape but the gorgeous surroundings called out to me to spend time with them up close and personal. So I headed out for a meet and greet with Mt. Titlis.

You need to take two cable car rides to reach the summit, out of which the first ride takes you to Trubsee. There, you can enjoy snow tubing (a fun and crazy winter activity where you race down the track on a rubber tyre) and ride around the snow in Snowmobiles (an activity I highly recommend).

The second ride takes you to Mt. Titlis in the world’s first rotating cable car, the Rotair, which rotates 360° as you ascend. Expect panoramic views without moving a muscle! And once you get there, let loose the thrill seeker in you. Interested to crossed a 100 metre suspension bridge 10,000 feet above sea level? It’s NBD, just try the Cliff Walk experience. Want to take a photo while sitting on a chair made from cold ice? Walk in the slippery Glacier Cave (with changing lights and ice as old as 5000 years old) that allows you to experience that. Keen on taking a fun chair lift that gives you an aerial view of the glacier and give you the feeling of flying over it? Get on board the Ice Flyer. But nothing beats my courageous move to get even closer to the snow (quite literally) by making a snow angel in -10°C. You can judge me all you want but I ticked something off from my bucket list!

All these activities certainly makes one hungry. But fret not as the Titlis Panorama Restaurant is here to kill those hunger pangs with tasty Italian food. Dining at a great height in close proximity to the Swiss Alps is an unforgettable experience.

A Relaxing Farewell

The best part about going back to Kempinski Palace? Knowing there’s a spa experience for you to relax those legs from that hike. With a salt crystal fireplace, and a bio and Finnish sauna, the Spa centre is a place that is invigorating and energising courtesy of the panoramic mountain views. Once you’re done rejuvenating yourself, you can choose to check out the town’s monastery Kloster Engelberg and then explore some of the ski bars. But I chose to dine at the hotel’s Chalet with hot cheese fondue and a glass of wine. Ending my trip on yet another culinary adventure, I enjoyed a lavish breakfast at the Cattani restaurant once again to soak in the beautiful view for one last time, before checking out.

Kempinski Palace Engelberg – Chalet Ruinart

- Senior Digital Writer

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