Switzerland is a beautiful country and is well worth a visit anytime of year. The Swiss alps are breathtaking and one of the best places in the world for skiing. However, even if you aren’t a skier or snowboarder, there are plenty of traditional activities that will give you the Swiss mountain experience during the colder months.
Switzerland is a country made up of small villages between the mountains, so cold weather is just another part of life and they know how to enjoy it. I personally love the Lauterbrunnen valley and this article will give examples from Wengen, but the activities are so ingrained in Swiss tradition that you will see them everywhere.
Swiss Style Winter hiking
In Switzerland, they are hiking crazy and have a ton of trails that are well kept all year. The best thing about hiking in Switzerland, and especially in Wengen, is that you have magnificent views from wherever you look throughout the journey. There’s also rest huts along the routes and restaurants in some places that overlap with ski resorts. The air is much drier at the higher elevation, so as long as you’re bundled up and keep moving it doesn’t feel nearly as cold as you might think. Winter temperatures are often above zero, especially on sunny days.
The Swiss Sledge
This is a traditional wooden sled that absolutely everybody owns; it looks ancient but they use it everyday during winter to drag their groceries or children or whatever around. And if there’s a downward slope, you better believe they jump on and use it as transportation! Ski resorts often have sledge rentals and separate sledging routes, so you can take a train to the top of the mountain and sledge (yes it’s also a verb) down to the bottom. Be careful though because there aren’t any brakes!
Outdoor Swiss Curling
Never curled before? Now’s your chance! In Switzerland there’s plenty of outdoor ice rinks that you can rent for an hour or two and learn how to curl. Coming from Canada, I had done it in school, but curling under the night sky with a light snowfall was a whole different experience. It is a serious sport in Switzerland so every village has a local team which means you can also go out and watch a match with some hot chocolate.
Skating in Switzerland
This isn’t so traditional in the alps, but you will definitely find ice rinks in every town with skate rentals ready, so why not enjoy the view while gliding around and getting some exercise? It is a fun winter activity that everyone can enjoy for a few hours outside.
Swiss Cable Cars
These aren’t only for skiers. In most resort areas, there are lookout stations at the top of each mountain range with a restaurant and bar for tourists to enjoy the view. And way up here, it is always a fascinating view. The Top of Europe in the Jungfrau region is the highest point accessible by train and looks over top glaciers, and there are plenty of cable cars that carry you above the clouds in a tiny vessel looking down into the valleys. Definitely worth the trip!
Swiss Gastronomic Tour
Don’t let the winter stop you from seeing and tasting Switzerland. It may be cold outside but inside it’s always cosy and filled with cheese, meat and schnapps (my favourite) in varying proportions. You can take the train around the alps on the Glacier Express or just to the top of any mountain and you’ll find a chalet serving rosti, bratwurst, fondue and other local delicacies. There are often individual huts that you can rent for a small group or it’s often warm enough to outside sit on the terrace with some blankets and enjoy the view. If you’re lucky enough to find one in the forest or near a ski resort, you might even get to sledge home afterwards!
Horse Sleighs and Dog sleds
You can hire a sled for an hour or more to take you around the village or nearby scenery. The horse sleds are a cosy and romantic way to see the landscape and the dogs are often the Saint Bernards that will pull the children in sleds and the adults can walk them on a leash. They are all friendly and cute so it is a lovely way to tour around the mountain.
Swiss Spas and Thermal Baths
Whether you have hiked all day or just toured around, the spas are a great way to wind down after a day in the snow. Most hotels offer saunas, steam rooms, pools and outdoor hot tubs with a view, so if you didn’t get enough of the mountains during the day, snuggle up in your robe and a hot tea overlooking the valleys while hopping from hot tub to hot tub and relaxing those muscles.
Glacier Helicopter tour
Who knew that there are so many helicopters in the Swiss Alps, but with limited access to the remote mountain tops, you will find many flying around. You can go for a ride to get up close to the mountain cliffs and fly in between the ranges for an up close and personal view. If your lucky you might even witness an avalanche as they are always falling during winter. You can rent rides by the hour and they will cover a lot of ground in that time!
Exploring the Swiss Alps during winter offers a whole different travel experience than in the summer, and with nearly half the year being snow covered, the Swiss are well prepared to keep you comfortable and entertained. There are plenty more activities that you’ll find in the Swiss Alps with winter events and celebrations all year. From ski races to Christmas markets, these events and activities will help you experience traditional Swiss life, as being outside and in the mountains is part of their culture. The villages remain as traditional as ever in the Alps, so get outside and experience the true Swiss way with these fun winter activities.