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Switzerland is a country of great natural beauty including mountains, spring water, over 1500 lakes and hundreds of waterfalls. But, if you are looking for the magical land of Rivendell elves or the location of a duel between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, you will also find this in Switzerland.
Exploring Switzerland is like a great journey through the magical and mysterious lands of fairy tales. Its beauty shines year-round with a wonderland of snowy scenes in the winter plus forests, mountains and watery delights in the spring, summer and fall.
With an abundance of waterways covering 6% of its surface area, this little country is known as the “Water Reservoir of Europe”.
The hundreds of rivers and lakes also lead to countless stunning waterfalls. Having a landscape largely defined by water in combination with high mountain peaks creates wonderful, picturesque views.
Here are some of them of the top natural sights in Switzerland, going from North to South:
The biggest waterfall in Europe is located on the Rhein River, next to the German and Swiss border. The Rheinfall has the highest average water flow in Europe: 425 m³/s (in the summer the average water flow is 600 m³/s).
The highest flow ever measured is 1,250 m³/s in the year 1965. Its altitude is only 23 meters, but the roar of falls gives it its majesty.
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There is a special view platform over the waterfall, but you can also enjoy the view from the other side of the river. The view from the other side can be even better because you can also see a castle rising above the waterfall.
Schloss Laufen is over 1100 years old with a rich history. Today, it is not only a heritage building but also a restaurant and hotel.
The sight of Reichenbach should be recognized by all Sherlock Holmes fans. The 250 meters high cascade waterfall with view terraces is known as the place of the last duel between detective Holmes and his opponent Moriarty.
This is also the place of Sherlock’s death. You can climb up the hiking trail, rent a scooter, or even go by the funicular.
Giessbach Waterfalls in Switzerland
One of the most iconic Swiss waterfalls is located near Brienz in the Berner Oberland. Giessbach Waterfall is about 391 meters high and is divided by 14 cascades. The falls drop straight into Brienzsee lake.
An interesting sight at this fall is found on the mountain, in between the waterfall and lake. Here you will find the Grand Hotel of Wes Anderson’s movies. You can rent a room or just step in for coffee or a delicious local meal.
It is easy to get there by car and park at the foot of the waterfall. Alternatively, you can enjoy a full experience by taking the ferry from Brienz or Interlaken to the foot of the mountain, then taking a special funicular to the Grand Hotel. Both ways lead to the foot of the trail.
If you want to see all 14 steps of the waterfall there is a hiking trail up. But even without reaching the summit, you can see wonderful views of the waterfall and lake from the hotel restaurant.
This lake is in the southern part of Switzerland, next to the town of Brienz. The town is a great stop and starting point to explore all the nearby mountains and waterfalls.
Brienzersee is surrounded by the Bernese Alps and adjacent to lake Thunersee. The city of Interlaken sits between these two lakes and you can find lots of trails, ferries and funiculars or trains to move around.
You can also take advantage of the possibilities of the lake and enjoy sailing, canoeing, swimming and much more. Of course, there are also beautiful views everywhere.
From Brienz city, you can also get to the top of Brienz Rothorn (2350 m above sea level) by special train powered by a steam locomotive – Brienz Rothorn Bahn.
The small lake of Gelmersee is at an altitude of 1,849 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by mountains in three directions and one is regulated by a dam. Interestingly, the lake can be reached by a walking trail or the steepest funicular in Europe.
Its incline during the ride reaches 106%. In good weather, from the seat of the wagon, you can observe beautiful views of the surrounding snow-covered peaks. There is also a rope bridge next to the funicular station from which you can admire the view of the valley.
It is said that Lauterbrunnen was the inspiration for Rivendell – the elves’ land from the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is one of the most iconic and legendary places in Switzerland. The 1 km wide valley sits between hundreds of meters high limestone walls and snowy peaks.
The origin of the name of the valley comes from German meaning ”many springs” or ”loud springs”. It is connected to 72 waterfalls that gush down into the valley from the vertical cliff faces.
The bottom of the valley is a great place to walk, bike or even skate as the surface is mostly asphalt and flat. Tolkien wasn’t the only one to be inspired by the beautiful scenery of the valley.
Goethe, Byron and Schubert also created works inspired by this landscape. Goethe wrote, ”Song of the Spirit over the Waters” for which Schubert composed the music.
Another interesting fact is that near the Lauterbrunnen is located Schilthorn. This mountain peak is where some scenes were filmed for “James Bond: on Her Majesty’s Secret Service” in 1969.
James Bond (George Lazenby) in the film had been skiing down from the peak where the base of the antagonist played by Telly Savalas was.
On the peak of the mountain, you can find a restaurant, which slowly rotates for 360-degree views.
At the Lauterbrunnen you can find two most iconic waterfalls:
The Staubbachfalldrops down from the vertical rock straight to the valley bottom. It is one of the most popular waterfalls in Switzerland and is often seen on postcards.
It is one of Europe’s highest free-falling waterfalls at a height of between 240 and 270 m formed by a single unbroken fall.
The water of these falls comes from the three glaciers situated up on the mountains. The waterfall is divided into ten cascades leading through narrow corridors in the rocks.
You can get to the waterfall by taking the stairs with viewing terraces. Or you can go by taking a special cable car, for which a special tunnel has been carved into the rock.
The spectacle offered by the water crashing against the rocks with a roar is a worth seeing show created by nature. Access to Trummelbach falls is paid and costs 14 CHF for adults and 6 CHF for kids.
The biggest lake in Europe is also the most popular lake in Switzerland, possibly even Europe. It is divided between France and Switzerland. Its length from Geneva to Villeneuve is over 72 kilometers with a width of almost 14 kilometers.
The area is too big to describe all the attractions around but besides Geneva, and Losanna, Montreux is definitely worth visiting. Montreux is a little city over the east edge of the lake surrounded by mountains and stunning views.
Here is also Chillon Castle – an old fortress whose walls go down to the lake itself. The exact date of the castle’s construction is unknown, but the first traces of settlement in this place date back to the Bronze Age. The defensive buildings were certainly here around the eleventh century.
In Montreux, you can enjoy the many terraces and viewpoints along the city streets as well as the nightlife of casinos, clubs and restaurants. Montreux and Geneva Lake were also an inspiration for Freddie Mercury and Queen, who created music there.
Freddie Mercury had a mansion in the area and recorded his solo album ”Made in Heaven” in ”The Mountain Studio”. The band recorded many hits here including ”Under Pressure” with David Bowie.
Today, you can visit a special exhibition in the Montreux Casino, with original Freddie Mercury costumes and pieces from the Bands studio. Access to the exhibition is free.
Montreux is also the host city for Montreux Jazz Festival, which takes place on holidays in the city. During the festival, you can enjoy many concerts and exhibitions.
If You Go
Rcheinfall Waterfall: https://rheinfall.ch/de/
Reichenbach Waterfall: https://www.myswitzerland.com/en/experiences/reichenbach-falls-funicular/
Giessbach furnicular: https://www.giessbach.ch/en/giessbach-bahn-1
Brienz tourist information: https://www.brienzersee.ch/en
Brienz Rothorn Bahn: https://brienz-rothorn-bahn.ch/?lang=en
Lauterbrunnen tourist information: https://lauterbrunnen.swiss/en/summer/
Trummelbach Falls: https://www.truemmelbachfaelle.ch/e/
Chillon Castle: https://www.chillon.ch/en/
Montreux tourist information: https://www.montreuxriviera.com/en/G88/tourist-information
Author Bio: Jacek Słowik is a polish journalist, traveler and culture manager. He had worked for polish editions of Playboy and Esquire, but also polish portals and newspapers. He loves traveling during which he takes pictures and writes down his observations.