When it’s time to escape the city and soak up that rural air, be sure to visit one of these 10 prettiest small towns in Switzerland.
Cobbled streets and fairytale castles, decorated fountains, and frescoed houses. It’s not hard to find plenty of great places to visit in Switzerland, largely thanks to centuries of Swiss neutrality. No cannons, no tanks, no crossfire; all of it means that almost every Swiss town has an unspoiled medieval heart. So which are the best towns in Switzerland to visit?
Sometimes the best things come in small packages. Rather than sticking to the big-name attractions like Lucerne or Montreux, it’s also worth heading out to discover small-town Switzerland. Here are 10 enchanting towns, each with far fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, which can be reached in an easy day-trip from some of Switzerland’s biggest cities. Any one of them makes for a perfect day by car or public transit.
This is one of those towns in Switzerland that many people rush past in their haste to reach somewhere else. But don’t make that mistake. There’s plenty to explore if you stop in this beautiful lakeside town and take a look around.
Estavayer sits on the southern shore of Lake Neuchâtel, the largest lake completely within Switzerland, and has views across to the Jura mountains. You’ll find an imposing Savoyard castle that guards the bluff overlooking the lake. Within the former town walls, there are a host of atmospheric cobbled streets and squares.
Does the name sound familiar? It should because this is where the delicious Swiss cheese comes from! But this gorgeous little gem is a whole lot more than its famous name and is seen by many as one of the prettiest towns in Switzerland.
Stand in the sloping main square of Gruyères and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re on a Hollywood film set. Yes, it is that picture-perfect, complete with a brooding castle at the top of the town. This isn’t off the beaten track but despite the crowds it’s definitely worth it, especially if you arrive early. Be sure to indulge in a cheesy lunch while you’re here.
It would be hard to find a more complete small town in Switzerland than Murten. Not only are the encircling walls almost intact but you can walk along the ramparts and gaze across the rooftops.
Plus there’s a splendid gate with a clock tower, a main street of arcaded buildings, the obligatory cobbles and all set beside a pretty lake. What more could you want? Oh and it’s bilingual, too – known as Morat in French.
Is this the prettiest small town in Switzerland? It’s certainly the smallest one on this list, with barely a thousand residents. However, they say good things come in small packages, and Saint-Ursanne is definitely one for the quaint-hearted.
It packs a lot into a small space: alongside the usual array of medieval houses and streets are an elegant 12th-century church and cloister and chunky town gates. The location beside the River Doubs simply adds to the romance.
You might not find many locals who could successfully place cozy little Porrentruy on the map, but don’t let that put you off. Take a trip out to the borderlands and see for yourself.
It’s tucked up in the northwestern corner of the country, almost in France, and not really on the way to anywhere. It has a very authentic air about it, with a Gallic flair to its genteel buildings and a sturdy castle. Truly an unmanicured and unhurried spot to escape the crowds.
Stein am Rhein
If muralled buildings are your thing, then this little town on the German border will blow you away. Walking around the historic center, you’ll be amazed that almost every other house is decorated with elaborate frescoes or graffiti paintwork.
Those that aren’t frescoed still manage to fit in with half-timbered walls or gabled roofs. It’s a popular town to walk around, but you’ll want to head to the banks of the River Rhine to find some peace.
Schloss Lenzburg is the type of Castle that deserves a big C. It’s a medieval medley of turrets, gates, and courtyards that could have been created by the Brothers Grimm.
At its feet is the charming town center, not full of angry townspeople (as the Grimms would have had) but instead an attractive array of fine-looking buildings.
If Disneyland had a Switzerland-themed park, then it would probably look like Appenzell. Except this is real. In the middle of the rolling green hills that make up Switzerland’s smallest canton is the tiny cantonal capital, with a population of just 6,000 people.
It’s almost too pretty for its own good, with brightly painted wooden houses, narrow lanes, and inviting squares. This is about as traditional as Switzerland gets.
An archetypal town center of Switzerland has a wide main street lined with handsome buildings and topped and tailed by impressive town gates. That is Willisau to a T.
At the western end is the Obertor, a chunkier version of the refined Untertor at the opposite end of the small-but-grand street. In between the two are more pretty buildings than you can shake a stick at.
The best way to arrive in Rapperswil is by boat from Zurich, at the other end of the lake. The closer you chug, the more impressive it gets, with the pointed towers of the castle and church crowning the skyline.
Huddled around the castle hill is the lovely old town with its car-free center and lakeside promenade. Take a stroll then sit and enjoy an ice cream in the sun. Swiss bliss.