Discover great day trips from Zurich and unlock the natural beauty of Switzerland. From historic Lucerne to Italian-speaking Locarno, there's a wealth of options when you use Zurich as a base. Trains in Switzerland are a scenic way to explore this beautiful country, and the super-efficient SBB trains will make your journey effortless.
- Saint Gallen
Walk the halls of power
Trains from Zurich to Bern can take a little over an hour, making it one of the closest spots on our list. Many are surprised to learn this is the national capital, as it's much smaller than Zurich and has a small city feel. Sitting on a peninsula straddling the River Aare, it's the perfect destination for a day trip from Zurich.
Among the major landmarks is the Bundeshaus, which serves as the Parliament Building. It's a gorgeous building to visit at any time, and it's occasionally open to the public for tours. Another symbol of the city is the Bear Park. Bears have long been associated with the city, featuring on the Bern Coat of Arms. Here, the creatures live and play in a large grassy area, and visitors can watch them safely behind the barriers.
Art and science find a home in Bern
Bern is also famous for its Einsteinhaus, the former home of the world's most famous scientist. It allows visitors to see where the genius developed his Theory of Relativity.
Don’t miss your chance to visit the Kunstmuseum (Art Museum), a world-class cultural venue with works from masters such as Picasso. Finally, the unique Swiss Alpine Museum celebrates the spectacular mountain landscapes the country is famous for through a superb collection of artworks. Sit on the slowly rotating bench carousel as you admire the paintings.
Witness the history of an unspoiled gem
Trains from Zurich to Lucerne can take less than an hour. Another smallish city, Lucerne brings together the best elements of Swiss charm in a gorgeous setting. See the stunning Chapel Bridge, one of Lucerne's most famous landmarks – it dates from the 14th century and features overhead artworks depicting life in medieval Switzerland.
The Musegg Wall is another old construction, featuring nine towers for visitors to climb. One of them has an exposed clock which chimes before any other in the city. This is an excellent place to get panoramic views of Lucerne and snap some excellent photos.
A fascinating look at Lucerne's past
Travel back in time by visiting Lucerne’s Old Town with its ancient bridges and ornate 15th-century architecture. This traffic-free district is great for some retail therapy, with shops ranging from quirky boutiques to record stores and premium clothing outlets. There are also delicatessens offering fine local food products. Soak up the atmosphere at one of the charming cafés on the waterfront with mountains in the background.
Among the superb museums in Lucerne is the Glacier Garden. It has artefacts from the Ice Age, including fossils, and a beautiful Alpine Garden. The Mirror Maze is a fun family activity dating from Victorian times, built as a curiosity and giving visitors a challenge as they try to find the exit. The Rosengart Collection is another of Switzerland's finest museums, also focusing on Picasso but with collections of artworks by many other famous painters, such as Chagall, Cézanne, and Matisse.
See the views that make Switzerland famous
Trains from Zurich to Locarno take about 2h 20m. Easily one of the best examples of Switzerland's eye-popping natural beauty, Locarno has impressive vistas and a vibrant, Italian-esque ambience. From the town centre, take the cable car up to the Madonna del Sasso monastery. This beautiful church is one of the most important in the region. Plus, it offers unparalleled views across the lake and Alps beyond.
Back in the city, take a stroll along the Lake Maggiore promenade. This stunning body of water stretches to the Italian border, offering pretty views of turquoise water surrounded by mountains. In fine weather, enjoy a boat tour and appreciate the lake's natural beauty.
Soak up the atmosphere of elegant Locarno
Be sure to spend time walking around the Città Vecchia (‘Old Town’). It's a slice of the Mediterranean in Switzerland and offers a totally different look at the country to Zurich. The colourful-painted houses and old cobbled streets are a marvellous place to explore for an afternoon. Stop for an espresso and sandwich, or browse the traditional boutiques.
Visconteo Castle is one of the best historic sights in Locarno. It dates all the way back to the 12th century, and today serves as the city's Archaeological Museum. Learn about Locarno's Roman past, and admire the castle's gorgeous structure as you walk its grounds. Although Locarno is a little further from Zurich than the other cities on this list, if you leave in the early morning you'll find it's a magnificent destination for a day trip.
4. Saint Gallen
A day trip paradise close to Zurich
Trains from Zurich to Saint Gallen can take less than an hour, bringing you to a quiet retreat in north-east Switzerland. This town offers a look at traditional life in the German-speaking part of the country, with a number of iconic buildings, including the Saint Gallen Stiftsbibliothek. Book lovers will adore the exquisite architecture of this grand municipal library inside and out.
Saint Gallen Abbey is one of the country's most beautiful churches, with origins in the eighth century. It's been built upon over the centuries and is well-deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It also has a grand library of its own, featuring beautiful High Baroque architecture.
Explore art and nature in Saint Gallen
The town also houses a number of excellent museums. These include the Kunstmuseum, with striking modern art and sculpture in a beautiful minimalist setting. The Kunst Halle also pushes boundaries with its contemporary exhibitions, offering a very different view of Saint Gallen culture compared to its ancient buildings.
The Naturmuseum features exhibits on natural history. It includes exhibits on the town of Saint Gallen and the surrounding area, covering biology and geology. Its most popular display features a crocodile from the Nile River, brought over in the 17th century.
For an up-close experience of Saint Gallen's diverse wildlife, visit the Wildpark Peter & Paul. This free, upland attraction is open year-round and hosts a range of Alpine species native to the area such as lynx, red deer and ibexes. Thanks to its hilly setting, you can also enjoy panoramic views of the city from the on-site restaurant in lush mountainous surroundings.
The destinations mentioned here are easily reached within an hour or two, opening up the majesty of the Swiss natural surroundings and history. Switzerland is famous for its beautiful nature, but also boasts a rich history and vibrant art scene to discover on a day trip. Use our interactive Swiss rail map to plan your journey around Switzerland and book your train tickets with us today.