Saturday, September 3, 2022

Lauterbrunnen and Murren, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, also known as the valley of 72 waterfalls, and Murren, situated in the mountains above Lauterbrunnen, were the last stops on our multicity tour of Switzerland that also included Engelberg and Zurich. It was the area recommended to us by those who'd been to Switzerland, and it is definitely a very charming place. It seems that word of its charm has definitely gotten out, though, and Lauterbrunnen has also become a very touristy place. We hadn't been expecting to encounter so many people there after experiencing the peaceful idyll of Engelberg and even Zurich, which is a major city but not particularly crowded.

Still, it's easy to see how Lauterbrunnen and Murren got their reputation. I don't know if there are actually 72 waterfalls, but we did spot waterfalls regularly. And traveling into the mountains from the valley is always a miraculous journey that involves interesting transportation systems like gondolas and funiculars. I'd say that even though this area is touristy, it's certainly worth visiting for a couple days.

Where to Stay

In Lauterbrunnen, we stayed at the super charming Hotel Silberhorn. It's situated in a Swiss chalet a little bit up the mountain, and feels delightfully old and quaint. But the amenities in our two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite were wonderfully modern, and after six days of traveling together, my family appreciated having more space to spread out. I spent quite a lot of time sitting out on the peaceful balcony, overlooking the town. Here's the view from my chair. 

We loved dining at the hotel's adorable restaurant one evening, and enjoying the complimentary breakfast each morning.

What to Do

Lauterbrunnen is surrounded by towering peaks, and you can easily escape the crowds in the valley by journeying up the mountain to visit the various little towns. We spent one morning making our way up to the famously car-free Murren, and it was lovely and quiet there. Getting to Murren involved riding a gondola and a narrow-gauge railcar. Riding the railcar up the mountain and through the forest, I felt like I was on my way to Hogwarts. 

From Murren, we took a funicular up to Allmendhubel, which is the starting point of several hikes. There's also a huge cafe and amazing playground there. 

We started off on our hike by following the Northface Trail, which is supposed to lead to the Children's Adventure Trail, but I'm not sure we ever found it. The signs were a little confusing on the way down, but nevertheless we made it back down to Murren in less than an hour, with stops to pose with the local cows that have wandered onto the trail. The scenery is incredible the whole way down. 

Once in Murren, we took a different gondola to make our way down to the town of Stechelberg, which is next door to Lauterbrunnen in the valley. It's also where Trummelbach Falls is located, and we were able to quickly access it after a couple bus stops. Trummelbach Falls is situated inside a mountain and separated into 10 vertical sections. You take an elevator to reach about the midway point and climb up the rest of the way via stone steps. On the 10th level, you see (and hear!) the top of the falls as it crashes into the caverns below, then descend to view the water falling at different points. 

Most of the hike down is indoors and you will get wet from the spray! Witnessing the violently sloshing water as it tunnels its way down the mountain is amazing and difficult to describe. You just have to experience it!

Another popular waterfall in the area is Staubbach Falls, which is visible from many areas in Lauterbrunnen. Staubbach is very tall and majestic, although in August when we visited, the flow was more of a spray. Still, it has an almost ethereal quality to it, and you can see why this and other similar waterfalls in the area inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to base his stories on this area. 

You can hike up to and behind Staubbach Falls via an extremely steep switchback and then up a series of metal and stone steps. We did this our first afternoon in Lauterbrunnen, and while it was a lot of work, the view from behind the waterfall is pretty neat!

On our last afternoon in Lauterbrunnen, we rented bikes from Imboden for a couple of hours and biked along the designated biking and walking path to Stechelberg, called the Staubbachfall Loop. That easy, 7-mile bike trail is almost too scenic to be described. My impressions were of towering mountains, grazing cows and goats, a gushing river, and adorable footbridges. 

We almost missed out on the bike ride, on account of an impending thunderstorm, but I'm so glad the rain held off just long enough for us to have that unforgettable experience.  

Where to Eat

There's no shortage of dining options in Lauterbrunnen. We had dinner at our hotel restaurant, and also at the Hotel Oberland's restaurant, and got to enjoy local dishes such as raclette, pork schnitzel, spatzle, and, of course, more rosti. For lunch one day we ate the falafel and gyro wraps from Food Point, which really hit the spot. It was so good, in fact, that we picked up more wraps for our train ride out of Lauterbrunnen the next day. If we had more time, we would've dined in one of the many adorable restaurants in Murren, which all offered incredible views. 

What's Nearby

Before journeying to Lauterbrunnen by train, we stopped at the Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum in Brienz (about an hour out) to spend a day. Ballenberg is like the Swiss version of Colonial Williamsburg, except it's much bigger and less commercial. It features more than a hundred structures from all over Switzerland that depict old-fashioned life, with period furniture, farm animals, and live craft demonstrations. It's an amazing place to visit and walk around. It's also completely covered by the Swiss Travel Pass

We only spent about four hours there (including lunch at one of the on-premise restaurants) but could have easily spent more time checking out the various buildings. I don't think it's possible to see it all in one day. The buildings we found most interesting were the bakery (where we got to sample freshly made bread), the schoolhouse, and the woodworking shop. 

At certain locations you can watch a craftsperson demonstrate their craft, and at other locations you can participate in a hands-on activity. You pick up a sheet with all the available activities for the day at the entrance. We found the hands-on activities much more enjoyable than the craft demonstrations, which were sometimes performed without explanation or not performed at all (the craftsperson was on break). All in all, though, I thought it was an educational and interesting way to spend an afternoon.

Lauterbrunnen was the last stop in our tour around Switzerland, which also included Engelberg and Zurich. Check out my itineraries for those parts of the trip!

You may also like: Zurich with Kids: What to See, Do, and Eat
Engelberg with Kids: What to See, Do, and Eat

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