Exploring Switzerland Before Or After A Rhine River Cruise

Exploring Switzerland Before Or After A Rhine River Cruise

Published September 12, 2022

If you’re about to embark on a Rhine River cruise, there’s a good chance that you’ll be starting or ending your journey in Switzerland! That’s because the Rhine River begins in the Swiss Alps and flows towards the Netherlands. This blog post will explain how you can make the most of a few days Switzerland before or after a cruise!

Zürich, Switzerland

Our extended family flew from Chicago to Zürich, where we spent one full day touring. The next morning, we took a private van transfer to the smaller city of Basel located on the Rhine. We did some sightseeing there, then boarded our Viking Cruise ship the following afternoon. To skip down to any individual attraction listed below, click or tap on the corresponding link!

Exploring Zürich For a Day or Two

As Switzerland’s largest city, Zürich certainly feels like a bustling urban center. However, with a metropolitan population of only about two million, it’s not exactly sprawling or chaotic. Zürich’s skyline is also defined by church spires and clock towers instead of modern skyscrapers, giving it a distinctly older vibe.

Zürich Hauptbahnhof (HB)

This massive train station serves as the very heart of the city center. It may not be the most picturesque place, but we used Zürich HB to orient ourselves on our first day since our hotel was only a block or two away.

The station has a large underground mall attached to it with shops and restaurants. The area directly south of Zürich HB is also a busy pedestrian district with more dining and retail options.

Walk Along the Limmat River

After a midmorning snack and a brief visit to the train station, we wandered north. We walked by the grand Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum (Swiss National Museum). Then we meandered through the Platzspitz, a small park situated at the meeting point of the Sihl and Limmat Rivers. Continuing north, there is a path on the eastern bank of the Limmat where locals seemed to enjoy sunbathing and jumping into the water.

Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum (Swiss National Museum)
View of the Limmat River from Platzspitz

The riverfront is a quaint area that offers some good views of the city. There are also vendors selling refreshments nearby.

Altstadt (Old Town)

Zürich’s Old Town is not far from the train station, located just across the Limmat River to the east. We visited this area on a guided tour, so we only had time to take a quick look around. Nonetheless, the Altstadt is home to some of the city’s most famous structures, including the iconic twin domes of the Grossmünster.

Posing for a photo in front of the Grossmünster

Take the Ferry Across Zürichsee

This beautiful lake was definitely my favorite part of the city! It’s long and narrow, stretching many miles south of Zürich into the rolling green hills of the nearby countryside. However, you don’t need to leave the city to see the lake. A great place to walk along its shores is the Rentenwiese, a popular park in the neighborhood of Enge. There’s a nice view of the Springbrunnen Aquaretum, a picturesque fountain a few hundred feet offshore.

After a quick stop at Rentenwiese, our tour driver brought us down the eastern side of the lake to Meilen. Not only is the drive really pretty, but this is also where you can take the ferry across the lake to the western side! The boat ride only takes a few minutes, but I loved the views as we crossed the bright blue water.

Ride the Cable Car at Felsenegg

Since we were now on the western bank of Zürichsee, our tour guides drove us up to Felsenegg, a scenic viewpoint outside of the village of Adliswil. There’s also a restaurant up here, so we ordered a quick dinner. After that, we took the cable car from the top to the bottom of the mountain. The views of the city, the lake, and the villages were amazing!

Exploring Basel For a Day or Two

I honestly liked Basel more than Zürich. It’s much smaller, and Basel feels like a quirkier town (in a good way)! An amazing local guide brought us on a walking tour and introduced us to the main sites. Then, we explored a bit on our own. Here are some of the things we saw.

Tinguely Fountain

Perhaps my favorite landmark in Basel is this whimsical fountain located here. It was created in the late 1970s by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. Apparently, a theater used to stand in this spot, so Tinguely incorporated old stage props into his fountain.

The fountain contains multiple characters that each have their own unique motions involving streams and flows of water. All of the movements are very fluid and natural, giving the fountain an almost lifelike feel. Since all of the motions are on a loop, the Tinguely Fountain is a mesmerizing piece of dynamic art!

Basler Münster

Basel’s most prominent cathedral should not be missed. Its distinctive brown sandstone exterior and green patterned roof are some of the things that make it unique. We learned about the church’s exterior and history on our walking tour, but sadly we didn’t have time to check out the inside for more than a minute or two. I would’ve also loved to climb this cathedral’s tower! I bet the view from up there can’t be beat.

In front of the Basler Münster is a large public square. It seemed pretty and empty and quiet while we were there, but we enjoyed trying the fresh mountain water from one of the city’s many public drinking fountains.

Be sure to also go around to the back of the Basler Münster. You’ll find an open-air balcony here that offers truly views of the Rhine River!

Explore Altstadt Grossbasel

The Old Town in Basel is a fascinating part of the city with a variety of architectural styles, bars and restaurants, and access to the Rhine. One of the most eye-catching buildings is the Basler Rathaus, or town hall. It has a deep red exterior that stands out among the other buildings on the Marktplatz.

Basler Rathaus

The Alstadt is also only a block away from the Rhine River, and two bridges cross from Grossbasel on the west to Kleinbasel on the east. I walked briefly through Kleinbasel, but I wish I had more time to explore that newer, up-and-coming part of the city in more depth.

Visit a Museum

Did you know that Basel is famous for its world-class museums? There are so many of them throughout the city, so you should check out at least one or two while you’re here!

I decided to visit the Kunstmuseum (Fine Arts Museum). It houses a massive collection of fine art that spans the centuries, but I was really impressed with some of the landscape paintings on display. There is also a lot of old religious art here.

One other important note: be sure to utilize your BaselCard if you’re spending the night in a local hotel! The card is included with your stay, and it offers tons of benefits, including free public transportation and major discounts on local museums and other attractions. I was able to get half off at the Kunstmuseum by presenting my BaselCard!

Rhine River Cruise Boarding

On our second afternoon in Basel, we boarded our Viking ship at this location. It’s an industrial riverfront area near the border with both Germany and France. After getting settled on the ship, I walked further north and found the Dreiländereck, a modern-looking monument marking the border.

Once we started sailing, it only took a few minutes to leave Swiss waters. If you’re curious about what our Viking Cruise was like as we sailed down the Rhine towards Amsterdam, be sure to check out the separate blog post I wrote about that!

First Impressions of Switzerland

After scratching the surface of both Zürich and Basel on my first trip to Switzerland, I must say the country left a very favorable first impression on me. I’m already aiming to go back within the next year or two! However, there were just a few points I think are worth mentioning to anyone who’s headed here as part of a Rhine River cruise.

One thing that stood out to me was just how expensive Switzerland is! Prices generally seemed higher than they are in the US, which is saying a lot given recent inflation. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid spending a lot of money in Switzerland. The best thing you can do is simply be prepared.

Another thing I noticed is that the food here was a little underwhelming. Now, the good news is that Switzerland seems to have a pretty international dining scene. With that said, most meals we had were only good, not great. And as you probably guessed, all the food we bought here was pretty expensive.

Have you been to Switzerland before? Have you ever done a Rhine River cruise? Are you headed that way soon? Leave a comment and let me know! I’m glad to finally get more Europe content on the blog after multiple years of travel restrictions. If you’re headed to Switzerland, have an amazing time; I think you’re going to love it!

Share This Post With Fellow Travelers!

This post was published on Sept 12, 2022

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. We always plan to arrive before our cruise and stay for a longer time at the end. We would certainly want to explore Switzerland if our cruise went from there. Even if it is an expensive place to visit. We had such rainy weather when we first visited Zurich that it would be lovely to wander with those blue skies. And to take the cable car for a clear view from above.

  2. That is nice that you could leave the ship again after settling in. Switzerland is on my list. I would love to take trains around and explore the mountains. I also would prefer smaller towns.

Leave a Reply