Switzerland has the roads, the mountain passes and the views like other classic cycling destinations. It just lacks the traffic! Here's our pick of 7 top rides.
By Imogen Smith
Switzerland is one of the best places on earth to ride a bike. The nation has over near on countless kilometres of clearly-signposted routes spanning cities, valleys, mountains, and lakes. Switzerland’s velvety-smooth roads are generally very safe (thanks to Swiss drivers), as well as quiet, devoid of the hordes of tourists and—ahem—giant tour groups of cyclists that sometimes crowd out the world’s most famous alpine ascents. That said, the climbs on offer are up there in spectacle and difficulty of the big, famous grand tour mountain ascents. If huffing and puffing at high altitude aren’t your thing, there are dozens of routes available in sun-drenched valleys, or around towns and cities bathed in history and tradition. Here’s Bike’s picks for Switzerland’s best cycling routes:
Lucerne and Central Switzerland
Lake Lucerne sits right in the middle of Switzerland and is the country’s fourth-largest lake. The town is a great base for anyone wishing to visit Central Switzerland, or even get a little taste of the nation’s icons: mountains (such as the Pilatus or Rigi), lakes, chocolate box towns, and impressive panoramas combining all three.
It goes without saying that the best way to take in all of these sights is by bike, and cycling allows you to get up and close to Lucerne’s spectacular aquamarine lake and absorb breathtaking views from all points of the compass.
Starting at Lucerne’s historic main station, the 68-kilometre tour of the lake is nearly completely flat, taking in just 420m of climbing, and includes a boat ride on the way home. You’ll also pass Lucerne’s well-known Swiss Museum of Transport, which is well worth the visit.
If you’re looking for a challenge and a big day on the bike in Central Switzerland, park the loop of Lake Lucerne for some recovery and take a look at the Heart of Switzerland tour. Starting in Altdorf (which is opposite Lucerne on the lake), this route demands excellent fitness. The 134-kilometre route includes nearly 50-kilometres of uphill riding, or a smidgin short of 3,000m of vertical ascent. After conquering the Klausen pass (an iconic climb of the Tour de Suisse), you’ll roll through the gorgeous farming valleys and meadows, before tackling the narrow roads of the Pragel pass. Remember what goes up must come down, so 3,000m of climbing means 3,000m of epic, steep descents.
Get up close to the Eiger!
The Jungfrau region is a natural playground known for adventurers of all types year-round, drawing skiers, kayakers, climbers, hikers, BASE jumpers, and cyclists to its lakes and dramatic mountains.
Grosse Schiedegg is one of Europe’s most beautiful passes to take on by bike. Named after it, The Grosse Scheidegg route takes on the 1962m pass, as it passes beneath the infamous Eiger’s north face, and around the shores of crystal clear Lake Brienz.
Best of all, the route over the Grosse Schiedegg pass is completely car-free, open only to Switzerland’s gorgeous yellow post buses. Starting from Meiringen, this 79-kilometre ride’s vertical ascent of 1,470m may look easy on paper, but with gradients kicking to 12 per cent, the route requires a good level of fitness. At least until you reach the top of Grosse Schiedegg, because from there the rest of the ride is mostly downhill or flat.
Vineyards, lakes, passes and more - welcome to Vaud
Did someone say wine! The Vaud region is known for its picturesque lakes and rolling farmland, much of it under vine. With spectacular views to the Jura mountains in the north and the Vaud Alps to the east, as well as Lake Geneva, this tranquil ride on quiet lanes covers just 30 kilometres, but still offers a few stiff pinches to keep the legs awake. Starting at Lutry railway station, take in terraced vineyards worthy of their UNESCO World Heritage status, and gorgeous views over Lake Geneva, the largest body of water in alpine central Europe.
Coming this year to Bike magazine is our Best Rides feature on this epic Swiss route, covering 108 kilometres, this epic route takes in three alpine passes and takes in 2,360m of vertical ascent. Keep your eye out for issue #21!
The loop through Vaud's cols is a fitting Best Ride in a coming issue. With great climbs, good gradients, stops for coffee and cheese and a 1000m descent through vineyards, it had everything! Except many cars. . Thanks to @aswisswithapulse and @alpsinsight for a great day out in this magical land of cycling. : @alpsinsight
Loop through the Zurich Oberland
Zurich is situated in the heart of Europe, and the centre of Switzerland, on the picturesque Lake Zurich. Whenever you visit a city, it’s nice to get a feel for the rides the locals do. This route in the Zurich Oberland is popular with the cycling community of Switzerland’s largest city (of just 400,000 inhabitants). This 68-kilometre ride sets off from Zurich railway station, using cycle paths to leave the city centre, very quickly transporting riders to quieter roads, then to the countryside. The ride is fairly gentle, with just a few hills throughout to keep the legs awake. Along the route are gorgeous views of typical Swiss countryside, chocolate-box villages, and of course, lakes, and it’s easy to take a short side-trip to the shores of Lake Greifen for a dip or a photo.
Get out and about near Basel
Basel is a city of culture and history. Switzerland’s oldest university town, it’s packed full of museums, monuments, and architecture. This 103-kilometre ride takes you from Basel’s railway station and out of town via the city’s cycle paths. Once in the countryside, you’ll encounter wild forest backways, challenging climbs, hairpin descents, and experience the Belchen pass (991m), with immense views of the dramatic surrounding countryside. The moderately-challenging ride with 1,540m of vertical ascent then returns you to the city centre via off-road cycle paths.
Interested in Switzerland’s off-road routes? Australian Mountain Bike mag have recently posted their guide to the best places to hit the dirt with the help of the nation’s incredible rail network: Trails by rail in Switzerland
Tips for cycling in Switzerland
Stay on route
All of Switzerland’s bike routes, mountain bike, road bike, e-bike, and otherwise, are marked with little red and yellow signs, usually mounted to road signs. Keep an eye out for your route number, and you won’t get lost.
Have cash on hand
Remember, the Swiss currency is the Swiss Franc, not the Euro. Euros are accepted at some stores in big cities, but you’ll be paying a premium.
Prep for any weather
Switzerland’s network of mountains and valleys can throw up (cold and nasty) surprises, so never skimp on some warm clothing and an extra snack or two in your back pocket!
Fill up! Anywhere!
Almost every town and village will have a water fountain somewhere near its centre. These flow night and day with pure crystal drinking water, so there’s never an excuse for dehydration
Invest in a half-fare card for the Swiss rail system. For a one-off fee of 120CHF, all your ticket prices through the entire rail network are halved for a month.
Swiss Bike Hotels are happy to host you and your bike. The best ones offer overnight kit laundry service, a bike wash, and tools for those little mid-trip tweaks.
My Switzerland also has excellent information on a huge number of fantastic rides for all levels of fitness and for all kinds of riders, including tips, route details, and downloadable maps.