The good things you’ve heard about Switzerland are probably true: The streets are immaculate, the chocolate divine, and the trains always on time. Boring? Definitely not. Beautiful? Absolutely! Switzerland may seem small, but it has a wealth of places to visit and sights to see, including 13 World Heritage Sites. In this article, we will have a closer look at nine of them.
1. Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes
The Bernina Express is one of several premium panoramic trains in Switzerland. The journey from Chur to Tirano has all the ingredients of a memorable trip: breathtaking sights, tunnels, steep ascents and sweeping views of mountain summits. But its significance extends far beyond picturesque sights. The construction of this route is a stroke of genius and is widely regarded as a defining moment in railway architecture. Despite the challenging terrain, the engineers found a way to construct the rails and tunnels to make them blend in with the environment.
While it’s the Albula and Bernina Lines from Thusis to Tirano that gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008, the entire journey is spectacular. The Albula Line is 62 kilometres long and was built in six years. Interested in learning more about this unique chapter in railway history? In that case, a visit to the Albula Railway Museum in Bergün is an excellent choice.
2. Benedictine Convent of St John in Müstair
According to legend, the convent was founded by Charlemagne in the 8th Century. It is home to an impressive collection of art treasures from more than 12 centuries. But it’s the frescoes from the early Middle Ages, which can be admired in the convent church, that were decisive for its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The convent remains active today. The Benedictine nuns continuously keep the convent alive following the rule of “ora et labora”, pray and work. Visitors can experience the 12 centuries of cultural and monastic life by visiting the church and the museum.
Those looking for a memorable experience while seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life will be pleased to know that it is possible to spend the night in one of the guest rooms. The convent in Müstair is approximately two hours away from St. Moritz. Those who make the trip to Switzerland’s most eastern valley will be rewarded with views of the national park along the way.
3. Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona
Africa and Europe collided millions of years ago. Layers of rock were pushed on top of one another, folded and broken. The results of this extraordinary natural phenomenon that shaped the Swiss Alps can best be admired in the mountain landscape of Piz Sardona.
Year after year, countless visitors are drawn to the region. This historically important site also attracts hikers that flock to the region for its stunning trails. One spectacular circle trail is located between Laufböden and Pizolhütte. It’s considered to be an easy trail so beginners can enjoy it as well. From Zurich, the Pizol cablecar in Wangs (near Sargans) is a one hour and eight minutes journey.
4. Monte San Giorgio
Monte San Giorgio in Ticino with views of Lake Lugano is a dream come true for paleontologists and those with an interest in history. The 1,097 m high mountain is rich in fossils, which tell a story about life 240 million years ago. These fossils are exhibited in the Museum of Fossils in the town of Meride, which is also the starting point for a riveting circular tour of the area.
5. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch
This World Heritage Site is firmly in the “I just can’t believe what I’m seeing” category. Home to the largest connected glaciated area in Switzerland, the three iconic mountains Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau look like they were sculpted directly from a block of ice. But why stand there in awe when you can go up there? And no, one doesn’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to make the trip.
The Jungfraujoch railway station, located at 3,454 m above sea level, is the highest in Europe. Unsurprisingly, it is also known as the Top of Europe. Since 2020, the state-of-the-art Eiger Express has cut the commute to the top in half. It connects Grindelwald station with the Eiger Glacier station. From there, the rack railway takes guests to the top. Pretty cool, right?
6. Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzona
The Castles of Bellinzona are a prime example of medieval military architecture. Built by the Duke of Milan to keep enemies from crossing the Alps, it is now a World Heritage Site and part of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. The trip from Lucerne to Bellinzona is truly spectacular and combines a historical experience on water and on rails. A steamboat or modern motor vessel takes guests from Lucerne to Flüelen.
In Flüelen, the Gotthard Panorama Express, featuring first class carriages only, takes over. Multilingual guides point out the highlights while the train traces the route through the Gotthard tunnel, built in 1882 – formerly the principal way of getting to southern Switzerland by rail. Want to visit the Fortress and its museums? The Bellinzona Pass will give you access to all of them.
7. La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning
If you have a quality wristwatch, chances are it was made in Switzerland. For example in La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, two towns that are famous for their watchmaking. After devastating fires, the towns were carefully rebuilt in the 19th Century. In 1900, half of the world’s watches were made here. The chequerboard design of the roads and constructions was specifically adapted to the requirements of the thriving industry. For this, these watchmaking towns gained World Heritage Status in 2009.
Even today, some of the world’s most luxurious watches are carefully assembled here from thousands of individual parts. For a proper introduction, guests should stop at Espace de l’urbanisme horloger, the visitor’s center, or take part in a guided tour.
8. Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps
What was life like 5,000 years ago, and what can pile dwellings in Switzerland tell us about it? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Pile dwellings are remains of prehistoric settlements in lakes and marshes around the Alps. While the World Heritage status encompasses 111 sites in six countries, more than half are in Switzerland and many objects are displayed at the Laténium near Neuchâtel.
From Berne, the fastest train connection to Neuchâtel takes just 34 minutes. Alternatively, visitors can start in Biel and embark on a scenic boat cruise that will take them to Neuchatel in around two hours and fifteen minutes.
9. Abbey of St. Gall
The Abbey of St. Gall was founded in 612 by the Irish monk Gallus. It became an important centre for writing activities and book illumination. For many visitors, the Abbey Library is the main attraction. Its rococo halls are among the most beautiful in Switzerland. The library’s collection of 170,000 antique books never fails to amaze. Its collection is one-of-a-kind and includes, among others, rare manuscripts and the oldest conserved German language book. For some, it feels like being the main character in a fairy tale, so it’s no surprise that this institution was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
The Swiss Travel Pass can be put to good use: the intercity train from Zurich takes just one hour and 13 minutes to St. Gall.