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Home » A selection of some of the prettiest but lesser known old towns in Switzerland

A selection of some of the prettiest but lesser known old towns in Switzerland

Photo: Fribourg (FR), 2016-January-17.

This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with the popular places. I just got thinking about which are nice but almost unknown in general. Just about every Swiss town has a well preserved old town so there are plenty to choose from. Some of these are so obscure I only stumbled across them after years exploring the area.

This is focused on larger old towns, if you want villages then see this post.

Selection rules


Not especially well known. So favourites like Gruyères, Bern, and Luzern are clearly out. Others like Stein am Rhein, Ascona, Baden, and Appenzell etc are still a bit too well known for my aim with this post.

Minimum size/cohesion. There are lots of beautiful villages, but I am saying that a few rustic houses and short alleyways you can explore within 2 minutes doesn’t count as an old town. It has to feel like a more cohesive and stand alone place which could hold and support a market. I would consider Wiedlisbach to be an old town, whilst Lavertezzo isn’t.

Backdrop doesn’t matter. If a river runs through the middle or if it is built by a lake or into a gorge then that counts, but just having a view of a distant mountain doesn’t count for the old town.

This is not an exhaustive list (and it is clearly also very subjective). Not least as there are still plenty of places I have never been to. Any suggestions are welcome.

Map

The List

I have included suggestions of where would be the most practical place to

What there is to do varies; some places could keep you busy all day others for only 20 minutes.

  • St Ursanne (JU). You quite often see it being advertised, but being rather out of the way it isn’t often visited other than by people from the region.
    Day trip from: Basel.
  • Porrentruy (JU). Sitting in a rural area on the north side of the Jura surrounded by gentle hills and France.
    Day trip from: Basel.
  • Fribourg (FR). As an old town that follows a ridge down into a winding gorge it is almost creepy how much it is like nearby Bern, but much more French. The area at the base of the old town feels almost like a separate village to itself.
    Day trip from: Bern, Lausanne.
St Ursanne (JU)
Fribourg (FR)
  • Murten/Morat (FR). Featuring a lake and possibly the most complete city wall in Switzerland.
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Avenches (VD). Built on the site of one of the major Roman settlements in Switzerland with ruins in and around the centre. Less than 10km from Murten so they make a good pairing.
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • La Neuveville (BE). I will also throw in the neighbouring Erlach, BE and Ligerz, BE which are quite small but well worth a few minutes.
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Estavayer-le-Lac (FR).
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Solothurn, SO.
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Wiedlisbach (BE).
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Wangen an der Aare (BE).
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Büren an der Aare (BE).
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Chur (GR).
    Day trip from: Zürich.
La Neuveville (BE)
Thun (BE).
  • Bergün (GR).
    Day trip from: St Moritz.
  • Scuol (GR).
    Day trip from: Bit too far from anywhere really. St Moritz.
  • Samedan (GR).
    Day trip from: St Moritz.
  • Lutry (VD). Especially nice thanks to its lakefront location, this also makes a good starting point for a walk through the Lavaux.
    Day trip from: Lausanne, Geneva, Montreux.
  • Morges (VD).
    Day trip from: Lausanne, Geneva, Montreux.
  • Nyon (VD).
    Day trip from: Lausanne, Geneva, Montreux.
  • Moudon (VD).
    Day trip from: Lausanne.
  • Neuchatel (NE).
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Willisau (LU).
    Day trip from: Lucerne.
  • Sursee (LU).
    Day trip from: Lucerne.
  • Sempach (LU).
    Day trip from: Lucerne.
  • Aarberg (AG).
    Day trip from: Lucerne.
  • Burgdorf (BE). Literally ‘Fortress-village’, it lives up to the name.
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Biel/Bienne (BE). Biel is mostly known in Switzerland for being an unattractive industrial city, it does have a really nice old town hidden away. Unlike most other Swiss cities the main shopping area is focused around the new town, so the old town is filled with kooky little shops rather than big name brands.
    Day trip from: Bern.
Solothurn (SO)
Biel (BE)
  • Laupen (BE).
    Day trip from: Bern.
  • Laufenburg (AG). Notable for being splitting across the border with one side in Germany and the other in Switzerland, linked by a bridge across the Rhine.
    Day trip from: Basel.
  • Bremgarten (AG).
    Day trip from: Zürich.
  • Baden (AG).
    Day trip from: Zürich, Basel.
  • Thun (BE). Thun seems to be getting increasingly well known. Having a much more attractive centre than Interlaken and good links into the mountains means it wouldn’t be a bad base in the region.
    Day trip from: Bern, Interlaken.
  • Rapperswil (SG).
    Day trip from: Zürich.
  • St Gallen (SG).
    Day trip from: Zürich.
  • Bellinzona (TI). Fairly well known for the three castles, the old town gets overlooked but is well worth a look around.
    Day trip from: Lugano, Zürich, Lucerne.
Murten (FR)
Samedan (GR)

Might well make the list but I have yet to visit:

  • Zofingen (AG).
    Day trip from: Lucerne.
  • Rheinfelden (AG). Another border crossing town like Laufenburg.
    Day trip from: Zürich, Basel.
  • Romont (FR).
    Day trip from: Bern, Lausanne.