To the younger generation, Grindelwald is most familiar as a villainous character from the Harry Potter franchise. But did you know it is also the name of a mountain resort in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland?
The pretty alpine village, which has just 105 permanent inhabitants, is popular with British skiers in the winter season. Yet when the snow melts and the temperatures rise, it transforms into a buzzing summer destination for hikers and adrenaline junkies looking for their next fitness fix.
The gently winding village is lined with traditional wooden chalets, shops selling watches, trinkets and outdoor clothing, and neat little hotels with flower-covered balconies. Yet Grindelwald’s crowning glory is its scenery: surrounded by vast, snow-topped mountains and acres of lush, green fields dotted with pine trees, the stresses of everyday life feel far, far away.
As alpine resorts go, there are few places on earth which offer such a huge range of outdoor activities and experiences. Here’s our pick of the best.
Activities on the majestic Mannlichen
At 2,343m above sea level, Mannlichen is a popular starting point for hikers and offers plenty of activities for both adults and children. It can either be reached by gondola from Grindelwald, or via an aerial cable car from Wengen. The latter offers seven minutes of uninterrupted views of the Lauterbrunnen valley as it edges towards the station. From there, it is just a 15-minute walk to the summit.
At the top of Mannlichen there’s a giant cow-themed childrens’ playground which includes bouncy udder trampolines and a huge “cow tongue” slide.
One of the more unusual activities on Mannlichen is the Summer Gemel, a gravity powered three wheeled cart with a lever in the centre that controls the speed. It may sound a little bonkers but it’s easy to handle and so much fun.
The winding, downhill trail takes between 30 and 45 minutes to complete, depending on how many times you want to stop and take photos. The lovely views are accompanied by the cheerful clinking of cow bells, and there are plenty of places to stop and take in the view, including a little hut with three traditional alpenhorns.
Defying gravity at Grindelwald’s glacier canyon
Located around a 35 minute walk from the centre of village is the glacier canyon. It was formed by the now defunct Lower Grindelwald Glacier and until the 1920s it was an important site for ice harvesting, and huge blocks of ice were transported to all corners of the globe.
Nowadays, the canyon has been transformed into an adventure attraction. A “sensory” walkway is flanked by 300m vertical rock walls and the choppy waters of the Lütschine River and weaves through exposed rock galleries and tunnels, leading to the Spiderweb: a 170m squared net which stretches over the Lütschine River. You can walk, jump and crawl on the surprisingly bouncy net as water rushes and roars below.
If you’re feeling very daring, have a go on the Interlaken Canyon Swing. Standing on a platform perched 90m above the canyon, you’ll be attached to a harness and told to jump. You’ll free fall 70m, reaching speeds of up to 120kph (70mph) before swinging between the vertical rocks of the canyon as the river flows below your feet. I took on the challenge (see the video below) and can report that it was one of the most incredible experiences of my travelling life.
Adventures at Grindelwald First
The Grindelwald First is a minor summit on the slopes of the Schwarzhorn, which can be reached by gondola. Surprisingly it wasn’t until the 1900s that the lure of mountain exploration became popular.
From the top of First, you can glimpse the indomitable north face of the Eiger, which famously claimed the lives of five climbers in 1936. Even now, the “murder wall” is considered one of the most challenging ascents in the world.
Fortunately, the trekking opportunities at First are much less risky, and one of the most popular routes is the trail leading to Bachalpsee Lake, whose turquoise waters provide a stunning contrast to the snowy mountains. It is a gentle two-hour round trip iwith some excellent photography opportunities.
We recommend completing the walk in the morning and returning to the First Mountain Restaurant to enjoy a delicious bubbling pot of cheese fondue. Then head outside and take part in the Tissot Cliff Walk, a secure but vertigo-inducing pathway that hugs the craggy cliffs on the summit.
Return to Grindelwald in style via zip line, mountain cart or scooter. This begins with the First Flyer, which transports you from First to Schreckfeld via a four-person 800m steel cable, reaching speeds of up to 84kph (52mph).
Hop off the Flyer and walk the short distance to the First Mountain Carts. The summer sledges are pimped with impressive off-road wheels and you can travel at speed down the 3km track towards Bort. The mountain carts have hydraulic brakes to ensure you are always in control. Complete the final stretch of the journey from Bort to Grindelwald on the cutely named Trottibikes, – a mix of scooter and bicycle.
Jungfraujoch: Europe’s highest railway station
Jungfraujoch, also known as “the top of Europe”, is the continent’s highest railway station at 3,454m. Opened in 1912 the train carries passengers through several villages before entering a 7km tunnel through the mountain.
Before reaching the final station, you make a brief stop at Eismeer where you can get out and admire the view of the Eiger north face. Unfortunately, our view was blocked by dense layers of cloud, but on a clear day it is meant to be very impressive.
Jungfraujoch is probably the closest thing you’ll get to a “tourist” experience in Switzerland. One of the highlights is the viewing platform, but only if it’s a clear day – we experienced a blizzard and a total whiteout. There’s an ice palace with some impressive animal ice sculptures – you may even spot Scrat from Ice Age.
Complete your tour with a mooch around Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven. The interactive exhibition teaches you how Lindt’s famous chocolate confections are made, and the chocolate shop is much cheaper than you’d expect.
PARTY: Every Wednesday there’s live music in the village throughout July and August, with a live band, plenty of drinks and a buzzy atmosphere.
GET THERE: The easiest way to reach Grindelwald is by train. It takes about three hours to travel from Zurich International Airport to Grindelwald (changing at Bern and Interlaken). If you’re planning on using the train a lot during your trip, we highly advise purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass, which allows unlimited travel throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. You may also want to purchase a Jungfrau Travel Pass if you are spending more than three days in the region.