I had just turned 23, and I was preparing to move to Germany. You could say my spirits were high. Europe fascinates me and always will. Its turbulent yet colorful history mixed with its vibrant nightlife and cuisine will have you coming back for more, especially with destinations such as Interlaken.
Pitching the Idea
Prior to settling and moving to Germany, I pitched the idea of a family road trip through Central Europe to my parents and sister. Road trips throughout the east coast of the U.S. were something we always enjoyed whether it was to the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania or the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Of course, my father dreaded the idea of flying eight hours one way and jumping from hotel to hotel. He warmed up to the idea as my sister and I showed him pictures of the beautiful Amalfi Coast and the serene valleys of the Swiss Alps (he’s also seen quite a few Rick Steve’s episodes). The plan was put in to motion and the flight, car, and lodging booking were underway.
5 Destinations NOT to Miss
Below is a list of the destinations you shouldn’t miss if you are going to road trip anywhere along the corridor between Frankfurt and Interlaken, Switzerland. I won’t bore you with a deep-dive into each location, but I will leave you with highlights or signature experiences we enjoyed in each destination.
1. Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Frankfurt am Main has the reputation of Germany’s premier skyline and is the financial hub of Europe (which is where it gets its nickname “Manhattan of Europe”). The city is rich in history and cultural pride. Located on the Main River which is an offshoot of the famous Rhine River, Frankfurt sits a few hours east of the French and Luxembourg borders by car or train.
If you’ll be in Frankfurt for a few days, there will be some sites to not miss. One of the most iconic sites of Frankfurt is the Römerplatz which has been at the heart of the Altstadt (Old city) for some 700 years. The Rathaus resides here as well, a historical government building which has been there since the 1300s. A great way to experience the Römerplatz is over a hearty plate of sauerkraut, potatoes, and sausage. This is best accompanied by a pint of Apfelwein. Apfelwein is a famous type of hard apple cider within the local region. There are plenty of quaint, outdoor restaurants to choose from within the Römerplatz.
Keep in mind while you observe the architecture of Frankfurt, most of the city like many German cities, was destroyed by allied bombing during World War II. Most of downtown excluding the cathedral was destroyed. For a glimpse of what the city looked like after these bombing raids, venture over to the Gothic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. Take a look at the picture near the entrance. It’s a moving moment.
I’ve been to Frankfurt over 10 times and don’t want to do it an injustice so be on the lookout for a future post in which I will get in to a further deep dive in to attractions, nightlife, and great experiences in Frankfurt am Main.
2. Strasbourg, France
As our trip progressed south towards Switzerland, it only made sense to hop over the German-French border for a pit stop in the former German city of Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the home to the European Parliament. As with many cities and towns in the Alsace-Loraine Region of modern-day France, Strasbourg maintains many German characteristics such as its name and architecture including its soaring Gothic style cathedral. This back and forth of regional control can be attributed to centuries of wars between France and Germany. To name a few, the Franco-Prussian War in the 1800s and World War I.
As the Rhine River meanders north to south along Strasbourg’s eastern border, the Ill River, a western tributary provides a waterfront for many of the old city’s cafes and promenades. A day strolling along the banks of the Ill River on the inner belt of the old city is a great way to spend some time. Also, take full advantage of being humbled by the sheer size of Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg’s main tower along with its esteemed astronomical clock.
3. Freiburg, Germany
Our final stop before reaching Switzerland was Freiburg, a quant city at the western edge of the “Schwarzwald” or the Black Forest in Southwest Germany. It’s a region touted for fathering the intricate Cuckoo clocks we know today, some of the best Riesling in the world, and its delicious light weissbeirs or wheat beers.
A memory I value to this day, was sitting in the sunny Münsterplatz or Cathedral Square sipping on a locally brewed wheat beer with my family as the time and pedestrians passed. Here you can view another awe inspiring Gothic cathedral with its gargoyle perched buttresses spanning out from the body of the structure. It’s a true artwork that doesn’t take but a mere glance to appreciate its intricacy in detail.
If you can find a wine store that does tasting with regional Rieslings of the area, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll leave with a sweet and tasty buzz. Keep your eyes peeled for these family owned shops as it’s a great way to ‘taste the culture’ per se.
4. Interlaken, Switzerland
Without a doubt, Interlaken located in the heart of the Berner Oberland, quickly became one of my favorite destinations in the world. With its cozy Swiss chalets tucked between majestic Alpine valleys spouting pristine glacial waterfalls from all sides, it’s quite easy to fall in love with.
This was the first time I stayed at the famed Balmers Hostel and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. It was by coincidence due to the hotel across the street not allowing my family of 4 stay in their last room available due to capacity issues. I certainly wasn’t upset by this as I quickly discovered the 5-star backpacker nightlife the hostel offered in their club-like basement.
The entire town of Interlaken flocks here from hotel to hostel stayers to mix and mingle with the jovial crowd at Balmers. The staff here is extremely hospitable and you’ll meet travelers from all walks as Interlaken is famed for their adventure activities i.e. skydiving over the Alps, canyoning, canyon diving, and hang-gliding. Be on the lookout for a future post where I’ll dive in to these various adventure activities and how Interlaken has become the adrenaline junkie capital of Europe.
5. Mürren and Gimmelwald (near Interlaken), Switzerland
Just as Interlaken and its neighbor town Lauterbrunnen are nestled tightly in the picturesque valley under the Jungfrau (13,6421 ft) and Eiger (13,025 ft) peaks, Mürren and Gimmelwald are perched on the eastern side of the mighty Schilthorn (9,744 ft) peak. To reach Mürren, one must go through Gimmelwald via cable car first which is equally as quaint.
Mürren is unique in that is only accessible by cable car rendering this quaint town car-less, giving it an even more quiet and peaceful atmosphere. This town marked my dad’s favorite stop on the trip as we truly appreciated the beauty of the mountains and the quiet vibe characterizing this destination.
Similar to our experience, ensure to take full advantage of this town’s local cheese products harvested from the cows that graze along these Alpine slopes. It’s some of the best cheese you will taste and combined with the views, you surely won’t regret this cable car adventure.