(Alpine Pass Route) A tram in Bern, Switzerland

City breaks after trekking: An introduction


Walking guides - see all our background pages



The possibilities

The Alps are surrounded by, and in some cases include, vibrant and cultural cities such as Geneva, Innsbruck and Venice. Visiting a city can be an invigourating contrast and a way to celebrate a succcesful trip to the mountains.

Clients receive our detailed Travel Notes on booking; as well as directions to and from the following cities relevant to each route, we include brief hotel lists that we maintain as we pass through on our recces. Please tell us how many days you have to spare, and we'll advise.

  Alpine Exploratory in the Alps    Holidays

Below, we say more about each of our Alpine cities:
North of the Alps: Basel, Bern, Innsbruck, Luzern, Munich, Salzburg, St Gallen and Zurich
East of the Alps: Graz, Ljubljana and Vienna
South of the Alps: Milan, Turin and Venice
West of the Alps: Geneva, Grenoble and Lausanne

  Alpine Exploratory in Norway    Holidays

Next we introduce our Norwegian cities:
Norway: Bergen, Oslo and Trondheim

  Alpine Exploratory in the UK    Holidays

Lastly we describe our UK cities:
England: Manchester
Scotland: Edinburgh and Glasgow

North of the Alps

Let's dive in, starting with Alpine approaches from the North. So many flights go to Munich and the trains are so easy, that this will be a natural approach to the Austrian Alps as well as the German. In Switzerland, trains link up all the German-speaking Swiss cities within an hour or two of each other.


 Basel   Switzerland
The market place in Basel
The market place in Basel
  About Basel
Basel occupies the very edge of Switzerland as it borders France and Germany. We are off the Swiss tourism circuit here in this university town. Basel is a treat, thoroughly liveable and surprisingly pretty. At a high-ceilinged coffee shop we watch the purposeful bustle of the working day. Unmistakeably Swiss, there is a German dining influence with good beer halls.
Basel is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Val d'Anniviers
Walker's Haute Route

Staying in town
Up narrow steps from the commercial centre of town is the university district with hotels and restaurants. As befits a city on a manageable scale we suggest a low-key, well thought-out hotel.


 Bern   Switzerland
The Swiss parliament building in Bern
The Swiss parliament building in Bern
  About Bern
Bern is the seat of the Swiss parliament. The surprise is the old town on its bend in the river, with three chief streets lined with arcades; these are stone arch-ways above which sit three or four stories of apartments. Behind the arches and the walkway are so many independent shops and restaurants.. apparently 4km of such arcades in total.
Bern is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Val d'Anniviers
Walker's Haute Route

Staying in town
Bern is on the Northern edge of the Alps, one hour from Interlaken or Visp; it's hard to beat for a proper city within a local train ride of mountains. The station is next to the old town.


 Innsbruck   Austria
The famous Golden Roof of Innsbruck
Innsbruck's Golden Roof
  About Innsbruck
In the narrow Western limb of Austria, the small city of Innsbruck is in the thick of the mountains. In its neat and open centre is a fine old town with high Tyrolean buildings crowding narrow lanes. Austrian valleys such as the Stubai are a local bus ride from the city centre, barely less convenient than a suburb. Life here is clean and easy, moutains ever-present.
Innsbruck is included in info packs for the following routes:
Adlerweg
Dolomites Alta Via 1
Zillertal Weekend

Staying in town
The city centre of Innsbruck is compact, bounded by the railway to the East and South and by the River Inn to the West. Smart hotels are in the commercial streets and the small old town.


 Luzern   Switzerland
The Swiss flag in Luzern
The Swiss flag in Luzern
  About Luzern
Luzern is a smaller-scale version of Zurich, thoroughly Swiss, mountains forming the backdrop to charming old buildings around the head of a lake. After hours, squares open up with early-evening drinkers and diners outside Thai restaurants. The touristic elements are relatively focused on the mini-estuary with its covered wooden bridge and rows of colourful houses.
Luzern is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Val d'Anniviers
Walker's Haute Route

Staying in town
Luzern has a newer grid-layout town, very attractive in a bustling everyday way, as well as the old town around the river and lake. Hotels are in these two areas, both close to the Hauptbahnhof.


 Munich   Germany
Munich has better outdoor kit shopping than almost anywhere
Munich is an outdoor kit shopper's paradise
  About Munich
The self-confident capital of Bavaria, Munich has the lot. Trams, enormous museum collections, the beginnings of Oktoberfest at the end of Summer, and a navigable city centre. Two branches of German outdoor stores make Munich a destination! Both spread across several floors and follow the seasons, skiing or walking, in creative displays.
Munich is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Adlerweg
Dolomites Alta Via 1
Zillertal Weekend

Staying in town
Munich's centre spreads among the Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof (main and East train stations) and the very centre of town. The English Garden adds an extra dimension.


 Salzburg   Austria
The Stiegl bierkeller in Salzburg
The Stiegl bierkeller in Salzburg
  About Salzburg
Salzburg is a town to visit by train or plane before the Austrian Tyrol or perhaps the Italian Dolomites. The castle overlooks the old town; a tramway and switchback streets lead up to it. Especially in Summer, Salzburg is a tourist destination in a way that Innsbruck slightly avoids: this is Sound of Music and Mozart country but local life is equally entertaining.
Salzburg is included in info packs for the following routes:
Adlerweg
Alta Via 1

Staying in town
The key to Salzburg is the beer hall! We suggest a Stiegl brewery hall immediately above town. Hotels reflect this tradition with their own smaller bierstube, beer salons. The river links the new and old parts of town.


 St Gallen   Switzerland
The cathedral of St Gall
The cathedral of St Gall
  About St Gallen
St Gallen is an hour's train ride from Zurich. Smaller than Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Bern or Basel, it is easily managed on foot. The town is home to the famous business school and Helvetia insurance, both on a hill above the town centre. Continuing a theme of the Alpine Pass Route, for example, St Gallen makes a characteristically Swiss city stop a little off the beaten track.
St Gallen is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Alpine Pass Route Central
Walker's Haute Route

Staying in town
St Gallen has a compact old town with colourfully painted balconies, quite like Basel, and here are found some good hotels: look near the cathedral.


 Zurich   Switzerland
The bright buildings of Zurich
The bright buildings of Zurich
  About Zurich
Zurich stands in contrast to Geneva and not simply for being German-speaking rather than French. Zurich covers all of the bases for a fairytale European capital. It is obviously smart, clean and businesslike, a scientific centre as well as financial. After a Haute Route trip it makes a memorable finish, complementing Zermatt, and Zurich airport is handy for town.
Zurich is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Adlerweg
Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Val d'Anniviers
Walker's Haute Route

Staying in town
Stay in Zurich on one of the central commercial streets, not far from the lake. Young workers stroll on the boardwalk beside Lake Constance in the evening.


East of the Alps

Austria extends far East and the prime target is Vienna. We love it. Smaller Austrian cities are worth seeing too, being neat and tidy with flowing beer. Trains take you into Slovenia and beyond.


 Graz   Austria
Stucco work over the Svarovski shop in Graz
Stucco work in Graz
  About Graz
Austria's second city after Vienna, Graz feels more like its own entity than do Salzburg or Innsbruck. Graz is not at the foot of the Alps: cross Austria by train to find this less-visited and real town that nevertheless combines ornate buildings with drinking squares and coffee shops. The university sits across gardens from the modest castle and the sweet old city centre.
Graz is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Adlerweg
Zillertal Weekend

Staying in town
The main streets of Graz are on the East of the river around Hauptplatz and climbing up to the castle. We suggest two smart central hotels. Multiple inviting beer stops and restaurants are within 5 minutes' walk.


 Ljubljana   Slovenia
Ljubljana and its Franciscan Church
Ljubljana's Franciscan Church
  About Ljubljana
The capital of Slovenia and obviously so, Ljubljana makes a restorative destination after trekking in the Julian Alps. The beauty of the city is in its tranquil central streets, rather than a mass of sights. Ljubljana Castle and the extensive wooded Park Tivoli overlook the city. Ljubljana is Western European and Bohemian in much of its feel but with footholds in the East.
Ljubljana is included in info packs for the following routes:
Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut
Julian Alps Traverse
Julian Alps Forest Hut Tour

Staying in town
Ljubljana makes a relaxing city visit. It has comfy and business-like hotels in the centre, other hotels geared more towards backpackers, and rooms with families throughout the city.


 Vienna   Austria
Viennese rooftops looking to the centre
Vienna's apartments and rooftops
  About Vienna
Few European capitals are as grand as Vienna. The city's scale and its stately layout are apparent even before reaching the parks, palaces and museums on the West side of the centre. Working Vienna is bustling; drop into a subway to find busy bakeries. From the mountains, Vienna is a substantial train ride, but this journey can complete a crossing of the Alps.
Vienna is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Adlerweg
Zillertal Weekend

Staying in town
Vienna's centre is compact and almost every street is worth seeing. Residential districts with elaborately-fronted blocks of apartments extend in all directions. The Prater park with ferris wheel is a good stroll.


South of the Alps

After the Dolomites we suggest a visit to Venice. As other Northern Italian cities, it is easy to reach.


 Milan   Italy
Milan`s Vittorio Emanuelle arcade
Milan's Vittorio Emanuelle arcade
  About Milan
Turin is a manufacturing city in Northern Italy, an alternative to Geneva for reaching the Tour du Mont Blanc if less quick a transfer. It is the first big place reached if leaving the TMB for travels into Italy. We like Turin; it is manageable, thanks in part to the extensive grid system. Covered walkways beside grand avenues lead into open squares with statuary and marble.
Milan is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc

Staying in town
Before or after the TMB we recommend a hotel in the centre of town by Porto Nuovo station. The Torinese drink aperitifs in bars with nibbles - or extensive buffets of snacks - included in the price. Espresso bars are cheap and plentiful as of legend.


 Turin   Italy
The grand open squares of Turin
The grand open squares of Turin
  About Turin
Turin is a manufacturing city in Northern Italy, an alternative to Geneva for reaching the Tour du Mont Blanc if less quick a transfer. It is the first big place reached if leaving the TMB for travels into Italy. We like Turin; it is manageable, thanks in part to the extensive grid system. Covered walkways beside grand avenues lead into open squares with statuary and marble.
Turin is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc

Staying in town
Before or after the TMB we recommend a hotel in the centre of town by Porto Nuovo station. The Torinese drink aperitifs in bars with nibbles - or extensive buffets of snacks - included in the price. Espresso bars are cheap and plentiful as of legend.


 Venice   Italy
The canals of Venice, a fine trip after the Dolomites
Venice and its canals
  About Venice
Venice is a city built on islands in a lagoon, its houses perched on petrified stilts. Impossibly narrow lanes cross beautiful backwater canals on ornate bridges, in such numbers as to create a maze. To explore Venice is a frustrating, bizarre yet enthralling experience that cannot possibly be imagined in advance. Piazza San Marco and water taxis come as a mere bonus.
Venice is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Dolomites Alta Via 1
Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut
Zillertal Weekend

Staying in town
Stay in Venice itself or on the mainland nearby. Mestre is the normal town on the mainland with quick bus or train links to Venice. We recommend hotels in both central Venice and Mestre.


West of the Alps

The French cities are centres for their own regions of the Alps, notably Grenoble, with Swiss Geneva being perhaps the most-used entry point of all to the Alps.


 Geneva   Switzerland
Geneva and its laid-back old town
Geneva's relaxed old town
  About Geneva
Geneva is Switzerland's second most populous city, sited at the Western end of Lac Leman and surrounded by France. The city centre has two halves: a small old town to the South of the River Rhone, and newer commercial streets to the North. Geneva hosts UN and Red Cross museums, but sights are limited; what makes the city is its cosmopolitan outlook.
Geneva is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Val d'Anniviers
Walker's Haute Route

Staying in town
Geneva's manageable city centre contains many of its hotels plus a smart youth hostel. There are good basic hotels to luxurious ones, all handy for the station and uniquely convenient airport.


 Grenoble   France
Grenoble from hillsides above
Grenoble from hillsides above
  About Grenoble
Grenoble is a city of busy streets between tall buildings, made more friendly by its metropolitan atmosphere and by the hills on all sides. Grenoble sits in a plain with the Chartreuse massif to the North, the Vercors to the South West, and the Ecrins away to the South West. Resorts like Alpe d'Huez are close. Grenoble is a major centre of science and engineering in France.
Grenoble is included in info packs for the following routes:
Tour du Mont Blanc

Staying in town
Grenoble is not a special city for hotels, which is odd because the central squares and narrow streets are attractive to walk around and the city is a hub. The city's layout gives options near the train and bus stations to the West of the old town.


 Lausanne   Switzerland
Lausanne from a belvedere above
Lausanne from a belvedere above
  About Lausanne
Fascinating contrasts within Switzerland, a confederation of regions and cities, are as sharp between Lausanne and Zurich as anywhere else. Lausanne is decidedly French: French speaking and French in architecture, food and street life. The old town and commercial town centre are combined, among dips, steps and bridges, up the hill from Lac Leman.
Lausanne is included in info packs for the following routes:
Alpine Pass Route Central
Tour du Mont Blanc
Walker's Haute Route

Staying in town
Lausanne has fair options near the railway station and up the hill in the old town. It's a hilly city, so look carefully at the map! The old town is the place with its warm and relaxing air.


Norway

The sparsely-populated Norwegian mountains have enchanting cities around the perimeter. Oslo has the biggest airport by far, but with other flights and with trains the other cities are easily reached, and make sense after a trek.


 Bergen   Norway
Flying out of Bergen
Flying out of Bergen
  About Bergen
Norway's second-biggest city is the centre of its archipalaego. It shares characteristics with Aberdeen in a great number of days of rainfall per year, plus being a centre of offshore activity. Bergen is at heart a wooden-fronted sea harbour. A modern, youthful, town extends back from the shore. The station is the terminus of the scenic line from Oslo.
Bergen is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Jotunheimen Tour

Staying in town
The harbour of Bergen is lined with restaurants and hotels. Two popular Norwegian chains have multiple hotels in town. Near the train station a historic panelled hotel suggests a gentler era of travel. The commercial town centre is compact and pleasant.


 Oslo   Norway
Oslo on Oslofjord
Oslo on Oslofjord
  About Oslo
Oslo is at the top of the Oslofjord, the major fjord in the South of the country. Hills and ski slopes rise behind; in a flatter way, the capital city is the country in miniature. A modern town grid is the bulk of the city but life is moving to the waterfront and not just the famous opera house. We really enjoy Oslo and recommend exploring to the sides of the city (and the ferries on the fjord).
Oslo is included in clients' info packs for the following routes:
Jotunheimen Tour

Staying in town
Oslo is unusual in having two remarkable hotels on a hillside above town. We advise on how to reach these. In the centre are smart Norwegian business hotels and ones in historic buildings. Trams and a subway make it easy to get about.


 Trondheim   Norway
Boats on a canal in Trondheim
Boats on a canal in Trondheim
  About Trondheim
Trondheim sits at the Northern end of the bulbous Southern half of Norway. It is 7 hours by train or 1 hour by air from Oslo. Take the night train North from Trondheim, or internal flights from its airport. A city on the water, Trondheim is at the neck of its fjord. The city centre is ringed by canals. The city has a major university and plenty of historic architecture.
Trondheim is included in info packs for the following routes:
Jotunheimen Tour

Staying in town
The central streets with plenty of hotels are just a few blocks from the train station and the ferry terminal. Norwegian hotels give excellent breakfasts and we would never book travel too early to enjoy them. Especially at weekends, breakfast is an event.


England

For our treks in Northern England, Manchester is the key city. Fly here instead of London for a shorter train ride to the start.


 Manchester   UK
Trams in Manchester
Trams in Manchester
  About Manchester
Recognisably the UK's second city after London, Manchester has much of the bustle in a compact city centre. The industrial revolution started here, the original Lowell, Massachusetts. Mills and warehouses have become offices and apartments. Manchester pulls people in from across the North and was Alpine Exploratory's local capital during our years based in Settle.
Manchester is included in info packs for the following routes:
Coast to Coast
Lake District Circuit
Pennine Way

Staying in town
Let us recommend smart city-centre hotels. Manchester is a major business destination. We also know the three hotels at Manchester Airport having used these before early flights.


Scotland

Our treks in Scotland are convenient for both Edinburgh and Glasgow; in fact the West Highland Way starts from a suburb of Glasgow, Milngavie. The two cities are linked by regular trains taking one hour.


 Edinburgh   UK
Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh Castle
  About Edinburgh
Scotland's capital but smaller than Glasgow, Edinburgh is first on the list for tourists because of its sheer look: the quality of architecture and the situation on seven hills. August is the big festival month and sees the streets surging. At Alpine Exploratory we love having our base here. Edinburgh Airport is surprisingly well-linked to North America and Europe.
Edinburgh is included in info packs for the following routes:
Great Glen Way
West Highland Way

Staying in town
The scale of the August festivals means that hotels are well-supplied and can be reasonable in most other months. Edinburgh has a wide choice; we enjoy the Old Town and can advise on good places to stay.


 Glasgow   UK
Glasgow and its Merchants Quarter
Glasgow's Merchants Quarter
  About Glasgow
Glasgow with Manchester and Birmingham is a formerly industrial city spread over a large area. The subway is the only one in the UK outside London. We like to explore widely in Glasgow from West to East, linking busy high streets (shops, restaurants) with the grand central buildings. The underground helps show the pattern of economic ups and downs either side of the Clyde.
Glasgow is included in info packs for the following routes:
Great Glen Way
West Highland Way

Staying in town
Glasgow's West End is attractive for its smaller hotels. This is the university and museum part of town including Kelvingrove park and the Great Western Road. Bigger hotels are found in the central grid of streets.


Visited in recent years

2016
In 2016 we added Basel in Switzerland, an hour from Zurich and with lots of flights from the UK, and Luzern which sits in between Zurich and Basel. In Italy, Turin is an alternative to Geneva for reaching the Tour du Mont Blanc. For Austrian trips we have added to previous visits to Salzburg and we have seen for the first time Graz in the East of Austria - quite charming and off the tourist map. In late Summer 2016 we spent a little while in Milan; we made the links by train from Brig in Switzerland and across the plains to Turin.

In Norway, 2016 saw our first nights spent in Oslo. We began with a broad coverage South and West of the city centre, knowing that our forthcoming Norwegian treks fit well with an Oslo break.

2017
In Switzerland we added Lausanne to our notes, a warm and welcoming French-Swiss town. It's a fine alternative to Geneva for after the Tour du Mont Blanc or Alpine Pass Route. Across in the East of Switzerland, while completing the Alpine Pass Route we stayed in St Gallen and liked it very much. This is the last of our big Swiss towns. It's a fine little university town and overlooked by the big Swiss tourist trade.

In Norway it was a pleasure to add Bergen and Trondheim to our notes alongside Oslo. These visits involved the scenic train lines: Oslo to Bergen via Voss, and Oslo to Trondheim via Lillehammer and Dovre.



Our plans for 2018

To the South of the Alps we hope to look at Verona in Italy. This links by train with Milan and the Dolomites. For Austrian trips, Klagenfurt is due a return visit. It's a handy point on the Salzburg-Ljubljana route near Villach.

In Norway we plan to go North from Trondheim, plus Scandinavian possibilities further afield.

  A narrow canal in Venice    Alta Via 1


Our explorations

The Alpine Exploratory team takes care to travel in the same way as clients are likely to. This means taking the same trains and traveling through the same airports. Our evolving system for recces is taking into account these cities bordering the Alps. We love to pass through or even better purposefully to spend time in these cities, either side of our visits. New cities are added to our Travel Notes which clients receive on booking.

The Exploratory system



Cities vis a vis mountain villages

Mountain villages are easy to get around and have clean air; the lifestyle on trek is purposeful yet relaxing. Hitting a bustling city straight after a trek can be a shock and sometimes a let down, so we advise caution! Please ask us to advise on what you'll find in each city.

Among the more manageable cities are Basel, Turin, St Gallen and Graz. Stepping off the train at the Hauptbahnhof can be daunting in Munich or Vienna, as two enormous cities bordering the Alps, but a quick walk or tube in the right direction can work wonders!

City temperatures often above 30C in the European summer, with a dry Continental air, can be stifling. We have grown used to the lifestyle; workers seem to adopt a slower pace. Bars and cafes have shady tables outside. Sandals and light, loose clothes are a tip for after your trek!

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