Travel in the Alps: Cities
Travel before and after your hike

Travel in the Alps: Cities

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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.

Below, we say more about each of our Alpine cities:
Switzerland: Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Luzern, St Gallen and Zurich
Austria: Innsbruck, Graz, Salzburg and Vienna
Italy: Milan, Turin and Venice
Slovenia: Ljubljana
Germany: Munich
France: Grenoble

Alpine Exploratory Trips
Arrival and departure airports for the best experience

Vienna Zurich
Alta Via 1

Munich Venice
Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut
Ljubljana Ljubljana
Tour de Vanoise

Geneva Geneva
Tour du Mont Blanc

Geneva Zurich
Via Alpina
(Alpine Pass Route)
Zurich Geneva
Walker's Haute Route
Geneva Zurich
  Alpine Exploratory in the Alps    Holidays

Let's dive in, starting with Alpine approaches from the North. So many flights go to Geneva, Zurich and Basel and the Swiss trains are so easy, that this will is a natural approach to much of the Alps including parts of France and Austria. In Switzerland, trains link up all the German-speaking Swiss cities within an hour or two of each other.

Travel in Switzerland - our guide to trains within Switzerland

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

  St Gallen
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 Via Alpina, for example, St Gallen makes a characteristically Swiss city stop a little off the beaten track.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Slovenia sits between Italy and Austria and works with approaches from either side, as well as directly to Ljubljana - which we love.

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.

The German approach centres on Munich, poised barely an hour from the Austrian border and a natural centre. Munich outdoor enthusiasts are in the Alps all the time.

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.

The French cities are centres for their own regions of the Alps, notably Grenoble.

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.
Church near Zugspitze in Germany
  Church near Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain and a short train ride from Munich    Adlerweg

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