Picture a dream mountain resort and it would look a lot like Grindelwald in the Bernese Alps. This village is under the infamous North Face of Eiger, a monumental wall of rock that inspires and intimidates in equal measure. The North Face was first conquered in 1938 and attracts hundreds of climbers every year, which look like tiny flecks as they battle up the rock.
Grindelwald’s Alpine pastures are achingly idyllic and cable-cars make it easy to hit the trails for scenic mountain lookouts, the Grindelwald Glacier and lakes. When decked with snow, this landscape has been a filming location for Star Wars and James Bond movies, and serves up dozens of kilometers of ski trails and sledging runs in winter.
1. First Cliff Walk
Catch the gondola up from Grindelwald to this minor summit on Schwarzhorn, where a mountain of adventure is in store. Something that will appeal to everyone with a head for heights is the First Cliff Walk. This is a metallic walkway, hugging the side of the cliff and then projecting 45 metres over a sheer drop.
The views of the sharp rocky slopes, peaks, Alpine pastures, distant lakes and a waterfall are simply staggering. The First Flyer, for thrill-seekers, is a zip-line 800 metres in length and reaching speeds of 84 km/h.
First is the trailhead for a host of hikes, a few of which we’ll come to shortly.
And for high-altitude fun, families can hire mountain carts or “trottibikes”, a hybrid of scooters and bicycles.
2. Eiger Trail
Seasoned hikers and climbers may already know about the Eiger trail, a six kilometre route that brings you right to the foot of the Eiger’s north face.
The route been used by climbers since the 1930s to embark on gruelling ascents of that concave slab of rock 1,600 metres high. The way to do it is to catch the Jungfrau railway to Eigergletscher and within minutes you’ll be dwarfed by the north face.
Take a pair of binoculars on a clear day to see climbers picking their way up this wall, and look north where Grosse Scheidegg and the Wetterhord command the landscape.
The six-kilometre walk to Alpiglen Station shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, and where it gets tricky there are ropes fastened to the rock beside the path.
The journey to Jungfraujoch is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll only encounter in the Alps. From Grindelwald Grund you can catch the train from Kleine Scheidegg and change there for the highest railway in the world.
Before long you’ll be at a the Jungfraujoch saddle, 3,454 metres up.
One of many incredible things about this location is that the railway was completed all the way back in 1912. At the penultimate stop there are windows into the interior of the Aletsch Glacier.
After that you’ll be in “The Top of Europe”, marvelling at the glacier and the 4,000 metre peaks around it like Mönch and Jungfrau.
Go even higher to the Sphinx Observatory for 360° views as far as the Vosges in France, or enter the frozen wonderland of the glacier at the Ice Palace.
One of the inspiring in walking distance from the gondola stop at First is a stunning Alpine lake, about an hour away. Bachalpsee is at an altitude of 2,265 metres, and its reflective waters, grassy banks and mountain backdrop make up a quintessentially Alpine scene.
When the skies are clear the mighty Schreckhorn, Wetterhorn and Finsteraarhorn are reflected perfectly in the water for postcard-quality photos.
The walk from First is a surprisingly light one, sound-tracked by cowbells and in pastures scattered with wildflowers in mid-summer.
From the Grund station on the valley floor, the Grindelwald–Männlichen gondola cableway will lift you up 1,300 metres to this mountain peak.
There are higher mountains in the vicinity, but the thrill of the trip lies in the journey itself: The cableway is the third longest of its kind in the world and on the 30-minute climb you’ll have lots of time to sit back and bask in the sublime scenery.
In late-June the valley is awash with wildflowers, and once you arrive at the summit you can amble around to the various lookouts around the peak.
After that you could continue on to the town of Wengen on the other side of the peak.
Or you might hike back towards Grindelwald and get back on the gondola halfway down.
6. Grosse Scheidegg
There are a couple of ways of reaching this lofty walking paradise: You could take the gondola to First again and hike round, but there’s also a bus service to this spot.
However you get there Grosse Scheidegg is a fabulous place to go for walks in mountain pasture dotted with cattle. And if you’re patient you might be accompanied by herds of chamois, marmots or golden eagles swooping overhead.
As ever the views are sensational, incorporating waterfalls, glaciers and an unforgettable perspective of the legendary north face of the Eiger.
In summer, if you only have time to cram in a quick cable car ride, a trip to Pfingstegg overlooking the valley is a good option. You’ll be there in a matter of minutes from Grindelwald and after the views the big attraction is the tin toboggan ride.
This is open all summer and is 736 metres long with a vertical drop of almost 60 metres.
One of the neat things about it is a mechanism that lifts you back to the top to save an onerous walk.
Pack a picnic and find a remote patch of grass or sit down to a hearty meal at the restaurant.
Or head off in search of adventure on a variety of trails delivering you to the Upper and Lower Grindelwald Glacier at the Gletscherschlucht (Glacier Ravine) and Bäregg, each achievable in 90 minutes.
You can catch the bus to the mouth of this ravine and be there in ten minutes from Grindelwald’s station. The ravine was cut by the Lower Grindelwald, which has retreated significantly up the slope since the Little Ice Age in the middle ages.
Walkways have been fastened to the walls of the ravine, and in summer you can even make use of the “SpiderWeb”, a large net suspended over the roaring meltwater.
The walkways carry you a kilometre in the ravine and you’ll pass beneath climbers and canyoners clambering up or rappelling down the craggy rock-faces.
9. Mountain Biking
Grindelwald’s railways and cable-cars are adapted for mountain bikes, so summer opens up many kilometres of trails in the region. One designated route is the descent from First back to Grindelwald.
Even if you’re taking it easy, in around two hours you’ll have dropped more than a kilometre.
Thankfully bike hire centres in Grindelwald test their brakes rigorously! There’s no reason to rush down the trail as it weaves along flowery pasture, over tracks and asphalt road.
We don’t need to tell you that the panoramas are like something out of a movie.
10. Downhill Skiing
When winter comes, Grindelwald’s infrastructure conveys you to the pistes in a matter of minutes.
There are three ski areas nearby, at Kleine Scheidegg-Männlichen, Bodmiarena and Grindelwald-First.
For the latter you can use the gondola to get onto more than 40 kilometres of pistes in that epic setting.
Down in the valley, the Bodmiarena is the starting point for families and first-time skiers, and has the resort’s main ski school and two public lifts for skiing, snow-tubing and tobogganing.
And just a bit further afield, Kleine Scheidegg-Männlichen is for hardened skiers, where 110 kilometres of runs will be at your disposal, at a ski area where the world-famous Lauberhorn World Cup Tour begins.
11. Cross-Country Skiing
To tour the flat trails over Grindelwald you can rent all the necessary gear from a sport shop in the village and then pick up a pass from the tourist office.
After that, hop on a bus or train for Grindelwald’s own cross-country course.
As you ski you’ll have the powerful sight of Wetterhorn in front, and Eiger on your shoulder, as well as a ring of snow-capped peaks.
The main seven kilometre trail is very forgiving for beginners and cross-country skiing poses none of the risks of downhill skiing so it’s much easier to pick up.
One winter activity with almost no learning curve is sledging, and there’s nowhere better for it than Grindelwald. That’s because you’re in striking distance of the longest toboggan run in Europe.
This meanders from the peak at Faulhorn all the way down to Grindelwald.
You can rent helmets and goggles from the resort before picking up your sled at one of the stations, either at Bussalp midway down and connected to Grindelwald by bus or at the very top after a hike.
The run is known as Big Pintenfritz and drops more than 1,600 metres. The surface is well groomed, and the descent is never so fast that you can’t relish those views of Jungfrau and Eiger.
13. Grindelwald Museum
If you need a moment to recover, you might spend some time getting to know the history of this Alpine village at the museum.
Tourism began early here, in the 18th century, so Grindelwald was the first village in the Bernese Alps where local mountain guides would show visitors the sights.
This heritage is covered in the galleries, as well as a fire that devastated Grindelwald at the end of the 19th century.
You can find out how the cable-car and railway network was put built a century ago, browse vintage mountaineering gear and farming tools, and check out the traditional handicrafts of the Bernese Alps.
14. Marmot Trail
The last of our trails at First wends its way to Schilt in Wegen, where you can catch the cable-car back to Grindelwald. The walk takes a couple of hours and has been devised for little legs.
From June to October, if you’re quiet and careful you stand a great chance of spotting a cute marmot. You may need a pair of binoculars or just some patience.
There are benches at the entrance to their burrows, and they’ll make an appearance after a couple of minutes of silence. The rest of the time you can hear their warning calls echoing down the hillside, and information boards will inform you about their behaviour and biology.
After climbing or speeding down mountains you may be nursing some aching muscles, so a visit to a spa is just what you need.
If you’re staying at a hotel there will surely be a spa attached, but for those holidaying at rented accommodation, most hotel spas allow non-residents to use the facilities. Sometimes you’ll need to call ahead, but there are 10 in Grindelwald welcoming guests and non-guests alike.
Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel is one such spa, and for CHF 40 you’ll have access to the Finnish sauna, herbal bath, steam bath, ice fountain and an outdoor whirlpool heated to 36°C, right on the slopes.