Boasting the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, and the Jungfraujoch railway, Grindelwald is a favourite destination for those who love the mountains. At an altitude of 1034 metres, and with a history dating back to 1146, Grindelwald is surrounded by lush green pastures and towered over by the 3970 metre Eiger. The near-vertical north face of that mountain has obsessed mountaineers for centuries, featuring in the films Eiger Sanction (starring Clint Eastwood) and Nordwand, and being one of the Alps’ Great North Faces.
The Eiger marks the start of a ridge which takes in the Monch (4107 metres) and Jungfrau (4158 metres). Visitors can get close to the snow-capped peaks by taking the Jungfraubahn from the Kleine Scheidegg to the Jungfraujoch. This 9-kilometre journey, largely through tunnels blasted into the Eiger’s north face, whisks visitors up to an ear-popping 3454 metres.
Grindelwald also offers fantastic day hikes, world-class skiing, and great accommodation, cuisine and hospitality. It is also within easy reach of Switzerland’s capital, Bern, which is a good rainy day attraction.
1. The Jungfrau Railway (aka the Jungfraubahn)
Built between 1896 and 1912, the Jungfraubahn is a cog railway that takes passengers from the Kleine Schiedegg (2061 metres) to the Jungfraujoch (3454 metres).
The 9.3 kilometre, 50-minute journey is largely underground, passing through tunnels blasted into the north face of the Eiger (3970 metres).
The journey includes short stops at Eigerwand (2865 metres), in the middle of the Eiger’s north face, and Eismeer (3160 metres), on the Eiger’s west ridge, to take in the majesty of the Eiger at close quarters through observation windows.
Upon arrival at the Junfraujoch—called the Top of Europe by the company operating the railway—visitors will notice the views and the altitude (with physical exertion far harder than in the valley).
2. The Skiing
Enjoy the breathtaking scenery when skiing in the Grindelwald area. Grindelwald is a fairly low ski resort—its highest lift is at 2,486 metres—with predominantly intermediate terrain, some terrifying advanced ground and breathtaking scenery.
The resort’s 213 kilometres of pistes are found in three areas: around 50 kms in the First area towards to east of Grindelwald; 100 kms at the base of the Eiger (together with 30 kms of toboggan runs); and the remainder at Murren (accessed by rail or coach). There are three nursery areas, 24 beginner pistes (blue runs), 36 intermediate runs (red runs) and 12 advanced routes (black runs).
3. The Mönch
The 4,107 m (13,474 ft) Mönch is found between the Jungfrau to the west and the Eiger to the east.
It was first summitted in 1857 by the famous mountaineer Christian Almer (whose other first ascents include the Eiger and the Aiguille Verte on Mont Blanc), Christian and Ulrich Kaufmann and Sigismund Porges.
Found at the heart of the Berner Oberland, the picture-perfect Mönch/Jungfrau/Eiger triumvirate can be seen for hundreds of miles. The north face of the Mönch, with a prominence of almost 600 metres leading down to the Eiger glacier (pictured), is its most impressive aspect.
For mountaineers, the Mönch is a perfect introduction to the region. Graded PD (peu difficile), the ascent of the normal south-east ridge can be completed in around 3-4 hours, initially on rock and then on snow ridges.
4. The Grosse Scheidegg
With an elevation of 1,962 metres, the virtually car-free Grosse Scheidegg is a mountain pass that connects Grindelwald and Meiringen.
In good weather, it offers spectacular views of Grindelwald, the Eiger and the Kleine Scheidegg, together with pretty mountain meadows and flowers. The Grosse Scheidegg is also the base of the 3,692 metre Wetterhorn, the first ascent of which in 1854 marked the start of the golden age of alpinism.
The climb to the Grosse Scheidegg from Grindelwald takes about 3.5 hours and includes over 1000 metres of ascent. It is popular amongst walkers, who sometimes descend the pass to Meiringen via the spectacular Reichenbachfall (where Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes met his end at the hands of Professor Moriarty).
5. The Jungfrau
The Jungfrau (meaning the maiden or virgin) is a 4158 metre (13,642 ft) high mountain found to the eastern end of the 10-kilometre rock wall created by it, the Eiger and the Monch.
The mountain’s vertical north face is its most famous, towering 10,000 feet over the valley town of Lauterbrunnen.
The north-east side of the mountain is less steep, providing the classic route to the top of the mountain (graded PD+ and involving 850 metres of ascent). Climbers cross the massive Aletsch Glacier, after descending a few hundred metres from the Mönchjochhütte. After 45 minutes, the route heads upwards up a rocky ridge (solid red and orange gneiss) for a similar length of time.
The mountain was first summitted in 1811 by Johann and Hieronymus Meyer. The climb was thought to be so difficult that some initially cast doubts as to whether the summit had been reached. The north face was not conquered for another century, with Albert Weber and Hans Schlunegger summitting on 30 July 1911.
6. The Kleine Scheidegg
The walk to the Kleine Scheidegg is one of the best things to do in Grindelwald.
The walk from Grindelwald to the Kleine Scheidegg (2061 metres, meaning ‘minor watershed’) and then on to Lauterbrunnen is one of the most scenic in the Swiss Alps.
Forming the seventh leg of the Alpine Pass Route—the classic east-west walk across Switzerland—the 18 kilometre, 6-7 hour walk is not particularly strenuous. Starting from the Grindelwald-Grund station, the track ascends steeply past pretty chalets, crossing the railway lines and then through forest.
The Berghotel Alpiglen (1616 metres) is reached about 2.5 hours from Grindelwald, after which the ascent becomes more gentle, reaching the Kleine Scheidegg after about 4 hours. Be prepared for both hordes of tourists and substantial development!
On the other hand, the Kleine Scheidegg also offers a number of possibilities for the rest of the day: a hearty mountain lunch (perhaps at the traditional Restaurant Grindelwaldblick) before continuing your trip or retracing your steps; a trip to the Jungfraujoch; or a railway journey back to Grindelwald or on to Lauterbrunnen.
7. The Eiger
The 3,970 metre (13,025 foot) Eiger is one of the most famous mountains in the world, on account of its precipitous 1800 metre north face (pictured).
This huge limestone wall (aka the north wall or the Nordwand) is one of the six classic north faces of the Alps, known for their difficulty and height; the others are Cima Grande di Laveredo (Italian Dolomites), Grandes Jorasses and Petit Dru (both Mont Blanc massif, Chamonix), the Matterhorn (Zermatt), and Piz Badile (Swiss/Italian Bregaglia range).
First climbed on 24 July 1938 by Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vorg, Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek, the north face has since claimed the lives of at least 64 climbers. Harrer’s subsequent book, The White Spider, was named after an ice-field on the upper reaches of the face resembling the legs of a spider.
Reinhold Messner, the world’s most successful alpinist, ascended the North Face in 10 hours in 1974 (a record which stands to this day). The face is graded ED2 and usually takes between two and three days.
An alternative is to climb the Eiger by the west flank (first ascended by Charles Barrington and two local guides in 1858) or the Mittellegi ridge (first conquered in 1921). The west flank is graded AD (Assez Difficule/Quite Difficult), involving 1650 metres of ascent, with the round trip taking around 10 hours.
8. The Lauberhorn
Though only 2,472 metres tall, the Lauberhorn hosts the world’s longest and fastest downhill ski race each January. First run in 1930, the 4.45 kilometre course takes approximately 2.5 minutes to complete, descending 1,025 metres to reach the finish at Wengen at an average gradient of 33%.
The course’s other highlights are a 40-metre jump over a rock nose, called the Hundscopf (dog’s head), and the Wasserstation (water station) tunnel.
Around 30,000 spectators attend the races each year, which form part of the Skiing World Cup.
9. The Faulhornweg
The Faulhornweg is Grindelwald’s best day hike.
It starts and ends with public transport, taking most of the ascent out of the route and leaving a stunning 5-7 hour ridge walk at above 1900 metres. Leave from Grindelwald train station, taking the train to Wilderswil (584 metres, between Grindelwald and Interlaken). From here an historic cog railway pulls you up to the Schynige Platte (1987 metres).
The 45-minute journey offers views of fertile Alpine pastures, forests and Lakes Thun and Brienz (either side of Interlaken) before the giant Bernese Oberland 4000ers unveil themselves. Many choose to take in the 600 species of Alpine flora at the Schynige Platte’s Alpengarten before starting the 15 kilometre route.