Today, I’m going to pitch you one of my favorite lakes in Switzerland: Lake Brienz.
First, I’ll let you know the best time to kayak on Lake Brienz.
Then, I’ll give you the low-down on boat rides. And I'll share two must-see spots - a hotel and a charming Swiss town.
By the time you get done reading, I can guarantee that you’ll say: “Take my money, Rex!”
Let’s dive right in.
Lake Brienz has the most beautiful color
of any lake in Switzerland
Nestled between the Brienzer Rothorn and the Bernese Alps, Lake Brienz is a vast expanse of turquoise water. Hands down, this is one of the most beautiful lakes in Switzerland.
Lake Brienz reflects all the shades of turquoise. You might think that the photographer pushed up the saturation in Photoshop. But the color is entirely natural and sets Lake Brienz apart from other lakes in Switzerland.
The Aare River, the Lütschine River, and the Giessbach Waterfalls all feed Lake Brienz. The reason for the lake’s unique color are small sediments deposited in the lake by the glacier melt. Since these tiny particles take a long time to settle in the clear lake water, they create a distinct turquoise color.
Seeing its color is reason enough to visit Lake Brienz at least once. And when you do, pay attention to all the surroundings that suddenly look more magical than in real life: meadows, boat houses, chalets, and boats.
Kayaking on Lake Brienz is legit
Kayaking on pristine Lake Brienz is an otherworldly experience. My favorite times are those early morning hours when the lake is at its calmest.
The key is to hit the water before the crowds show up: other kayakers, private boats, and public ships. Lake Brienz shows itself and all its beauty in the early morning hours. The calmness of the lake best reflects the shades of turquoise.
We set out on our kayak tour from the beach in Böningen. This also happens to be the base of Hightide, the company that provides guided kayaking on Lake Brienz. Our goal this morning is to cross the lake and the Lütschine River. We paddle along spectacular cliffs and spot secret coves and beaches along the way.
On this sublime lake, our colorful kayaks look especially nice: yellow, orange, purple, and blue. A half-day kayak tour is the best way to experience the sublime beauty of Lake Brienz.
When our tour guide asked whether to take a break on shore, our group replied: "Paddle on!"
Hit the play button to see what summer kayaking on Lake Brienz is like:
The Grandhotel Giessbach is a gem though
If there ever was a genius, it’s the person who built a grand hotel on top of a hill overlooking Lake Brienz. This scenic spot was initially discovered by painters who treasured the vistas by the Giessbach waterfalls.
In 1870, the well-known Hauser family purchased the lot and commissioned a renowned hotel architect. The goal was to open a grand hotel for the global elites that showcases the Giessbach falls and Lake Brienz.
After two years of construction, the hotel opened for business with its sweeping staircases and impressive views. Back in those Belle Époque times, it was still common for women to row patrons to the hotel in boats.
Today, arriving by boat via the docks on Lake Brienz is still the best way to reach the Grandhotel Giessbach. From lake level, we transfer onto the hotel’s Giessbach-Bahn funicular. The oldest funicular in Europe has been operating for more than 140 years.
You will see breathtaking sceneries in whichever direction you look. This Lake Brienz hotel appears suited for kings, queens, celebrities, artists, musicians, fashion designers - and everyone in between.
Each of the 74 hotel rooms happens to be decorated uniquely. Each piece of furniture is acquired from locals and artists, approved, and placed in particular rooms to give them that extra touch. Each room will boomerang you to a different decade. Why haven’t more hotels implemented an ingenious concept such as this?
The presence of the waterfall with its 14 falls overtakes this location. Like a moth to a flame, people settle around the tables nearest to the Giessbach. Enjoying their drinks and apéros, they are probably thinking: "Does life get better than this?" Then, when their hearts are filled with content, I spot them making their way to the viewpoint overlooking Lake Brienz.
The Grandhotel Giessbach is ideal for architecture lovers. It is labeled as a Swiss Historic Hotel, a well-deserved designation. Because nearly 150 years later, it is still a gem.
Boat cruises on Lake Brienz
A relaxing way to see all the picturesque lakeside villages and the Grandhotel Giessbach is by taking a boat cruise on Lake Brienz. Departing from Interlaken Ost or Brienz, with numerous stops, a boat cruise provides an entirely new perspective on the area. Boat cruises on Lake Brienz are available during spring, summer, and fall.
Going with the Belle Époque theme, look out for the Lötschberg paddle steamer built in 1914. When you glide across Lake Brienz on this nostalgic boat, it is easy to imagine what leisure traveling used to be like more than a century ago.
Onboard, first-class passengers are usually privy to the upper deck. But the seating in the boat's front and back is just as attractive. Regardless of the ticket category, you can head to the boat restaurant to purchase food and beverages.
The lakeshore has rugged cliffs and hidden coves that are only visible from the vantage point of a boat. Other highlights include the Giessbach falls seen from lake level and the final destination: Brienz. Given that the Brienz boat landing is right by the train station and the Brienz Rothorn Bahn terminal, the onward journey is as smooth as can be.
My advice: combine a boat ride on Lake Brienz with a visit to the Giessbach falls. Simply get off the boat at the Giessbach See station and hike the remaining steps to the waterfall.
Iseltwald: my not-so-secret love affair
Iseltwald, I wish I didn't have to write about you. I love you!
With its small-town feeling, beautiful old homes, lavish gardens, and a little island in the middle of the lake, it's hard not to love this place. Located on the southern shores of Lake Brienz, Iseltwald is easily reachable by boat.
I dragged my in-laws and all my newly acquired friends to Iseltwald for my 40th birthday party. At first, many were hesitant because of the distance and time to get there. But once they stepped foot into this beautiful village, every single person returned for more.
I have now turned a celebration into a yearly Hawaiian potluck. If you ever hear Hawaiian music drifting through the air in Iseltwald, you might have stumbled across our little get-together…
Lake Brienz blueprint with seasonal activities
Lake Brienz and the surrounding towns are worth visiting any time of the year. Here are some of the top things to do at Lake Brienz during summer and winter:
- Spending a day at the Ballenberg openair museum
- Kayaking on Lake Brienz
- Panoramic hiking at Brienz Rothorn or Schynige Platte
- Schwander Life Path roundtrip hike
- Hiking to the Giessbach waterfalls
- Boat rides on Lake Brienz
- Winter kayaking
- Snowshoe hiking
- Boat rides on Lake Thun
- Sledding from the Niederhorn - day or night
(Disclaimer: This review is based on a press trip organized by Made in Bern.)