Graubünden occupies an area of south eastern Switzerland. As the nation’s largest canton, its rugged landscape covers about one sixth of the entire country. Yet it is also the canton with the lowest population, meaning there is plenty of space for visitors to get out and enjoy the slopes, hiking and mountain biking trails.
The famous ski resorts of Davos Klosters and St. Moritz are merely a taster of what visitors to Graubünden can experience. This canton also has 615 lakes, 150 valleys and well over 900 mountain summits. At over 4,000 metres, Piz Bernina is the most impressive of these.
The Rhine also winds its way through Graubünden, and the Swiss National Park can also be found in the canton. The biggest prehistoric landslide in the world – Flimsden – can also be seen in Graubünden.
With its scenic alpine landscape, Graubünden offers visitors the chance to spend time relaxing, making the most of the outdoors and taking in the natural wonders – including waterfalls and gorges – found in this south eastern corner of Switzerland.
Six members of the Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland association can be found in the picturesque region of Graubünden. These include Splügen, Soglio and Tschlin. The canton’s major towns and resorts include Chur and Arosa Lenzerheide as well as Davos and St Moritz.
Where is Graubünden?
The canton of Graubünden (also known as Grisons) sits in Switzerland’s south eastern corner. This mountainous region is bordered by Austria, Italy and Liechtenstein, as well as the Swiss cantons of Ticino, Uri, Glarus and St Gallen.
With 90% of Graubünden lying over 1,200 metres above sea level, this area is deservedly popular with winter sports fans.
The canton’s highest town, Avers, has an altitude of almost 2,000 metres, while the village of Avers-Ju, has an elevation of over 2,125 metres.
Almost half of Graubünden’s population (44%) live more than 1,000 metres above sea level. Across Switzerland as a whole, the comparable figure is just 3.1%.
Useful things to know about Graübunden
As the largest but least densely populated canton in Switzerland, the inhabitants of Graubünden speak three languages, including Romansch.
The canton is also home to the only national park in Switzerland – the Swiss National Park – as well as numerous valleys, lakes and mountains.
Spectacular sights like the Rhine Gorge and Morteratsch Glacier are also found in Graubünden.
The canton attracts all sorts of visitors. There are those who come to hike or traverse the trails by mountain bike in the summer, while in the winter both cross country and downhill skiing are hugely popular.
As well as these active visitors, Graubünden is also a destination for anyone looking to unwind in its scenic and natural landscape. Families enjoy the blend of activity and relaxation.
The canton also attracts train enthusiasts as well as those who enjoy taking to the road: there are lots of picturesque mountain passes in Graubünden.
Around two thirds of visitors to Graubünden are Swiss, with international visitors making up the other third.
Major towns in Graübunden
Chur is the oldest city in Switzerland, and as such boasts a cathedral that is 800 years old. Visitors can marvel at the towering Brambrüesch mountain, at 1,600 metres above sea level, and can choose between walking to the top or taking a train ride. The latter takes just 20 minutes to reach the plateau, and the descent is a thrilling experience.
A visit to Chur allows travellers to enjoy culinary delights, active pursuits and exploration of the city’s history, culture and architecture. There are plenty of acclaimed restaurants in Chur, and sampling regional dishes is a highlight when visiting this alpine destination.
Wandering through Chur Old Town allows visitors to revel in the atmosphere and history of Switzerland’s oldest city. Shopping, sightseeing and the exquisite cuisine are deservedly popular.
The centre of Chur is car free, creating a peaceful atmosphere, and there are regular local markets to discover.
Glitzy St. Moritz is a destination that attracts visitors all year round – not least because it averages 322 days of sunshine annually. St. Moritz lies at over 1,800 metres above sea level.
As well as the renowned ski slopes, there is plenty to do all year round in St. Moritz.
The resort is famed as one of the first winter tourism destinations, and it developed after being marketed to wealthy Britons back in the mid 1800s. So famous is St. Moritz that the resort’s name is now a registered trademark!
From pastimes like shopping or visiting museums to relaxing or active pursuits, there is plenty to keep visitors busy in St. Moritz.
Whether you prefer to soak in spa waters, picnic by a scenic lake or partake in thrilling activities that give you an adrenaline rush, this Swiss mountain resort has lots to offer.
Also known as Davos Klosters, this is the highest city in all of Europe. It is surrounded by magnificent glacial valleys, including Dischma and Sertig.
There are six ski areas suitable for various levels, whilst in summer, mountain biking is particularly popular. The ski areas range from family-friendly Rinerhorn or Madrisa and the relaxed pace of Schatzalp to the Parsenn’s downhill runs or Jakobshorn’s free rides.
Hiking the alpine peaks of Piz Kesch and Piz Grialetsch is also popular.
An impressive 1,300 kilometres of mountain bike trails can be explored in the area. The cable cars will take bikes, and there are cosy inns dotted along the routes. The Gotschna freeride piste and the ‘train ride’ – or Bahnentour – offer thrilling descents.
For a real adrenaline rush, it’s also possible to try tandem paragliding in Davos. > Click here for details and prices.
Arosa Lenzerheide has been popular with visitors for over a century. Both families and solo travellers love this Graubünden destination. There are over 200 ski slopes and over 300 kilometres of biking trails.
The combination of Arosa and Lenzerheide creates a ski and snowboard resort with 225 safe ski slopes. These are suitable for beginners as well as experienced riders.
There are family-friendly facilities such as play parks as well as around 40 restaurants and a lively après-ski scene.
Special events such as Magic Forest, the Live is Life music festival and ClassicCar also help to make for memorable holidays in this part of Switzerland.
Attractive mountain villages in Graubünden
As one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland’, Tschlin is positioned at 1,500 metres above sea level. It is a well preserved example of a typical and traditional Graubünden village.
Tschlin’s key features include its late Gothic church, adorned with early 16th century frescoes. It also features a polygonal choir and the Donna Lupa fountain.
Tschlin overlooks Lower Engadine and has a fascinating history. It was formerly known by its German name of Schleins. It has also been called Ciline, de Sline and Schlines in times gone by.
For hundreds of years Splügen was a major hub for pack mule traffic crossing the Alps. The Splügen Pass was formerly the key link between Graubünden and Italy. It is a typical Swiss pass village featuring well preserved architecture.
The traditional wooden Walser houses and grand Italian-style residences are key features of Splügen. Visitors can also descend over 300 steps to the gorge, which gives an impression of its sheer size.
There is also a bridge dating from 1739 that is worth seeing. At 70 metres above the Hinterrhein, it gives great views over the area.
On a mountain terrace, Soglio is also officially recognised as one of Switzerland’s most beautiful villages. Italian painter Giovanni Segantini once claimed it ‘the gateway to paradise’.
This village is home to around 300 permanent residents, and is famed for its flora. A Mediterranean feel is lent to the village by its sunny position – as well as a baroque rose garden and two huge sequoia trees.
The hillside Church of St. Lorenzo and its narrow cobbled lanes are local landmarks, and the former occupies a position in the foreground of Soglio. There is mention of this ancient Swiss village in documents dating from 1219.
To see the painted facades of Guarda’s houses is to step back in time to the early 17th century. This scenic Swiss village was once awarded the Wakker Prize for its beauty. At over 1,650 metres elevation, this village in Lower Engadine also occupies a sunny, south-facing position.
Well maintained during both winter and summer, a series of hiking trails leads from Guarda into the surrounding countryside. The Schellenursli path pays homage to a famous children’s book character, and the route is especially suited to families – not least because it can be hiked in stages.
The Swiss tradition of the Chalandamarz is observed in Guarda, where large cow bells are used to chase away the winter each year.
With an ice skating rink, children’s ski lift, cross-country tracks and toboggan run, this village is particularly popular with families.
The relaxing resort of Vals offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in architecture and nature as well as the thermal waters. Water is all around – the hike around the three lakes of Selva, Ampervreila and Guraletsch offers fabulous views.
Visitors can also see the rich mineral water being bottled at the Valser Wasserwelt, and this is just one of the reasons why this Swiss village is renowned as a wellness destination.
Some 60,000 Valser quartzite plates were used in the design of the 7132 Therme Vals, where a soak in the mineral rich waters offers a truly relaxing experience.
Vals is also a popular skiing spot during the winter. In summer, visitors can sample Swiss cheese while picnicking in the Selva Alp area.
Top things to do in Graubünden
Hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding are among Graubünden’s most popular pursuits. World class cross country tracks and downhill ski slopes are liberally sprinkled across the canton, and are a huge draw during winter.
In summer, many visitors enjoy hiking in the fresh mountain air, taking in the magnificent panoramas as they go.
For thrill seekers and those who prefer gentler routes, there are superb mountain bike trails all over Graubünden. The downhill rides available in the Davis Klosters area are some of the most adrenaline-fuelled you’ll find anywhere.
Taking a soak in some of Switzerland’s finest thermal baths is a must for many visitors. The waters are famed for their therapeutic qualities – as well as the chance to indulge in sheer relaxation.
There are notable thermal baths in various Graubünden locations, including the SalzKeller in Chur and 7132 Therme in Vals. People travel from across the globe to Vals in particular, where the 7132 Therme spa was constructed from the greenish quartzite stone.
There are some stunning train routes in Graubünden. These include the Glacier Express, which crosses the scenic Landwasser Viaduct, and the Bernina Express that runs between Thusis and Tirano along the Albula Bernina.
The Albula Bernina line is of the world’s most special – and spectacular, train routes. Just three of the planet’s railway lines are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and this is one of them. Along the 122 kilometre route, the train passes 20 towns, 55 tunnels and 196 bridges.
Graubünden canton offers other great railway routes too, such as the journeys through the Rhine or Zügen gorges. The latter route can be travelled daily during summer by historic train.
How to get to Graubünden
There are various ways to reach the Graubünden area. The region can easily be accessed by car or train. When travelling by road there are spectacular mountain passes to see along the way, while the iconic train journeys detailed above can offer that once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Driving in Switzerland is safe and simple, especially in the lesser populated canton of Graubünden. Taking the car also gives visitors the ideal opportunity to witness some stunning panoramas en route.
The journey between Zurich and Chur in Graubünden takes between 75 and 90 minutes, depending on how you travel. Travel times from other major cities in Switzerland and Liechtenstein include:
Chur to Vaduz (Liechtenstein) 0h:35 by train / 0h:25 by car
Chur to Zurich 1h:30 by train / 1h:15 by car
Chur to Lucerne 1h:20 by train / 1h:30 by car
Chur to Basel 2h:20 by train / 2h:05 by car
Chur to Bern 2h:40 by train / 2h:30 by car
Chur to Geneva 4h:45 by train / 4h:00 by car
If you plan to travel to Graubünden by train, consider purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass. It covers all public transport in Switzerland – including both the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. (Seat reservation fees apply for these two premium panoramic trains.)
Where to stay in Graubünden
To make the most of Graubünden, it’s best to plan a stay in the area. Here are some highly recommended hotels.
Chur: ABC Swiss Quality Hotel
On central Ottostrasse, the ABC Swiss Quality Hotel enjoys a very convenient location. It is close to the train station, as well as the historic centre with all its restaurants, museums and theatres. This clean, friendly four star property is highly rated by previous guests.
St. Moritz: Crystal Hotel St. Moritz
The Crystal Hotel in St Moritz is a four star superior property in the resort’s pedestrian zone. There is a bus stop and a ski route railway very close by. Comfortable, well-equipped rooms are alpine style, and the hotel has a restaurant and cocktail bar.
Guarda: Hotel Meisser
Hotel Meisser occupies a 17th century Engadine building. Its spacious gardens with terrace offer views over the Engadine Dolomites. A range of stylish, refurbished rooms is offered and the hotel has a historic dining room plus a lounge with fireplace and library.
Vals: Hotel Rovanada Wellness & BergNatur
Just 50 yards from the Therme Vals bath is this Swiss hotel and spa. Right by a small mountain stream, the Rovanda has a swimming pool, sauna garden, steam bath and beauty salon in the spacious spa area.
Lenzerheide: Guarda Val Hotel
The Guarda Val is not your regular hotel. It’s a boutique hotel consisting of 11 different buildings, including former stables over 300 years old that have been converted into luxurious accommodation.
With an emphasis on helping guests to revitalise and recharge, this romantic hotel features a sauna and pool as well as a gourmet restaurant that has been awarded 16 points in the Gault Millau guide.
The Graubünden region has a fairly mild continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. Average summer temperatures are around 19°C, with averages of around -2° in winter. Overall, the annual average is around 13°C.
Around half the year – 172 days – are dry, with some rain or snowfall expected during the other 193 days. Humidity is around 81% and the average UV index is 3.
With such an abundance of stunning landscapes and open space, Graubünden is the perfect destination for the outdoor enthusiast, with endless opportunities for skiing, hiking and biking.
It’s also ideal for those who want to slow down and turn off from a fast-paced life and enjoy the tranquility of nature. With fresh mountain air, thermal waters and panoramic vistas at every turn, Graubünden is the perfect tonic.
To read our full guide to Eastern Switzerland Region, > click here.
Click the green arrow below to listen to our podcast episode about Graubünden.
Top image © Graubünden Ferien
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