With around 1,500 lakes in total, Switzerland is home to some sizable bodies of clear, sparkling water. Over 100 of these have a surface area exceeding 30 hectares. Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French) is the largest of these, and is known all over the world.
Many major European rivers also flow through Switzerland, so for a landlocked country there is a lot of water. Exploring these lakes and rivers can be a highlight of any Swiss vacation, but it goes way beyond that.
In Switzerland, taking journeys by boat is often a practical matter of getting from A to B. In addition to leisure trips operated by the likes of Lake Geneva cruise lines, there are public transport boats connecting destinations so a daily commute may involve travelling across the lakes or down the rivers.
For the Swiss, in many instances the easiest way to get from one place to another is in fact by boat, so this is simply a way of life. Boat trips are therefore an essential part of the national transport system.
As a visitor, you may be able to choose between taking a train and hopping onto a boat when planning how to get from one village, town or city to another.
A typical example is the trip between Bern and Interlaken, which can involve a cruise across Lake Thun. Though this is more time-consuming, it’s a great way to see more of the country while getting from one destination to another.
This guide will take you through all you need to know about lake cruises and boat trips in Switzerland – including scenic cruises typically taken by tourists as well as Swiss Travel Pass boat rides holders can take for free.
From the famous shores of Lake Geneva to the River Rhine, these are the best boat trips in Switzerland. Which ones will you take?
Top photo © Swiss Travel System
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Handy tip: Holders of a Swiss Travel Pass can travel free on most lake cruises in Switzerland. Simply present your valid Swiss Travel Pass at the ticket counter before boarding. If you don’t have a Swiss Travel Pass, we have included links below to purchase tickets for individual cruises.
Quick Summary of Swiss boat trips covered in this guide
|1-hr Lake Geneva sightseeing cruise||BUY HERE|
|2-hr Montreux to Chillon Castle cruise||BUY HERE|
|3-hr Riviera cruise from Lausanne||BUY HERE|
|2-hr Lake Geneva cruise from Vevey||BUY HERE|
|1-day ticket between Lausanne and Evian||BUY HERE|
|2-hr Lake Lucerne cruise with lunch||BUY HERE|
|1-hr yacht cruise on Lake Lucerne||BUY HERE|
|Mt. Rigi round trip with lake cruise||BUY HERE|
|1-day cruise pass for Lake Thun||BUY HERE|
|1-day cruise pass for Lake Brienz||BUY HERE|
|3.5-hr Zurich sightseeing tour and cruise||BUY HERE|
|4.5-hr Monte Bre trip and cruise||BUY HERE|
|3 Lakes cruise||MORE INFO|
|Cruises on Lake Constance||MORE INFO|
|Rhine River cruise from Schaffhausen||MORE INFO|
Lake Geneva cruises
For many visitors, there’s no Switzerland cruise that is as highly anticipated as a Lake Geneva cruise. As one of the largest lakes in Western Europe, Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman as it is known in French), is located in western Switzerland.
Covering an area of 580km², the crescent-shaped lake is partly in Switzerland and partly in France and lies just north of the Alps.
Above the latter two towns, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed terraced Lavaux Vineyards cover 800 hectares and make the ideal backdrop to the crystal clear waters of Lake Geneva.
The most popular routes among Lake Geneva boat tours include the cruise from Geneva to Lausanne, from Geneva to Evian-les-Bains on the French shore, and from Lausanne to Evian. Cruises to or from Geneva, Montreux or Vevey are also available.
If you are planning to take one of the above Lake Geneva boat tours, Swiss Pass holders can travel for free whilst those without a Swiss Pass can buy a ticket at the boat pier.
Another option is to take the Yvoire boat from Geneva to visit this small, medieval French destination on the shores of the lake. Boats on this route also stop at Nyon, and you can find out more about this and other routes via the CGN website.
There is also the option to book a dinner cruise on Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
Vessels operating on Lake Geneva include a fleet of Belle Epoque paddle steamers and modern motor boats.
Below you will find some of the most popular Lake Geneva boat cruises.
One hour sightseeing Lake Geneva cruise
This one hour boat ride on Lake Geneva is taken by many holidaymakers so they can see the city from the water. During this cruise you can see landmarks like the famous Jet d’Eau fountain, Mont Blanc and of course the mighty Swiss Alps.
Two hour Montreux cruise to Chillon Castle
If you’re staying in the Montreux area, this is a great choice amongst the options of Lake Geneva boat cruises. It takes in the majestic Chillon Castle, as well as the lake which was immortalised in Deep Purple’s song Smoke on the Water. The cruise takes place aboard a historic paddle steamer and there are fabulous views of the Swiss and French Alps.
Three hour Riviera cruise from Lausanne
Departing from Lausanne, this three hour boat trip takes in the Lavaux vineyards, Montreux, Chillon Castle and Vevey.
Two hour Lake Geneva cruise from Vevey
If the idea of spending two hours aboard a paddle steamer appeals, this trip departing from Vevey is recommended. You’ll travel on Lake Geneva to Montreux, seeing Chillon Castle and the French and Swiss Alps en route.
Self-guided boat trip from Lausanne to Evian
This one day ticket allows you to take a boat trip whenever you please from Lausanne to the charming town of Evian-les-Bains. The journey takes 35 minutes each way and you can explore Evian’s historic Old Town and lakeside promenade after arrival.
Lake Lucerne cruises
At 38 kilometres long, Lake Lucerne may not be Switzerland’s longest lake but it is one of the most uniquely shaped. The lake has four distinct ‘arms’ and several sharp bends which makes a superb scene when viewed from one of the surrounding mountains such as Mt. Rigi or Mt. Pilatus.
Officially called Vierwaldstattersee in German (which translates to ‘four forest sites’), the lake is shared between the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Lucerne.
When planning a lake cruise, Lucerne is the most popular starting point and there are numerous options to choose from.
You can take a cruise on Lake Lucerne that includes a three course gourmet lunch, hop aboard a luxury yacht for a scenic tour or take a journey across Lake Lucerne to Vitznau as part of a Mount Rigi day trip.
Other options include the Lucerne to Fluelen boat ride across Lake Lucerne, which is part of the Gotthard Panorama Express route. Find out more about this iconic journey via the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland in our dedicated guide here.
From 2022, five paddle steamers will be in use every summer between late May and mid September. Travel on these Lake Lucerne steamers is also included with the Swiss Travel Pass (food and beverages are additional).
As well as the paddle steamers and a fleet of modern motor boats, Lucerne is also home to MS Diamant, Switzerland’s first climate-neutral boat in regular service. The vessel is also the first Swiss hybrid boat in operation.
Popular Lake Lucerne cruises include:
Two hour Lake Lucerne cruise with lunch
This Lake Lucerne panoramic sightseeing cruise includes a gourmet lunch, so you’ll enjoy three delicious courses made from fresh local produce while admiring the mountainous Swiss landscape. Key Lucerne landmarks can also be viewed from the water.
One hour yacht cruise in Lucerne
Taking a trip aboard a panoramic yacht can help to make your stay in Lucerne truly memorable. The yacht will take you towards Meggenhorn Castle and includes views of upmarket homes, local landmarks and rolling green hills. This Lake Lucerne cruise is perfect for those who have limited time but don’t want to miss the experience of cruising on the tranquil waters.
Self-guided Mount Rigi trip with lake cruise
The Lake Lucerne cruise price is included in this self-guided Mount Rigi day trip. You will also travel by train and cogwheel railway to reach the mountain summit. This trip to the Queen of the Mountains is not to be missed while in Switzerland.
Lake Thun & Lake Brienz cruises
Located either side of the holiday resort town of Interlaken, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz offer totally different experiences for those who’d like to cruise in the Bernese Oberland.
With a choice of both paddle steamers and modern motor boats, there is a cruise to suit everyone.
The larger of the two lakes, Lake Thun stretches 17.5 kilometres (10.8 miles) from Interlaken to Thun.
Lake Thun boat tours call at Oberhofen and Spiez where you can disembark to see the impressive castles, or you hop off at St. Beatus Caves to explore the network of caverns, stalactites and stalagmites, before rejoining a later service.
If you are short on time and don’t wish to disembark enroute, the cruise from Interlaken to Thun – or vice versa – takes just over two and a half hours. The boat pier is located by the Interlaken West train station.
The return journey can be taken by boat (subject to the timetable) or train.
Boat trips on Lake Brienz stop at the pretty village of Iseltwald and at Giessbach Falls before continuing on to Brienz, well known for its wood carving. If you choose to disembark at Giessbach Falls, you can take a funicular to the Giessbach Hotel for lunch or a snack and view the magnificent waterfalls.
You can reach Brienz from Interlaken by boat in 75 minutes. The boat pier is located beside Interlaken Ost train station and, just like the boat trips on Lake Thun, the return journey can be made by boat or train.
Lake Brienz boat trips operate from April to October only.
Why not make your day out extra special by including a ride on the Brienzer Rothorn steam train when you reach Brienz?
Interlaken Lake Thun cruise day pass
This Interlaken cruise pass allows you to travel all day on Lake Thun, plus Lake Brienz if you travel between early April and mid-October. As you travel over the water you can see pretty Swiss villages with traditional chalets and snow-capped mountain peaks.
Lake Brienz cruise day pass
Between early April and mid-October, a day pass is also available for Lake Brienz. Regular services connect Interlaken and Brienz with stops at Iseltwald and Giessbach Falls, making this one of the most popular boat tours Interlaken has to offer.
The cruise day pass is essentially a self-guided ‘tour’ giving you the flexibility to hop on and off as you wish.
Lake Zurich cruises
Imagine commuting to work in Switzerland’s largest city across a tranquil lake with the spectacular Swiss Alps as a backdrop! Many folks in Zurich do just that and you can experience this serene way to travel too!
The city of Zurich sits at one end of the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long banana-shaped Lake Zurich, and there are numerous different cruises available depending on how much time you have available.
The Lake Zurich Navigation Company operates 17 different ships – including two paddle steamers – with round trip cruises ranging from 90 minutes to 4.5 hours in duration.
One of the most popular boat trips is from Zurich city to the Lindt Home of Chocolate in Kilchberg which takes just 27 minutes.
The boat trip from Zurich to Rapperswil is another I personally recommend. Rapperswil, known as the City of Roses, is well worth visiting and is a relaxing two hour boat ride from Zurich.
Make it a full day’s excursion by cruising both ways or travel by train one way (40 minutes) and boat the other. Both modes of transport are free with your Swiss Travel Pass.
The Zurich boat pier is located at Bürkliplatz.
3.5 hour Zurich sightseeing tour with cruise
This Zurich lake cruise price covers a boat trip across Lake Zurich as well as guided tours of the city on foot and by bus. As you glide across the water, your guide will tell you all about the history and famous sights of Switzerland’s biggest city.
Lake Lugano cruise
Fringed with palm trees and framed by surrounding Alps, there’s a real Mediterranean vibe around Lake Lugano.
The lake is shared between Switzerland and Italy and cruises and boat trips on the lake offer the chance to visit both countries.
Popular cruise destinations include the villages of Morcote, one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland, the fishing village of Gandria and Cassarate where passengers can disembark and take the funicular to Monte Bre.
Lunch and dinner cruises are also available.
Cruises on Lake Lugano operate from April to October. The boat pier can be found at Lugano Centro.
4.5 hour Monte Bré trip via Lake Lugano
This four-and-a-half hour trip includes a scenic boat ride from Lugano to Cassarate, a small harbour town. A picturesque return journey on the funicular railway to Monte Bré is also included, as is a visit to the Museum Wilhelm Schmid. You can then walk or take a bus back to Lugano.
3 Lakes cruises – Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten
The Three Lakes area encompasses Lakes Neuchâtel, Murten and Biel/Bienne in the Jura region in Switzerland’s west. This area has a gentle landscape awash with Swiss farmland and rolling vineyards, and also connects with the Aare River.
Cruises operate on all three lakes and passengers can choose from cruises on just one lake, two or three as the lakes are connected by canals. Lake Biel Navigation Company operates the boat trips on Lake Biel, whilst Lacs de Neuchâtel et Morat offer cruises on Lake Neuchâtel and Murten.
On Lake Biel/Bienne, the village of Ligerz and St. Peter’s Island are popular places to disembark and stroll around. The medieval town of Murten (on Lake Murten) and the well-known wellness town of Yverdon-les-Bains (Lake Neuchatel) are other much-visited cruise destinations.
You can take a Three Lakes cruise from Biel to Erlach to Murten lasting for a little over three hours. It’s free with the Swiss Travel Pass – as is the epic 8-hour cruise that operates on special occasions.
Lunch and dinner cruises, as well as theme cruises are available.
In total, there are 28 landing stages on the three lakes which can be found in the cantons of Neuchatel, Fribourg, Vaud and Bern.
A fleet of seven vessels operate on the Three Lakes, including the only lake and river steamer in Switzerland. Cruises are from Spring to Autumn (Fall).
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Lake Constance cruises
Bordering three countries – Switzerland, Austria and Germany – Lake Constance, or Bodensee as it’s known in German, is fed by the Rhine River. It’s also the third largest freshwater lake in Central Europe.
From the Swiss shores of Lake Constance it’s possible to cruise to the German side in around one hour. Routes include Romanshorn to Friedrichshafen and Rorschach to Lindau.
Travel on these routes is not fully covered with the Swiss Travel Pass but a 50% discount applies to pass holders.
Rhine River cruises
If you would prefer to experience a Switzerland river cruise there is the possibility to take a boat trip on the Rhine. The Rhine River originates in the Swiss Alps so it’s only natural that a cruise on this majestic waterway is popular with visitors.
Options include a cruise between Schaffhausen and Kreuzlingen which takes around four hours, or from Basel to Rheinfelden. Further details can be found below.
Rhine River cruise from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen
This route takes you from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen with numerous stops along the way. Two towns worth disembarking at are Diessenhofen, which is a member of the Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland organisation, and Stein am Rhein, a pretty medieval town with an attractive Old Town.
Find out more about this cruise here.
Rhine River cruise from Basel to Rheinfelden
Despite being located in a landlocked country, Basel has something of a maritime air due to the fact that it’s at the mouth of the mighty River Rhine. Local company Basler Personenschifffahrt operates boat trips from Basel to Rheinfelden between March and October.
These boat trips last for about four hours and you can see various Basel landmarks. You should even be able to make out parts of Germany and France as you glide across the water, and you’ll also pass a couple of major locks, namely Birsfelden and Augst.
Cruises and boat trips in Switzerland: Useful things to know
If you’re interested in taking trips around Switzerland by boat or cruising the lakes or the Rhine, there are some useful facts worth knowing to help you plan your trip.
Swiss Travel Pass
The first thing to consider when planning any trip to Switzerland is the purchase of a Swiss Travel Pass. As mentioned above in various sections, the pass covers boat trips on the major lakes in the country.
A Swiss Travel Pass also gives the holder free public transport in all Swiss destinations, plus some cogwheel, funicular and scenic railway routes. Entry to hundreds of museums is also included.
Alternatively you could buy a Swiss Half Fare Card to receive 50% off the price of boat trips.
Learn more about the Swiss Travel Pass and the Swiss Half Fare Card in this article.
1st and 2nd class travel in Switzerland
Swiss public transport such as trains and some boats includes first and second class travel options. You can select either option when buying individual tickets or passes. On boats, the first class section is usually found on the upper deck.
First class carriages are generally more spacious and private, and may give you better views over the landscape. This option is ideal for the trip-of-a-lifetime or honeymooners, as well as those who don’t mind paying more for a bit of extra space.
Swiss boat piers
As they form such an important part of the Swiss public transport network, boat piers in Switzerland are often located right next to the train station. This allows for seamless travel via several modes of transport – and makes it easier for visitors to find them.
Restaurants on Swiss boats
A number of Swiss ferries and boats have on-board eateries, making it convenient to dine while you travel.
Swiss boat timetables
You can find timetables for each Swiss boat operator via their websites or on the Swiss Federal Railways website sbb.ch or the SBB app. Do bear in mind when planning your trip that some services may be seasonal: this particularly applies to funicular and cogwheel railways, cable cars and boats.
Swiss lake names – See, Lac or Lago
Switzerland has four official languages – German, French, Italian and Romansch – and therefore you’ll notice the word for lake differs depending on which language-speaking region you are in.
In German-speaking Switzerland, the word for lake is see so Lake Zurich is called Zürichsee whilst Lake Thun is Thunersee, and so on.
In Geneva and the Three Lakes Region where French is the local language, Lake Geneva is referred to as Lac Léman and Lake Neuchâtel as Lac Neuchâtel.
Lake Lugano, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, is called Lago Lugano.
Lake cruises and boat trips in Switzerland: Final thoughts
Whether you opt to take a boat trip to help make your Swiss journeys more seamless or more scenic, there are so many possibilities to enjoy a Switzerland cruise.
The abundance of lakes and rivers here makes the journey all part of the experience – not least when you have soaring peaks, rolling hills, undulating vineyards, lush meadows, Alpine chalets and crystal clear waters as the picturesque backdrop.