Lake Brienz is certainly a Swiss icon. Located in the middle of the beautiful alpine landscape of the Bernese Oberland, the lake with its turquoise waters offers many opportunities for outdoor activities. Here there is certainly no shortage of hiking trails for every level of difficulty! However, today we want to tell you about one of the most scenic parts of the shoreline, the one that runs from the small village of Iseltwald to the Giessbach waterfall, an easy hike that is almost entirely flat and suitable for any season of the year! So here is our itinerary and some useful tips!
We love... the Lake Brienz!
After Lake Lungern, Lake Brienz is certainly one of the most popular in Switzerland and among foreign tourists. Its turquoise waters and the enchanting mountain scenery that surrounds it – rich with hiking trails and historical routes to discover – make it a perfect destination for all seasons of the year. Although Brienz is itself a pleasant destination to explore, as are nearby Interlaken and Thun, today we want to tell you about one of the most interesting stretches of coastline on the entire lake: the route from the small village of Iseltwald – with its charming “castle,” one of the most photographed attractions in the entire area – to the impressive Giessbach waterfall with their enchanting water features. The area is certainly at its best during Autumn, when the forests are clothed in dozens of shades of yellow, ochre and red and the waterfalls are shrouded in a light mist that on sunny days gives some unexpected rainbows. So in this article, we tell you about our fall hike here and give you some useful tips for your itinerary!
Arriving by public transport
The small village of Iseltwald can be reached by public transport. From Lucerne, an interregional train will take you to Interlaken Ost station. From there, you can take the postal bus 103 to the Iseltwald, Dorfplatz stop. Alternatively, also from Lucerne, you can take the interregional train to Brienz and from there take the boat to the Iseltwald See terminal. In both cases the trip by public transport takes between two and two and a half hours. Tickets for both solutions can be purchased through the SBB website or through the SBB App and, as always, we suggest to check in advance the updated timetables and the different travel options.
Arriving by car
The small village of Iseltwald can also be reached by car. From Lucerne and Bern, the journey takes about an hour; from Zurich, it takes about an hour and a half by car, while from Basel it takes about two hours. Finally, for those traveling from Lugano and Geneva our advice is to visit this place over a weekend – perhaps combining it with other attractions in the area – since it takes more than three hours by car to get here. A small parking lot is available at the center of Iseltwald, which can also be paid by credit cards and Twint. However, we do not recommend the car: since this is a linear route that ends at Giessbach waterfall, you will still have to plan your return trip to the car by public transportation!
Hike overview & map
The hike we propose is a linear route that starts from the small village of Iseltwald and, following the path along the shoreline of Lake Brienz, reaches the valley station of the Giessbach funicular railway and then the Giessbach waterfall and the Grand Hotel of the same name. From here, after a brief exploration of the falls, it is possible to take the funicular back down to the valley or walk down the trail to the boat terminal that takes you back to Brienz. This is an easy walk, because it is almost entirely flat, and one that we suggest as it allows you to admire – without too much effort – some fascinating views of Lake Brienz and Giessbach waterfall. The total route is about 7.5 kilometers, which can be covered in about two and a half hours (plus the time to explore the falls, any breaks and the time to wait for the funicular). Along the way you will find a couple of barbecue areas where you can take a break. Instead, if you intend to opt for a restaurant, you will find a couple in Iseltwald (which are often closed outside the summertime, especially for lunch) and one at Grand Hotel Giessbach. Advance reservation is needed.
Iseltwald and its surroundings
If you have ever had an Instagram profile, you will certainly have come across Iseltwald and its Schloss Seeburg – an elegant Mediterranean-style building mirrored in the waters of the lake – in a reel or photo. Iseltwald and Lake Brienz are indeed true Swiss icons because they are nestled in a beautiful alpine landscape in the heart of the Bernese Oberland. Here the turquoise of the lake is in stark color contrast to the green of the area’s high mountains, whose peaks are covered with snow almost all year round. Iseltwald itself is a small village, more inclined toward summer fun than fall or winter fun. However, we chose to visit this area during Autumn, to admire its landscape with the fascinating colors of the golden season. To get here we took a train to Interlaken Ost and following a postal bus that left us right in the heart of the village. From there, we take a stroll through the village and along the lake, where we encounter a small artisan market with fresh cheeses, cakes, hot drinks, and gifts. A pleasant surprise-a little energy buster on a somewhat cool day. From here we set off on the first section of the hike, which follows the shores of the lake and follows a paved road. Moreover, past the first section of the trail, which is surrounded by residential buildings, you will have access to some incredible views of Schloss Seeburg reflected in the turquoise waters, even more fascinating with the vegetation dressed in colors of fall.
From Iseltwald to the Giessbach funicular
After about a kilometer’s walk from the village center of Iseltwald, you will leave the paved road for the hiking trail. This runs even closer to the water but it is never too narrow and is almost entirely flat, so it requires no special caution. However, if you need a short break, just 500 meters ahead you will find a first break area, with a public barbecue, tables and chairs. Moreover, from here you can take a few photos of the small Schnäggeninseli – the isle of snails – the only island on the lake as well as one of the largest in the Bernese Oberland. Small curiosity: there is an old chapel on the island and apparently its name comes from the fact that the monks of the monastery of Interlaken used to raise snails here. In truth, this fact is not clearly documented.
We take a short break and then we start to walk again. It must be said that the following section of the trail is probably the least interesting, because it runs narrowly between the rock face, the forest and the lake. A second barbecue area is available more or less 3.5 km from the start. From here, the Giessbach funicular station is just two and a half kilometers away.
The Giessbach funicular is a little historical gem: in fact, it dates back to the late 19th century. Riding the uphill stretch from the lake to the falls is a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The price of a one-way ticket is just CHF 5.00 per person (CHF 10.00 round trip) and tickets can be purchased directly from the train staff. GA Travel Card and Half-price Card are not accepted.
Giessbach waterfall and back home
Together with Schloss Seeburg, Giessbach waterfall is certainly one of the highlighs of the area. These fascinating stepped waterfalls are a must-see during all seasons: during the summer months the melt waters make them mighty and wild, while in the fall months they flow more quietly but surrounded by a magnificent golden landscape and a light mist. We really recommend that you do not miss the opportunity for a visit! The funicular from the lakeshore leads to the Grand Hotel Giessbach. Here you can grab a bite to eat or simply have a cup of coffee, before taking a stroll around the historic hotel building with its distinctive red and white facade and venturing along the edges of the waterfall, following the path that goes around it and sometimes through it. At one point you will even find yourself passing behind the water! We suggest that you save at least an hour for your visit and a short break at the hotel, followed by a walk back to the end point of this pleasant autumn excursion: the Giessbach See ferry terminal. From the hotel, you can easily reach it with a walk of about a kilometre along the hiking trail through the forest or, alternatively, by taking the funicular railway again.
Once at the terminal, the historic ferry will take you back to Brienz or Interlaken Ost (pay attention to schedules: the ferry does not run in the late afternoon!), where you can catch a train home.
Pay attention to the funicular’s schedule and try to plan your visit so that you arrive at the station in time for the ride up! The departure times can be found at this link. Be careful: the departures are not so frequent!
If you don’t want (or can’t) to take the funicular to reach the waterfall, you can simply walk along the hiking trail for about 700 meters. This is a sloping section of trail, of course, which has a total elevation of about 100 meters.
On weekends – especially Sunday mornings – the Hotel Giessbach often hosts some special events. We, for example, found ourselves in front of a full marching band and did not miss the opportunity to hear a few of their pieces in a fairy-tale setting!
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