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The Swiss village that’s so beautiful it wants to charge visitors to enter

News Jun 11, 2024

In Instagram posts and YouTube videos, the Swiss village of Lauterbrunnen in the canton of Bern appears picture-perfect. Its charming chalets, reminiscent of Heidi, are nestled in pastures dotted with cows and framed by towering peaks, while a waterfall cascades down a nearby rockface, creating sparkling rainbows. However, during summer, a broader view reveals a different scene: crowds of tourists that have prompted discussions about imposing a tax on day visitors who arrive by car.

Activities, Guided Tours and Day Trips in Lauterbrunnen
Source: Citivitis

Online, Lauterbrunnen is often hailed as “the most beautiful village in Switzerland,” leading to a surge in visitors, resulting in traffic jams on the only road into town and long queues on trails leading to the best viewpoints. “It was always busy in town,” a hotel manager said. “Since the pandemic subsided, the number of visitors has significantly increased.”

Lauterbrunnen has joined a growing list of popular destinations struggling with their own popularity – from Venice to Kyoto. Like these places, it is exploring ways to mitigate the effects of overtourism.

8 Spectacular Things to Do in Lauterbrunnen [2022]
Source: Holiday to Switzerland

With visitor numbers reaching around 6,000 per day according to some reports, Lauterbrunnen doesn’t see the same level of crowding as major tourist spots like the Acropolis (where visitor numbers were capped at 20,000 per day last September) or Bali (which introduced a new tourist tax in February 2024). “I don’t believe we have ‘overtourism’ like cities such as Venice,” says Marc Ungerer, CEO of Jungfrau Regional Tourism.

But like other destinations thrust into the social media spotlight, Lauterbrunnen’s small size means it struggles to handle the influx of visitors and their behavior. “During peak summer, it gets crowded along the village road, as the road is narrow with only one sidewalk,” admits Tom Durrer, Lauterbrunnen’s resort manager. “The municipality plans to add a second sidewalk and widen the road.”

Half an hour’s drive away on the shore of Lake Brienz, Iseltwald (population, 415) faced similar issues when its picturesque pier featured in the Korean Netflix series Crash Landing on You. The resulting tourism boom led to coach trippers clogging its roads and alleyways, prompting authorities to impose a £5 fee for taking photos on the pier.

Lake Brienz - Switzerland's most idyllic lake!
Source: My Fault Compass

The idea of a tourist tax in Lauterbrunnen aims to deter day visitors who come for quick photos, causing congestion and litter without benefiting the local economy. However, “the legal basis for such a tax does not yet exist,” says Ungerer. “Initial clarifications are currently underway. Therefore, it’s too early to consider what such a tax might look like or how it could work.”

It’s a delicate balance in a place where many of the 2,400 residents rely on tourism for their livelihoods. Lauterbrunnen was popular long before it became a social media sensation. When European travel first became widespread more than two centuries ago, Wordsworth and Lord Byron were among those inspired by the surrounding mountains and the 72 waterfalls of its valley.

In the 19th century, an enterprising local built Hotel Staubbach at the edge of the village with a stunning view of the Staubbach Falls. Soon, a wave of hotels and guesthouses for weary hikers turned Lauterbrunnen into a booming destination, which became even more popular when its railway line was electrified. Now, Lauterbrunnen is easily accessible from the resort town of Interlaken and serves as the gateway to the car-free villages of Mürren and Wengen.

HOTEL STAUBBACH - Updated 2024 Prices & B&B Reviews (Lauterbrunnen,  Switzerland - Jungfrau)
Source: Tripadvisor

Still, it’s understandable why some locals are growing weary of tourists. In a country that values rules and order and highly prizes its natural environment, stories of people taking photos in private gardens and playing football in the local cemetery are distressing. Meanwhile, the typically private Swiss dislike having an endless stream of holiday let guests as neighbors. After the 2023 summer season, the website reported that residents gathered at a crisis meeting organized by regional leaders, where the mood was one of frustration.

It’s unfortunate because Switzerland has many lesser-known (but equally beautiful) villages with plenty of space to explore. More than a quarter of the country’s population lives in rural areas according to World Bank data, while its cities are small (none have more than 400,000 residents). This means you’re never far from a picturesque hamlet, where ancient barns adorned with geraniums wind up hillsides and ducks and chickens roam smallholdings that give way to fields of wildflowers.

Les Plus Beaux Villages de Suisse is an organization dedicated to promoting rural settlements in stunning locations. Among them is sun-soaked Soglio, a maze of narrow alleys seemingly lost in the rippling, forested swell of the Bregaglia Valley near Italy. Meanwhile, in the slightly better-known Saint Saphorin in the French-speaking Vaud region, vine terraces zigzag above the medieval streets, with Lake Geneva shimmering below, backed by snow-capped mountains. Beauty may be subjective, but it’s hard not to be impressed (just don’t share it with everyone on social media).

Les plus beaux villages de Suisse romande
Source: Losirs

Back in Lauterbrunnen, tourism officials recognize that social media “has helped [the village] become better known,” says Durrer. But they also hope it will help preserve it for the future. “It’s an important communication channel to influence positive visitor behavior,” he adds.

Other destinations facing similar challenges have different approaches. In spring 2023, the Italian resort of Portofino introduced ‘no waiting zones’ with penalties of €275 in areas where selfie-taking tourists had blocked streets and caused traffic chaos (the zones will be in place until October). As another summer season begins in Lauterbrunnen, some residents may be wondering if it’s time to rethink their approach.


Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.