For many of us, a vacation is more than just a trip; it’s also a challenge. The challenge here is to leave the trodden tourist path and see something more new and unique. It means visiting sites in London other than Big Ben, straying from the beach or the city and taking a trip into the countryside, or staying at a bread and breakfast rather than at a Club Med resort. In a way, it’s both liberating and restricting. It doesn’t necessarily mean experiencing your destination like a local – that’s hard to do – but it does require shedding some of the more typical tourist monikers.
When I travel, one of the main ways I embrace this challenge is by exploring my destination on foot and at about 8 minutes per mile. By stepping outside and going for a run, I get to experience new places – and see them from a different perspective – from what would be expected of the standard tourist. I cruise down residential neighborhoods, up hills, and past farms, all the while immersing myself in the sights and sounds of a given culture.
For me to consider my run a cultural immersion, however, I take great pains to incorporate into it an element of exploration and unpredictability. Rather than doing research beforehand to pick the best or safest routes, I prefer to simply step outside, start my run, and see where it takes me. I do this especially in European cities, where most streets are generally safe and where public transit can get me back if I’ve gone too far.
But my running experiences in Switzerland dictate otherwise. Switzerland, to be sure, is a safe and beautiful country, an alluring destination for an impulsive exploration run. My first run in Zurich, however, quickly found me on winding, dead-end roads just outside the compact city. My first run in Grindelwald, located high above Interlaken in the Swiss Aps, left me wheezing on steep mountain roads as cars sped perilously by.
So, contrary to my typical advice for running in Europe, here’s what I would suggest for anyone visiting these areas: stick to the water. In Zurich, this means running alongside the Limmat River in the city center or along the east or west shores of Lake Zurich just to its south. The three runs have distinct pros and cons: the Limmat River route provides a spectacular slice of the city but can get crowded with pedestrian traffic, the east shore of the lake offers beautiful scenery but only a few miles of navigable running, and the lake’s west shore provides the opportunity for longer runs but with more repetitive scenery.
In Grindelwald, your best bet is to stick to the edge of the small river that winds its way into the valley. You’ll get an up-close look at local culture, even though you’re in one of the world’s most touristy regions, and the wooded, rolling terrain promises many miles of riverside running and spectacular views.
So the next time you travel across Europe, make a point to see things from a different angle, and go for an exploratory run. But, in Switzerland, you may be best served to stay near the water.