Gruyères is a romantic small town famous for its historic castle, HR Giger Museum, and of course cheese. It is a great day-trip destination from the Lake Geneva region and Bern.
The small town Gruyères with its lovely castle and historic market-town layout is in the La Gruyère district of the Canton Fribourg (Freiburg) in French-speaking Switzerland. The historic small town with authentic medieval castle is hugely popular with day-trip tourists but even when overrun on weekends are still very much worth seeing. Science-fiction art can be enjoyed in HR Giger “Aliens” Museum. Popular nearby attractions include a demonstration cheese factory and the Maison Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. Day-trip tours are easy to book from the Lake Geneva region.
Visit the Historic Old Town of Gruyères, Switzerland
Gruyères’ small old town and historic castle are on a small hill and form a beautiful medieval panorama when approaching from low-lying areas. The town developed next to the more famous castle, which is at the far end from the main town gates open to visitors.
The old town of Gruyères developed around a long oblong market square. With many of the houses and buildings forming part of the outer town defensive walls.
It is possible to walk on some of the walls and climb towers near the main city gates.
The open market square is lined with postcard-pretty buildings, many with preserved historic facades and traditional shop signs. Note all the crane symbols – the town name is derived from “grue”, the French for crane, the heraldic symbol of the House of Gruyères.
The Greyerz family, which went bankrupt in 1555, was the last high aristocratic ruling family in Switzerland.
Hotels & Restaurants in Gruyères
Although Gruyères maintained much of its historic character, it is very obvious from the number of postcard stands, souvenir shops, and open-air cafés that Gruyères lives purely from mass tourism. Restaurants and cafés are plentiful but service and quality are not exceptional. Fondue made with local Gruyère cheese is particularly popular on colder days.
Families and hikers enjoying picnic lunches at the benches scattered around the countryside are not only trying to save money. Service in restaurants and cafés can at times be dreadfully slow. Popular souvenirs include Gruyère cheese, meringues, and cream but all could be bought easily from most Coop or Migros supermarkets anywhere in Switzerland.
Gruyères has a number of small hotels and guesthouses. None are exceptional or rank highly on the list of great hotels in Switzerland. However, visitors spending the night may have the opportunity to enjoy the historic surroundings in peace and quiet completely foreign to the day-trip visitors.
Visit Medieval Gruyères Castle in Switzerland
The Château de Gruyères is one of the best-known and most romantic castles in Switzerland. It is located on a hill at the far end of the historic old town of Gruyères from where visitors may enjoy marvelous views of the valleys, lake, and the Alps.
Gruyères Castle dates partly back to the thirteenth century and absolutely looks the part with towers, spiral staircases, wood-floor galleries, courtyards, and ramparts that may be explored at will. It is a great place to visit with small children.
A surprise in the castle is the way modern is often mixed with the historic. The visitor’s center is a contemporary, straight-lined glass and concrete construction. A few rooms in the castle also display very modern and science fiction fantasy art – many featuring the historic castle or old town of Gruyères.
The Castle of Gruyères is open year-round and may be seen without a guided tour.
See Science Fiction Art in the HR Giger Museum (“Aliens”) in Gruyères, Fribourg
A real surprise in the historic old town of Gruyères is the prevalence of science fiction art. In the Château St. Germain, at the town gate at the exit to Gruyères Castle, is the HR Giger Museum with several large pieces of art visible from the outside and in the slightly bizarrely-furnished Giger Bar opposite the museum entrance.
The Swiss surrealist and science fiction artist HR Giger (1940-2014) is most famous for winning the 1980 Oscar for Best Visual Effects for his involvement in creating the aliens in the film “Alien”.
The HR Giger Museum has the largest permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, and film designs by H.R. Giger in addition to regularly changing temporary exhibitions. The museum is a true delight to science fiction fans but might be nightmare-inducing to others.
Adjacent is the small Tibet Museum, with a small but high-quality display of Tibetan art and cultural objects. Admission is pricy but the Swiss Museum Pass is valid, as it is in the Giger Museum and Gruyères Castle.
Gruyères is hugely popular with day-tripper tourists, who spew out of buses at a high rate on weekends and during summer. However, Gruyères is beautiful and absolutely worth visiting and a pleasure when seen off-season, early in the morning, or late afternoon.
Transportation to Gruyères is easy from the Lake Geneva region or from Bern making the town and castle a great day-trip destination whether traveling by car or train. The chocolate train is a popular excursion offered during the warmer months from Montreux. Bus tours are easy to book in the high season.
Other sights in the immediate vicinity that combines well with a trip to Gruyères include the Maison Cailler chocolate factory (unlimited free sampling!), Les Bains de la Gruyère hot spring baths, and La Maison du Gruyère show cheese-making dairy. Gruyères is a year-round destination and as beautiful with winter snow as in summer, autumn, and spring.