For folks living in Europe, medieval castles are probably a bit commonplace, along with Gothic cathedrals, alpine chalets, and vibrant green landscapes dotted with tiny, picturesque villages. Though we do actually have castles in the States, they’re not very old. Plus if someone mentions a castle, they’re most likely referring to Disneyland. Here in Switzerland not far from where we live is one of the most beautiful castles in the country: the medieval Gruyeres Castle.
The Chateau de Gruyeres is a Swiss heritage site located in the town of Gruyeres in Fribourg canton. By car, it’s only 1 1/2 hours from Geneva and just over 2 hours from Zurich.
The town of Gruyeres is a tiny, charming village tucked inside a larger, more modern town.
To reach the castle itself, visitors first must park their car and walk along the picturesque cobblestone streets of the old medieval quarter. This area around the castle is for pedestrians only.
Shops cater to tourists, offering everything from tinkling Swiss cowbells to whimsical metal sculptures for your garden.
When you’re hungry, you can stop for traditional Swiss fondue at your choice of restaurants or sip a glass of sweet white wine from the Valais, the sunny southern region of the country.
Chateau de Gruyeres
Built during the 13th century, Gruyeres Castle represents nearly 800 years of history. Standing on a small hilltop at the foot of the Swiss Alps, it’s now a museum open to the public.
While the exterior is in excellent condition, it’s the interior that’s much more startling with respect to its recent occupancy and comprehensive renovations by the Bovy/Balland families in the 1800s.
Inside, the castle neither looks nor feels its age. Absent are the crumbling walls and cold, damp rooms devoid of furniture.
Chateau de Gruyeres feels like a real home.
I could imagine myself crawling into bed at night with a crackling fire on the hearth, picture the scullery bustling with activity before supper, and daydream about riding the verdant hillsides on my favorite horse from the stables.
Apart from the corsets, chamber pots, and occasional cholera epidemic, Gruyeres Castle in the mid-1800s would’ve been just dreamy.
House of the Crane
The crane, or grue in French, is the coat of arms for Gruyeres and the region’s namesake.
Images of cranes are found throughout the castle and grounds.
As the coat of arms for Gruyeres, the crane is prominently featured on metal gates, wooden walls, and beautiful stained glass windows.
Fantasy Art Exhibit
The highlight of the entire castle is probably the climb to the top floor, which resembles a giant wooden dance floor.
Huge timbers support a vaulted ceiling and a collection of fantasy art adorns the walls.
Tucked away in a distant tower is yet another tribute to fantasy art.
The tower’s spiral staircase is lined with pieces by Danish artist, Patrick James Woodroffe.
Gorgeous Mountain Views from Gruyeres Castle
Chateau de Gruyeres Gardens
Once you’ve finished exploring the castle’s many rooms and towers, make sure not to miss the gardens on the eastern side of the castle.
On the way out, you can pop into a little church attached to the gardens by a large, covered wooden walkway.
A second, larger church, Eglise Saint Theodule, is visible just down the hill south of the castle. This church is accessible by a small path and is outside the perimeter of the castle, so you can visit without paying to enter Gruyeres Castle.
Address: Château de Gruyères, Rue du Château 8, 1663 Gruyères, Switzerland Summer Opening Hours: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm (April 1 – Oct 31) Winter Opening Hours: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm (Nov 23 – March 31) Ticket Cost: Adults – 12 CHF, Children – 4 CHF, Seniors – 8 CHF, Family Rate – 25 CHF Combo Ticket: If you want to visit Gruyeres Castle and the Giger Museum, ask for the combo ticket for save a few francs.
H.R. Giger Museum
If you happen to love aliens or fantasy art, you’re in luck.
Less than 100 meters from the Gruyeres Castle entrance are two fascinating and fun hidden gems: the HR Giger Museum and the Giger “Alien” Bar.
Why is there an alien museum in Old Town Gruyeres?
While they may seem oddly out of place, they’re actually a fitting homage. Both the museum and bar are tributes to the creative genius of Swiss artist Hans Ruedi Giger.
Born in 1940, he rose to international acclaim for his design contributions on the 1979 film Alien. He and the film’s special effects team won an Oscar the following year.
For decades, Giger created art in a variety of mediums: airbrushing, ink, pastels, sculptures, and even furniture.
In 1979, he bought the Saint-Germain Castle in Gruyeres and established the HR Giger Museum there as a repository for his art.
Though he died in 2014, his work remains on permanent display to the public. It’s the largest collection of his art in the world.
Address: Rue du Château 2, Château St. Germain, 1663 Gruyères, Switzerland Opening Hours: Monday to Friday – 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and Sunday – 10 am to 6.30 pm Ticket Cost: Adults – 12.50 CHF, Children – 4 CHF, Students/Seniors/Military – 8.50 CHF Combo Ticket: If you want to visit Gruyeres Castle and the museum, buy the combo ticket. Not Wheelchair Accessible: The museum covers multiple floors and doesn’t have an elevator. Dog Friendly: Small dogs are welcome as long as you carry them.
H.R. Giger “Alien” Bar
Right across from the museum is the HR Giger Bar, more commonly referred to as the “Alien Bar.”
Inside, the bar and cafe is a fascinating mix of surreal/sci-fi decor and architecture. As soon as you step inside, you feel like you’ve entered the belly of a beast. The entire ceiling resembles the bony spine of an alien.
Every piece of furniture, from the chairs to the light fixtures, reflect Giger’s brilliant, dark imagination.
The place is tiny and will likely be packed, but folks don’t stay long.
Most just down an espresso or snap a few photos and leave.
You also won’t find many places that offer better meringues with Gruyere double cream.
If you haven’t tried them yet, you should! They’re perfect for any sweet tooth, especially with a rich shot of espresso.
Trust us. This is THE place to try meringues with double cream.
The Giger Museum and Alien Bar seem a bit out of place in the quaint medieval village of Gruyeres, but they’re a fun and quirky addition to any visit to the Chateau de Gruyeres.
Address: Rue du Château 3, 1663 Gruyères, Switzerland Opening Hours: Daily from 10 am to 8:30 pm
Looking for more cool things to do in Gruyeres, Switzerland?
Gruyeres is celebrated for its famous Gruyere cheese, which it has been making since the year 1115. For a deeper appreciation of the region, make sure to plan a visit to La Maison de Gruyere, where you can watch every step of the cheese-making process.
Know Before You Go
A small parking lot is available right at the entrance to the old town area surrounding the castle, but it fills up fast with tour buses and cars. Ample parking is also available for free in a secondary lot below the castle area.