In the Landwasser Valley, Davos is a resort village amid the Rhaetian Alps of Graubünden. At an elevation of over 1,500 metres, Davos is billed to be the highest town in Europe. And funiculars, cable-cars and ski-lifts are ready to hoist you even higher, into six mountain areas for skiing in winter, and hiking and mountain-biking in summer.
A century ago the pioneering Expressionist painter Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner moved to this town, and his 20-year stay is remembered with a world-class museum holding the largest collection of his work. Davos also has gained international renown for holding the World Economic Forum every January.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Davos:
The German Expressionist and member of Die Brücke, Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner spent the last 20 years of his life in Davos.
He moved here in 1917 to battle a drug addiction and within a year was working again, painting the landscapes and people.
The museum in his honour opened in the 1980s, based on a collection accumulated by a local dealer.
In 1992 it moved into a sleek purpose-built gallery set in four glass cubes.
With more than 1,400 Kirchner paintings, it’s the largest collection of his works in the world and covers both his early Expressionist days in Berlin, Munich and Dresden and his later Swiss years.
There are also artefacts from his life, like childhood sketches, letters and, maybe a little morbid, the gun he used to end his life.
It’s no mystery why Davos is one of Switzerland’s top winter sport destinations.
The village is endowed with more than 320 kilometres of downhill pistes, in six different ski areas, all with efficient transport to the slopes.
The biggest and most up-to-date of these areas is Parsenn, reached via the Parsenn Red Railway, which started shuttling up and down the mountain in the 1930s.
Parsenn has long winding trails where beginner and intermediate skiers can fine-tune their technique, while more advanced skiers can search for fresh powder off-piste.
If snowboarding is your thing, Jakobshorn is the mountain for you as it has a snowpark and a “monster pipe” for big air.
A cog railway zips up and down the slope from Davos to this green, car-free recreation area on the slopes to the west of the town.
The railway dates to 1899, the same time an Art Nouveau sanatorium was established up here, and became a hotel in 1954. Literature buffs will be intrigued to know that Thomas Mann got the inspiration for one of his most celebrated novels, The Magic Mountain, at this location.
Up one of many walking trails on Schatzalp is the Alpinum, a botanical garden open in summer and growing over 3,500 varieties of Alpine plants, as well as upland species from as far afield as Tibet and New Zealand.
This mountain area faces the stunning Landwassser Valley and is reached by bus and chairlifts that are all free with a Davos Card.
Like nearly all the places on this list, your experience at Rinerhorn will depend on when you visit.
Summer means walks in flowery pasture in the company of cattle, as well as a visit to the petting zoo where children are allowed to handle lambs and baby goats.
To rest those feet you could hire trotti bikes (cycle-scooter hybrids) to freewheel back down the slope.
In winter Rinerhorn is preferred by skiers who want less crowded slopes, and there are a lot of great off-piste slopes for more daring skiers to try out.
At Monstein you can join a trail that weaves along the floor of a three-kilometre gorge.
At the mouth the sides are green and have a gentle slope, but as you go the Steig and Silberberg formations begin to press in as things become steeper and rockier.
This route is a “Geological Trail”, so as you walk to the village of Wiesen there are information panels explaining the geology of the gorge and its rich deposits of lead and zinc that were mined up to the 1800s.
Overhead the Rhaetian Railway hugs the edges of the gorge, passing through tunnels and crossing via the spectacular Wiesen Viaduct.
6. Vaillant Arena
Between September and February you have to get a ticket for a hockey match in Davos.
Firstly, the Vaillant Arena is amazing, as you’ll understand when you take your seat.
The roof is supported from each corner by cathedral-like wooden vaults in one of the most remarkable venues to watch a sporting event.
The local team is HC Davos, which plays in the Swiss National League and last lifted to NL Championships in 2015. The club is well-known in hockey circles for staging the Spengler Cup, which is the oldest invitational ice hockey tournament in the world.
This goes back to 1923 and takes place around Christmas, so book early to see some of the best players in the world on the ice.
7. Lake Davos
At the northeastern limit of the town is Lake Davos, and bordered by steep pasture and forest.
There’s a lot going on here in summer, when people visit for watersports, light hikes around the shore and to bathe in the water.
You can hire pedalos, paddleboards and kayaks, and because the lake catches the prevailing breezes there are also wind-assisted activities like windsurfing and sailing.
The lake boasts a couple of restaurants by the water, and don’t forget to bring something for the tame squirrels to snack on as they’ll accost you in the wooded areas.
8. Sertig Valley
Travelling south from Davos, before you come to the Rinerhorn or Monstein you can turn off for the Sertig Valley.
This tributary feeds Landwasser, and along the road you’ll be met by the most idyllic Alpine farmland you could hope to see.
The valley floor is laid with lush green pasture scattered with cows and pigs, which turns into moorland and forest on the higher slopes.
It’s worth driving or cycling all the way to the end where you’ll come to the foot of the jagged snow-capped peaks, Mittaghorn, Plattenfluh and Hoch Ducan.
On the way you’ll pass the sweet little village, Sertig Dörfli, founded by Walser farmers in the 13th century.
Here, look for the sweet village chapel, which dates to 1699.
9. Flüela Pass
In summer, join Route 28 for a mountain drive that needs to be seen to be believed, connecting Davos’ Landewasser Valley with Susch in the Lower Engadin.
The road heads east from Davos and is normally closed in winter because of the risk of avalanches, even if it is used by BMW as a test road at that time of year.
In June don’t be surprised if there’s still snow beside the road, while marmots are a common sight along the verge.
The highest section is the Flüela Pass at 2,383 metres.
This rests between the peaks, Blackhorn and the Flüela Wisshorn, both above 3,000 metres.
Far above the tree line the winding road has many hairpin turns and a constant wall of sky-scraping peaks will make you feel very small indeed.
10. BierVision Monstein
A 15-minute bus ride or drive up the winding mountain road southwest of Davos will lead to Monstein, home of the highest brewery in Europe.
BierVision is open for tours on Fridays, when you’ll get an in-depth explanation of the brewing process, and see the brewing vats and fermentation up close.
This is preceded by a guided walk around the village, where you’ll meet a couple of locals and get to know the way of life up here.
BierVision produces five beer varieties, from dark beer to Weissbier, which you can taste in the cosy Gambrinus Bar in the basement.
At the shop you can buy chocolate and cheese made in Monstein, as well as a bottle of the brewery’s own whisky, also distilled on site.
11. Mountain Biking
The slopes of Davos are laced with mountain biking trails in summer, seven of which come highly recommended by the MTB community.
And if you ride only one trail, it has to be the infamous Gotschna Freeride.
At six kilometres long, this route zigzags down Gotschnagrat to the village of Klosters.
There’s a descent of more than 720 metres, and more than 200 banked curves and jumps to negotiate.
Typically, riders will complete this hair-raising rollercoaster ride in 20 minutes flat.
And despite all the thrills and obstacles on the way, the trail as an intermediate blue label and so is suitable for pros and beginners alike.
12. Madrisa land
When it’s warm the Sonnenberg Mountain at Klosters hosts the highest adventure park in Switzerland.
Madrisa land has something for the whole family, but the littlest members of the clan will be happiest with the park’s slides, harnessed climbing walls and tree houses.
Parents will be able to watch their children from seating on the edge of the park.
Meanwhile, kids will take pony rides and make friends with baby Alpine goats in the farmyard.
13. Train Trips
Nothing compares to lounging in the warmth of a carriage and watching cinematic Alpine mountainscapes rolling by.
Davos is a terminus for two of the most famous railway lines in the world: The Glacier Express and Bernina Express.
The first is touted as the “Slowest Fast Train in the World”, and crosses the Swiss Alps from Graubünden to Valais, to admire legendary peaks like the Matterhorn.
The Bernina Express is another sightseeing line, wending its way through the Bernina Range down to Tirano in Italy.
There’s an audioguide on board, labelling the natural wonders as you pass them and panoramic carriages provide views of a lifetime.
14. Adventure Park Davos Färich
Set below the Flüela Pass is an adventure park in which you’ll gear up with harnesses and helmets and clamber over five different courses in the forest canopy.
Hauling yourself over ladders, rope nets, swinging bridges and treetop climbing walls is of course fantastic exercise, but it’s also good for team building as you tackle the courses in a group and have to belay each other.
There’s a course for kids as well, and if you have any hesitations this course is closely supervised and uses a failsafe “fall-back” system to ensure children’s safety.
15. More Winter Activities
We have to mention cross-country skiing, as Davos hosts a stage of the FIS Cross-Country World Cup every year at the Flüela Valley.
What’s great is when this route isn’t being used by the world’s best distance skiers, you can ride it for yourself, free of charge.
It’s one of more than 100 kilometres of cross-country tracks, all meticulously prepared and carefully mapped out for you to chart your journey.
Less tiring are the long tobogganing courses that you can negotiate at high speed on Rinerhorn and Schatzalp.
And back in the centre of the village, the Davos World of Ice is an outdoor skating rink like no other, consisting of interconnected ramps and rinks.
If you need a break, market stalls pour warming cups of mulled wine and hot chocolate.