Switzerland Travel Guide
The first landlocked country to win the America’s Cup sailing race, multilingual Switzerland ticks along like proverbial clockwork. Stylish towns, quaint hillside villages and stunning mountains and lakes all brim over with delicious chocolates and cheese both sides of the Alps.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Nightlife and shopping in Zürich, delectable pastries, snowcapped Alps, the purple ‘Milka’ chocolate cow, Swiss army knives, hiking in the Alps, absinth, cheese fondue, neutrality, Swiss clocks, Roger Federer, Swiss bank accounts and boating on Lake Geneva.
What’s Not: Expensive, unforgiving law enforcement, reserved people, avalanches, altitude sickness, speed traps, cold, traffic jams in Alpine tunnels and cuckoo clocks made in Taiwan.
When to Go
Switzerland has four seasons with the Alps dividing the country into two climatic zones.
Spring (March to May) is mild and sunny with not too many crowds.
Summer (June to August) is warm but crowded.
Autumn (September to November) experiences fine but progressively colder weather.
Winter (December to February) is cold but great for winter sports.
Getting There & Away
Zurich is the main flight hub and domestic air travel is expensive and not really necessary. The railway network is extremely efficient and a great way to see the spectacular scenery. Roads are generally of good quality, but many mountain roads are winding and narrow and often closed during heavy winter conditions. Highly efficient and integrated urban public transport systems serve all major cities.
Health & Safety
Switzerland must be one of the safest travel destinations in the world. Overindulging and snow accidents are likely to be the biggest dangers as well as altitude sickness or hypothermia for those who overestimate their climbing or hiking ability. Be wary of pickpockets in public places.
Food & Hospitality
Lodging can be pricey, but many historic and traditional hotels, country inns, spas and bed and breakfasts offer traditional Swiss hospitality. All accommodation is of a high quality, but can often be fully booked. If you like cheese and dairy products, the famous fondue will take you straight to heaven. Try the good value set lunch menus or self-service restaurants in department stores if you’re on a budget. Tipping is generally not required.
One week is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
Two days to see Zürich’s Old Town and impressive landmarks.
Two or three days in medieval Bern and Lake Thun.
Two or three days in young, stylish Lausanne on Lake Geneva.
Three days to see Lucerne’s lake, river, alpine meadows and well-preserved Old Town.
Three or four days in Zermatt for spectacular views, year-round snow sports and the ubiquitous Matterhorn.
Four or five days in the Italian region of Ticino with palm trees, piazzas and pizzas.
Basilica Fraumünster: is Zürich’s Gothic cathedral with windows by Marc Chagall.
Geneva: located on the Rhône-outlet of Lake Geneva has an old city center that is great to explore on foot.
Watch-making factories: at La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle offer fascinating mechanical insights.
Bern: with its unique 11th-century arcaded streets and medieval city center.
Neuchâtel: features striking medieval yellow stone buildings, a celebrated café culture and first-class cuisine.
Berner Oberland: includes stunning scenery, famous peaks, alpine lakes, mountain streams, wild flowers and Europe’s highest railway.
Hiking: among magnificent mountain views, flower-carpeted alpine valleys, waterfalls and supported trails.
Cycling: is not as tiring as the mountainous terrain might indicate. Over two thousand miles of well-marked interlinked trails offer easy cycling.
White-water rafting: on the Rhine and Saane rivers and other Alpine waterways.
Snow sports: in the shadow of truly breathtaking mountains such as Zermatt/Matterhorn with year-round snow.
Spas and health treatments: among clean alpine air and a Teutonic approach to health at spas, saunas and therapy centers in stunning locations.
Festivals & Events
Festivals here are generally celebrated on a cantonal basis, with only the biggies observed country-wide. The majority of festivals stem from Christian origins, but if they cause you to yawn, there are some colorful, non-religious alternatives.
February: Lucerne Fasnacht sees the entire town go crazy in this colorful carnival.
May: Zürich’s Medieval Festival features harlequin-clad jugglers, fools, buffoons and court jesters.
July: Montreux’s star-studded Jazz Festival offers music from around the world.
August: Zürich Street Parade takes after Berlin’s famous Love Parade.