In any season, Switzerland is picturesque and full of outdoor activities from mountain biking to hiking, swimming, skiing, paragliding, boating, and so much more. Wedged neatly between Germany, Austria, France, and Italy, Switzerland melds the best of all worlds — and adds a healthy dose of chocolate, cowbells, and cable cars. It's supremely multicultural, with four official languages: French, German, Romansh, and Italian. The only drawback about visiting Switzerland is the high cost, however, if you plan ahead and stay off the tourist track a bit, you can cut your costs significantly. On our campervan trip around Europe in 2018, we only spent a week in Switzerland and found some great free overnight camper stops!
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SWITZERLAND QUICK FACTS
- Currency: Both Switzerland and Liechtenstein use the Swiss franc (CHF or Fr.), divided into 100 Rappen (Rp), centimes, or centisimi (c).
- Electricity: 230V AC electricity. Power outlets are round two-prong sockets (type F which also accepts type C and type E). Be sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic gadgets. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
- Visa: Switzerland is not a member of the EU but are signatories to the Schengen convention. They permit 90 days of Visa-free travel to all EU citizens, including those not in the Schengen zone, and 90 days of Visa-free travel to those approved by the Schengen scheme including most of the Americas, Israel, and Australia. Be sure to check online for the latest entry requirements. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry and that you have an available completely blank page in your passport.
- Safety: Widely regarded as one of the safest countries in the world, Switzerland’s geopolitical position doesn’t put it at risk of terror and its high standard of living means crime is low and equality is high. Switzerland has only a small force of plain-clothes federal police. Most policing is managed by the cantons, which have uniformed forces operating in conjunction with municipal police. You must carry your passport on you at all times. If you're a victim of theft, go to the nearest station to get a report filled out (you'll need it for your insurance). We would suggest checking out either SafetyWing or World Nomads, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
- Language: Switzerland is a fascinating mix of languages, predominantly French, German, and Italian with some regional dialects such as Romansh. English is spoken in parts and in most ski resorts but this is by no means a guarantee and the Swiss will be appreciative of any effort you can make in French or German.
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SWITZERLAND PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 2 January, Berchtold’s Day
- 1 August, National Day (Confederation Day)
- 26 December, St. Stephen’s Day
Also, Good Friday through Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Whit Monday.
FESTIVALS IN SWITZERLAND
You will find festivals in Switzerland throughout the year as it is a country which believes in the famous saying by Shakespeare “With mirth and merriment let old wrinkle come".
- Geneva Motor Show: Known as the ‘world’s best catwalk for cars’, the Geneva International Motor Show is an annual auto show held in March in the Swiss city of Geneva. Many well-known companies display their cars on this show for the first time before the whole world. Whether interested in motors or not, this unique festival is worth exploring while holidaying in Switzerland.
- Paléo Festival De Nyon: Started in 1976 as a folk festival in Nyon, Paleo is one of the major open-air music festivals in mainland Europe and the biggest in Switzerland. One can enjoy around 250 concerts during this 6-day festival along with visitors from around the world all coming to experience the music and vibrant lights of the festivals.
- Basler Fasnacht: The Carnival of Basel is the biggest carnival in Switzerland and takes place annually between February and March in Basel. It has been listed as one of the top fifty local festivities in Europe. In this vibrant celebration, the whole city of Basel is covered in confetti. Local people in different costumes wearing a mask, traditionally known as a Larve roam around the city. If you want to witness the main highlights of the festival, you need to get up early in the morning and join the festivities.
- Fête Nationale Suisse: Undoubtedly the most eminent festival of any country is its national day. Many Swiss citizens start the holiday by visiting a farm for a traditional farmer’s brunch of Müsli cereal, eggs, and potato cakes or Rösti. Official festivities include concerts, cultural presentations, speeches, and fireworks in major cities like Zürich, Basel, Geneva, Bern, and Lugano. Some bakeries prepare special rolls called Zopf, and church bells in Switzerland ring in unison at 8 o’clock in the evening.
- International Balloon Festival: The International Balloon Festival is held in January every year at Château-d’Oex, known as the capital of Swiss hot air balloons. The International Hot Air Balloon festival got its start in 1979 when 12 balloons from five countries gathered to promote Château-d’Oex at the suggestion of Hans Brücker. The festival grew over the years, and in 1999, the first hot air balloon to navigate around the globe without stopping left from Château-d’Oex. These days the festival hosts a number of special events and contests, drawing balloonists from all over the world.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SWITZERLAND
While you can visit Switzerland all year round, it’s worth knowing what to expect in each season, especially if you need a particular climate for your travels or if you’re planning on hitting all the top tourist attractions but want to avoid the crowds.
December to early April - Carve through powder and eat fondue at an Alpine resort.
June to September - Hike in the shadow of the mesmerizing Matterhorn and be wowed by its perfection.
August - Celebrate Swiss National Day on 1 August and witness Swiss national pride in full force.
The best time to visit Switzerland largely depends on whether you’re planning a city or mountain break. If you plan on a city break, they are best visited in the temperate summer months (June–Sept). During winter most cities receive generous dumps of snow, though this rarely causes life to grind to a halt. In the mountains the two main seasons run from June to October, and from mid-December to mid-April; between these times, most mountain resorts close down altogether.
Most visitors come in the summer season, from May to September (although in the mountains, temperatures don’t really start warming up until June). July and August have the warmest temperatures, with snow-free hiking trails and longer days. If you’re around on August 1st, you’ll be in time to witness celebrations for Swiss National Day.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN SWITZERLAND
The winter snow sports season in Switzerland starts late November and lasts until the end of March. The best snow is usually from mid January to mid March. There are however also year round ski resorts, such as Zermatt, which allow you to be able to ski in the summer months too!
HIKING & CYCLING IN SWITZERLAND
The best time for outdoor activities in Switzerland is from July to August. April, June, September and October are also feasible, but the temperatures can be rather low, days are shorter and April and June can be a little rainy.
BEACH OPTIONS IN SWITZERLAND
Although Switzerland is land-locked, you can still enjoy some of their lakeside "beaches" at the following spots: Strandbad Tiefenbrunnen, Lido di Lugano, Bains des Paquis, Seebad Seeliken & Lido San Domenico.
SURFING IN SWITZERLAND
While Switzerland may not have coastal waves, they do have something called "River Surfing" on the Aare River in Thun.
KITESURF IN SWITZERLAND
The winds in Switzerland vary drastically due to the high Alps and have different patterns depending on the season. Windsurfing is possible at the following lake destinations: The Urnersee, Lake Thun, Walensee, Neuenburgersee, Lake Geneva,
Bielersee, Murtensee, Bielersee and Bodensee.
SWITZERLAND TRAVEL COSTS
As one of the most expensive countries in Europe, Switzerland is often skipped over by budget travellers. You’ll find restaurants as well as accommodation to be extremely expensive even compared to even other western European destinations.
Saying that though, it is still possible to travel here for approximately $70-110 per day if you stay in hostels, cook most of your own meals and use transport only when necessary. For a mid-range budget of $230-270 per day, you’ll get to eat mostly fast food meals, stay in private hostel rooms, do some intercity trips, and opt for a few outdoor excursions or other attractions.
Hotels are super expensive and you should expect to spend between $90-120 per night for the most basic of rooms. A much better alternative to hotels is Airbnb, where a shared room in someone’s house typically costs a much more palatable $30 a night and an entire apartment from as little as $60. Eating out is very pricey but you can keep your spending in check by going to the local supermarkets and buying your own groceries. Expect to spend around $130 USD per week for basics like pasta, sandwich ingredients, sauce, rice, eggs, and fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets also sell pre-made meals for between $5-10. If you’re dining out, but still trying to stick to a budget, you’ll spend an average of $45 a day just on food.
SWITZERLAND TRAVEL TIPS
Public transport is efficient and comprehensive. Train travel is comfortable, hassle-free, and extremely scenic, with many mountain routes attractions in their own right. Apps such as Rome 2 Rio are very useful when it comes to looking up train connections. If you prefer to drive and rent a car while in Switzerland, check Momondo for competitive price comparisons.
We briefly passed through Switzerland from France to Italy during our camper-van trip in 2018 and although we only spent a week there we managed to find stunning free camping spots and enjoyed hikes in the most incredible places without spending a cent. (Read more in the links below).
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF SWITZERLAND
Little, mountainous, efficient Switzerland is one of Europe's most appealing destinations. Wedged neatly between Germany, Austria, France, and Italy, Switzerland melds the best of all worlds — and adds a healthy dose of chocolate, cowbells, and cable cars.
Zürich - Discover this zesty city with a daytime stroll along the city’s sublime lake followed by a rollicking night out.
Zermatt - Marvell at the iconic Matterhorn and wandering around this car-free Alpine village.
Bern and Lucerne - Enjoy the charm of these famous beauties: think medieval Old Town appeal, folkloric fountains, and art.
Jungfraujoch - Be wowed by the Eiger’s monstrous north face on a ride to the ‘top of Europe’, 3471m Jungfraujoch.
Geneva - Board a boat in this sophisticated city for a serene Lake Geneva cruise to medieval Lausanne.
Bernina Express - Ride one of Switzerland's legendary scenic trains, such as the Bernina Express.
Lugano - Go Italian at Lugano, with its lovely, temperate lake setting.
Starting in vibrant Zürich, shop famous Bahnhofstrasse, then eat, drink and be merry. H head to the Jungfrau region to explore some incredible Alpine scenery, whether it be by hiking or skiing. Make a pit stop in beautiful Lucerne before finishing up in Switzerland's delightful capital, Bern.
Follow week one, then head west for a French flavour in Geneva or lakeside Lausanne. Stop in Gruyères to dip into a cheesy fondue and meringues drowned in thick double cream. On to Zermatt or across to St Moritz to play in snow or green meadows, then loop back east to taste the Italian side of Switzerland at lakeside Lugano.
A beautiful city, set astride a river and turned towards a crystal-clear lake and distant snowy peaks, Zürich has plenty to recommend it. A historic city center, lakes and parks, vibrant bars and restaurants, a big ex-pat population, and a bustling nightlife, Zürich has it all. Explore the street art and have a beer on the waterfront and you’ll soon see why this city is so appealing. Whether wandering the streets of the Old Town, window shopping in Bahnhofstrasse, or day-tripping to the Rhine Falls, you may end up spending longer here than originally planned.
To help you make the most of your time, have a look at a few of our recommended activities and tours.
Mount Titlis Day Tour from Zurich – This day tour will take you up a scenic Mount Titlis where you can admire the beauty of the Swiss Alps in a revolving cable car. The tour also includes a city tour of Lucerne as well as the Ice Grotto.
Lucerne & Mount Pilatus Day Tour – This tour takes you on a bus, cable car, funicular, and even on a boat, showing you the best of Mt. Pilatus. We love this tour because it takes you to all the best sights, but also allows you to explore Lucerne at your own pace. Plus, the boat ride back to Zurich is stunning.
Day Trip to Jungfraujoch – If you want to see the top of Europe, this day tour from Zurich to Jungfraujoch is incredible. You can ride the cog-wheeled train for views of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau as well as walk the tunnels in the ice palace.
Day Trip to Grindelwald and Interlaken – Having explored the region of Grindelwald, I can honestly say that it is nothing short of beautiful so if you have the time, I highly suggest this tour!
Although a small city, Bern earns its right to be called the capital of Switzerland and one which you will immediately find charming. Crammed onto a steep-sided peninsula in a crook of the River Aare, the city’s quiet, cobbled lanes, have changed little in five hundred years. From ancient clock towers and churches, cobblestone streets, and important buildings such as the Neo-Renaissance Bundeshaus (Federal Palace) all in its historic town center, you can spend hours walking around in awe, admiring the city in all its glory. The heart of Bern’s compact old town is Spitalgasse. Heading east from the Bahnhofplatz, this becomes Marktgasse, Kramgasse, and then Gerechtigkeitsgasse, before crossing the river to the Bärengraben (bear pits). The main museums are on Helvetiaplatz, on the south bank of the river, across the Kirchenfeldbrücke. If you're looking for some adventures follow the local tradition and participate in the Aareswimming which is considered as one of the best summer activities in Bern.
Lake Geneva & French Switzerland
Lake Geneva, in the southwest and French-speaking corner of the country, is the Swiss Riviera. Separating France and Switzerland, the lake is surrounded by the Alps and lined with an assortment of castles, museums, spas, resort towns, and vineyards. Explore the romantic Château de Chillon, fun, breezy Lausanne, and stylishly syncopated Montreux. Delve into the nearby French-Swiss countryside, which offers up picturesque towns tucked into the folds of rolling green foothills, miles of vineyards, a high-mountain excursion at the Diablerets summit, and Gruyère cheese galore. Geneva itself joined the Swiss Confederation only in 1815, with a reputation for joylessness which it still struggles to shake off. Luckily today, there is plenty for budget travellers, with its beautiful Old Town and many galleries.
Located on the beautiful Lucerne Lake, the city offers a wonderful combination of urban life and nature. It's a touristy yet worthwhile town of historic wooden bridges, picturesque streets, and vintage steamships that ply the lovely Lake Luzern, ringed by mountains with stunning vistas accessible by high-altitude lifts. Spend some time in the old town, especially Weinmarkt, surrounded by medieval guildhalls and decorative buildings. Cross Chapel Bridge, the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge, and pay attention to the 17th-century ceiling paintings showing events from Lucerne’s history. You won’t find much more of a typical Swiss destination than Lucerne.
The imposing Matterhorn (4478m) is the most famous of Switzerland’s mountains; for most people, the Matterhorn stands for Switzerland as the Eiffel Tower stands for France. There's just something about the Matterhorn, the most recognizable mountain on the planet and it seems to possess a near-mystical draw for people. Zermatt itself has some pockets of traditional charm but is a mostly tourist town. You will find its streets thronged year-round with a mix of professional climbers, glacier skiers, tour groups, backpackers, and fur-clad socialites. No cars are allowed in the town and electric buses ferry people between the train station at the town’s northern end and the cable-car terminus 1km south. From the town centre, it's an easy ride (or even a walk) up out of the valley to lost-in-time villages and scenic hikes that are made all the more magical with that iconic triangular mountain nodding its head at you in the background.
The Jungfrau Region
The spectacular Jungfrau Region is named after a grand triple-peaked ridge – the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau – which crests 4000m. Switzerland’s most popular mountain railway, celebrating its centenary in 2012, trundles south from Interlaken before coiling up across mountain pastures, and tunneling clean through the Eiger to emerge at the Jungfraujoch (3454m), an icy, windswept col just beneath the Jungfrau summit. It’s a very scenic, but very long journey (2hr 20min from Interlaken, with two changes to progressively smaller trains) and also extremely pricey; probably only worthwhile on a clear day. Interlaken is not only the region’s transport hub but also the unofficial adventure capital of Switzerland and offers non-stop choices of adrenaline-filled activities like skydiving, canyon swing, paragliding, and turbojet boating; everything and more for adrenaline-seekers and anyone who loves the outdoors. However, the sheer volume of tourists passing through Interlaken can make it a less than restful place to stay.
Grab a picnic and hike to Europe’s largest waterfall. If you hop on a boat tour you can get extra close to the giant rock in the middle of the falls, and you’ll also experience the Rhine Falls Basin. Nearby in the town of Schaffhausen, you’ll find a medieval castle which also houses a hostel for cheap but interesting accommodations. If you’re coming from Zurich, we recommend this scenic tour which takes you to the majestic Rhine Falls!
If you prefer travelling with a group tour, we highly recommend G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world offering loads of different tour types that cater to all travellers such as well as wellness tours, tours for 18-30-year-olds. If you like the idea of travelling in a group and make new friends, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip. We suggest using the filters in the sidebar to help you find a tour that fits your travel dates and travel style.
WHAT TO EAT IN SWITZERLAND
Eating out in Switzerland can punch a giant hole in your wallet and to get the best value, make lunch your main meal, and opt for the dish of the day – known as tagesmenu, tagesteller; plat/assiette du jour; piatto del giorno. The same meal in the evening, or when choosing à la carte anytime, will easily cost you more than double. With a cuisine that combines influences from the German, French, and North Italian culture, Switzerland has an incredible foodie culture that differs from region to region. Make sure to try some well-known favourites before you leave Switzerland.
- Raclette - The unmistakable scents of wood-burning fires and pine waft through Switzerland’s roads in cooler months. Walk into most hillside haunts and the fragrance of pungent melted cheese will also greet you. Raclette is a local cheese customarily grilled slowly over a fire, with layer-by-melted-layer sliced off to blanket boiled potatoes, pickles, and onions.
- Rosti, Valaisanne-style - Thinly grated potatoes, pan-fried until crisp and golden, rosti is one of Switzerland’s iconic national dishes. Though no one knows where or when the first rosti was cooked-up, farmers in the canton of Bern would traditionally eat it for breakfast but it is now found throughout the country and across mealtimes. Served steaming hot in a ceramic dish, Rosti Valaisanne is a delightfully addictive mash-up of rosti topped with salty bacon, fried egg, and melted raclette cheese, served alongside tangy gherkins and pickled pearl onions.
- Zurcher geschnetzeltes - This old-school favourite hails from Switzerland’s most dynamic German-speaking city though has found its way, justifiably, onto menus around the country. Made of sliced veal, calves’ kidneys, and sweetbreads sautéed in a gravy of onions, butter, white wine, cream, and mushrooms this needs to be on your list of must-tries while in Switzerland.
- Tartiflette - Although cheese itself dates back to the 16th century, tartiflette was concocted only in the 1980s. Today, tartiflette is a staple dish at most ski resorts, particularly those in Swiss-Romande. This rustic plate of delight is a combination of thinly sliced potatoes, smoky bits of bacon, caramelized onions, and oozy, nutty, creamy Reblochon cheese.
- Swiss fondue - You can’t get more Swiss than dipping some bread in a ceramic fondue pot filled with melted cheese after a day in the mountains. Swiss fondue has gained popularity not only in Switzerland but all over the world. The dish is basically a combination of melted cheese, garlic, and wine eaten together with bread, meat, and vegetables using a long-stemmed fork. For centuries, Swiss living in the mountains relied on fondue as a way to use bread and cheese during colder months. Today, it is a must-have for any local or visitor to the country from autumn to spring.
- Basler Leckerli - Traditionally eaten during Christmas, Basler Leckerli is basically a biscuit made from almonds, hazelnut, honey, fruit, and Kirsch. The first invention of Basler Leckerly was around 600 years ago and even after all this time its sticky, spicy, sweetness is more than worthy of any Swiss culinary bucket-list, particularly when dunked in tea.
LGBTQ IN SWITZERLAND
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Switzerland are relatively progressive by European standards, although LGBT people lack full legal equality. Same-sex sexual acts between adults have been legal in Switzerland since 1942 and Switzerland has allowed registered partnerships for same-sex couples since 1 January 2007. A bill to legalise same-sex marriage was finalised in early 2019 and the Swiss Federal Council came out in favour of the proposal in January 2020. Since February 2020, discrimination because of a person's "sexual orientation" is prohibited.
The vast majority of the population are accepting of same-sex relationships. Switzerland also hosts an annual Gay Pride Parade in Zurich.
WHERE TO STAY IN SWITZERLAND
Accommodation in Switzerland can be mightily expensive but you do have a number of options to choose from. From dorms or private rooms in hostels to budget hotels, luxury hotels or lodges, or Airbnb, there is definitely no shortage of places to stay.
Airbnb Travel Tip: If you prefer to stay in apartments or villas, we recommend Airbnb. Check out our full article on how to get $65 coupon code for your booking or simply click here to get our coupon code to apply on your next booking.