Currency: Swiss franc
Official language: French, German, Italian, Romansh with Engligh widely spoken
Welcome to the land of abundant cheeses and hundreds of mountains!
As a land of intense natural beauty, Switzerland is mainly dominated by mountain peaks, rolling meadows and captivating lakes. If you’re considering traveling to Switzerland, your first line of persuasion was probably to take in the scenery, but what you didn’t know is just how great the cultural treasures are in this part of the world! World class museums, lively art scenes, fine old architecture, superb dining experiences and luxury at its best can be found in the world-class cities of Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Lausanne. But don’t stick to the major towns because the smaller towns off the beaten track are the perfect bases for exploring the magical landscapes.
If you’ve heard about Switzerland, chances are you definitely know about the Swiss Alps, but it’s really hard to get to grips with the real beauty unless you’ve been there before. With the most amazing scenic driving routes through the mountains and along the lakes, hiking trails in the warmer months and ski slopes in the winter months, the Swiss wilderness can be explored and enjoyed to its full extent. As one of Europe’s most popular ski destinations, Switzerland is all it’s rumored to be and so much more! Just make sure that you’re prepared to leave a piece of your heart behind in one of the most beautiful Alpine countries in the world.
Must see places in Switzerland
Explore the Bernese Oberland via a train ride to the Top of Europe, Jungfraujoch. The area boasts an observation deck and scientific observatory perched at 3,454 meters in the air. You’ll also see the starting point of Europe’s largest glacier, the Great Aletsch Glacier, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby there’s also the Eiger Trail from the Eiger glacier station to Alpiglen and gondola rides that travel out over the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Grindelwald is a glacier village in the Jungfrau region nestled at the base of the mountains; it’s also one of Switzerland’s most popular resorts.
The Matterhorn is Switzerland’s most iconic peak and one of the highest mountains in the Alps. It borders with Italy and rises up a whopping 4,478 meters with its 4 steep faces pointing in the directions of compass points. The charming village of Zermat lies at the foothills of Matterhorn and while it’s a top international destination, is still famed for its horse-drawn carriage rides, quaint chalets and some of the best restaurants and hotels in the world. It’s a car-free village that’s full of great activities from tourists during the winter and summer months.
One of Switzerland’s most popular summer holiday spots lies nestled between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. Interlaken boasts a town square featuring the marvelous Höhematte comprising of 35 acres of open space surrounded with flower gardens, hotels and cafés around the Höheweg, the main boulevard. Guarding over the town are the peaks of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, which means hiking, climbing, abseiling and kayaking are popular recreational activities in Interlaken. To get to the countryside you can rely on more than 45 mountain railways, cable cars, chairlifts and ski lifts to get you there.
With its car-free medieval old town, a sparkling blue lake surrounded by mountains, quaint covered bridges, wonderful waterfront promenades, frescoes historic buildings and sun-dazzled plazas with refreshing fountains, Lucerne is a touristic heaven.
The beautiful scenery in the canton of Obwalden, with the emerald green Lake Lungern, appeals to walkers, water sports fans and lovers of nature and in winter provides a family-friendly skiing area. The mountain village of Lungern offers recuperation, sports activities and adventure in the midst of the imposing mountain chains and incomparable scenery.
Geneva is best known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and superb international flavor that lingers here. It’s been an important city for the Red Cross as well as the United Nations; it’s almost completely surrounded by France and only connected to the rest of Switzerland by the lake and a narrow strip of land along the northwest shore. Geneva is undeniably a different world altogether.
Bern is a destination in Austria that strikes many tourists as a surprise with its sheer natural beauty. The capital city of the country is built on a sandstone ridge and encircled on three sides by the river Aare that flows through the valley. The well-preserved old town’s charm is effortlessly integrated into everyday city life, and as such, Bern is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known for its great events like the Summer and Winter Jazz Festivals, the Buskers Festival and the Gurtenfestival, Bern is abundant in rich culture, a fact that’s greatly complemented by the history lurking in the museums and theaters.
The Rheinfall located at Schaffhausen are the largest waterfalls in Central Europe and spans across 150 meters. June and July are the best months to visit the falls because this is when the mountain snow melts and the falls spill over a 21-meter-high ledge of Jurassic limestone. You can easily catch a boat trip up the Rhine to get some of the best possible views or you might want to see it from the viewing platforms located on either side of the river.
Swiss National Park
The Swiss National Park lies in the Engadine Valley. It was founded in 1914 and is the oldest reserve in the Alps. Covering more than 170 square kilometers of mountain pine forests, flower-dotted hollows, shrubs, rivers and limestone crags, the park is very diverse and undeniably captivating. To make exploring the area easier you can use the abundant trails, but be warned that you HAVE to stay ON the trail, no venturing into the unknown here! There’s a lot to see with over 5,000 species of wildlife that call the park home and over 100 bird species that nest here.
As Switzerland’s largest city is Zürich, the city is the economic and cultural hub of the country and also one of Europe’s main financial and industrial capitals, but aside from the “real world”, Zürich boasts impressive natural beauty and fascinating attractions that could easily have tourists fall in love with its charm. As one of the finest Swiss cities around, Zürich is perfectly suitable for sightseeing on foot.
Located above the north shore of Lake Geneva, Lausanne rises in terraces on three hills. The best known features of the city are its high bridges that span the gorges of two rivers that cut through the city, the city’s dramatic and scenic terrain and the views over the Savoy Alps across the lake you’ll get here. Some of the city’s most notable sights for tourists to see include the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the impressive Place de la Palud, the flight of steps above Place de la Palud called the Escaliers du Marche and the Olympic Museum with its great collections. But there’s also the Musee des Beaux Arts - Lausanne’s Fine Arts Museum, the Lausanne-Vidy Roman Museum, the breathtaking Flon Quarter and the ever so impressive Tower of St. François Church which are all definitely worth seeing.
Located at the foot of the Pre-Alps, you’ll find the enchanted and charming medieval town of Gruyères. Given its name thanks to its divine cheese - Gruyère - it’s a place that hasn’t been affected by the passage of time and best of all boasts some of the most magical natural landscapes. It was voted Switzerland’s most beautiful village in 2014, which gives you more than enough reason to make a day out of it. Make sure you explore the Gruyères Chocolate Factory, see the Gruyères Castle and the ever so poplar La Maison du Gruyère Cheese Factory!
Basel is a city that’s very rich in cultural attractions, so much so that there are very few European cities that can keep up with it. Basel is Switzerland’s second largest city and boasts more than one museum per square kilometer, exceeding a total of 40 museums within the city. The best part of these museums is that most of them are housed in buildings that can be seen of works of art. Basel has two parts that are connected to each other via 6 bridges over the Rhine, and it’s on the left bank that you’ll want to get to for the old town and cultural attractions.
Pick the time right!
Tourists travel to Switzerland from April to October
The best time to travel to Switzerland largely depends on whether you plan to stay in the cities or you want to get out into the mountains. Summertime is great for outdoor activities and the warmest months are between June and September. The northern cities like Bern and Zurich normally have more overcast skies and rainy days than cities in the south like Lugano, which are known for having more sunshine and punctuated short downpours.
Winter time sees a lot of snow, but it definitely doesn’t bring the tourism industry to a halt. The mountains have two main seasons. The one runs from June to October and the other runs from December to April, and the months in-between generally see most mountain resorts close up in preparation for the next season.
Did you know?
- Fondue - Gruyère and Vacherin cheese, melted and mixed with white wine, flour, kirsch and a little garlic
- Raclette - cheese melted over a fire or grill and served with onions, pickles and bread
- Berner platte - A selection of meats and sausages cooked with sauerkraut, beans and boiled potatoes.
- Viande sèchée - Dried beef or pork from Valais and the Grisons served with pickled onions.
- Pieds de porc - Pigs' trotters.
- Rösti - A flat, round hot cake made with shredded fried potatoes.
- Fondue bourguignonne - Cubes of seasoned meat cooked in oil or butter and served with various sauces.
- Leckerli - Spiced honey cakes topped with icing sugar, decorated in Bern with a white sugar bear.
- Kirsch - A clear hard spirit made from sour cherries.
Fete de l’Escalade: Celebrated every year on 11 December, the festival marks the victory of the people of Geneva in holding back the Duke of Savoy’s attempt to take over the city of Geneva in the 1602 battle of Savoy. Some highlight of the event include a costume festival march, among them traditionally clad women bearing a large pot of soup, showcasing the part of this history in which the Mere Royaume of Geneva is said to have poured hot soup on a Savoyard soldier in the hold off attempt.
The onion festival: Held every 4 November in Bern, is a celebration of the Swiss agricultural history and harvest thanks giving of sorts. In the city centre, food stalls are setup, displaying intricately plaited onion strings, with an array of different vegetables on display. There is a general atmosphere of gaiety, street music and lots of fun things to do and eat along the streets!
Train travel for public transportation is the most recommended mobility option in Switzerland, most widely used (comes second only after Japan in the world rankings) and relatively save. Special promotional fares are usually offered to well-known tourist locations. Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
- Make use of the BlaBlaCar, since transportation in Switzerland is very expensive, making use of the ride-sharing website BlaBlaCar is a great way to help you cut down on costs of getting to and from where you want to go.
- Go ahead and drink the water flowing from the pristine fountains in the villages, it’s some of the cleanest mountain spring water you’ll ever find!
- Switzerland has some seriously amazing sight-seeing trains that take you to every important corner and must see place. The Glacier Express, Bernina Express and the William Tell Express are not cheap but they make for one fine Swiss experience!
- Learn how and remember to say “Thank You Very Much” in all four official Swiss languages: Merci Vilmau (Swiss German), Merci Beaucoup (French), Grazie Mille (Italian), Gratscha Fitg (Romansch)