Tips and Notes for Traveling in Switzerland

Switzerland Overview

Switzerland is a gorgeous and diverse country. Each area offers something different. From the towering mountains to the tranquil lakes to the bustling cities, drink in all the wonder, take lots of pictures, and thoroughly enjoy your visit! Listed are some cities we visited and really enjoyed. You will also find a brief description and pictures showing a selection of activities available.

Public transportation throughout Switzerland is efficient and accessible. Magnificent destinations await once you travel by train, boat, bus, gondola, trail and more! Don’t miss the scenery en route! Look into getting a rail pass which covers or reduces fare on most public transportation options. Buying a first class ticket allows you to have access to less crowded, nicer seating areas.

Here are a few facts (obtained from the CIA World Factbook). German (63.7%), French (20.4%), Italian (6.5%), and Romansch (0.5%) are the official languages. The local names for Switzerland are: Schweiz (German); Suisse (French); Svizzera (Italian); and Svizra (Romansh). The capital city is Bern; the largest city is Zurich. Their Independence Day is August 1st, celebrating the Founding of the Swiss Confederation in 1291.

Oh – and Switzerland is a wealthy country. Expect sticker shock. 😮 However, the food and chocolate are definitely worth going broke! 🙂

From Google Maps Quick Facts:

Switzerland is a mountainous Central European country, home to numerous lakes, villages and the high peaks of the Alps. Its cities contain medieval quarters, with landmarks like capital Bern’s Zytglogge clock tower and Lucerne’s wooden chapel bridge. The country is also known for its ski resorts and hiking trails. Banking and finance are key industries, and Swiss watches and chocolate are world renowned.

Some Useful Info
Chocolate Swiss chocolate is amazing. Expensive is not always better. Try the store brands. Try everything. 🙂 You can tour some of the chocolate shops.
Cheese Swiss cheese is great. Some of it is really stinky and strong-tasting. Try a bunch. Buy some bread and lunch meats with your cheese and make some sandwiches to take with you on your daily activities. You can tour some of the cheese factories.
Water There are water fountains all along the streets, especially in the hiking arear. These look like troughs with a spicket. You can fill your water bottles at these.
Breakfast Is amazing. Eat heartily. Breakfast generally includes breads, butter, jellies, chocolate spreads, yogurts, cereals, meusli, dried fruits, dried meats, eggs (soft boiled), fresh fruit, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, juices, water, milk. There will generally be a jar on the table for your garbage – butter wrappers, jelly and chocolate containers, egg shells, hot chocolate packets, tea bags, creamer containers, etc. Don’t think you need to cut back on carbs because you will need all these carbs to hike up mountains and walk around cities.
Hiking Boots Get sturdy hiking boots with ankle support. Some of the trails are steep, rocky, or slippery. It’s not good to twist your ankle and be in pain the remainder of the trip.
Swiss Pass

The Swiss pass will allow us to have unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel system. The Swiss pass is used as your ticket for trains, boats, gondolas, buses, etc. Transportation is covered and other items receive discounts – either partial or full. The Swiss Pass is bought for set lengths of time. When you arrive in Switzerland and are ready to start using the pass, go to the train ticket office with your Swiss Pass and passport to get the Swiss Pass activated. There are discounts for family passes, companion passes, length of time, etc. Young children’s passes are free when traveling with an adult. Research what is useful for your trip. The Swiss Pass is easier than individual tickets, especially for first time there. It may or may not be cheaper if you are going to an area that already gives you an area pass and free transportation within that area.

You can get your Swiss Pass in 1st or 2nd class. 1st class can go in any area (1st or 2nd) but 2nd class cannot access 1st class areas. Sometimes 1st class areas are nicer and less packed.

Swiss Pass website

Area Passes Check if your area offers an area pass with access to local trains, gondolas, etc.
Luggage Pack light because you have to carry your luggage all over the country.
Trains The trains in Switzerland are generally always on time. They are very clean and efficient. Plan out the stations, changes, directions, train numbers, etc before you leave the hotel; sometimes train connections are close; everything is in German so it is useful to be familiar with your planned route. You can walk through trains/connecting cars as they are moving. You can eat and drink on trains. You can open some of the windows. Sometimes other passengers do not like the breeze. Some trains are double decker so you can also sit upstairs. Some trains have couches and tables. Trains have bathrooms that you can use while the train is moving. Their is no waste tank. When you flush, everything just goes out onto the tracks. You should not use the bathroom while the train is sitting at the station because the stuff flushed just sits on the tracks at the station.
Train tickets Just get on the train in the proper class (first or general) and find a seat. The conductor/ticket person will come through and ask to see your tickets as you ride. Sometimes you also need to show your passport with the ticket/Swiss Pass.
Rosti Try the Rosti when in the alps area. It’s like amazing hashbrown pancakes.
Eat at a Hutte When you hike up a mountain, you will generally find small restaurant/hotels on the way up the mountain and at the top. We like to order hot chocolate and Rosti and sometimes pie or cake. Sometimes these hutte have specialty versions.
Layers The weather changes often. Wear layers and bring layers. You also want some rain gear, depending on the season.
Hiking Poles Hiking poles are very useful when hiking up a mountain or along a path. They help take some of the stress off your legs and help you zip along.
Backpack A light, comfortable backpack can hold all your hiking stuff, extra layers, water, and food. Chest and waist straps help take some strain off your back and shoulders.
Shots You do not need to get any shots unless you are not up to date on any vaccines or want to update your tetanus shot. Check out the CDC Health Information page for Traveling to Switzerland: CDC Travel Information for Switzerland. We do not get shots.
Passport and Visa

Visa: If you are traveling in Switzerland for under 90 days, US citizens do not need a Visa.

Passport: Your passport needs to be valid for at least 3 months following your planned exit from Switzerland.

Check out the State Department’s page for information on traveling to Switzerland: Switzerland Travel Information

Money We use our atm card to withdraw $ at their banks. There is a charge, so we take out enough for a few days. Sometimes the charges are for their bank and your bank.
Credit cards charge a fee also. Some places only take cash. Don’t bother with travelers checks. It is also a good idea to let you bank or the cc company know when you will be out of the country so they can note it in your account. If it is a small bank, there is a possibility that they will deny charges if they think something fishy is going on. So to be safe, let them know ahead of time.
Travel around Switzerland We travel mainly by train, but also travel by boat, gondola, bus, and walking.
Food We generally shop at the grocery stores (Coop, Migros, Volg, etc.) for bread, lunch meat, cheese, fruit and have sandwiches and fruit for snacks/lunches on our hikes. For supper, we either eat more sandwiches in our room/balcony or we head to the hotel restaurant for some local cuisine. Sometimes we eat out for lunch or dinner.