Last Updated on by Rodrigo @ OutofYourComfortZone
Visiting Switzerland for the first time can be a bit daunting with the high prices, possible language barriers and an overwhelming number of places that you will almost certainly want to visit. So, what are the best things you can do to make your trip more enjoyable, and most importantly one to never forget? Here are our top tips for first time visitors to Switzerland:
20 Tips for First Time Visitors to Switzerland
1. Book transportation tickets in advance.
Depending on how long you plan on being in Switzerland, one way of the best things you can do to reduce the cost of transportation is to buy a Swiss Travel Pass. This will give you unlimited travel on the train, bus and boat network, plus other public transport in certain locations, i.e. cable cars or funicular railways. You can do this via the SBB mobile app, or online via Switzerland Travel Centre, where you can also find a map that shows the full range of locations the pass covers, as well as getting free or reduced entrance cost into various museums too.
Prices start at CHF 232.00 for 3 days in 2nd class and up to CHF 429.00 for 15 days in 2nd class.
2. Avoid taking trains to big cities between certain hours
If you plan on taking a train Monday to Friday between the hours of 7 to 8am and 5 to 6 pm then be prepared for the train to be a little busier than outside of these hours. There isn’t so much a ‘rush hour’ in Switzerland, but these hours are normally the busiest especially between Bern, Zurich, Lucerne, Geneva and Basel.
3. Be on time for all public transport
Public transport in Switzerland is nearly always on time (it is very rarely late) so be on time! This especially goes for trains, which will leave exactly on time. The same goes for any restaurant reservations, all in all just be punctual in Switzerland.
4. Utilise train station lockers
If you are visiting a location and aren’t able to check in to your accommodation, or just visiting somewhere on the way through to a different destination with all your luggage, then be sure to utilise train station lockers. Depending on the size of your luggage will depend on the cost, but it is much better to leave the large cases and explore freely.
5. Don’t tip
You are not obliged to tip whilst in Switzerland, so don’t feel like you have to. Some places may even see it as a bit insulting, so best to just stay in the clear and pay the bill with no tip.
6. Drink from the water fountains
The water in Switzerland is like water nowhere else and because of that fresh potable water can often be found throughout the country in the water fountains. So be sure to bring a reusable bottle to fill whilst you are out and about and skip on buying bottled water from the supermarket.
7. Save money on eating out
If you want to save money on eating out, stop in a Migros or Coop grocery store as they have a great selection of hot and cold food for on the go. Some of the larger stores also have their own restaurants in serving various cuisines, which are much more budget friendly than the restaurants especially in the larger cities.
8. Fondue rules
If having fondue rule number one is don’t double dip your bread, just dip the once and then eat. Rule number two is only drinking white wine with your fondue, never water or beer as it is supposedly worse for your stomach, (but this has yet to be proven!). Rule number three changes depending on who you are eating with and where in the country, but in Basel is your bread falls off your fork into the pot you are made to forfeit with a shot of kirsch.
9. Don’t expect to know the language
There are many languages spoken in Switzerland, and depending on the canton you are visiting depends on the language / dialect that you will come across. If you learn some basic phrases in German or French you will be able to get by, (or Italian if in Ticino), but lots of the main tourist destinations will have English speakers as well. Romansch is also one of the official languages of Switzerland but isn’t so widely used.
10. Don’t try and go shopping on Sundays
On Sundays in Switzerland shops, and some restaurants are shut. This is gradually changing, with more choice of open places in the larger cities, but if you do desperately need some groceries then your best bet it so head to the train station. Shops in most stations are kept open on Sundays due to it being a day that the Swiss like to travel to go hiking.
11. Pack for all weathers
This is especially practical if your itinerary takes in both the cities and the mountains as the weather is often vastly different. It can be 25 degrees centigrade and blazing sunshine in the valley but 0 degrees centigrade and snowing up a mountain, (trust us we’ve been there!). Be sure to also always have sun screen with you as well, as both the altitude of the mountains as well as the chance of sun or snow, will require some form of sun protection.
12. Avoid the crowds and visit in a shoulder season
The cheapest time to visit Switzerland is the spring or autumn shoulder seasons. Although the weather may be a little more temperamental, from mid-January to the beginning of April and from the end of September through to the beginning of November, there are fewer tourists visiting the country, which means cheaper accommodation and cheaper transport.
13. Get the Swiss Topo app
If you plan to hike anywhere in the country, then download the Swiss Topo app. This app is great for planning routes as well as whilst out on the trails.
14. Get the White Risk app
If you are visiting Switzerland in the winter, then be sure to download the White Risk app for all information snowfall and avalanche risks. This should be a priority if you want to ensure you are safe in the mountainous areas of the country.
15. Stay somewhere central if you plan to visit multiple locations
If you would rather not keep moving accommodation but want to experience both the Swiss cities and the mountains then plan to stay somewhere central such as Lucerne or Zurich and then take day trips out to the various locations. Lucerne is one of the best locations for this as it has some of the nicest and easiest mountains to visit nearby, as well as a beautiful lake to discover and of course the wonderful city itself.
16. The local currency is Swiss Franc not Euro
Although Switzerland is in Europe, it uses its own currency, the Swiss Franc or CHF, rather than Euro. Some places close to the borders of France, Germany, Austria or Italy may take Euros but you will be charged an extra fee. As with most countries, always carry some cash especially if you plan on visiting lesser known locations, or venturing out of the cities into the mountains, and get a multi-currency card like the Wise card.
17. Get the right travel adaptor
Swiss plugs are not the same as neighbouring European country plugs which are the two-pronged Type F, Swiss plugs are Type J a three-pronged plug. Type F plugs will sometimes fit into a Swiss plug socket depending on the thickness, but it is better to be safe and just get a travel adaptor with a Type J option.
18. Adhere to the Swiss noise rules
The Swiss are sticklers for the rules, and one such rule that has to be listened to is no noise or parties after 10pm on a weeknight or at all on a Sunday. This means not even cutting the lawn or putting together flat pack furniture on a Sunday!
19. Plan your trip around one of the many festivals happening
Switzerland may not be well known for its festivals, but it has some really great events that happen throughout the year. The shoulder months of the year often have some of the best events with Basel Fasnacht in February / March and the annual Alpabfahrt or Desalpe in September / October.
20. Plan your trip well in advance
Although Switzerland is small there is still plenty to see and do and if you really want to make the most of your time in the country, then be sure to plan everywhere you want to go in advance.
Tips for First Time Visitors to Switzerland FAQs
Is Switzerland expensive?
Switzerland is known for being a little on the pricey side, but if you follow some of the above tips then you can make any trip to Switzerland less expensive. Two of the best ways to reduce costs is to book public transport tickets for trains in advance and visit Switzerland in one of the shoulder seasons.
What is Switzerland famous for?
Switzerland is well known for its stunning scenery, (think snow peaked alps, beautiful lakes and medieval towns), impressive watch making and of course cheese and chocolate.
What are the best train trips to take for sightseeing?
The most scenic trains for sightseeing in Switzerland are the Bernina Express, connecting Chur in Switzerland and Tirano in Italy through the Engadin Alps and the Glacier Express, connecting the Matterhorn and St Moritz. Both routes have seriously impressive views and pass through a World Heritage Site, but it has to be said that nearly every train route throughout the country will give you wonderful views.
What are the best Swiss dishes to try?
The best Swiss dishes to try for first time visitors to Switzerland are cheese fondue or raclette, both melted cheese and both equally delicious, rosti, often called the national dish of Switzerland, made with thin slices of potato with egg, bacon and apple and finally Alplermagronen, a macaroni dish with cream, cheese and roasted onions.
Is Switzerland safe?
Switzerland was recently ranked as one of the safest places to travel in Europe and has a low crime rate. You may find more pickpockets in the typical tourist areas, but this is the same as with any country.
There are our 20 tips for first time visitors to Switzerland, from the best transport options to the fondue rules, to the currency, languages and the plugs, hopefully there will be a few tips that help make planning a trip to this wonderful country much easier and less stressful.
About The Travelling Tedaldi
Based in Switzerland, Gemma and Matt are The Travelling Tedaldi team, and specialise in creating road trip and travel itineraries. They are currently travelling across the UK and Europe to find the best road trips in every country.
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