Explore the majestic Alps and vibrant cities with our “Travel Guide for Switzerland,” your essential companion for uncovering the beauty and culture of this enchanting European gem
What to See and Do in Switzerland
- Bern Tour: Explore Bern’s historic center with its medieval clock towers, cobblestone streets, and sandstone homes. Highlights include the River Aare, the History and Einstein Museums, and Bear Park.
- Skiing at Matterhorn: Experience the iconic Matterhorn, accessible by train or bus to Zermatt. In summer, swap skiing for hiking and take the world’s highest cable car for spectacular views.
- Discover Zurich: Zurich, on the stunning Lake Zurich and close to the mountains, offers a blend of history, art, and relaxation with its lakeside parks and vibrant cultural scene.
- Adventures in Interlaken: For thrill-seekers, Interlaken offers activities like skydiving, water skiing, and hiking. It’s a popular spot for backpackers with numerous free outdoor activities.
- Swiss Riviera Excursion: Visit the beautiful Swiss Riviera in Lavaux, alongside Lake Geneva. Key attractions include terraced vineyards, the 12th-century Château de Chillon, and Montreux’s famous jazz festival.
- Fasnacht Spring Carnival in Basel: Participate in Basel’s three-day spring festival, featuring elaborate costumes, music, and an upbeat atmosphere.
- Geneva Exploration: Geneva, Switzerland’s third-largest city, offers stunning views of Lake Geneva, historic sites, and diverse museums, including the Art and History and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museums.
- Hike Mt. Pilatus: Located near Lucerne, Mt. Pilatus offers breathtaking views of the Alps, with both hiking trails and a gondola ride to the summit.
- Rhine Falls Picnic: Enjoy a picnic at Europe’s most powerful waterfall and explore nearby attractions, including a medieval castle in Schaffhausen.
- St. Gallen Discovery: This lesser-known city features museums, unique architecture, and the ancient Abbey Library, making it a charming destination.
- Rural Switzerland Tour: Drive through the Graubunden area to experience traditional architecture, the Romansh language, and stunning natural landscapes.
- Romantic Montreux: Visit the picturesque Chateau de Chillon by the lake, a site of historical and cultural significance.
- Appenzell’s Rural Culture: Experience traditional Swiss culture in this car-free village, known for its dance, music, and scenic location near the Alpstein mountains.
- Lucerne Visit: A quintessential Swiss city, Lucerne is known for its old town, Chapel Bridge, and rich history, beautifully situated on Lake Lucerne.
- Jungfraujoch Railway Ride: Board the highest train station in Europe for breathtaking views of the Alps and snowscapes, starting from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch.
Switzerland Travel Costs
Accommodation in Switzerland varies in price. Hostel dorm rooms cost 30-40 CHF per night for a bed in a 6-8 bed dorm. Private rooms in hostels are priced between 70-120 CHF per night. These often include free linens, Wi-Fi, and sometimes breakfast. For campers, sites around Interlaken charge about 15-30 CHF per night for a basic spot for two without electricity. Hotels are quite pricey, with basic rooms starting at 70-120 CHF per night. For a nicer, larger room, prices are around 150-200 CHF per night. A great alternative is Airbnb. Private rooms there typically cost 30-50 CHF per night, and whole apartments start at 70 CHF. However, prices can double, so book early for the best deals.
Swiss cuisine, influenced by French, German, and Italian flavors, includes meat, potatoes, and lots of cheese. Popular dishes are veal with mushrooms, fondue, rösti (fried grated potatoes), and quiche. Don’t miss trying Swiss cheese and chocolate. For breakfast, muesli is a healthy choice.
Eating out? Bars and cafés offer the cheapest meals, with lunch specials costing 9-15 CHF. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant is around 25 CHF, while a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant is about 60 CHF. A beer with your meal costs about 7 CHF, and cocktails are 12-15 CHF. Fast food, like McDonald’s, is around 15 CHF for a combo meal, and a large pizza is between 15-21 CHF.
To save money, you can buy groceries from local supermarkets. Expect to spend 100-125 CHF per week on basics like pasta, rice, eggs, seasonal produce, and some meat. The main supermarkets are Migros, COOP, and Spar, with COOP being the most expensive.
Suggested Budgets for Backpacking in Switzerland
If you’re planning to backpack through Switzerland, I recommend budgeting 95 CHF per day. This should cover staying in hostel dorms, cooking all your meals, using public transportation, drinking less, and focusing on free activities like enjoying nature and joining walking tours.
For a more comfortable experience, a mid-range budget of about 200 CHF per day allows you to stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for some meals, have a few drinks, occasionally use taxis for transport, and enjoy more paid activities like museum visits and skiing.
For a luxury experience, starting at 400 CHF per day, you can enjoy hotel stays, dine out for all meals, indulge in more drinks, rent a car or use taxis more frequently, and participate in any tours and activities you wish. Remember, this is just the starting point for a luxury budget – you can go as high as you like.
How To Save Money In Switzerland Travelling
Switzerland can be expensive, but there are ways to save money, especially if you enjoy the outdoors which is free. Here are some tips that helped me reduce costs in Switzerland:
- Student Discounts: Many places like museums offer discounts for students. If you’re a student, always ask for a discount and you could save about 20%.
- City Cards: Cities often have tourist passes giving discounts or free entry to museums and attractions, along with free public transport. These can save you 20-40% if you’re planning a lot of sightseeing. Just ensure the pass costs less than paying for attractions individually.
- Stay with Locals: Using Couchsurfing lets you stay with locals for free. It’s very popular, so request early to find a host.
- Use BlaBlaCar: Since trains are expensive, consider BlaBlaCar, a ride-sharing service. It’s cheaper and a great way to meet locals. Be flexible, as sometimes plans can change.
- Hotel Points: If you’re from the U.S., accumulating hotel points through travel hacking can save a lot. These points can be a big help in expensive countries.
- Avoid Alcohol: Alcohol isn’t cheap. To save money, skip it or look for happy hours and hostel bars for more affordable options.
- Cook Your Meals: Eating out is costly, so buy groceries and cook. It’s less glamorous but much cheaper. If you prefer eating out, consider making your own lunch and dining out for dinner.
- Lunch Specials: For eating out, lunch is cheaper with specials costing around 10-19 CHF. It’s the most affordable time to eat at cafes and restaurants.
- Bring a Water Bottle: The tap water is safe here, so carry a reusable bottle. I recommend LifeStraw bottles as they have built-in filters, ensuring clean and safe water.
Where to Stay in Switzerland
Hostels are a great choice in Switzerland, but they’re uncommon. If you’re visiting during the busy season, it’s important to book early as they get full fast. Here are my favorite hostels in the country:
- In Interlaken: Balmers and Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof.
- In Zurich: Zurich Youth Hostel and Oldtown Hostel Otter.
- In Geneva: City Hostel and Nyon Hostel.
- In Bern: Bern Youth Hostel and Bern Backpackers Hotel & Hostel Glocke.
- In Basel: Basel Backpacker and Hyve Hostel Basel.
These places offer a good stay and are among the best options for budget-friendly accommodations in their respective cities.
What Transportations Using in Switzerland
- Public Transportation: Switzerland’s public transportation network is top-notch, encompassing trams, buses, funiculars, and trains that connect cities and towns efficiently. These modes of transport are known for their safety, cleanliness, and reliability, making them a popular choice among locals and tourists alike. The cost for a single journey varies based on the travel duration and the number of zones crossed, with prices typically ranging from 2.50 to 5 CHF. This extensive network makes exploring the country’s diverse landscapes and urban centers both convenient and enjoyable.
- Swiss Half Fare Card: For those planning extensive travel across Switzerland, the Swiss Half Fare Card is an economical option. Priced at 185 CHF, it offers a year-long benefit of half-price travel on various modes of transportation, including trains, buses, boats, and most mountain railways. This card becomes cost-effective for anyone expecting to spend more than 370 CHF in transportation fees. It’s ideal for travelers who are staying for an extended period or who plan to travel frequently during their visit.
- Swiss Travel Pass: The Swiss Travel Pass is a comprehensive travel solution, albeit at a higher price, ranging from 232 CHF for three days to 429 CHF for fifteen days. This pass includes unlimited public transportation, free travel on scenic panorama trains, admission to over 500 museums, and various mountain excursions. Additionally, it covers Mobility and PubliBike memberships, as well as ski passes for winter sports enthusiasts. Prospective buyers should compare their planned travel costs on the sbb.ch website to assess the pass’s value.
- Trains: Traveling by train is arguably the best way to explore Switzerland, thanks to the country’s extensive and efficient rail network. Preferred by locals for its economy and efficiency, train travel offers a scenic and comfortable way to journey between cities. Ticket prices for a second-class seat typically range from 40 to 100 CHF, depending on the destination. Key routes, like Bern to Geneva or Zurich to Interlaken, provide stunning views of the Swiss landscape.
- Buses (FlixBus): As a more budget-friendly alternative to trains, FlixBus operates several routes across Switzerland. Although the options are more limited compared to trains, FlixBus offers significantly lower fares. For example, a 90-minute ride from Zurich to Bern can start as low as 6 CHF, and a longer journey, like Zurich to Geneva, begins at 17 CHF. This makes FlixBus a great choice for travelers looking to save money while still enjoying convenient transportation.
- Flying: Due to Switzerland’s small size, flying within the country is generally not recommended. It tends to be more expensive and less convenient than other modes of transportation, such as trains or buses. The comprehensive and efficient ground transportation network in Switzerland typically offers faster, more scenic, and more cost-effective travel options than domestic flights.
- Ridesharing (BlaBlaCar): Ridesharing through services like BlaBlaCar presents a unique and flexible way to travel around Switzerland. This method allows travelers to book a seat in a private vehicle, often at a lower cost than public transport. It’s a faster alternative to buses or trains and provides an opportunity to meet locals. However, this option requires some flexibility as plans can sometimes change at the last minute.
- Hitchhiking: In Switzerland, hitchhiking is a viable option for getting around, particularly in mountain regions or areas with less frequent public transport. It suits travelers with flexible schedules and offers a chance to experience local hospitality. Websites like Hitchwiki.org offer valuable information and tips for safe hitchhiking, making it an adventurous and cost-effective way to explore the country.
When to Go to Switzerland
Switzerland is a popular destination, especially during the summer months of May to September. The warmest and busiest period is July and August when temperatures range between 18-28°C (65°-82°F). This time is perfect for hiking with snow-free trails and longer daylight hours. Plus, if you’re there on August 1st, you can enjoy the vibrant celebrations for Swiss National Day, complete with fireworks.
The shoulder seasons, April-May and October-November, are quieter times. Known as Zwischenzeit, or the “between time,” these months bridge the gap between the ski and summer seasons. It’s an ideal period for city tours, but ski resort towns are usually very quiet and many places may be closed. The weather during these months is also less predictable.
The ski season, spanning December to March, sees resort towns bustling and prices peaking. However, for skiing enthusiasts, this is the time to experience some of the world’s best skiing. During this period, urban areas like Zurich became less crowded as people headed to the mountains. The weather is typically cold, often below freezing, so packing layers is essential for a comfortable stay.
How to Stay Safe in Switzerland
Switzerland is known for being very safe. The most common crime is pickpocketing in busy tourist areas, but it’s still quite rare. Even in cities like Geneva, where petty crime has slightly increased, it’s not a big worry. Just be mindful of your belongings and keep them secure.
Solo female travelers generally feel safe in Switzerland. However, it’s always good to follow basic safety tips, like watching your drink and avoiding walking alone at night if you’ve been drinking.
If you’re heading to the mountains, keep an eye on the weather. Mountain weather can change quickly and be extreme, so be prepared. If you plan to hike alone, let someone at your hostel or hotel know your plans.
Scams are not common, but it’s always smart to be aware of typical travel scams.
For those planning to hike or ski in the mountains, pay attention to weather forecasts and avalanche warnings. Stay off trails if advised.
In an emergency, call 117 for help.
It’s always good to trust your instincts while traveling. Keep copies of important documents like your passport and ID. Share your travel plans with someone back home so they know where you are.
Lastly, I highly recommend getting travel insurance. It covers you in case of illness, injury, theft, or trip cancellations. I always travel with insurance because it has been useful to me many times before. You can look for a suitable policy using the widget below.
In conclusion, this travel guide for Switzerland offers a comprehensive journey through a land of majestic landscapes, rich culture, and unparalleled outdoor adventures, ensuring an unforgettable experience in one of Europe’s most enchanting countries.