Planning a trip to Switzerland may seem complicated, especially if you’re visiting for the first time.
I’m sure you may have many questions about your upcoming Switzerland travels but,
Where do you start?
Well this guide covers in detail what you need to know before you plan a trip to Switzerland.
All You Need to Know Before Planning a Trip to Switzerland
Basic Information About Switzerland
Where is Switzerland?
Switzerland is smack-dab in the middle of continental Europe and is actually surrounded by 4 major European countries + 1 unique Principality, Liechtenstein. Switzerland’s 4 major neighboring countries are: France (to the West), Italy (to the South), Germany (to the North) and Austria (to the East). For travelers this means that not only are day-trips to any of these countries also available to you but it also affects the language the region of Switzerland you visit speaks.
Languages Spoken in Switzerland: Can I Speak English in Switzerland?
Because of Switzerland’s location, the country speaks multiple different languages depending on which region you decide to visit. The languages spoken in Switzerland are: Swiss German (not to be confused with the German spoken in Germany), Italian, French and a mountain language known as Reto-Romansch.
If you aren’t fluent in any of these languages, don’t worry. As an English speaker you’ll be pleased to know that most Swiss people are talented in the art of speaking English. In most of the major cities you are guaranteed to be able to speak English with the locals. As a rule of thumb, however, I always recommend learning a few basic phrases of the local language. Believe me, a little goes a long way and the Swiss really appreciate when a tourist attempts to speak their language.
Suggested Read: 21 Interesting Facts About Switzerland
Currency Used in Switzerland
Although Switzerland is literally in the middle of Europe it isn’t a part of the European Union. What does that mean for you as a traveler? Well, it means that you won’t be able to easily use Euros (the currency of all EU states). If you do, you risk the chance of getting a bad exchange rate.
The currency in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc (CHF). The Swiss Franc is essentially valued 1:1 with the U.S dollar and come in divisions of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and even 1000. So, if you’re also travelling through the EU, ensure that you exchange your Euros before or while you’re in Switzerland. This currency converter here will help you find the latest exchange rates.
Cambios & Banks in Switzerland
Cambios will be easy to find once you arrive at the airport or train station in Switzerland. Common cambio options you’ll find are:
- Migros Exchange
- SBB Exchange
- Western Union
Otherwise, you can withdraw cash directly from an ATM. Common bank ATMs you will see in Switzerland are:
- Credit Suisse
VAT Refunds for Travelers in Switzerland
Value Added Tax or VAT is automatically included in prices of any goods you may buy in Switzerland. For travelers (anyone who doesn’t reside in Switzerland), however, this tax is refundable once you’ve made purchases over 300 CHF per day & vendor.
Learn how to claim VAT refunds & find a list of banks & cambios at the Zurich airport by clicking this link. Or if you’ll be in Geneva, check out this link.
Electricity & Adapters in Switzerland
This is often an afterthought by many travelers & can be quite annoying once you’ve reached your destination & realize “I can’t charge my laptop!”
Switzerland’s plugs and sockets actually vary (slightly) from those in other EU states. While the EU typically uses electrical outlet plugs type C, E &F (only 2 rounded prongs), Switzerland instead uses a Type J electrical outlet plug (3 rounded prongs).
If you’re coming from the USA, Caribbean, Canada or any other country that uses 110-120 V take note that Switzerland uses 220-240 V. This means you may not want to travel with any electrical devices such as hairdryers since they have a fixed voltage. Other devices like phones and laptops should be able to adapt to the voltage difference (double check the fine prints for your devices before you do!).
So before visiting Switzerland purchase a Type J adapter or an international power adapter (if you’re traveling in Europe) for your electronic devices.
Switzerland Tourist Visa Requirements
Depending on your nationality you may or may not need a visa to visit Switzerland. While Switzerland isn’t a part of the European Union (EU) it is a part of the Schengen area along with all EU states. You can read more about the Schengen Area here.
If you’re from one of the countries included in the EU/EFTA, travel to Switzerland DOES NOT require you to have a visa to enter the country. Other countries like the United States & Canada also don’t require a visa. You’ll be free to travel within Switzerland for up to 90 days.
For other countries, like some islands in the Caribbean, you’ll be required to apply for a Schengen visa.
Click here to see if your country requires you to have a Schengen visa.
Once you’ve been successful in attaining your Schengen visa you can travel to Switzerland & any of the other countries in Europe that are a part of this Schengen area for a time span of 90 days.
Read more on the Schengen visa process for Switzerland here.
When is the Best Time to Travel to Switzerland?
Honestly, there’s no real “best time to visit Switzerland”. This solely depends on you & what type of experience you’re seeking. If you’re into ski holidays and winter sports, a trip in the winter season (December-March) would be best. If you’d love to hike and experience the Swiss Alps then plan a visit in Spring, Summer or Autumn. Although between November & December the weather can be quite dreary, rest assured that there is always something exciting to experience in Switzerland.
Weather in Switzerland & What to Pack for a Trip to Switzerland
Overall, the weather in Switzerland is average with no extreme temperatures. However, since the country is in the temperate zone it experiences yearly seasons. This will naturally affect what you pack for your trip to Switzerland.
Spring & Autumn in Switzerland
In the Spring & Autumn season Switzerland experiences weather that can range from 8 to 15 °C (46° – 59° F). When traveling to Switzerland in these seasons you should pack:
- Light jacket
- Sneakers or boots
- An umbrella and/or a light rain jacket
Suggested Read: 4 Traditional Autumn Festivals You Need to See in Switzerland
Winter in Switzerland
In the winter season Switzerland does get cold, with mountain regions dipping multiple degrees below 0. Generally winter temperature ranges from -2 to 7 °C (28° – 45° F). So if you’re planning a trip to Switzerland in winter it would be wise to pack the following:
- A warm winter jacket
- Warm socks & winter snow boots
- Multiple layers of shirts & sweaters
- Warm pants & thermal leggings
- A winter cap
- Ear muffs (especially if you’ll be doing winter sports)
Summer in Switzerland
Summer in Switzerland, while not as hot as tropical destinations, is a pleasingly warm temperature. The warmest months are July & August with temperatures between 18 to 28 °C (65° – 82° F). The ideal summer packing list would include:
- Light t-shirts & tops
- An umbrella and/or a light rain jacket
Suggested Read: 7 Awesome Ways to Enjoy Summer in Switzerland
How to Travel to Switzerland
International Airports in Switzerland
There are 3 major international airports in Switzerland:
The Zurich Airport (Airport Code: ZRH)
Located in Switzerland’s most popular city, Zurich, this airport is the most commonly used airport by travelers entering Switzerland.
The EurAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg (Airport Code: BSL, MLH, EAP)
The name sounds a bit confusing doesn’t it? It mentions the names of 3 different cities in 3 different countries. That’s because this binational airport, though technically built on French soil, serves not just Switzerland but also France and Germany who closely border the city of Basel. Don’t sweat it though, it’s not as confusing to navigate as it may seem. Once you’ve landed at the EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg airport, a toll-free road connects you to Switzerland’s border (the city of Basel). The journey lasts only 17 minutes.
The Geneva Airport (Airport Code: GVA)
The Geneva Airport is located in Switzerland’s second most populous city (right behind Zurich) and is the hub for the Swiss International Airlines.
Noteworthy to mention is that you’ll likely find cheaper flight options flying in and out of both the Geneva Airport and the EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg since more budget airlines flying throughout Europe use these locations as their bases.
Alternative Airports Near Switzerland
Aside from these major airports there are a few others located just outside of Switzerland’s borders that are a noteworthy mention (most times you can arrange a cheaper flight).
The Memmingen Airport (Airport Code FMM)
Depending on which European country you may be travelling from, the Memmingen Airport (also known as Allgäu-Airport Memmingen) in Germany, could be a worthwhile option for you to consider since it offers cheap flights from specific European cities. From this airport you can take a roughly 6-hour journey to Zurich on a Flixbus.
The Munich Airport (Airport Code MUC)
The Munich Airport is another alternative you can choose to enter Switzerland, especially if you’re interested in planning a multi-city trip. Why not explore the city of Munich then begin your trip to Switzerland? Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it?
Swiss Airlines that Fly to Switzerland
Booking a flight to Switzerland is made easy if you use conglomerate airline websites such as Skyscanner or Expedia. These websites are equipped to find you the best flight prices based on your personal requirements. They also eliminate the need to book your tickets separately by combining airline tickets for 1 final purchase.
Swiss International Airlines: (Lufthansa + Star Alliance Group)
The most popular Swiss airline is the Swiss International Airlines or SWISS. The airline offers flights to over 100 destinations in 43 countries in Europe, Africa/Middle East, The Americas & the Caribbean but also includes local flights to its hubs in Geneva and Zurich.
An affiliate of Swiss International Airlines & a part of the Lufthansa Group that travels to 70 destinations in 34 countries.
Switzerland’s first budget airline that travels to Europe & Northern-Africa with its hubs in Bern and Zurich.
European Budget Airlines that Fly to Switzerland
If you’re already traveling in Europe it’s also easy to catch a cheap flight to Switzerland with any of the following budget airlines that fly throughout Europe:
- RyanAir (flights to Basel)
- GermanWings (Part of Lufthansa + Star Alliance)
If you choose to travel with any of the mentioned budget airlines, please be aware of the terms & conditions of your ticket. Most fares DO NOT include check-on baggage fees or in-flight food. These will incur an extra cost if you decide to bring one along.
Airlines that Fly to Switzerland from the United States & Canada
If you’re planning your trip to Switzerland from the United States, the following airlines offer reasonably priced flights:
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- United Airlines
- Air Canada
Along with these airlines, 2 of the Swiss airlines I mentioned previously, SWISS & Edelweiss, also offer flights directly from the USA.
Airlines that Fly to Switzerland from the Caribbean
The best and most popular airlines to take when travelling to Switzerland from the Caribbean are:
- TUI Fly
Noteworthy to mention is that these flights do not fly directly to Switzerland. Rather, they fly to popular European destinations, such as Brussels (Belgium), Cologne & Frankfurt (Germany). A connection flight would then take you to any of Switzerland’s major airports. When booking your ticket to Switzerland.
Alternative Ways to Get to Switzerland
Travel to Switzerland by Bus
If you’re already travelling in Europe, another option you can consider is travelling by bus. There are quite a few European bus companies that transport travelers to and from major European cities, Switzerland included. The most popular choices are FlixBus & Eurolines. However, if you’d like to check a wider range of bus tickets in 1 place, GoEuro is a great platform.
Travel to Switzerland by Train
Train travel is also a viable choice to travel to Switzerland while in Europe. Often you may find cheaper tickets, as well as avoid airport taxes & baggage fees. To get more information on finding train tickets to Switzerland click here.
Transportation in Switzerland
The Swiss public transport system is very efficient & arguably the best in Europe. As a tourist it’s probably the best way to get around in Switzerland. The system is simple to navigate & it’s possible to get to even the most remote parts of the country. The main transport company in Switzerland is the Swiss Federal Railways, otherwise known as the SBB (or CFF in French regions & FFS in Italian regions).
To travel from 1 major city to the next, the fastest option you’ll have are train rides operated by the SBB. Another, slower option is the Post Auto bus. These buses not only do intercity trips but often travel to harder to reach destinations than train travel.
Transportation Within Cantons
Within Swiss cantons popular city/town transportation options are:
- Regional buses (each canton operates its own bus company)
- Bicycles & Scooters (available for rent especially in Zurich)
- Cable cars (for trips up to the mountains)
Accommodation in Switzerland
When it comes to accommodation in Switzerland you’ll have a wide range of choices of places to stay. Options you can find range from:
- Hostels : ideal for solo or group travelers who want to save money on accommodation by renting shared dorm room
- Resorts : from budget to luxury hotels, choosing a resort is great for couples, families or solo travelers who want to have their own private space
- Apartments : suitable for families or group travelers who want to share the same living space (and cost) but prefer to have their own private room
- Bed & Breakfasts : ideal for travelers who enjoy a personal touch as hosts provide breakfast in the mornings
- Villas : most often located in mountain villages, villas are perfect for families and group travelers who want to experience a more private setting
- Guesthouses : ideal for travelers in groups who want to stay in the same living space but with a personal touch from the host
The easiest & quickest way to find a suitable choice for your taste is by searching Booking.com. Here you can search and filter a wide variety of high to low budget places to stay in Switzerland. If you’re looking for an even lower price range, you should consider Hostelworld to find budget-friendly hostels.
Places to Visit in Switzerland
There are many interesting Swiss towns & cities to visit in Switzerland, however, these are a few popular choices among travelers.
Zurich is probably by far the most famous Swiss city for tourists & all for good reason. This metropolitan city comes alive with not just its nightlife but also its thumping art scene. Visitors can enjoy this modern, hipster city through its many art museums & blend of modern & ancient architecture. Food lovers will also enjoy Zurich as it is home to many exotic restaurants.Click Here to Book Your Stay in Zurich
The French-speaking Swiss city of Geneva is another popular choice for tourists who are fascinated by international organizations. The city is home to many, including the International Red Cross, the World Trade Organization and most famously, the United Nations. Geneva is also a perfect choice for visitors who enjoy nature as the city’s most stunning feature is of course the Lake of Geneva.Click Here to Book Your Stay in Geneva
Lucerne is the perfect stop for persons who love being by water & nature. The most captivating sight in Lucerne is hands down its beautiful lake.Click Here to Book Your Stay in Lucerne
Home to the “highest point in Europe”, Interlaken boasts stunning views from the infamous Swiss Alps. Nature loving tourists will definitely enjoy a trip to Interlaken for its sheer natural beauty. It is, after all, located in the Bernese Highlands, home of some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Switzerland.Click Here to Book Your Stay in Interlaken
Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is a great choice for tourists who enjoy history and architecture. This beautiful Swiss city is rich in history & beautiful architecture. Here you’ll find grandeur parliamentary buildings and can even see real life bears which happen to be the symbol of the city. Bern was also home to the famous scientist, Albert Einstein after he fled war in Germany & is also where he developed his famous theory E=MC2. A tour to the home of this scientific genius is a must do on a visit to this city.Click Here to Book Your Stay in Bern
Zermatt is another popular choice among travelers who are keen to experience the magnificence of the Swiss Alps. This Swiss town is home to the world-renowned Matterhorn. Hiking up and around this part of the Swiss Alps is a popular activity you can enjoy while visiting the town of Zermatt.Click Here to Book Your Stay in Zermatt
Basel can be considered as the true home of the Swiss art scene. This gorgeous Swiss city is dotted with enough art & science museums to fill your entire Swiss itinerary. It’s is also known as the starchitect’s (star architect’s) playground as many a famous architect such as Herzog & De Meuron have built some of their world class designs in the city. Needless to say, the city of Basel is any architecture lover’s dream.Click Here to Book Your Stay in Basel
St. Gallen, like Bern, is filled with rich Swiss history thus making it a perfect choice for tourists who want to learn more about Switzerland. The greatest highlight of visiting this Swiss town is certainly the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Abbey of St. Gall. Other interesting activities in the town of St. Gallen include a visit to the town’s famous Textile Museum & the St. Gallen Cathedral.Click Here to Book Your Stay in St. Gallen
Where to Visit on a First Time Trip to Switzerland
If you’re visiting Switzerland for the first time, I’d recommend what I call the the Swiss Trinity itinerary. This itinerary includes visits to 3 of these popular cities: Zurich, Bern & Lucerne. It’s easy to plan & you’ll get a good feel for what Switzerland has to offer.
Traditional Food to Try in Switzerland
Of course, no trip to Switzerland would be complete without enjoying delicious Swiss cuisine. Some of the traditionally Swiss food you should try when visiting Switzerland include:
- Spaetzli- a special egg noodle garnished and flavored with various sauces
- Roesti- a Swiss dish of grated potatoes formed into a small flat cake and fried.
- Raclette- melted scraped cheese eaten with meat and potatoes
- Fondue- melted cheese usually enjoyed by dipping small bread pieces
Recommended Cookbook: The Swiss Cookery Book: Recipes From All Cantons Cookbook of Switzerland