Are you looking for the perfect place to go on vacation? Look no further than Switzerland! This beautiful country is filled with breathtaking scenery, delicious food and drinks, and plenty of activities to keep you busy.
When it comes to outdoor travel, winter wonderland escapes, and captivating landscapes, Switzerland has managed to capture it all, epitomizing what a thrilling adventure in Europe ought to look like.
Whether you prefer a boat trip through the lakes, a drive through the mountains, or a cable ride through the alpine mountains, every turn delivers impeccable scenery, making a visit worthwhile. So what are some things to do and travel tips to keep in mind when visiting Switzerland? We’ve got you covered in this full Switzerland travel guide.
Best Things to Do in Switzerland
Mount Pilatus is a mountain in central Switzerland, located near the cities of Lucerne and Alpnachstad. It is the most climbed mountain in the country and is known for its breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps. At 2,132 meters (6,988 ft), it is one of the highest peaks in the region and provides an array of outdoor activities for visitors. From hiking and biking to skiing and snowshoeing, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the mountain. There is also an aerial cable car that takes visitors to the top of the peak, where they can take in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or an amateur photographer, Mount Pilatus is a must-visit destination in Switzerland.
Tour Historic Old Town Bern
Bern is the capital of Switzerland and a city with a rich history and culture. One of the best ways to explore the city is to take a tour of its historic Old Town. The tour begins at the Kramgasse, the main street of the Old Town. Here, you can see the Zytglogge, a historic clock tower that dates back to the 13th century. As you walk along the cobblestone streets, you can explore the many shops and restaurants, as well as the iconic BearPark. Other highlights include the Parliament Building, the Cathedral of Bern, and the Einstein House. The tour ends at the Munsterplatz, where you can admire the Cathedral of Bern up close. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking to explore the city’s sights, a tour of Old Town Bern is a great way to experience the city’s past and present.
Ski or Hike in the Matterhorn
Switzerland is home to the world-famous Matterhorn, with the peak summit at 4,478 m (14,692 ft). The train from Tasch to Zermatt takes you to the Zermatt train station, providing easy access to the world’s highest-altitude cable car, the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. Depending on your pick, you can either ski or hike the Matterhorn.
If you prefer to challenge yourself to a hike, the Matterhorn glacier trail is the perfect fit, running for an approximate 4-mile (6.5km) distance. Ski lovers will love the winter runs that give you a close-up of the Swiss alps as they make their way down the mountain.
If you want a great experience in the adventure capital of Europe, helicopter rides around the Matterhorn are also possible, with companies such as Air Zermatt offering thrilling aerial view experiences. Depending on your preferences, your ride will either comprise a quick view of the Matterhorn or a detailed guide giving you an in-depth tour around the Swiss national pride. You are also free to take a cable car for your descent or any of the hiking trails if you are feeling adventurous.
Hikers and site seers can also dine in any of the restaurants dotted around the hiking trails, with the mountain hut eateries also allowing you to save money if you are on a mid-range budget. The summer months are the best time to experience outdoor dining in Switzerland, giving you a perfect view of the Matterhorn. If traveling to Switzerland during winter, the various establishments also offer indoor dining options, with local cuisines keeping you warm through the biting cold.
Sleep in the Alpine Nature
Nothing beats a night out in nature more than in the open-air alpine mountains. The Million Stars Hotel takes you out of your comfort zone with this outdoor accommodation, with the unique sleeping spaces nestled at the edge of a crag, on the mountainsides, and even under an apple tree. Adventure seekers will love the spectacular scenes of the endless star-lit sky while waking up to the serene mountain views. Many Switzerland destinations will likely utilize advance booking for the peak season, with most slots open during the July-October travel season.
You can also opt for alpine huts if this is your first time visiting Switzerland and want a break from modern hotel establishments, allowing you to immerse yourself in the local Swiss culture. These huts are all about tranquillity, with the indoor and outdoor design themes adopting minimalistic designs to keep the Swiss tradition alive and bring you close to nature.
A night out in these amazing places puts you stark out in the meadows and peaks, with the fresh alpine air and surroundings allowing you to reconnect with the untouched nature.
Other alternatives to consider adding to your Switzerland travel guide sleeping are pods, boulder-shaped cabins, and the go-to wild camping facilities. While these facilities deliver comfort and a much-needed escape from the everyday hustles of life, their main goal is to showcase to their visitors that nature and luxury can exist harmoniously. Switzerland is a testament to this, with the country ranking as one of the sustainable regions globally spearheading positive climate action.
Book a Train Journey Aboard the Glacier Express
The Glacier Express is one of Switzerland’s renowned train adventures, taking you between Zermatt and St Moritz. The forest views, turquoise rivers, glaciers, and rolling mountains are some of the most spectacular features to look for when you visit Switzerland.
Another notable mention is the Landwasser Viaduct, a magnificent curved stone engineering marvel traversing the Landwasser between Schmitten and Filisur. Its impressive engineering and longevity through time have earned it prominence among railway experts, elevating it to a UNESCO World Heritage status, and making it a must-see.
If you want to save a bit of your Swiss Franc, consider utilizing the SBB trains when you visit Switzerland. These ply a similar route to the glacier express and deliver as much of a thrill as the glacier express, with overnight accommodation also helping you reduce expenses during your sightseeing adventure. Swiss travel passes such as the Swiss half-fare card will especially come in handy when hopping between multiple Swiss cities.
Visit Lucerne in the Swiss Alps
Lake Lucerne is the perfect spot for history lovers, with the surrounding landscapes being a historic center birthed in Swiss legends. Take a boat tour across this information-dense site, with the lake giving way to Tellskapelle, a dainty chapel rumored to be the getaway location of the country’s beloved William Tell as he fled his captor, Gessler.
Boating across Lake Uri also takes you to the birthplace of the Swiss Confederation and the famous Switzerland Chapel Bridge. Cloudless skies reveal the breathtaking black forest of neighboring Germany, a famous inspiration for JMW Turner’s paintings.
If you still have some time left on your Swiss itinerary when you visit Switzerland, a trip up Mt Rigi will be fitting, allowing you to take in the surrounding scenes of Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug, and Lake Lauerz. You can choose the cog rail or cable car to get to the top of the mountain, with the rides revealing impressive views of the surrounding Swiss mountains.
Alternatively, ascend Mount Pilatus on one of its trails or take the cog rail as you head atop this beautiful mountain. According to Swiss history, the Roman empire, Pontius Pilate is buried here, with his ghost said to haunt the mountains. A stone giant also guards one of the secret caves believed to be the dwelling place of a magical Switzerland dragon. Once atop the hill, you are treated to views of the lakes surrounding Lucerne with numerous other Swiss mountains on display.
Traverse the Scenic Shores and Sites of Lake Geneva
The Lavaux Vines are another world heritage site, with the vineyards taking the top spot for the world’s steepest vineyards. They overlook the northern shores of Lake Geneva, making them a sight for days. Due to their prime location, their existence remains a well-kept secret in Switzerland, with the handpicked wines often reserved for local consumption.
Visitors can get to the Lavaux Vines by a train traveling aboard the Lavaux Panoramic Train or driving along the 25 miles (40 km) stretch that comes with peaceful shoreline scenery. Alternatively, you can also head out to the trail from St-Saphorin to Lutry to fully immerse yourself in the Switzerland sceneries dotted with quaint villages and charming views.
You can also skip through time at the Château Chillon, located on the eastern side of Lake Geneva on the narrow shore between Villeneuve and Montreux. The Château Chillon is the most visited historic building in Switzerland and for good reason. Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, this castle is one of the few remaining structures from medieval Europe that inspired countless writers and poets due to its enthralling beauty.
The chateau houses unique artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age, with various murals telling stories dating back to the 11th century. Exploring the castle takes you back in time, with the courtyards and bedrooms showcasing a life that only most can imagine.
Board the Golden Pass Line and Explore Switzerland’s Cantons
The Golden Pass Line gives you the perfect opportunity to take in some of the picturesque views of the Swiss scenery, with a Swiss rail pass providing unlimited access to six cantons. The train ride takes you from Lucerne, home to Swiss German locals, to Montreux, home to French-speaking locals. Some well-known destinations along this route include Meiringen, Interlaken, Spiez, Gstaad, and Zweisimmen.
The panoramic views of the Golden Pass Line take you closer to the Swiss Alps, traveling through glacier-covered peaks. The longest, the Aletsch glacier, is visible during your ride, with the line designed to give you unobstructed access to the Swiss Alps. In addition to this, you will also be treated to the enchanting views of Lake Geneva, Lake Thun, and Lake Lucerne.
To view the Aletsch glacier by vehicle, make your way into the goms valley in Valais, with the road taking you to the heart of the Alps bordered by magnificent rock spires and calming waterfalls. Standing at 4193 m is the summit of the Aletschhorn, with the glacier being the largest in the Alps.
If you prefer a close-up view of the glacier but are short on Swiss Franc, a six-hour hike will be ideal, taking you from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp over a 10.5-mile (17 km) hike. Alternatively, you can also opt for a walk across the Aletschji–Grünsee Suspension Bridge that gives you a look into the Massa Gorge.
Attend the Local Festivals When You Visit Switzerland
Whether you travel to Switzerland during the summer or winter months, the country will likely be packed with festivities and local traditions all year round. One such activity to bookmark for your trip is the Basel Fasnacht. This will, however, be one for the early birds, with the tradition marked by drummers and masked pipers making their way through the old town of Basel at 4 a.m. Take note that it is celebrated in the week following Ash Wednesday.
If you prefer some wrestling action, Mount Rigi is the place to be, with this July festivity taking place outdoors surrounded by fantastic scenery. The Grindelwald Snow Festival is another local festival held every January in Switzerland that showcases giant ice sculptures during winter.
The Belalp Witches Race is another festival you should consider adding to your Switzerland itinerary or your January travels. It features a skiing race with the participants adorned in witch masks or green paint while dressed up as witches.
The Finale Nationale De La Race d’Hérens that happens in early May features organized cow fights among the Black Hérens breed. This species of cattle often group themselves into social circles and have the queen cow leading the way while grazing in the alpine territories. A few locals gather around select grounds every year to see them clash heads as each cow tries to assert dominance over the other. The weaker animal retreats while the dominant one takes the queen’s place in the herd.
Indulge in the Culinary Delights of Gruyères and Purchase Swiss Army Knives
Gruyères is synonymous with artisanal cheese-making, with visitors treated to melted cheese delights melted (aka fondue) or cheese that is consumed raw. Take a trip down to the home of the world-renowned Swiss cheese makers in the old town of Gruyères, with La Maison du Gruyère giving visitors a look into one of its well-honed cheese-making crafts. Once you complete a master class in this craft, try to make your own meals with some of the go-to cheese treats.
You can also explore the streets of Gruyères, with the local supermarkets filled with culinary outlets serving some classy treats of Gruyère cream and Swiss meringue. Many locals believe fondue originated in Switzerland, making it the perfect place to try out this delicacy. The Swiss army knives and Swiss watches are also unique to Switzerland, with their craftmanship the talk in numerous local spots.
In addition to cheese tasting, Gruyères is also home to world-class delicious chocolate. Book a trip to Maison Cailler, one of the oldest chocolate factories, to learn about chocolate-making through their workshops and factory tours, with tastings of these culinary delights also made possible during your tour.
Once you are done with your taste expeditions, head over to the Gruyères castle. This majestic Switzerland fortress from the 13th century looms menacingly over the hilltop at Gruyères and is one of the country’s most iconic castles. It holds some ancient art pieces, with stained windows reminiscent of the middle-age construction styles.
Take a Trip to the Whimsical Intragna
Intragna is undoubtedly one of the well-preserved medieval towns in Switzerland, with the cobbled streets ushering you into the picturesque roads. A train ride from Locarno is one of the cheapest ways to get to this town, with the journey taking approximately 15 minutes.
Start your sightseeing at the Campanile Clock Tower, which is the highest bell tower in the canton of Ticino. Next, head over to the Museum of Centovalli and Pedemonte for some insight into the town’s origins.
The Ponte Romano also known as the Roman Bridge is another top spot to visit, with the sight ushering you into a fairy-tale wonderland. The bridge was constructed in 1578 by the Roman emperor, Augustus, and arches over the whimsical turquoise waters of the Melleza River.
Visit the Grand Locarno
Locarno is another spectacular town in the Swiss area, with the region reminiscent of Italian heritage. It is known for its warm climate, making it an excellent location for visitors looking to escape the cold weather. Explore the Termali Saline & Spa Locarno for a relaxing dip into the salt pools. The spa also features an infinity pool overlooking Lake Maggiore.
Next, take a stroll at the nearby Piazza Grande, the largest in the country. Depending on your travel time, you will be treated to various events, with the Locarno Film Festival taking place every August. The piazza also features cafes and restaurants that serve some of the best local cuisines.
If you are also looking for some antiques to take back home, the boutiques and shops will be your go-to.
Other spots to add to your itinerary include a ride up the Funicular Locarno to the pilgrimage site of the sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso. Alternatively, you can also ride the Cardada Cable Car to Cimetta to access the mountain ridge and the stunning views of Lake Maggiore.
Where to stay in Switzerland
Whether you prefer a luxurious stay for your Switzerland mountain excursions or want an affordable stay for your family vacation, the country boasts so many amazing places. Before selecting your pick, consider the canton you will likely be visiting, the number of travelers accompanying you on your trip and the duration of your Switzerland stay.Lastly, consider the type of amenities you would like to have in your hotel and the budget, as Switzerland is considered one of the most expensive countries for visitors. These could be ski passes for accommodations within ski resorts and spa facilities.With these in mind, here is a list of the top 10 best accommodation spaces to add to your Switzerland travel guide:
- Hotel Des Balances
- W Verbier
- Grand Hotel Zermatterhof
- Hotel Brienzersee (Garni)
- The Alpine Gstaad
- Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern
- Beausite Zermatt
- Hotel Royal St Georges
- Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola
How to Get Around in Switzerland
>Switzerland’s public transportation makes sightseeing within the country fast, easy, and cheap, with numerous visitors using the bus, train services such as the Jungfrau railway, the highest railway station, and boats to commute to various destinations.A Swiss travel pass will, for instance, give you access to public transit systems consisting of the bus, boat, and train. In addition to this, it comes with unlimited travel to panoramic train views while providing free admission to more than 500 museums.If you prefer rental car services, some top picks to include in your Switzerland travel guide first, RentalCars.com, to find the best rate among top rental companies. Other options include Europcar, Enterprise Rent A Car and AVIS Rent a Car. Some of the major cities these companies serve include Bern, Switzerland’s capital city, for anyone looking to visit Bear Park and the Geneva surroundings.They also ply the Geneva airport route and Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich making it possible to make your way to destinations such as the Rhine falls. Others include Citymapper, Uber, and Romeo2 Rio. This will, however, require some flexibility with numerous ridesharing apps working with specific routes and utilizing Swiss francs which is the official currency.
Travel Tips Switzerland
Switzerland is a small country nestled in the heart of Europe’s high peaks, with the neighboring countries being the French border to the west, Germany to the north, Liechtenstein and Austria to the east, and Italy to the south, a strategic location that makes it the home of the top ski resorts in the region.
Its prime spot also makes it ideal for visitors from other regions, with the country having four national languages comprising Romansh, German, Italian, and French.
Even with such diverse backgrounds and sites, a few handy tips will come in handy in helping you enjoy what the country has to offer, as listed below:
Keep Track of the Weather
While the Swiss alps are a spectacular scene year-round, they remain a powerful force to reckon with, with the alps prone to weather changes at any time of day or night. Weather apps will come in handy in helping you stay in the know of the weather forecasts, with one of the most reliable options being Meteoblue.com.
Other options, such as Accuweather.com and Weather.com, are available for everyday purposes. Numerous sites also have webcams for high-altitude areas, allowing you to get a general view of whether or not you will have clear sceneries. If these still need to be forthcoming, inquire about weather alerts from the personnel in the various touring outlets.
Flexibility will be vital when visiting Switzerland, allowing you to swap your itinerary when unexpected weather changes occur. Most of Switzerland’s cities and tourist locations are interconnected, with the vast public transport networks making it easy to commute to and from various backgrounds.
With this in mind, list a few places to explore within a specific area and things to do to keep you occupied when one activity is no longer feasible.
Pick Your Preferred Season of Travel Wisely
While Switzerland is located in the cooler part of Europe, it still has its winter and summer months, creating a significant contrast of activities for visitors interested in adventure sports. If you prefer winter sports, the best time to visit will be during the December to March season. The skiing trails have the best coverage at this time, allowing you to have the perfect ski holiday.
City travelers will, however, not be affected by the changing seasons in Switzerland, with the only tip being to book a trip for the cooler months from September to November. This period will also be ideal for outdoor activities, with numerous Swiss resorts opening their hiking trails during the autumn shoulder seasons.
If your fascination rests with the traditional Swiss festivities, these will likely be scattered across the year due to their diverse themes. Fortunately, you can still bundle this with other seasonal events for your money-saving tips to avoid the Switzerland expensive air tickets.
Lastly, if you are looking for the best time to visit Switzerland to avoid large crowds, consider visiting early in the season, preferably in September and June for hikers and late November or December for ski lovers.
Sign up for Travel Insurance
Travel insurance may not be common for other travel destinations, but it will be helpful when you visit Switzerland. Even with the region ranking as one of the safest countries with minimal petty crime incidences, it still pays to be covered. It will be a trick to keep your costs to a minimum, allowing you to diverge your funds to your preferred traveling activities.
The two readily available coverage options will likely involve assistance insurance and trip cancellation. While the former helps take care of unexpected occurrences during your visit abroad, the latter will come in handy when you need to postpone or cancel your trip.
Find the best possible policy for you by using VisitorsCoverage or TravelInsurance.com, both of these compare hundreds of options to give you the best possible coverage for the price. Meanwhile, if you are backpacking Switzerland or are a digital nomad, we’d recommend SafetyWing for your insurance coverage needs.
If traveling with family and friends, ensure all individuals are covered, as some policies may limit coverage for large groups. Some policies will be preferable if traveling multiple times a year, while others will be ideal for shorter Swiss trips. Confirm the duration of your Switzerland stay and stipulate the expected days for your travel.
Lastly, understand the incidences covered by your Switzerland insurance. Unknown to many, some policies do not cover earthquake losses and injuries. To avoid incurring extra expenses in such a scenario, consider purchasing supplemental income.
Researching the risks associated with your travel areas will also help you customize your policy, allowing you to stick to your budget while visiting one of the EU’s most expensive countries.
Pack and Dress Accordingly
With that said, you cannot go wrong with a few essentials, with some of the go-to options being a waterproof jacket, hiking shoes, or trainers. These will be perfect for hikers, allowing you to hike the various Switzerland trails and stay dry as you ascend and descend the mountain.
If visiting Switzerland in the spring and summer months, pack light, with essentials such as sandals, ankle boots, sweaters, and shorts is a good starting point. Carry a pair or two of your favorite leggings to keep you warm throughout the night and early morning. Sunglasses will also be perfect for shielding you from the sun.
Fall and winter require heavy clothing options, with your ideal starter pack being long sleeve tops, warm coats, and waterproof boots, preferably leather boots. Blazers, jeans, and scarves will also come in handy for this season. Top these up with gloves, ear muffs, and a hat for those winter months. Layer these up to make a warm outfit for when stepping out.