Switzerland is renowned for a lot of things, but still, it remains a bit of a mystery to most people. Perhaps because it is overshadowed by its neighbours, or because it is so expensive to visit? Either way, there are a few things you should know about travel to Switzerland before you head there for business or pleasure. Some of which may surprise you.
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History Is Alive In The Cities of Switzerland
Perhaps because of their wealth, but also their neutrality during World War II, Switzerland has a serious amount of historic buildings in great shape. From the main cities like Zurich, Geneva, Lucerne and Basel, to even the small towns of Stein-am-Rhein and Gruyere, there is history absolutely everywhere you go. That also means you get stunning old towns and view to go with it.
Views of what? You might ask…
Mountains! There Are Mountains, Everywhere
One of the first things you will notice when you visit Switzerland is how flat it isn’t. That’s right, the country is covered in mountains. After all, it is smack bang in the center of the Alps. But even in the flatter northern areas, there are hills and valleys everywhere.
So, be prepared for stunning scenery and a lot of up and down, even when walking.
It’s A Very Small Country
Unlike most other European countries you might know or have visited, Switzerland is small. It measures only 220 kilometres (140 miles) across and 350 kilometres (220 miles) north to south. And, if you want a little context, it is around 250 times smaller than the USA and about 1/5 the size of the UK.
And we are not just talking land area either. In terms of population, Switzerland is also quite small at around 8.5 million. Compare that to Germany, their northern neighbour, which has 80 million, and France to the west, which has 67 million, and you will see what I mean.
That also means that Switzerland has a lot of open space which includes the mountains, of course, but also lots of forest, farming land and lakes and rivers. So, it’s the ideal outdoor wonderland to visit.
Swiss Public Transport Is Second To None
And maybe because it is so small, the Swiss have also managed to create one of the most efficient and widespread public transport systems around. It’s called Swiss Federal Railways in German Schweizerische Bundesbahnen) the SBB. Almost every corner of Switzerland I have ever been to, and it is most of them (even the long, deep, remote valleys) has a bus or maybe even a train. Which also meant that I lived for 12 years without a car too.
And on top of that, the trains are (almost) always on time. The only exception is when there is a major issue like a power failure or accident. Which seems to happen more often during commuting times these days.
So, if you are visiting Switzerland, hiring a car is almost completely pointless!
Travel to Switzerland is Very, Very Expensive
Switzerland is one of the richest countries in Europe, and probably the world. And as a result, it is very expensive to travel here. Even if your currency is strong at the time.
It starts with the food, which is far more expensive than almost anyone except Norwegians will be used to. So, sometimes, you have to resort to take away food to save a penny, or buy food at the supermarket for lunch.
And coming for Switzerland shopping is also kind of pointless because if you pop over the border to any other European country it is bound to be cheaper. Except electronics I find, which for some odd reason are less expensive.
But of course, you have to indulge in some Swiss treats and Switzerland souvenirs to take home. Which brings me to…
Switzerland Travel Gems – Chocolate and Cheese!
If you have ever heard of or tried Swiss chocolate. Think again. That is probably only the commercial or “pseudo” Swiss stuff that they export for the unsuspecting. Brands like Lindt and Toblerone are seen around the world. Especially in airports. But some of the even better stuff is found only in Switzerland. At least so far.
Take a growing brand I absolutely love: Laderach. They have shops in all major cities and you can even buy huge chunks they break off even bigger slabs to take home! Amazing. And each city has their own local “chocolatier” too. Just Google it when you arrive.
And now for cheese. And no, not “Swiss Cheese” with holes in it. That is one of the worst you can eat. At least in my opinion. It is actually called Emmental, and comes from near Bern, the capital. There are dozens of other tastier and more local cheeses you have to try. Just head to the local supermarket cheese section and go crazy. Or buy a local Bergkase when you are out in the mountainous areas. You won’t regret it.
Oh, and you have to try Raclette and Cheese Fondue while you are visiting Switzerland too. At least once anyway!
Time for a Swiss Watch
If you are at all into watches then Switzerland is the place to go shopping. No, not because it’s cheaper, but because of the huge selection of brand name watch shops you will find in all the major cities. Everything from Rolex, Omega, TAG Heuer, Cartier, Tissot and many many more are here for you to shop. Or just window shop if you like.
And, of course, as the home of watchmaking, Switzerland is also absolutely filled with watch museums and tours. Everything from the more famous Patek Philippe in Geneva, to the IWC Factory near Schaffhausen, you will have more watch-making experience here than you have time for!
Swiss Are Very Punctual, And Quite Serious
This is not something that is likely to affect you while traveling in Switzerland, but you will certainly notice it. The Swiss, especially in the German speaking part, are usually very, very punctual. So, if you have an appointment with someone, even if it is just to get a key to an Airbnb or meet for a tour, try to be a few minutes early or at the latest on time. Because they will be waiting for you.
Oh, and all jokes aside, seriously, joking around and sarcasm in particular are not things you will find a lot of in most of Switzerland. Sure, they can have a laugh, but it is sometimes harder to break the ice than you will find in most countries. Just something to be aware of.
Most People Speak English, And Many Other Languages
One of the great things about travel to Switzerland is that most people, especially in the big cities and more touristy spots, speak English. Oh, and probably French, German and Italian too. Because Switzerland has four official languages, those three, plus Reto-Romansch, an obscure language you will only hear in small mountain towns in the South-East.
So, the Swiss are very cultural and often travel a lot as a result of this exposure to languages and because they are smack bang in the center of Europe.
Now, all you have to do, is start planning your trip to Switzerland! What are you waiting for?
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on Expert World Travel. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
I have visited Switzerland few years ago and stayed mostly around Interlaken, it was amazing. I definitely would love to visit again in the future, probably with our motorhome. We are currently touring Norway and like you mentioned the food here is super expensive, we are glad to be able to cook most of our meals ourselves in our motorhome. Great post, thank you!
Hi Gilda, I was only in Norway for a short time some years ago, and it was even a shock for me. But, if you do things right, like cooking yourself, it can certainly help. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune and these countries have amazing scenery. Enjoy your travels
My husband rode through Switzerland last summer on his motorcycle and loved it. Yes, it was expensive but the scenery was amazing. Another thing to mention is that they do not take Euros, only Swiss Francs which catches many people off guard. He was only passing through and couldn’t pay for gas or food with his Euros, had to get Swiss Francs which he couldn’t use anywhere else. A slight inconvenience.
Hi Darlene, yes motorbiking over the passes here is super popular. I think it’s one of the best spots to ride in Europe. Or so they say.
As for Euros, it is not entirely correct that they are not accepted, it depends on the business. Closer to the border they are more likely to be taken, but the further in the country you go, and further from touristy places, the less they do. Which makes sense, as Switzerland has their own currency :> I am sure Canada doesn’t accept US dollars everywhere either :> But even my local gas station takes them, and we are about 20 miles from the border. So it’s hit and miss. But worth knowing for sure. Europe is not unified by any means.
Thanks for the great advice. I’ll keep it in mind, especially as we might have a few days in Switzerland next year.
Happy to help Pit, hope you have a great trip if you pass by!
If I had the privilege to write a biography of delightful characters still among us, I just might title it Sue, Dave (and don’t forget Shirley) Explore the Planet–and Make it a Better Place, Too. 🙂 So enjoyable, from the photos (and Dave’s vids) to the writing. As I’ve written before, Sue, I don’t expect I’ll get to see all the places you have been, but I feel like I have lived these experiences vicariously through your blog.
As to Switzerland–it’s so cosmopolitan with all the languages spoken, the focus on precision (one thinks of Swiss watches, financiers, and their penchant for timeliness and precision). As a mountain-born and -bred (former) girl, I also adore the scenery. Oh, to live in Switzerland–or Germany or Canada or . . . assuming they would allow an “ugly American.” These days, owing to our despicable politicians and policies a la “border wall,” etc., one never knows!
Hi Leigh, it’s funny the things outsiders think of Switzerland. Precision, yes, but in many ways I find the German way of thinking and working more so. The languages, for sure, but actually many of the areas that speak each language are very isolated – ie. don’t speak all languages, despite learning them in school. We all tend to stick to what, who and where we know.
But yes, it is a stunning and interesting country to visit for sure.
Thanks for the comment
Leigh you are beyond kind. thank you for this generous and truly touching comment. I’m so glad you enjoy the assortment of articles here and of course Dave’s videos. They say a blog should have a niche and our seems to be rather eclectic in nature. So be it as long as readers are enjoying it. I appreciate knowing how you feel and that you feel you have traveled along with us. That is definitely the goal. We will welcome you with open arms for a visit. I try to block out most of the noise going on south of us these days. I can appreciate how discouraging it all must be. Sending hugs across the miles and hope to see you here sometime soon! xo
Great article, Anna. You had me at “chocolate and cheese” 🙂 You shared so many things that I didn’t know. Switzerland sounds like an amazing place to visit.
Thanks Wendy, appreciate the kind words. Have a great weekend!
It all sounds wonderful. The cost of food would not put us off because we always shop locally and cook our own meals anyway.
Perfect. Cooking yourself will definitely save you a buck or two!
Some time next year, I hope.
Enjoy your trip!
Wow Anna; 8.5 million people? We have more popular in the tiny US state of New Jersey LOL. Amazing to think of scale and actual numbers comparing this gem of a land to the USA. I prefer having 8 million folks in an entire nation for sure. Big time peaceful spot, I see from photos.
Great things do come in small packages Ryan, that’s for sure!
Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and always worth returning to. We’ve visited many many times and always loved every single minute. It is a little pricey but that can be managed and it’s worth the expense to see such beautiful views and landscapes. Lovely friendly people too.
Having just returned from Lugano area an hour ago Jonno, I can only concur wholehearedly!
Love Switzerland 🇨🇭 ♥️ I only visited Chamonix Mont Blanc, on the way to Italy. But it was really gorgeous… thank you for this great post, love and best wishes ♥️
I’ve been thinking about a short trip here, but I do find the prices a bit intimidating. Very nice post.
Hey, Great reads and very informative. Haven’t been to Switzerland before but it’s among my must visit country. Yes, the beautiful, stunning mountains are the reasons i really want to visit. Once again , thanks for the great tips shared!!
I thoroughly enjoyed this vicarious visit to Switzerland, Anna. A very comprehensive and informative look, and the photos are wonderful too.
Enjoy reading this article. Thank you for sharing, Sue! The last time when we visited Switzerland was 15 years ago. 🙂
Amy we have never been to Switzerland so we would be very keen to go.
All very true points from our experience too! Timing and punctuality and very important and their public transport system is second to none. Really enjoyed this.
Cool article! I really love Switzerland and Swiss people, had a blast during my trip there. The public transport is amazingly efficient and you can even get free daily passes depending on the place you’re staying at. I’ve been using Couchsurfing to travel around and learn more about Swiss culture. I recommend everyone who’s on the budget but would love to learn more about this beautiful country and its friendly people to try Couchsurfing.