Switzerland holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Swiss is not a language. What you will hear here is a combination of languages of the countries that surround Switzerland. That is, German, French and Italian. Language in Switzerland is regional, with French speakers in the west, Italian speakers in the south and German speakers in central, northern and eastern areas. English is widely spoken and many locals speak all four languages.
The Swiss franc is the local currency (Switzerland is not part of the EU), though euro are accepted in shops, restaurants, hotels and train stations nationwide. If you pay in euro, change could come back in Swiss francs. Money can be exchanged at banks, street changers, train stations and hotels. ATMs accept foreign cards though not all businesses take credit cards. Switzerland is more cash-oriented than many of its neighbours.
Visitors from the UK and most of the rest of Europe, as well as from the US, Canada and Australia don’t need visas for Switzerland holidays for stays of up to three months. These visitors must have passports which are valid for their stay, while other visitors, such as those from South Africa, must have at least three months’ validity from their exit date.
Switzerland has two climates; it is temperate in the north and generally alpine in the south. It is seasonal, with spring from March to May being sunny and quiet, summer from June to September being warm and busy, autumn from October to November being nice early on and winter from December to February/March the ski season. Summers are generally mild and humid with light rain, while winters are cold, cloudy and snowy. Average summer city temperature highs are around 28°C.
Zurich Airport is the main gateway, receiving flights from around the world, including from London and other UK cities. Geneva also receives good connections, along with the Franco/Swiss EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse. Bern has a small international airport with flights from London and Paris, among those from other EU centres though many travellers fly to Zurich and then take a train to the capital.
Swiss International Airlines (SWISS) is the main carrier, with regular flights from London to Zurich, Geneva and Basel. Swiss also serves Manchester and Birmingham. British Airways flies from London-Heathrow and London-Gatwick to Zurich and Geneva, while budget carrier easyJet also serves these two cities from UK centres. Flight time from London to Zurich is 1 hour.
Both summer and winter are high season in Switzerland, while cheaper flights can typically be had in the spring and autumn shoulder seasons. easyJet has well-priced flights from London-Luton to Zurich, while discounted tickets can often be had through travel agents. It is usually cheaper to fly to Basel or Geneva than Zurich due to higher operating costs at the latter. Zurich and Geneva airports both have rail connections and all airports are connected by shuttle buses and taxis.
Travelling by train is popular, with the Eurostar offering a fast connection from London to Paris (via the Channel Tunnel), from where services run to Switzerland. Eurolines coaches serve Geneva, Basel, Zurich, Bern and other cities, with a journey time from London of 18 hours. Numerous car ferries cross the English Channel, maing driving to Switzerland from the UK possible.
Train is the preferred way to travel in this mountainous country and Switzerland’s rail network is the envy of the world. Services are frequent, punctual and well priced. Domestic air travel is expensive and useful for business folk short on time, but is not really necessary for travellers on Switzerland holidays since the roads and rail services are good. City public transport is extensive.
Zurich Airport is the main hub. Other airports are Geneva (southwest), Basel/Mulhouse (northwest), Bern (centre/west) and Lugano (south). The main operator is Swiss, along with Darwin Airlines and FlyBaboo. Flight time from Zurich to Geneva is 45 minutes. It is expensive to fly domestically.
Buses are really set aside for travel in the mountains since the rail network is so good between cities. The yellow Postal Bus (Postauto) serves all mountain destinations, but is point to point as opposed to offering long distance travel. The Palm Express is a scenic trip from St Moritz to Lugano. Buses are well priced and comfy, while trolleybuses operate in most cities.
Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB) covers all main cities and there are also regional operators, such as the Bernr-Oberland-Bahn and the Gornergrat-Bahn mountain train. Trains are electric, comfy and have excellent facilities. Main routes go at least hourly and trip time from Zurich to Geneva is 2 hours, 43 minutes. The Swiss Pass covers rail travel on all services.
The roads are generally excellent and driving in the mountains can be a real pleasure. It can be heavy going in winter on certain routes, however, where use of winter tyres and snow chains is a must. Car hire is available through major European firms and vehicles can be collected at all airports, main train stations and from hotels. Traffic drives on the right.
Perched on Lake Geneva in the southeast, Geneva is Switzerland’s most altogether city for tourists. Its old town and main sights can be explored on foot, including the Cathedral de St Pierre, the flower clock and the huge Jet d’Eau fountain.
As the largest city and business hub, though not the capital, Zurich is cosmopolitan and loaded with sights. It’s not as pretty or well situated as Geneva though its Altstadt (old town) has delightful cobbled streets, churches and amazing museums. The shopping on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse is unrivalled.
Lucerne is a wonderful waterfront town on the lake of the same name, between Zurich and Bern. Its main draw is its medieval old town and as a launch point for trips to major ski resorts in the region.
Nearby Interlaken is of similar disposition, serving the stunning Berner Oberland proper, with its typical Swiss scenery of green hills and wild flowers backed by jagged, snowy peaks. The Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch peaks are world famous, and Grindelwald is a top ski resort.
Sat on the border with Italy is the distinctive Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most famous peak, which is worthy of a Swiss holiday on its own. Traffic-free Zermatt is the service village and famous ski resort; a typical alpine village of chalet restaurants and carriage rides. Nearby Gornergat has the best views of the mountain.
The small canton of Appenzell lies in the north and is replete with traditional-looking villages and a quiet air. It is a place of painted houses, lush valleys and rolling hills, backed by the likes of the Säntis peak.
Swiss capital Bern is noted for its medieval core of ancient, arcaded streets. It is less of a draw than Zurich or Geneva for tourists, so is quieter though nonetheless beautiful. Keep an eye out for the centuries-old clock tower.
Along with nearby Klosters and St Moritz in the east, Davos is one of Switzerland’s best known ski resorts. It is good for beginners and advanced skiers, and is loaded with hotels, restaurants and après-ski delights.
Switzerland’s standout landmarks are its peaks. The 4,478-metre Matterhorn (seen from Zermatt or Gornergrat) is the most impressive, while the Eiger and Jungfrau northern walls (viewed from Lauterbrunnen valley) are also heavily touted.
Impressive in another way is the 14-mile long Aletsch Glacier, Europe’s longest glacier and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is easy to access, too, and is best viewed from Bettmeralp.
Europe’s largest falls, the Rhine Falls, are worth a look for those crossing from Germany. There are well set platforms and a boat takes intrepid visitors right up to a rock island amid the falls. A children’s playground and nearby castles are side attractions.
Jet d’Eau is somewhat of a symbol of Geneva and one of the world’s highest fountains at 460 feet. Located near the city centre, it is beautifully lit at night and, historically, hails from the 1890s.
Also near the city of Geneva is Chillon Castle; a striking stronghold on the east shore of Lake Geneva that is noted for its trio of courtyards and views. The vast castle hails from the 11th century and has dungeons and period collections.
The Swiss National Park-Switzerland’s only national park-covers much of the east and a variety of terrain. It boasts fantastic hiking along well-marked trails and is good for all the family, with its extensive wildlife.
The elliptical mountain chapel of Mario Botta (Mario Botta’s Mountain Church) in southern Switzerland is a must for those visiting Lugano. The modern church is a feast for the eyes with its checkerboard design. This canton is noted as the tropical Alps, where palm trees are under the guise of mountains and glaciers.
The Swiss Transport Museum of Lucerne is one of Switzerland’s more quirky museums. It features aircraft, trains, ships and cars, along with offbeat forms of travel, and has an IMAX theatre and planetarium.
Most towns and ski resorts have bars and nightclubs. Clubs play everything from dance music by way of DJ to live folk music. Many bars and restaurants also have folk entertainment, while all cities boast theatres and a symphony orchestra.
Zurich is best for a party, featuring numerous trendy bars and clubs. It is quite avant-garde, with the best of entertainment in post-industrial Zurich-West. The city centres of Geneva and Lausanne also have a decent amount of bars and pubs. Bern, the capital, is decidedly staid in comparison, though it has some good clubs and clubs/bars in Matte. Basel is liveliest in the Kleinbasel and Barfuesseplatz areas, from where you can nip across to Mulhouse to enjoy French hospitality.
Those on Switzerland holidays in winter for the skiing will find that all the main resorts have party-orientated après-ski. Verbier and Zermatt are particularly fun, Klosters and Davos will cost you a packet, while the service town of Interlaken has a huge number of nightclubs and is always pumping.
Switzerland also has casinos, one of the best being in Lugano in the south, at the Grand Hotel. Away from the traditional nightly entertainment, visitors may prefer to chill out at a spa (all towns and resorts have them) and Interlaken’s Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa is renowned. Cities also have entertainment in their shopping malls.
Eating out is a big deal in Switzerland and much of the nightlife centres on eating at street side/water side cafés. It’s quite expensive to dine in Switzerland though there are budget options to go with the predominantly mid-range to high-end choices, and the quality is generally good.
There are traditional restaurants galore, serving everything from fondue to the tastiest pork, sausages, cheeses and chocolates. Swiss, German, French and Italian foods are most prominent though every town has a slew of British-style eateries and American burger chains. If you’re somehow stuck for local cuisine, look for a tavern (stubli).
Local specialities include dried beef or pork (viande sèchée), pigs trotters (pieds de porc), fried potatoes (rösti) and fondue with vacherin and gruyere cheese. Salami and pork sausages come in many forms, such as knackerli, beinwurst and landjäger. For dessert, chocolate is always on the menu, and the honey cakes (leckerli) in Bern are a must-try.
For the Swiss, lunch tends to be the main meal, with lighter eating in the evening. Cafés and restaurants typically open until late, with those in Zurich and Geneva often attracting street performers.
Incidentally, posh ski resort eateries aside, these cities have the most expensive dining, with a meal at a similar Lucerne or Basel restaurant around 50 per cent cheaper. Those staying at resorts could opt for a half pension rate where a hot meal is included in the room price.
Swiss wines are available nationwide and there are also local lagers and ales. Kirsch, Marc and Pflümli are popular liquors, and Henniez is a tasty local mineral water. Service charges are included at all bars, cafés and restaurants though tips are expected at top eateries.
All Swiss cities have an element of coolness and are inherently safe, save the odd dimly-lit area of Zurich. Geneva, Lucerne, Zurich, Berne, Lausanne, Interlaken, Lugano and even Basel all have something special to offer. Geneva, Lucerne and Interlaken are especially enchanting for Switzerland holidays.
It can be romantic wherever you go though the Alps hold special appeal for lovers. With its setting high over a valley in the Bernese Oberland, and having only a few chalets, Mürren is one of the top spots. Other locations include the Franco-centric, unpretentious resort of Verbier and the beautiful and not overly expensive Arosa. Alternatively, book a room in Zermatt overlooking the Matterhorn, take a ride on the Glacier Express or indulge in a spa treatment.
Many ski resorts have slopes and activities available for children, including the Skihäsliland at Bidmi. Cable car rides are ubiquitous and fun, especially the Little Matterhorn (Zermatt), Europe’s highest, and the revolving cable car at Engelberg. Scenic trains are equally appealing, in particular the St Moritz-Zermatt Glacier Express, while all main towns are near or on a lake. Consider a paddle steamer cruise on Lake Lucerne.
Adventure is all around. The skiing and hiking is some of the best and most accessible in the world. Along with skiing are deep-snow skiing, heli-skiing, ice climbing and glacier walking. Top ski areas are Davos, Klosters, St Moritz, Verbier, Zermatt and Portes du Soleil, while keen hikers could try the seven-day Altdorf-Adelboden Alpina Green Trail in summer. Good roads, well-marked trails and networks of cycle paths in the cities draw cyclists, while the Rhine and Saane rivers attract white-water enthusiasts.