Switzerland holidays

Experience Switzerland

Best Places to Visit

Perched on Lake Geneva in the south-east, Geneva offers lots for tourists to see and do. 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.

Switzerland's largest city and business hub 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 fantastic museums. The shopping on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse is unrivalled.

Lucerne is a beautiful 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, giving tourists a taste of the stunning Berner Oberland with its typical Swiss scenery of green hills and wildflowers 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. The famous ski-resort Zermatt sits under the peak and is a typical alpine village of chalet restaurants and carriage rides. For stunning photo opportunities, nearby Gornergat has the best views of the mountain.

The small Canton of Appenzell lies to the north and offers plenty of picture postcard, traditional-looking villages. It is a place of painted houses, lush valleys and rolling hills, backed by the likes of the Santis peak.

The 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 suitable for beginners and advanced skiers and is loaded with hotels, restaurants and apres ski delights.

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.

Top Landmarks

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 and is best viewed from Bettmeralp.

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 suitable 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 unusual forms of travel, and has an IMAX theatre and planetarium.

Entertainment

Most towns and ski resorts have a wide variety of bars and nightclubs, playing music ranging from the latest dance music and club classics 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 visiting Switzerland in winter for the skiing will find that all the main resorts have party-orientated apres ski. Verbier and Zermatt are particularly fun, Klosters and Davos are decidedly upmarket and 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. Spas are plentiful in all towns and cities, but anyone passing near Interlaken's Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa might like to check out the renowned spa there.

Dining Out

Much of Swiss nightlife centres on eating at street side or waterside cafes. 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 fair share 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 Séchée), pigs trotters (pieds de porc), fried potatoes (rosti) 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. Cafes and restaurants typically open until late, with those in Zurich and Geneva often attracting street performers. Aside from restaurants in high-end ski resorts, restaurants in Zurich and Geneva tend to be the most expensive in the country, with a meal at a similar Lucerne or Basel restaurant around 50 per cent cheaper.

Meals can be washed down with locally produced wine, lagers and ales. Kirsch, Marc and Pflümli are favourite liquors, and Henniez is a tasty local mineral water. Service charges are included at all bars, cafes and restaurants though tips are expected at top eateries.

Cities

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.

Romance

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.

Family

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

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.

Need to know

Language

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.

Currency

The Swiss franc is the local currency (Switzerland is not part of the EU), though Euros are accepted in shops, restaurants, hotels and train stations nationwide. If you pay in Euros, the 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.

Visas

Visitors from the UK and most of the rest of Europe, as well as from the USA, Canada and Australia don't need visas 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.

Climate

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.

Main Airports

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.

Flight Options

Swiss International Airlines (SWISS) is the leading 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.

Travel Advice

Both summer and winter are high seasons 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 sourced 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.

Other Transport Options

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, making driving to Switzerland from the UK possible.

Getting Around

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 travellers short on time, but not essential since the roads and rail services are good. City public transport is extensive.

Car

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, and winter tyres and snow chains are 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.

Train

Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB) covers all main cities and there are also regional operators, such as the Berner-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.

Air

Zurich Airport is the central hub. Other airports are Geneva (south-west), Basel/Mulhouse (north-west), 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.

SWITZERLAND`S WEATHER TODAY

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MAP

FACTS

  1. The notorious north face of the Eiger was first climbed in 1938 and has claimed many lives. A safer way to explore the Eiger is to take the train to Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest railway station at 3,454m.
  2. Switzerland is officially called the Swiss Confederation. In Latin that translates as Confoederatio Helvetica, hence the abbreviation of CH.
  3. Switzerland has a reputation for design ' Corbusier, one of the 20th century's most influential architects, was born here.

FACTS

  1. The notorious north face of the Eiger was first climbed in 1938 and has claimed many lives. A safer way to explore the Eiger is to take the train to Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest railway station at 3,454m.
  2. Switzerland is officially called the Swiss Confederation. In Latin that translates as Confoederatio Helvetica, hence the abbreviation of CH.
  3. Switzerland has a reputation for design ' Corbusier, one of the 20th century's most influential architects, was born here.

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