Perfectly packed into Central Europe’s mountainous region, Switzerland is a small but stunning country that attracts visitors who are looking to experience, firsthand, alpine traditions and landscapes. The towering peaks in Switzerland are a wonderland in the winter for skiers and snowboarders, while the powerful rivers are perfect for rafting or hiking in the summer.
The deep valleys are extraordinary and will certainly take your breath away. With the remoteness of much of the country, Switzerland is also a great place to get away from the busy cities.
Herzlich Willkommen – Welcome to Switzerland
But urban culture isn’t completely lost, and Swiss cities are driven by medieval history and world-class art. With the contrast between the modern and industrial architecture featured in cities like Bern, the capital, the urban centers in Switzerland have a certain edge to their character. Visitors can explore the beauty of nature or Alpine views, but also enjoy the lively energy of popular bars and restaurants. With a little piece of everything, Switzerland will be an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Revitalized from medieval times and built to be Switzerland’s modern capital, Bern is a mash up of cultures, languages, and landscapes. Here, in this picture-perfect city, visitors will take delight in the preserved Old Town, fountains, and Aare River. But amongst the historical sites, modern establishments are also thriving. With educational museums, local bars and avant-garde restaurants, Bern is the top place to explore in Switzerland.
Culture and Language
Much of Switzerland’s history is connected to Alpine culture, which was first established by the Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago. The area has long been inhabited by humans and the Alps actually stretch between various European countries including France, Italy, and Germany. The close proximity to these countries also means that those cultures have come to influence Swiss culture.
One large part of Swiss culture is folk art, which is often represented through dance, music, embroidery, literature, and other pieces of art. The alphorn is Switzerland’s most iconic musical instrument, which is accompanied by yodeling and traditional music. Other iconic images from the country include the Swiss flag and the majestic Alps mountain range.
Architecture is also important for Switzerland and the Romanesque style of cathedrals is very popular throughout the country. Gothic and Baroque styles from Italy have also found their way into Swiss architecture and many of the building are still preserved today. Some of the most famous cites to visit include old palaces, cathedrals, and fortresses. All of these types of buildings are scattered throughout the country and can be found in big cities or small towns.
But with a rich and diverse history, the culture of Switzerland reflects several countries through the national languages. Instead of having just one, Switzerland has four. German, French, Italian and Romansch, are the official languages in Switzerland, though German is the most widely spoken. About 63% of the population speak German, while 23% of the population speak French. Only about 8% of the population speaks Italian, while Romansch is the least common language.
Many people in Switzerland are also conversationally fluent in English or speak the language to a certain degree. While many locals do not speak English with each other, tourists should expect to find English speaking hosts at many of the popular destinations or big cities in Switzerland.
While exploring a new culture is always exciting, one part of travel that is less exciting is getting your documents in order. It is important to be a responsible traveler and having the proper, up to date documents will ensure you are smooth sailing on your trip. Switzerland is one of many European countries that are part of the Schengen Area and uphold the Schengen Agreement.
The Schengen Agreement means that United States citizens do not need a tourist visa for trips to Switzerland that will last for 90 days or less. But you will need to have a valid US passport with at least 6 months validity remaining. The validity of the passport is considered to begin on your intended date of departure from Switzerland. So, from that date, your passport needs to have a remaining validity of at least 6 months.
A blank page is also required in your passport for your stamps. There are no vaccination requires, but it is always recommended that you are up to date on all your boosters. There are also no currency restrictions for entering or exiting the country, but border officials may question you about any amount over $10,000 Swiss Francs.
While a tourist visa does not need to be incorporated into your budget, it is important for you to have a general idea of how much a trip to Switzerland will cost. A spending budget is a great planning tool that can help you determine what you can afford on your vacation, as well as portion off a little money for emergency travel or unexpected costs.
Switzerland is an expensive country to visit. While Iceland recently beat Switzerland to the crown, Switzerland is still often considered to be the second most expensive country to visit in Europe. Some of the reasons include having a strong currency, high local taxes, international banks, and a high number of wealthy citizens or residents. But for visitors, the costs of everything is high but the most important costs will be the airline ticket, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
One first expense, which won’t save you any money is the flight cost. The average cost for a seat on a plane from the United States to Switzerland is $1,000 US dollars. This is quite high for flying to Europe but with lots of research and time, you may be able to find a more affordable ticket. However, you should still expect to pay about $500 US dollars, which is an outstandingly good price.
The cost of airline tickets is also affected by the tourist seasons. The highest time for tourists to visit are July and August, as well as peaks in the winter due to the high levels of snow. But the most expensive time to visit Switzerland will always be during the summer months with July and August really being the peak.
But the flight is just the start of your journey and you will hopefully be able to spend some good time in Switzerland. While you are indulging in Swiss delight, you will need to have a safe place to stay at the end of a long day of exploring. Accommodation is the second most important part of your budget and it will be expensive, even if you are looking at staying in a hostel. Hostels are very expensive and the most affordable will still cost you about $30 US dollars per night. But you shouldn’t be surprised if you pay up to $60 US dollars per night for a hostel.
Hotels will be even more expensive with a three-star establishment often starting their nightly rates at $205 US dollars. But oddly enough, weekends tend to be more affordable and many hotels lower the price. So, you may be able to find deals that lower the nightly rates to about $155 US dollars per night on the weekends. Luxury hotels will have very high prices, and most start their nightly rates at $360 US dollars.
Airbnb is another accommodation option in Switzerland, but they aren’t very affordable unless you are traveling in a group. Most Airbnb accommodations will start their nightly rate at $60 US dollars and increase from that price point. For private homes, you can expect to pay as little as $120 US dollars per night or up to $700 US dollars per night.
While you always want to have a place to rest your head, the fun doesn’t begin until you get out into the country and explore the local culture. Food is an important part of culture and identity but is also essential for your body. Swiss cuisine, like the language and other part of the culture, has been heavily influenced by French, German, and Italian cuisine. But overall, Swiss cuisine is known for its heavy use of dairy. Cheese is a favorite throughout all of Switzerland and the country is also famous for its chocolate.
While Swiss chocolate takes its ingredients from all over the world, when cooked and created in Switzerland, this sweet morsel is made extra smooth, flavorful, and creamy. The most famous Swiss chocolate makers include Lindt and Toblerone. While some enjoy chocolate and cheese, the country’s most famous dairy are Swiss cheese and cheese fondue.
But while chocolate and cheese are delicious, they aren’t a full meal. Saffron risotto is a more complete dish that is bursting with flavor and topped with delicious shrimp. For a true meat, zurchergeschnetzeltes is a dish made of veal and served with pasta or rice. Berner platte is a more traditional dish, which features smoked beef and pork tongue along with sides of potatoes and sauerkraut. More common in the German speaking parts of Switzerland, älpermagronen is a hearty meal consisting of mac and cheese, potatoes, onions, and bacon.
Along with big meals, there are also tasty treats for you to nibble while you’re on the go. Zopf is a traditional type of bread, which is plaited and very similar to challah bread. Bündernusstorte is a caramelized treat of pastry and nuts, which is often served with coffee or tea. Finally, rösti is a popular treat, which if often served as a side dish. Rösti are round patties of semi-cooked potatoes, which are then filled with bacon, apple, onions, and cheese. The patty is toasted on the outside but soft on the inside and a truly savory dish.
While many things in Switzerland are delicious and it is hard to find a bad meal, the cost of food is very high and may make some travelers pause before they make a purchase. Eating out at an affordable restaurant will still cost $25-$30 US dollars per person, while nicer restaurants have prices ranging from $42-$72 US dollars. But for the best in its class, the high-end restaurants will have prices well over $100 US dollars per person and per meal.
But the high cost of food isn’t the only money you’ll have to budget on your trip. Drinks are also very expensive, whether they are alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Just purchasing a coffee or beer can set you back $8 US dollars and for hard liquor you can expect to pay quite a bit more. A bottle of wine is quite expensive and even house wines can cost up to $30 US dollars per bottle.
If all of these costs seem expensive, that’s because it is. Some travelers who really take the time to plan their trip and hunt for the best prices could spend about $100 US dollars per day, but most people consider a low-end budget to still be about $200 US dollars per day. A mid-range budget is even more expensive and would cost about $310 US dollars per day. High end or luxury budget can easily soar past $1,000 US dollars per day with the lower end still cost anywhere from $500 US dollars and up per day.
How to Get Around
One of the biggest budget killers and highest costs in Switzerland is what you’ll have to spend on transportation. Switzerland is known for having an extensive, high functioning, and efficient public transportation system. But the high sophistication of getting around with ease means that you’ll have to pay higher prices. The most popular ways to travel are by air, train, bus, and car. But you shouldn’t be surprised if you have to spend $50 US dollars or more on a ticket.
Domestic air is the way to go for travelers who have a larger budget but stricter time frame. Traveling by air is very expensive and you should expect to pay hundreds of US dollars for a single ticket. But the high cost means that you spend less time traveling and more time at each destination.
For those who don’t want to go by air, trains are very popular throughout all of Switzerland. There are hundreds of miles of train tracks in Switzerland that service more popular areas. Intercity trains will connect major hubs to each other so that you can easily bounce between different urban centers. But train tickets will cost about $35-$50 US dollars each. A special pass can get you rides on the trains, buses, and trams around Switzerland, but it costs $125 US dollars and may not be cost effective for everyone.
Buses are another popular way to travel throughout Switzerland, but instead of being more affordable than trains, they simply offer you the ability to reach more remote destinations. May buses will have service to areas that trains won’t, but don’t expect to save any money. Many intercity buses have similar costs to trains and a single ticket could cost up to $50 US dollars.
Cars are also a popular choice because many travelers like the convenience of traveling on their own schedule and with a reliable vehicle. But cars are very expensive to rent and you could pay up to $130 US dollars each day on a rental. Tacking on the high price of gas, you’ll have to then pay about $2 US dollars per liter. For many travelers, this is out of their budget.
Finally, within the cities there are taxis available, but they won’t save you any money. Another great option are bicycles, when you’re traveling short distances. With most costs being about $3 US dollars for every half hour, a short trip on a bike is often more affordable than taxis and faster than walking.
Top Cities to Visit
While Switzerland is a smaller country, that doesn’t mean that it lacks in adventure. With plenty of cities to explore, you can hop all around the country to experience the different cultures and languages of Switzerland. Here, are the top cities for tourists to visit in Switzerland.
With cobblestone streets, dainty fountains and the banks of the Aare River, Bern is Switzerland’s dreamy capital. The Old Town is the highlight, which has been perfectly preserved from several hundred years ago, but the overall laid-back feel often makes it a favorite city destination amongst many visitors. Driven by the avant-garde, the city is filled with new and exciting restaurants and bars for quality dining or entertainment.
Situated on a river and lake, Zurich is a vibrant city and Switzerland’s largest. The snowcapped mountains in the distance only add to the beauty, but within the city a young crowd has introduced a new and hip culture. With old architecture the only remnants of the past, the city is thriving and has a bright future ahead.
Surrounded by mountains, Lucerne is a medieval town that is built along the quiet banks of a river. The historic appearance of the town draws in visitors who are eager to explore the 14th century foundations. The Chapel Bridge is a hotspot in Lucerne, which often draws large crowds and local musicians who entertain the guests with a happy tune.
Basel sits on the Rhine River and is located nearby the borders of France and Germany, which makes it a big trade route. The wealth is abundant here and visitors will be able to explore the beautiful streets, museums, and galleries. With pretty pastel colors, Basel stands out from other cities as bright and cheerful.
Oozing with a cosmopolitan lifestyle, Geneva is known for being the home of the UN and World Bank. With wealth practically oozing through the streets, Geneva is an expensive place to visit because of the luxury hotels, restaurants, and bars that are open for business. But nevertheless, the sophistication of this Swiss city is a magnet for many tourists.
Points of Interest
Cities are often the go-to choice for travelers, but there are various attractions throughout Switzerland. Whether you’re been referred by a friend or seen some breathtaking photos, these are the top points of interest in Switzerland.
The Matterhorn is one of the tallest mountains in the Alps and also an icon of Switzerland. The peak rests on the border with Italy and is a staggering 14,691 feet tall. With a jagged appearance, the mountain is one of the most photographed hotspots in Switzerland. Zermatt is a town located at the base, but throughout the area there are plenty of scenic areas or even restaurants that provide a stunning view of this famous peak.
Often called the “Top of Europe”, Jungfraujoch has an observation terrace that overlooks the area and the Great Aletsch Glacier. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, this area is also the beginning of the famous Eiger trail, which is another famous mountain in the Alps. Grindelwald is the most famous village in the area, which has some of the oldest resorts in the country.
Interlaken is Switzerland’s most popular summer resort area. The green hill and towering peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfraujoch observation area all overlook Interlaken and provide visitors with endless outdoor adventures. With companies offering adventures in climbing, abseiling and hiking, this is a must-see location for outdoor enthusiasts.
Lake Geneva is an Alpine lake that straddles Switzerland’s border with France. While the town of Geneva is nearby and bears the same name, the large lake offers plenty of space to get away from the crowds and relax in nature. With an extensive shoreline, many visitors are eager to explore the area by boat to view all the small villages or houses along Lake Geneva’s shores.
Most popular when snow blankets the ground, St. Moritz is a luxury resort area that has become famous for hosting the Winter Olympics two times. With two parts to the town, St. Mortiz Dorf and St. Moritz Bad, there is a lot to see and do in this beautiful valley. While winter is the peak season for St. Moritz, when the snow melts, the area is still popular because of the abundance of outdoor summer activities.
Swiss National Park
For the nature and wildlife lovers, Swiss National Park is the place to go to view nature. With the famous and rare ibex, chamois, fox, and marmot animals calling the park home, visitors have the chance to observe some furry friends. But with dramatic views, this park is simply breathtaking, and it is open all year round. In the summer, the green grass contrasts the grey peaks and in the winter, the snow turns the area into a great cross country skiing area.
Get Out and Go
Switzerland is a rich country, in every sense of the word. From the powerful economy to the wealthy residents or the decadent cuisine and long history, the country has a very sophisticated way of life. But while Swiss residents are some of the happiest in the world, tourists don’t need to spend much time in Switzerland to fall for its charm.
With the Alpine glory and beautiful cities, Switzerland is a country that shines. The high costs of a trip may cause you to hesitate, but every traveler to Switzerland will quickly tell you that it is worth every penny to take a visit to this little piece of heaven on Earth.