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Wiki Voyage Travel Information
Switzerland ( German : Schweiz, French : Suisse, Italian : Svizzera, Romansch: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica, hence the abbreviation "CH") is a landlocked country in Central Europe . It has borders with France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Germany to the north.
Switzerland is known for its mountains ( Alps in the south, Jura in the northwest) but it also has a central plateau of rolling hills, plains, and large lakes. The highest point is Dufourspitze at 4,634 m (15,203 ft) while Lake Maggiore is only 195 m (636 ft) above sea level, and the temperate climate varies greatly with altitude.
Switzerland is intrinsically more culturally diverse than perhaps any other European country. It has four official languages which have historically been dominant in various regions, or cantons. German, French and Italian are spoken in the regions bordering the respective country, and Romansch - a language of Swiss origin - spoken in the mountainous area of Graubünden . Switzerland also has one of the proportionally largest expat/immigrant populations - almost every fourth resident (24.3% as of 2014) is a foreign national - consisting of almost all of the world's nationalities and ethnic groups. Renowned for tolerance, neutrality and direct democracy, as well as almost-legendary affluence, Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living in the world - and prices to match.
Switzerland can be a glorious whirlwind trip whether you've packed your hiking boots, snowboard, or just a good book and a pair of sunglasses.
Politically, Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons, but the traveler will find the following regions more useful:
The Swiss Alps stretch through the regions of the eastern part of Lake Geneva , Valais , Bernese Highlands , the southern part of Central Switzerland , almost the entirety of Ticino except for the most southern part, the southern part of Northeastern Switzerland , and Graubünden .
(Bern) - as close as this highly devolved nation gets to having a capital with an amazingly well preserved old-town, with arcades along almost every street; great restaurants and bars abound
- the traveller's gateway to the German Rhineland and Black Forest and French Alsace with an exceptional medieval centre on a bend of the Rhine river
(Genève) - this centre of arts and culture is an international city home to around 200 governmental and non-governmental organisations, birth place of the World-Wide-Web at CERN and the Red Cross organisation (ICRC)
- scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws
(Luzern) - main city of the central region with direct water links to all of the sites of early Swiss history
- a gorgeous old-town, a pretty lake; much Italianatà combined with Swiss seriousness
- main city of north-eastern Switzerland, renowned for its Abbey of St. Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it also functions as the gate to the very special Appenzell region.
(Zürich) - Switzerland's largest city and a major centre of banking with a thriving nightlife
- renowned for its medieval castles, world UNESCO heritage, pretty centre and capital of the canton of Ticino , overlooking one of the few flat rural areas of Switzerland towards Lake Maggiore .
- large ski resort where the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum takes place
- capital of the canton of Graubünden (The Grisons) it is the only trilingual Swiss canton, in the east-south of the country; gate to several glitzy ski and hiking resorts
- the classic resort at the foot of the Eiger
- the outdoor and action sports capital of Switzerland; anything from skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, white-water rafting, to canyoning
- glitzy ski resort in the Engadine valley in south-eastern Switzerland
- famous mountain resort at the base of the mighty Matterhorn
Switzerland has a history reaching far back into the Roman Empire times, when the tribes inhabiting it were called "Helvetians" by Roman sources - hence the modern-day Latin name "Confoederatio Helvetica", used internally wherever it is not advisable to give preference to any of the country's official languages. You can find many references to "Helvetia" or "Helvetic" in the naming of Swiss organisations and companies, and the International Registration Letter and Swiss top-level Internet domain are CH and .ch, respectively. A quarrel between Caesar and the Helvetians is one of the first things to be described in detail in Julius Caesar's de bello gallico which is still read by Latin students all over the world.
The Helvetians and their successors have adopted various forms of democracy and devolution to govern their lands, rather than feudalism or autocracy prevalent in the rest of Europe, thus conserving and in a sense modernising Germanic traditions otherwise only found in the Nordic countries. Functioning as a (initially very loose) confederation for centuries, the country has grown to become one of the most diverse in Europe, while also vividly celebrating their national and local identity and the direct democracy employed to make a wide range of civic decisions.
Switzerland's independence and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers and Switzerland has not been involved in any international war since Napoleonic times and has been at peace internally since the 1850s. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbours. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002 and maintains a neutral position in foreign relations. Unlike all of its neighbours (bar Liechtenstein ), Switzerland is not a member of the European Union .
The climate is temperate, but varies significantly with altitude (in average about 6.5°C every 1000m). There are four clearly defined seasons which bring changes in both temperature and precipitation. Switzerland has cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters, and moderate to warm summers with very changeable weather which can change quite quickly; especially on hot summer days and in the mountains; in extreme cases within minutes. In some years you can experience cloudy, rainy, humid summer days, however on other days or even the next year very sunny, or sometimes even hot summer days with only occasional showers. Approximately every third day throughout the entire year is a rainy day with either a short shower, or constantly drizzling rain throughout the whole day. Forecasts for more than five days ahead are unreliable.
Switzerland showcases three of Europe's most distinct cultures. To the northeast is the clean and correct, 8-to-5-working, more stiff Swiss-German-speaking Switzerland; to the southwest you find the wine drinking and laissez-faire style known from the French; in the southeast, south of the Alps, the sun warms cappuccino-sippers loitering in Italian-style piazzas; and in the center: classic Swiss alphorns and mountain landscapes. Binding it all together is a distinct Swiss mentality. Switzerland is sometimes called a "nation of choosing" as the Swiss are one nation not because of ethnicity or language, but because they want to be a nation and want to be distinct from the Germans, Italians and French around them. Even though conflict sometimes arises between the different groups, the common Swiss identity is usually stronger than the dividing factors.
While most of the cantons, save for the small Romansch-speaking regions, use languages in common with neighbouring countries, the language spoken there is not necessarily just the same as across the national border. In particular, Swiss German is very different from any of the variations of German spoken in Germany or Austria , with its own peculiar pronunciation and vocabulary. Even fluent speakers of standard German (Hochdeutsch) may have a hard time understanding even the regular Swiss spoken on the street or in mass media. Fortunately for visitors, most German-speaking Swiss are perfectly capable of speaking Hochdeutsch, English, and at least one other national language (e.g. French). Even in its written form, Swiss standard German differs notably from its German and Austrian counterparts, though most differences are minor and the one you are most likely to notice is the fact that Switzerland doesn't use the letter "ß", replacing it with "ss", which however doesn't affect pronunciation. Swiss French and Swiss Italian differ only lexically from their counterparts spoken in other countries. Romansch is, however, only spoken in remote alpine communities, where most people speak at least one other Swiss language just as well.
Switzerland is a peaceful, prosperous, and stable modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labour force, and a per capita GDP larger than that of most of the big European economies. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness, and ensure smooth trade with their biggest trading partner, the EU. Switzerland remains a safe haven for investors, because it has maintained a degree of bank secrecy and has kept up the franc's long-term external value. Both of these have been called into question, as the Swiss Franc has risen to almost parity with the euro due to being seen as a "safe haven" and the famous Swiss bank secrecy is more and more under attack from fiscal offices in America, Germany and elsewhere, with many high profile cases of tax evasion via Swiss banks ending up in court. Even so, unemployment has remained at less than half the EU average. This together with the exchange rate (especially to the Euro) make Switzerland one of the pricier destinations.
Public Holidays are regulated on a cantonal level (except for the first of August) and may vary greatly. However, these are the ones observed (almost) everywhere:
- New Year's Day (1 January)
- Good Friday (2 days before Easter, not a public holiday in the cantons of Ticino and Valais )
- Easter Monday (1 day after Easter, not a public holiday in Valais)
- Ascension (39 days after Easter)
- Whit Monday (1 day after Pentecost, not a public holiday in Valais)
- Swiss National Day (1 August)
- Christmas Day (25 December)
- St Stephen's Day (26 December, not a public holiday in the cantons of Geneva , Jura , Valais, Vaud and parts of the canton of Solothurn )
General Holidays observed by timetables by public transportation companies, in particular by SBB CFF FFS and PostBus, are: 1 and 2 January, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whit Monday, 1st August, 25 and 26 December. Business times of local offices and timetables of local transportation companies will sometimes also follow local holidays.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, however. Therefore, travellers entering Switzerland are subject to customs controls even if there are no immigration controls, and persons travelling elsewhere in the Schengen Area will also have to clear customs.
As a tourist: Personal goods worth a total of more than 5,000 Fr. and cash and all cash equivalents in excess of 10,000 Fr. have to be declared. Also some amounts of foodstuffs, alcohol and tobacco. The importation of animal products coming from countries other than EU states and Norway is prohibited. When you enter Switzerland, personal effects, travelling provisions and fuel in the tank of your vehicle are tax and duty-free. For other goods being carried, VAT and duty will be levied depending on their total value (over 300 Fr.) and according to the quantity. Also take care if you want to travel with your pets. And generally comply with bans, restrictions and authorisations regarding protected species, plants, cash, foreign currency, securities, weapons, pyrotechnic articles (fireworks), narcotics and drugs, transfer of cultural property, product piracy, counterfeits, medicines (medicinal products) and doping, radar warning devices, and citizens' band radio (CB radio).
Unaccompanied minors (travellers under the age of 18 years) are strongly advised to have a note of consent from their parents/guardian, as well as a copy of the parents' or guardian's valid passport or ID card. For more information, visit the FAQ section of the website of the State Scretariat for Migration (under the 'Border-crossing/Travel documents' heading).
Major international airports are in Zurich , Geneva and Basel (for the Swiss part: ) , with smaller airports in Lugano and Berne . Some airlines fly to Friedrichshafen , Germany which is just across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) from Romanshorn, not too far from Zurich .
Basel airport is a peculiar case, as it also serves neighbouring Mulhouse and Freiburg and has three different IATA codes, as well as different customs procedure (and sometimes even airfares) depending on whether you fly to "Basel" or "Mulhouse". The airport also has an area code for the "metro-area" that should get you flights for both destinations.
Almost all major European airlines fly to at least one Swiss airport. The flag carrier of Switzerland are the Swiss International Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance and the Lufthansa Group. Together with their subsidiaries, charter/holiday airline Edelweiss Air and short-haul Swiss European Air Lines, they offer connections to most major airports across Europe, as well as many intercontinental destinations.
Additionally, some smaller Swiss-based airlines also offer connections to Switzerland - Etihad Regional mainly from Geneva and Lugano , Helvetic Airways from Zurich and Berne and Sky Work Airlines from Berne and Basel . AirBerlin also has a marked presence in the Swiss market through its subsidiary Belair, although pretty much all flights are sold as AirBerlin flights.
The major European low-fare airlines, however, have very limited presence in Switzerland, usually offering a singular flight from their home hub to either Zurich or Geneva . The exception is EasyJet, who has a dedicated subsidiary, EasyJet Switzerland, and offers flights to and from Basel , Geneva and Zurich within its usual low-fare business model. Ryanair flies to Basel from Dublin and London Stansted, as well as to Strasbourg and Baden-Baden in nearby France and Germany respectively.
In the winter season, many airlines specialising in charter and holiday flights offer connections to Swiss airports to cater to the skiing and winter sport markets.
It is possible to fly into an airport nearby in a neighbouring country. Grenoble in France is an alternative for Geneva and Stuttgart () and Munich Airport () in Germany are in driving distance to Bern and Zurich respectively. There is a small airport in Memmingen (), catering primarily to no-frills airlines that is close to the border and marketed as being close to Munich (which it isn't).
Due to the excellent train connections (see below) you might also conceivably fly into Frankfurt Airport () and take the train from there.
Switzerland is, together with Germany, one of the most centrally located countries in Europe, and trains arrive from all parts of Europe. Some major routes include:
- The TGV Lyria (Train à grande vitesse, French/Swiss high-speed railway connection), with several trains daily from/to Paris , Dijon , Lyon , Valence , Avignon , Aix-en-Provence , Marseille , Toulon , Cannes , Antibes , and Nice .
- Examples of travel time: Paris-Geneva 3h, -Lausanne 3.5h, -Basel 3h, -Berne 4h, -Zurich 4h;
- and Geneva-Lyon 2h, -Avignon 3h, -Marseille 3.5h, -Nice 6.5h;
- and Basel-Marseille 5h
- Hourly EuroCity (EC) trains to/from Milan with connections to all parts of Italy .
- Examples of travel time: Milano-Berne 3h, -Basel 4h, -Geneva 4h, -Zurich 3.5h
- Regular ICE (InterCity Express, German high-speed trains) from Zurich / Interlaken via Berne , Basel to Freiburg i.B. , Offenburg , Baden-Baden , Karlsruhe , Mannheim , Frankfurt a.M. (main railway station or airport) in Germany, many continuing toward Cologne and Dortmund , or Hannover and Hamburg , or Berlin , or Amsterdam .
- Examples of travel time: Frankfurt Airport-Basel 3h, -Berne 4h, -Interlaken 5h, -Zurich 4h
- Regular ICE trains between Zurich and Stuttgart , travel time 3h
- Regular EuroCity (EC) trains between Zurich and Munich , travel time 4h
- Regular RailJet (RJ) trains between Zurich and Innsbruck (3.5h), Salzburg (5.5h), Vienna (8h) in Austria, and further to the east
- Sleeper trains operated by ÖBB under the brand name Night Jet
- Eurolines has incorporated Switzerland in its route network.
- There are several bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap way of getting to the Balkans. Turistik Prošić runs from various destinations in the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina to Switzerland.
- Most companies providing Intercity buses in Germany also serve a couple of stops in Switzerland.
Any Swiss city and many common tourist destinations within Switzerland are quite easily reachable by car, e.g. Geneva from central eastern France, and Zurich from southern Germany. However, some tourist destinations, espcially some smaller, quintessentially Alpine villages such as Zermatt or Wengen are car-free.
Although Switzerland is now part of the Schengen agreement, it is not part of the EU customs/tariff union. Therefore EU/Swiss border posts will focus on smuggling etc. and checks on roads on or after the border stay in place. Delays are usually short but cars may be stopped and no reason needs to be given, even for searches inside Switzerland.
Some delay may be caused by congestion at busy times and there are often queues lasting hours to use the tunnels under the Alps from Italy such as Mont Blanc, St. Gotthard etc. Swiss motorway vignettes (40 Swiss Francs) can and should be purchased at the border if your car does not already have a valid one for the current year and you intend to use the Swiss motorways which is almost unavoidable. Keep in mind that most cities do not have free parking; expect to spend Fr. 25-40 for a day's parking. Some cities are entirely off-limits to cars but easily reachable by public transport, so strongly consider arriving by train instead if your final destination is one of these places.
When using mountain roads, bear in mind that they are also used by buses - most relevant on hairpin bends, which they will occupy entirely in order to get around. And most mountain roads are frequently used by the yellow Swiss PostAuto bus. If you see a postal bus, or hear it approaching a bend by its distinctive three tone horn, hold right back (before the bend!) and let it pass, they always have priority and their drivers count on your cooperative driving (see also mountain road hints )!
As Switzerland has probably the most well-developed public transportation system in the world, and the country's airports are not that far apart anyway, there is very limited domestic air traffic. The connections offered by Swiss International Airlines and Etihad Regional include Zurich-Geneva, Zurich-Lugano and Geneva-Lugano. In most cases taking the train, sometimes combined with bus or other means, will be a cheaper option, and often it may prove just as fast and convenient as flying. If you arrive on an international flight to Flughafen Zürich (in Kloten) or Genève Aéroport (in Cointrin) , you may take a direct train or bus from stations integrated into the airport terminals. From there, easy connection with several means of transportation including only one or two swift transfers will bring you to many destinations
Main article: Public transport in Switzerland
The Swiss will spoil you with fantastic transport - swift, disturbingly punctual trains, clean buses, and a half dozen different kinds of mountain transport systems, integrated into a coherent system. The discount options and variety of tickets can be bewildering, from half-fare cards to multi-day, multi-use tickets good for buses, boats, trains, and even bike rentals. In general there's at least one train or bus per hour on every route, on many routes trains and buses are running every 30 or even 15 minutes. Inner city transit often runs every 5-7 minutes during rush hours, but less frequently during weekends, particularly on Sundays and public holidays in less densely inhabitated areas.
Authoritative information, routes, fares and schedules for almost all public transport can be found online on Swiss Federal Railway's (SBB CFF FFS) nation-wide coherently integrated timetable, or from posters and screens at any stop, or from a ticket window in any railway station. This timetable is also available as a free smart phone app. At any railway station of any provider you can get information and tickets (at manned ticket counters) for any of the many members of the railway network of Switzerland and most bus systems, in particular PostBus Switzerland which provides a online timetable as well with the same data.
Bus and train are legally not allowed to compete each other in Switzerland, rather quite the opposite, they are complementary to each other - besides being coordinated timetable-wise. That way, almost all inhabited village and town in Switzerland can be reached by public transport. This is actually constitutionally demanded by the Public Service regulations of the Swiss Confederation; Public Service is a particular Swiss term loosely refering to all kinds of laws, acts, and ordinances, which define the basic supply of public services and infrastructure in particular concerning postal services, telecommunication, electronic media, public transport and road infrastructure.
There are about twenty regional fare networks throughout the country, which incorporate many kinds of public transport (city bus, tram, metro, any kind of train, PostBus, boats, funiculars and others) by many different providers around urban centers into one single fare system, such as ZVV in the canton of Zurich, or unireso (see also: Geneva's tpg) in the canton of Geneva and its French adjacent area, or mobilis around Lausanne in the canton of Vaud at the northern shore of Lake Geneva, passepartout in the cantons of Lucerne, Nid- and Obwalden (keyword: Titlis). Usually these networks sell zone-based tickets valid for a particular time frame (instead of point-to-point tickets) for journeys within their fare network borders. Many of these networks and transit operators provide their own free smartphone apps; sometimes to be found at the major city's transit company website.
Even if there is no train or city transit available, the comprehensive PostAuto/CarPostale/AutoPostale network gets you there. Where applicable, PostBus Switzerland is part of regional fare networks. You find all timetable information on SBB's online timetable, but PostBus Switzerland also provides their own free app with the same information as by SBB as well as many additional features.
Hiking and cycling
As good as the Swiss train system is, if you have a little time, and you only want to travel 1-200 miles, you could try purchasing the world's best footpath maps and walk 10-20 miles a day over some of the most wonderful and clearly-marked paths, whether it is in a valley, through a forest, or over mountain passes. There are more than 60,000 km of well maintained and documented hiking trails and cycling routes.
The trails are well-planned (after a number of centuries, why not?), easy to follow, and the yellow trail signs are actually accurate in their estimate as to how far away the next hamlet, village, town or city is - usually given in terms of time, not distance. Once you've figured out how many kilometers per hour you walk (easy to determine after a day of hiking), you can adjust these estimates up and down for your speed.
There are plenty of places to sleep in a tent (but don't pitch one on a seemingly pleasant, flat piece of ground covered by straw-that's where the cows end up sleeping after a lazy day of eating, and they'll gnaw at your tent string supports and lean against your tent sides. And definitey don't do this during a rainstorm!), lots of huts on mountain tops, B&Bs on valley floors, or hotels in towns and cities. You could even send your luggage ahead to the next abode and travel very lightly, with the necessary water and Swiss chocolate!
Switzerland is a great country for leisure cycling. There is a large network of safe and well-signposted cycling routes all across the country. Maps and information are available on the government-supported homepage Veloland Schweiz. The routes are connected so you can do trips for several days or even weeks. They lead through picturesque landscapes, mostly on dedicated cycling paths or smaller roads with little traffic, so they're safe even for kids and families.
Cross-country mountain biking is a huge sport in Switzerland. This is unsurprising to anyone who has watched a World Cup race before and seen half of the top ten seized by Swiss riders. The main reason for Swiss excellence in this sport is probably the amazing training area they have in their backyard. Thus Switzerland is an amazing place for everyone who likes mountain biking. Locals use the Swiss Singletrail Maps to find the best routes. These cover the whole country in the scale 1:50,000 with single trails and routes mapped and classified. You have to buy them in paper format since they're not available online.
The cycling infrastructure for everyday cycling varies between cities. Winterthur and Berne are the champions which can almost compete with Dutch and Danish cities. In general the German-speaking regions are better for cycling than the French-speaking. There are many Swiss cities where you can rent bicycles if that is your means of traveling and you can even rent electric bicycles. During the summer it is quite common for cities to offer bicycle 'rental' for free! Cycling in cities is safe and very common. If you decide to cycle in a city, understand that you will share the road with public transport. Beware of tram tracks which can get your wheel stuck and send you flying into traffic, and of course keep an eye out for the trams themselves and the buses, which make frequent stops in the rightmost lane and always have right of way.
Besides the main types of transportation, the adventurous person can see Switzerland by in-line skating. There are three routes, measuring over a combined 600 km (350 mi) designed specifically for in-line skating throughout the country. They are the Rhine route, the Rhone route, and the Mittelland route. These are also scenic tours. Most of the routes are flat, with slight ascents and descents. The Mittelland route runs from Zurich airport to Neuenburg in the northwest; the Rhine route runs from Bad Ragaz to Schaffhausen in the northeastern section of the country. Finally, the Rhone route extends from Brig to Geneva. This is a great way to see both the countryside and cityscapes of this beautiful nation.
- For more details, see Driving in Switzerland
If you like cars, Switzerland can seem like a bit of a tease. It offers some of the greatest driving roads in the world, but you can literally be thrown in jail for speeding, even on highways. Traffic rules are strictly enforced. If you stick to the road rules and especially the speed limits, the back roads/mountain roads will still be a blast to drive on, while making sure you are not fined or arrested. Driving can be a good way of seeing the country and the vista from some mountain roads makes it worth the cost and hassle.
Driving on mountain roads requires special skill - be sure to read the in the "mountain road tips" in the Driving in Switzerland article.
The usual speed limits in Switzerland are 120 km/h (75 mph) on motorways, 100 km/h on expressways, 80 km/h (50 mph) on main roads outside towns in tunnels, and 50 km/h (31 mph) limit in villages and towns. You may see different speed limits signposted, including 30 km/h (19 mph)and 20 km/h (12 mph) in built-up areas.
Most drivers will need to buy a vignette, a sticker which costs 40 Fr. that allows you to use motorways and expressways as much as you like for the entire year.
Motorists in Switzerland are required to switch on their headlights or daytime running lights at all times while driving or risk a Fr. 40 fine.
Switzerland has four official languages at the federal level, namely German , French , Italian and Romansch, and the main language spoken depends on which part of the country you are in. Individual cantons are free to decide on which official language to adopt, and some cities such as Biel/Bienne and, Fribourg (Freiburg), or Morat (Murten) are officially bilingual. Any part of Switzerland has residents who speak something besides the local vernacular at home, English, German and French being the most widely spoken second languages. Note that you are unlikely to hear Romansch - except in some valleys of Graubünden - as essentially all the 65,000 Romansch speakers also speak German, and they are outnumbered in Switzerland by native English speakers, and by Portuguese, Albanian and Serbo-Croatian-speaking immigrants.
Around two-thirds of the population of Switzerland are German speaking, located particularly in the centre, north, and east of the country. Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) is not a single dialect, but rather a blanket term for the dialects of German spoken in Switzerland. These dialects are so divergent from standard German that native speakers from Germany can hardly understand them. All German-speaking Swiss learn standard German in school, so almost all locals in the major German-speaking cities (e.g. Zurich, Bern, Basel) and many in the countryside will be able to speak standard German. The many different Swiss German dialects are primarily spoken, colloquial languages, and the German-speaking Swiss write almost exclusively in standard German despite speaking Swiss German. Swiss German dialects are highly regarded by all social classes and are widely used in the Swiss media, in contrast to the general use of standard German on TV and radio in other countries, though news broadcasts are usually in Standard German.
The second most spoken language is French, which is mostly spoken in the western part of the country, which includes the cities of Lausanne and Geneva. Speakers of standard French will generally not have any major problems understanding Swiss French, though there are certain words which are unique to Swiss French. The most noticeable difference is in the number system, where septante, huitante and nonante (70, 80 and 90) are commonly said instead of soixante-dix, quatre-vingts and quatre-vingts-dix as in standard French. All French speakers understand 'standard' French.
Italian is the primary language in the southern part of the country, around the city of Lugano . Swiss Italian is largely comprehensible to speakers of standard Italian, though there are certain words which are unique to Swiss Italian. Standard Italian is understood by all Swiss Italian speakers. The northern Italian language of Lombard is spoken by some as well.
All Swiss are required to learn one of the other official languages in school, and many also learn English. English is widely spoken in the major German speaking cities and therefore English-speaking tourists should not have a problem communicating. In contrast, English is not as widely spoken in the French and Italian speaking areas, the exception being the city of Geneva, where English is widely spoken due to its large international population.
The seven wonders
- The Château Chillon: castle near Montreux
- The Lavaux vineyards: on the shore of Lake Geneva
- The Castles of Bellinzona : in the southern canton of Ticino
- The Abbey of St. Gallen
- The Top of Europe and the Sphinx observatory: a "village" with a post office on the 3,500 metres high Jungfraujoch above Wengen
- The Grande Dixence: a 285 metres high dam, south of Sion
- The Landwasser viaduct: on the railway between Chur and St. Moritz
The seven natural wonders
- The Matterhorn : seen from Schwarzsee, the Gornergrat or simply from the village of Zermatt
- The northern walls of the Jungfrau and Eiger: two of the most celebrated mountains in the Alps, they can be seen from the valley of Lauterbrunnen or from one of the many surrounding summits that can be reached by train or cable car
- The Aletsch Glacier : the longest in Europe. The Aletsch forest is located above the glacier, which is best seen from above Bettmeralp
- The lakes of the Upper Engadine : in one of the highest inhabited valleys in the Alps near the Piz Bernina, the lakes can be all seen from Muottas Muragl
- The Lake Lucerne: seen from Pilatus above Lucerne
- The Oeschinensee: a mountain lake above Kandersteg
- The Rhine Falls : the largest in Europe, where you can take a boat to the rock in the middle of the falls
Switzerland is renowned the world over for downhill skiing , and the country is also great for many other outdoor activities, including hiking and mountain biking. Mountain climbing from easy to very hard can also be found in Switzerland and there is hardly a place with a longer tradition for it. Some routes, like the North face of the Eiger ("Eiger-Nordwand" in German) have become near-mythical due to the hardships, sacrifice and even deaths suffered by the first people to climb them. And because of the breathtaking views, travelling from one place to another by car, bus, train or bike along alpine roads and railroads is often an experience in itself.
Switzerland's currency is the Swiss franc (or Franken, or franc, or franco, depending in which language area you are), denoted by the symbol "Fr." or sometimes "SFr." (ISO code: CHF) It is divided into 100 Rappen, centimes, or centesimi. However, some places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, tourist attraction ticket counters, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept Euro bills (but no coins) and will give you change in Swiss francs or in Euro if they have it in cash.
Many price lists contain prices both in francs and in euros. Usually in such cases the exchange-rate is the same as official exchange-rates, but if it differs you will be notified in advance. Changing some money to Swiss francs is essential. Money can be exchanged at all train stations and most banks throughout the country. After an experiment with a "fixed floor" for the exchange rate (meaning in practice that one Euro would always be at least 1.20 francs) the Swiss Central Bank decided in early 2015 to let the franc float freely once more. This, along with speculation regarding the future of the Euro and the Swiss franc being seen as a "safe" currency, has led to skyrocketing exchange rates for the franc and, consequently, prices for the visitor.
Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid using Fr. 200 and Fr. 1000 banknotes. There are a few establishments which do not accept credit cards, so check first. When doing credit card payments, carefully review the information printed on the receipt (details on this can be found in the "Stay Safe" section below). All ATMs accept foreign cards, getting cash should not be a problem.
Coins are issued in 5 centime (brass coloured), 10 centime, 20 centime, ½ franc, 1 franc, 2 franc, and 5 franc (all silver coloured) denominations. One centime coins are no longer legal tender, but may be exchanged until 2027 for face value. Two centime coins have not been legal tender since the 1970s and are, consequently, worthless. Keep in mind that most exchange offices don't accept coins and the biggest coin (5 francs) is worth roughly about US$5 or €5, so spend them or give them to charity before leaving.
Banknotes are found in denominations of 10 (yellow), 20 (red), 50 (green), 100 (blue), 200 (brown), and 1000 francs (purple). They are all the same width and contain a variety of security features.
Since 2016 the Swiss National Bank SNB has been releasing a new series of bank notes, the ninth series in the modern history of Switzerland. They started with the 50 Fr. note on 11 April 2016. The other five denominations will be replaced step by step during the next years. All banknotes of the eighth series are still valid everywhere until further notice. The current 8th serie should have been replaced by 2020, but will remain valid for exchange at banks for its nominal value until further notice.
Switzerland has been renowned for its banking sector since the Middle Ages. Due to its historical policy of banking secrecy and anonymity, Switzerland has long been a favourite place for many of the world's richest people to stash their assets, sometimes earned through questionable means. Although current banking secrecy laws are not as strict as they used to be, and anonymous bank accounts are no longer allowed, Switzerland remains one of the largest banking centres in Europe. Opening a bank account in Switzerland is straightforward, and there are no restrictions on foreigners owning Swiss bank accounts-except for US citizens. Since the latest sanctions by the US, many Swiss banks refuse to open a bank account to US citizens or anyone having connections to the US. In some cases, even existing accounts have been closed.
Swiss service personnel enjoy a relatively highly set minimum wage compared to other countries, so tips are rather modest. By law, a service charge is included in the bill. Nevertheless, if you feel satisfied, especially in restaurants, you may round up the bill and add a few francs with a maximum of 5-20 francs depending on the kind of establishment, regardless of bill size. If you were not happy with the service, you needn't tip at all. If you just drink a coffee, it is common to round up the bill to the nearest franc, but some people are still quite generous. Keep in mind, tipping is always your personal contribution and never legally requested.
When planning your travel budget, keep in mind that Switzerland is an expensive country with prices comparable to Norway or central London. Apart from soft drinks, electronics and car fuel, many things costs more than in the neighboring countries, particularly groceries, souvenirs, train tickets and accommodation. In fact, many Swiss people living near the borders drive into neighbouring countries to purchase fuel and groceries, as it is usually significantly cheaper; a trend that has only increased in recent times with the Franc soaring in exchange rate compared to the euro. Though there are no systematic immigration controls thanks to the Schengen agreement, there are random custom checks, even inside the country, since Switzerland is not part of EU Customs Union, so you must clear customs. Therefore make sure you comply with Swiss custom regulations for importing goods!
"Swiss-made": souvenirs and luxury goods
Switzerland is famous for a few key goods: watches, chocolate, cheese , and Swiss Army knives.
- Watches - Switzerland is the watch-making capital of the world, and "Swiss Made" on a watch face has long been a mark of quality. While the French-speaking regions of Switzerland are usually associated with Swiss watchmakers (like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe), some fine watches are made in the Swiss-German-speaking region, such as IWC in Schaffhausen. Every large town will have quite a few horologists and jewellers with a vast selection of fancy watches displayed in their windows, ranging from the fashionable Swatch for Fr. 60 to the handmade chronometer with the huge price tag. For fun, try to spot the most expensive of these mechanical creations and the ones with the most "bedazzle!"
- Chocolate - Switzerland may always have a rivalry with Belgium for the world's best chocolate, but there's no doubting that the Swiss variety is amazingly good. Switzerland is also home to the huge Nestlé food company. If you have a fine palate (and a fat wallet) - you can find two of the finest Swiss chocolatiers in Zurich : Teuscher (try the champagne truffles) and Sprüngli. For the rest of us, even the generic grocery store brand chocolates in Switzerland still blow away the Hershey bars found elsewhere. For good value, try the Frey brand chocolates sold at Migros. If you want to try some real good and exclusive Swiss chocolate, go for the Pamaco chocolates, derived from the noble Criollo beans and accomplished through the original, complex process of refinement that requires 72 hours. These are quite expensive though; a bar of 125g (4 oz) costs about Fr. 8. For Lindt fans, it is possible to get them as cheaply as half the supermarket price by going to the Lindt factory store in Kilchberg (near Zurich). Factory visits are also possible at Frey near Aarau, Läderach in Bilten and Cailler in Broc.
- Cheese - many regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese speciality. Of these, the most well-known are Gruyère and Emmentaler (what Americans know as "Swiss cheese"). Be sure to sample the wide variety of cheeses sold in markets, and of course try the cheese fondue! Fondue is basically melted cheese and is used as a dip with other food such as bread. The original mixture consists of half Vacherin cheese and half Gruyère but many different combinations have been developed since. If you're hiking, you will often come across farms and village shops selling the local mountain cheese (German: Bergkäse) from the pastures you are walking across. These cheeses are often not sold elsewhere, so don't miss the chance to sample part of Switzerland's culinary heritage.
- Swiss Army knives - Switzerland is the official home of the Swiss Army knife . There are two brands: Victorinox and Wenger, but both brands are now manufactured by Victorinox since the Wenger business went bankrupt and Victorinox purchased it in 2005. Collectors agree Victorinox knives are superior in terms of design, quality, and functionality. The most popular Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ which has 33 functions and costs about Fr. 78. Most tourists will purchase this knife. The "biggest" Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ 1.6795.XAVT- This has 80 functions and is supplied in a case. This knife costs Fr. 364 and may be a collector's model in years to come. Most shops throughout Switzerland stock Victorinox knives, including some newsagents and they make excellent gifts and souvenirs. Unlike the tourists' knife, the actual "Swiss Army Knife" is not red with a white cross, but gray with a small Swiss flag. The Swiss Army issue knife is also produced by Victorinox. It is distinguished by having the production year engraved on the base of the biggest blade, and no cork-screw because the Swiss soldier must not drink wine on duty. Swiss Army Knives can not be carried on board commercial flights and must be packed in your hold baggage.
Ski and tourist areas will sell many other kinds of touristy items - cowbells, clothing embroidered with white Edelweiss flowers, and Heidi-related stuff. Swiss people love cows in all shapes and sizes, and you can find cow-related goods everywhere, from stuffed toy cows to fake cow-hide jackets. If you have a generous souvenir budget, look for fine traditional handcrafted items such as hand-carved wooden figures in Brienz , and lace and fine linens in St. Gallen. If you have really deep pockets, or just wish you did, be sure to shop on Zurich's famed Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world. If you're looking for hip shops and thrift stores, head for the Niederdorf or the Stauffacher areas of Zurich.
While Switzerland has had long culinary exchange with the cuisine of its neighbours, it has several iconic dishes of its own.
Switzerland is famous for many kinds of cheese like Gruyère, Emmentaler (known simply as "Swiss cheese" in the U.S.), and Appenzeller, just to name a very few of the about 450 kinds of cheese of Swiss origin. Two of the best known Swiss dishes, fondue and raclette, are cheese based. Fondue is a pot of melted cheese that you dip pieces of bread into using long forks. Usually fondue is not made of one single type of cheese, but instead two or three different cheeses are blended together with white wine, garlic and kirsch liqueur with regional variations. Traditionally fondue is eaten during cold periods at altitude with one pot for the whole table, served with hot black tea and hardly any additional side dishes - not surprising, since it used to be a cheap and often the only dish for a herdsman high up in the mountains far away from civilization with a only basic equipment. However you can now get fondue for one person during the summer time in tourist-oriented restaurants. Another cheese dish, raclette, is made by heating a large piece of cheese and scraping off the melted cheese, which is then eaten together with boiled potatoes and pickled vegetables. Cheese-lovers should also try Älplermakkaronen, Alpine herdsmen's macaroni with melted cheese and potato served with apple compote which is another very simple but very tasty dish originally from central Switzerland.
Another typically Swiss dish is Rösti, a potato dish quite similar to hash browns. Originally, it is a dish from German-speaking Switzerland, and it gives its name to the colloquial political term Röstigraben (lit.: Rösti ditch) which refers to the quite different political preferences and voting habits of the German-speaking and the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Probably the best known meat dishes are the incredibly common sausage known as Cervelat, usually grilled on a stick over an open camp fire, and the speciality of region around Zürich, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (or in the local dialect: Züri Gschnätzlets), sliced veal in a mushroom sauce usually accompanied by Rösti. Very typical for Lucerne is the Luzerner Kugelpasteten (or in the local dialect: Lozärner Chügelipastete), is Brät (less expensive meat, minced, mixed with water and egg) formed as small balls, served in puff-pastry baskets, and poured with a ragout made of meat, agaricus mushrooms and raisins. In French-speaking Switzerland you will find the saucisse aux choux and saucisson vaudois and around Basel the liver dish Basler Leber(li) (or in the local dialect: Baasler Lääberli). Bern is known for the Berner Platte (lit.: Bernese Plate), a dish comprising various pork products, boiled potatoes, Sauerkraut (cabbage), and dried beans, besides others. This was traditionally an autumn dish, since the slaughter historically used to happen when weather was cold enough again to prevent any spoiling of the meat. The slaughter season and their dishes are called Metzgete in the German part of Switzerland and is still prominent on the menus of rural restaurants during this season.
If you instead prefer fish to meat, Swiss restaurants often serve the freshwater fish found in the many rivers and lakes. The most common fish dishes among the 55 kinds of Swiss fish include trout, European perch, or the whitefish known as (Blau-)Felchen, corégone/féra, or coregone blaufelchen respectively, cooked in a variety of ways. However, you will also find many imported fish on Swiss menus, since the domestic business (fished or bred) can never fulfill the strong demand for fish. Also, because the fish haul has become about a third smaller than 30 years ago, exclusively due to the much better quality of water nowadays; from this point of view, Swiss water is too clean!
In autumn, after hunting season, you will find many fabulous game and mushroom dishes. Many traditional game dish come with Chnöpfli (lit.: diminutive of knobs; a soft egg noodle), red cabbage or Brussel sprouts, cooked pears and are topped with mountain cranberry jam. However, nowadays the game (venison, roe, chamois, boar, rabbit) mainly originates from farms in order to fulfill the high demand.
The mountain region of Graubünden has a distinctive culinary repertoire, including capuns (rolls of Swiss chard filled with dough and other ingredients), pizokel dumplings, the rich and creamy barley soup Gerstensuppe, and a sweet dense nut pie called Bündner Nusstorte. Also from this region is a thinly-sliced cured meat known as Bündnerfleisch. Most mountain areas in Switzerland produce their own cured and air-dried meats and salamis which are highly recommended.
It is very easy to come by high-quality Italian cuisine in Switzerland, but when in Italian-speaking Ticino be sure to try the local specialities based around polenta (a corn dish), risotto (the rice of the same name is exclusively cultivated in Ticino and northern Italy), and many kind of marroni (chestnuts) dishes in Autumn, either as part of a cooked meal, or simply roasted during very cold winter days in the streets, or as a special sweet dessert called vermicelles.
Swiss chocolate is world famous and there is a large range of different chocolate brands.
The well-known breakfast dish Müesli comes from Switzerland, and Birchermüesli is well-worth trying - oats soaked in water, milk, or fruit juice and then mixed with yoghurt, fruits, nuts and apple shavings.
Of course, there are many more local and traditional dishes and meals to be found, which can not all be listed. There is a whole site dedicated solely to the Culinary Heritage of Switzerland by canton, though only available in one of the official Swiss languages.
Like most other things, eating out is expensive in Switzerland. One way to reduce food costs is to eat in the cafeterias of department stores such as Coop, Migros, and Manor. These cafeterias are usually considerably less expensive than stand-alone restaurants. Coop and Manor also offer beer and wine with meals while Migros does not. Smaller department store outlets might not have a cafeteria. Kebab shops and pizza restaurants abound in urban Switzerland, and these are often cheap options. In the major cities, more exotic fare is usually available - at a price.
Swiss employment law bans working on Sundays, so shops stay closed. An exception is any business in a railway station, which is deemed to be serving travellers and so is exempt. If you want to find an open shop on a Sunday, go to the nearest big railway station. If a business is a purely family driven business, hence small shops, such as bakeries namely, can also open on Sundays in most cantons.
Swiss supermarkets can be hard to spot in big cities. They often have small entrances, but open out inside, or are located in a basement, leaving the expensive street frontages for other shops. Look for the supermarket logos above entrances between other shops. Geneva is an exception and you usually don't have to go very far to find a Migros or Coop.
The most important supermarket brands are:
- Migros - This chain of supermarkets (in fact a cooperative) provides average to good quality food and no-food products and homeware. However, they do not sell alcoholic beverages nor cigarettes. Brand name products are rare as the chain does their own brands (quality is good, which chain that you go to does not matter). Migros stores can be spotted by a big, orange Helvetica letter "M" sign. The number of "M" letters indicates the size of the store and the different services available - a single "M" is usually a smaller grocery store, a double M ("MM") may be larger and sells other goods like clothing, and a MMM is a full department store with household goods and possibly electronics and sporting goods. Offers change weekly on Tuesdays.
- Coop - Also a cooperative. Emphasis on quality as well as multi-buy offers, points collection scheme(s) and money off coupons. Sells many major brands. Come at the end of the day to get half-priced salads and sandwiches. Coop City is usually a department store with a Coop grocery store inside, a multi-floor layout provides space for clothing, electrical items, stationary, paperware as well as beauty products and perfume. Offers change weekly (some exceptions - fortnightly), on Tuesdays.
- Denner - A discount grocery store, noticeable for their red signs and store interiors. Relatively low priced. Offers change weekly, usually from Wednesday. Denner was bought by Migros in late 2006, but will not be rebranded at present.
- Coop Pronto - a convenience store branch of Coop, usually open late (at least 20:00) seven days a week. Usually has a petrol, filling-station forecourt.
- Aperto - also a convenience store, located in the railway stations
- Manor - the Manor department stores often have a grocery store on the underground level.
- Globus - in the largest cities the Globus department stores have an upscale grocery store on the underground level.
Coop offers a low-price-line (Coop Prix-Garantie) of various products and in Migros you can find the corresponding "M-Budget" products. Sometimes it's exactly the same product, just for cheaper price. They also offer cheap prepaid mobiles some of the cheapest call rates.
The German discounters Aldi and Lidl are also present in Switzerland. The prices are a little lower than at the other supermarket chains, but still significantly higher than in Germany.
Virtually all tap water - including that in households or hotel rooms - is perfectly drinkable, thoroughly and frequently monitored, and of excellent quality. About 85% of Swiss residents drink tap water daily; there is no need to buy drinking water. There are many drinking water fountains to be found, especially in towns and villages, e.g. in Zurich more than 1200, or in Basel about 170. The few exceptions, such as in train toilets, are clearly signed with "Kein Trinkwasser" (German), "Non potable" (French), or "Non potabile" (Italian). Temporarily installed troughs on mountain meadows used to water the cattle are also not suitable for drinking.
Soft drinks in supermarkets are one of the few things that aren't notably more expensive than elsewhere in Central Europe. Local specialties are the lactose-based soft drink Rivella and the lemon-flavoured Elmer Citro.
Switzerland produces a surprisingly large amount of wine, with the climate and soil well-suited to many grape types. Very little of this wine is exported and is very reasonably priced in the supermarkets, so it is well worth trying! The Lake Geneva region is particularly famous for its wines, and the picturesque vineyards are worth visiting for their own right. However, wines are made throughout the country in Valais, Vaud, Ticino, Neuchâtel, the Lake Biel region, Graubünden, Aargau, Thurgau, Schaffhausen and even on the hills around Zurich and Basel - why not try a glass from your next destination?
Most accommodation in Switzerland can now be found and booked through the major internet booking sites, even hotels and huts in remote areas. Even so, most tourist areas in Switzerland have a tourist office where you can call and have them book a hotel for you for a small fee. Each town usually has a comprehensive list of hotels on their web site, and it is often easier and cheaper to simply book directly with the hotel. Some hotels will request that you fax or email them your credit card information in order to secure a reservation. In general, hotel staff are helpful and competent, and speak English quite well.
As in most European countries, Switzerland offers a wide range of accommodation possibilities. These go from 5-star hotels to campgrounds, youth hostels or sleeping in the hay. Types of hotels in Switzerland include historic hotels, traditional hotels, inns located in the country, spas and bed and breakfasts.
Compared to other European countries, accommodation in Switzerland is in general amongst the more expensive. Hotel rates in Switzerland can get quite expensive, especially in popular ski resort areas and major cities.
The following prices can be used as a rule of thumb:
- 5-star-hotel: from Fr. 350 per person/night
- 4-star-hotel: from Fr. 180 per person/night
- 3-star-hotel: from Fr. 120 per person/night
- 2-star-hotel: from Fr. 80 per person/night
- Hostel: from Fr. 30 per person/night
The Swiss hotel stars are issued by the hotelleriesuisse Swiss Hotel Association. All members of hotelleriesuisse must undergo regular quality tests to obtain their hotel stars. On swisshotels.com you can find information on hotel stars, infrastructure and specialisations.
Tips are included with all services. For special efforts, a small tip, usually by rounding up the sum, is always welcome.
There is also a hostel network in Switzerland for students, the prices of Swiss Youth Hostels are on the usual European level.
Switzerland has some universities of world renown, like ETH in Zurich, IHEID in Geneva, University of Lausanne or the University of St. Gallen (also known as the HSG). If you can't speak either French, German or Italian, better go for a language course first - many courses require a very good command of the local language. Although there are a few courses taught in English, particularly at Masters level, Bachelor degree courses are almost all taught and examined in the local language. Also bear in mind that if you're a foreigner, and you want to go for popular subjects, you may have to pass entry-tests and living costs are very high.
If you like cheaper learning go for Migros Klubschule, who offer language courses in almost every language as well as a lot of different courses for many subjects; just have a look on their website. You may also want to try the different "Volkshochschule", which offer a large variety of subjects at very reasonable fees (such as the one in Zürich, for instance).
If you are looking for quality French courses for adults or juniors, you can learn French in Switzerland with ALPADIA Schools (formerly ESL Schools). You can also choose LSI (Language Studies International) and go for one of the many schools in their extensive network to learn French in Switzerland. The Swiss authorities expect that you are able to spend Fr. 21,000 per year, and usually require respective approval in order to accept a visa application. For some, this may sound like a lot, but you will still live a very moderate student's life with this amount only.
If you want to work in Switzerland and you are not a Swiss national, be aware that you need to obtain a work permit. Eligibility and conditions for these permits depend on your nationality, qualifications and the job itself - check all this in advance with the canton of the employer. Nationals of EU/EFTA states may work for up to three months without a permit, but still need to register their employment with the authorities.
Switzerland has an unemployment rate of about 3.3% (2015). The high level of Swiss salaries reflect the high costs of living, so keep in mind that you must spend a lot for accommodation and food when you negotiate your salary. In general, you nominally work 42 hours/week and have 4 weeks of paid holidays.
Switzerland has no general legal minimum salary. The salary depends on the industry you work in, with some industries, such as restaurant and hotel industry, personel paying a minimum of Fr. 3134 gross for a full-time job (purchasing power parity US$2100, August 2016) per month. This, however, is not far above the official poverty level. That is also one reason, why eating out is not cheap in Switzerland. Overtime work is usually paid for low-level jobs, if not agreed otherwise in contract.
If you want to check the average salaries by industry or make sure you get paid the right amount, Swiss employees are heavily organised in trade unions SGB and always keen to help you. Should you have a problem with your employer, the respective union is a good place to look for help.
In November 2014, the Swiss people narrowly approved a referendum that requires the government to restrict immigration to 0.2% of the population each year. Although Switzerland signed an agreement with the European Union that allows citizens of (most) EU states to work, it may be forced to withdraw this agreement because of the referendum and it is unclear what will happen. You should check regularly with your local Swiss consulate to determine how the immigration changes affect you.
Switzerland is not surprisingly one of the safest countries in Europe, but anywhere that attracts Rolex-wearing bankers and crowds of distracted tourists will also bring out a few pickpockets. Obviously, keep an eye on belongings, especially in the midst of summer crowds. Generally, you are safe anywhere at any time. If, for any reason, you feel threatened, seek a nearby restaurant or telephone booth. The emergency phone number in Switzerland is 112, and operators are generally English-speaking.
Quite a few Swiss establishments will print your entire credit card number onto the receipt, thus raising identity theft concerns when shopping with a credit card in Switzerland. Therefore, visitors using credit cards should carefully review the information printed on all receipts before discarding them. This happens, for instance, in some book and clothing stores and even at the ubiquitous K-Kiosk. This list is obviously not exhaustive; therefore, the visitor must beware whenever using a credit card.
Women traveling alone should have no problems. The younger Swiss tend to be very open with public displays of affection - sometimes too open, and some women may find people getting too friendly especially in the wee hours of the club & bar scene. Usually the international language of brush-offs or just walking away is enough.
Swiss police take on a relatively unobtrusive air; they prefer to remain behind the scenes, as they consider their presence potentially threatening to the overall environment. Unlike some more highly policed countries, officers will rarely approach civilians to ask if they need help or merely mark their presence by patrolling. However, police are indeed serious about traffic violations. Jaywalking or crossing a red pedestrian light, for example, will be fined on the spot. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that car drivers are generally very well-disciplined, readily stopping for pedestrians at crossings. Football (soccer) games are the only notable exception to the above rule. Due to the potential threat of hooligan violence, these games (especially in Basel or Zurich) are generally followed by a large contingent of police officers with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas, in case of any major unrest.
Switzerland has very strong Good Samaritan laws, making it a civic duty to help a fellow in need, although without unduly endangering oneself. People are therefore very willing and ready to help you if you appear to be in an emergency situation. Be aware, though, that the same applies to you if you witness anyone in danger. The refusal to help to a person in need can be punishable by law as "Verweigerung der Hilfeleistung", i.e. refusal of aid. The general reservation of Americans to avoid entanglement with strangers due to possible future civil liability does not apply in Switzerland, for it would be practically impossible to wage a civil suit against anyone providing aid.
The drinking age for beer, wine and alcoholic cider is 16, except in Ticino where the age is 18, while the age for any other alcohol (e.g. spirits, "alcopops", etc.) is 18. The public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland is legal, so do not be alarmed if you see a group of teenagers drinking a six-pack on public property or on public transport; this is by no means out of the ordinary and should not be interpreted as threatening.
Switzerland is not a country of insane civil lawsuits and damage claims; consequently, if you see a sign or disclaimer telling you not to do something, obey it! An example: in many alpine areas, charming little mountain streams may be flanked by signs with the message "No Swimming". To the uninitiated, this may seem a bit over the top, but these signs are in fact a consequence of the presence of hydroelectric power plants further upstream that may discharge large amounts of water without warning.
In mountain areas, be sure to inquire about weather conditions at the tourist information office or local train station as you head out in the morning. They should be well informed about severe weather conditions and will advise you about possible avalanche areas.
There have been problems with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. That could be a considerable problem if you are travelling alone. So keep your ID card or passport on you, even though you are legally not obliged to. However, police have the legal right to ask you for your identification on any occasion, and, if you cannot show an ID card or passport, they are allowed to bring you to the police station for identification purposes. So do as every Swiss does: have your ID card (or passport) with you.
Generally there is no problem with food and water in Switzerland. Restaurants are controlled by strict rules. Water is drinkable everywhere, even out of every tap, especially so of public fountains, unless explicitly marked with "Kein Trinkwasser", "Non potable" or "Non potabile". Do not drink from temporarily installed trough on a meadow in order to water the cattle served by the close-by brook.
There are many organic food products available in virtually every grocery store, labelled as Bio, and it is illegal to import and sell any genetically modified food.
Switzerland has a dense network of hospitals and clinics, and public hospitals will admit you in an emergency. There are also some 24 hour "permanence" clinics at major railway stations including Zurich, Basel and Lucerne which can provide treatment for non-urgent illness without an appointment. Be aware that treatment costs may quickly mount up, so you will require a travel insurance with a good level of coverage if you cannot pay these fees out of pocket.
English is widely spoken in Switzerland, but any attempt to speak the local language is always appreciated, even if you are replied to in English. It is always polite to ask if they speak English before starting a conversation.
Make an effort to at least learn "Hello", "Goodbye", "Please", and "Thank You" in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you.
German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of the verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who is considered to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers. As a general rule, you should not use the informal with someone you do not know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder. Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a grey area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.
Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times - left, right, left - and is a common custom when being introduced to someone in the French and German speaking parts. If it is a business related meeting, however, you just shake hands. Don't be shy - if you reject the advance it may appear awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips to the skin after all, as a fake "air" kiss will do.
Littering is seen as particularly anti-social. In some cantons, there are fines for littering (about 40 to 80 Swiss francs), and there are plans to make littering generally illegal, including heftier fines. Make sure that you put your recyclable litter in the correctly labeled bin, as some have special containers for paper and PET plastic. Some municipal bins actually have restrictions on the times they should be used to avoid excess noise!
Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.
Many of the internet cafes that have emerged in the 1990s have closed since, probably because Switzerland has one of the highest rate of high-speed internet connections in homes in the world, but there may be a few internet terminals in some large train stations. The tourist office should be able to direct you to the nearest one. The going rate is Fr. 5 for 20 minutes. The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) are now offering free WLAN in their stations.
Also, you can send email, SMS (text messages to cell phones) or short text faxes from just about every public phone booth for less than one franc. Some public phone booths allow you to browse the internet. There are many shopping centers and cities ( Lausanne and Vevey for example) that offer free wireless internet access: ask the young locals; maybe they know where to go.
The public phones are surprisingly cheap, and have no surcharge for credit cards.
If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands - they usually cost around Fr. 10-40 and are obtainable in the shops of the mobile service providers Swisscom, Salt or Sunrise in most cities. Mobile network coverage is close to 100% by area, even in the mountainous, non-populated areas.
There are also a lot of cheap prepaid cards for local calls from other providers. The prepaid cards of the big supermarket chains Migros (M-Budget-Mobile 1) and Coop (Coop Mobile 2) for example cost around Fr. 20 and include already Fr. 15 airtime. The cheapest prepaid card for calls within Switzerland is Aldi Mobile 3: Fr. 0.14/min Switzerland fixed and Aldi mobile, Fr. 0.34/min other mobiles. The cheapest prepaid card for international communication is yallo 4: Fr. 0.39/min within Switzerland and to all European and many more countries (to the mobile and fixed networks). This includes the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. SMS cost Fr. 0.10. The prepaid cards can be bought online (30 Fr. with Fr. 30 airtime inclusive), in most post offices (Fr. 29 with Fr. 20 airtime inclusive) or Sunrise shops (Fr. 20 with Fr. 20 airtime inclusive). Another prepaid card with cheap rates offers Lebara Mobile (Sister company of Sunrise). The prepaid card is available for Fr. 5 with an equivalent talk time and recharge vouchers offer the talktime equivalent to the price of the voucher.
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