With snow-capped Alps, forested hills, fairytale castles, Renaissance cathedrals, shimmering lakes, stylish spas and luxury ski resorts – it’s easy to see why Switzerland has been one of the world’s top tourist destinations for the past two centuries. It is the country that fashioned tourism, so it’s no surprise that Switzerland caters to visitors all year round. In spring and summer it offers lakeside chalets, mountain trails and spa resorts. In the sunny southern region of Ticino, near the Italian border, visitors will find palm-fringed Riviera-style resorts offering a host of water sports. Those keen on hiking and mountaineering will find over 31,000 miles (50,000km) of mountain and forest trails throughout the country.
In November the country’s ski resorts begin opening, and visitors pour in throughout the Christmas season and until the snow begins to melt with the onset of spring. With the highest pistes in Europe, Switzerland’s ski runs offer reliable snow and breathtaking views. Most resorts also have plenty to do for those not so keen on skiing, making Switzerland the perfect destination for a winter fantasy of log fires, fondues and glistening snow.
Switzerland’s cities are pristine and beautifully laid out with famous Swiss precision. Zurich is widely held to be the intellectual and artistic centre of the country, sporting incredible architecture and more than a thousand fountains, with many museums and galleries. Geneva is the principal city for the international community, and is home to hundreds of world organisations. Its setting on the shores of Lake Geneva gives it a romantic atmosphere, and the city has an exciting, if rather expensive, nightlife.
Local time in Switzerland is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
Electrical current in Switzerland is 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are of the linear, rounded three-pin type, but rounded two-pin plugs will fit the outlet.
The three official languages are Swiss German, French and Italian. A few people speak Romansch, but this is confined to the southeastern corner of the country. Most people know at least three languages, including English.
Swiss medical facilities and health care are among the best in the world, but very expensive and health insurance is recommended. Immunisation certificates are only required if the traveller has been in an infected area within two weeks prior to arrival in the country. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Medical insurance is advised for other nationalities. Outbreaks of the deadly strain of bird flu were confirmed in 2006, but no new cases or human infections have been reported. The risk to travellers from bird flu is very low, but close contact with live birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked as a precaution.
A 15% service charge is normally included in all hotel, taxi, bar and restaurant bills in Switzerland, and further tipping is not necessary, but small change left over is appreciated.
Switzerland has a low crime rate compared to other European countries and is generally a safe country to travel in, however there has been a recent increase in petty theft and visitors should be alert to pickpockets and thieves, particularly in the city centres and on public transport. Be aware of robberies on overnight trains.
Privacy and discretion are highly valued in Swiss culture, and strangers generally do not speak to each other. The Swiss are naturally reserved and conservative, and prefer structured rules to govern their daily lives. Littering is a serious social crime in Switzerland, and you should also make an effort to throw your recyclables in the proper receptacle. French and German-speaking Switzerland have different customs in some areas. When being introduced to someone, German-speaking Swiss will shake hands, while French-speaking locals may kiss on the cheek three times (generally left, right, left). While many Swiss speak English, it is considered polite to inquire before attempting conversation.
Punctuality is vital for business meetings throughout Switzerland. However, styles of business negotiations vary from the Swiss-German to the Swiss-French/Swiss-Italian side. Swiss-German business meetings are rarely over food and are often as brief as possible with little small talk. But the Swiss-French and Swiss-Italians often meet over lunches and talk is not restricted only to business. Prior arrangements and preparation is essential for both and it is important to dress smartly; business suits are the norm for meetings. Handshakes are common for addressing both men and women. Business hours are generally 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 6.30pm Monday to Friday.
The international country dialling code for Switzerland is +41. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use e.g. (0)22 for Geneva. Mobile phone GSM 1800 and 900 networks operate throughout the country. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts; some public phone booths also have Internet and email access.
Travellers to Switzerland over 17 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 2 litres alcohol up to 15% and 1 litre alcohol over 15%. The maximum allowance of wine is 20 litres, but duty will be payable on this quantity. A reasonable amount of personal effects and gifts (including perfume) to the value of Sfr200 for residents of Switzerland and Sfr100 for other travellers. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.
The temperature is moderate with no extremes of hot and cold, so Switzerland can be visited at anytime of year. Summer is warm to hot lasting from about June to September, and although good for outdoor activities it is also the most crowded time for a holiday. Ski resorts open in late November and remain so until the snow begins to melt in April.
Travellers must have all documents necessary for their next destination and passports must be valid at least three months beyond period of stay if a visa is required. The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and as of December 2008, Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
The official currency is the Swiss franc (CHF) divided into 100 rappen (German) or centimes (French). Although not part of the EU many prices are nonetheless indicated in Euros and some merchants may accept Euros. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted and ATMs are widespread; many are equipped with the Cirrus or Maestro system. Banks offer the best exchange rates for travellers cheques and foreign currency, but it is also possible to exchange money at major hotels, main train stations and airports. Banks are open Monday to Friday.
Geneva Cointrin International Airport (GVA)
The airport is situated three miles (5km) north of Geneva.
Getting to the city
Uniresco public buses leave for the city centre every few minutes from the departures and arrivals levels. Passengers can pick up a free ticket for public transport from the machine in the baggage collection area at the Arrival level, information is available at the Unireso information counter in the Arrivals hall. A free hotel shuttle transports passengers to major hotels. A Uniresco train leaves for Cornavin RR Station in the city centre every 10 minutes, from where connections can be made to destinations throughout Europe. Taxis are available outside the Arrivals Hall and cost about Sfr35 to the centre of Geneva. Car rental is also available. It is only about three miles (5km) into town.
GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
Tel: +41 22 717 7111.
Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and National. Travellers should ensure they hire their car on the French side of the border if they are going to France, and vice-versa. It is only about three miles (5km) into town.
Taxis can be found outside of the arrival terminal and costs about Sfr35 to the city centre (a bit extra for luggage). The trip is three miles (5km) and commute times vary according to traffic. Taxis are metered and there are around 60 registered taxi ranks in Geneva.
Luggage lockers can be found in the Train Station Mall and on the arrivals level. A Skycom Airport Business Centre and Business Corner offer a range of business facilities. Other amenities include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, bars and restaurants, tourist information, a hotel reservation desk, post office and shops, including duty-free. Facilities for disabled passengers are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
Zurich Airport (ZRH)
The airport is situated eight miles (12km) north of Zurich.
Getting to the city
Swiss Rail (SBB) provides fast and efficient transport to the city centre. The station is located below Arrivals and trains leave every 10 minutes for Zurich and other destinations; travel time is ten minutes and fares are determined on the type of pass and the number of city zones crossed. The Glattalbahn tram line services other nearby cities and the outskirts of Zurich. Taxis outside of arrivals terminals 1 and 2 cost US$44 for the 20 minute ride to the city centre (Tel: 0848 850 852). Hotel shuttle buses and a variety of public bus services extend across various routes.
GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
Tel: +41 43 816 2211.
Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Sixt and Hertz.
Metered taxis are available outside Arrivals 1 and 2. The 15 minute taxi journey to Zurich costs around CHF 50. To book a taxi in advance call 0848 850 852.
Facilities include banks, bureaux de change, bars and restaurants, postal services, shops including duty-free, business facilities and a crèche. Facilities for disabled passengers are excellent.
With a pleasant setting, green parks, colourful gardens and lakeside promenades, Geneva is considered one of the healthiest places to live in the world. The city sits astride the River Rhône, where it streams into Lake Geneva, and is set against a dramatic backdrop of mountains. At the lake’s south shore the Jet d’Eau shoots water 460ft (140m) into the sky from the end of a pier – the city’s landmark attraction and Europe’s most powerful fountain.
Undoubtedly Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan city, Geneva’s reputation for religious and political tolerance dates back more than five hundred years. In the 16th century the city spawned the religious teachings of John Calvin, and was where Lenin spent his ‘years of recreation’. Little of their Puritanism is left today – stately homes line the banks of the lake, overlooking an armada of luxury yachts. Jewels and designer labels spill out of exclusive boutiques and into chauffer-driven limousines that slide down palatial avenues.
As well as a host of museums and fine galleries, Geneva has a lively cultural calendar. Most notable is the celebration of l’Escalade in December, which involves costumed and torch-lit processions through the town, and the consumption of sickly amounts of chocolate and marzipan.
Geneva is a gateway to Switzerland’s luxury ski resorts, an important banking centre and home to thousands of international delegates and diplomats. Among the many international organisations based in the city are the United Nations and the International Red Cross.
Attractions in Geneva
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
The largest lake in central Europe that is shared by both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) has for decades drawn visitors to its shores. Attracted by the alpine panorama, quaint wooden chalet villages, vineyard-covered slopes and sailboats skimming across the blue waters, many famous writers, musical composers, actors and poets came to settle and the area has become something of an inspiration to the arts. Situated in the westernmost district of Vaud, the region contains a diversity of attractions and activities, from wine-growing villages and mountain ski resorts, picturesque castles, and magnificent cathedrals, to low-key lakeside resorts, boat cruises, and cosy fireside pots of fondue. Sophisticated shopping and cultural life can be found in the cities of Geneva and Lausanne, with sweeping views across the sparkling lake to the Alps and the distinctive pinnacle of Mont Blanc. Among the vineyards and affluent villas clinging to the slopes lie the lakeside towns of Vevey and Montreux, the pearls of the Swiss Riviera. Scenic winding roads stretch along the shores, and train trips offers outstanding views, while below steamers crisscross the waters of Lake Geneva, offering a variety of ways to experience the splendour of its location.
Picturesquely located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the youthful and energetic city of Lausanne is built above the lake on a sequence of tiers connected by a small metro. The upper or Old Town contains the grand Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame; its turreted towers a well-known symbol of the city. The lower town on the lakeshore was once the small fishing village of Ouchy and is now the prime waterfront area with outdoor dining and cafés, promenades and sporting activities. The gardens around the Quay d’Ouchy are home to the city’s foremost attraction, the Olympic Museum, containing a wealth of sporting memories and a collection of unique objects pertaining to the Olympic Games from its beginning until the present. Lausanne relishes its importance as the Olympic World Capital and headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.
Château de Chillon
One of the best-maintained medieval castles in Europe, the 13th century Château de Chillon is the most visited historical building in Switzerland. With its stunning lakeside location near the chic town of Montreux, jutting out into the water and framed by mountains, it is one of the more frequently photographed castles in Europe. An important fortress in the Middle Ages, it was strategically positioned to control the narrow passage between mountains and lake protecting the major north-south route. It was also the favourite summer residence of the Counts of Savoy. Later it served as a state prison. Visitors can tour the dungeons where the castle’s most famous prisoner was chained for four years, the priest François Bonivard, a supporter of the Reformation. The fortress became famous when Lord Byron wrote about Bonivard’s fate in an inspired poem entitled Prisoner of Chillon. Besides the dungeons, visitors can wander round the towers and courtyards, discover narrow secret passages, and see the grand knight’s halls, frescoed chapel, luxurious bedchambers and rooms containing medieval weapons, furniture and paintings.
The tallest fountain in the world, the Jet d’Eau is a Geneva attraction that cannot be missed. Projecting 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200km/h) and pumping 132 gallons (500 litres) of water per second, the fountain was initially established to release pressure for hydropower generation on the Rhone River, but was so loved by the populace that in 1891 the city created a permanent fountain. As Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York has the Empire State Building, Geneva has the Jet d’Eau. For a breathtaking and romantic sight, visit at night, when the fountain is lit up.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
One of the most creative and thought provoking museums in Europe, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum brings together sculpture, installation, photography and film to highlight the importance of human rights, the history of conflict in the 20th century and the humanitarian work the Red Cross has done in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in both war and natural disasters. Funded entirely by outside donors, the museum is appropriately situated on the hillside opposite the United Nations, within the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A significant stopover on a visit to Geneva, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum provides insight into the gross implications of war and the tragedy that surrounds but also the committed work of the volunteers and Red Cross representatives alike. All the exhibits have an English language option.
St Moritz is the original Swiss winter holiday resort, an extravagantly fashionable mountain resort world-famous for its skiing, fantastic scenery, the curative waters of its Health Spa and the social life. Although not the classic image of a Swiss mountain resort, the setting and spectacular scenery more than makes up for St Moritz’ lack of charm.
Consisting of two villages, St Moritz-Bad on the lake and St Moritz-Dorf on the hillside above, its romantic setting in the wildly beautiful corner of the southeastern Swiss Alps is a combination of forests, mountain and lake that has twice hosted the Winter Olympics. A St Moritz holiday guarantees some of the most reliable and abundant winter snowfall in the country, and the miles of downhill runs offer some of the finest intermediate skiing anywhere.
The St Moritz area also encompasses a network of cross-country ski trails, legendary toboggan and bobsled courses, and an Olympic ski-jump. The spa section of this exclusive and exciting town, St Moritz-Bad, offers the long-time tradition of mineral baths, mud baths and spa therapies for a relaxing spa holiday. The nightlife on a St Moritz holiday is renowned as the most energetic and expensive of all the alpine ski resorts.
With its reputation for style and elegance, St Moritz inevitably draws the elite of the world to its winter sports season and caters for them in its shops as well. Hundreds of designer boutiques are crammed into the resort leaving shoppers on a St Moritz holiday overwhelmed by the number of choices representing international brands and trends. Even the less well-heeled can indulge in pleasure simply by window-shopping.
In line with its promotional tag as being ‘on top of the world’ St Moritz does not lack for gourmet fare. A variety of delicious international cuisine is on offer in elegant formal restaurants, romantic rustic rendezvous, chic cafés and snow bars. Even the several pizzerias here are elegant, wood-panelled edifices with upholstered chairs where the traditional base and toppings become a work of gastronomic art. Elegant fare can be had at popular eateries like Jöhri’s Talvo and La Marmite.
A refined new casino is the latest addition to St Moritz’ renowned nightlife and entertainment scene, which encompasses close on 30 other nightspots ranging from hot nightclubs to cosy hotel bars, and discos to demure cigar bars. Bobby’s Pub is a poopular English-style bar, and the posh Badrutt’s Palace Hotel offers a disco for those bent on dancing.
Anything imaginable that can be done on or in snow and ice is available on a St Moritz holiday, whether it be the legendary Cresta Run, bob-sledding, ice-skating, curling or kite-sailing. Of course the main holiday attractions are skiing and snowboarding, with more 217 miles (350km) of snow-covered runs. All ski slopes are serviced with restaurants, ski huts and snow bars ensuring that après-ski is just as much fun as the physical thrills.
St Moritz Negatives
St Moritz contains some hideous block buildings and lacks the classic Swiss ‘chocolate box’ charm, especially during the summer. There are no proper beginner slopes at resort level and there are very few blue (easy) runs in the area. Spread over several unlinked mountains, the ski terrain is vast and transport is needed between most areas. The holiday resort is exclusive and very pricey.
While browsing in the elegant boutiques along Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most beautiful shopping areas in Europe, you’ll notice that the streets may not be paved with gold, but you can be certain that a couple of metres below, unimaginable treasures are lying in underground vaults.
Zurich is the world’s banking capital, but as well as being a city of fat cats parading in pin-stripes, glued to their mobile phones and swinging patent leather briefcases, you’ll also discover that this is the city that gave birth to the avant-garde Dadaist movement, and where James Joyce wrote Ulysses. The city’s Museum of Fine Arts houses one of Europe’s most extensive collections from 15th century religious iconography to the modern art works of Dali, Arp, Hockney, Cezanne, Monet, Gaugin, Munch and Picasso, so Zurich tourists have plenty to see and do.
Visitors can spend days exploring Zurich’s cobbled streets, wandering through its museums, exploring its flea markets or walking away with free gifts from its chocolate factories. The quays, with their promenades, are made for walking, especially along the shores of the lake. With an active café culture, it’s ideal for people-watching, and Zurich has a lively, multi-ethnic population to rival any other major European city. The exacting order of the Swiss, with their passion for neatness and precision may create an impression of rather a prim and staid society, but visitors will discover quite the opposite when exploring Zurich’s nightlife. With more bars, clubs and restaurants than you can shake a stick at, as well as a calendar packed full of street parades and festivals, a holiday in Zurich can exhaust even the most energetic party animal.
Attractions in Zurich
Of the church spires that characterise Zurich’s skyline, the thin blue spire of Fraumünster is the most graceful. Overlooking the historic old square of Münsterhof, the former pig market, the church was founded in 853 and its convent inhabited by German noblewomen until the 13th century. Important architectural features include the Romanesque choir and the enormous elaborate organ, but its chief attractions are the five beautiful stained glass windows designed by the 83-year-old Marc Chagall in 1970.
Swiss National Museum
A fascinating exploration of Swiss national history, the Swiss National Museum has an impressive and varied collection of ancient artefacts, providing visitors with a richer understanding of Swiss life and consciousness through the centuries. Housed in an exquisite castle-like building, with a distinctive tower, the permanent collection contains a comprehensive anthology of artefacts from the Stone Age to modern times. First stop is the archaeology exhibit where tools and articles dating back to before 800BC are on display. Highlights at the museum include the Celestial globe of Jost Bürg (1594), a groundbreaking symbol of European thought, religious reliquaries from the 13th to 16th centuries and ancient wheels, considered to be among the earliest ever found. Another major drawcard is the Armoury, where historic Swiss weaponry used in combat between 800 and 1800BC can be found. Expect to see crossbows, swords and suits of armour.
An excellent day trip from Zurich and close to the town of Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls (Rheinfall) is the largest and most powerful waterfall in Europe, impressive not so much for its height of 75ft (23m), but more for the mighty volume of water thundering over its broad breadth. This magnificent natural wonder is especially remarkable during late spring when the snowmelt adds to its volume. On the hill above the falls is a medieval castle, Schloss Laufen, housing a restaurant, shops and a youth hostel. Rainbow-coloured mists rising from the forest and encircling the castle create an enchanting atmosphere. In summer one of the highlights of a visit to the falls is a boat trip across the white-water of the cataracts to the Centre Rock, with a short climb up some stairs to the top for an exhilarating view of the rushing water. Breathtaking views can also be enjoyed from three different lookout platforms along a path leading from the castle. The Känzeli Lookout, with a protruding platform at the base of the falls, is the most spectacular. The Rhine Falls is host to the fantastic fireworks display held on Swiss National Day (1 August) that attracts thousands of spectators every year.
Kunsthaus Zurich (Fine Arts Museum)
Devoted for the most part to 19th and 20th century artwork, the Kunsthaus Zurich (Zurich Fine Arts Museum) is a cultural drawcard for any art lover. Holding one of the largest collections of works by Edvard Munch outside Norway, as well as works by renowned modern artists such as Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Rothko and the Expressionists, Kokoschka, Beckmann and Corinth to name a few, there is a whole host of quality artwork for the visitor to marvel at. Visitors can also view the creative talents of cutting edge Swiss artists such as the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, and well-known Swiss duo Fischli/Weiss. Situated in a sophisticated building with contemporary exhibitions, a trip to the Kunsthaus Zurich makes for a very rewarding cultural day out.
Polybahn and Rigiblick Funiculars
Trains, buses, trams and bikes are common ways of getting around Zurich. To get above the bustling streets and cobbled walkways, hop onto either the Polybahn or Rigiblick Funicular for panoramic views of the city and Lake Zurich. The traditional Polybahn was first opened in 1889 to solve the transport problem of students travelling from central Zurich to the University of Technology, which is situated on the towering Zürichberg hill. Recently renovated, the Polybahn has maintained its classic Swiss appearance and continues to haul students and tourists to the Polyterasse viewpoint. Serving an attractive neighbourhood north of Zurich, the Rigiblick Funicular rewards travellers with a sweeping panoramic view of the city and the unmistakable Mount Rigi (1797m).