Planning a Trip To Switzerland - What To Do, When To Go
Last Updated: March 19, 2021

Planning A Trip To Switzerland – When To Go, What To Visit & More

If you are planning a trip abroad to Switzerland, or any other country, it certainly pays to be prepared ahead of time.

It’s always great to know the basics such as:

  • When is the best time to go
  • What are the best places to visit
  • How can you get around easily
  • What are the best foods to try
  • What languages are spoken (and do they speak English)

In this handy guide, I will help you with all the basics, as well as some insider tips to Switzerland (because I live here) that you might not find anywhere else.

Below is a menu/table of contents you can use if you want to jump to a specific section, or you can just read the whole thing. There is lots of information here, so remember to take notes :>

Switzerland – The Basics

Switzerland is right in the heart of Europe and as such, is influenced by all kinds of food, languages, architecture and people.

If you head to a place like Zurich, the biggest city in Switzerland, you will see the diversity on the streets! Count how many different languages you hear.

To get you started with understanding Switzerland, I have listed below all the basics.

Languages in Switzerland

Switzerland is right in the center of Germany, France, and Italy, so it is not surprising the people here speak so many languages. There are four official languages:

  • German (Swiss German actually)
  • French
  • Italian
  • Reto-Romansch (only spoken in the Canton of Graubunden)
  • English is spoken in all tourist areas, major cities and shops/hotels etc.

Currency

Switzerland is in Europe, but not officially part of the European Union. They do have a strong agreement with Europe, on almost all fronts, but do not use the Euro.

So, if you are traveling around Europe, you will need to change currencies here and use the local – Swiss Franc (symbol: CHF)

If you are wondering about how to pay and tip for things in Switzerland, I have a separate page with a lot more details.

At the time of writing the Swiss Franc is about 10% less than the Euro, however, things are generally a lot more expensive.

Transport

As you might have heard, Switzerland is very organized and that includes an extremely efficient public transport system. So, if you don’t feel like driving while you are here, the trains are an awesome way to get around. Easy, punctual, reliable, but not so cheap. Have a think about getting some form of Swiss Travel Pass or the local “half tax” which gives you 50% off (but it costs you over 100). Check out more information here.

The highway (or Autobahn) system in Switzerland is very good, but like all places in the world these days – is prone to traffic jams at peak time (early morning, late afternoon, Sundays). So, although driving is relatively easy, it might not be the best option for a relaxing holiday! Also, keep in mind that major North/South routes are extremely busy (like the Gotthard Tunnel) at most times of the year – because the whole of northern Europe is heading to Italy!

The main airports are Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. With Basel being cheaper than Zurich (that is where airlines like Easy Jet fly from). Again, flying to Switzerland is super easy and efficient, but not always as cheap as say landing in Milan or Frankfurt and taking the train. So check out your options when traveling around Europe – you might save a lot (but of course you lose time!).

Food

Depending on which region of Switzerland you are in, the food can vary a lot. Remember, the borders are Germany, Italy and France. And the food often reflects that.

However, Switzerland also has a lot of its own creations you have to try while you are here, such as:

  • Fondue – Melted cheese in a big heated pot, eaten by dipping bread pieces into it
  • Raclette – Melted cheese slices are eaten with potatoes and other condiments
  • Swiss cheese, in general, is worth digging into (supermarkets are great places to get a variety) 
  • Swiss Chocolate of course (Lindt, Frey, Callier – all at the supermarket, and specialty stores like – Läderach, Sprüngli in Zurich, and these in Geneva
  • Rösti – like hashbrown/potatoes
  • Zürcher Geschnetzeltes – Zurich’s famous dish, which is a ragout of veal and mushroom
  • Birchermüesli – health nuts around the world love this stuff, but did you know it was invented in Switzerland in 1900!

I could go on forever with food, and of course, there are so many regional specialties. Check out this page from the My Switzerland team who do a great job of listing even more food ideas!

Electricity & Adapters

In all likelihood, you will need a specific swiss adapter or a multi-adapter for worldwide use (the ones with all the plugs in it). However, to be sure, check out this detailed page on Swiss electrical outlets.

Visas

Switzerland is part of the Schengen agreement which means in general that if you have the right to travel in the EU, you can travel in Switzerland. However, with visas you can never be too sure, so check out this website on the Swiss Schengen Visa system and application.

rigi lucerne switzerland

Best Time To Travel To Switzerland

The answer to this question really depends on what you want to experience when you arrive.

Switzerland is at its best in the European summer (June – September) with everyone out and about, enjoying the “not so long” summers we have.

But, if you are coming to experience the ski resorts or just the snow and coziness of a swiss chalet in winter, then obviously the winter months are better (December – March).

The in-between months can also be amazing, especially the autumn/fall for hiking (as the snow has yet to start), but the weather is unpredictable in the mountains and probably not the best option when you are planning a vacation!

Below I have summed it all up so you can see what is best for you and your vacation.

Summer In Switzerland

  • Best Months:   June – September
  • Average Temperatures:  18 to 28 °C (65° – 82° F)
  • High Season: mostly this is when European and Swiss schools are on holiday, which varies from area to area but generally most of July and August
  • Best Activities:   Water Sports – Sailing, Rafting, Stand Up Paddling, Canoe, Kayaking, Mountain Sports – Hiking, Climbing, Mountaineering

winter in europe

Winter In Switzerland

  • Best Months:   December – March
  • Average Temperatures:  -2 to 7 °C (28° – 45° F) – COLDER in the mountains
  • High Season: Christmas / New Year and February
  • Best Activities: Skiing, Snowshoeing, Cross-country Skiing, Ice Skating

Best Places To Visit Switzerland

Switzerland is a wonderland of mountains, lakes, history, and outdoor activities.

It is impossible to see it all and to experience it all in even a month.

So, with that in mind, I have listed the best places to visit in terms of location type (city, mountain village, mountain attraction) so that you can choose what suits your needs and desires!

I have also made some suggestions on the best places to visit on a tour if you have said a week or more. Places you can combine into a round trip and see some of the best Switzerland has to offer.

Best Cities To Visit In Switzerland

Lucerne (Luzern)

Lucerne is a favorite of all visitors to Switzerland and even amongst the Swiss themselves.

Nestled amongst some amazing mountains and sitting on the shores of the famous Lake Lucerne (the Vierwalstattersee in German) how can you not love this city.

It also has a beautiful river running right through its center with the historic and fully restored – Kapellebrucke.

Lucerne is also only an hour’s train ride from Zurich and right on the way to alps (Interlaken, Bernese Oberland), so most people stop here way

And it has an amazing historic center, is close to both Rigi and Pilatus mountains in case you feel like taking in a panoramic view as well.

Bern Switzerland

Bern city overview – looking at the Aare river and the old town.

Bern (The Capital of Switzerland)

Bern, founded in 1191, is perhaps not on every tourist’s bucket list, but has some worthwhile sites to visit. It is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage site, which itself makes it worth a visit. But, if in doubt, just look at the picture opposite and you will see how stunning it is.

The old town sits between the curves of the Aare river (which the daring can swim in, with the locals, in summer). The streets are filled with fun local shops (medieval arcades) to visit, many of them in basements that you have to enter from steps at the front (kind of like a storm cellar).

Bern, as the capital, also has the House of Parliament to visit as well as the historic clock tower (Zytglogge) right in the center of the old town.

There are lots of other great places to visit such as Einstein house (yes, Switzerland is where lived, worked and studied), the Rose Garden (where that picture is probably taken from) and the quite unique and newly renovated Bear Park – with live bears outside in the middle of the city!

Zurich

You probably know Zurich as the place where spies stash all their cash or meet bankers and exchange Swiss bank account numbers. But Zurich actually has a lot to offer the visitor, not after a new bank account.

Water is everywhere in Switzerland and Zurich is no exception. It has the Limmat river running right through the center (which you can see in the picture) and Lake Zurich too. So, if you come in summer, bring your bathing gear because everyone is either at the lake or in the river, and BBQing!

Zurich also has some cool sights to see including:

  • Grossmünster – The famous church with the two towers, you can see in the picture opposite. You can climb to the top and get a great view.
  • Uetliberg – Zurich’s home mountain and a great place to get away from the city or just take in an amazing view of Zurich, the lake and see the mountains in the distance.
  • If shopping is your thing, then Zurich has all the top brands right on the main street (Bahnhofstrasse, leading right from the train station).
  • Check out the old town on both sides of the Limmat river.

In fact, there is so much to do and see in Zurich, I recommend you check out the cool website from the city itself for far more information!

Zurich

Zurich – Looking along the Limmat River right in the center of town

Other Cities Worth Seeing In Switzerland

I am a little biased with the above cities, but there are many more worth a visit if you are in the area:

Best Mountain Resorts In Switzerland

As you may have seen on TV, Switzerland is full of mountains, and apart from the flatter northern areas, you will actually find it hard to avoid them (count how many tunnels you go through in your car or on a train! it is nuts).

So, I can only recommend you check out some of the more amazing mountain towns and resorts in Switzerland while you are here. No trip to Switzerland is really complete without it. Even if it is just for a day or two!

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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