There are plenty of reasons to travel to Switzerland. We can’t even try and dissuade you from it by saying it’s one of the most expensive countries in the world. Switzerland is busting at the seams with alpine lakes, dramatic cliff faces, mountains, modern cities, flower-filled meadows, charming villages like Grindelwald, fresh air, alphorns, and free-roaming dairy cows. It’s easy to see the allure.
Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world, with no bad seasons and plenty of villages to explore. A visit to Switzerland should be on everyone’s bucket list. Planning on a trip of your own? Here are some Switzerland travel tips to know!
Switzerland Travel Tips To Know Before You Go
Is Switzerland Expensive to Visit?
If you plan to travel to Switzerland on a backpacker’s budget, you will have a hard time. Switzerland consistently ranks as one of the most expensive countries to live and travel to. From our experience, we can say that only Iceland passes Switzerland in terms of holy crap pricing.
The first time I traveled to Switzerland years ago, I distinctly remember staying two nights, eating ramen noodles, and hiking around the mountains so that I could keep traveling without selling a limb. Our past trips after that have been on a larger budget, but that still didn’t mean the prices stopped shocking me.
So, just how expensive is Switzerland? You can expect a basic cappuccino to run you between 5-8 CHF, while a takeaway meal can set you back 15-20 CHF. Hostel dorm rooms generally start at 45-60 CHF per night, a basic hotel room in a city like Lucerne is about 150 CHF (or more), and a three-hour train ride across the country may cost 70 CHF, but only if you book in advance.
Of course, the costs depend on your activities, how much you shop around, time of year, your accommodation style, and how basic you eat. A basic budget for Switzerland is at least 75 CHF daily to start per person. High-end prices only climb from there.
There Are Ways To Travel Switzerland on a Budget
Despite being so insanely expensive, there are ways that you can cut costs when you travel to Switzerland. Most of my tips aren’t specific to just Switzerland but to traveling cheaper in general.
The more you travel around the country, the more it will cost you. Like anywhere, the more you drive, the more it costs. Rail, bus, and car rentals aren’t cheap in Switzerland, so if you are on a budget, I suggest picking just a few top places you want to see and exploring those in depth.
This is the cheaper thing to do, rather than trying to hit all the best places in Switzerland. If you have to move, try using the car-sharing economy, buses, or hitchhiking if you feel comfortable.
Cook Your Food
Consider eating vegetarian in Switzerland. If you’re going out for a meal, it will cost you at least 20-30 CHF to eat. Shopping for your food and cooking will be the cheapest way to eat. We love to get cheese, bread, and fruit and make charcuterie boards in Switzerland.
Migros and Co-Op are the leading supermarkets in Switzerland, and some sell ready-made meals if you don’t have a kitchen to cook. Meat is also expensive in Switzerland so consider giving it up there.
Drink Tap Water
Save plastic and money and avoid buying bottled water in Switzerland. The tap water in Switzerland is perfectly safe to drink and delicious. Here are some of our favorite travel water bottles.
Cut Out Alcohol
Drinking is not a cheap affair in Switzerland. Skip the drinking or stick to grabbing wine and beer at the grocery store and drink in your accommodation.
Hiking is Free!
While Switzerland is expensive, it’s also known for being gorgeous. Travelers are greeted with alpine lakes, dramatic cliff faces, mountains, and flower-filled meadows. There are plenty of amazing hikes in Switzerland to enjoy.
No matter the season, Switzerland is an outdoor lover’s dream. You know what they say – nature is free. So you don’t have to spend much to enjoy Switzerland’s pristine landscapes (unless you utilize the gondolas to get you to the start of a hike, because those are not free).
Try the Fondue (Preferably More Than Once)
You may have had some fondue before, but have you had it in Switzerland? It’s a Swiss fact that fondue originated from the landlocked country and became popular after the Swiss Cheese Union aggressively promoted it as a marketing strategy in the 1930s.
Now, it’s become common as a communal affair throughout Switzerland with families and friends sitting down at the dinner table to enjoy – especially when it’s cold out.
Generally, the Swiss will enjoy melted cheese and bread (and probably an abundance of drinks) in the presence of good company. It’s probably the American in me, but I always craved different fruits and vegetables to dip into the cheese too, but the most common thing to dip into cheese is local bread.
We also learned from a few locals that traditionally, if you lose your bread in the cheese, you are the next to buy the group a round of drinks. So hold on to your bread!
Sometimes Words Can Get Confusing
“Swiss” is not a language. Instead, Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Traveling around the whole country, what greeting to use can get confusing. Generally speaking, the more west you get (towards France), the more French you will hear. When you are south (towards Italy), you will start to listen to some Italian.
The majority of the country speaks Swiss German. Romansh is the least used in Switzerland, making up 1% of the Swiss population. While many Swiss are bi-lingual, don’t assume that the French-speaking population can speak German and vice versa. Switzerland is a small country, so it’s possible to go from a Swiss German-speaking section of the country to French in less than an hour.
Pick Up a Swiss Rail Pass
If you plan to travel in Switzerland and hit many destinations, consider purchasing a Swiss Rail Pass. Switzerland has an extensive train system, and you can get just about anywhere via rail and bus. The Swiss Travel Pass is an all-in-one ticket giving you complete access to Switzerland (and Liechtenstein!).
A 15-day pass is just shy of 500 CHF, so it’s not cheap. However, if you plan to travel every two to three days, having a pass could be more affordable than buying many different point-to-point tickets.
I’ve traveled by first and second-class rail passes while in Switzerland. The main difference is that the first class has more oversized windows, is more comfortable, and is generally quieter as there are fewer people.
However, we feel the second class tickets are a much better value as the difference isn’t vast. Swiss travel passes also grant you free access to over 500 museums in the country.
Remember that punctuality is your friend when it comes to traveling in Switzerland. If the train leaves at 12:03, it will leave at 12:03.
Switzerland is Not Part of the EU
Switzerland is not part of the European Union, meaning that, unlike their neighbors, they do not use the Euro note. The Swiss Franc is one of the most stable currencies globally and is the national currency of Switzerland.
If you find yourself in a bind, you might be able to use a Euro note depending on if you are at a tourist destination or not. Although Switzerland is not in the EU, it is a member of the Schengen Agreement, and depending on where you are from, that could mean visa-free travel.
Do you know those Ricola commercials that dominated ad space in the 90s? If not, here is a refresher. That Swiss yodeler high in the Alps strapped with lederhosen and carrying an alphorn isn’t just a marketing gimmick.
It used to be a way of life in Switzerland and neighboring countries and is fun to learn about when in Switzerland. People would use their powerful voices and alphorn to communicate between mountain villages and valleys.
We had the opportunity to play an Alphorn in the town of Nendaz. And I must say the natural wooden horn came naturally to me. Although the alphorn and yodeling aren’t common in modern Swiss culture, there are still annual festivals and people who play to keep the tradition alive. Several villages and destinations offer tourists a chance to try their hand at the famous instrument.
Don’t Expect Easy Friendships
If your goal is to make many Swiss friends while traveling in Switzerland, you will most likely have to work harder than usual. We found the Swiss to be very reserved people, guarded, and never veering out of their way to make small talk with people.
Get a Universal Travel Adapter
One of our top Switzerland travel tips is to get the right adapter. You will need a specific adaptor to charge your electronics in Switzerland. Most continental Europe uses the Schuko plug (type F). Switzerland uses Type J outlets, and those are slightly smaller.
If you’re traveling around Europe, save yourself a headache and go ahead and get a Universal travel adaptor. Most Universal adaptors fit with the Europlug, which works in Switzerland.
Is it Safe to Travel Switzerland?
Is it safe to travel to Switzerland? Switzerland is known to be one of the safest countries in Europe and one of the safest places in the entire world. That’s not to mean that you are 100% secure, but you’ll unlikely experience any violent crime.
Like anywhere, always be aware of pickpockets in major cities and natural elements that could be disastrous – especially if you’re hiking in the mountains.
An important Switzerland travel tip is never to be late for any planned meeting or meet up when traveling Switzerland. The country is known for making clocks, so you can bet that the Swiss have an obsession with being on time. Arriving somewhere 5 or 10 minutes early in Switzerland is considered being on time. Any later and you’re already late!
Should You Tip in Switzerland?
When you travel to Switzerland from the USA, you might wonder if you’re supposed to tip. In Switzerland, the cost of service is already included in the price, so tipping is not expected. Rounding up to the nearest franc or round figure is a kind gesture for good service.
When is the Best Time to Visit Switzerland?
The best time to visit Switzerland is subjective to what you want to do. Most would say the best time for Switzerland travel is during the summer, between June and September. This is the best time for bright blue lakes, hiking, biking, and enjoying all the outdoor activities on offer.
That is all unless you prefer winter sports. If you ski or snowboard the best time to visit Switzerland is between December and March. That’s when skiing at places like Zermatt is the best!
Getting to Switzerland
If flying into Switzerland from elsewhere search for flights into Zurich, Geneva, or Bern. Zurich Airport is the largest and busiest airport in Switzerland, and is known for its efficiency, cleanliness, and excellent facilities. Geneva Airport is also a major hub, and is known for its easy navigation and good transportation connections.
Where Are the Best Places to Travel in Switzerland?
There are so many amazing places to visit in Switzerland you’ll likely need to make many return trips. Crazy to think a country so small can offer so much. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- The Matterhorn, just outside the village of Zermatt, is one of the world’s most famous and recognizable peaks. You can view it right from town or go hiking underneath it.
- Lake Geneva is surrounded by picturesque towns and villages like Montreux and Lausanne.
- Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station in Europe and offers panoramic views of the Swiss Alps.
- Zurich is known for its cultural attractions, shopping, and nightlife.
- Geneva is home to the headquarters of many international organizations and offers a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
- Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe.
- St. Moritz, a fashionable ski resort town with a history of hosting Winter Olympics.
- Grindelwald and Wengen, two of the most popular ski resort towns in the Bernese Oberland region.
Where Are the Best Waterfalls in Switzerland?
Switzerland is a land of waterfalls! If your goal is to chase waterfalls in Switzerland, you have many options.
- Trümmelbach Falls: A series of ten glacier waterfalls located inside a mountain in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
- Staubbach Falls: One of the highest free-falling waterfalls in Switzerland, and certainly the most Instagram famous. located near the town of Lauterbrunnen.
- Reichenbach Falls: A series of waterfalls near Meiringen’s town, made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Final Problem.”
- Giessbach Falls: A series of 14 cascading waterfalls located near the town of Brienz.
- Rheinwaldhorn Glacier: A beautiful and remote waterfall located near the border of Switzerland and Italy, in the canton of Graubünden.
What to Buy in Switzerland
You don’t need to buy anything when you travel to Switzerland. It is an expensive country, and if you are like us you may want to save money any way you can. If you have a budget for souvenirs, keep an eye out for:
- Swiss Watch: Switzerland is widely recognized as the global leader in watchmaking and the phrase “Swiss Made” is synonymous with quality. The French-speaking regions of the country are known for their luxury watchmakers, such as Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe, while the Swiss-German-speaking region is home to brands like IWC in Schaffhausen.
- Chocolate: Only rivaled with Belgium for the “world’s best chocolate” title. You can find Swiss chocolatiers in Swiss cities like Zurich, but you’ll also be able o find the iconic Toblerone or Lindt’s at any grocery store.
- Cheese: The most famous Swiss cheeses are Gruyère and Emmentaler, and you’ll definitely have to try it while in Switzerland. If you or your loved ones are cheese fanatics you’ll have to bring home some!
- Swiss Army Knives: Switzerland is the origin of the Swiss Army Knife (go figure). It’s often must-have item for many tourists, and was the main souvenir I wanted on my first visit to Switzerland. The two major brands of Swiss Army Knives are Victorinox and Wenger. The most popular model from Victorinox is the Swiss Champ, which is known for having 33 functions!
What to Wear When You Travel to Switzerland?
Switzerland travel demands different clothing, and what you pack really depends on what type of trip you are having. Since you are going to one of the premier outdoor destinations in the world, I’ll assume you will be spending at least a bit of time outside. We recommend hiking clothes, athletic shoes, and nice summer dresses if visiting during the summer months.
If traveling in the winter best to back a few sweaters, warm leggings, a hat, gloves, mittens, and outerwear like snow pants and a shell jacket!
See our full guide! What To Wear In Switzerland? ULTIMATE Switzerland Packing List
Quick Switzerland Travel Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Swiss German: ”Hallo” and “Danke” French: “Bonjour” and “Merci” Italian: “Buongiorno” (formal) “Ciao” (informal) and “Grazie”
- Currency: Swiss Franc
- Visa: Schengen Visa, 90 days in the European Union out of 180. Many nationalities are granted this on arrival for free. Check with your embassy to see if that is you.
- What to Pack: Depends highly on the season and your actions. Mountain and hiking clothes are always a good idea in the summer, while you will need your cold-weather gear in the winter. Don’t forget the ski and snowboard gear if you plan on skiing in Zermatt or other ski destinations.
- You’ll need a special adaptor for travel in Switzerland as they use the Type J outlet. This universal travel adaptor I have, and it worked well!
How to Travel Switzerland
Train travel doesn’t get any easier than in Switzerland. The country has an incredibly efficient rail network that can get you anywhere – even in the mountain towns. We recommend getting the Swiss Travel Pass. Without these passes, you’ll want to book all your train travel in advance or you could pay a premium on the train. Make sure to be on time – punctuality is key in Switzerland!
Switzerland has three major international airports for such a small country Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. It’s also possible to fly into Milan, Frankfurt, Munich, and Lyon and travel right into Swizlernad.
Where the train can’t go – the bus can. Bus travel is also easy in Switzerland, and your Swiss Travel Pass will work on them too!
If you want freedom and flexibility when you travel to Switzerland, you’ll need to get your own rental car in Switzerland. Some car rental comparison sites are:
Food in Switzerland
Have we mentioned that Switzerland is expensive? The easiest way to save money on food is by shopping at grocery stores and cooking your own meals.
Co-Op and Migros are the main grocery stores but be forewarned, prices even at the grocery store are more than you’re probably used to seeing. I can’t even count on my hand the amount of time PB&J served as my lunch and dinner in Switzerland while I was on a budget.
It will be hard to find in Switzerland. Your average no-frills lunchtime meal from a cafe will run you at least 20 CHF if you’re in mountain huts while skiing. Expect to spend 10 CHF on french fries (we paid 1 CHF more for each ketchup packet).
Fondue and Rosti are two of the main dishes in Switzerland. Expect to pay about 40+ CHF per person for a nice meal out.
Epic Things to do in Switzerland
There could not be a more fitting place to try fondue than in the Swiss Alps. Fondue in Switzerland is a rite of passage and one of the most traditional forms of dining in Switzerland (where it originated). It’s possible to find fondue in the summer season for tourists, but it’s a winter tradition and dish.
Get into adventure sports
The Swiss town of Interlaken is dubbed “the adventure capital of the world.” It’s a backpacker’s haven and jumping-off point for adventure. A few popular things here are canyoneering, rafting, hang gliding, paragliding, and more!
Play the Alphorn
The alphorn used to be a way of life in Switzerland and neighboring countries. People would use their powerful voices and alphorn to communicate between mountain villages and valleys. Several Swiss villages will let you try out the alphorn. We did this in Nendaz when we visited! There are also annual festivals and people who play to keep the tradition alive.
Check out Jungfraujoch
It’s at the top of Europe and one of the best places in Switzerland! Well, at least that’s how Jungfraujoch is advertised. It may not be the top of Europe or even the highest point in Switzerland, but it is the highest train you can take in Europe. It’s also the highest point one can easily reach as a tourist, with views over an expansive 22km long glacier.
Switzerland is world-famous for its skiing. Although a ski vacation here doesn’t come at a cheap price, the views are top-notch, and the ski/snowboarding is incredible. Some notable places to get your ski on is Zermatt, Verbier, Grindelwald, Davos-Klosters, Laax, and St. Moritz. They are all arguably some of the best ski destinations in the world!
Photographers who taste old-world culture and never-ending descents flock to Zermatt to get an iconic shot of the Matterhorn, ski, and enjoy the charming Swiss village.
Switzerland is a hiker’s paradise. Almost everywhere you look, there are mountains to be conquered. Some notable hikes are Lauterbrunnental, the Faulhornweg, and Lac de Louvie.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get low.
- Book a Rental Car: We use Discover Car to book all our rental cars! You can also read our top tips for renting a car abroad here.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.