After visiting Switzerland a few times I have the impression it's the equivalent of being the European version of Singapore. This may seem like a bit of a harsh thing to say but I think the country is a bit too organized, a bit too clean and a bit too rich (and therefore expensive to travel in). After reading this article you may get a better impression of how I felt like visiting Switzerland.
This page is divided into to sections. The first section contains general information about Switzerland and the second part contains information about cities I have been to.
General information about Switzerland
Switzerland is a landlocked country located in the center of Europe. It's bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.
The country is geographically divided among the Swiss Plateau, the Alps and the Jura mountains. The Alps occupy the greater part of the territory and the Swiss population of approximately 8.7 million is mostly concentrated there. The largest cities and economic centers are also located on the Alps.
Switzerland originates from the Old Swiss Confederacy, established in the Late Middle Ages following a series of military successes against Austria and Burgundy. The Federal Charter of 1291 is considered the country's founding document. Since the Reformation of the 16th century, Switzerland has maintained a policy of armed neutrality. Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire was formally recognized in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The country has not fought an international war since 1815. It joined the United Nations as late as in 2002, and pursues an active foreign policy, including participation in frequent peace-building processes worldwide. Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross, one of the world's oldest and best-known humanitarian organizations, and hosts the headquarters or offices of most major international institutions, including the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, FIFA, and the United Nations. It is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), but not part of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area / the Eurozone. However, it participates in the European single market and the Schengen Area through bilateral treaties.
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 the big Western European economies. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness. The country 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. Unemployment has the recent years remained at less than half the EU average.
Switzerland is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons, with federal authorities based in the capital Bern. The country has four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Although most Swiss are German-speaking, national identity is rooted in a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, and Alpine symbolism. This identity transcends language, ethnicity, and religion, leading to Switzerland being described as a Willensnation ("nation of volition") rather than a nation state. Due to its linguistic diversity, Switzerland is known by multiple native names: Schweiz (German), Suisse (French), Svizzera (Italian) and Svizra (Romansh). On coins and stamps, the Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica — frequently shortened to "Helvetia" — is used instead of the spoken languages.
Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy goods in. This is due to a confluence of several factors, not least of which include high minimum wages, limited real estate, and the perceived superior quality of the goods being produced. However, many places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, sightseeings' box offices, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept euro and will give you change in Swiss francs (seldom in euro, only if they have it in cash). A bill or a price-label may contain prices both in francs and in euro. Usually in such cases the exchange-rates comply with official exchange rates, but if the exchange-rates is not market at the counter, ask for the rate. Changing some money to Swiss francs (CHF) is essential. Money can be exchanged at all train stations and most banks throughout the country. Changing Swiss francs in Euro (in France, Germany or Italy) is only possible in a bank. Therefore it is recommended to use cards or smaller euro bills.
Switzerland is a member of the Schengen agreement. There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks or you may have to clear immigration but not customs. On one of my trips to Switzerland I took the train from Germany to Basel. There is a day pass for a train ticket that covers the German region of Baden-Württemberg that also covers Basel. On the train four Garman police officers came along and asked for ID of men only. I didn't expect this as I travelled from one Schengen area to another but had to grab it from my money belt that I have under my clothes. As I stood up and started to fiddle with my belt and pants to get the ID card one of the police officers was a bit annoyed and made some comments in German only, even though I told him repeatedly that I didn't speak any German. After they got my ID card and scanned it it was ok.
Unlike other countries, immigration in Switzerland for stays of longer than 90 days is the responsibility of the cantons, not of the Federal government. Citizens of EU/EEA/Schengen countries, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand can obtain residence permits on arrival without an advance long-stay visa; all other foreign nationals require both advance approval from the cantonal authority and a long-stay visa from a Swiss embassy or consulate in order to enter Switzerland. In any case, persons staying longer than 90 days should contact the cantonal immigration authority or police within 14 days of arrival.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU nor the EEA, and is not in the European Union Customs Union. Therefore, it has its own customs regulations, and car passengers are frequently subject to customs control. Meanwhile, immigration checks on entry (whereby passports are not stamped) are common for long-distance buses, moderately common on long-distance trains, and occasionally take place on local trains, despite Switzerland's Schengen membership, which technically has abolished passport checks at the border. However, there are no border or customs checks at all for those entering and leaving Lichtenstein owing to the open border and total customs union.
Travel to Switzerland
Switzerland is easy accessible by train, air planes, roads or buss, depending on where you travel from. There are several large airports in the country.
Travelling within Switzerland
The Swiss will spoil you with effective transportation - 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 30min, or even 15min, but as with everything in Switzerland the transit runs less often, or at least for a shorter period of the day, on weekends, and especially on Sundays. Authoritative information, routes, and schedules can be found at Swiss Federal Railway's website, or from a ticket window in any train station. The train company also have an app that works fairly well. The name of the federal railway company is shortened SBB CFF FFS, but is often shortened to SBB.
Almost nobody in Switzerland pays full fare for the transit system. At the very least they all have a Half-Fare Card which saves you 50% on all national buses and trains and gives a discount on local and private transit systems. Press the '1/2' button (in the French speaking part often called tarif reduit) on the ticket machines to indicate you have this card, and be prepared to hand it to the conductor along with your ticket on the train.
If you're not getting many trains, and it's not worth getting the half-price card - "Super Save" tickets are also available when booked at least a day in advance - these are train-specific, non refundable and non-transferable (be prepared to show photo ID matching the name on the ticket). Buy them via the SBB website or App, they're marked with a "%" symbol.
The most convenient way to travel with public transport in Switzerland is either a GA travel card or for visitors only a Swiss Travel Pass, which grants you access to all national bus (including Swiss PostAuto bus) and rail, all boats, all city transit systems, and the same hefty discount as a half-fare card on privately operated cable cars, funiculars, and ski lifts. Swiss Passes range from CHF272 for a 4-day, 2nd class pass to CHF607 for a month pass, 2nd class. Like the half-fare, you can buy this from any train station ticket office.
For visitors planning to travel extensively in Switzerland the 'Swiss Pass' can be a worth while option. It will prove economical and will save lot of time and effort in booking destination to destination tickets. With 'Swiss Pass' you don't need to book any separate tickets on approx 90% of the trains including the goldenpass trains. Mountain trains and funiculars generally require separate tickets. But there also holders of swiss pass get some / 25% / 50% discount. 'Swiss Pass' holders also get free entry to a large number of museums & tourist sites like Château de Chillon. For parents travelling with under 12 children do take advantage of the free 'family card' along with the Swiss pass. With 'family card' the under 12 kids travel free with their parents.
Using the trains is easy, although the number of different kinds of trains can be a bit confusing unless you know that the schedules at a Swiss train station are colour coded. The yellow sheet is for departures and the white sheet is for arrivals. Faster trains appear on both of these sheets in red, while the trains in black stop at more stations. For long trips it is often easier to use the website, as it will pick transfers for you. You need not fear transfers of five minutes or less. You will make them, provided you know exactly which platform you arrive on and which one you depart from. Many Swiss commute with a one or two minute transfer.
At the track, the signs indicate the destination and departure time. The small numbers and letters along the bottom show you where you can board the train. The letters indicate the zone you should stand in, and the numbers indicate the class. The class (1st or 2nd) is indicated by a "1" or "2" on the side of the car, these correspond with the numbers on the sign. All Swiss trains are non-smoking — this is also indicated on the side of car, as well as inside.
Luggage can be stowed above your seat or in between seats, or on a rack at the end of the car. Given that hardly nobody makes a reservation in Switzerland, it is perceived to be rude to place the luggage on seats or between the seats so that other travelers cannot take a seat–especially in quite occupied trains! Then expect some strong stares by other travelers or even to be asked in a rather rude way to move your luggage somewhere else. During busy periods, people often stow large luggage (or skis) in the entrance area in between cars. This is usually fairly safe, but use common sense!
Places to visit and when to go there
If you are into carnivals you should definitely visit Basel during the 72 hour carnival frenzy they have. 12.000 people dress out as the city goes wild. It starts on the first Monday after Ash Wednesday. The Morgenstreich starts at 4 a.m. the first day and as all lights in the historic city center turns of the atmosphere becomes very intimate and special. The Cortège is a large parade and they use absurd amounts of confetti. They hand out lots of candies as well so be prepared for crazy, but memorable times. At Kinderfasnacht the kids dress out and are in focus in loose formations. This day is also unconstrained by the strict schedule of the cortège. You can read more information about the carnival on this page.
Switzerland also has many train rides with scenic views. The same goes if you want to go hiking.
Places to sleep
In Switzerland you have several options where to sleep. Check hotels.com and booking.com for hotels and hostelworld.com for hostels. If you want to rent a private home Airbnb.com is somewhere you could check out.
Money and banking
The Swiss franc, often shortened CHF, is the currency and legal tender of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is also legal tender in the Italian exclave of Campione d'Italia which is surrounded by Swiss territory. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) issues banknotes and the federal mint Swissmint issues coins.
Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid by cash, even CHF200 and CHF1000 notes. Some establishments do not accept credit cards so check first. When doing credit card payments, carefully review the information printed on the receipt. All ATMs accept foreign cards, getting cash should not be a problem.
Coins are issued in 5 centime (brass, rare), 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 1970's and are, consequently, worthless.
Banknotes are found in denominations of 10 (yellow), 20 (red), 50 (green), 100 (blue), 200 (brown), and 1000 (purple) francs. They are all the same width but vary in length and feature a variety of security measures.
Vaccine and health
The healthcare in Switzerland is universal and is regulated by the Swiss Federal Law on Health Insurance. There are no free state-provided health services, but private health insurance is compulsory for all persons residing in Switzerland (within three months of taking up residence or being born in the country). If you travel from an country in Eu or EEC you are strongly advanced to bring the European health insurance card.
Health insurance covers the costs of medical treatment and hospitalization of the insured. However, the insured person pays part of the cost of treatment.
Swiss residents are required to purchase basic health insurance, which covers a range of treatments detailed in the Swiss Federal Law on Health Insurance (German: Krankenversicherungsgesetz (KVG); French: la loi fédérale sur l’assurance-maladie (LAMal); Italian: legge federale sull’assicurazione malattie (LAMal)). It is therefore the same throughout the country and avoids double standards in healthcare. Insurers are required to offer this basic insurance to everyone, regardless of age or medical condition. They are not allowed to make a profit off this basic insurance but can on supplemental plans.
The insured person pays the insurance premium for the basic plan. If a premium is too high compared to the person's income, the government gives the insured person a cash subsidy to help pay for the premium.
The universal compulsory coverage provides for treatment in case of illness or accident (unless another accident insurance provides the cover) and pregnancy.
Health insurance covers the costs of medical treatment and hospitalization of the insured. However, the insured person pays part of the cost of treatment.
Switzerland is 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 summer crowds.
Cigarette smoke is an ever-present haze at almost all public spaces. Bus stops and train stations are particularly bad so you should consider avoiding public transport if travelling with infants, while pregnant, if you are elderly or have any respiratory illness. While the Swiss are generally law abiding, no—smoking signs are uniformly ignored.
Women travelling 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 (practice of de-escalation). 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. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that automobile drivers are generally very well-disciplined, readily stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, for example. Generally, you are safe anywhere at any time. If, for any reason, you feel threatened, seek a nearby restaurant or telephone booth.
Generally there is no problem with food and water in Switzerland. Restaurants are controlled by strict rules. Water is perfectly drinkable everywhere from literally every water tap, even out of all public fountains unless specially marked. There are many organic food stores and restaurants available and it is currently illegal to import or sell any genetically modified food.
The Swiss adhere to a strong set of values. They value cleanliness, honesty, discipline, material possessions, and cherish their country and history, which is revered for its neutrality and promotion of worldwide peace. Conversely, you might find some aspects of Swiss culture to be rude at first. It's common to smoke and throw cigarette buts on the ground in almost any situation, even at bus-stops, playgrounds and schools. If you ask someone to politely not blow smoke in the direction of an infant, you will likely be met with a look of confusion or anger.
Swiss cuisine and drink
Switzerland is historically an agricultural country, with many regions being isolated from each other by the Alps. Therefore one of the main characteristics of Swiss cuisine is its simplicity, with many dishes made up of few but hearty ingredients, often of dairy origin. Swiss cuisine evolved dramatically during the last centuries to become what it is today. Probably the most significant changes occurred after colonization of the Americas and the introduction of now widely used ingredients such as potatoes, maize and cocoa. The increase in purchasing power and a certain homogenization of taste have allowed the emergence of some emblematic national dishes such as fondue and rösti. Other stuff Switzerland is famous for within food is chocolate and cheese.
The climatic and cultural diversity of Switzerland is reflected in the diversity of its food products. Various cereals and fruits are cultivated in the lower regions, while the warmest and sunniest areas in the south lend themselves to growing grapes, chestnuts, and even olives. The other most common fruits cultivated in Switzerland are apples, pears, apricots, cherries, plums and strawberries. The mountainous and coldest areas feature the perhaps most emblematic agricultural practices of Switzerland: dairy farming and alpine transhumance.
Pork, poultry and beef are the most consumed meats in Switzerland. Pork is particularly omnipresent in Swiss cuisine; is it both consumed as cooked and cured meat. Swiss meat specialties are highly diversified: all sorts of pork sausages, bratwursts, smoked ham, salami, prosciutto, etc. Famous meat products include Grisons Meat (air-dried beef) and the "national sausage", cervelat. Fish is eaten in moderation, traditionally once in a week. Swiss lakes and rivers provide a small fraction of fish and shellfish consumed in the country. These include the popular perch and fera, which are served in lakeshore restaurants.
Foods associated with Switzerland often use milk as an essential ingredient; butter and cream are classic ingredients in Swiss cuisine. They notably include hard cheeses and chocolate. Swiss cheeses, in particular Emmental, Gruyère, Vacherin, and Appenzeller, are famous Swiss products. Two of the most popular Swiss dishes are fondue and raclette, which essentially consist of melted cheese accompanied with bread or potatoes. Chocolate is also strongly associated with Switzerland since the existence of milk chocolate, the Swiss chocolate industry being very flourishing since then.
Food preferences vary within Switzerland, often reflecting languages: the German-speaking north and east (the predominant linguistic area) has strong ties with Central Europe, whereas the French-speaking west and the Italian-speaking south tend to have more ties with Western and Mediterranean Europe. This applies notably to starchy foods, dairy products and fish. While potatoes, rice and pasta are commonly eaten everywhere in Switzerland, the proportion of pasta and rice is larger in the Italian-speaking regions. Conversely, fats like cream and butter are eaten in larger proportions in the German-speaking regions. Fish is also more commonly eaten in French- and Italian-speaking Switzerland. Those differences are also noticeable in wine and beer drinking habits.
Cities I have been to in Switzerland
As mentioned earlier in this article I have been to Basel and it's absolute worth a visit during carnival season, which is called Fastnacht. If you're there during the "three loveliest days" of the year, prepare to be amazed, and don't expect to be able to sleep. The city center of Basel is definitely small enough that you can make it around by foot.
Basel is a cosmopolitan city because of its university and industry and its proximity to the borders of France and Germany. The official language of the city is German, but the majority of the population speaks Baseldytsch, an Alemannic dialect, as their mother tongue. German is taught in schools and fluently spoken by virtually everyone, so if you speak German and they notice that you are a foreigner, they will most likely answer you in German. Also widely spoken are English and French, both of which many people are able to communicate in comfortably enough to deal with everyday interactions and will gladly work to understand you. Borrowed French words are fairly common in everyday conversation; for example, Baslers often bid each other farewell with the French "adieu". Basically, the average Basler understands and speaks fluent Baseldytsch, German, English, and often French.
The Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is the only tri-national airport in the world. Built on French soil about 4km from Basel, it is connected with the city by a customs-free road. Zürich airport isn't that far from Basel and is an alternative way of arriving Basel by airplane.
Basel has two main train stations. The Basel SBB station is south of the city center and the Basel Badischer Bahnhof are to the north of the river. The Basel Badischer Bahnhof is also called "the German train station" as all trains to and from Germany departs and arrives here.
Basel is located in the Dreiländereck, which is the part of Switzerland that borders to both France and Germany. Besides its own attractions it can serve as a good entry point to the Alsace in France, Black Forest region in Germany or the canton of Basel-land in Switzerland.
A Basilisk, the mythical dragon holding the coat of arms and protecting the city The Rhine curves through the city and divides the town into two parts. Situated on the south and west bank is Grossbasel with the medieval old town at its center. Kleinbasel, featuring much of the night-life, is on the north bank.
Basel has a beautiful medieval old town center and several world class art museums. It is also rich in architecture old and new, with a Romanesque Münster (cathedral), a Renaissance Rathaus (town hall), and various examples of high quality contemporary architecture, including more buildings famous architects.
Visiting Basel can be a holiday for your vocal cords if you plan to absorb the beautiful art in silence exhibited in the many first-rate museums. Once a year it also hosts Art | Basel which is the world's premier fair for modern classics and contemporary art.