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Switzerland

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.

Regions

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.

Cities

  • Berne (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
  • Basel — 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
  • Geneva (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)
  • Lausanne — scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws
  • Lucerne (Luzern) — main city of the central region with direct water links to all of the sites of early Swiss history
  • Lugano — a gorgeous old-town, a pretty lake; much Italianatà combined with Swiss seriousness
  • St. Gallen — 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.
  • Zurich (Zürich) — Switzerland's largest city and a major centre of banking with a thriving nightlife

Other destinations

  • Bellinzona — 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.
  • Davos – large ski resort where the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum takes place
  • Chur — 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
  • Grindelwald — the classic resort at the foot of the Eiger
  • Interlaken — the outdoor and action sports capital of Switzerland; anything from skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, white-water rafting, to canyoning
  • 6 St. Moritz – glitzy ski resort in the Engadine valley in south-eastern Switzerland
  • Zermatt — famous mountain resort at the base of the mighty Matterhorn

Understand

History

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.

Climate

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.

Diversity

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.

Economy

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

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.

Get in

Entry requirements

Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
  • Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
  • Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.

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).

By airplane

Major international airports are in Zurich IATA: ZRH, Geneva IATA: GVA and Basel (for the Swiss part: IATA: BSL) , with smaller airports in Lugano IATA: LUG and Berne IATA: BRN. 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" IATA: EAP 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 BaselGeneva 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 (IATA: STR) and Munich Airport (IATA: MUC) in Germany are in driving distance to Bern and Zurich respectively. There is a small airport in Memmingen (IATA: FMM), 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 (IATA: FRA) and take the train from there.

By train

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 BerneBasel 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

By bus

  • 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 Proši? 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.

By car

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)!

Get around

By plane

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

Public transport

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.

Further information about the railway network in Switzerland and the Switzerland-wide countryside bus network is also available.

Hiking and cycling

Hiking

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!

Bicycle

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.

In-line skating

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.

By car

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.

Talk

See also: Swiss-German phrasebook, German phrasebook, French phrasebook, Italian phrasebook

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.

See

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

Do

See also: Winter sports in Switzerland

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.

Buy

Money

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-francs note on 11 April 2016, the new 20-francs banknote followed on 17 May 2017. 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.

Banking

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.

The largest banks in Switzerland are UBS and Credit Suisse.

Tipping

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.

Costs

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.

Eat

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.

Supermarket chains

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.

Drink

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?

Sleep

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.

Learn

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.

Work

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.

Stay safe

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.

Stay healthy

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 ZurichBasel 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.

Respect

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.

Connect

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.

Yes, it’s big on banking and watches but don’t imagine the Swiss city is entirely straitlaced – this year it’s going gaga over Dada for starters

Although it’s routinely placed at the top of lifestyle rankings, Zurich is rarely, if ever, rated as one of Europe’s cultural capitals. There’s a perception that it’s a bankers’ city – a Swiss Square Mile without any West End to escape into. While it is true that high salaries and a strong currency mean Switzerland’s biggest city is expensive for visitors, with some planning, and a focus on culture instead of cuisine, it makes for an enjoyable break, whether or not it is made part of a skiing holiday.

The city boasts cultural big-hitters including the Kunsthaus (see below), one of Europe’s great modern art museums, and Museum Haus Konstruktiv (hauskonstruktiv.ch), which showcases “concrete, constructive and conceptual art” in a former electricity substation. Zurich-West, a former industrial district, is a hub for contemporary art, design, food and architecture. The whole city is relatively car-free and bike-friendly.

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atlas1

Lonely Planet Pathfinders Peter and Kia of Atlas and Boots recently embarked on a road trip from France through to Geneva in Switzerland. Here’s a round-up of their favourite sights.

Geneva is the very definition of a global city. With nearly half the city’s population made up of foreign nationals, it seems only right that the municipality is home to the UN headquarters, as well as a further 20 international agencies. It was here that the Geneva Conventions were signed and today the city is a symbol of progress with CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, within its city limits. From a charming and historic city centre to world-famous international landmarks and institutions, we found Geneva to be emblematic of modern 21st century Europe.’

The big sights

A photo posted by Atlas and Boots (@atlasandboots) on Dec 2, 2015 at 4:51am PST

‘The Palace of Nations (Palais des Nations) has served as the headquarters of the United Nations and its precursor, the League of Nations, since 1936. Overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps, the Palace of Nations hosts thousands of intergovernmental meetings every year.’

Meeting the experts

 

A photo posted by Atlas and Boots (@atlasandboots) on Dec 4, 2015 at 1:09am PST

‘We brushed up on our particle physics before our visit to CERN, but despite the efforts of our tour guides (who are also nuclear physicists), we didn’t really understand much! Scientists here operate the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and are probably the smartest people we’ll ever meet.’

Scenic city

A photo posted by Atlas and Boots (@atlasandboots) on Dec 5, 2015 at 12:55am PST

‘We spent a romantic evening wandering the banks of Lake Geneva looking out across the Jet d’Eau (before indulging at one of Geneva’s many gelaterias). It’s one of the city’s most famous landmarks and reaches a height of 140 metres, making it visible throughout the city.’

Museum meandering

 

A photo posted by Atlas and Boots (@atlasandboots) on Dec 5, 2015 at 11:34pm PST

‘We visited the fascinating Red Cross museum and explored its permanent exhibition, The Humanitarian Adventure, as well as a temporary exhibition about Gandhi. The main exhibition explores three major challenges in today’s world: defending human dignity, restoring family links and reducing natural risks, while simultaneously conveying a unique history of humanitarian action.’

Swiss time

A photo posted by Atlas and Boots (@atlasandboots) on Dec 7, 2015 at 4:59am PST

‘This was once the largest flower clock in the world. Unfortunately, it holds the title no longer but it does still have the world’s longest second-hand at 2.50 meters! The icon was created in 1955 as a symbol of the city’s watchmakers and a dedication to nature. Unmistakably Swiss!’

Where it all happens

 

A photo posted by Atlas and Boots (@atlasandboots) on Dec 8, 2015 at 4:59am PST

‘In an international city like Geneva, you’re never far from a world map or iconic emblem. With a beguiling mix of modern and classic architecture, international institutions and engaging museums, this important and historic city makes for a perfect city break. We loved it.’

Are you an aspiring travel writer? Or is travel photography more your bag? Find out more about our Pathfinders programme here.

Hear about travel to Basel, Switzerland as the Amateur Traveler talks to Claudia McCoy about her hometown.

35 of the world’s best places to travel in 2017

       

With so much negativity in the media, the world is often portrayed as risky, dangerous. And yet as travelers we learn the same lesson over and over: Preconceived notions of places and cultures are almost always wrong.

The world is, in fact, safer, more hospitable, more open and accepting than non-travelers could ever imagine. If only people everywhere could realize that on the opposite side of the globe are people not so different, so foreign, as they might believe.

Let’s make 2017 the year of traveling fearlessly. These places are just starting points. The next step is taking action. We hope to see you on the road.

       

1. Jordan

 

1. Jordan

Completely safe oasis isolated from the instability of the region

Jordan is a place of supernatural beauty. Imagine Yosemite as a desert with super luxury tented camps. That’s a bit how Wadi Rum feels. And Petra is so ancient you could use the Bible as your guidebook rather than a Lonely Planet. Beyond these obvious destinations, there’s also Al Salt, Jarash, and Amman. Travel here with an open mind, and get ready for and a hospitality that will blow away any expectations. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

2. Los Angeles

 

2. Los Angeles

Epicenter of Southern California with quick access to nature

LA has it all. The food options, historic sites, and outdoor access are enough to make you forget the 45-minute drives it takes to reach them. Your best bet (as always) is to hook up with locals (try travelstoke if you don’t know anyone there), and plan your travels around different neighborhoods. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

3. Yucatán Peninsula

 

3. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

No-worries area of Mexico with luxury haciendas in the middle of the jungle

Beyond Chichen Itzá are other lesser known Mayan ruins worth exploring throughout the region, along with the cenotes, as well as world-class diving (the world’s second largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef, is on the Carribean side of Mexico) and beaches. Of special note is Rosas y Chocolate, one of the top urban hotels in all of Mexico, pictured above.

       

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

 

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

Above the Arctic Circle, and almost like dropping off the map

Sisimiut is the second-largest town in Greenland. 5,500 people live on a tiny, rocky promontory just north of the Arctic Circle. If you are lucky enough to travel to Greenland, your goal should be connecting with locals and getting invited to a kaffemik. These are celebrations such as birthdays or weddings, and guests may can come anytime you want and leave whenever they feel like it. Photo by Greenland Travel.

       

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

 

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

The overlooked part of Patagonia, with stunning marine wildlife

The stark, windswept, and seldom-visited Atlantic coast of Patagonia has intense concentrations of wildlife with its epicenter at Peninsula Valdes. Each year between June and December is the Southern Right Whale migration. Throughout the year are other wildlife viewing possibilities, including Magellanic penguins, and elephant seals. Awesome family adventure. Image: Matiasso

       

6. Hamburg

 

6. Hamburg, Germany

Harbor city unlike anywhere else in Germany

Hamburg is more fish than sausage and more tea than beer. It’s home to one of Germany’s oldest red-light district, the Reeperbahn, where many musicians, like the Beatles, got their start. Explore the Speicherstadt, attend the Hamburger Dom, or check out a Sankt Pauli soccer game; Hamburg’s notoriously rowdy soccer team. Image: Nick Sheerbart

       

7. Faroe Islands

 

7. Faroe Islands

Otherworldly North Atlantic escape

Off in the North Atlantic somewhere between Iceland and Norway, this group of 18 islands is like a dream world: dramatic sea stacks, well-trodden hiking trails, and cosmopolitan small cities with great food scenes. The country has incredible infrastructure with most islands connected by bridge or undersea tunnel. For those islands not connected by road, there are fast ferries and subsidized helicopter transport. Photo by Stefan Klopp.

       

8. Auckland

 

8. Auckland, New Zealand

Ultimate urban backpacker hub for exploring wilderness and beaches

Auckland is one of the largest cities by land area in the world, with plenty of natural reserves, surf spots, and Maori cultural experiences throughout and surrounding the city. There’s also a great cafe culture. It’s a perfect base for exploring both coasts of NZ’s North Island. Photo by Rulo Luna.

       

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

 

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

Surf, yoga, and natural foods paradise within easy reach

Out of all the places in Costa Rica that should’ve gotten overrun with mass tourism, Dominical has been spared. It remains a small, uncrowded town with a super cool expat scene and awesome restaurants. There are exceptional AirBnb properties overlooking nearby Domincalito (as well as in town). For surfing, Dominical is almost never flat. Photo: Blaze Nowara.

       

10.Montreal

 

10. Montreal, Canada

Multicultural city with world-class paddling options and nightlife

2017 marks Montreal’s 375th anniversary, and the city plans to celebrate all year. Join in for a big party and some birthday cake on May 17, the official date that the city was founded on. Culturally diverse Montreal will also welcome you with free festivals, concerts, cultural activities, exhibitions, foodie events, tastings, tours, and theatrical performances. Photo: Michael Vesia.

       

11. Portmagee, Ireland

 

11. Portmagee, Ireland

Coastal Irish village with access to ancient sites

Portmagee is both a rad little village on its own, and the departure point for Skellig Michael. Take a ferry there, hang with puffins and dolphins all day, enjoy seafood caught steps away at the family owned Moorings Guesthouse while listening to traditional Irish song and dance and lulled to sleep by the ocean. Photo by Tony Webster.

       

12. Belfast, Maine

 

12. Belfast, Maine

Scenic seaport on Penobscot Bay, loaded with architectural treasures and historic districts

Belfast is known for welcoming the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s. It gets a lot of credit for the craft beers of Marshall Wharf, Delvino’s authentic Italian food, served in an old hardware store, and the many local farmers who’ve taken the torch from those revolutionary back-to-the-landers and are fueling the city’s sustainable food movement. Photo by Bruce C. Cooper.

       

13. Havana

 

13. Havana, Cuba

Rapidly transitioning nation grounded in Caribbean culture and vibrancy

 

Cuba has been among the hottest places to travel for our staff at Matador, with reports always containing two elements: 1. People have more fun there than anywhere else they’ve been in years, and 2. The wifi is the worst they’ve found anywhere (Correlation anyone?). On a recent filmmaking journey, it was noted: “Everyone here has rocking chairs. This is place where people know how to chill.”

       

14. New York City

 

14. New York City

An energy unrivaled anywhere in the world

With so many things to do and places to see, NYC can be quite disorienting for a first-time visitor, which you should just accept as part of the experience. The quintessential walking city, stroll the Highline, Brooklyn bridge, and Riverside Park. Photo by Jaden D.

       

15. Franklin, Tennessee

 

15. Franklin, Tennessee

Classic small town southern vibes and beautiful watershed

A short drive from Nashville, Franklin has a great small town vibe with their Main Street as the site of numerous festivals and the Harpeth River (and connected trails) flowing right through town. The upcoming September Pilgrimage Festival will be in its 3rd year, and with Justin Timberlake as producer, it is going to be awesome.

       

16. Durango

 

16. Durango, Colorado

Outdoor adventure hub in a region dotted with storybook towns

Durango is one of the raddest towns in the US with the powerful, free-flowing Animas River running deep through the San Juan Mountains and right through the city. World class ski resort + backcountry adventures via kayaks, skis/snowboard, and great events from Snowdown in January to the La Plata County Fair in August. Photo by Avery Woodard.

       

17. Abu Dhabi

 

17. Abu Dhabi, UAE

One of the best places in the world to experience Islamic culture

Abu Dhabi is a desert emirate, dotted with oasis towns, date farms, historic forts, natural reserves, mangroves, and dunes that have lured explorers throughout history. As one of the largest mosques on the planet, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque receives pilgrims from all over the world during Eid celebrations. Outside of prayer times, it’s also open to non-Muslims and has free guided tours.

       

18. Seattle

 

18. Seattle

All in one foodie, art, music, and outdoor adventure destination

Seattle has been blowing up for the last two decades and continues to be one of the most interesting cultural centers in the US. But beyond the city itself, Seattle is special for its geography. Simply jump on a ferry for a day trip to the San Juan Islands or over to the Olympic Peninsula and you’re deep in coastal rainforests and mountain ranges–another world. Photo by Vincent Lock.

       

19. Sicily

 

19. Sicily, Italy

The Mediterranean’s largest island, rich in archeological sites and culture

Sicily has retained a strong sense of identity, and nowhere is it more enmeshed with the rich history than in the ancient walled neighborhood of Ortigia, in Siracusa. The high stone buildings and cobblestone streets give the sense of stepping back in time. Make sure to also hit up Mt. Etna (Europe’s tallest active volcano), Cefalù, and Taormina. Actually, just go everywhere. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

20. Varanasi

 

20. Varanasi, India

The cultural center of North India

According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva. The city is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. It is also a city surrounded by death. The biggest tourist attraction here is to witness the cremations that take place along the banks of the Ganges. Varanasi is Photo: Arushi Saini Photography.

       

21. St. Petersburg

 

21. St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia’s cultural capital

The historic districts of St. Petersburg comprise a UNESCO world heritage site, and the Hermitage is among the top museums in the world. Bar hop along the trendy Ruben Street and wander the massive Nevsky Prospekt main drag. Lastly, as Russia prepares to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, St. Petersburg will serve as the backdrop for the 2017 Confederations Cup Final. Photo by Victor Bergmann.

       

22. Quebec City

 

22. Quebec City, Canada

While Canada is 150 years old in 2017, Quebec City dates back to 1608 and is like nowhere else in North America. The fortifications and French colonial stone buildings of the Old Town make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Photo by Julien Samson.

       

23. Charleston

 

23. Charleston, South Carolina

One of the most fun party weekends in the US

Take your time here in the Lowcountry. Have a meal at Hominy Grill, a sailboat ride up around Fort Sumter, spend an evening being touristy on King Street, and definitely take the short ride to Folly Beach. Sipping beers and eating seafood at Red’s Ice House overlooking the fishing boats on Shem Creek isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon either. Photo by North Charleston.

       

24. Montreux

 

24. Montreux, Switzerland

The French Swiss city, surrounded by vineyards and towering alps

Belle Époque buildings overlook a long promenade along Lake Geneva, making Montreux one of the most picturesque places in the world. Every July is the Montreux Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 50th year in 2016. Photo by Karim Kanoun Photography.

       

25. Óbidos, Portugal

 

25. Óbidos, Portugal

Portugal’s scenic literary powerhouse near world class-surf

Once you’ve walked the 13th century streets, filled your bag with books and your stomach with bacalhau and vinho verde, you can drive 45 minutes to Lisbon or explore the area around Óbidos. Peniche, a surf paradise, is 25km away, and there’s a natural park (Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiro) also nearby. Photo by lagrossemadame.

       

26. Pokhara, Nepal

 

26. Pokhara, Nepal

Nepal’s relaxing, fresh, and super close-to-nature second city

Nepal’s second city doesn’t rival the capital Kathmandu in many respects but it’s the hands-down winner for a relaxed vibe and adventure access. The hilltop viewpoint of Sarangkot is one of the best places in the world for paragliding; there are kilometers of trails just around Fewa Lake, and if you’re out of energy, Pokhara is an ideal place to chill out. Photo: Aalok dhakal.

       

27. Cabo San Lucas

 

27. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Works all ways: place to get waves, have family fun, or as a romantic getaway

Most people associate Cabo with spring break, tequila, and loud music. The scene has changed over the last few years, with the main attractions being nature wildlife, and classy upscale resorts. Photo: Ben Horton.

       

28. Nelson, Canada

 

28. Nelson, Canada

The friendliest little ski town in British Columbia

Nelson’s history includes the settlement of the pacifist Doukhobors from Russia as well as Vietnam draft dodgers, which played no small part in its progressive values and “hippie vibes.” Nelson has a thriving music, arts, and cultural scene, and a surprising amount of cafes, bars, restaurants and locally-owned shops for a city of only 10,000 people. Photo: Carlo Alcos.

       

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

 

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

The “Brazilian Caribbean” hidden in the Amazon jungle

This is the perfect place to explore the Amazon rainforest. You can go on day trips to see sloths, river dolphins, and other animals, and you can taste exotic fruits and food only found here there. If you go during the rainy season, Altér do Chão is super quiet, with a hippie-ish vibe. Photo by lubasi.

       

30. George Town, Malaysia

 

30. George Town, Malaysia

A mind-blowing combination of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures

Spice, herb, and fresh produce stands between colonial architecture and street art offers a sensational experience with the chatter of diverse languages, like being a walk away from India and China. Photo by Ah Wei (Lung Wei).

       

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

 

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

A relaxed introduction for newcomers to Asia

Photo: Kiran Foster

In 2016 my husband, children and I traveled along the west coast of the United States and then departed from Portland, Oregon to Frankfurt, Germany. From June to November we ventured through Europe stopping in Germany, Spain, France, and Italy then rounding off in the trip in the United Kingdom.

My life as a parent had been pretty much on autopilot. We had our routine, our comfort items, our space, our friends and our families. There wasn’t enough change in my life during those months leading up to our departure for me to even consider how stressed out as a parent I really was. Stress just seemed normal, always worried about every little detail and the ‘what-ifs’. But then, over the course of a few months we shed almost all of our belongings, leaving our lives in eight boxes stored at my parents house.

It was terrifying. The stress beast was officially awake and made itself known.

At some point while we were traveling abroad I realized the level of stress I was feeling wasn’t normal at all. Being in an unfamiliar country only fanned those flames. I had to let it go and traveling was the antidote that I needed.

I certainly still have my moments of stress, but I have been given this incredible gift of relaxation that I don’t know if I would have known had we stayed in the states.

While we traveled through the cities we visited, we met more and more families who like us were either on vacation or on a similar expedition as ours. We hardly ever ran into American parents and if we did they were expats or temporary transplants from another country. The laws of parenting were different and at times shocking to me and my husband. Children were not hovered over. They were given freedom accompanied by a relaxed attitude from one or both parents. I, on the other hand, was stressing out to the max. We met a family from Switzerland who were living in Barcelona indefinitely. Their son was four and regularly allowed to take his bike and play across the courtyard for hours alone, going in and out of the park, zipping around making friends. This was his normal and I realized in that moment I had always lived in an elevated state of stress and had always been a tense parent. It was just coming to fruition during our first 15 days out of the United States.

What happened after that moment in Spain changed the way I parent my own children. Instead of constantly playing the ‘what if’ commentary in my head, I gave my children more freedom and began to live in the moment. When my youngest son got sick in Pompeii two months later, I didn’t tear out my hair and toil over what to do and where to go to get him seen. I relaxed, asked a few questions and got him in to see the city pediatrician. I now let my four year old explore a large park where we now live and let him know where I’ll be when he is ready to return. Life is easier for both him and I and honestly so much more fun.

I certainly still have my moments of stress, but I have been given this incredible gift of relaxation that I don’t know if I would have known had we stayed in the states. Gone are the days where traveling on planes, trains, boats and in cabs makes my stomach jump into my throat. I no longer fuss over travel plans and itineraries. I just let it be. I take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. More like this: 8 family travel myths debunked

Hear about travel to Geneva, Switzerland as the Amateur Traveler talks to Leyla Giray Alianak about the region where she lives. 

Zermatt, Switzerland, offers spectacular views of the Matterhorn from every angle. Come hit the slopes in the Alps.

HERE ARE 35 places around the world to strap on your GoPro, do some underwater exploring, and come back with amazingly clear imagery.

1

Linapacan Island, Palawan, Philippines

MatadorU Photography faculty member Scott Sporleder shares this image from Palawan, the Philippines' most remote province and home to many beaches with super clear water.Photo: Scott Sporleder

2

The Maldives

The 26 atolls that make up the Maldives sit in the Indian Ocean about 400km southwest of the tip of the subcontinent. Abundant reef wildlife (including whale sharks) + incredibly clear waters bring in a lot of tourists. It's also one of Matador's 9 places to experience now before they literally vanish.Photo: Rishwan (Richy)

3

Dog Island, San Blas, Panama

Another from Scott Sporleder, here is a shot from one of Panama's San Blas Islands, the largest of the politically autonomous reservations of the Kuna Indians.Photo: Scott Sporleder

Intermission 181

35 places to swim in the world’s clearest water

by Hal Amen

25 places we’re dying to explore right now

by Matador Team
35

How to: Independently trek Nepal’s Annapurna sanctuary

by Matt Huntington
4

Cayo Coco, Cuba

A resort island on Cuba's north coast, Cayo Coco is linked to the mainland by a 27km causeway. The adjacent reef and clear waters have earned international recognition as a dive destination.Photo: O.Taillon

5

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca, Spain

At the south end of the Mediterranean island of Menorca, the beach at Cala Macarelleta can only be reached on foot or by boat -- probably one of the least-crowded beaches you'll find in Spain.Photo: visualpanic

6

Sua Trench, Samoa

We sent MatadorU student Abhimanyu Sabnis on a photojournalism assignment to Samoa. He came back with this insane gallery.Photo: Abhimanyu Sabnis

7

Crater Lake, Oregon

Visibility in Crater Lake has been measured at 43.3m -- among the highest in the world. Photographer Rhett Lawrence adds this note about swimming here: "[It's] allowed, but there's only one access point down to the lake -- a steep, mile-long trail (it's easy enough on the way down, but my then-4-year-old daughter did not appreciate the climb back up). Since that's the only access point, you've got to really want to jump in the lake to do it -- especially since it's so damn cold -- but it is permitted by the Park Service."Photo: Grant Montgomery

8

Bak Bak Beach, Borneo

A shot from the northern tip of Sabah, Malaysia, near Kudat Town. From the photographer: "It takes 3 to 3 1/2 hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu city. I wanted to shoot a longer exposure but I had a difficulty judging the light or maybe because I was lazy ? kidding. I had to go further the beach, thigh deep and very clear water. Stacked 2 Cokin GND filter P121s, manual exposure 0.25sec, F13."Photo: Nora Carol

9

Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan, China

In the north of Sichuan province, the Jiuzhaigou Valley is a national park, nature reserve, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to several crystal-clear lakes, it's a region of multi-tiered waterfalls and snowy mountains. Tourism arrived late but is growing strong, and while swimming isn't allowed...there's always night-time skinny dipping.Photo: Who is taking pictures?

Intermission 445

10 volunteer opportunities for free travel

by Matt Scott
10

Your top 20 bucket list trips

by Joshywashington
2

Banff and Lake Louise might be the most gorgeous places to ski on the planet. Here’s proof.

by Ailsa Ross
10

Sabah, Malaysia

Another one from the remote Malaysian state, which covers the northern portion of Borneo and is ringed by reef-rich islands. This photo was taken near Semporna, which is a hub for people who come to dive Malaysian Borneo.Photo: Zahriel

11

Jenny Lake, Wyoming

Jenny Lake sits right below the peak of Grand Teton and is a landmark for many hiking trails, backcountry trails, and climbing routes. Despite the fact that motorboats are allowed on the lake, its waters are still considered "pristine."Photo: Jeff Clow

12

Rio Sucuri, Brazil

Located in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Rio Sucuri is a spring-fed river that has some of the measurably clearest water on Earth. Multiple tour outfits run trips that let you snorkel the river.Photo: Luiz Felipe Sahd

13

Calanque de Sormiou, France

Calanques are steep-walled coves, and there's a series of them along the 20km stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis. Sormiou is one of the largest of these, and it's popular for its nearby climbing routes as well as its beach.Photo: Paspog

14

Panari Island, Okinawa, Japan

Panari, also called Aragusuku, is one of the Yaeyama Islands, the most remote area of Japan. The photographer notes: "The islands are also known as one of the world's best diving destinations, having a number of coral species and marine lives as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef. (Over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and all kinds of tropical fish species all live around Okinawa.)"Photo: ippei + janine

15

Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

The most populous town in the Galapagos still sits right up next to some amazingly clear ocean water. Even here in Academy Bay, you can see pelicans, iguanas, sea lions, herons, rays, and other iconic wildlife.Photo: Bill Bouton

Intermission 1K+

20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world

by Jason Wire
3

9 places to visit before they change forever

by Morgane Croissant
4

20 charming illustrations of Christmas traditions from around the world

by Ailsa Ross
16

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The photo above was taken in the Bonsai Rock area, on the east shore of the lake, which apparently flies under the radar. Says the photographer: "30 years in Tahoe, and until this winter I'd never heard of it."Photo: SteveD.

17

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Rounding out the Sporleder collection, this one comes from the central Caribbean coast of Honduras. For more images, check out the full photo essay.Photo: Scott Sporleder

18

Primosten, Croatia

On the Adriatic Coast north of Split, Primosten is most famous for its vineyards, in addition to beaches that have been voted the best in the country.Photo: Mike Le Gray Photography. See more at his website.

19

St. George, Bermuda

The oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the New World features many historic forts, like the small Gates Fort pictured above. Also: some damn clear water.Photo: JoshuaDavisPhotography

20

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Visit on a weekend during high season and you'll be surrounded by busloads. If you can get it on a slow day with clear conditions, though, it's some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.Photo: ThomasOfNorway

21

Pupu Springs, New Zealand

At the very top of the South Island, on Golden Bay, the photographer says: "14000 liters of crystal clear water comes out of these springs per second!"Photo: pie4dan

22

Calanque d'En-Vau, France

Another calanque on the southern coast of France, d'En-Vau has a narrower, steeper channel than Sormiou, giving a real feeling of seclusion and emphasizing the clarity of the water in this cove.Photo: afer92 (on and off)

23

Rio Azul, Argentina

Put in to the Confluence section of the Rio Azul near El Bolsón, Patagonia, Argentina. Matador Senior Editor David Miller notes, "This was the first river I've ever paddled, played, and swam in where the water was clean enough to drink. The entire Rio Azul watershed is born in the glaciers and snowfields of the Andes and the water is incredibly clear and pure."Photo: David Miller

24

Corfu, Greece

Corfu sits in the Ionian Sea, off the northwest coast of Greece. Prior to the 1900s, most of the tourists that visited were European royalty. Today, its clear waters draw a lot of package-tour-style action.Photo: smlp.co.uk

25

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Matador Co-Founder Ross Borden visited the Cook Islands for a week and came back with images and video of epicly clear water.Photo: Ross Borden

26

Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Made famous when its smaller neighbor, Koh Phi Phi Leh, was used as the filming location for The Beach, the main island sees a lot of traffic from both backpackers and luxury travelers these days. Water like this is a big part of the draw.Photo: mynameisharsha

27

Playa Blanca, Colombia

This is a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena and well worth the trip. In between swims in that crystal-clear blue water, be sure to snag some fresh ceviche from one of the vendors walking up and down the beach.Photo: Ross Borden

28

Blue Lake, New Zealand

One of many bodies of water in this list that someone or other has claimed has the clearest water in the world, Blue Lake is located in Nelson Lakes National Park, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.Photo: Kathrin & Stefan

29

Königssee, Germany?

This one's made the rounds on the internet, but no one really seems to know where it was taken, or by whom. The best guess I found was the Königssee, a lake in southern Bavaria, near the border with Austria. If you have any info, clue us in.Photo: ??

30

Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

The clear waters of the Verzasca River run for 30km through this rocky valley in southern Switzerland. A dam of the same name, featured in the James Bond movie GoldenEye, blocks the river's flow and forms Lago di Vogorno. Just downstream from it, the river empties into Lake Maggiore.Photo: http://i.imgur.com/ukgxS.jpg

31

Tioman Island, Malaysia

This photo comes from the town of Kampung Genting on Tioman Island, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Away from its beaches, there's significant rainforest terrain in the interior, where you can see the endemic soft-shelled turtle and the Tioman walking catfish.Photo: Chang'r

32

Belo Sur Mer, Madagascar

Ross Borden explains: "I started in Moronvada, on the west coast of Madagascar and hired a boat and driver to take me down the coast to Belo Sur Mer, a super-isolated section of coastline known for diving, fishing and the fact that almost no one makes the trip down there. Belo Sur Mer is amazing on its own, but when the owner of the eco-lodge there told me about a string of uninhabited islands 80km off the coast, we jumped back in the boat and pointed it west, towards Mozambique and mainland Africa. What we found was four uninhabited gorgeous islands and one that had a tribe of "sea gypsies" living on it. These fascinating and hospitable people live off the rich fishing stocks of the Mozambique channel. We camped and lived with them for two days and they even took me along on an all-night fishing expedition in one of their sailboats in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. During the day I would go snorkeling. Shoving off these tiny islands the water gets several hundreds of feet deep very quickly; I was out there with massive schools of deep ocean fish."Photo: Ross Borden

33

Lake Marjorie, California

From the photographer: "Lakes in the High Sierra come in a number of colors. Lake Marjorie, at 11,132' has an aquamarine "swimming pool" tint. Crater Mountain dominates the skyline, with Pinchot Pass to the south. I was happy to see clouds at dawn, but by noon a fast moving storm was spitting hail, thunder, and lightning as we cleared Mather Pass. Damn, this spot is gorgeous."Photo: SteveD.

34

Bodrum, Turkey

Along the southern coast of the peninsula of the same name, Bodrum has an ancient history and was the site of one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus). It also has some amazingly clear water. From the photographer: "[It's] so clear at certain places that boats appear to be floating in mid-air! It reminded me of Luke's Landspeeder from Star Wars."Photo: Oky - Space Ranger

35

Mystery spot

Another unidentified location. Anyone have an idea?Photo: Imgur

Three days in Paris

Photo: Jez Timms

“Even if you’re only going for three days, you don’t speak French, and you work as a barista, Paris is always a good idea.” Audrey Hepburn said that, in Sabrina. Yes, I made the first part up; but I think the spirit of the quote suggests that she would’ve added the rest if she’d remembered. And I would assuredly repeat that line (the true part, at least) ad nauseam anytime someone asked me why I’d take such a short trip to Paris for any reason other than business. Then I would go and have a very lengthy internal debate on whether it was actually prudent to spend only three days — bookended by seven-hour flights — in a large European city.

3 days in Paris

Photo by author

A foray into France was one out of a flurry of trip ideas I’d considered, all of which involved finally crossing the Atlantic: there was Portugal for a week in the summer, Spain for a couple weeks in the fall, Switzerland for a ski trip in the winter, or a month-long adventure across Europe sometime next year. Then, of course, there was Paris, for a week, or a month, or any amount of time; because Paris has always occupied as much space in my imagination as almost any place in the world. Also, it seemed to be one of the cheapest places to fly into.

Once I decided on Paris, I found that, using miles from the modest stash I’d accrued, I could swing a round-trip ticket to Charles de Gaulle in June for $150 in taxes and fees. The rub was I would be there for only three days, and June was two months away. Late spring in Paris for a few days? Sounds like adventure — Bondesque, if I may. Plus, saving for a somewhat spontaneous trip would be much more feasible if that trip were short.

At least these were the things I told myself, as I booked the trip in a fit of admittedly characteristic, coffee-fueled impulse.

3 days in Paris

Photo by author

So I spent the next two months working overtime, saving, and learning (sort of, not really) French. I also spent a lot of time fretting over the possibility that I’d made a mistake. I was hesitant to even tell people what I was doing. Going to Paris alone, without knowing the language, and for only three days does sound odd, if not also a bit self-indulgent.

The vacationing public at large, myself included, usually sees long-distance trips as de facto lengthy and involved affairs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Slow travel can be life changing, I know. I toured through Central and South America for two months, and once spent six weeks in Costa Rica. I like the idea of gradually becoming acquainted with a place. I also know that those trips can be easy to put off, and that there’s freedom to be found in just going. So, I replaced the doubt with an almost continual reminder that the enrichment I’d bring back from Paris would be much greater than the slight discomfort I’d experience gaining it.

I was correct. If there’s one thing I learned for absolute certain on this little junket, it’s that Paris has the power to very efficiently refresh one’s sense of artistic and cultural curiosity.

In between consuming my body weight in bread, cheese, and wine, I took in a torrent of lavish Renaissance works at the Louvre, and rich Post-Impressionist paintings at the Musee d’Orsay. From Montmartre, I caught expansive panoramas of the city; and from the Pont Alexandre III, uncrowded views of a shimmering Eiffel Tower. I walked along the Champs-Élysées, the Seine, and every ornate, gilded bridge in Paris; this, when I wasn’t busy setting (and I’m assuming here) the three-day Metro-riding record. I stood in the affecting presence of La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, right before I ate one of the best meals of my life at La Mascotte. And yeah, I did it in three days.

3 days in Paris

Photo by author

The trepidation I experienced after I’d tell someone what I was doing (“Seriously, only three days?”) feels frivolous juxtaposed against the inspiration I found when I walked along the Seine late at night. My nagging self-doubt seems trivial compared to the unexpected spiritual rousing I experienced when I saw Cathédrale Notre-Dame up close (I had to fight back tears. Up to that point, the only building that’s come close to moving me that way is DKR Memorial Stadium).

And what of the two trans-Atlantic flights spaced out over only a few days? I’m still young, I can deal with a bit of jet lag. I unpacked, napped, shook off the cobwebs with a run, and went on with my life, completely reinvigorated by a city that I might not have ever seen had I not made the decision to just go.

The realization that it’s possible to make a brief, potentially inconsequential trip not only viable, but also meaningful and worthwhile, is emboldening. I made an intimate connection with Paris in the short time I had. Mine ended up being an impetuously planned, perfectly balanced, and completely fulfilled whirlwind through one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Of course, there are always going to be things left unseen. Whatever it was that I missed, though, I’ll find when I return — for three days or three months, or however long I want. More like this: This is the best video of Paris you'll ever see

we too are immigrants

Photo by Jose Moreno

My twelve-year-old son recently came back from visiting extended family in the US for a couple of months while on his summer break from school here in Argentina. He returned a little too Trumped-up for my liking, talking about the wall, how we need more national security, how “we can’t just let those immigrants in”.

I had to stop the conversation to blow his mind with a fact I thought was pretty obvious: He too, was an immigrant.

After talking to him for a bit, I got the feeling that he assumed immigrants were all brown-skinned in some way, sneaking into a different country out of desperation and who would actively steal the jobs of the locals. That they would somehow degrade the culture while basically all being potential terrorists.

Ah, child raising in the era of Trump.

I moved my kids to Patagonia when they were 4, 6, and 8. I guess when you are white and privileged you get to call it “becoming an expat”.

But in what way were we not immigrants? I came here seeking a better life for myself and my kids. I thought that I had better opportunities here. I did want to take advantage of the free health care, the free university education, and the cost of living that made it possible for me to make ends meet as a single mom. Nine years later we still don’t have official residency, so we make visa runs doing border crossings, sometimes by car, sometimes by bus, sometimes by foot through the Andes. We freak out when I sometimes forget the date and our visas expire and we’re technically illegal in the country for a bit until I get it fixed.

Here are some perspectives that helped my son rethink his prejudices about immigrants:

We’re not all of a certain color or nationality.

So much of the focus in the US is on Mexican immigrants. But here in Patagonia my son personally knows people who came to live here from not only the US, but Uzbekistan, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, China, Japan, and Turkey. They are all setting up shop here permanently. Before, I think he just thought of them as simply cool and friendly foreigners, not immigrants.

Immigrants can offer their skills to a country.

And it doesn’t always have to be limited to apple picking or housecleaning like he sadly had stuck in his head. An easy example to give him was me. I work as a travel writer and have worked with the Argentine government to promote the country in English to North America. I’ve offered my language skills, my international contacts, and my firsthand experience in Argentina to be able to reach a wider audience than many other travel writers here can. I’ve helped out at travel fairs, at gastronomic festivals, and I’ve worked as a consultant to many hotels and agencies here to give them a better understanding of the North American market.

I’m not stealing an Argentine’s job. They have skills that I don’t. And I have skills that they don’t. And we can totally work together to collaborate and complement each other.

Being an immigrant is tough.

I explained that while he was only four when we arrived here, and oblivious to much other than the fact that our new home country of Argentina was known for its yummy gelato, I didn’t have an easy time getting settled. I didn’t speak the language and even going to the grocery store was incredibly stressful. Any time my phone rang it gave me full-on anxiety because I didn’t know how to hold down a conversation after the initial “hola”. Renting a house seemed like an impossible feat to try to maneuver. I was going through one of the most difficult times of my life with no sense of community, as I hadn’t made any friends in the country yet.

I got by thanks to the generosity and graciousness of the Argentines who stepped up in countless ways to make our transition easier. There was my first landlord who comically got me through my lease by drawing pictures of the parts I couldn’t understand. My female neighbors who brought me blackberry jam and fresh eggs and made it clear that I had support nearby. My badass Mapuche neighbors who didn’t understand much of the tradition but who still handed out homemade goodies to my kids on their first Halloween spent in Argentina, knowing they were sad about missing the festivities back in the US. Other neighbors who hired me to teach English to their kids and who gave me access to a little bit of cash when I desperately needed it.

There’s easy ways to help immigrants.

I want my son to see immigrants as fellow humans looking to create a better life experience for themselves and their family, as opposed to generalizing them as a terrorist leech to society. To see them as someone possibly going through a rough and stressful time. It can be as simple as him offering a smile or stepping in and helping with a translation when he can. It can be as straightforward as asking what would help them the most — do they need help finding work? Do they need help figuring out how to enroll their kids in school? Do they need help figuring out how to pay their electric bill?

I want my son to see the privilege that we’ve been afforded and to not deny others those same privileges. I’ve tried to instill in my son a strong sense of karma, and hopefully by giving him a more clear, full understanding of our own immigrant experience, he will choose to give back for all that has been given to us these last nine years in Argentina. More like this: 6 ways living abroad made me a worse person (and how to avoid this from happening to you)

Rick Steves Switzerland

Rick Steves

You can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when visiting Switzerland.This book guides you through bustling Zürich and charming Luzern its with flower-bedecked bridges. Crisscross the mountains on cable cars, trains, and hiking paths. Find an alpine retreat in the cliff-hanging village of Gimmelwald. Marvel at the Matterhorn, relax in Lugano, and take an unforgettable swim in Bern. Cruise Lake Geneva and savor the cozy small-town atmosphere of Appenzell. After a day of sightseeing and hiking the Alps, treat yourself to a glass of local wine, cheese fondue, and delicious Swiss chocolate.Rick's candid, humorous advice will guide you to good-value hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants in cities, villages, and resort towns. You'll learn how to plan scenic rail journeys, and which sights are worth your time and money. More than reviews and directions, a Rick Steves guidebook is a tour guide in your pocket.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Switzerland

DK

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photography, and illustrations of any guide.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Switzerland is your in-depth guide to the very best of Switzerland.

Whether you're on the hunt for alpine scenery, folklore and music, or local festivals and markets, our DK Eyewitness Travel Guide will be your partner on an unforgettable visit to Switzerland. Take day trips around the countryside; enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, or snowboarding; or simply take in the idyllic countryside and stunning views of Lake Geneva. Packed with insider tips, our guide to Switzerland includes the best hotels for every budget and the most fun places to take children and experience the best that Switzerland has to offer.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Switzerland

Detailed itineraries and "don't miss" destination highlights at a glance. Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights. Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums. Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area. Area maps marked with sights. Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights. Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Switzerland truly shows you Switzerland as no one else can.

Lonely Planet Switzerland (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Switzerland is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Ski through fresh powder in the Swiss Alps, listen to cowbells while enjoying a picnic in a mountain meadow, or feast on fondue in Gruyeres; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Switzerland and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Switzerland Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - including customs, history, art, literature, cinema, alpine villages, architecture, sports, landscapes, cuisine, wine, and more Over 70 local maps Covers Geneva, Lake Geneva, Vaud, FribourgNeuchatel, Jura, Basel, Aargau, Mittelland, Bernese Oberland, Valais, Central Switzerland, Zurich, Northeastern Switzerland, Ticino, Liechtenstein, Graubunden, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Switzerland, our most comprehensive guide to Switzerland, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for a guide that focuses on Switzerland's highlights? Check out Lonely Planet's Discover Switzerland, a photo-rich guide to the country's most popular attractions. Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Central Europe, a comprehensive guide to all the region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Nicola Williams, Kerry Christiani, Gregor Clark and Sally O'Brien.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Fodor's Switzerland (Full-color Travel Guide)

Fodor's Travel Guides

Written by locals, Fodor's travel guides have been offering expert advice for all tastes and budgets for 80 years. Switzerland, Europe's mountain playground, is a classic tourist draw. Fodor's Switzerland is the perfect guide for travelers seeking to ascend the slopes of the Alps and feel on top of the world. When they come down from the mountains, they find thriving, cosmopolitan cities steeped in history and culture.This travel guide includes:· Dozens of full-color maps · Hundreds of hotel and restaurant recommendations, with Fodor's Choice designating our top picks· Multiple itineraries to explore the top attractions and what’s off the beaten path· In-depth breakout features on scenic train rides and drives, The Bernese Alps, and vineyards of Lavaux· Coverage of Zurich, Eastern Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Graubunden, Ticino, Luzern and Central Switzerland, BaselFribourg and Neuchatel, Bern, Berner Oberland, Valais, Vaud, and Geneva

Switzerland: 100 Locals Tell You What to Do, Where to Hike, & How to Fit In

Gigi Griffis

Ever wish you had a best friend in Switzerland? Someone to show you the ropes? Wish granted. Filled with 100 interviews with people who live, work, and adventure in Switzerland, this book will give you: Directions to hidden-away trails, waterfalls, castles, and viewpoints Lists of must-try dishes and wines (and where to find them) Unique and interesting day trip suggestions Tips for how to make friends, save money, and fit in with the local culture And so much more It’s time to experience authentic, local Switzerland—through the eyes of those who have lived there for years.

Switzerland Travel Guide Tips & Advice For Long Vacations or Short Trips - Trip to Relax & Discover Swiss, Food, Drink, Restaurants, Bars,Night life, Music: ... Save Time & Money (TravelGuideTeam Book 13)

TravelGuideTeam

The Complete Travel Guide To Uncover SwitzerlandPacked full of useful tips that will help you to navigate your way around Switzerland as if you have lived there for years. Read on your PC, Mac, smart phone, tablet or Kindle device.You’re about to discover how to travel Switzerland on a budget.Saving you Time & Money Advice that will save you hundreds of dollars throughout your travels. Travel Tips including how to travel on a budgetA list of the best value accommodation in Switzerland Whats happening guide 2016 in Switzerland Best places to go on a night out in Switzerland Switzerland’s best city toursComprehensive list that outlines what you require to ensure an AMAZING trip to Switzerland Much, muchmore!Download your copy NOW!

Michelin Switzerland Map 729 (Maps/Country (Michelin))

Michelin

Renowned for over 100 years for their clear, accurate and easy-to-read mapping, Michelin country maps give travelers an overall picture of their route, with practical road and travel information; and city maps containing extensive street indexes orient them quickly so they can find their way to their destination.

National Geographic Traveler: Switzerland

Teresa Fisher

From bustling Zurich to the Swiss capital of Bern, from the Matterhorn in Zermatt to the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in the south, National Geographic Traveler: Switzerland guides you to the better- and lesser-known sights of this pristine European country. In between, you'll discover the cultural and natural treasures--including hundreds of museums, architectural masterpieces, parks, and lakes--Switzerland has to offer. Among the special features of National Geographic Traveler: Switzerland are sidebars detailing experiences throughout the country, to make sure that you get to know the culture, and the people, inside and out. You can learn about Swiss watchmaking in Biel, for example, make your own Swiss chocolate at a culinary workshop, and find the best local designers' clothing in Zurich. Insider tips, in addition, provided by an array of National Geographic experts--photographers, writers, and grantees who have spent significant time in Switzerland--direct you to favorite restaurants, festivals, and other information that only locals know. Guided walks and drives are always a popular feature in our guides, and in National Geographic Traveler: Switzerland, these include a drive across the famous Great St. Bernard Pass, a hike through Appenzellerland and the Lake Constance region, and a walk from Sugiez to Môtier through the countryside during grape harvest. To top it off, an extensive Travelwise section at the back of the guide provides hand-picked hotels and restaurants, tour recommendations, and a glossary that covers must-know words.

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Petty crime has increased and occurs in most public areas, particularly in BerneZurich and Geneva. Pickpockets are active in public places, such as airports and railway stations. Exercise caution on trains, especially on overnight trips to neighbouring countries.

Thieves often operate in tandem, with one distracting the traveller while another snatches any valuables.

Never leave bags containing money, airline tickets, credit cards or passports in the trunk of a parked car and do not leave anything on car seats.

Road travel

Although many roads are mountainous and winding, road conditions and safety standards are very good. In winter, snow tires are required and snow chains may be required as well in some mountain areas.

Public transportation

Public transportation is excellent.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Mountain activities

If you intend to do mountaineering or ski touring:

a) never practice these activities alone;
b) always hire an experienced guide from a reputable company;
c) buy travel health insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation;
d) ensure you are in top physical condition;
e) advise a family member or friend of your itinerary and when you expect to be back;
f) know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal;
g) register with the Embassy of Canada in Switzerland; and
h) obtain detailed information on trekking routes or ski slopes before setting out.

Special avalanche beacons can be purchased or rented to help searchers locate buried victims.

You are advised to visit the Switzerland Tourism website for information on weather and safety conditions.

General safety information

Exercise normal safety precautions. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Emergency services

Dial 117 to reach the police, 118 for the fire department and 144 for ambulance services.

Dial 140 for roadside assistance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Tick-borne encephalitis

Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral disease that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to tick bites (e.g., those spending time outdoors in wooded areas) while travelling in regions with risk of tick-borne encephalitis.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Europe. When in doubt, remember…boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Europe, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Europe, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Good medical care is widely available. Immediate cash payment is required. Medical and hospitalization costs are considerably more expensive in Switzerland than in Canada. It is recommended that you purchase supplemental health insurance.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Dual citizenship

Canadians with dual citizenship or who are eligible for Swiss citizenship may be subject to compulsory military service and other aspects of Swiss law.

Canadians should check their status at a Swiss embassy or consulate.

Driving laws

You must be at least 18 years old to drive in Switzerland. You can drive with a Canadian driver’s licence, but you are advised to obtain an International Driving Permit in order to meet the requirements of some car rental agencies.

It is compulsory for all vehicles to be equipped with a warning triangle in case of breakdown.

Radar detectors are prohibited.

The use of cellular telephones while driving is prohibited, unless they are fitted with a hands-free device.

Highway travel requires the purchase of a sticker ("vignette"), which must be affixed to the car's windshield. Stickers can be purchased - valid for a year at a cost of 40 Swiss francs - at most border crossing points, tourist offices, gas stations along highways, and post offices, as well as at the SwissTravelSystem website.  Drivers using the highway system without the sticker are subject to hefty fines levied on the spot.

Note that right of way is given to vehicles entering an intersection from the right unless otherwise indicated. Please consult local driving rules and regulations before renting a car in Switzerland.

Penalties for drinking and driving are strict. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05 percent. Convicted offenders can expect heavy fines or jail sentences, and driving licences may be confiscated immediately.

Money

The currency of Switzerland is the Swiss franc (CHF).

Swiss shops and facilities accept euros as payment, but change is returned in Swiss francs.

Automated banking machines (ABMs) are known as Bancomat.

When crossing one of the external border control points of the European Union (EU), you must make a declaration to customs upon entry or exit if you have at least €10,000, or the equivalent in other currencies. The sum can be in cash, cheques, money orders, traveller’s cheques or any other convertible assets. This does not apply if you are travelling within the EU or in transit to a non-EU country. For more information on the EU legislation and links to EU countries’ sites, visit the web page of the European Commission on cash controls.

Climate

Avalanches present a risk. The weather in mountainous areas can be unpredictable. Always carefully follow the advice of local authorities.

Heavy rains may occur in the spring and summer and may result in flooding.