Switzerland, landlocked country of towering mountains, deep Alpine lakes, grassy valleys dotted with neat farms and small villages, and thriving cities that blend the old and the new, Switzerland is the nexus of the diverse physical and cultural geography of western Europe, renowned for both its natural beauty and its way of life. Aspects of both have become bywords for the country, whose very name conjures images of the glacier-carved Alps beloved of writers, artists, photographers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts from around the world.
|Language||French, German, Italian, Romansh|
|Currency||Swiss Franc (CHF)|
|Electricity||230V. Most common sockets are sort of a combination of Types C and J.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING SWITZERLAND
Switzerland is not a member of the EU but are signatories to the Schengen convention. They permit 90-days Visa-free travel to all EU citizens, including those not in the Schengen zone and 90 days Visa-free travel to those approved by the Schengen scheme including most of the Americas, Israel and Australia.
You must always carry your passport with you in Switzerland as it is a legal requirement to have photo ID; Swiss citizens carry national ID cards.
Widely regarded as one of the safest countries in the world, Switzerland’s geopolitical position doesn’t put it at risk of terror and its high standard of living means crime is low and equality is high. Risks come from its winter sports but safety on the slopes will prevent injury and fatality which is why getting travel insurance is highly recommended.
Switzerland is a fascinating mix of languages, predominantly French, German and Italian with some regional dialects such as Romansh. It is also one of few countries to still use Latin as a functional language in parts. English is spoken in parts and in most ski resorts but this is by no means a guarantee and the Swiss will be appreciative of any effort you can make in French or German.
When traveling around Switzerland, the train system is pretty efficient along with other means of public transport. Apps such as Rome 2 Rio are also very useful when it comes to looking up train connections. If you prefer to drive and rent a car while in Switzerland, we recommend looking at Rental Cars as the prices are very competitive.
Swiss Half Fare Card: 50% discount on unlimited tickets to regular and premium trains, buses, and boats.
SWITZERLAND WEATHER AND BEST TIMES TO VISIT
Any time is a good time to visit Switzerland. What’s the best time depends on your plans. Below you’ll find a general overview of what to expect throughout the year.
January/February: winter high season
These are real winter months. It’s cold and days are short (day light from about 8 AM to 5:30 PM). Snow is practically guaranteed from elevations of 1500 m. There can also be snow in the lower valleys and larger cities, but huge amounts are unlikely there.
This is a good time for winter sports and cosy city trips. Hiking is only possible in lower elevations or on prepared winter trails.
March: early spring
March is when the first signs of spring can be found in warmer regions around the lakes in the south of Switzerland. It’s pretty chilly in most regions though. In the mountains it’s still winter with lots of snow.
High ski resorts will be operational. Lower ones may close around this time.
April/May: spring low season
Most ski resorts will be closed by the end of April. Spring is coming, especially in the lowlands and around the lakes.
More and more hiking trails will be accessible. By late April/early May, trails up to 2000 m should mostly be clear of snow, but can still be muddy. This is not a guarantee and varies each year.
The months between winter and summer are pretty quiet: some hotels are closed, as well as cable cars. There is still plenty to do and see, but you need to prepare and check timetables beforehand. Scenic train rides, for example, can be done all year round, and this is actually a good time: you can watch the remains of winter as well as green valleys.
June: early summer
Summer has started. There’s day light from about 5:30 AM to 9:30 PM, and the weather is mild or warm.
This is a wonderful time for hiking. The highest trails may still be inaccessible because of snow, but the majority will be open. Cable cars and cogwheel trains that were closed in low season will be operational again. By late June, all pass roads that were closed for winter should be open. Opening dates vary per season and per pass.
July/August: summer high season
Although the weather varies by the day throughout the year, it’s usually pretty warm in July and August. Average temperatures are rising because of global warming. Some days can actually be too hot for some activities, like city trips.
This is the time for outdoor activities: hiking, biking, paragliding and other sports, enjoying the views from the peaks. It’s a perfect time for hiking in high terrain. By mid July, these trails should be clear of snow. Summer has traditionally been popular among tourists in Switzerland, just like winter.
September: late summer and perfect for outdoor activities
A wonderful month which is still summery, but usually not as hot as July and August. By the end of the month one can enjoy the first signs of fall when leaves start to color.
September is considered the best month for high altitude hiking. It’s also very suitable for other outdoor activities.
October: fall low season
The weather can still be pretty mild in October, although this is fall and it might as well be chilly. The first snow fall will occur in the mountains. Days are getting shorter, with sunrise around 7:45 AM and sunset around 6:30 PM.
There are still lots of opportunities to hike, but higher trails may get snow covered, especially in the second half of the month. Cable cars and cogwheel trains may either close around this time, or not operate for a week or two because of maintenance. Pass roads start to close for winter in October.
November: low season and chilly
Things are getting chilly in November, although anything is possible, ranging from mild days to snow. The first ski slopes of high winter sport resorts like Zermatt, Saas-Fee and Verbier may open, but this is definitely not guaranteed.
Many lower hiking trails will still be open, but one has to carefully check for the conditions. It’s low season: cable cars and cogwheel trains may close for maintenance, so planning ahead is essential.
December: Christmas atmosphere and early winter
December marks the transition to winter. The first half of the month is similar to November. Winter should set in during the second half. However, snowfall tends to start later in the season due to global warming. A white Christmas is not a guarantee, although still common in the high mountains. Don’t expect snow in the valleys and large cities like Zurich. It’s possible but uncommon.
It’s still low season until mid-December. When Christmas approaches, things get lively and winter sports resorts open up. The two weeks around Christmas and New Year are the most popular weeks of the year among tourists.
December is a good time to visit Christmas markets, and for city trips. Days are really short with sunrise around 8 AM and sunset around 4:45 PM.
WHERE TO STAY
Whilst accommodation is expensive in Switzerland, you do have a couple of options to choose from. From dorms or private rooms in hostels to budget hotels, luxury hotels or lodges, or Airbnb, there is definitely no shortage of places to stay.
WHAT TO EAT
With a cuisine that combines influences from the German, French and North Italian culture, Switzerland has an incredible foodie culture that differs from region to region.
With the most popular dishes crossing the local borders and spreading across the whole country, you can take part in some seriously indulgent feasting anywhere.
Those are fried potatoes that are crisp and golden and delicious. One of Switzerland’s iconic national dishes, you can enjoy these beauties any time of the day anywhere, alone or commonly eaten with salty bacon, fried egg, and melted raclette cheese.
You can’t get more Swiss than dipping some bread in a ceramic fondue pot filled with melted cheese after a day in the mountains. Pair yours with white wine and end with a schnapps or warm tea for the ultimate winter meal.
It’s melted cheese again, but this time served with gschwellti (jacket potatoes), gherkins, onions, and pickled fruit! Do as the locals do and gather around wood-burning fires waiting for this delicious cheese to melt.
A recipe local to the German-speaking region of Zürich. It’s made of Zurich-style diced veal, calves’ kidneys and sweetbreads sautéed in a gravy of onions, butter, white wine, cream, and mushrooms.