View of the Matterhorn Switzerland with snow covered homes at the forefront and base and misty blue skies in the background.

Switzerland Travel Tips

Are you one of those people who prefer the hustle and bustle of busy city life? Or are you more of a nature-lover kind of person? Don’t worry! The small landlocked nation, exactly in the heart of Europe, Switzerland, offers you both. 

From the Swiss cities to the enchanting mountain scenery to the unblemished nature to their iconic hospitality, this Alpina Country will impress you with it all. Therefore, before discovering how to travel in Switzerland with the cosmopolitan sites situated in a snow-covered mountain with picturesque villages, lakes, and palm trees, we should get to know Switzerland a little bit better.

Map of Switzerland
Map of Switzerland

Surrounded by Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, France, and Austria, the mountainous country Switzerland contains the Alps which has the highest peak in Europe with over four thousand and five hundred meters. There are green grazing lands, pristine lakes, and thundering waterfalls scattered through the mountains.

Switzerland with its moderate weather brings warm summer days with cool nights while the winters bring cold sunny days. During the ski season which lasts From December to March, you can always have lots of snow. Nine months out of the year, the higher you are in the Alps, you will always find snow. 

In this post, I will talk about how to travel in Switzerland. There will be some incredible tips along with some history to know present Switzerland better. So buckle up and let’s get started!

A Little History About Switzerland

Switzerland was originally inhabited by the Helvetic Celts or the Helvetians before it came under the reign of the Roman empire which continued from the First century BC till the Fourth Century AD during the Gallic Wars. The country reached its high level of civilization and commerce blossomed under the influence of the Roman empire. There were roads that connected various significant cities like Zurich, Geneva, and Basel for not only military purposes but also as trade paths between the Northern tribes and Rome.

From the West and the North, German tribes invaded Switzerland and defeated the Roman Empire. Did you know that tribes like Burgundians settled in western, and Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland? From being a part of Charlemagne’s empire to be a temporal and ecclesiastic holding under the ruling of the Holy emperors of Rome, Switzerland had gone through it all.

In the thirteenth century, after the opening of the vital trade route of north-south across the Alpine mountains, the conquerors of the Empire soon started to emphasize the vitality of the more distant Alpine valleys that had been accorded autonomy under their direct imperial sovereignty. A charter was signed on 1st August 1291 among Unterwalden, Uri, and Schwyz to keep the peace after the death of the Holy Roman Emperor and they pledged to uphold the autonomous judicial and administrative rule. The date is now celebrated as the National Day in Switzerland. 

During the years of 1315 and 1388, the Swiss Confederates defeated the Habsburgs who wanted to crush the aspiration of Swiss self-determination by dominating the region. The Confederation was supported by five other localities or cantons in contemporary jargons. The Swiss Confederates were invigorated by their feats and continued to spread the borders through military assistance and attained their formal independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. 

A 1581 bird's-eye etching of Zürich, published by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg
A 1581 bird’s-eye etching of Zürich, published by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg
Credit: Wikipedia

The Reformation in Switzerland developed a feud among the Catholics, the Protestants from Zwingli, and the Calvins from the French and German portions of the nation. However, the common interest in the joint territories kept the Swiss Confederation from breaking apart and the neutrality of the same was identified by the European powers in 1648. Even after the invasion by Napoleon in the War of the First Coalition and the replacement of the Confederation couldn’t stop it from forming again with the old sovereign states in 1815 when the Congress of Vienna laid out the status of neutrality in Switzerland according to the International law. 

The Swiss Constitution had developed a variety of civic liberties and formed extensive provisions to manage the cantonal autonomy and to placate the annihilated Catholic minority. The Swiss amended their Constitution significantly in 1874 by establishing the federal duty for trade, legal, and defense matters along with introducing democracy through a popular referendum. Even to this day, referendum democracy and cantonal autonomy are trademarks of the Swiss Constitution.

Swiss Cavalry patrolling the frontier of Switzerland, December 1917
Swiss Cavalry patrolling the frontier of Switzerland, December 1917 Credit:

During the nineteenth century, Switzerland quickly became an industrialized country and came just after Great Britain by 1850. Due to the tension among the French, Italian, and German-speaking parts of the country during World War I, Switzerland came very close to breaking its neutrality but maintained to steer clear of the hostilities. In 1918, the unrest among the laborers struck as an internal war but the biggest trade union and the employers came to a formal peace agreement in 1937 which still governs the relations in the workplace in the modern-day. During the Second World War, Switzerland was put under a lot of pressure by the Fascists but they did not cave and survived unscathed by some amalgamation of demonstrative readiness and tactical accommodations.

Swiss WWI volunteers in Paris to support neutrality, August 1914
World War I, Swiss volunteers in Paris to support neutrality, August 1914.
Credit: Maurice-Louis

The Cold War amplified the role of a neutral Switzerland and offered the nation an exit out of the diplomatic aloofness after the Second World War. Though Geneva became the host of the European headquarters of the United Nations and Switzerland played a vital role in various specialized agencies of the United Nations, the Swiss were still reluctant to join the UN until 2002. To know more about the history of Switzerland, visit here.

Top 10 Pieces of Advice to Get Around Switzerland 

Now that we know a fair amount of history about the place, I know you are dying to pack your imaginary bags and leave. But, hold your horses because reality comes here to knock on our heads. As we all know, Switzerland is a place where traveling on a budget is a difficult thing but if you want to do it, you are still in the right place. Because, I am going to give you some precious tips about how to travel to Switzerland in a cost-friendly, and legal way. 

Utilize the Free Public Transport

Free Public Transport: Trams in Geneva
Free Public Transport: Trams in Geneva
Credit: Pinterest

You’ve hit the travel-jackpot if you’re staying in Lausanne, Geneva, Lucerne, Basel or Bern as you’re allowed to use the public transport for free. Your accommodation will provide you with a ticket for the timespan of your stay. The Canton of Ticino introduced and extended the concept as well. If you are spending at least a night, you will gain an all-inclusive ticket.

 And, I’m talking about a ticket that will grant you free rides on the buses and trains along with some discount on boat riding, cable cars, and other selective activities. Additionally, even more, cities seem to be joining the concept. So, wherever you’re spending the night, do yourself a favor and get these freebies. 

No to Travel Pass

Until you’re certain about your options don’t purchase any travel pass. Though it can save you money, it often can cost you money as well because not always you’ll need the pass to visit somewhere, you had no plan ongoing at all. Therefore, do your research first and ask yourself these:

  • Are you visiting any other European country besides Switzerland?
  • How many times are you going to use the free public transport? Once or twice while you’re staying? Every other day or every day?
  • Are you going to spend your time in the same locality or will you cover long distances?

Figure out which places you want to go and only then decide what kind of pass works for you. Whether it’s a Supersaver ticket or a Half Fare Card, the expenses depend on your decisions.

Embrace Your Bike Riding Skills

Mountain Biking Around Switzerland
Mountain Biking Around Switzerland

If you’re going to visit Neuchatel, the Canton of Valais, Geneva, Zug, Bern, or Zurich, you’re in for a lovely treat as these places offer bikes for free. While some lend their bike for a day or longer, others lend it for a few hours. All you have to bring is 20 CHF to deposit and your identity proof. There are other cities too that rent bikes out but not for free of cost. Based on your travel route, perhaps it is still less expensive than buying tickets for public transport.  

Plan Your Trip By Yourself

If you don’t want to, you don’t need to book a tour to travel to Switzerland. Take matters into your own hands and plan your trip around Switzerland. It’s not that difficult with the amount and accessibility of the public transport, you can go anywhere, and explore any place via boat, trains or buses. Don’t be afraid of being stuck in some unknown place as the trains or buses always run frequently. However, if you’re intending to visit some isolated places, check the timetable again only to be safe. 

Put a Use To Those Connections

If you have a friend in Switzerland and you’re backpacking there, it will put less pressure on your pocket. When you save around 30 to 40 CHF for accommodation, it can buy you an all-inclusive Swiss Travel Pass. With Switzerland being a small country, you can take trips to each corner of the country without missing a day and losing a penny on your hotel or any other adjustment for the night. However, if you don’t have anyone you can contact, you can also go with the route of Couchsurfing and it’s a very common path to accustom yourself to the local people and to save some money. 

Grab Your Cooking Hat

Dining out in Switzerland is expensive too but if you can cook then you can save at least 20 to 30 CHF for one night. The Supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi are your best friend for being the cheapest ones to buy groceries.

Sleeping on Straw

One of the Rooms Where You Can Sleep on Straw in Switzerland
One of the Rooms Where You Can Sleep on Straw

Don’t be so surprised because these exist and if you are not allergic to hay, you can sleep on a straw if you are looking for adventure and ready with a sleeping bag. The best place to look for Swiss holiday farms is Agrotourism. The price range is more or less the same or even less than a hostel, which ranges from 25 to 35 CHF for one person with breakfast. 

Free Snacks Forever

Even if you don’t think that every free thing is gold, these free snacks are really gold in terms of putting an end to your cravings. Farmers markets and cookies or chocolate factories are best to taste out these free delectable samples of cheese, bread, olive, crackers, cookies, biscuits, etc.

Purchase Old Bread

Assbar, Zurich
Assbar, Zurich

There is a new idea that has taken root in Switzerland called Assbar which basically means selling baked goods from bakeries that haven’t been sold during the day at the next day for half their original price. The concept is very famous in Zurich, St, Gallen, Bern, Basel, and Winterthur along with other cities that are trying to adopt the concept due to its popularity. Thus, you can get delicious sausage rolls, pastries, sandwiches, and bread rolls at a very cheap price.

Explore Free Activities

There are a lot of free activities for you to enjoy and you can save some money as well. Such activities are:

  • Take a walk through the parks and botanical gardens.
  • Check out free museums, churches, and old towns.
  • Join the free walking tours in diverse cities across Switzerland.
  • Switzerland is popular for hiking, then hike like your life is depending on it. 
  • Head out to visit the largest waterfalls in Europe in Schaffhausen.
  • Spend some quality time with the free samples in the Appenzeller cheese factory in Stein. 

I have come across this blog that is very detailed and informed on how to save money on your travel in Switzerland. If you want, check the post out.

How to Travel To Switzerland

From the surrounding countries in Europe, it is fairly cheap, simple, and quick to reach Switzerland. You can find about the buses from Eurolines and trains on the Rail Europe website. The country is also well-linked to the other parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, parts of the US, and the UK by air with flights to Zurich and other cities. It takes eight hours via air from New York to Zurich and Somewhere around one hour and forty minutes from London to Zurich.

Best Time to Visit Switzerland

A view of the winter nightlife in Zermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt, Switzerland

Switzerland is a destination that you can visit all year round and it solely depends on what activities you want to take part in. For instance, summer (June to September) in Switzerland is perfect for hiking in the mountains and traveling to the bigger cities as the climate is sunny with low rainfall. 

The winter season (November to March) is great for winter sports like skiing. It is also a great time to visit the villages on the edge for the festive spirit and beautiful sceneries. 

To conclude it all, Switzerland is a magnificent place on earth to travel in if expensive. But, with some great tips and some patience, you can always make it. My job of inspiring you to seek more is done here. Maybe in the future, I’ll do another article on Switzerland again, focusing on something else. Until then, travel well, be well. 

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