Switzerland travel guide

The closer you get to the borders with France, Germany and Italy the greater the cultural influence, although Switzerland’s main identity stems just as much from traditional Alpine lifestyles as from its noisy neighbours. Mountains are a major part of Swiss life with Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn both straddling borders to allow travelers to explore over long distance trekking routes interspersed with basic, yet comfy, Alpine huts and convenient cable cars. Swiss lakes offer a far less undulating approach to outdoor activities and often feature marinas adorned with twinkling yachts alongside picnic points and lakeside towns bordered by spacious larch forests – perfect for walking without the gradient.
Watches, cuckoo clocks, fondue and lederhosen, if you’re searching for Switzerland, without the stereotypes, travel with an open mind but not, perhaps, an open wallet.
Visiting Switzerland, no matter which season, can be an expensive business although sticking to hearty lunches in rural restaurants rather than evening alternatives in Bern or Zurich will save vacation budgets for much more important things, like a souvenir cuckoo clock or all that lovely chocolate. Find out more in our Switzerland guide.

Switzerland is...

known for its neutrality, but spend even a short time here and you’re bound to feel positive about it.

Switzerland isn’t...

a country where you’ll feel inclined to stay indoors – these landscapes are paradise for the active traveler.

What we rate & what we don't

Underrated

Cycling

You don’t need calf muscles like tree trunks for cycling in Switzerland. Not all of the country is mountainous, though certainly when you head into the Bernese Oberland it will get a little steeper. For leisurely cyclists however, Switzerland can be dreamlike – routes take you around Alpine lakes, through renowned wine regions and pretty little villages, along low-traffic roads and quiet well-marked trails.

Multi activity vacations

We think Switzerland resembles one big adventure playground – it’s a country where you never feel like staying indoors even when it’s raining. And what makes it even more attractive is that you can get active here at any time of year: cross country skiing or snowshoeing in winter, lake swimming in summer, hill walking and mountain biking in spring or autumn. Active travelers and families will find much to love here.

Swiss wine

Swiss chocolate, cheese and watches are internationally famed, but almost no-one outside Switzerland is familiar with the wine. Only around 2% of the country’s annual production is exported, and most of that to Germany. The vineyards of Lavaux, dramatically terraced into the hillsides and some of the steepest in the world, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chasselas here is a superb match for a cheese fondue.
Rated

Walking

This is one of Europe’s great walking destinations: Alpine scenery to stir the soul, fresh mountain air in your lungs, green pastures where cowbells clank harmoniously and a superb network of cable cars and mountain railways to get you from peak to peak (or let you cut out some of the more challenging sections!). Most walking vacations are guided, small group trips and fairly easygoing, but there are more demanding point-to-point treks available too of course.

Swiss cuisine

Swiss cuisine is strongly influenced by its neighbours. Depending where you are you might be served dishes reminiscent of French, German or Italian cuisine. Fondue and raclette have their origins in France, while the prevalence of sausage and rosti dishes can be traced back to Germany. Given that most Switzerland vacations encourage getting active, you’re going to be returning to your accommodation every afternoon with a healthy appetite. Have no concerns: it will be more than satisfied.

Going local

As Switzerland grapples with the threat of overtourism – partly brought on by the popularity of its iconic landscapes in places such as China and India – it has never been more important for responsible travelers to support local accommodations, restaurants, shops and guides. Happily with our vacations it’s easy to do just that, and it guarantees you a more enjoyable stay.
Overrated

Downhill skiing

One of the most environmentally damaging sports around, downhill skiing is big business in Switzerland during the winter season, with some of the world’s most prestigious resorts found among the Swiss Alps. But there are many ways – such as snowshoeing and cross country skiing - to explore these beautiful landscapes in the snow without having to rely on water-draining snow cannon, or pistes that artificially flatten natural landscapes.

Driving from A to B

These winding mountain roads may seem like dreamy driving territory, but there’s actually no need for a car on Switzerland vacations. Geneva is only seven hours from London by train, Zurich just a few hours further, and many itineraries start in one of these two cities. What’s more, Switzerland’s public transport is so extensive, and punctual, that many operators will confidently include travel passes for their guests rather than arrange transfers.

Davos

Famous for one of Switzerland’s most prestigious ski resorts (along with nearby Klosters, a favourite of the British royal family) and as the annual meeting place of various transnational politicians and financiers at the World Economic Forum, Davos is wealthy, slick and absolutely not a good representation of what Switzerland’s all about. Instead we recommend heading to more remote, quiet and less developed areas where you can really explore traditional Swiss culture and hospitality.

Our top Switzerland Vacation

Mont Blanc vacation, Tour du Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc vacation, Tour du Mont Blanc

The best of the Tour du Mont Blanc

From US $1749 to US $1879 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 16 May, 23 May, 30 May, 6 Jun, 13 Jun, 20 Jun, 27 Jun, 4 Jul, 11 Jul, 18 Jul, 25 Jul, 1 Aug, 8 Aug, 15 Aug, 22 Aug, 29 Aug, 5 Sep, 12 Sep, 19 Sep, 26 Sep, 3 Oct
2021: 15 May, 22 May, 29 May, 5 Jun, 12 Jun, 19 Jun, 26 Jun, 3 Jul, 10 Jul, 17 Jul, 24 Jul, 31 Jul, 7 Aug, 14 Aug, 21 Aug, 28 Aug, 4 Sep, 11 Sep, 18 Sep, 25 Sep, 2 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Switzerland or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking

Swiss cuisine is strongly influenced by its neighbours: France, Germany and Italy, but the country has also developed many of its own unique dishes.

Dishes such as fondue and raclette both make good use of one of Swiss cheese, and are a just reward for your efforts hiking and cycling.

Gruyères is a fine place to explore Swiss chocolate and cheese-making with several factories offering guided tours – you’re also not far from the prestigious terraced vineyards of Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The famous St. Gallen sausage was invented in the 15th century. Made with veal, bacon and milk, it is strictly eaten boiled, and without mustard.

People & culture

The Swiss national identity is shaped by its Alpine geography – the mountains offer a level of protection that has allowed peace and order to flourish, almost uninterrupted, for centuries. For that reason many visitors note that Swiss society seems to run like well-oiled clockwork: punctual public transport, clean streets, and laws observed closely. This is a nation of outdoorsy people too – and looking at these landscapes, you can hardly blame them.

Znuni is the 9am snack that most Swiss people observe almost religiously, believing it improves productivity. Can’t hurt.

In centuries past mountain farmers would blow giant horns to call their cows home in the evenings – the practise might seem as outdated as the famous Heidi stories, but there are still competitions, festivals and even an alpine horn academy keeping this tradition alive.

Gifts & shopping

Contrary to popular belief, the cuckoo clock actually originated in the Black Forest, but the Swiss created the ‘chalet-style’. Expect to spend upwards of €250 for a high-quality wooden model.

Rarely has a cultural icon been so functional as the Swiss Army Knife. In 2006 Wenger released a version called ‘The Giant’ that featured no fewer than 87 tools – so big you’d need a backpack to carry it, it would never fit in a pocket.

Swiss watches are some of the world’s most revered: Tissot, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe, Brielting, Rolex – timepieces that are passed down through generations. There are two catches: the one on the strap, and the fact that to wear a true work of art on your wrist you’ll need to spend thousands.

If you’re looking for an affordable and fun gift for someone, consider a fondue set – fans of savoury can dip their bread into melted cheese, while those with a sweet tooth can use it with chocolate.

How much does it cost?

There’s no getting away from the fact that Switzerland is an expensive country to vacation in, with the cost of living around twice as high as the UK:

3-course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant: £80

Boat trip on Lake Lucerne: £60

Daily ski lift pass in Zermatt: £65

30kg wheel of 12-month aged Gruyères cheese: £1300

Auction price of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona: £14.4 million

A brief history of Switzerland

“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
– The Third ManRead more
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Noel Reynolds] [Is/Isn't: Tim Trad] [Underrated: photosforyou] [Rated: pxhere] [Overrated: Maarten Duineveld] [People & language: Peter Ogilvie] [How much does it cost?: Ad Meskens]
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