Perfectly packed into Central Europe’s mountainous region, Switzerland is a small but stunning country that attracts visitors who are looking to experience its famous alpine traditions and landscapes firsthand.
The towering peaks in Switzerland are wonderlands in the winter for skiers and snowboarders, while the powerful rivers are perfect for rafting or hiking in the summer. The deep valleys are extraordinary and will certainly take your breath away. With the remoteness of much of the country, Switzerland is also a great place to get away from the busy cities.
Livin’ La Vida Switzerland
Herzlich Willkommen – Welcome to Switzerland!
Urban culture isn’t completely lost, and Swiss cities are driven by medieval history and world-class art. With the contrast between the modern and industrial architecture featured in cities like Bern, the capital, the urban centers in Switzerland have a certain edge to their character.
Visitors can explore the beauty of nature or Alpine views, but also enjoy the lively energy of popular bars and restaurants. With a little piece of everything, Switzerland will be an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Revitalized from medieval times and built to be Switzerland’s modern capital, Bern is a mash-up of cultures, languages, and landscapes. Here, in this picture-perfect city, visitors will take delight in the preserved Old Town, fountains, and Aare River.
Amongst the historical sites, modern establishments are also thriving. With educational museums, local bars, and avant-garde restaurants, Bern is the top place to explore in Switzerland.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Much of Switzerland’s history is connected to Alpine culture, which was first established by the Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago. The area has long been inhabited by humans and the Alps actually stretch between various European countries including France, Italy, and Germany.
The close proximity to these nations also means that those cultures have come to influence Swiss culture. Switzerland has long been famously known as being a neutral country. It stays out of world conflicts, both armed and political ones.
One large part of Swiss culture is folk art, which is often represented through dance, music, embroidery, literature, and other pieces of art. The alphorn is Switzerland’s most iconic musical instrument, which is accompanied by yodeling and traditional music. Other iconic images from the country include the Swiss flag and the majestic Alps mountain range.
Architecture is also important for Switzerland and the Romanesque style of cathedrals is very popular throughout the country. Gothic and Baroque styles from Italy have also found their way into Swiss architecture and many of the buildings are still preserved today.
Some of the most famous cities to visit include old palaces, cathedrals, and fortresses. All of these types of buildings are scattered throughout the country and can be found in big cities or small towns.
But with a rich and diverse history, the culture of Switzerland reflects several countries through the national languages. Instead of having just one, Switzerland has four. German, French, Italian, and Romansch are the official languages in Switzerland, though German is the most widely spoken.
About 63% of the country’s 8.69 million citizens (as of 2021) speak German, while 23% of the population speaks French. Only about 8% of the population speaks Italian, while Romansch is the least common language.
Many people in Switzerland are also conversationally fluent in English or speak the language to a certain degree. While many locals do not speak English with each other, tourists should expect to find English-speaking hosts at many of the popular destinations or big cities in Switzerland.
A spending budget is a great planning tool that can help you determine what you can afford on your vacation, as well as a portion of money for emergency travel or unexpected costs. Switzerland is an expensive country to visit. While Iceland recently beat Switzerland to the crown, Switzerland is still often considered to be the second most expensive country to visit in Europe.
Some of the reasons include having a strong currency, high local taxes, international banks, and a high number of wealthy citizens or residents. The cost of everything is high, however, the most important budget items will be the airline ticket, accommodation, food, and transportation.
The most important purchase you need to make before any others is a flight. Requiring you to get to the Swiss Alps and back, the average cost of a flight from the US to Switzerland is over one thousand dollars. And during peak season, or when purchasing last minute, you can expect it to be much higher.
This is quite high for flying to Europe, but with lots of research and time, you may be able to find a more affordable ticket. The cost of airline tickets is also affected by the tourist season.
The highest time for tourists to visit is July and August, as well as peaks in the winter due to the high levels of snow. But the most expensive time to visit Switzerland will always be during the summer months with July and August really being the peak.
The flight is just the start of your journey and you will hopefully be able to spend some high-quality time in Switzerland. While you’re indulging in Swiss delight, you will need to have a safe place to stay at the end of a long day of exploring.
Accommodation is the second most important part of your budget and it will be expensive, even if you’re looking at staying in a hostel. Hostels are very expensive and the most affordable will still cost you a fair amount.
Hotels will be even more expensive with three-star establishments often starting in the hundreds per night. But oddly enough, weekends tend to be more affordable and many hotels lower the price. So, you may be able to find deals that lower the nightly rates. Luxury hotels will come with a big price tag and will require a lot of budgeting.
Airbnb is another accommodation option in Switzerland, but they aren’t very cheap unless you are traveling in a group. Most Airbnb room accommodations will have similar starting rates to a hostel and will only increase. For private homes, you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars per night.
While you always want to have a place to rest your head, the fun doesn’t begin until you get outside and explore the local culture. Food is an important part of culture and identity but is also essential for your body. Swiss cuisines, like the language and other parts of the culture, have been heavily influenced by French, German, and Italian cuisine.
But overall, Swiss cuisine is known for its heavy use of dairy. Cheese is a favorite throughout all of Switzerland and the country is also famous for its chocolate. While Swiss chocolate (affiliate link) takes its ingredients from all over the world, when cooked and created in Switzerland, this sweet morsel is made extra smooth, flavorful, and creamy.
The most famous Swiss chocolate makers include Lindt (affiliate link) and Toblerone (affiliate link). While some enjoy chocolate and cheese, the country’s most famous dairy is Swiss cheese and cheese fondue.
Though chocolate and cheese are delicious, they aren’t a full meal. Saffron risotto is a more complete dish that is bursting with flavor and topped with delicious shrimp. For a true meat dish, zurcher geschnetzeltes is made of veal and served with pasta or rice.
Berner platte is a more traditional dish, which features smoked beef and pork tongue along with sides of potatoes and sauerkraut. More common in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, älpermagronen is a hearty meal consisting of mac and cheese, potatoes, onions, and bacon.
Along with big meals, there are also tasty treats for you to nibble while you’re on the go. Zopf is a traditional type of bread that’s plaited and very similar to challah bread. Bünder Nusstorte is a caramelized treat of pastry and nuts often served with coffee or tea.
Finally, rösti is a popular treat, which is often served as a side dish. Rösti is round patties of semi-cooked potatoes, which are then filled with bacon, apple, onions, and cheese. The patty is toasted on the outside but soft on the inside and a truly savory dish.
While many things in Switzerland are delicious and it’s hard to find a bad meal, the cost of food is very high and may make some travelers pause before they make a purchase. Eating at an affordable restaurant will cost a moderate amount, meanwhile, nicer restaurants will be much more.
By far the most expensive will be high-end restaurants, which can be over one hundred dollars per person. And for those who enjoy drinking with a meal, be prepared to shell out a few extra dollars. Regardless if there is alcohol in it or not, drinks are very expensive. A single cup of coffee can cost as much as a glass of house wine in the US.
Cocktails and wine will also be pricey, so if you can, reducing what you drink can help save you a few extra dollars.
How to Get Around
One of the biggest budget killers in Switzerland is what you’ll have to spend on transportation. Known for having an extensive, high-functioning, and efficient public transportation system, you’ll have to pay higher prices. The most popular ways to travel in Sweden are by air, train, bus, and car.
Domestic air is the way to go for travelers who have a larger budget but a stricter time frame. Traveling by air is very expensive and you should expect to pay hundreds of US dollars for a single ticket. But the high cost means that you spend less time traveling and more time at each destination.
For those who don’t want to go by air, trains are very popular throughout all of Switzerland. There are hundreds of miles of railroad tracks in Switzerland that service the more popular areas. Intercity trains will connect major hubs to each other so that you can easily bounce between different urban centers.
Train tickets will cost a decent amount. A special pass can get you rides on the trains, buses, and trams around Switzerland, however, it costs over one hundred dollars, so it may not be cost-effective for everyone.
Buses are another popular way to travel throughout Switzerland, but instead of being more affordable than trains, they simply offer you the ability to reach more remote destinations. Many buses will have service to areas that trains won’t, but don’t expect to save any money. Intercity buses have similar costs to trains and a single ticket could cost a hefty price.
Car Rentals, Taxis, and Bikes
Cars are also a popular choice because many travelers like the convenience of traveling on their own schedule and with a reliable vehicle. Cars are very expensive to rent though and you could pay over one hundred dollars a day for a rental. And that’s without adding the price of gas.
Finally, within the cities, there are taxis available, though they are a high cost too. A cheaper option is bicycles when you’re traveling short distances. With most costs being a few dollars for every half hour, this can be less than a taxi and faster than walking.
Top Cities to Visit
While Switzerland is a smaller country, that doesn’t mean that it lacks adventure. With plenty of areas to explore, you can hop all around the country to experience the different cultures and languages of Switzerland. Here, are the top cities for tourists to visit in Switzerland.
With cobblestone streets, dainty fountains, and the banks of the Aare River, Bern is Switzerland’s dreamy capital. While the Old Town, which has been perfectly preserved from several hundred years ago, is the highlight, the overall laid-back feel often makes it a favorite city destination amongst many visitors.
Driven by the avant-garde, the city is filled with new and exciting restaurants and bars for quality dining or entertainment.
Situated on a river and lake in German-speaking Switzerland, Zurich is the country’s largest city with around 350,000 people. The snowcapped mountains in the distance only add to the beauty.
Within the city, a young crowd has introduced a new and hip culture. With old architecture hinting at the past, the city is thriving and has a bright future ahead.
Surrounded by mountains, Lucerne is a medieval town that is built along the quiet banks of a river. The historic appearance of the town draws in visitors who are eager to explore the 14th-century foundations. The Chapel Bridge is an icon in Lucerne, which often draws large crowds and local musicians who entertain the guests with happy tunes.
Basel sits on the Rhine River and is located nearby the borders of France and Germany, which makes it a big trade route. The wealth is abundant here and visitors will be able to explore the beautiful streets, museums, and galleries. With pretty pastel colors, Basel stands out from other cities as bright and cheerful.
Oozing with a cosmopolitan lifestyle, Geneva is known for being the home of the UN and World Bank. With wealth practically oozing through the streets, Geneva is an expensive place to visit because of the luxury hotels, restaurants, and bars that are open for business.
But nevertheless, the sophistication of this Swiss city is a magnet for many tourists.
Points of Interest
Cities are often the go-to choice for travelers, but there are various attractions throughout Switzerland worth visiting. Whether you’ve been referred by a friend or seen some breathtaking photos, there are numerous locations in the country that you should explore. To help you decide where to go, here are some of the top tourist destinations in Switzerland.
Discover the best of Switzerland’s thermal springs to add to your itinerary, on our sister site, Top Hot Springs.
The Matterhorn is one of the tallest mountains in the Alps and also an icon of Switzerland. The peak rests on the border with Italy and is a staggering 14,691 feet tall. With a jagged appearance, the mountain is one of the most photographed hotspots in Switzerland.
Zermatt is a large carless village located at the base where you’ll take a train up to reach. Throughout the area, there are plenty of scenic areas or even restaurants that provide a stunning view of this famous peak.
Often called the “Top of Europe”, Jungfraujoch has an observation terrace that overlooks the area and the Great Aletsch Glacier. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, this area is also the beginning of the famous Eiger trail, which is another famous mountain in the Alps.
Grindelwald is the most famous village in the area, which has some of the oldest resorts in the country.
Interlaken is Switzerland’s most popular summer resort area. The green hill and towering peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfraujoch observation areas all overlook Interlaken and provide visitors with endless outdoor adventures.
With companies offering adventures in climbing, abseiling, and hiking, this is a must-see location for outdoor enthusiasts.
Lake Geneva is an Alpine lake that straddles Switzerland’s border with France. While the town of Geneva is nearby and bears the same name, the large lake offers plenty of space to get away from the crowds and relax in nature.
With an extensive shoreline, many visitors are eager to explore the area by boat to view all the small villages or houses along Lake Geneva’s shores.
Most popular when snow blankets the ground, St. Moritz is a luxury resort area that has become famous for hosting the Winter Olympics two times. With two parts to the town, St. Mortiz Dorf and St. Moritz Bad, there is a lot to see and do in this beautiful valley.
While winter is the peak season for St. Moritz, when the snow melts, the area is still popular because of the abundance of outdoor summer activities.
Swiss National Park
For nature and wildlife lovers, Swiss National Park is the place to go to view nature. With the famous and rare ibex, chamois, fox, and marmot animals calling the park home, visitors have the chance to observe some furry friends.
Blessed with dramatic views, this park is simply breathtaking, and it is open all year round. In the summer, the green grass contrasts with the grey peaks, while in the winter, the snow turns the area into a great cross-country skiing area.
“The Playground of Europe”
Switzerland is a rich country, in every sense of the word. From the powerful economy and the wealthy residents to the decadent cuisine and long history, the country has a very sophisticated way of life.
But while Swiss citizens are some of the happiest in the world, tourists don’t need to spend much time in the country to fall for its charm. With the Alpine glory and beautiful cities, Switzerland is a country that shines.
The high costs of a trip may cause you to hesitate, but every traveler to Switzerland will quickly tell you that it is worth every penny to take a visit to this little piece of heaven on Earth.