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Introduction to Switzerland

Switzerland Flag

Switzerland may be neutral but it is certainly not flavourless. The fusion of German, French and Italian ingredients has formed a robust national culture, and the country's alpine landscapes have enough zing to reinvigorate the most jaded traveller.

Goethe summed up Switzerland succinctly as a combination of 'the colossal and the well-ordered'. You can be sure that your trains and letters will be on time. The tidy, just-so precision of Swiss towns is tempered by the lofty splendour of the landscapes that surround them.

Switzerland conjures up a fair swag of clichés: irresistible chocolates, yodelling Heidis, humourless bankers, international bureaucracies and an orderly, anally-retentive and rather bland national persona. But Harry Lime was wrong on more than one account when, in The Third Man, he said 500 years of Swiss democracy and peace had produced nothing more than the cuckoo clock. For a start, the Germans invented this monstrous timepiece; secondly, the Swiss, who are a brainy lot, have won more Nobel Prizes and registered more patents per capita than any other nation on earth.

Traveler Facts

  • Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1
  • Dialling Code: 41
  • Electricity: 230V ,50Hz
  • Weights & measures: Metric
  • Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)

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Compare Switzerland Hotel Prices (Top Cities)
Appenzell Arosa Ascona Basel Berne
Chateau-d'Oex Davos Geneva Grindelwald Grisons
Interlaken Lausanne Leukerbad Locarno Lucerne
Lugano Neuchatel Pontresina Saas-Fee St. Gallen
St. Moritz Swiss Alps Uri Valais Wengen
Zermatt Zurich
Attractions

Fraumünster Church
Region: Zurich
Of the church spires that characterize Zurich's skyline, the thin blue spire of Fraumünster is the most graceful. Overlooking the historic old square of Münsterhof, the former pig market, the church was founded in 853 and its convent inhabited by German noblewomen until the 13th century. Important architectural features include the Romanesque choir and the enormous elaborate organ, but its chief attractions are the five beautiful stained glass windows designed by the 83-year-old Marc Chagall in 1970.
Address: Am Münsterhofplatz
Phone Number: (01) 211 4100
Transportation Information: Tram 4 to the City Hall
Hours: 9am to 6pm (May to September); 10am to 5pm (October); 10am to 4pm (November to March); 10am to 5pm (March to April). The church is closed between noon and 2pm daily, on Sundays it is closed until 2pm
Admission: Free

The Swiss National Museum
Region: Zurich
Housed in a castle-like building with a distinctive tower, The Swiss National Museum provides a fascinating look at Swiss culture and history and contains a comprehensive collection of artifacts from the Stone Age to modern times. There are works of art, everyday articles such as medieval drinking bowls and costumes, toys, a section on book-inscribing in the Middle Ages, carved altar pieces and stained glass windows from ancient convents and churches, and the wheels found in Zurich that are believed to be the first ever discovered. There is also an exhibit on Swiss clock making, and a weapons and armour display providing insight into methods of Swiss combat from 800 to 1800. Special exhibitions are held annually on themes relevant to Swiss society.
Address: Museumstrausse 2
Phone Number: (01) 218 6511
Email Address: kanzlei@slm.admin.ch
Website: www.musee-suisse.com
Transportation Information: Train to Zurich's main station (Hauptbahnhof), or tram 3, 4, 5, 11, 13 or 14
Hours: Daily except Mondays from 10.30am to 5pm
Admission: Sfr5, concessions available. Special exhibitions Sfr8 - Sfr12

The Rhine Falls
Region: Zurich
An excellent day trip from Zurich and close to the town of Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls (Rheinfall) is the largest and most powerful waterfall in Europe, impressive not so much for its height of 75ft (23m), but more for the mighty volume of water thundering over its broad breadth. This magnificent natural wonder is especially remarkable during late spring when the snowmelt adds to its volume. On the hill above the falls is a medieval castle, Schloss Laufen, housing a restaurant, shops and a youth hostel. Rainbow-colored mists rising from the forest and encircling the castle create an enchanting atmosphere. In summer one of the highlights of a visit to the falls is a boat trip across the white-water of the cataracts to the Center Rock, with a short climb up some stairs to the top for an exhilarating view of the rushing water. Breathtaking views can also be enjoyed from three different lookout platforms along a path leading from the castle. The Känzeli Lookout, with a protruding platform at the base of the falls, is the most spectacular. The Rhine Falls is host to the fantastic fireworks display held on Swiss National Day (August 1) that attracts thousands of spectators every year.
Address: 8447 Dachsen
Phone Number: (052) 672 7455
Email Address: info@rheinfall.ch
Website: www.rheinfall.ch
Transportation Information: Train from the main station in Zurich (Hauptbahnhof) to Neuhausen, alighting at the Rheinfall stop, and then a short walk to the falls. From Schaffhausen buses (No.1) and train departs regularly for the falls

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
Region: Geneva
The largest lake in central Europe and shared by both Switzerland and France, the romantic waters of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) have for decades drawn visitors to its shores. Attracted by the alpine panorama, quaint wooden chalet villages, vineyard-covered slopes and sailboats skimming across the blue waters, many famous writers, musical composers, actors and poets came to settle on the shores and the area has become something of an inspiration to the arts. Situated in the westernmost district of Vaud, the contains a diversity of attractions and activities, from wine-growing villages and mountain ski resorts, picturesque castles, and magnificent cathedrals, to low-key lakeside resorts, boat cruises, and cosy fireside pots of fondue. Sophisticated shopping and cultural life can be found in the cities of Geneva and Lausanne, with sweeping views across the sparkling lake to the Alps and the distinctive pinnacle of Mont Blanc. Among the vineyards and affluent villas clinging to the slopes lie the lakeside towns of Vevey and Montreux, the pearls of the Swiss Riviera. Scenic winding roads stretch along the shores, and train trips offers outstanding views, while below steamers crisscross the waters of Lake Geneva, offering a variety of ways to experience the splendor of its location.

Lausanne
Region: Geneva
Picturesquely located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the youthful and energetic city of Lausanne is built above the lake on a sequence of tiers connected by a small metro. The upper or Old Town contains the grand Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame; its turreted towers a well-known symbol of the city. The lower town on the lakeshore was once the small fishing village of Ouchy and is now the prime waterfront area with outdoor dining and cafes, promenades and sporting activities. The gardens around the Quay d'Ouchy are home to the city's foremost attraction, the Olympic Museum, containing a wealth of sporting memories and a collection of unique objects pertaining to the Olympic Games from its beginning until the present. Lausanne relishes its importance as the Olympic World Capital and headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.
Website: www.lausanne-tourisme.ch
Transportation Information: Lausanne is a 40-minute train journey from Geneva

Château de Chillon
Region: Geneva
One of the best-maintained medieval castles in Europe, the 13th century Château de Chillon is the most visited historical building in Switzerland. With its stunning lakeside location near the chic town of Montreux, jutting out into the water and framed by mountains, it is one of the more frequently photographed castles in Europe. An important fortress in the Middle Ages, it was strategically positioned to control the narrow passage between mountains and lake protecting the major north-south route. It was also the favorite summer residence of the Counts of Savoy. Later it served as a state prison. Visitors can tour the dungeons where the castle's most famous prisoner was chained for four years, the priest François Bonivard, a supporter of the Reformation. The fortress became famous when Lord Byron wrote about Bonivard's fate in an inspired poem entitled Prisoner of Chillon. Besides the dungeons, visitors can wander round the towers and courtyards, discover narrow secret passages, and see the grand knight's halls, frescoed chapel, luxurious bedchambers and rooms containing medieval weapons, furniture and paintings.
Address: Veytaux 1820, Vaud
Phone Number: (021) 966 8910
Email Address: chillon@worldcom.ch
Website: www.chillon.ch
Transportation Information: Lake steamer from Lausanne to Montreux (one hour), or train to Montreux station (30 minutes) and then tram 1 to the castle
Hours: Open daily from 9am to 6pm (April to September), 9.30am to 5pm (March and October), 10am to 4pm (January to February and November to December)
Admission: Sfr10 (adults), Sfr5 (children up to 16). A guided tour costs Sfr6 extra for adults, no charge for children

Luzern
Region: Bernese Oberland
Situated at the heart of one of the most scenic regions in Switzerland, Luzern sits at the tip of the oddly shaped Lake of Luzern and straddles the Reuss River, with superb mountain views, lake cruises and a picturesque old medieval town. Together with the many villages scattered around the lake, the medieval city guarded the main pass on the route between northern and southern Europe. The two surviving covered bridges are remains of its fortifications, most famously the wooden Chapel Bridge with its roof paintings. The Lion Monument, a moving sculpture hewn out of a cliff-face to commemorate the Swiss soldiers who died in the French Revolution, is another of the city's well-known landmarks. The car-free medieval quarter with its painted facades, towers and squares; the charming quayside fruit and vegetable market, and the outstanding Transport Museum are just some of the reasons to visit Luzern, as well as it being an ideal base for excursions around the lake and into the beautiful surrounds.
Website: www.luzern.org

Bern
Region: Bernese Oberland
According to legend, Bern was named when its founder, Berchtold, was advised to go on a hunt and to name the town after the first beast caught. The bear has remained the symbol of the capital city ever since. One of the oldest and most charming cities in Europe, its old center was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site for the preservation of its cobbled medieval street plan, with many ornate fountains, towers, a massive astronomical clock, and buildings much the same as they have been for the last 500 years. With its relaxed atmosphere, farmers markets and friendly people, it is easy to forget that this is the Swiss capital, an important city of politicians and international meetings. And with its interesting museums, theaters, long-standing monuments and landmarks Bern is a popular base from which to explore the mountains and lakes of the nearby Bernese Oberland.
Website: www.berninfo.com

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Best time to Visit

You can visit Switzerland any time throughout the year. Summer lasts roughly from June to September, and offers the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits. Unfortunately, you won't be the only tourist during this period, so prices can be high, accommodation hard to find and the mainstream sights crowded. You'll find much better deals and fewer crowds in the shoulder seasons of April-May and late-September-October.

If you're keen on winter sports, resorts in the Alps begin operating in late-November, move into full swing around Christmas, and close down when the snow begins to melt in April.

Detailed information on all 4 seasons
Spring Season - 21 March to 20 June
Early spring (Mid March forward) is a time when the snow in the lower valleys melts and early spring flowers begin to grow. Often in April, mother nature waters her gardens in this part of the earth to ensure that they produce lovely spring flowers in later spring which is in May and early June. Strawberry-picking is possible. It may sometimes snow higher up, ideal for those who want to experience snow falling but at the same time want to avoid cold weather. Snow-capped mountains are right a common sight.

Summer Season - 21 June to 20 September
If you like picnics, barbeques or swimming, summer is an ideal time to come experience what it is like to do these things in Switzerland, in the heart of the Alps! Greenery reigns at this time of the year as meadows and forests help mother nature paint the picturesque Swiss sceneries with their rich colours. Summer flowers bloom to contribute to the scenic landscape. This is also the blueberry- and raspberry-picking season. Hiking is popular. Grottos are open for dinner. [Grottos used to be warehouses for the locals before the refrigerator was invented. They have been converted to eating places since.] More adventurous travellers might want to try out rodel tobogganing on the world's longest toboggan run on rails recognised by the Guiness Book of World Record. Once a year, on 1 Aug, we take our travellers to an alp to celebrate the Swiss National Day with the villagers - you get a chance to take brunch cooked and prepared by the farmers' wives and children. After brunch, we take you to see glacier in the process of melting before your eyes - global-warming at work! [Glacier is ice that has not melted since the Ice Age which ended about 12,000 years ago.]

Autumn Season - 21 September to 20 December
Mother nature repaints her gardens and changes some of her greenery to red, yellow or orange to add a variety of colours to the landscapes. Hiking is ideal as the view from the mountain peaks is splendid, enabling your eyes to roll a few hundred kilometers on a good day. Mountain visits areS hence excellent. The air is cooler. A unique activity to witness at this time of the year is to see how approximately eighty goats walk from their stalls to their grazing grounds, with the older ones leading the younger ones - they know how to cross the highway by themselves! More adventurous travellers might want to try out rodel tobogganing on the world's longest toboggan run on rails recognised by the Guiness Book of World Record.

Winter Season - 21 December to 20 March
If you want to see snow, experience falling snow, experience a white Christmas season, go to a Christmas market, or if you are the active or sporty sort, then winter (end-Dec to end-Feb/beginning March) with its accompanying activities like skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, ice-skating etc. would definitely be the time for you. Beautiful winter sceneries - snow-covered roofs and pine trees decorated with snow etc is a common sight. If you like water activities, then taking dips in various outdoor and indoor thermal pools with fresh mountain spring water would be an experience if you have not tried them before.

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Costs / Approx. Spending

Meals

Budget: Swf6-12

Mid-range: Swf12-25

High: Swf25-45

Deluxe: Swf45+

Lodging

Budget: Swf20-180

Mid-range: Swf180-260

High: Swf260-420

Deluxe: Swf420+

Costs are higher in Switzerland than anywhere else in Europe. If you're on a tight budget, you could get by on around US$30 a day after buying a rail pass if you stay in hostels and self-cater. If you stay in pensions, enjoy eating out and want to sample the nightlife, count on spending at least twice as much.

All major travellers' cheques and credit cards are accepted. Commission is not charged for changing cash or cheques, but shop around for the best rates (hotels usually have the worst rates). Tipping is rarely necessary as hotels, restaurants and bars are required by law to include a 15% service charge. Even taxi fares normally have a service charge included.

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Events

February is carnival time, or Fasnacht, in many towns, but Basel really funks it up with elaborate parades beginning at a bleary 4am.
In the lower Valais, from March to October, cows battle it out in the Combat de Reines (cow fighting) to see which beast is most suited to lead the herd up to the summer pastures.
The world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival takes place in July.
National Day (August 1) is celebrated with fireworks throughout the country, and Swiss wrestling in the Emmenthal area east of Bern.
On the fourth Monday in November, Bern hosts its famous Onion Market (Zibelmarit), where traders take over the whole town centre and many a tear is shed.

Zurich Festival
Zurich's Festspiele is an annual celebration of classical music, opera, dance, theatre, and art that presents local and international artists of world renown. Special concerts and performances are held throughout the city.
Location for this Festival: Varies

Zurich Theatre Spectacle
One of the top cultural events in Zurich, the Theatre Spectacle is a festival for new and cutting edge theatre that presents an international collection of theatre companies and the latest in performing arts productions. Every summer over 20 theatre groups stage performances around the city, including open-air productions next to the lake.
Location for this Festival: Varies

Street Parade
Every August thousands of revellers flock to what has become the biggest techno-music street party in the world, modelled on the Berlin Love Parade. People from all over the world join together in a 'demonstration for love, peace, freedom and tolerance' to the beat of house and techno music. The city's biggest party is a weekend of colourful floats, or Love Mobiles, costumed dancers and loud music, as well as numerous parties and festival events that take place before and after the parade.
Location for this Festival: Varies

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