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Planning a trip to Switzerland: Tips & Checklist

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Planning a trip to Switzerland and wondering where to start? Let us help you with all the essential Switzerland tips and checklists to get you ready. Switzerland is one of our favorite countries in the world, and after multiple trips, first hand experience and thorough research we share all the travel insights to help plan yours! 

Planning a trip to Switzerland: Tips and Swiss Travel Checklist

Swiss flag on the top of Mannlichen (Jungfrau region, Bern, Switzerland) Learn about planning a trip to Switzerland travel tips
Planning a trip to Switzerland Travel Tips

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Here is a quick snapshot of what you can expect in this post, 

  • Tourist Visa – Multiple Schengen Visa
  • Currency – Swiss Francs – CHF
  • Languages – German, French, Italian, Romansh (4)
  • Best time to visit – Late Spring, Autumn/Fall
  • Safety – Safe for solo female, couples, family travel
  • ArrivalZurich, Geneva, and Basel (frequency, comfort)
  • Getting around – Trains (Swiss Travel Pass)
  • Budget – 150- 200 CHF /day (per adult, mid-budget)
  • Accommodation – 120+ CHF (per adult double occupancy in mid budget)
  • What to eat – Cheese Fondue, Fried grated potatoes
  • Tipping – Not required, but nice if you do (8 to 10%)
  • Bucket list destinations and places
  • Packing list
  • Insurance World Nomads 

We have been traveling to Europe extensively over the last 5 years and traveled to Switzerland from Canada directly, and from within the European continent (connecting from Spain and France). Here are our detailed planning tips for Switzerland,

Tourist Visa | Travel Documents

Switzerland is located in central Europe, and is a landlocked country. It shares its borders with Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Liechtenstein. 

Switzerland doesn’t belong to the European Union, unlike its neighbours. But it belongs to the Schengen zone of countries. So if you require a visa to travel to Europe, and it is the Schengen visa – then that’s what you will need to enter Switzerland. 

Schengen Visa needs to be approved for multiple entries for visiting Switzerland. Here is a detailed guide to applying for a Schengen visa and passport validity requirements. 

For those with Canadian or US passports, you can travel visa-free to Switzerland, just ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months, upon entry to the country. Swiss authorities are pretty particular about this, so definitely check your passport (and visa status) expiry when you are planning your trip.

View of Brienz, Berne, Switzerland
Brienz in the district of Interlaken in Switzerland.

Swiss Currency | CHF 

As we mentioned Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so Euros are not accepted in Switzerland. Its official currency is Swiss Francs or CHF. 

CHF stands for Confoederatio Helvetica Franc. It is the legal form of currency in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. 

No USD or CAD are accepted either. 

During our trip, we used a mix of CHF/Swiss Francs and our Canadian credit cards. Cards were handy at restaurants, stores, and on a few occasions we used it at train stations to buy tickets. 

You can take a call on what you prefer to use. We found the credit cards to be convenient and used it on bigger expenses (and pay for conversion a handful of times). 

Cash is always a good idea for coffee, tickets, wifi cards, laundry, etc. 

We pre-booked our hotels, transport passes and tours prior to our trip. These were paid for online, in CAD currency (you can do the same in your native $$ to save on conversions). 

Languages spoken in Switzerland

For a country as small as Switzerland, it is super diverse! Did you know it has four official languages (we only have 2 in Canada, and it is the second largest country by area!)

Okay! So the official languages in Switzerland are – German, Italian, French and Romansh. 

Romansh is a Romance language spoken in the Grisons canton (or state). Currently there are about 60,000 residents in the south eastern part of Switzerland who speak this language.

The other 3 languages – German, Italian, French – are spoken in specific regions, and they are not isolated to language alone, but also evident in architecture and everyday living. 

The old town of many cities is known as ‘Altstadt’ which is a German word. Even train stations/routes will say ‘Bahn’ which is another German word. 

  • Swiss German cantons include Zurich, Basel, St Gallen, etc
  • French speaking cantons are Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Jura
  • Italian speaking cantons are Ticino and the southern part of Graubünden/ Grigioni
Views of Old town Rapperswil Switzerland Planning tips
Cute old town in Rapperswil: Switzerland Planning tips

You can easily survive in Switzerland if you know English. It is quite widely spoken across Switzerland – so tour guides, restaurants, hotel staff and train operators speak English. Signages are written in both official languages and English, so it wasn’t an issue for us. 

When is the best time to visit Switzerland | Fall/Autumn & Spring

Switzerland experiences all 4 seasons, and they are very distinct. Typically the seasons, and months are as follows

  • Spring: March to May
  • Summer: June to August
  • Autumn/fall: September to November
  • Winter: December to February

It is important to note that the weather varies greatly by region and altitude. The crossover month makes for a great time to go to Switzerland – this is when you can expect fewer crowds, better accommodation rates, and can enjoy the best of both seasons.

Research will tell you that offseason is an amazing time to visit. And we can confidently vouch for that, after having explored Switzerland in shoulder seasons. 

Find the best time to visit Switzerland
best time to visit Switzerland

We enjoyed visiting Switzerland in September. The weather was perfect for pleasant walks, sitting down by the lake, for browsing local (outdoor) markets, and patio cafes. 

So in short, late spring, and autumn/fall are great for exploring Switzerland. Autumn/fall is particularly beautiful with foliage and different shades of oranges and browns. 

In many resorts, you can also enjoy spring skiing in March/April (Zermatt, St Moritz, Saas Fee, etc.)

Summers are great for experiencing outdoor activities – swimming, picnics and festivals – but popular touristy places, train routes, restaurants can get very crowded, and they will have longer queues than offseason. 

If skiing is on your Swiss bucket list, or if you want to check out Christmas Markets, plan your trip around the winter months, particularly in December and January. 

Is Switzerland safe? Safety Tips

Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world. We felt completely safe venturing out late at night, using trains, walking old town centres, etc.

As always, when exploring crowded spaces you have to be mindful of your belongings, like your wallet, purses, camera, etc. Don’t leave your bag unzipped. 

It is not uncommon to wear/carry expensive watches, bags, and branded clothing in Switzerland – you just have to be conscious to not flash them around. I prefer wearing low-key luxury pieces so that I don’t catch anyone’s attention (and still look good in photos!)

Exploring Switzerland

When out and about, do carry some form of identification with you. 

Just like in any place in the world, avoid navigating unknown neighbourhoods in the night, and alone. 

Other than being safe against theft, it is important to be mindful of weather, and temperatures in all altitudes (health and physical safety). Be mindful and respectful of trail markings and guidelines. 

Arriving in Switzerland 

There are 7 international airports in Switzerland (2021). Choosing the right airport will depend on the frequency of flights from the city of departure, connectivity, prices, and where you plan to go in Switzerland.

The airports are located in all corners of the country. If traveling from North America or Asia/India, we recommend flying into one of these three airports – Zurich, Geneva and Basel.

From Canada, it is easy to find flights to Zurich (including nonstop ones from Vancouver BC via Star Alliance partner Swiss International Air Lines). There were flights departing from Newark & LA – USA, and Mumbai, India (pre-2020). You can check flight availability and track prices on Skyscanner here

Zurich Airport - Best places to stay in Zurich
Zurich Airport

Depending on your country/airport of departure, you will find good connectivity for flights for these cities – Zurich, Geneva and Basel, so we recommend starting there first.

If you are already in Europe and in nearby countries, you can arrive in multiple ways including trains, by road and of course flights. 

Getting around in Switzerland Transportation Tips

Switzerland’s scenic trains must be on your mind! It is one of the ways to explore this country, for sure. 

With an extensive train network and availability of (raving) discounted passes, using public transportation is one of the best ways to get around the city or different regions. 

It is also important to note that transportation savings cards (Swiss Travel Pass, Half Fare Card) are useful when you are traveling for a longer duration (like 5 days+, the longer you stay the per day transport costs and visits to free museums makes it all worth it). 

Trains and train station in Switzerland travel tips
Transportation in Switzerland

If you are in the country for less than 3 days, you are better off paying for a daily pass or a city sightseeing pass to explore the attractions and to get around (like the Zurich City Pass). 

Of course, if you are road tripping, you may not need these passes. Although a car will give you flexibility in terms of when you want to leave, it may not be the most feasible in all destinations. For one, many old towns are car-free and pedestrian-friendly. Plus many hotels do not provide free parking – so you have to factor in the costs of fees, gas, car insurance to your overall trip budget.

In Switzerland, you drive on the right side of the road. 

Guided day tours and packaged tours are also a good option to consider if you are nervous about navigating the train networks. 

Although things are pretty straightforward, we totally understand if you need guidance – if our parents were to travel to Switzerland, we will probably book a packaged tour. Salil and I had taken many day tours and short walking tours in Switzerland. 

Budgeting for Switzerland 

Switzerland is not inexpensive. In fact in certain aspects it is like Iceland, especially when it comes to food. A small cup of coffee at a vending machine will probably cost you the same as a delicious latte in Starbucks (in the USA and Canada). 

We were aware of these prices prior to our trip, and so we upped our budget for Switzerland. Point is if you are mid budget travelers like us, you will probably have to spend a little extra than what you normally do in other countries. 

We set aside a budget of 150- 200 CHF /day (per adult, mid budget) which included the hotel, day tour/pass, and food. We only picked up breakfast from a grocery store, and our lunch and dinner were in restaurants, as we were out and about. We also drank a lot of coffee (and candy, sometimes!)

If you are planning to buy any luxury items, or fancy souvenirs, add more money to the budget. Typical knick-knacks like postcards, fridge magnets, keychains were about 3-6 CHF (postcards were .99 CHF+).

Accommodation: Where to stay in Switzerland first time 

There are a variety of accommodation options in Switzerland. There are B&B, 5-star heritage hotels, mountain resorts, hostels, campgrounds, and Airbnbs. 

During off season, you can expect cheaper hotel room rates. But on an average, hotels in the city center area with 5 star status (fancy restaurant, pool, etc) start at about 350 CHF per night for double occupancy.

3 star or lower properties start at 230 CHF per night, double occupancy. Parking may or may not be included. Some hotels, and bed and breakfast may offer breakfast.

Hotel Interlaken: Where to stay in Switzerland travel tips
Grand Hotel Interlaken

Standard hotels near the airport or away from the center start at around 180 CHF double occupancy, per night. 

Airbnbs style apartments start at 180 CHF per night, with basic amenities (and a kitchen). 

Hostels are a popular place to stay in Switzerland. Although we have not stayed in one, we can share that hostels cost around 180 CHF for shared dorm, and at that price we were able to score a standard hotel (iBis hotel). 

You can book private rooms too, in a hostel. They also offer breakfast. 

In the winter times, resorts in ski/mountain towns are expensive. On an average you can expect to pay 400 CHF and above, double occupancy in popular properties. 

In each accommodation, you are required to show your passport, and pay a city tax. It ranges from 2.50 to 3.50 CHF per person per night. You pay for it upon checking in (or check out – on your credit card).

What to eat in Switzerland? 

Where shall we begin? We had a lot of chocolates in Switzerland, especially the ones you don’t get here in Canadian grocery stores, plus you will also find a variety in Toblerones and can also hop on a chocolate factory tour!

Cheese fondue is a must-try in Switzerland. It is a perfect way to feel warm and fuzzy in the colder months! 

A Swiss dish of cheese, pasta, and potatoes is Älpermagronen. It is prepared with cream and baked in the oven. Papet Vaudois is another popular dish – it is composed of a bed of leeks and potatoes, and is paired with sausages. It is very filling. 

For dinners, try Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, which is a dish made of veal strips, white wine, cream, and demiglace. 

Although beer and wine are widely available in restaurants, Switzerland takes pride in their brandy, and schnapps/Pflümli. 

Switzerland Tipping Guide: Is tipping necessary in Switzerland?

In most European countries, tips and service charges are included in the final bill provided to you. You are not obligated to tip in Switzerland.

However, if you are happy with the food and service, you can tip the server to appreciate him/her. Because it is not mandatory you can decide how much you want to give. 

We follow the tipping % that we give here in Canada (just personal choice), and it is either 5% or 10%. Sometimes, if paying by cash we round up the bill amount, and leave the change. Or round up to the nearest franc. 

It is totally your call! 

If you are staying at a luxury hotel or resort, and a bellman carries your luggage, a tip of around 2 CHF (each bag) will be nice. Same goes for tipping a tour guide (5-10% defending on service).

Switzerland Bucket list destinations and places

From history, nature to adventure lovers, Switzerland has something for everybody. Swiss cities are filled with cute medieval old towns, beautiful shopping lanes, art galleries, luxury hotels and fancy diners.

Zürich is the largest city in Switzerland, and one of the popular destinations in the country. The beauty of Zurich is personified by the Limmat River flowing through the old town, museums, churches, beautiful promenade and the expensive street – Bahnhofstrasse. 

Views of Zurich Old Town: Planning a trip to Switzerland
Views of Zurich Old Town

Situated by Lake Geneva are the cities of Geneva, Montreux and Lausanne. Geneva is also a great destination to start your Swiss adventure. Known for the iconic jet fountains, flower clock and UN & other international offices, you can’t go wrong with an extended trip to Geneva.

From Zurich/Geneva, Zermatt is about 3 hours away. Zermatt is a mountain town, with views of the Matterhorn. 

Other popular cities in Switzerland include – Bern (capital city), Basel, Lucerne, St Moritz, to name a few. And cute towns like Lugano, Interlaken, and Grindelwald are a perfect base to explore the countryside and indulge in outdoorsy activities like hiking, biking, paragliding, swimming, and boating. The Bernese Oberland is on every Swiss lover’s bucket list. 

Traveling by train is a unique experience in itself in Switzerland. Journeying through small towns, tunnels, and the countryside, inside glass enclosed trains, is a must-do activity. Popular panoramic train routes include – Glacier Express, Bernina Express, and the Golden Pass. These routes last anywhere from 4.50 to 8 hours. 

Vintage train going through the Lauterbrunnen valley located in the Swiss Alps near Interlaken, Switzerland.
Lauterbrunnen valley located in the Swiss Alps near Interlaken

Cable Cars like those to the Top of Europe and Jungfraujoch region, Mount Pilatus, cogwheel trains to Mount Rigi, Mount Titlis, etc allows you to soak in the best of the Swiss Alps, and scenic views. 

Switzerland trip itinerary samples

One of the amazing things about Switzerland is that you can explore a lot of places by public transportation (trains), without renting a car. And the best part – you can keep a major city as base and then go on day trips to explore more of Swiss cities nearby, and the countryside. 

On our Switzerland travel blog, we have covered itineraries for short trips, to week long vacations.

Switzerland itinerary 2 days: Read our epic 9 samples for spending 2 days in Switzerland here. In this Switzerland travel guide, we share multiple itineraries combining Zurich or Geneva as base cities, and then venture on day trips to the Swiss Alps, Grindelwald, cities like Bern, Basel, Lausanne, and more.

Harbour of Geneva in Switzerland Planning tips
Montreux, Switzerland

Switzerland itinerary 5 days: In 5 days in Switzerland, you can spend a few nights in different destinations, and combine a city (or two), and the countryside/outdoor adventures. In our 5 day itinerary for Switzerland, we cover 5 different itinerary samples with scenic trains, tours only, and/ or independent travel. 

Switzerland itinerary 7 days: You can surely cover a lot of ground in 7 days in Switzerland, and we highly recommend spending a week in the country to have a good mix of cities, trains, and epic adventures. Read our entire guide here – this itinerary has recommendations from other travelers as well. 

Switzerland itinerary 14 days 

Create a 14 day Switzerland itinerary with these tips 

Day 1Arrive in Zurich, explore the city highlights
Day 2Venture on a day trip to Bern, check off the old town
Day 3Visit Rhine Falls, and the town of Rapperswil
Day 4Explore Basel on a day tour from Zurich
Day 5Head to Interlaken, and stay there for 2 days
Day 6Go on boat tours, paragliding, scenic cable cars
Day 7Spend 2 days in Lucerne. Explore the city highlights
Day 8Hop on the scenic funicular to Mount Pilatus or Rigi
Day 9Visit Geneva from Lucerne, stay for 3 days
Day 10Explore Montreaux on a day trip from Geneva
Day 11Head to Lausanne + river cruise from Geneva
Day 12
Day 13
Start for Zermatt from Geneva, spend 2 days
Day 14Return to Zurich, shop, and relax

Switzerland travel packages

We love to combine guided tours, and independent travel into our trips. And by using Switzerland tour package options you can skip all the planning, and multiple bookings, and instead have an agency take care of it.

Our favorite package tour provider is Intrepid Travel. They are a small group tour company that organizes tours to Europe, including Switzerland.  

Tourradar is another site, where you can find a huge list of available guided tours. They have multiple departure dates for you to choose from, with a variety of tour operators. 

Here are our top picks, 

TOP PICKS

🗸 Explore Switzerland – Here is a 10 day tour of Switzerland that checks off multiple cities, and popular destinations in the country. Click to view this tour here

🗸 Best of Switzerland in 7 days – This is a 7 day tour of Switzerland with Zurich, Lucerne, Zermatt, and Matterhorn. View the tour here

🗸 There are also day tours that you can use to make the most of your trip!

Packing list for Switzerland for all seasons

We have a detailed guide on what to pack for Switzerland. Here is a quick list of things that you must pack for your trip,

Summer | Spring | Autumn/Fall

  • Tops, shirts
  • Bottoms – jeans, shorts, leggings 
  • Flowy dresses 
  • Comfortable walking or hiking shoes for sightseeing, outings, cable car rides
  • Lightweight (waterproof) jacket
  • Light Cardigan (for crossover months)
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses 
  • Swimwear, flip flops and quick drying towel (lakes, pools)
  • Daypack to store travel essentials, water bottle, camera gear, a small umbrella
  • Carry-on luggage or 45 L backpack

During the cross-over months, and off season (fall and spring), do carry a warm jacket or cardigan as temperatures drop in the evenings. Rains also add a little chill in the air. 

Winter

  • Long sleeve tops
  • Bottoms – jeans, leggings 
  • Nice sweater Dress for dinners out (her)
  • Thermal wear (top and bottom to layer on)
  • Winter Parka, or wool coat
  • Winter boots
  • Walking shoes
  • Sunglasses & sunscreen
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Warm socks
  • Beanie
  • Lounge wear
  • Daypack to store travel essentials, water bottle, camera gear, a small umbrella
  • Carry-on luggage or 45 L backpack 

Don’t forget travel documents, credit cards and currency. Plus your travel card and/or day pass to save money on transportation. Must Pack: Universal Adaptor (to charge/plug your electronics).

Travel medicine kit and Vaccinations

We always like to carry a small medicine kit with us on our trips. They include first aid, pain killers, essential oils, etc. You can add prescriptions, jet lag/melatonin too (plus lens solutions, etc). 

There are some vaccines recommended by WHO for Switzerland. They are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, flu, chickenpox, and shingles. 

Travel Insurance for Switzerland 

For all of your trips to Switzerland, we highly recommend getting travel insurance. We always take travel medical insurance, and now (in today’s time) trip cancellation is essential too.

Depending on what you are carrying with you, you must consider buying lost baggage insurance as well. Also, insure your expensive items (camera gear, etc). Check travel insurance quotes from World Nomads here

Beautiful nature in Switzerland
Beautiful Switzerland

How do I plan a trip to Switzerland?

Here is how we planned our first trip to Switzerland

Step 1: Checking our vacation time off from our employers. Booking time off. Note: If you have a specific season or festival that you wish to attend, plan your vacation/trip around that trip. 

Step 1.1: Once vacation is approved, apply for tourist visa, if it applies to you

Step 2: Narrow down on the destinations. We recommend not combining too many destinations, but pick 2-4 depending on your trip duration.  We have 3 Switzerland itinerary samples for you 

Step 3: Once the destinations are picked, it is time to create a loose itinerary. This step is important so that you can budget for accommodations, tours, and travel passes. 

  • Check the flight tickets
  • Starting city and hotel (how many nights, tours, passes?)
  • Will you take day trips/tours out the base city or stay overnight in every city you visit. 

Step 4: Save for the trip, or plan a budget

Step 5: Book accommodation, tours, and/or Swiss travel pass, Half Fare card or city passes. And of course the big ticket item – your flight tickets. Save a copy of all emails, passes on your app or inbox

Step 6: Check out this packing list, and organize your clothing, gear and other accessories

Step 7: Get travel insurance prior to your trip

Step 8: Inform friends and family about the trip (a few days prior)

Step 9: Get to the airport for your flight to Switzerland (D day!)

Additional Switzerland Trip Planning Tips

How much is a trip to Switzerland?

A trip to Switzerland will cost around 150- 200 CHF  per day per adult for mid budget travelers (double occupancy hotel). This budget will vary depending on the season, and the selection of hotel location, and other amenities. 

This budget is for one person

Hotel 75 CHF (room rate 150 CHF shared by two)
Food 65 CHF (3 meals – light breakfast and lunch, hearty dinner + drinks)
Transport 10 CHF+ (minimum daily pass. More if you are booking a day tour, walking tour, etc)

What is the best month to go to Switzerland?

September is a great time to visit Switzerland. During this time, there are fewer crowds, and accommodation rates are inviting. The weather is perfect for outdoor dining/patio fun, walking in old town, and temperatures are comfortable for sightseeing cruises in the evening. 

Our next favorite time to visit is December, for cute Christmas markets, and winter activities. Accommodation is expensive during this time so plan ahead!

How to plan a trip to Switzerland from Malaysia and India?

It is easy to book a trip to Switzerland from Malaysia and India. Flights take about 11+ hours to get to Zurich from one of the major airports in each country. There are many pre-packaged tours to Switzerland that are offered (honeymoon special, off-season, etc). 

Malaysians do not need a visa to travel to Switzerland for a period of up to 90 days. A valid passport, hotel reservations, and return air tickets to Switzerland should be presented upon arrival at the port of entry. Indians do need a Schengen Visa (multiple entry).

How many days is enough for Switzerland?

7 days are enough to explore the best of Switzerland. In a 7 day Switzerland itinerary you can cover 2-3 cities, go on a scenic train ride, and visit a mountain resort/nature venture!

How to plan a 7 day trip to Switzerland?

Here is an ideal Switzerland itinerary for 7 days. Start by arriving in Zurich. 

Day by day itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Zurich. 
Day 2: Berne. 
Day 3: Lucerne. 
Day 4: Interlaken and Jungfraujoch. 
Day 5: Basel. 
Day 6: Zermatt. 
Day 7: Return to Zurich. 
Alternate day 7: Return to Geneva from Zermatt

We hope you enjoyed this guide to planning your trip to Switzerland. If you have additional questions, so let us know in the comments below. 

Happy Planning! 

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