Switzerland travel guide
With snow-capped Alps, forested hills, fairytale castles, Renaissance cathedrals, shimmering lakes, stylish spas and luxury ski resorts, it's easy to see why Switzerland has been one of the world's top tourist destinations for the past two centuries.
It is the country that fashioned tourism, so it's no surprise that Switzerland caters to visitors all year round. In spring and summer it offers lakeside chalets, mountain trails and spa resorts. In the sunny southern region of Ticino, near the Italian border, visitors will find palm-fringed Riviera-style resorts offering a variety of water sports. Those keen on hiking and mountaineering will find over 31,000 miles (50,000km) of mountain and forest trails throughout the country.
In November the country's ski resorts begin opening, and visitors pour in throughout the Christmas season and the crowds do not abate until the snow begins to melt with the onset of spring. With the highest pistes in Europe, Switzerland's ski runs offer reliable snow and breathtaking views. Most resorts also have plenty to do for those not so keen on skiing, making Switzerland the perfect destination for a winter fantasy of log fires, fondues and glistening snow.
Switzerland's cities are pristine and beautifully laid out with famous Swiss precision. Zurich is widely regarded as the intellectual and artistic centre of the country, sporting incredible architecture and more than a thousand fountains, with many museums and galleries to boot. Geneva is the principal city for the international community, and is home to hundreds of world organisations. Its setting on the shores of Lake Geneva gives it a romantic atmosphere, and the city has an exciting, if rather expensive, nightlife.
The official currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF), divided into 100 rappen (German) or centimes (French). Although not part of the EU, many prices are nonetheless indicated in Euros and some merchants may accept Euros. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are widespread; many are equipped with the Cirrus or Maestro system. Banks offer the best exchange rates, but it is also possible to exchange money at major hotels, main train stations and airports. Banks are open Monday to Friday.
Language : The three official languages are Swiss German, French and Italian. A few people speak Romansch, but this is confined to the southeastern corner of the country. Most people know at least three languages, including English.
Electricity : Electrical current in Switzerland is 230 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are of the linear, rounded three-pin type, but rounded two-pin plugs will fit the outlet.
Entry Requirements :
US passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
United Kingdom citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay, with the exception of passports marked 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, which will be accepted if valid on arrival.
No visa is required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar, and 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom). All other British nationals are entitled to a maximum stay of 90 days without a visa.
Canadian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
Australian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
South African passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, and a Schengen visa. Temporary passports are not accepted. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
Irish nationals require a valid passport, but no visa is necessary.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
Passport/Visa Note :
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and as of December 2008, Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health :
Swiss medical facilities and health care are among the best in the world, but very expensive and health insurance is recommended. Immunisation certificates are only required if the traveller has been in an infected area within two weeks prior to arrival in the country. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Medical insurance is advised for other nationalities.
A 15 percent service charge is normally included in all hotel, taxi, bar and restaurant bills in Switzerland, and further tipping is not necessary, but small change left over is appreciated.
Safety Information :
Switzerland has a low crime rate compared to other European countries and is generally a safe country to travel in, however there has been a recent increase in petty theft and visitors should be alert to pickpockets and thieves, particularly in the city centres and on public transport. Be aware of robberies on overnight trains.
Local Customs :
Privacy and discretion are highly valued in Swiss culture, and strangers generally do not speak to each other. The Swiss are naturally reserved and conservative, and prefer structured rules to govern their daily lives. Littering is a serious social crime in Switzerland, and you should also make an effort to throw your recyclables in the proper receptacle. French and German-speaking Switzerland have different customs in some areas. When being introduced to someone, German-speaking Swiss will shake hands, while French-speaking locals may kiss on the cheek three times (generally left, right, left). While many Swiss speak English, it is considered polite to inquire before attempting conversation.
Swiss business culture is based predominantly on merit. The Swiss are masters of building well-oiled machines. The business world reflects this and operates in a similar fashion. Efficiency and organisation are prioritised. A formal, no-nonsense approach is central to business culture in Switzerland. There is little room for humour or lack of preparation in negotiations and business meetings. While the Swiss are slightly less pedantic than their German or French counterparts, great value is attached to appearance and punctuality.
Dress codes for business people in Switzerland are quite formal and conservative, particularly in the banking sector where dark suits are the norm. Sports jackets and a collared shirt and tie will suffice for businessmen while businesswomen in Switzerland should adopt corporate wear - either trousers or suit skirts are appropriate. Business and pleasure are entirely separate in the Swiss work environment. In keeping work and personal compartmentalised, Swiss businesspeople even shy away from calling their colleague's by first names, which reinforces formality and boundaries between work and play. When invited to a Swiss business associate's home, a small gift such as flowers or a box of chocolates is appropriate.
In Swiss business culture those in senior positions garner a great deal of respect, but decision-making processes are often quite democratic. Switzerland is home to over 1000 multinationals and has become something of a melting pot of business customs, regional influences and etiquette. English is the corporate language in Switzerland particularly for multinationals. However, regional languages, such as French, German and Italian, are sometimes preferred in their respective areas. wiss-German business meetings are rarely over food and are often as brief as possible with little small talk. But the Swiss-French and Swiss-Italians often meet over lunches and talk is not restricted only to business. Handshakes are common for addressing both men and women. Business hours are from 8am to 5pm on weekdays with a lunch break from 12pm to 2pm.
The international country dialling code for Switzerland is +41. Mobile phone GSM networks operate throughout the country. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts; some public phone booths also have internet and email access.
Duty Free :
Travellers to Switzerland over 17 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 2 litres alcohol up to 15 percent and 1 litre alcohol over 15 percent. The maximum allowance of wine is 20 litres, but duty will be payable on this quantity. A reasonable amount of personal effects and gifts (including perfume) to the value of Sfr200 for residents of Switzerland and Sfr100 for other travellers. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.
Location: The airport is situated three miles (5km) north of Geneva.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: +41 22 717 7111.
Transfer between terminals: Terminal 2 is only used for charter flights in the winter months and is usually closed.
Getting to the city: Public buses leave for the city centre every few minutes from the departures and arrivals levels. Passengers can pick up tickets for public transport from the machines in the baggage collection area on the arrivals level; information is available at the Unireso information counter in the arrivals hall. A free hotel shuttle transports passengers to major hotels. A Unireso train leaves for Cornavin RR Station in the city centre roughly every 10 minutes, from where connections can be made to destinations throughout Europe.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz. Travellers should ensure they hire their car on the French side of the border if they are going to France, and vice-versa. It is only about three miles (5km) into town.
Airport Taxis: Taxis can be found outside of the arrival terminal. The trip is three miles (5km) and commute times vary according to traffic. Taxis are metered and there are around 60 registered taxi ranks in Geneva.
Facilities: Luggage lockers can be found in the Train Station Mall and on the arrivals level. A Skycom Airport Business Centre and Business Corner offer a range of business facilities. Other amenities include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, bars and restaurants, tourist information, a hotel reservation desk, post office and shops, including duty-free. Facilities for disabled passengers are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
Parking: Parking at Geneva Airport ranges upwards from about CHF 3 an hour for short-term parking, to CHF 29 daily and CHF 101 weekly in long-term parking. Note that tariffs vary dramatically depending on the parking lot. P51 is the cheapest long-term option. Eurocard, American Express or Visa cards can be used to pay for parking in parking lots.
Departure tax: None.
Location: The airport is situated eight miles (12km) north of Zurich.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: +41 43 816 2211.
Transfer between terminals: The three terminals are connected.
Getting to the city: Swiss Rail (SBB) provides fast and efficient transport to the city centre. The station is located below the Arrivals Hall and trains leave roughly every 10 minutes for Zurich and other destinations; travel time is ten minutes and fares are determined on the type of pass and the number of city zones crossed. The Glattalbahn tram line services other nearby cities and the outskirts of Zurich. Hotel shuttle buses and a variety of public bus services extend across various routes. The airport is very well serviced by public transport.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Sixt and Hertz.
Airport Taxis: Metered taxis are available outside Arrivals 1 and 2. The 15-minute taxi journey to Zurich costs around CHF 70.
Facilities: Facilities include banks, bureaux de change, bars and restaurants, postal services, shops including duty-free, business facilities and a crèche. Facilities for disabled passengers are excellent.
Parking: There are extensive parking facilities at Zurich International Airport, with more distant parking lots (which tend to be cheaper) connected to the terminal building by free shuttles. Prices range depending on the parking lot. Pick-up and drop-off zones are situated along the access road in front of the arrivals and departures sections, but there is a small charge for using even these areas. Parking can be reserved in advance online.
Departure tax: None.
Bern Belp Airport
Location: The airport is situated six miles (9km) southeast of Berne.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
Contacts: Tel: +41 31 960 2111.
Getting to the city: Trains travel regularly between the city and the airport. The white airport buses stop outside the terminal, a single ticket is Sfr15 and the journey to Bern's central train station is 20 minutes. Taxis are also available.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Sixt, Europcar and Hertz.
Facilities: Facilities include banks, bureaux de change, bars and restaurants, tourist information and hotel reservations, duty-free shopping and business facilities. Facilities for disabled passengers are excellent; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
Parking: Short and long term parking options are available.
Departure tax: None.
Location: The airport is located nearly four miles (6km) northwest of Basel, Switzerland.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October).
Getting to the city: There is regular bus service from the airport to a number of local towns, including Basel, Strasbourg, Saint Louis, Mulhouse and Freiburg. There is no direct rail service to the airport, but there are train stations in Basel.
Car rental: Avis, Europcar and Sixt are among the car rental companies operating at Basel Airport.
Airport Taxis: There are taxis available on both the Swiss and French sides of the airport. The average fares to nearby towns are as follows: Mulhouse €50, Freiburg €125, Basel CHF 50. Fares will be higher at night.
Facilities: The terminal contains an information desk, restaurants and cafes, duty-free shopping, currency exchange facilities and ATMs.
Parking: There is plenty of short and long-term parking available, but prices vary between the French and Swiss sides.
The temperature is moderate with no extremes of hot and cold, so Switzerland can be visited at anytime of year. Summer is warm to hot lasting from about June to September, and although good for outdoor activities it is also the most crowded time for a holiday. Ski resorts open in late November and remain so until the snow begins to melt in April.
Swiss Tourist Office, Zurich: +41 (0)1 288 1111 or
United States Embassy, Bern: +41(0)31 357 7011.
British Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 359 7700.
Canadian Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 357 3200.
Australian Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 (0)22 799 9100.
South African Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 350 1313.
Irish Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 352 1442.
New Zealand Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 (0)22 929 0350.
Swiss Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 745
Foreign Embassies in Switzerland
Swiss Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7616 6000.
Swiss Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 1837.
Swiss Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6162 8400.
Swiss Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 452 0660.
Swiss Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 218 6382.
Swiss Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 472 1593.
Switzerland Emergency Numbers
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