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.
Sightseeing in Switzerland is a feast for the senses, with gorgeous, soul-stirring scenery and picture-perfect cities and villages to experience. Switzerland is a country that exudes wealth of both the material and natural kind - after all, this tiny nation has more millionaires and mountains per capita than anywhere else on earth. Its many riches made the country one of the very first global tourist destinations, and as a result, modern-day Switzerland is extremely well prepared for foreign visitors.
Getting to Switzerland's many attractions is effortless, if rather expensive. The rail network is clean and efficient, with other public transport filling the gaps in between. Alternatively, with impeccably maintained and signposted roads, renting a car is an attractive option, especially for travellers who value their independence while abroad.
With cold winters perfect for skiing and mountain viewing, and glorious summers to enjoy the exciting cities of Geneva and Zurich and the charming Alpine villages, Switzerland is truly a year-round destination. An obligatory stop on any grand tour of the continent, Switzerland is a sure bet for travellers looking to experience the best of what Europe has to offer.
Of the church spires that characterise 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 Marc Chagall in 1970.
A fascinating exploration of Swiss national history, the Swiss National Museum has an impressive and varied collection of ancient artefacts, providing visitors with a richer understanding of Swiss life and consciousness through the centuries. Housed in an exquisite castle-like building, with a distinctive tower, the permanent collection contains a comprehensive anthology of artefacts from the Stone Age to modern times. First stop is the archaeology exhibit where tools and articles dating back to before 800BC are on display. Highlights at the museum include the Celestial globe of Jost Bürg (1594), a groundbreaking symbol of European thought, religious reliquaries from the 13th to 16th centuries and ancient wheels, considered to be among the earliest ever found. Another major drawcard is the Armoury, where historic Swiss weaponry used in combat between 800 and 1800BC can be found. Visitors can expect to see crossbows, swords and suits of armour.
Interlaken, meaning 'between the lakes', is the tourist capital of the Bernese Oberland. As a popular holiday spot it is superbly situated between the lakes of Thun and Brienz, offering a variety of water-based activities during summer, and access to an endless amount of winter sports in the surrounding mountains of the Bernese Alps and its valleys. Linked to numerous holiday resorts and villages by a series of mountain railways and cablecars, Interlaken has a myriad of slopes and trails in many different areas offering skiing, snowboarding and hiking, as well as connecting to the famous cog railway leading to the plateau of the Jungfrau Mountain. During winter, skiers can take advantage of the town's low prices, avoiding the in-season costs of higher altitude ski resorts. With its many fine hotels, nightlife and dining opportunities, numerous excursion possibilities and first-class transport connections, Interlaken is an ideal all-round holiday destination for both winter and summer, for skiers and non-skiers alike.
An excellent day trip from Zurich and close to the town of Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls (Rheinfall) is the largest and waterfall in Europe, impressive not so much for its height of 75ft (23m), but more for the volume of water thundering over its broad breadth. This natural wonder is especially remarkable during 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 hostel. Rainbow-coloured 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 Centre 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 (1 August) that attracts thousands of spectators every year.
Claiming to occupy the sunniest plateau in the Swiss Alps, the twin villages of Crans and Montana are perched 4920 feet (1,500m) above the Rhone Valley. Crans-Montana provides the best of both a mountain village and modern Swiss ski resort, offering an Alpine shopping paradise, and easy access to nearby attractions like the museums of Sierra, the underground lake near St-Léonard, and the glacier at Plaine Morte. The resort has a glitzy reputation and enjoys a fashionable nightlife. Crans-Montana offers many summer activities, including water skiing, swimming, mountain climbing, hiking, and a championship golf course.
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 that he caught. The bear has remained the symbol of the capital city ever since. One of the most charming cities in Europe, its Old Town centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the preservation of its cobbled medieval street plan, with many fountains, towers and a massive astronomical clock. 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, theatres, long-standing monuments and landmarks, Bern is a popular base from which to explore the mountains and lakes of the nearby Bernese Oberland.
Devoted for the most part to 19th and 20th century artwork, the Kunsthaus Zurich (Zurich Fine Arts Museum) is a cultural drawcard for any art lover. Holding one of the largest collections of works by Edvard Munch outside Norway, as well as works by renowned modern artists such as Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Rothko and the Expressionists, Kokoschka, Beckmann and Corinth to name a few, there is a whole host of quality artwork at which the visitor can marvel. Visitors can also view the creative talents of cutting edge Swiss artists such as the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, and well-known Swiss duo Fischli/Weiss. Situated in a sophisticated building with contemporary exhibitions, a trip to the Kunsthaus Zurich makes for a very rewarding cultural day out.
Trains, buses, trams and bikes are common ways of getting around Zurich. To get above the bustling streets and cobbled walkways, travellers should hop onto either the Polybahn or Rigiblick Funicular for panoramic views of the city and Lake Zurich. The traditional Polybahn was first opened in 1889 to solve the transport problem of students travelling from central Zurich to the University of Technology, which is situated on the towering Zürichberg hill. The Polybahn has maintained its classic Swiss appearance and continues to haul students and tourists to the Polyterasse viewpoint. Serving an attractive neighbourhood north of Zurich, the Rigiblick Funicular rewards travellers with a sweeping panoramic view of the city and the unmistakable Mount Rigi (1797m).
Known for sophisticated designs such as the internationally recognised symbol of the Red Cross, it is no wonder that Switzerland has a museum dedicated solely to design. With four separate collections, visitors can indulge in the designs of the Poster Collection, Design Collection, Graphic Collection and Decorative Arts Collection, spanning the past century or visit one of the temporary exhibits where works of acclaimed industrial designers, photographers, graphic artists and architects are regularly shown. Designed by the progressive Swiss architects Adolf Steger and Karl Egender as a Functionalist manifesto, the Museum of Design Zurich is a great example of modern architecture in Switzerland and is a gallery not to be missed.
Situated in the old town, across from central station, the narrow lanes of Niederdorf wind through towering 14th century buildings revealing small plazas where restaurants spill onto cobbled streets and buskers entertain diners and passers-by with miscellaneous music. This charming district has an interesting array of fashion stores, bookshops and antique dealers as well as superb independent cheese, wine and pastry shops. In the evening the area transforms into one of Zurich's buzzing nightlife venues with a wide selection of bars, restaurants and clubs to be explored.
Unlike the dubious reputation of zoos worldwide, the Zurich Zoo is refreshingly dedicated to nature conservation, maintaining ecosystems and protecting animal species, with many projects of reintroduction into the wild. Offering guided tours and in depth information tools, the Zurich Zoo does its best to educate the public. With over 340 different species and 4000 animals, visitors will get the unique chance to view endangered animal species such as snow leopards and red pandas. Recreating ecosystems from exotic Madagascar to the rugged Ethiopian Highlands and housing the various animals in spacious enclosures, a visit to the diverse Zurich Zoo is a pleasurable and invigorating excursion. Travellers should visit the website to see feeding times and which new pups have been born.
The final work of the renowned Swiss architect who pioneered modernism and laid the foundation for Bauhaus, the Pavillon Le Corbusier in Zurichhorn Park is the epitome of modern design. A conglomeration of his life's work, the former Centre Le Corbusier and Heidi Weber Museum unify Le Corbusier's architecture, paintings, furniture, sculpture and writings, all in one space. Created in the 1960s, the contemporary building has strong references to Mondrian and is a jumble of cubic structures made of coloured panels, glass and steel, protected by a detached angular roof. Initially designed as a private house, the many spaces of the Centre Le Corbusier have fared well as an exhibition and learning centre. While travelling to this illuminating masterpiece, tourists can take a stroll alongside the Limmat River in picturesque Zurichhorn Park and should look out for the sculptures of Jean Tinguely and Henry Moore.
One of the tallest fountains in the world, the Jet d'Eau is a Geneva attraction that cannot be missed. Projecting 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200km/h) and pumping 132 gallons (500 litres) of water per second, the fountain was initially established to release pressure for hydropower generation on the Rhone River, but was so loved by the populace that in 1891 the city created a permanent fountain. As Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York has the Empire State Building, Geneva has the Jet d'Eau. For a breathtaking and romantic sight, tourists should visit at night, when the fountain is lit up.
One of the most creative and thought-provoking museums in Europe, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum brings together sculpture, installation, photography and film to highlight the importance of human rights, the history of conflict in the 20th century and the humanitarian work the Red Cross has done in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in both war and natural disasters. Funded entirely by outside donors, the museum is appropriately situated on the hillside opposite the United Nations, within the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A significant stopover on a visit to Geneva, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum provides insight into the gross implications of war and the tragedy that surrounds, as well as the committed work of the volunteers and Red Cross representatives alike. All the exhibits have an English language option.
Leysin has a reputation as one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in Switzerland, offering children's activities year-round at more affordable rates than its fashionable neighbours in the Rhone Valley. There are a number of off-piste diversions, including excursions to Lake Geneva, the museums and castles in Aigle, and the igloos in Teepee Village. The mountain provides a spectacular setting for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and rock climbing in summer. There are a number of good restaurants, including the glass revolving Le Kuklos, which has a panoramic view of the region, and a few bars in town. While the village is removed from the larger skiing areas, skiing in Leysin's 37 miles (60km) of pistes provides challenges ranging from nursery areas to two black runs for experts, and 24 miles (39km) of cross country trails. There is a ski school that arranges heli-skiing trips, and the glacier at Les Diablerets is included in the ski pass.
Leysin is a major snowboarding destination, with a snowboard park and half pipe that have hosted many professional competitions.
With initial construction commencing in 1160 and lasting nearly a century, St Peter's Cathedral has over the years become a hotchpotch of architectural styles with Romanesque, Gothic and Neoclassical features. A former Catholic cathedral, St Peter's became a Protestant church in 1536 at the advent of the Reformation and was cleared of its ornate fittings such as altars, statues, paintings and furniture, but the stained-glass windows remained. Prominent theologian John Calvin preached at St Peter's Church between 1536 and his death in 1564 and the church soon became the centre of Protestantism. Recently, the remains of a fourth-century church were discovered under the existing building, providing an insightful look into early Christianity. Some of it is open to the public and can be viewed through the small museum on the site. For a breathtaking panoramic view of Geneva and Lac Leman, visitors can climb the 157 steps that lead to the summit of the cathedral's north tower.
Public parks cover over one quarter of Geneva providing the populace with a quiet haven of rolling lawns and tree lined walkways. Dotted with many curious sculptures and attractions, there are a few parks worthwhile visiting. Bastion Park houses the 328-foot (100m) Reformation Wall, a monument commemorating the major figures and events of the Protestant Reformation, as well as life size chess boards at the north end of the park.
To view the famous flower clock, a symbol of the Swiss watch industry, head to the English Garden close to the water fountain and for outstanding views of Mont Blanc and the lake, Park Moynier is a firm favourite, with the History of Science Museum situated in the centre. Twenty hectares of woodland and hiking trails is what you will find at Batie Woods on the outskirts of the city.
Opened in 1994, the cutting edge Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art refuses to conform and as former museum director Christian Bernard says, the museum 'is not here to present the acceptable face of contemporary art'. With modern works dating from the 1960s to the present day, exhibited in a turn of the century factory, visitors to MAMCO will spend hours marvelling at the range of contemporary art that covers three floors. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art constantly reinvents itself, changing its exhibits and interior construction three times a year. The works of famous Dadaist Marcel Duchamp are on display all year round.
Built between 1929 and 1937 to host the League of Nations, the Palais des Nations now houses the United Nations Office at Geneva, which was inaugurated in 1966 after the dissolution of the League of Nations. The biggest United Nations station outside of the headquarters in New York, the office at Geneva provides critical support to the organization. Situated in 45-hectare Ariana Park, the extensive Palais des Nations is bordered by century old trees, and it is not uncommon to see peacocks darting around; the result of a request by the former owner of the land who bequeathed it to the City of Geneva on condition that peacocks may run freely on its grounds. Tours include the council room with frescoes by José Maria Sert and the Assembly Hall. Identity documents are required.
Featuring a comprehensive collection of 7,000 artworks and artefacts from civilisations around the world, the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva is the outcome of the tireless accumulations of Josef Mueller, whose collection began in 1907 and is continued to this day by his heirs. Founded in 1977, the museum wanted to preserve and study the sculptures, fabrics and ornaments brought from "primitive" civilisations that were once isolated communities. Visitors should look out for the megalithic monuments from Indonesia, the statues and items of worship from Oceania, pre-Columbian art from the Americas and ancient masks and shields from Africa.
The cultural hub of Geneva, Place Neuve sits just outside the former ramparts and is a great access point for the Old Town, which lies on the other side of the high retaining walls. Home to three of Geneva's regal performance and exhibition halls, the Grand Theatre (opera house), Conservatory of Music and Rath Museum, the Place Neuve is worth visiting to witness the architectural aesthetic of these buildings. In the centre of the square is the emblematic statue of Swiss general Henri Dufour, who was the first person to establish a map of Switzerland and also presided over the First Geneva Convention. The highest mountain in Switzerland, Dufourspitze, is named after him.
Comprising three sections, the captivating Museum of Art and History explores the passage of western culture and international civilisations with over 7,000 pieces covering archaeology (Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Etruscan), fine arts (paintings from the Renaissance to modern times) and applied arts (found objects from the Middle Ages to the 20th century). One of Geneva's largest museums, the colossal Museum of Art and History was built at the beginning of the 20th century, between 1903 and 1910. When visiting, travellers should look out for paintings by legendary artists Van Gogh and Renoir.
The museum offers a fascinating presentation of Genevese, Swiss and European watches and enamels dating from the 16th to the early 19th century, including a great number of masterpieces that have left their mark on the history of horology. Audiovisual multilingual presentations of selected masterpieces animate the exhibit. Visitors can explore the roots of time-measurement through a visual timeline, which details the key events in watchmaking's evolution from the Antique creations of the 1500s, through to the founding of Patek Philippe in 1839, up to the present day. The intricate details and designs, moving parts and beautiful colours of the collection will provide hours of fascination.
The holiday destination of Grindelwald is a picturesque, traditional mountain settlement at the foot of the Eiger Mountain, surrounded by spectacular alpine landscapes. Popular as both a summer and winter holiday spot, it offers miles of slopes and hiking trails across the Alps, and for non-skiers there are a huge variety of winter activities, from tobogganing to groomed winter hiking tracks. For skiers there are three distinct areas to choose from, with slopes for beginners, intermediates and the challenges of the Eiger glacier for the experienced; as well as lift links to Wengen and Mürren, making this one of the best holiday resorts from which to explore the Jungfrau region. Skiing in Grindelwald is best suited to intermediates, and there are plenty of long, gentle runs to keep them busy. There are plenty of options for true beginners as well at the Bodmi Nursery slopes. While advanced skiers won't find much, Grindelwald boasts the famous Lauberhorn World Cup downhill run, as well as the near-vertical Kanonenrohr.
The resort is part of the Jungfrau region, and shares mountain space with Wengen. There are roughly 12 miles (20km) of cross-country tracks.
The Alps contain some of Switzerland's most dramatic landscapes, in a country already well endowed with spectacular scenery and fabulous alpine vistas. Situated at the heart of the Alps, Switzerland shares the mountain range with France, Italy and Austria and provides winter and summer time enjoyment for skiers, snowboarders, walkers and climbers. Switzerland boasts the first ever ski resort, and since then over 200 first-class resorts have attracted thousands of Swiss and international downhill and cross-country skiers as well as snowboarders.
The tradition of skiing goes back two centuries. Today, with more than 1,700 mountain railways and ski lifts, renowned ski schools and instructors, the best ski equipment in the world, and outstanding slopes and facilities catering for all levels of ability, it deserves to be called 'Europe's winter playground'. The ideal resort for beginners or families is Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region, while intermediates and snowboarders head for the twin resorts of Davos and Klosters, with miles of excellent ski terrain and acclaimed to be one of the top snowboarding destinations worldwide.
Expert skiers can enjoy the challenge of 7,200 ft (2,700m) vertical drops on the Klein Matterhorn at Zermatt, and the ski valley of Verbier is ideal for shoulder-season skiing as its location provides early snow that lingers late into the spring. The stylish resort of St Moritz offers the most energetic and varied nightlife out of all the Swiss resorts. The ideal ski season runs from January to late March, but is most crowded during the Christmas holidays and the month of February. Climbers and walkers head to the Alps between June and September when the weather is warmer and more settled. There are more than 40,390 miles (65,000km) of well-marked and maintained hiking trails as well as longer treks across the country that will reveal miles and miles of unspoiled beauty.
Grindelwald has long been the capital of summer hiking in the Bernese Alps, and more recently added a network of groomed trails for winter hikers. Climbers have long been lured by the challenges of the Matterhorn and there are some memorable hikes up to the cliffs below the summit. The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) is the best source of information on mountaineering. The most accessible and visited alpine area is the magnificent Bernese Oberland region in the centre of the country with classic Swiss scenery - picturesque peaks, quaint wooden chalets and charming mountain villages, green pastures, lakes and the tinkle of cow bells. This is a fabulous area for walking and provides exceptional winter sports.
When people in Geneva say they go to Museum, they mean The Natural History Museum. This museum presents an educational look at the world of nature with special emphasis on the ecological history of Switzerland. Included is a life-size model menagerie of bears, foxes, alligators, aardvarks and other animals from around the globe, as well as a complete collection of every mineral and plant indigenous to Switzerland. There is also a special children's area. A great place to bring the kids, the Musée d'Historie Naturelle contains numerous historical collections left to the museum by world-renowned scientists, such as Lunel, Saussure and Fatio. Children will be amazed by displays of animals and specimens including a leatherback turtle, giant spider crabs, tiger sharks and even a coelacanth.
A visit to Aquaparc is a must for families on holiday in Geneva, especially with children. This water park caters to children of all ages and features indoor and outdoor swimming and water adventure rides and slides in a tropical theme. Brave children will love rides such as the Devil's Fall and Morgan's Thrill, while parents can indulge in a massage with thousands of bubbles in the hot tubs. The water and the air are heated to 28°C and some attractions are open all year round. Regardless of the weather (if it's raining, if it's windy or if it's snowing), Aquaparc is open.
Advertised as the 'slowest express train in the world', the Glacier Express is also the most panoramic, and is a breathtaking way to experience the magnificence of the Swiss Alps. The seven and a half hour journey begins daily from Zermatt. The red mountain train crosses more than 291 bridges, winds its way through 91 tunnels and seven valleys and over the 6,670ft (2,033m) Oberalp Pass to the resort of St Moritz, in a spectacular feat of mountain engineering. The train is equipped with large windows for clear viewing and the scenery, including mountain panoramas, quaint villages and wooden chalets, forests and alpine pastures, is stunning. A dining car provides lunch and the mini-bar contains tilted wine glasses to counter the lean of the carriages along the steep mountainous route. The train can be taken in either direction, and if time is short it is possible to travel along a short section of the route, but either way it is advisable to make advance bookings as the train is very popular. There are several departures a day during summer and one a day in winter.
With panoramic views of the Rhone Valley, Veysonnaz forms a part of the Four Valleys ski area together with Nendaz, Verbier, Thyon and La Tzoumaz. A more affordable alternative to fashionable resorts like Verbier, the pretty town of Veysonnaz has managed to retain its Alpine charm with traditional architecture and events like the June Cow Processions. There are a range of activities for non-skiers in both summer and winter, including attractions like the pyramids of Euseigne and the Grande Dixence dam. The town itself has a number of restaurants and bars, as well as a few shops and a recreation centre. The Four Valleys ski area has over 250 miles (400km) of runs, which provide ample off piste opportunities for experts, including the Tortin snow bowl. There are also runs for intermediates and beginners, and the runs in general range from 1,640 feet (500m) to 9,842 feet (3,000m) in elevation, though heli-skiing is available to the Pigne d'Arolla at 12,467 feet (3,800m). The 1936 Neypark at La Choux is a haven for snowboarding in Veysonnaz, featuring a skate-style pyramid and a good selection of rails.
The temperature is moderate with no extremes of hot and cold, so Switzerland can be visited at any time of year. Summer is warm to hot and lasts 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.
Widely considered to be one of the finest restaurants in Switzerland, perhaps even the whole of Europe, maestro chef Rico Zandonella's award-winning reputation attracts the wealthy gourmets of Zurich and boasts a celebrity list that includes the Swiss president, singer Tina Turner (who lives nearby) and the emperor of Japan. The restaurant is in the lakeside town of Kusnacht, about 15 minutes from the city, housed in an elegantly decorated building that was once an art gallery. The menu changes regularly, and can include outstanding speciality lobster dishes or a number of other inventive dishes such as Tuscan dove, scampi lasagne in lemongrass sauce or stuffed squid with a fennel confit. All entrées, desserts and cheeses are of exceptional quality, as is the wine cellar. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Advance booking essential.
One of Zurich's most famous restaurants, Kronenhalle is the place to see and be seen, and over the years has attracted celebrity greats such as James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Richard Strauss and Yves Saint-Laurent. The interior is decorated with original works of famous 20th-century artists including Picasso, Matisse and Miró. The fare is traditional Swiss and includes huge portions of rösti, a delicious herring in double cream, veal steak and duck liver. Reservations are essential.
Originally the carpenter's guildhall, Zunfthaus Zur Zimmerleuten is one of the architectural showpieces of Zurich. Up a flight of Baroque stairs, the elegant dining room serves up dishes that combine Zurich specialities with chef innovations, including the Lake Zurich fish soup with garlic rouille or the triple fillet accompanied with rösti and cream sauce. Reservations recommended. Open daily.
The huge dining hall built in 1487, with thick stone pillars, wooden beams and a decorative ceiling, was originally the city's armoury, and the medieval character of the restaurant is highlighted by the décor, with weapons and paintings from the Middle Ages, and waitresses in old-fashioned costume. Known for its tasty traditional Swiss meals, the portions are hearty and served with local beer. Classic speciality dishes include the Zurich-style sliced veal and mushrooms and rösti potatoes. Zeughauskeller also offers a wide variety of different types of sausage. Open daily from 11.30am. Reservations recommended.
Situated on the site of a 300-year old mill, this slick modern restaurant draws trendsetters from the advertising and arts scene who are attracted by the modern approach to fresh ingredients and light cuisine. Duck ('blaue ente' means 'blue duck') is the house speciality and comes in various forms. Other dishes include fish and crustaceans, loin of lamb, vegetarian curry and pastas. Reservations recommended.
Established in 1325 as a wine cellar and a restaurant in 1551, Veltliner Keller evokes a sense of history and charm in its detailed wooden panelling. Originally used to store Italian-Swiss wines that were transported to Zurich over the Alps, this delightful restaurant offers wholesome, hearty cuisine that will not disappoint. The seasonal menu includes Swiss and Italian dishes as well as the traditional Zurich dish, kalbsgeschnetzeltes (sliced veal and mushrooms in a white wine sauce).
Located in the St Gotthard Hotel, the Hummerbar (Lobster Bar) is one of Zurich's top dining spots. The rich scarlet décor and dark wood creates the perfect setting for a romantic dinner. Fresh caviar, oysters and shellfish are flown in daily from Iran, and woven into the menu of classical French cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner and on Sunday for dinner.
This trendy cafe and bar, formerly a coffeehouse where the pre-revolutionary Lenin met intellectuals, has been transformed into an art-nouveau eatery frequented by locals and tourists alike. Other celebrities to have dined here include the likes of Joyce, Einstein, Mata Hari and Mussolini. Nowadays it is the bourgeois-chic crowd who like to dine on fine pasta dishes and other delicious meals. This eatery remains open late so expect an eventful evening! Reservations recommended.
A trip to Switzerland would be incomplete without sampling traditional Swiss fare. A country famous for cheese, most notably the tasty Gruyere variety, communal dishes such as raclette and fondue are commonplace in both Swiss homes and upmarket restaurants. Ideal for a wintery treat, travellers should head to Chez Crettol, where these particular dishes are the speciality. With a selection of fondues to choose from, patrons can while away the time dipping, twirling and eating and finishing off with a zesty local white wine. Those who can't handle more than a few mouthfuls of bread can opt for raclette, a combination of boiled potatoes, pickled onions and gherkins, drizzled with melted cheese, which is scraped off a melting block. For a heart-warming Swiss evening, a warm crackling fireplace and an understated environment that looks characteristically similar to a Swiss dining room, Chez Crettol is the place. Open daily for dinner.
With one of the best locations in Zurich, the Seerose offers a romantic element to Zurich dining. Situated on the vast lake, guests are surrounded by water, quaint boats, city lights and majestic snow-capped mountains. Whether travellers are looking for a sunny and crisp lunchtime venue or an evening out, with a European flair, the Seerose will fulfil their expectations. Reminiscent of a yacht on the Mediterranean with elegant beachhouse trimmings, the Seerose serves up fresh cuisine ranging from seafood to curry. Patrons can start with goat's cheese and honey on a salad bouquet or a Salade Noel, with chicory, nuts, fresh fruits and an Indian sauce. Popular mains include moule et frites and duck l'orange or for the more adventurous, a red beef curry. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, booking recommended.
Those in search of authentic Swiss cuisine prepared to perfection need look no further than the Les Armures. This renowned eatery located in the 5-star Hotel Les Armures features three dining rooms for patrons to choose between, namely the Terrace, Salle des Artistes and Carnozet and serves Swiss favourites with a French flair and elegance. Patrons should try the wild mushroom soup, sliced breaded veal or the roasted duck breast served in a raspberry vinegar sauce. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
A warm and friendly bistro situated opposite the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the trendy Plainpalais district, Café des Bains serves fresh innovative dishes from all over the world. With a varying daily lunch menu, patrons can expect mouth-watering quality dishes, prepared with only the finest ingredients, which are creatively presented. They can take lunch at the bar area where they can access free wifi or just sit back and enjoy a freshly brewed coffee. In the evenings patrons can choose from an attractive a la carte menu that is accompanied by a good winelist. For a relaxed dining experience in Geneva, travellers should head to Café de Bains. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner, and Saturday for dinner.
Popular with tourists and locals alike, La Perle du Lac is the only restaurant in Geneva that is situated directly on Lac Leman. Known for its large flowered terrace overlooking the Alps mountain range and the tranquil lake, guests at La Perle du Lac easily unwind whilst relishing the flavours of their pan fried escalope of duck liver with apple or the much loved slow-cooked lamb shanks. Situated in pretty Mon Repos Park, La Perle du Lac has been serving five star French cuisine to diplomats and businessmen for over 30 years. Open Monday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Situated about three miles (five kilometres) outside of central Geneva, city slickers and tourists alike cannot help but gravitate towards Café du Soleil. With a leafy outside sitting area dotted with blood red tables and a simple interior with antique wooden chairs and elaborate framed mirrors adorning the bare white walls, the frank décor of Café du Soleil only highlights the scrumptious cuisine. Regarded as one of the oldest restaurants in Geneva and one of the best fondue restaurants to boot, there is no uncertainty over what to order. For a light lunch, patrons should try their brochettes or freshly prepared salads otherwise the sirloin and rump steaks are a good bet. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Ideal for a business lunch or gastronomic night out, Auberge de Floris is a sophisticated terrace restaurant overlooking the lake in the picturesque village of Anières, 15 minutes southwest of the city. Claude and Inès Legras warmly welcome patrons to this Michelin star restaurant known for its delectable seafood. Patrons should try the tuna carpaccio starter drizzled with orange zest and olive oil and follow with pecorino-stuffed calamari in octopus ink sauce with chorizo potatoes and steamed courgette flowers. Next door is the bistro, offering less complex but still inventive dishes at slightly cheaper prices. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
A haven for wine lovers, Les Papilles de Lavinia is a new wine and tapas bar that combines the sweet and savoury dishes with a wonderful selection of wines from leading producers around the world. Guests can sit intimately at a table for two or join a larger group around the heavy wooden tables. With tasteful décor and a trendy wine bar atmosphere, Les Papilles de Lavinia is ideal for a sophisticated lunch or after-work drink. Open for lunch and early dinner from Monday to Saturday.
The elegant Restaurant du Parc des Eaux-Vives is situated in a historic mansion dating back to the 18th century in the picturesque Parc des Eaux-Vives along the lake. The gourmet restaurant, decorated with two Michelin stars, is overseen by talented chef de cuisine Julien Schillaci whose refined menu is composed according to the produce of the season. The art deco dining room is complimented with world-class wines and outstanding service. In summer, the Parc des Eaux-Vives terrace is one of the most beautiful settings in Geneva. Ideal for business or leisure, the Parc des Eaux-Vives is open daily for lunch and dinner.
Met by an ornate fountain in the entrance way and draped in rich ochre, red and orange décor, this cosy Moroccan restaurant features rugs, cushions, tapestries and belly dancers on Saturday nights. A popular eatery with locals and almost always bustling, La Mamounia serves traditional Moroccan dishes and delicious tagines. Rooms with different colours and décor can be booked for private parties and large tables. The flagship dish, the chicken 'Mamounia' with toasted almond sauce is not to be missed. Reservations accepted. Open daily.
Serving some of Geneva's finest French cuisine, Le Chat-Botté boasts renowned chef Dominique Gauthier, who prepares innovative and delicious gourmet food night after night. Located in the Hotel Beau Rivage, this stylish and sophisticated restaurant is tastefully decorated and boasts one of Switzerland's finest selections of wines. Patrons should try the tartar of slipper lobster with lime and ginger, coco milk and citronella gaspacho, or the Pyrenean spring lamb and polenta fries served with a delicious light cream. Whatever guests choose to eat, Le Chat-Botte does not disappoint. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Located in the leafy green suburbs of Carouge, this bustling classic restaurant has fast become one of Geneva's favourites. The ever-changing art adorning the walls and wine list allows patrons to sample some exciting new additions while dining on traditional French fare. Open Monday to Friday from January through August and Monday to Saturday September through December. Reservations accepted.
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.
The four official languages are Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansch. Most people know at least three languages, including English.
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.
US passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
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, within a 180 day period.
Canadian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
Australian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
South African passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, and a Schengen visa.
Irish nationals require a valid passport, valid for the period of the intended stay, but no visa is necessary.
US passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is necessary for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
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, Liechtenstein, 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 travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
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.
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. Travellers should be aware of robberies on overnight trains.
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 visitors should also make an effort to throw their 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 colleagues 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. Swiss-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 networks operate throughout the country and wifi is widespread.
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. VAT is liable if the total value of all goods exceed CHF 300. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.
Swiss Tourist Office, Zurich: +41 44 215 4000 or www.myswitzerland.com
Swiss Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 745 7900.
Swiss Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7616 6000.
Swiss Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 1837.
Swiss Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 452 0660.
Swiss Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6162 8400.
Swiss Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 218 6382.
Swiss Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 472 1593.
United States Embassy, Bern: +4131 357 7011.
British Embassy, Bern: +41 31 359 7700.
Canadian Embassy, Bern: +41 31 357 3200.
South African Embassy, Bern: +41 31 350 1313.
Australian Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 22 799 9100.
Irish Embassy, Bern: +41 31 352 1442.
New Zealand Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 22 929 0350.
One of the largest lakes in central Europe and shared by both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) has 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 and the area has become something of an inspiration to the arts. Situated in the westernmost district of Vaud, the region 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 offer outstanding views, while below steamers crisscross the waters of Lake Geneva, offering a variety of ways to experience the splendour of its location.
Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the 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 cafés, 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.
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 most photographed castles in Europe. An important fortress in the Middle Ages, it was positioned to control the narrow passage between mountains and lake, protecting the major north-south route. It was also the favourite summer residence of the Counts of Savoy; while 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.