Most of these points are covered by the main Introduction to travel in Switzerland page, but I have addressed them more directly here.
Where to go?
If you have no idea or don’t want to spend more time looking into it then the classic tourist spots (Lucerne, Interlaken/Jungfaru, Zermatt) are as good a starting point as any, but just about anywhere in the Alps offers the same experience.
Some key points to remember:
- Don’t try and see everything at once. There are endless suggested itineraries online, most of which are pretty hectic dash where you tick off all the main sights in 5-7 days and switch location every night. I wouldn’t recommend this. That makes for a great blog posts with all the classic names and cliche photos, but you will waste time having to constantly change hotel, plus a few days of rain or cloudy weather and you will have missed out on half of what you came to see.
- Swiss cities are not very big. It won’t take more than a few hours to do a tour of the old town. You don’t need to worry about giving yourself 3 days to see Zürich.
- The country is small but it isn’t always quick to get around. Going around and up mountains takes time. Check connections and travel times before deciding to try and use somewhere as a base to see the whole country.
When to go?
This really depends what you want to see and do.
Obviously if you want snow sports then come in winter, and come in summer for green meadows. All of the months have their advantages and disadvantages, but if you are flexible in what you want then there will always be something interesting to do or impressive to see. The only time I would say to avoid myself is November when everything is a bit grim with the autumn colours over, winter snow not really setting in, and short dark days.
I see more and more travel blogs saying April-June or Sepember-October are the best times to visit. It seems someone said this once and everyone is repeating it (even if the person only went once in August….). Both can be wonderful, and will certainly be quieter than high summer or winter, but there are limiations:
- April-June can be beautiful but it can also be very hit and miss; depending on how spring is going it could still be stuck or winter or might almost feel like summer. Oddly many blogs repeat the claim that this is the best time for hikers. April is still ski-season in the higher resorts, and most cable cars and other services (like mountain huts) will have a quiet period during this time until the start of the summer season. If you want to visit cities and see flowery meadows on the valley floor whilst the peaks in the background are capped in snow still then it is great, but if you want to hike above 2000m then you might need to wait until mid-June or later.
- September-October is much more suited to hiking; the high passes will be clear of snow from the winter (but it is possible that new snow might block them even in September), the weather is drier and clearer than high summer (on average), and most cable cars remain in ‘summer’ season operation until late in October. However, the days will be getting shorter, and rather than being lush and filled with flowers the high meadows will be turning yellow.
Some key points to remember:
- There isn’t any dry season. Summer is actually the wettest time of year for most of the country.
- The weather for any period can vary significantly each year. For example April might be a month of warm sunshine, or it could be non-stop freezing rain. Don’t expect you will have nice clear weather the 2nd week in August just because someone else had good luck with the weather then.
The weather forecast just predicts rain!
Firstly if you are looking at a weather forecast that is giving you predictions 14 days ahead then stop. Anything beyond a week isn’t much better than guess work, and even on the same day the forecast can change dramatically.
It can rain any day of the year; so always have a few backup ideas.
Some people will tell you that summer storms will be over quickly; which is true for storms, but it can also just rain all day.
Do I need a car?
Whether a car or public transport is best for you depends on your plans and preferences, but public transport will get you to just about anywhere that you could want to go.
Almost everything I have done on this site has been using public transport.
Is it really that expensive?
There are various ways to reduce costs and many of the horror stories you hear are overblown, but generally food, transport, and accommodation prices will be higher here than most other countries in the world.
You don’t need to be a millionaire to visit and have a good time, but the other countries in the Alps offer much of the same at a lower cost if budget is a problem.
Do I need to learn the language?
If you are hitting the tourist hotspots then everyone you interact with will almost certainly speak English. Learning German especially is a bit futile with the challenges of the spoken Swiss-German and locals who would rather practice their English than use High-German.
English is generally spoken very widely across the whole country. You can’t depend on everyone speaking it, but with some patience you should be able to get by everywhere.
Learning a few basic words or phrases will be appreciated, but a polite ‘sorry do you speak English?’ will work as well as anything.
Can I flush the toilet at night?
Tales of it being illegal to flush the toilet after 10pm are a myth.
Maybe this was (or even still is) the house rule in a few poorly made apartment buildings, but it is not the law anywhere, and I have never seen or heard of it in real life.
Can I wear shorts?
Yes. That is a normal thing to do in warm weather. The locals do that too, they even sell shorts in the clothing shops. Ignore any fashion advice from travel bloggers telling you otherwise.
Why is the grass so well cut?
Mostly farmers collecting grass as winter feed. Animals like Cows and goats will help, but they are not so industrious that they keep such vast areas well trimmed.