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Introduction to Travel in Switzerland


Section 1: General Points


A few quick tips

I have a few common questions covered in my Switzerland FAQ.

  • Switzerland isn’t the be all and end all of pretty mountains. The other alpine countries offer much of the same for lower prices.
  • Despite being such a small country Switzerland uses different plugs to the surrounding EU countries. Type-J with 3 prongs. A Type-C 2 prong plug which is standard across Europe now will usually fit. However older EU plugs/adapters might not (if it is circular then assume it won’t). On that point it isn’t uncommon for Swiss power points to spark when you plug something in, the hotel (probably) isn’t going to burn down because of you.
  • There isn’t a dry season. Some people turn up expecting summer to be all sunshine and clear views. The peak tourist months of July/August are actually some of the wettest for much of the country. Be prepared for rain at any time of year. Obvious options are indoor things like cities museums etc. or if you want to hike then stay low in forests or along lakes.
  • Don’t worry yourself checking the weather more than a week in advance. Anything beyond 5 days isn’t much more reliable than guesswork. Don’t take it as a surety more than 3 days in advance, even on the day it might drastically change at short notice.
  • The country is split into highly independent cantons (states) with different laws. For tourists the only real consequence is opening hours. Shops in some cantons close much earlier than others (eg 18:30 vs 20:00), and it might be business as usual in one place whilst 5km away everything is closed for a holiday.
  • Be wary of bloggers/bloggers/etc who just parrot the taglines from tourist information. Yeah the Glacier Express has 91 tunnels, what bloody good does that do anyone?

Suggestions

  • Get off the train. Don’t just ride the famous routes. Get off at villages for a walk around or even over the meadows to the next stop.
  • Try the wine. Swiss wine is so rare outside of Switzerland that you wouldn’t know it even exists. It is twice the price of other wine in the shops but is usually good and is worth it at least once for the novelty if nothing else.
  • Try some chocolate beyond the obvious. You can get Lindt and Toblerone everywhere. Pick up something more interesting like Ragusa.

Expectations

You will find the cliche scenes of rural huts in the mountains, but the whole country isn’t some flawless postcard. There are bits of industry and infrastructure everywhere.

Houses come in three types: beautiful old wooden/stone, inoffensive early/mid 1900s, and modern concrete blocks.

There is a cliche of happy polka music playing everywhere (often jammed into the background of Youtube videos). There is actually one farm near me which seems to have it blasting out all the time to keep the chickens happy, but mostly what you will hear is modern music.

The Good

  • Travel in easy mode. Safe, honest, and reliable.
  • The landscape.
  • Multiple cultures in a small area. Not just the language regions, but even within the same language the culture and architecture can be very varied.
  • Very little in the way of war and (mostly) sane town planners in the last few hundred years mean the old centre of just about every town and city has survived. There are lots of beautiful old towns that are hardly known to the outside world.

The Bad

  • Very little real wilderness. Much of the country is rural with a mix of civilisation and nature. Even in the loneliest glacial valley you may well still hear planes overhead.
  • High prices.
  • Not the liveliest country. This has changed in the last few decades, but it still isn’t Rio.
  • Food. Never bad, but you will rarely be blown away (especially for the prices compared to other countries).
  • Smoking. Sitting outdoors at a cafe or finding a spot on a restaurant terrace is a game of chance as to whether someone will sit down on the next table and start chain-smoking. This is of course standard in Europe, but I would still be very happy if they banned smoking in cafe/restaurant terraces.

The Ugly

  • Grenchen.

Useful websites / phone apps

See also the Wikivoyage page.

  • MySwitzerland (website). The national tourism service is a good source of information on everything. But be aware that as the national tourism board they try and push every area equally: a suggested list of top things will often have some less interesting options shoehorned in just to cover every region.
  • MeteoSwiss (website). Weather app with detailed information.You can set favourite places (settlements or mountains) for easy updates, it will also send alerts about dangerous weather conditions in these locations.
  • SBB (website). Train timetables, information, and tickets. Buying tickets through the app allows you to use it as a ticket itself, and the app will give you updates on any delays. I would always use SBB rather than Google maps for checking connections.
  • Switzerland Mobility (website) and/or SwissTopo (website). GPS compatible detailed topographic maps with layers for the hiking/biking routes, public transport stops and other useful things. Switzerland Mobility provides more information on the routes, but downloading the map for offline use and route planning is limited to a paid subscription. SwissTopo allows you to download as much of the map of the county as you want for free and plan routes.
  • Maps.me. OpenMaps app which allows free downloads for each region of the map. Very good coverage for addresses and restaurants/hotels etc. The detail on hiking routes can vary somewhat; in some areas it includes paths which are not even on the official maps, in other areas it has no coverage at all. Since the last update in 2022 I have found it rather less useful when you are offline.
  • Roundshot (website). Webcams with archived images.
  • Rega. The app for the mountain rescue service. You can give permission for them to see your location, so if you are in need of help you don’t have to worry about trying to vaguely describe the fact that you are on a mountain..
  • TWINT. The easy cardless way to pay with mobile from supermarkets to lonely farm stalls. There is a version of the App for each Swiss bank, and one not associated with any bank which might work for international visitors.

Where to go

  • The classic spots are classic for a reason, but they are not all that the country has to offer. Anyone telling you Pilatus is ‘an absolute must-do’ probably has only done that.
  • The country is small, but that doesn’t mean it is always quick to get about. Don’t assume you can base yourself in a single place and do easy day trips to every last corner.
  • Don’t try and do all the classics in 5-7 days. This makes for a great “Ultimate Swiss Itinerary” blog post, but isn’t so ideal in reality. You will waste time changing accommodation and if there is any bad weather you will miss out on one place entirely.
  • Likewise don’t plan every day out in advance, especially don’t plan to visit 5 different mountains in 7 days whilst constantly changing area. The weather might not play along so keep your options open if possible rather than planning a precise series of mountains to hit. Give a few days to a region to allow flexibility.
  • Different regions have very different feel and charms. French speaking vineyards of the Lavaux, are different to the wooden farmhouses and forested hills of the German speaking Emmental, which are different to the rugged mountains and stone villages in Italian speaking Ticino, which are very different to the Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich.

How much time to spend?

  • Nowhere is very big. Even Zürich (the largest city) is adorably small compared to the cities in the neighbouring countries. A few hours to half a day is more than enough to explore the old town and see the main sights of any city.
  • Despite the small size I would say it would take the better part of a month to really visit every region and take in all the different landscapes and cultures.
  • If you like mountains you can keep yourself busy for as much time/money as you have.

When to go

Dedicated page: Link

Despite being a small country Switzerland straddles two mountain ranges and varies in elevation from 200m to 4600m. The weather (and even apparent season) can be very different in places that are not far apart. It can also really vary each year; you could visit the same place in the same calendar week 3 years in a row and get a different experience each time.

The timings will vary by location/height but you can generally split the year into 3 tourism seasons:

  • Summer (June-September). Warm weather, green meadows, and everything is open and running. Some hiking passes might still have snow into July or even August depending on how cold it has been. It is increasingly common for summer to be hit by heatwaves with temperatures of 35C or more in the cities.
  • Winter (December-March). Snow sports in the mountains dominate the focus of the season. Skiing is the big draw in the mountains, but if you don’t ski there are other activities you can enjoy. Outside of the mountains most places will be in low season with only the odd festival bringing much life to the cities.
  • Shoulder/off (April-May, and October-November). Many passes and hiking routes will be blocked by remaining or snow. Likewise many tourist focused businesses (hotels, restaurants, cable cars) will be closed from mid to late October in the autumn and during a chunk of the period in spring.

It has become something of a trend for travel blogs to say that April-June is the best time to visit, especially for hikers. This is strange advice. April especially is still the ski season in many resorts so hiking in the mountains will be very limited. You can have glorious patches of weather in April and May, but it might also be the tail end of winter, and even in June you will find many higher routes are still blocked by snow.  


Accommodation

  • I mostly use Booking.com for hotels and Airbnb for renting a flat for a week. There are a multitude of other ways to find somewhere to stay, see the entry in my resources page.
  • There are 3 levels of interior decoration in hotels: super fancy, simple but modern, and a wood panelled time capsule which has not been touched since the 1970s (probably with some fantastically hideous green tiles in the bathroom).
  • There are a number of ‘Historic Hotels’. These are beautiful and are a fantastic experience in themselves, but age means sound proofing is often totally lacking and there might be very limited toilets.
  • In most hotels breakfast is continental rather than cooked. Higher end, and/or more internationally focused places are where you might find sausage and scrambled egg.
  • Camping is cheaper, but there are not all that many campsites and they are mostly densely packed parking lots for campervans rather than anything more rustic. Wild camping is complex. The best way to sum it up is “Prohibited but tolerated under conditions”. This SAC page has the most official guidelines. There are some pointers for the ideal situation (the more you follow the better): above the treeline, with the community / landowner’s permission, not in a protected area, single tent, set up as the sun goes down and dismantle at dawn, no fire/noise/disturbance/litter. Wild camping has increased in popularity in recent years, iconic spots like Seealpsee are having problems with numbers, so try and pick a less known spot.

How to get about

Dedicated page: Link

One of the big questions is whether people should take Public Transport vs Driving. Some people will insist you should do one or the other. There is no right answer, do what suits your needs or interests.

Public Transport

This will get you to just about anywhere you could want to go. There are some spots which are hard to get to or limited with public transport connections, but you have to really be trying to tick off every corner of the country to worry about that.

  • Oevexplorer.ch shows you how far you can get by public transport within a given time frame from any city/village in the country.
  • There are a confusing multitude of passes and price saving options to cover the whole country or just certain areas. I have a post giving an overview of the main options. But if you really want to figure out which is best then you need to do the maths yourself.
  • Getting around and understanding how it works is very easy. Most buses and trains have a screen showing upcoming stops. The only thing to watch out for is the ‘stop on demand’ which you sometimes have to press a button on the train/platform to make the train stop at very small stops on very rural trains.
  • Some trains split with each half going to a different destination (eg Bern to Brig/Zweisimmen, and Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen/Grindelwald). The destination of each wagon will be clearly indicated with the screens on the side of the train and inside, usually with an announcement too at the start and split station.

Driving

  • Feedback is usually positive about how nice it is to drive in Switzerland.
  • Fines are generally quite high. Keep to the speed limit and keep your lights on at all times.
  • Some villages are car free. So you will have to park below and take a train/cable car up.

Language

  • There are 4 national languages: German (62.6%), French (22.9%), Italian (8.2%), and Romansch (0.5%). Their distribution across the country is very well defined (map) and it usually switches suddenly from one to the other. There are only a few places like Biel/Bienne where it is truly bilingual, but these are exceptions.
  • In touristy areas English will be fine. I wouldn’t expect everyone to speak it everywhere, but you will often find people fluent in English in even the most remote and unexpected places (I speak fluent German and sometimes still have a hard time getting people to not reply to me in English when they hear my accent).
  • All Swiss can speak/understand at least a bit of one of the other national languages, but very few are a master of all of them and many have not used the other languages since they were in school. Don’t expect that your French will do any better than English if you are deep in the German speaking areas. I find that English is the preferred common language for many younger Swiss who find it easier or use it more than other Swiss languages.
  • Swiss-German is to German as Scotts-English is to English, so don’t be upset if you can’t understand anything that some says. They can all speak standard German (even if they don’t like to) and most announcements are in standard High-German. If you want to practice your German you will likely be frustrated by Swiss who would rather speak English than High-German, and many workers you come across in hospitality will be from other parts of Europe and are probably more comfortable in English too.
  • Swiss dialects for French and Italian are much closer to their standard versions. Swiss-French is easier if anything because they use sensible numbers like the Belgians.

A few pronunciations:

  • Rösti. Not rosty like rusty, but more rur-ste.
  • Thun. Not like tun or fun, but more like toon (like in cartoon).
  • Chur. Not Chur as in Churning, but more like Coor (like the beer or ‘cor blimey!’).

How to behave

  • Mostly as you do in any western country.
  • Don’t put your feet up on the seats in trains if you have shoes on.
  • Generally it is a quiet country. Loud phone calls on the train, or drunken singing in the streets after 10pm won’t go down well.
  • Switzerland is generally quite a relaxed place and the Swiss have a very independent mentality. It is surprising given the stereotypes but the rules are often much more relaxed than they are in (for example) Australia.
  • Don’t pick wild flowers. Some (like the famous Edelweiss) are endangered. Going up to a popular peak like Pilatus in the summer you will see a sad no man’s land the length of the human arm between the path and the rocks where all the flowers have been plucked.
  • If you are taking a walk on prepared paths in the winter don’t stand on groomed tracks for cross country skiers.
  • If you want to impress people in the Swiss Romande use ‘Le Léman’ instead of ‘Lake Geneva’ (people also use ‘Lac Léman’ but Léman apparently already means lake). Nobody is going to bother a tourist for using the standard Lake Geneva, but you might win some friends if you don’t.

Money / Costs

Dedicated page: Link

  • The currency is the Swiss Frank (CHF). In border and touristy areas Euros might be accepted (in a few places they even take USD), but it will usually be unfavourable for you and without change given.
  • Switzerland is famously expensive. The key costs of accommodation, food, and transport are hard to avoid. But many other things are cheap – for example visiting castles is much cheaper (or free) compared to the UK.
  • Many cities/resorts/regions offer a guest card to those who are staying overnight. This often includes free transport in the local area and discounts on activities. In some cases this will save a few CHF on the bus, in others it will cover everything like cable cars.
  • It can be a surprise to go to an ATM, withdraw 100 CHF and find that it just gives you a single note (or even a single 200 CHF note for larger withdrawals). Handing over such a high value note for a small purchase is totally normal. Increasingly ATMs offer “mixed notes” as an option instead now to get 20s and 50s.
  • Cash was king, and it is still perfectly normal to use it, but with Covid the ability to pay with card or mobile has dramatically increased. There are still some shops (e.g. market stalls, bakeries, farm stands) that might be cash only, but there are also some places (e.g. pop-up bars) that are card/mobile only. The most common mobile payment method is TWINT which can often be used even when buying cheese or jam from a self-service stall at remote farms. There is a TWINT app for international banks, but I can’t speak for how well it works.
  • I would recommend always having at least 20 CHF in cash. If only to buy cheese from a farm or market stall.

Shopping

  • There are shops selling food everywhere. Even little villages often have a Volg or other little shop.
  • Shops close early. It will vary depending on where you are; it might be as ‘late’ as 8pm, but closing by 6:30pm is not uncommon (earlier on Saturdays and not open at all on Sunday). Shops at stations/petrol stations are usually open until 10pm everyday. If you are in a tourist resort during high season the shops might well be open longer, and all day on Sundays too. Tourist shops in cities like Luzern and Zürich will often be open on a Sunday if you really need to grab an army knife on a Sunday afternoon.
  • When buying fruit and veg in the supermarket you usually have to weigh and print a label for loose items.

How safe is it?

Very.

  • It is a generally affluent and trusting country with a high standard of quality for infrastructure and healthcare.
  • I have never had anyone try to scam me, nor seen anything that hit me as being one. Petty crime like pickpockets and theft can happen like anywhere so always be careful.
  • Prices in general might seem like daylight robbery to most visitors, but I don’t think I have ever seen anything that was clearly a rip-off aimed at clueless foreign tourists. Tourist shops sometimes sell cheaper brands like “Swiss dream” chocolate or Jowissa watches that Swiss people have never even heard of and you won’t find in normal shops. They will also very happily sell you a Cuckoo clock even if they are not historically Swiss in origin. But I wouldn’t call it a scam.

Wildlife:


Food

  • Opinion varies on whether the food is bland and overpriced, or amazing. Generally Swiss staples such as bread and cheese and local dishes are good quality, but more exotic meals can be a bit bland (especially compared to what you can get for half the price in other countries).
  • Vegetarians will mostly be fine (if they don’t mind plenty of dairy), but Vegans might struggle to find much more than a salad in restaurants in rural areas (and even then you might have to ask for no dressing). Most supermarkets have a good selection of veggie and vegan items.
  • Tipping isn’t expected (but it will be appreciated). The standard method is to say the intended total when you pay rather than leaving cash behind (though that works too).
  • You can usually drink the water from fountains. However, always check for a warning that it is not drinkable (Kein Trinkwasser, Eau non potable, etc). In some areas you find a fountain every 5 minutes with a sign practically begging you to drink from it, in others you might go hours finding no suitable fountains.
  • There are various chocolate ‘experiences’ either through factories you can visit or workshops that you can do. These are mostly a lighthearted (and instagram friendly) way to teach you a few things about chocolate and keep you amused for a while. You might be a bit disappointed if you want to actually get more than a brief glimpse of a factory floor, or have a chocolate workshop that is more than just decorating a slab of pre-made chocolate.

Food items:

  • The staples (cheese, beer, meat, bread) are essentially the same across the country, but with little local variations. Even different supermarkets in the same town might sell different local products. You can walk into a Migros, COOP and Volg in the same town and get a different regional/local cheese in each.
  • Rivella is the national soft-drink of Switzerland (made using milk by products, not that you would ever guess from the taste). The runner up is Migros ice tea which has a certain cult-like status.
  • The Swiss rave about Zweifel crisps. Coming from the UK I don’t get the hype.
  • The cliché “Swiss Cheese” Emmentaler is one of the more boring cheeses (unless you can find an aged version). One of my favourite types which I never hear anyone mention is Mütschli, a small semi-hard which comes in endless local varieties. If you are in the Bern/Solothurn region then ‘Wilde Bergfee’ and ‘Solothurn Männerkäse’ are my absolute favourites.
  • You might think it was just a cliche, but Fondue is actually eaten by the Swiss. Most households have a pot (caquelon). Generally it is seen as a cold weather meal, some Swiss might eat it on a cooler evening in summer but almost no-one is going to order it for lunch on a hot day in August.
  • The October/November off/shoulder season offers lots of good game and other autumn dishes that are not available in the higher seasons.

Mountains and the landscape

Dedicated page for hiking: Link

Dedicated page for cycling and mountain biking: Link

Dedicated page for cable cars: Link

  • Hiking trails form a continuous network; there are no ‘trail heads’ and no fees to hike. Very little of the network is technical. It is generally quite rare to need to use your hands compared to somewhere like the UK where scrambles on even small hills are common.
  • The higher you go up a mountain the thinner the air will be, and there will be less shade. Be prepared and protect your skin from the sun year round. Also don’t forget that a tube of sunscreen can explosively decompress if you climb 2000m before opening it (point it away from your face).
  • Taking a cable car +1000m up means the air will be cooler, though it can also be blazing hot in mid summer. It can also change from feeling your skin burning in the strong sun to freezing cold in a few seconds if fog sweeps around.
  • Cable car stations almost always have webcams, check these and the weather forecast before handing over your money to go up to a mountaintop. This is especially important in autumn/winter when temperature inversion can lead to thick fog in the cities but clear sunny views high up.
  • Most cable cars stop running surprisingly early, typically around 5pm. Always check when the last ride down is to avoid a very long walk.
  • The two main types that you will find are gondolas with smaller cabins that usually run constantly and larger fixed schedule cable cars. The fixed schedule cable cars will often run whenever they are full in busy periods. They will also fill all the space, so it can get very cosy. Open chair lift types are usually just for skiers, but some also run in summer.
  • Check when the next transport connection is at the bottom. There is no point jumping on the first running cable car if you find that you are waiting 50 minutes for the next train/bus at the much less scenic foot of the mountain.
  • Some mountains like Titlis offer year round snow. But in August after months without much/any fresh snow the limited safe area for visitors will probably be dirty ice rather than a powdery white winter wonderland.

How to be Swiss (or at least some very Swiss experiences)

  • Grill Cervelet (sausages) on a fire in the countryside.
  • Sprinkle Aromat (salt mix) on your food.
  • Swim in a river or lake in summer.
  • Visit the Saturday market. This is as much a social event as it is a means to get some veg. That will be mostly lost on visitors, but it is worth a brief visit to enjoy the atmosphere – not least as they are usually in historic old towns.

Less essential, but still special:

  • Eat or drink at a farmhouse restaurant. The sort of place where the catering is just a side venture from the farming and you sometimes feel you are almost in the family kitchen. The French speaking part of the Jura has the term Métairie for this type of restaurant (the Métairie de Plagne near Grenchen being my favourite so far).
  • Grab some cheese directly from a self-service stall at a farm.

The Swiss people

  • It can feel like they are very varied people. Especially comparing commuters to daytrippers.
  • The country is increasingly lively. I don’t doubt it was dull and serious a few decades ago but now it is standard in summer to see people floating down the river in an inflatable Flamingo to go to a pop up bar.
  • I have never had any issues with the Swiss. They won’t insist that you come to their house and meet your family 5 minutes after you meet them, but they will be friendly and helpful if you need anything.
  • Racism exists like it does everywhere, but I find it is much less open than the UK or Australia. As a white male of just above average height I am not in much of a place to speak about treatment of people who stand out so I won’t go any further on that topic.
  • They are BBQ crazy in summertime.

Misc points

  • The little black birds you see high up in the Alps are the Alpine chough.
  • Much of the country isn’t actually very high. Cities like Zurich and Lucerne are only 400m above sea level (Basel and Locarno are closer to 200m). There is a reason the Alps stand out as much as they do.

Section 2: Places

Tourist favourites

A few quickfire thoughts on the most popular places.The classic spots look something like this. Partly they are famous for good reason. partly it is a feedback loop. They are fine and as good an option as any if you are indecisive or have no better ideas, but they are not the be all and end all. There are many other nice areas

Interlaken

Great as a base; plenty of accommodation options, activities, and is a transport hub for easy access to other areas like the Jungfrau region and other popular places in the Oberland.As a place in itself it is fine but isn’t very interesting. It has some pretty corners (along the Aare and in Unterseen) but mostly it is rather forgettable. I wouldn’t recommend visiting it as a point of interest in itself.

Jungfrau Region

Dedicated page: link.

The star tourist region. It is certainly impressive.

The backdrop is the reason to go; the villages themselves are not actually very special. None of them come close to making my most beautiful villages list.

Jungfraujoch is the big expensive star of the region. If you go in summer when the ice is a novelty and walk across the glacier to the Mönchsjochhütte then it is worth it. Otherwise there are more impressive views for a much lower price tag.

Blausee.

Dedicated page: link

A tiny lake with a 10 CHF entry fee. Yes it is pretty enough, but so are endless other places which haven’t been turned into tourist traps.

Interestingly the neighbouring village Mitholz is sat next to a cliff packed with unstable explosives.

Oeschinensee

The setting is very impressive but also limits what you can do without hiking up a steep mountainside.The lake is actually a decent 20+ minute walk beyond the cable car which can come as a surprise to people who hadn’t expected that.

Lucerne (Luzern).

Dedicated page: link.

A nice city which makes a great base for day trips over the central part of the country.Pilatus and Rigi are the most famous/popular options, however there are endless other mountains you can go up

Zermatt.

Dedicated page: link.

This is worth a visit for the Matterhorn alone. The angle you get from Zermatt is perfect. You can see the Matterhorn from elsewhere in the Alps, but then it is just another lump of rock.

The town itself is not as rustic as you might hope. The first thing you are greeted by as you leave the train station is a McDonald’s and most of the place is just modern accommodation. If you want truly rustic then you have to find somewhere much quieter and less famous.

Bern

The (de facto) capital. It isn’t very big (like all Swiss cities) but it is well worth a visit for a few hours to wander the old town, go up to the Rose garden, and see the bears.

Zürich and Geneva.

These are very polarising.

Many people seem to pick them just because they are the most well known cities. They get quite a bit of abuse for being boring from those who have been. I would say they are fine, but there are better places to spend your time in Switzerland.

A few hours to explore the old town and walk along the lake isn’t a bad way to spend the day before/after a flight, or even a few days if you really want to see all the museums.

Rhine Falls

This often makes the list of must see sights. It is impressive enough, but I wouldn’t call it a must do. I have been there once and never really felt the urge to go back.

I wouldn’t give up a day in the Alps for this. But if you are in the area then combining it with a trip to Schaffhausen and Stein am Rhein wouldn’t be a bad way to spend a day. (especially if the weather has closed in).

Appenzell

A famously traditional region (so traditional that they voted against giving women the vote on local matters in 1990).

The town of Appenzell itself is quite famous. There are some pretty wooden houses, but for some reason it has never really stood out to me – something just doesn’t feel right. It is also relatively big with a sprawley mess of ugly houses around it. Urnasch is much more picturesque there.The landscape is the reason to go. Also despite what some bloggers claim it is not a car-free village, there is one street which is very limited to traffic and that is it.

The iconic Alpstein, or even just the lower rolling hills are fantastic for hiking. The Alpstein isn’t so well known by international tourism, but it is very popular locally. Go on a nice weekend and you will find most of population of north-eastern Switzerland are also there (plus a fair few German and Austrians).

Gruyeres

Dedicated page: link.

The village is very beautiful, it is also tiny and totally given over to tourism.

The Maison Gruyere show dairy isn’t all that special. An ugly modern building where you walk down a corridor with an audio guide. Probably the most interesting part is the cheese storage which you can quickly see for free anyway if you have a few minutes to kill before your train comes.

Montreux

The waterfront is lovely and has fantastic views. The town itself is rather ugly and charmless. My main suggestion here is to walk along the lake to the Château de Chillon.

Glacier Express

Many people think this is a ‘must do’ or something really special, I would disagree and say they are just very good at marketing. It is awkward to fit into many itineraries and doesn’t offer anything special beyond just being famous. It is long and the route doesn’t offer anything really impressive . I would argue it just misses more impressive sights than it actually sees, so you are better off using local trains to explore more of the route.

Bernina Express.

Much shorter than the Glacier Express, but the route is much more varied and impressive. Again I would suggest getting off to see places along the way.

Goldenline Pass

A scenic train route from Montreux to Lucerne. The whole route is very beautiful, but it mostly follows the gentler pre-Alp valleys rather than truly high and rocky mountains.I would say this is best in Spring/Summer when the meadows are green and lush.

Alpine coasters

The classic on social media is Kandersteg, but these are all over the country.Honestly I would suggest renting a bike (or E-bike) instead; you have more freedom, get more than a few minutes out of it, and you won’t be reduced to walking speed by the person in front jamming on the brakes.


Some of my favourite places

Generally you can pick anywhere and have a good time, but these are some of my favourite locations:

Ticino

The Italian speaking canton. Best known for the Italian lakes and higher chance of sunshine, but my favourites part are the steep and rugged valleys with the stone Rustico houses. See this post.

The Engadine (GR)

Endless side valleys and stunning places to explore. See this post.

Bergün (GR)

Beautiful village. The Glacier/Bernina Express passes by, but you don’t see it properly from the train.

Fribourg (FR)

Only 20 minutes from Bern by train and it feels like it’s Bern’s French speaking double.A very beautiful old town with defensive towers in a deep river valley.

Emmental (BE)

A rural area with giant wooden farmhouses, increasingly steep forested hills, and fantastic alpine views. The prominent viewpoint at Napf is one of my favourite spots. See this post.

Grimentz (VS)

A small but absurdly beautiful village up the Val d’Annvivers. The valley itself also has some amazing spots with glaciers at the end. See this post.

The folding Jura (SO/BL).

A far cry from the rocky heights of the Alps, but this area has a very unique beauty (especially around the Vogelberg/Passwang area).

Best seen in late spring to summer when everything is green and the meadows are in full bloom. It does also have a beauty in Autumn/winter when you often get beautiful views over the sea of fog to the Alps and France/Germany.

Lavaux (VD)

Terraced vineyards overlooking lake Geneva and the Alps. I suggest the walk from Lutry to St Saphorin (they say the other way around but that means having your back to the Alps which makes no sense).

Lötschental (VS)

A perfect side valley in Valais.It is best known for the Krampus-like Tschäggättä Masks, but the valley is worth a visit regardless.

St Ursanne (JU)

A tiny village tucked away in the Jura near the French border. Best combined with a walk along the Doubs river.

Aletsch Glacier and the Obergoms/Binntal (VS)

The longest glacier in the Alps. The view from anywhere along the ridge is fantastic, but I favour Eggishorn myself.

The Obergoms valley beyond Fiesch is much gentler. It is geat for a walk in spring connecting up the villages filled with rustic wooden houses. Binntal is a hidden side valley with more villages and is well worth a visit.