Switzerland Travel Guide
Combining expansive greenery, slick cities and bucketfuls of fresh air, Switzerland is a stylish tourist destination offering countless outdoor adventures and contemporary urban breaks.
Switzerland s Alpine vistas are so picture perfect, they can appear plucked from the pages of a storybook. But these disarming landscapes are alive and kicking, as a spot of skiing, hiking or mountain biking will attest. Ski resorts like Zermatt (home to the lofty Matterhorn), Verbier and celebrity-studded St Moritz provide everything from big, bad Olympic runs to encouragingly gentle novice slopes. And when the snow melts at low altitudes, the white-tipped mountain peaks remain against a backdrop of blue skies, providing a superb setting for summertime hiking.
The ancient capital Berne provides almost endless opportunities for sightseeing, shopping and traditional folk entertainment, while Zurich leads the way in art, design and nightlife; from opera and world-class theatre to stylish bars and nightclubs. Geneva is the sleekest and most upscale of Switzerland’s cities, acting as home to a thriving community of expats, many of whom work for the numerous international organisations that are headquartered there.
Yet Switzerland s cultural offerings don t stop there. When it comes to contemporary art, polished Basel reigns supreme, with more than 40 museums and galleries packed into this compact city. For a few days every year, it takes centre stage for the eminent Art Basel fair. French-flavoured Montreux also steals a moment in the cultural spotlight when it becomes the centre of focus for the jazz world during the Montreux Jazz Festival. Elsewhere, dotted around green foothills, are countless spruce towns and folkloric villages, where ancient farm culture survives and cattle still loiter amid flower-filled pastures.
Small, mountainous and wealthy, Switzerland is renowned for its enviable quality of life, with public services ticking along like clockwork. Come for the pungent cheese, smooth chocolate and luxury watches; stay for the exquisite culture, incredible scenery and sheer sense of fun.
Last updated: 29 November 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice .
There is a low rate of serious crime in Switzerland. However, the British Embassy has recently received increased reports of theft especially in larger cities, at Geneva airport and on trains to/from Geneva.
Watch out for pickpockets, confidence tricksters and thieves in city centres, airports, railway stations, on trains and in other public places. Don t leave your luggage unattended at any time. Don t keep your passport, credit cards and other valuables in the same place. Use the inside compartments in bags where possible. Carry your bag across your body rather than on your shoulder.
If you re travelling by train, take precautions against being burgled, especially at night. Pickpockets can work in gangs: one to distract you while the other one goes into your bag. Keep your belongings close to you in restaurants and bars.
Alcohol and drugs can lead to you being less alert, less in control, and less aware of your environment. If you re going to drink, know your limit and take sensible precautions. Don t become separated from friends.
Foreign visitors and residents can be targeted by scam artists. Scams can cause great financial loss. If you receive an e-mail claiming to be from Her Majesty s Revenue and Customs HMRC offering a tax refund on provision of your bank details you should make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam.
Road users have to comply with Switzerland s road regulations. such as speed limits, rules on alcohol intake and child security, or risk fines or other punishments.
Follow instructions given by local police and officials on the main alpine transit routes and in areas of heavy traffic congestion.
A reflective jacket and a warning triangle are compulsory and must be kept within easy reach (not in the boot). You must also have a first aid kit in the car. Radar detectors are prohibited in Switzerland whether in use or not. The limit for alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.5% and police may request any driver to undergo a breath test or drugs test. Swiss traffic regulations are strictly enforced. Any serious breach of the regulations can result in heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
The speed limit on Swiss motorways is 120km/h unless otherwise indicated. To travel on Swiss motorways, road users must purchase and display a vignette (sticker) or face large on the spot fines. You can buy a vignette at most border crossings, petrol stations, post offices, by phone (+800 1002 0030) and online. The price of a vignette is currently CHF 40.
Many roads are narrow and winding and road conditions can deteriorate fast even in summer, especially during heavy rainfall and subsequent snowfall at higher altitudes. You should reduce your speed significantly to suit the conditions.
Alpine winters often make driving more difficult. You should equip your car with winter tyres and snow-chains, and check road conditions prior to departure. The Swiss motoring organisation, TCS, has up-to-date information on its website .
Drivers must be 18 years of age and hold a full valid UK, or other EU/EEA, driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents. There is no need for an International Driving Permit.
In 2013 there were 269 road deaths in Switzerland (source: Department for Transport ). This equates to 3.3 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013.
Motorway journeys are usually trouble-free, but if you re involved in a car accident, use the orange emergency phones to ask for help.
Information about rail services is available on the Swiss Travel System website .
Outdoor sports activities
Make sure your insurance covers you for sports activities such as skiing, potholing, mountain biking and mountaineering. Travel insurance should also include mountain rescue services and helicopter costs.
Many accidents happen due to insufficient information, inappropriate equipment or overestimation of your own capabilities. Don t undertake any activity alone, and consider hiring a guide for expert advice. Always leave copies of your itinerary with someone. Follow the advice given by local authorities and guides. To ignore such advice could put yourself and other mountain users in danger.
The following alpine hazards exist throughout the year:
- avalanches and snow drifts
- landslides and flooding
- glacial crevasses and hollows
- thunder storms and lightning
- altitude sickness
- sun exposure
- sudden weather changes
- take note of weather forecasts and conditions
- make sure you are physically fit and have the necessary experience
- be in a team of at least two
- inform someone of your plans.
- take warm clothes and wet weather gear.
- use sun block (SPF20 or higher) and sun glasses.
To check the latest avalanche risk, visit the website of the Swiss Federal Commission for Snow and Avalanche Research. Observe all warnings about avalanches and where appropriate consider carrying search equipment. Conditions on roads in mountainous areas can quickly become difficult in winter. You should carry water, food and warm clothing and medicines in your vehicle.
Off-piste skiing is highly dangerous. You should follow all safety instructions carefully given the danger of avalanches in some areas and particularly during times of heavy snow. Avalanche beepers (receivers) are the most common rescue devices and when properly used provide the fastest way of locating an avalanche victim.
For more information and advice on enjoying outdoor activities safely and responsibly, visit the Official website of Swiss Tourism.