I absolutely love Switzerland! Perhaps it is my Swiss heritage, I’m not sure, but there is just something about this place that speaks to me. Of course, the alpine scenery is stunning, and I am a sucker for gorgeous mountain vistas, waterfalls, and lush green valleys. But I also enjoy the active outdoor lifestyles that is valued by most of the Swiss. They enjoy getting out and enjoying the fresh air with hiking, biking, skiing, etc. I would too if I lived in one of the most picturesque places in all the world!
Switzerland Travel: Overview
Switzerland also tops my list of places to visit because it is a clean, pristine place, that values efficiency and punctuality. Overall, your are not likely to find a wild party in Switzerland…but you will find peace, quiet, and a sense of being one with nature.
The only real downside to traveling in Switzerland is that it is expensive. At first, you may look at the exchange rate of Swiss Franc (they are not in the EU so do not use the Euro) and think “hey, that rate is on par with the US dollar!” However, you will quickly realize that once you are in Switzerland everything costs nearly double what it does in the States. So be sure to save up so you can enjoy your time in Switzerland and not worry about the cost.
Switzerland Travel: Transportation
Major airports in Switzerland include Zurich and Geneva. You can fly to either of these airports, or even fly into Milan, Italy or perhaps Germany. Europe has a great train network that will get you to Switzerland if you come into a nearby country. Within Switzerland, they have a fantastic train system. You can purchase a rail card for your length of stay, which includes transportation as well as a number of attractions, or you can purchase individual trips. (for more information on rail travel in Europe, visit www.raileurope.com)
Driving in Switzerland is another option. This is a really great way to see the countryside and have the most freedom. The roads are safe and well maintained, but pay close attention to the driving laws. If you enter with a car from an outside country (like Germany), be sure to get the sticker for your windshield (called a vignette). On my last trip, I believe it cost around 40 CHF. It is basically a road tax or toll, but instead of stopping at toll booths you just have to buy the sticker up front and put it in your windshield for the duration of your visit. They do enforce this law, so do not breeze through the border without stopping. You can purchase these right at the border entrance – there will be signs.
Our Favorite Switzerland Travel Destinations
The Lauterbrunnen Valley
Lauterbrunnen Valley – this stunning area has many activities to choose from. Besides the standard outdoor activities, this is also where you can take a train up to the top of the Jungfrau Mountain, the highest train station in Europe. It is quite a journey that will take the better part of a day, but once you are up there you have great vistas, and you can wander around tunnels that are carved INSIDE a glacier! Besides the Jungfrau, there are also a couple gondolas, trains, and funiculars around the area that will also take you to the top of other nearby peaks.
When it comes to accommodations, there are many towns and smaller villages in the area. To get the full experience, I recommend staying in a small village high up on the mountain. You will love the character and peaceful experience. It is important to note that these villages can be quiet, especially in the off-season where hardly anyone is around! If you are looking for action and nightlife, then you may be better off staying down in a larger town. Personally, I enjoy the town of Murren, but there are many others nearby that are quaint and enjoyable.
The Top of the Jungfrau Mountain
The Jungfrau mountain is an awesome journey that begins in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. From here, you can catch the train that goes all the way to the top, the highest train station in all of Europe! A second class round-trip ticket will cost you nearly 180 CHF, which is around $190 USD! While that certainly isn’t a cheap excursion, it comes with jaw-dropping scenery. For more information, visit the official website: http://www.jungfrau.ch/en/sommer/start/.
Be sure to allot a day for this trip. It will take you a few hours to get up the mountain and back down, plus you will want plenty of time to visit some of the villages along the way and to enjoy the activities up on top of the mountain. As you make your way up through the high villages, it really is amazing to think that people live up here! The views are spectacular, but wow are those hills steep for walking or hiking!
Once on top of the mountain there are all kinds of viewing platforms to choose from, including the Spinx, which offer amazing views out over the mountains and glaciers. They also have the “ice palace” – where they have carved out the inside of a glacier, making tunnels that you can wander (and slide) your way through. They also have ice sculptures that you can enjoy. It’s a pretty amazing feat of engineering, and of course it’s cool to say that you walked around INSIDE a glacier! Be prepared for the journey by bringing lots of layers and sun glasses – it can be real windy & bright up there!
Matterhorn – if you are like me and love Disneyland, then you simply must visit this famous mountain! It is a bit off the beaten path, but it is worth it. The village of Zermatt is where you will need to go to see this mountain. This town is basically car-free…so you cannot drive there. You will need to travel to the Tasch station and park your car, then take the train into Zermatt. The train will take you right to the heart of the Matterhorn Village. Here is a great reference site for the Zermatt area: http://www.zermatt.ch/en/page.cfm/zermatt_matterhorn. Besides being a gorgeous town, Zermatt and the surrounding area offer up plenty of outdoor activities year round.
Okay, I admit that I love cheese and anything that has cheese in it. So dipping bread in melted cheese is the ultimate goodness in my opinion. But you will be in for a surprise if you go to Switzerland and expect it to be similar to the Americanized “Melting Pot” restaurant version here in the States. The cheese is much stronger and the liquor is very strong, in fact, it almost tastes like a cheesy cocktail! So just be prepared.
The origin of Swiss fondue dates way back to the 18th century, when it was created out of necessity by people in poor, rural villages that were isolated during the long harsh winters in the Alps. They had to make enough bread and cheese during the summer to last them all winter. But during the winter, both the cheese and bread would get stale and did not taste that great on their own. So, they came up with the idea to melt the cheese with some wine and spices, and dip the bread in it to soften it. An additional benefit was that this meal was very filling, and the liquor combined with hot, bubbling cheese warmed up the body. Being that these villagers were poor, they often ate the meal together out of one pot.
Personally, I think it is a wonderful experience that you shouldn’t miss out on, but authentic Swiss fondue is not for everyone.
Overall, Switzerland is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise! I grew up with a love for the outdoors, so this country really does it for me. Whether you want to go on a scenic drive, hike to remote waterfalls, take a leisurely boat ride across a lake, or if you seek thrills such as paragliding off the mounts (see post “Whatever you do, don’t stop running or we’ll die!“), you are sure to enjoy your time visiting Switzerland.