Known for its Alpine landscapes, historic cities, luxury watches, and the creamiest chocolate, Switzerland is a fascinating and scenic country and one of the safest in the world. But like every tourist destination, there are some things you need to be aware of and other things you should downright avoid in Switzerland.
Switzerland is a cultural melting pot and is distinguished by its diversity. A crossroad for European culture, there are different dialects and national languages in every region. Switzerland is also one of the wealthiest countries globally, and the small population of eight million accounts for 1.8 percent of the top global wealth holders.
Switzerland’s metropoles and ski resorts attract a host of tourists every year, and its gentile reputation has made it a hotspot for solo visitors. But it’s not all roses and raclette. From steep prices and cultural faux pas to natural hazards and harsh mountainous conditions, here’s everything you need to avoid in Europe’s neutral state.
Not Sticking to a Budget
Switzerland is not cheap, and the first mistake you can make is not budgeting for your trip. The notoriously neutral country is a costly place to live and even more pricey to travel. You can expect average hotel prices of around $150 a night and vacation rentals from $180 to $510.
Even fast food from international chains can cost as much as $15 for a combo meal, with a dinner in a mid-range restaurant generally costing more than $50 a head. There are ways to save on your trip to Switzerland, and you can find deals on tickets, transport, hotels, and attractions in advance. But failing to plan ahead could cost you hundreds of dollars, don’t neglect to create a daily budget in accordance with what you want to do in Switzerland.
Realistic daily costs for a solo traveler can easily exceed $200, and a family of four should budget at least $450 per day.
Traveling at Peak Times
Between 7 am and 8 am or 5 pm, and 6 pm can be the worse times to travel on public transport in Switzerland. Specific train routes are hopelessly congested during rush hours, and you’ll save yourself stress and hassle, especially if you’re traveling with luggage or children, by avoiding peak hours.
Zurich to Bern or Geneva to Lausanne are the worst offenders, but most Swiss cities are crowded and busy with commuters.
The summer months are also choked with tourists making the most of warmer temperatures and school holidays. But September is an equally beautiful month to visit Switzerland, where the weather is mainly pleasant, the crowds have dissipated, and high season fees have eased. Don’t make the mistake of planning your trip for the peak season.
Talking Loudly in Public
The Swiss are big on manners, and public etiquette is highly regarded. This includes how you behave in public and being aware of your surroundings. Loud phone calls, rowdy behavior, and failing to respect the personal space of fellow passengers on public transport is one of the things you should avoid in Switzerland.
The same goes for restaurants. People in Switzerland tend to keep their voices down, and most establishments uphold subdued noise levels for all visitors to enjoy. The Swiss can party and get carried away, but always read the room and match the decibel.
Underestimating the Weather
Switzerland benefits from a moderate climate without excessive heat, cold, or humidity in most regions. But never underestimate the weather or forget to check the forecast, especially in the mountains, as conditions can be unpredictable.
The weather can change rapidly at higher altitudes like in Jungfrau and the Swiss Alps, and many mountainous regions have year-round snowfall. This means you could get caught up in a snowstorm, thunderstorm, or heavy rainfall at any time, so plan ahead to avoid discomfort.
The same can be said for the major cities, and it is also not uncommon for blaring sunshine to give you a bad sunburn even if you’re surrounded by snow in the depths of winter. Pack extra layers, a raincoat, and some good SPF sunscreen wherever you go.
That said, Switzerland isn’t an alpine winter wonderland everywhere you go. It’s wrong to assume the country is covered in snow, even in winter, and if you’re looking forward to meters of the stuff, you might be disappointed.
Climate change affects all corners of the globe, and snowfall isn’t guaranteed like it was a few decades ago. Still, if you land in Zurich in January and don’t see any snow, there’s hope if you head to higher places like the Pennine Alps, Lake Geneva, Fribourg, and Vaud.
Shopping on the Weekend
Saturdays in Swiss supermarkets can feel like the whole of the country is doing their weekly shop. Sunday is a day of rest in Switzerland, and almost all shops are closed for the day. People in Switzerland can’t even do simple chores like visiting communal laundry rooms in their apartment blocks on a Sunday because the whole country takes the day off.
This means supermarkets are packed with last-minute shoppers on Saturday, hoping to avoid starvation on Sunday. If you want peace and quiet for you and your shopping list, plan ahead and get all your big purchases in a few days before. Be mindful of the Sunday lockdown, too, so you don’t fall short of supplies.
Traveling without a Swiss Pass
Travel expenses can really add up when touring Switzerland. The best way to save money on transportation is with an SBB or Swiss Pass. Offering discounts and season tickets on buses, trains, and tour boats, using a pass is the smartest way to get around.
You’ll also be offered free admission into many museums and discounts on cable cars and funiculars. Download the SBB app for all schedules, platforms, connection information, and even book tickets.
Buying Bottled Water
The water distributed in Switzerland is of a very high-quality standard. So much so, you can fill up your water bottle from fountains and several other public taps in big cities. Eighty percent of water comes from underground sources and the rest from lakes, and tap water has a much better ecological balance than bottled water. So one of the things you can avoid in Switzerland is buying bottled water. Save the planet and yourself some pennies by traveling around with a refillable bottle instead.
Driving over the Speed Limit
Disobeying the laws of any country you visit is ill-advised, but Switzerland is somewhere you should be especially wary of when it comes to road regulations. The roads aren’t especially slow, with varying limits between 50 km/h in built areas and 120 km/h on motorways. But Switzerland is known for its hefty speeding fines that will make you think twice about rushing to your next destination.
The fines depend on the speed traveled above the limit and the offence. Exceeding limits on expressways by as little as 10 km/h can result in penalties of around CHF 60, or $65, and speeding in urban areas could result in having to fork out as much as CHF 120, around $130, on the spot.
Make yourself aware of the speed limit wherever you go, and if you really want to save, stick to trains as our next point divulges.
Not Traveling by Train
The train is undeniably the best way to get around Switzerland. Fast, reliable, clean, and connecting most of the country, you’ll also enjoy scenic views as you cruise through spectacular changing landscapes without the hassle of navigating unfamiliar roads.
Travel is expensive no matter how you go, but the train is your best bet for saving money with great discounts and seasonal passes. For more flexibility, you can rent a car, but you’ll have to consider gas prices, parking expenses, and strict road rules, not to mention expensive rental costs.
Paying with Euros
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union and does not use the Euro, unlike most bordering nations. The Swiss Franc is the only official currency and has increased in value over the Euro, with Switzerland cutting ties with the latter in 2015 due to the European debt crisis.
However, you’ll find that Euros are widely accepted all over the country and can be a convenient choice for travelers being broadly accessible all over the continent. But most supermarkets, ticket machines, and kiosks offer unfavorable exchange rates, so one of the things you can avoid in Switzerland is paying with Euros and opting for Swiss Franc instead. This can save a lot of money in the long run.
Not Getting Travel Insurance
This is a no-brainer when it comes to travel, but Switzerland is notorious for its expensive medical services. Don’t risk hefty fees if something were to go awry on your visit, and always travel with insurance.
Sticking to the Cities
From Zurich’s Alpine views to Lucerne’s medieval architecture, Switzerland’s cities are purely magnetic with attractions, museums, and nightlife aplenty. But you should not ignore the unique and diverse landscape outside the city limits. Switzerland is so much more than its cosmopolitan escapes.
Snow-capped peaks, gurgling rivers, and lush valleys, even if you’re only in Switzerland for a short while, getting out to the mountains is a must. Be sure to check out Jungfraujoch, also known as “The Top of Europe” and one of Europe’s most beautiful regions, along with Lauterbrunnen, Interlaken, and The Matterhorn.
Speaking the Wrong Language
It’s wrong to assume that all people in Switzerland speak German, French and Italian. While much of the population is impressively trilingual, gurgling away in the few phrases you know of your chosen tongue is ignorant when addressing the Swiss.
There isn’t a unique Swiss language as such, but German, French, Italian, and Romansch are spoken nationwide along with regional dialects. English is also widely spoken, but your best bet is to ask your addressee which language they speak and research the local dialects to learn a few phrases before visiting each region.
If you’re anything like us, the food on vacation is just as important as the scenery. No trip would be complete without sampling local delicacies and the restaurant scene. But meals out is where you’ll see your travel budget dwindle fastest in Switzerland, and buying groceries to prepare at home will be a great way to save some pennies on holiday.
This is where vacation rentals triumph over hotel stays in Switzerland. Better yet, the Swiss are very accommodating, and it is likely your host will provide you with a few cooking essentials and maybe some local wine to better your stay.
Even waiters and waitresses receive high salaries in Switzerland. Enough so to make living wages without relying on customer tips. Gratuity is always acknowledged, but there’s a high chance it won’t be included on your bill or be expected by restaurants. Show appreciation for your server, but one of the things you can avoid in Switzerland is overtipping to preserve your budget.
Not Staying Long Enough
You can’t get a taste of the real Switzerland in three short days. It might be expensive and small, but there’s so much to explore, and you don’t want to limit yourself when it comes to soaking up all the sites, smells, and experiences that Switzerland has to offer.
From Zermatt and Lauterbrunnen to Luzern and Jungfrau, each destination deserves a night or two, and if you’ve never been to Switzerland, they all deserve a spot on your itinerary. Switzerland can fit into Germany 8.5 times, but the diversity is immense, and the Bernese Jura is about as different as the Ticino Rivera as chalk is cheese.
If budget is an issue, think about delaying your Swiss adventure until you have the means to make the most of the country without breaking the bank. Switzerland isn’t going anywhere after all, but you need at least a week to enjoy the bustling metropolis as well as a rugged Alpine adventure.
Is Switzerland safe for tourists?
Switzerland is one of Europe’s safest countries. Crime, poverty, and unemployment are all very low due to Switzerland’s developed and independent economy. Pickpocketing and petty crime happen primarily in touristy areas, but Switzerland is very safe for solo travelers and families.
Is it OK to drink tap water in Switzerland?
The tap water in Switzerland is of a very high standard and meets strict hygiene guidelines making it safe to drink. Even public fountains can be drunk from, and visitors will benefit from carrying reusable bottles to refill. Buying bottled water is unnecessary in Switzerland.
Why is crime so low in Switzerland?
Switzerland has a reasonably low crime rate and is largely considered one of the safest places in the world to visit. The major cities demonstrate the highest rates, but these are still below the European average. Several factors are responsible for Switzerland’s low crime rates. These include excellent education access, a strong welfare state, a developed economy, and high living wages. The political neutrality of Switzerland has also helped the country maintain its stability and government.