Majestic mountain peaks, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, charming Alpine villages — these are just a few of the things that make Switzerland famous.
But the European country has a lot more to offer than what you see on its postcards, like world-renowned art museums, relaxed lakeside resorts, and unparalleled public transportation. While it’s a notably expensive destination, Switzerland is also one of the easiest places to plan a trip to and navigate thanks to its expansive, well-connected train network that allows visitors to journey from town to town with low stress. Its location is also ideal for a longer European trip, with many travelers arriving before or after visiting France, Italy, or Germany.
When planning a trip to Switzerland, there are several things to consider, from the time of year to where exactly to go. It’s best to do some research ahead of time, but the beauty of Switzerland’s train pass is that you can be spontaneous. While it’s home to a variety of bucket list destinations, including the Matterhorn, everywhere you go is so charming, picturesque, and orderly it’s difficult to go wrong. Here are some things to consider when planning the perfect trip to Switzerland.
Where to Go in Switzerland
Switzerland is a relatively small country, but it’s packed with must-see spots that range from scenic Alpine peaks to culture-filled cities. It’s home to metropolises like Zurich, Bern, Basel, and Geneva, while the Swiss Alps are dotted with charming towns like Zermatt, Grindelwald, and Andermatt. Switzerland is also well-known for its many crystal-clear lakes, which rival those in Italy. Some of the most picturesque include Lake Lucerne, Lake Thun, and Lake Lugano.
Because everything is so well connected by train, travelers can include multiple stops in one itinerary, and the adjacent countries of Italy and France are close enough to be added on before or after. A week in Switzerland, for example, might include Geneva, Lausanne, and Bern, or you could combine Zurich, Basel, and Lucerne into a single trip. Skiers and hikers may want to base themselves in an Alpine town like St. Moritz, Verbier, or Gstaad, which boast upscale resorts and easy access to the mountains. For the Matterhorn, head to Zermatt, and to glimpse Mont-Blanc, located in France, journey to Chamonix via Geneva.
Best Time to Visit Switzerland
Switzerland is an all-seasons destination, but when you go depends on what you’re looking to see and do. Summer brings hikers, boaters, and mountain bikers, while winter attracts skiers, snowboarders, and lovers of Christmas markets. To avoid crowds, plan a trip in the spring or fall — both great times of the year to explore Switzerland. Fall in particular can be a sweet spot in between the summer rush and the influx of winter travelers, which means potentially lower prices and fewer tourists in popular holiday destinations like Lucerne and Montreux. Whenever you visit, it’s best to pack layers, especially during the colder months.
How to Get Around Switzerland
Most international travelers fly into Zurich or Geneva and then continue onward via train. If you plan to visit multiple destinations around Switzerland, the Swiss Travel Pass is a must-get. The pass, which comes in various iterations, offers unlimited travel by train, boat, and bus on a set number of consecutive days. It’s for visitors only and can save you tons of money if you plan to hop around. It also includes access to dozens of museums and attractions, as well as boat tours in places like Lucerne. While all of the trains offer great views, don’t miss the Glacier Express, which connects Zermatt with St. Moritz and Davos and features panoramic vistas of the Alps.
Many individual destinations have their own travel passes within a particular city. Zurich offers the Zurich Card for unlimited second-class travel on all forms of public transportation, while the Geneva Transport Card is given to anyone staying in approved accommodation in Geneva and includes free travel on the city’s public transport network. Because there are so many lakes, boats can be a fun — and scenic — way of getting around. There’s a ferry that connects Zurich with Lausanne, for example, and the Gotthard Panorama Express combines a boat and train journey in central Switzerland. Visitors can also rent a car to get around, and Ubers and taxis are easy to grab in cities.
What to See and Do
Switzerland boasts two primary attractions: nature and culture. The Alps are a big draw, particularly for outdoor lovers, but there’s plenty to see and do if you prefer the indoors. Many cities and towns have medieval town centers with historical attractions like Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge and Bern’s Zytglogge clock tower, and Switzerland is known for its many excellent museums, like the Kunsthaus Zurich and Lausanne’s Olympic Museum. Many travelers also come to Switzerland for high-end shopping, which includes watches, designer clothes, and chocolate. The perfect trip to Switzerland should include the Alps, even if you’d rather enjoy the views from a spa hotel rather than the top of the Matterhorn. The cities are equally worth exploring, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops that showcase both traditional and modern Swiss dishes and drinks, including the famed fondue.
Where to Stay
There is a range of accommodations available in Switzerland, from luxury resorts to boutique hotels to vacation rentals. The country is especially known for its high-end hotels, which can be found both in the cities and in destinations like St. Moritz, Gstaad, and Zermatt. Properties like the Mandarin Oriental Luzern Palace, Gstaad Palace, The Chedi Andermatt, and The Omnia emphasize swank relaxation, while spa resorts like 7132 Hotel Vals and The Dolder Grand showcase discreet Swiss hospitality. Those on more of a budget will find plenty of Airbnb options, as well as lower-priced hotels in many destinations. The options are more plentiful in Zurich and Geneva, which feature something at every price point.
If you are traveling off-season in spring or summer look for hotel deals, especially if you want to take advantage of the country’s love for luxury hotels. The Mandarin Oriental in Geneva, for instance, often runs promotions, which can mean discounted rates or extra nights. It’s worth being flexible with your travel dates if there’s money to be saved. Many cruise lines, including Viking and AMA Waterways, offer river cruises of the Rhine, which can be a good way to pack in multiple destinations at an all-inclusive cost.