A Quick Look at Switzerland

A pricey destination to be sure, keep in mind that it’s not necessary to spend a bundle to enjoy Switzerland. It’s indeed possible to backpack here and what’s more, the country’s central location makes it a must-stop when crisscrossing Europe. Landlocked by France, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Germany, most visitors make Switzerland part of a total European experience. Should you choose to visit Switzerland yourself, here are a few “good to knows” for the country. A kind of pocket guide for your trip.

  • In this part of Central Europe, countries are primarily linked by train, and as noted, Switzerland is located in a key spot in the center of many routes. From major European cities like Paris, Nice, Milan, and Frankfurt, tourists can easily take the train into Switzerland for a day trip. (An overnight train will get you there to enjoy an entire day, but many sightseers prefer day trains, to take in the impressive views.
  • In Switzerland, outdoor recreation reigns supreme, with skiing, snowboarding, and water sports generally enjoyed year-round. In St. Moritz for instance, you’ll find 320 days of sunshine each year.
  • Hiking is also always popular. Whether it’s a short excursion or one that’ll require a walking stick, you’ll at least want to attempt a hike. There is possibly no better way to see Switzerland than to walk it. Its preserved natural beauty is one of its most spectacular assets.
  • There are over 700 museums found across Switzerland, including castles and mansions now open to the public. In addition, you’ll want to also look into the country’s churches, monasteries, and abbeys. Historic places-to-visit include St. Peter’s Church (Zurich), Chapel Bridge (Lucerne), and Löwendenkmal (a.k.a. Lion Monument, Lucerne).
  • Festivals to circle on your calendar include Vogel Gryff Volksfest (January), the Sechseläuten (in spring), Carnival (before Lent), the Zurich Festival (June), Swiss Independence Day (August 1), the Onion Festival (in Berne, fourth Monday in November), and L’Escalade (December 11-13).
  • There are three distinct cultures in Switzerland, each defined by a region. In the northeast, the prevailing culture is German, while in the southwest, it’s French. And in the southeast, you’ll find an Italian influence. With this said, it’s advisable travelers learn a few basic phrases in German, French, and Italian before visiting. However, as a major tourist destination, it’s usually not too difficult to find an English-speaking person to ask questions, particularly in the retail areas.
  • Speaking of retail, Switzerland is not a part of the European Union and thus, doesn’t use the Euro as its currency. Instead, it’s the Swiss franc. Fortunately though — and a sign of its warm hospitality — you can still pay with Euros. For instance, if you’re travel to Switzerland from a neighboring country and only have Euros on hand, you can pay with them and in return, you’ll receive Swiss francs in change.
  • Switzerland is known for several locally-made, world-class products, including chocolates, watches, cheese, and knives.
  • All establishments are closed on Sundays, so this is an ideal time for exploring the country’s landscape, scenic attractions, and historic sights/sites.

And finally, some “fast facts” to note about Switzerland:

The country is 15,940 square miles and is comprised of three main geographic regions: the Jura, the Plateau, and the Alps. There are over 1,500 lakes in Switzerland, including its two largest: Lake Geneva (shared with France) and Lake Constance. The capital of Switzerland is Berne, while Zurich is the country’s largest city; Geneva, its center for arts and culture; and Lucerne, the gateway to central Switzerland, known for its water links.

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