Switzerland Vacation: 17 Things To Know Before You Go

Planning a trip to Switzerland? Here are 17 things to know before you go! We’re talking about food (like fondue), the weather (in the mountains), Swiss train passes, and even how to visit Switzerland on a budget.


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If we haven’t met, we’re Jana and Brett — Aplins in the Alps. And we just love Switzerland! We’ve been there more than 10 times in the past 10 years, and have plans to spend a few months there again this summer. 

We know you’re going to love traveling Switzerland as much as we do, which is why we wanted to share these 17 things to know before your Switzerland trip!

1 | Switzerland is NOT Sweden

I know this sounds silly, but a lot of people think we’re going to Sweden when we say we’re visiting Switzerland… Just to clarify, Switzerland is NOT Sweden.

Okay, moving on to number 2.

2 | Switzerland is NOT in the EU, but it IS in the Schengen Area

Many European countries are in both. Some are in one but not the other. A few aren’t in either. Confused yet? If so, don’t worry. Here’s what you need to know:

As a member of the Schengen Area, it’s easy to travel between Switzerland and the 25 other countries in the Schengen Area–including each of its bordering countries. It’s just like traveling between states in the U.S. because you don’t need a passport to go between countries. However, you will need a passport to enter and exit the Schengen Area, so bring one along…or two! (Thanks to our dual citizenship!)

3 | Swiss Franc

Switzerland’s currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF), NOT the euro!

Many people visiting from other European countries expect to bring their leftover euros into Switzerland and spend them there. While many places accept the euro, you will definitely be paying more by not using the Swiss currency. The exchange rate isn’t quite the same and prices are often marked up for tourists who insist on using the euro.

Bonus tip: Bring a travel credit card with no foreign transaction fees instead!

Swiss Franc

4 | Switzerland’s Languages

There are 4 official languages in Switzerland, mostly split up by regions.

  1. German (60%+ of the population–spoken in the north, central and eastern regions)
  2. French (20% of the population–spoken in much of the west)
  3. Italian (15-20%–spoken in some of the southeast and south central regions)
  4. Romansh (maybe 1%–spoken in small parts of the southeast)

Many of the Swiss speak multiple languages, and thankfully English is very common, especially in tourist areas. However, we always encourage you to learn a few words (such as hello, goodbye, and thank you) in the local language to have the best time in Switzerland!

5 | Switzerland Airports

Switzerland has two large international airports:

  • Zurich Airport in the northeast
  • Geneva Airport in the southwest

If you’re going to see the highlights of the best places to visit in Switzerland, it’s worth researching which airport has the best flight deals. Or you could fly into one and out of the other.

Both of Switzerland’s airports are on major train lines so it’s easy to get to anywhere in the country from either airport.

6 | Plug Adapters

Did you know that Switzerland has a different plug adapter than most of Europe? The EU plug tends to have two prongs, while the Swiss plugs (also called type J) have three prongs. (According to the Switzerland tourism website, sometimes type C 2-pronged plugs will fit in the Swiss J sockets.)

We found this out the hard way…by arriving in Zurich one evening without an adapter, all of the stores were closed, and we had to hunt in the nearby grocery stores and pharmacies the following day!

Plan to purchase a Swiss plug adapter before your trip, ask your hotel/host if they provide adapters, or plan to buy one from a local grocery store. (Avoid buying them in the train stations because they will mark up the price!)

7 | Tap Water in Switzerland

The tap water in Switzerland is amazing. But don’t take my word for it!

So on your Switzerland vacation, bring a reusable water bottle and avoid buying water from the grocery store! Who knows, you may be drinking straight from a waterfall! (Like we did at Giessbach Falls!)

8 | Food in Switzerland

The Swiss are definitely known for their cheese! Fondue is probably at the top of your list of Swiss foods to try, and for good reason. It’s delicious!

But don’t miss raclette if you’re searching for traditional Swiss food. It’s actually an older tradition than fondue, but still promises to delight your taste buds with hot, melted cheese!

Both are typically eaten in winter, but tourists will enjoy fondue or raclette any time of year!

9 | Swiss Chocolate

You already know that chocolate is delicious. Now you can become a discerning Swiss chocolate connoisseur! While you can visit chocolate factories or large stores to sample cocoa goodness or purchase an overpriced gift set, we have a better tip. Go to the grocery store!

That’s right, you can buy authentic, affordable Swiss chocolate from nearly every grocery store in Switzerland. And don’t just buy one…buy a few different brands to really have the whole delicious experience!

So many great chocolates to sample from the grocery store!

You can travel Europe too!

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10 | Swiss Efficiency

The Swiss are master engineers! You’ll appreciate with amazement as you enjoy the steepest cog railway in the world, the highest railway station in Europe, the world’s longest and deepest tunnel, and more!

You can stick to your schedule because their transportation is on time 99% of the time. Which is always a travel perk.

And it’s quite near impossible to get lost. Their signs are clear, easy to understand, and frequently posted, especially on hiking trails.

Plus it’s one of the cleanest countries in the world!

11 | Switzerland is Family friendly

Believe it or not, Switzerland is very family-friendly! There are plenty of playgrounds, families spending time together in the mountains, and even children walking alone to school.

Beyond that, Switzerland can be a surprisingly budget family destination.

  • Kids under 6 always ride free on public transportation throughout the country.
  • Kids age 6 until their 16th birthday often ride free with a parent in most cases too.
  • Some restaurants and mountain huts offer free or discounted children’s menus, including the Schilthorn James Bond Breakfast!

If you’re a family taking a budget vacation, don’t knock Switzerland off your list!

12 | Swiss Train Travel Passes

Don’t assume the Swiss Travel Pass is your only option for transportation in Switzerland! In fact, it’s highly marketed and may not make the most sense for your trip.

If your Switzerland trip will take you all over the country, then maybe the Swiss Travel Pass will be your best choice. But if you’re only visiting a specific area or planning to ride a lot of mountain lifts (in places like Lauterbrunnen Valley), then it’s worth looking into other (especially regional) passes. Unfortunately the Swiss Travel Pass only covers 25-50% of many mountain lifts!

Bonus tip: While travel passes provide an ideal blend of convenience and cost savings, those on a strict budget might find the Half Fare Card to be the best choice. Use of the Half Fare Card is best paired with the SBB Mobile App, so see #14 for more info!

13 | Rental Car

We suggest that you skip the car rental in Switzerland unless you’re going to get off the beaten path like we did in 2020, or if you’re traveling with enough people to make it worth the cost.

Don’t forget that in addition to the rental car cost, you have to pay for parking and gas (which is often double the cost of what we pay in the U.S.), deal with navigating (instead of enjoying the beautiful scenery), and find parking. Plus, you’ll still need to pay for mountain lifts (because you can’t drive to the top of most mountains).

Can’t get here with a car!

14 | SBB Mobile App

If you’re riding Swiss trains, we highly recommend that you download (and use!) the SBB Mobile App!

  • You can store some Swiss train passes on the app.
  • You can buy tickets straight from the app so you don’t have to visit the rail office every time you want to go somewhere.
  • Even if you will have a transportation pass and don’t need to buy tickets, it’s helpful for timetables, and finding the best route from your location to your destination.
  • If you’re really on a budget, using the app opens up additional discounts that are not available to other travelers too!

15 | Switzerland Weather

Don’t assume it’s cold in Switzerland all the time! In fact, it can get hot in the summer! It reached 103°F (39°C) in Geneva in 2015, and Interlaken hit 98°F (36°C) in 2003!

In the mountains the weather can change quickly: sun and sweat to rain and wind; fog and clouds to sunshine again. So be prepared! Pack plenty of layers in your daypack for any kind of weather in the Swiss Alps!

Don’t know what to pack? We can help! Download our free packing list here!

Bonus tip: our pick for the best weather info in Switzerland is Meteo Swiss!

16 | Emergency

It’s always important to know the emergency phone number (like 9-1-1 in the USA). And in Switzerland, that’s 112. You can even reach an operator (who speaks English) from a phone with a foreign SIM card or a prepaid phone without any credit left.

17 | How to Travel Switzerland on a Budget  

Switzerland is considered as one of the most expensive countries in the world, but you can travel Switzerland on a budget!

To show you how, we made this video about budgeting for your trip to Switzerland:

And if you want even more inspiration for your Swiss vacation, watch this playlist right here. See ya there!

Jana

Jana is an SEO copywriter and content editor plus travel YouTuber. Beyond work, she loves all things gelato, sunshine, and words. Her perfect day? Tossing on sunglasses to read a book and catch some rays, then dinner with her husband and friends. In her free time, Jana disciples teen girls and makes homemade pasta.

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