Travel guide to Switzerland – All you need to know

Switzerland is a stunning place and a place you should visit at least once in your life. It’s also very expensive so you need to be well planned – everything from hotels to transportation needs careful research so you don’t overshoot your budget. Having done this research several times over for my friends and family who have visited us, I’ve put together this complete travel guide to Switzerland so you don’t waste time running multiple google searches!

Read on for details on the best time to visit,  itinerary options (for 3, 5, 7 or 10 days), visa, transportation in Switzerland (including Swiss Pass), accommodation options and more to guide your travels in Switzerland! Happy planning!

Here are more ideas for your trip to Switzerland: 25 best places to visit in Switzerland!

Note: This post contains some affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through these, I may earn a small commission, at absolutely no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

What is the best time to visit Switzerland

Spring and Summer are the best times to visit to enjoy activities such as hiking, biking or just basking in the sunshine! If skiing is what you are looking for, winter is the time for you, with the added bonus of beautiful Christmas markets and festivities.

Montreux lake promenade

Click here to check out the 7 prettiest lakes in Switzerland!

Switzerland in Spring (March-May)

Switzerland in spring is beautiful – vivid colours and bright flowers liven up the country. The weather starts getting warmer in March & April and the average temperatures are around 12-15° C. Rain and snow are also a possibility during these months. May is milder with average temperatures around 20° C, however, there are higher chances of rain.

Spring is a beautiful time to visit Switzerland – it’s lovely to walk down the streets of the old towns with flowers blooming everywhere. Spring is also the time when you can start exploring some of the amazing hiking options. 

Spring is also the best time to visit Switzerland for a honeymoon!

Lucerne - bucket list places in Switzerland
Zurich in spring is beautiful - vivid colours and bright flowers liven up the city. Switzerland travel guide.
Switzerland in spring is beautiful – vivid colours and bright flowers liven up the place!

Switzerland in Summer (June – August)

Summers are typically mild with temperatures reaching 30° C.

Rain and thunderstorms are often a welcome relief during these months – though probably not so much when you’re planning for a trip to the mountains and they’re completely engulfed in clouds!

The heat aside, summer is the best time for all outdoor activities – hiking, biking, swimming etc. There are 15+ hours of daylight so there’s ample time to enjoy!

Uetliberg Zurich Switzerland

Click here for things to do in Zurich in every season!


Switzerland in Fall (September – November)

The weather starts getting cooler and less rainy. Temperatures fall from ~15° C in September to <10° C in November. The first snow also starts by the end of November.

The best thing to do in this season is to enjoy the fall colours – take in the beautiful views over the lakes and spectacular sunsets from the mountains. You can also continue to enjoy hiking or biking.

Blausee
The beautiful Blausee is a treat to visit any time of the year

Switzerland in Winter (December – February)

The weather in winter is cold and foggy with temperatures <2-3° C. Snow and ice are common during these months.

Winter is a beautiful time to visit Switzerland! Beautiful snow-covered streets, dazzling Christmas markets, entertaining events, delicious fondue and hot chocolate – all can be enjoyed during the winter! 

Singing Christmas tree; Christmas in Zurich is one of the best things to do
Christmas in Zurich is one of the best things to do

How many days to spend in Switzerland

I always recommend a stay of at least 5 days to get a chance to appreciate the highlights of Switzerland, though if you are short on time, you can squeeze in some of the highlights in 3 days too! Continue reading this Switzerland travel guide below on which places to visit during your trip.

Caumasee - best places to visit in Switzerland

Click here for a guide to the prettiest Swiss lakes!

Itinerary options for your trip to Switzerland

Here are a few itinerary options spanning 3 to 10 days. The itineraries below take Zurich as the starting point since it has a major international airport. You could start from Geneva too and make some minor tweaks – Switzerland is a small country, the travel time between Zurich and Geneva is ~3.5 hours only!

The itineraries below are based on our experience of taking along friends and family and the places they enjoyed the most. You’ll notice the absence of some of the famous landmarks such as Jungfraujoch, Pilatus or Interlaken – these aren’t oversights but rather places I believe are not worth the expense or time (not to mention the huge crowds!).

Included in the suggested itineraries are some of the best places to visit as listed below,

Cities/ Towns: Zurich, Lucerne, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Zermatt

Mountains: Mount Rigi, Grindelwald First, Titlis

Lakes: Bachalpsee, Oeschinensee, Blausee

Others: Rhine Falls, Golden pass train line

Detailed guides on some of these locations are linked above – peruse them for your planning.

Looking for more places to visit? How about Bern? Check out how to photograph Bern here.

Stunning Bachalpsee. Switzerland travel guide.
A postcard-perfect view of Bachalpsee, my favourite lake in Switzerland!

3 days

Day 1: Zurich & Rhine Falls

Stay at: Zurich

Day 2: Lucerne & Mount Rigi

Stay at: Lucerne

Day 3: Mount Titlis

Stay at: Lucerne

5 days

Day 1: Zurich & Rhine Falls

Stay at: Zurich

Day 2: Lucerne & Mount Rigi

Stay at: Lucerne

Day 3: Mount Titlis

Stay at: Lucerne

Day 4: Golden pass train line

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 5: Lauterbrunnen 

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

7 days

Day 1: Zurich & Rhine Falls

Stay at: Zurich

Day 2: Lucerne & Mount Rigi

Stay at: Lucerne

Day 3: Mount Titlis

Stay at: Lucerne

Day 4: Golden pass train line

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 5: Lauterbrunnen

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 6: Grindelwald & Bachalpsee

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 7: Oeschinensee & Blausee

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

10 days

Day 1: Zurich & Rhine Falls

Stay at: Zurich

Day 2: Lucerne & Mount Rigi

Stay at: Lucerne

Day 3: Mount Titlis

Stay at: Lucerne

Day 4: Zermatt

Stay at: Zermatt

Day 5: Zermatt

Stay at: Zermatt

Day 6: Golden pass train line

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 7: Lauterbrunnen

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 8: Grindelwald & Bachalpsee

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 9: Mannlichen – hike to Kleine Scheidegg OR Schilthorn & the towns of Murren and Wengen

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Day 10: Oeschinensee & Blausee

Stay at: Lauterbrunnen

Matterhorn Toblerone Zermatt. Switzerland travel guide.
The iconic Matterhorn at Zermatt

Click here for the best things to do in Zermatt!

Find the best tours and experiences

Visa for Switzerland

Switzerland is part of the Schengen area and a Schengen visa (short-stay tourist visa) is required for a visit. EU citizens and citizens from several countries such as the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand are exempt from requiring a visa. Check your country’s visa requirements here.

If you are travelling to multiple European destinations within the Schengen area, you can apply to the first country of travel for your Schengen visa. This visa will be valid in Switzerland too.

How do I apply for a Schengen visa?

  • Find out the service provider for your country here (scroll down to the ‘choose your country dropdown). Most countries are served by VFS Global.
  • Go to your service provider’s website. Here’s the link to the VFS Global site.
  • Enter in your country of residence and visiting country to get details on the visa procedure. For most countries, the procedure is as follows,
    1. Create a profile on VFS 
    2. Schedule an appointment at your closest VFS centre. For example, for applying for a visa from India, select ‘Schedule an appointment’ in the middle of this page.  Before you schedule an appointment, keep in mind,
      • VFS centres are located only in major cities so you may need to travel for your appointment
      • Ensure you have time to collect all your documents before you finalise the date of appointment
      • You can book a group appointment if there are multiple people travelling together. Note that every person travelling will have to fill out the form and have all documents required (see below).
    3. Download and fill out the application form available on the VFS website. See the link above – you’ll find ‘download visa form’ next to ‘schedule appointment’. The form type is ‘New visa application form Visa C’. For India, this is the form.
    4. Download the checklist of documents required and ensure you have all the documents ready before you go for your VFS appointment.
      • Do I need to book my flights & hotels before I get the visa? Yes, you’ll need to show your flight tickets and hotel reservations to get a visa. While it’s quite easy to get a tourist visa and generally there’s no risk, you should book refundable flights and hotels just in case.
      • I’m going on my honeymoon and all hotel reservations are under my husband’s/ wife’s name. What do I do? Apply together – schedule a group appointment. Have a clear cover letter explaining the situation. This applies to families travelling together too.
    5. Arrive at your scheduled VFS appointment and get all your documents verified and submitted. Submit your visa fees here too. You will need to deposit your passport too.
    6. Track the status of your application online. 
    7. Once your visa is granted, pick up your passport at the VFS centre or get it couriered home (this option needs to be selected and paid for while scheduling your appointment itself).

Getting to Switzerland

By flight

Zurich and Geneva are the major international airports in Switzerland. Flying in and out of Zurich would be more convenient since it is located close to most places you’d visit. 

If you have limited time here’s how to see Zurich in 24 hours!

How far is Zurich airport from the city?

Zurich airport is located very close to the city – you can take a direct train to the main station and reach in 10 minutes! By taxi, it will take ~15 min to reach the city centre. 

How to get from Zurich airport to the city?

By train: Unless you have a lot of luggage, I highly recommend taking the train – it’s fast, convenient and cheap. Plus you can get to see the highly acclaimed Swiss efficiency in action as soon as you get here!

The train station (called Zurich Flughafen) is located right at the airport and is very well marked. As you leave the baggage claim area, look for the signs pointing towards the trains. There are numerous kiosks close to the train platforms to buy tickets. You can select the language option on the screen to help you navigate. You can pay using a card or cash (Euro will also work if you do not have Swiss Franc). A one-way ticket to the main station in Zurich (called Zurich Hauptbahnhof or Zurich HB) will cost ~7 CHF. You can also buy tickets at the ticket windows if you’d like to speak to someone or get information.

Trains to the city centre run every 5-10 minutes between 5 am and 12:30 am.

From the main station, there are numerous local (train, tram, bus), domestic as well as international connections. 

  • If you’re staying in the city, ask your hotel/ hostel/ apartment which station (train/ tram/ bus) is closest to them and take the train/ tram/ bus to that station. Tickets can be bought at the kiosks or ticket windows at the main station. Most places in Zurich are located very close to public transportation stations so you will not have to walk more than 8-10 minutes to reach your destination.
  • If you’re directly headed out of the city, you can take a train to Lucerne, Interlaken, etc.

You can look up train/ tram/ bus/ ferry schedules and buy tickets on the SBB app or here. SBB is the main transportation provider in Switzerland. Swiss Pass is a convenient way to take care of all tickets in Switzerland. Continue reading below for more details.

By taxi: An Uber will cost you 25-30 CHF to bring you to the city centre.

By train

If you’re already in Europe, you can take a train to Switzerland as well. Zurich is only 4-5 hours from Paris/ Lyon, 3-4 hours from Milan, 7 hours from Munich.

By bus

Switzerland is served by several long-distance buses (Eurolines, Flixbus etc.). These are a cheap and easy way to reach Switzerland. 

Swiss public transportation is superb – clean, efficient and offers stunning views!

Transportation in Switzerland

Switzerland has an excellent public transportation system – from trains and buses to mountain railways and cable cars. Everything is amazingly well maintained, super clean and extremely efficient. 

I would recommend making use of the public transportation system using the Swiss Travel Pass instead of renting a car for the following reasons,

There are several amazing train experiences in Switzerland – Golden Panorama express, Glacier express, Bernina express and several more. You’ll miss out on these if you rent a car

Several of your days in Switzerland would involve heading up to the mountains – to hike, bike or just to take in the views. For these excursions, you will need to take a cable car of a funicular. With the Swiss Travel Pass, several of these are free while there are discounts on the others.

Switzerland is beautiful – even regular train rides between cities are beautiful. You’d miss out on those behind the wheel of a car!

Golden pass panoramic. Switzerland travel guide
The Golden Pass Panoramic train is one of the most scenic train rides in Switzerland

Swiss Travel Pass

Now that you are convinced about using Swiss public transportation, let me tell you how to do it the best way. I’m sure you must have heard that Switzerland is expensive, very expensive. This applies to transportation too. If you buy point to point tickets for everything you do, you’ll end up spending much more than what you spent on your flight tickets! The solution here is to use the Swiss Travel Pass.

What are the benefits of a Swiss Travel Pass?

The Swiss Travel Pass gives you unlimited travel on trains, buses and boats, free entry to numerous museums and free or discounted mountain excursions. 

Which Swiss Travel Pass should I buy?

You have the option of choosing between the following,

  • Swiss Travel Pass – Consecutive travel days: 3, 4, 8 or 15 days
  • Swiss Travel Pass Flex – Flexible travel days: 3, 4, 8 or 15 selectable days in 1 month (30 consecutive days, irrespective of the calendar months)
  • Half fare card – Allows you pay ~50% on all fares. Valid for 1 month.

If you have plans on using public transportation every day for multiple journeys, e.g., visiting another city, heading up to a mountain, taking a boat etc., pick the Swiss Travel Pass.

If you have days where you are staying put and doing activities such as paragliding, swimming, etc., pick the Swiss Travel Pass Flex or Half fare card. I’d suggest the Swiss Travel Pass Flex if you’re in Switzerland for <15 days.

Use this tool to identify the best pass for you.

How much does the Swiss Travel Pass cost?

Short answer: It’s expensive! (But worth it)

Swiss Travel Pass for consecutive travel starts from 232 CHF for 3 days to 513 CHF for 15 days (prices for 2nd class travel).

Swiss Travel Pass Flex is more expensive and starts from 267 CHF for 3 days to 563 CHF for 15 days (prices for 2nd class travel).

Half fare card costs 120 CHF and is valid for 1 month. But keep in mind you’ll need to pay for every ticket (half the price of course) you purchase, unlike the above 2 passes.

Discounted rates are available on all the passes for those below 26 years of age.

See the latest prices here. 

2nd class or 1st class?

Swiss trains are amazing – very clean and efficient. A 2nd class train experience is absolutely great. You do not need to splurge on 1st class.

How do I buy the Swiss Pass?

Online. Just book and print. Or you can head to the ticket counters on the train station to buy them once you get here too.

Mt. Titlis. Switzerland travel guide
An excursion to Mt. Titlis comes at a 50% discount with the Swiss Pass

Accommodation in Switzerland

I find myself getting a bit repetitive but bear with me one more time when I say that Switzerland is expensive! Apartment stays might prove to be more cost-effective, especially if you are travelling in a group. These would also often have a kitchen so you can prepare meals to cut down on expenses too.

Since you will be travelling by train, it would be better to look for hotels close to train stations.

Continue reading this Switzerland travel guide below for options for hostels/ hotels/ apartments in Zurich, Lucerne, Lauterbrunnen and Zermatt.

Zurich

Hotel

Hotel Altstadt – Located between the Grossmünster Church and the Limmat River, this hotel is within walking distance of most sights. This is a mid-range hotel, quite reasonably priced by Zurich’s standards! It features rooms designed by a local artist.

Marktgasse Hotel – A slightly more expensive hotel, this one is also located in the old town area of Zurich. Located very close to most sights, this hotel is next to a tram stop so it’ll make it very easy to travel even with luggage.

Savoy Baur en Ville – This is a luxury hotel located at Paradeplatz, walking distance from the main train station. Zurich old town and Bahnhofstrasse are also steps away. 

Apartment

The Crown Penthouse Bellevue – Located in the old town area of Zurich, this apartment boasts lake and river views. It can house 6 people and has a kitchen and laundry facilities.

 Zürich Niederdorf – Grossmünster – Located close to Fraumünster & Grossmünster in the old town, this apartment can house 2-3 people. It has kitchen and laundry facilities.

Paradeplatz Apartment by Airhome – A a 2-minute walk from Bahnhofstrasse, this apartment is ideal for 2-3 people. This apartment has a kitchen and is located very close to grocery stores.

Click here to find more places to stay in Zurich

Rhine Falls
Located very close to Zurich, the Rhine Falls make for a fantastic half-day trip

Lucerne

Hostel

Ahostel Luzern – Excellent location, 15 min walk from the train station and 5 minutes from the historic old town. 

Youth Hostel Lucerne – Good location, only 2 km from the main train station. Well reviewed and rated. 

Hotel

Ameron Luzern Hotel Flora – Well rated and centrally located, only 100 m from the train station and the old town. 

Hotel Des Alpes – Located in the heart of the old town, overlooking the historic Chapel Bridge and a 5-10 min walk from the train station. 


Apartment

Penthouse Apartments Lakeside – A 2-minute walk from Lucerne Train Station and 600 m from Chapel Bridge, this apartment can accommodate 2-4 people.

Lucerne Lake View Apartments – A 10 min walk from the main train station, this apartment can accommodate 2-8 people.

Click here to find more places to stay in Lucerne

Rigi. Switzerland travel guide.
A trip to the stunning Mt. Rigi is free with the Swiss Pass!

Lauterbrunnen

Hostel

Valley Hostel – Just 5 mins walk from Lauterbrunnen station, this hostel offers great views.

Hotel

Hotel Silberhorn – Very highly rated and situated off the main street, only 150 m from the train station

Hotel Steinbock – Located at the edge of Lauterbrunnen opposite the train and cable car station for Grütschalp, Mürren and the Schilthorn

Apartment

Breathtaking waterfall apartment – Located just 100 m from Staubbach Falls, this apartment can accommodate up to 8 people.

Click here to find more places to stay in Lauterbrunnen

Zermatt

Hostel

Youth hostel Zermatt –  Well rated and located a 20 min walk from the train station.

Hotel

Resort Hotel Alex Zermatt – A mountain hut styled hotel located next to the train station. 

Hotel Butterfly Hotel Zermatt – Very well-rated and located just 5 minutes from the train station.

Apartment

Millennium – Highly rated and located very close to the train station and the Sunegga ski lift.

Click here to find more places to stay in Zermatt

Budget for your Switzerland travel

Fixed budget items

  • Flight tickets – ~600 CHF depending on the city of travel from Asia/ North America
  • Visa expense – ~100 CHF depending on the country of residence
  • Travel insurance – 30 – 60 CHF

Total fixed expenses: ~750 CHF

Itinerary dependent budget items

  • Hotel per day: ~150 CHF per couple
  • Food expenses per day: ~60 CHF per person (staying on a budget!)
    • Budget meals (salads, pastas, sandwiches and even hot meals during lunch/ dinner hours) are available at supermarkets such as Migros or Coop
    • A meal in a good restaurant would cost ~50 CHF per person while a quick pizza would cost on an average 18-20 CHF
  • Transportation expenses per day: ~50 CHF per person (based on purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass)

Total variable expenses per day per person: ~200 CHF

A trip to Switzerland is expensive but worth it! This unique wood carving is from the charming town of Brienz, famous for its woodwork.

Practical tips for your trip to Switzerland

  • Don’t waste money on water bottles. There 1000+ water fountains in the city! You will come across a water fountain every few meters, just fill up your bottle as required. 
  • Shops remain closed on Sundays and public holidays. If you need something, head to the train station or the airport where shops are generally open.
  • Switzerland is an expensive country. To travel on a budget, head to supermarkets such as Migros or Coop for meals instead of restaurants. These supermarkets offer a large variety of both hot and cold food.
  • The currency used in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc (CHF). While the Euro is widely accepted, you may not get the best exchange rate. A better idea may be to withdraw some CHF from an ATM or get some exchanged at the airport or the train station. You can mostly manage by just using your card too since almost everywhere cards are accepted (except maybe a few parking meters, toilets or small market stalls).
  • The emergency number for Switzerland is 112.

So there you have it, all you need to know to plan your trip. Get moving and book your Swiss holiday soon!

Read detailed guides on the itinerary recommendations below,

Zurich, Switzerland – The complete guide

Rhine Falls: The complete guide to visiting the magnificent falls

Bachalpsee – Hike from Grindelwald First to the prettiest Swiss mountain lake

The ultimate guide to visiting Mount Rigi

Oeschinensee – A beautiful hike to the stunning blue lake

7 most stunningly beautiful lakes in Switzerland

Best places to visit in Switzerland – The hidden gems

If you found this useful, please share and spread the love!

Cheers!

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My top traveL resources

Planning a trip? Here are some of my go-to travel resources to make it more efficient for you, while staying within budget!

Accomodation

Booking.com is my favourite platform for hotel or apartment bookings. I love their map interface (I prefer to stay within walking distance of major attractions!) and they have an excellent customer service.

Tours & Activities

Get Your Guide is my go-to choice for fun tours and activities. They have a wide range of options and a great interface.

Flights

I prefer to use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights. I often use their monthly view of prices to decide my travel dates!

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is absolutely essential for all your international travels. I’ve been saved by it a few times when I fell sick while travelling and I swear by it since then! World Nomads is an excellent choice for travel insurance.

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