Switzerland

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Switzerland , offically the Swiss Confederation is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It has borders with France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Germany to the north. The climate is temperate, but varies with altitude. Switzerland has cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters and cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers with occasional showers. Switzerland is known for its mountains (Alps in south, Jura in northwest) but it also has a central plateau of rolling hills, plains, and large lakes. The highest point is Dufourspitze at 4,634 m (15,203 ft) while Lake Maggiore is only 195 m (636 ft) above sea level. (less...) (more...)

Population: 7,996,026 people
Area: 41,277 km2
Highest point: 4,634 m
Coastline: 0 km
Life expectancy: 82.28 years
GDP per capita: $46,200
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About Switzerland

Background

Switzerland's independence and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers and Switzerland was not involved in either of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002. Switzerland remains active in many UN and international organizations, but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.

Switzerland showcases three of Europe's most distinct cultures. To the northeast is the clean and correct, 8-to-5-working, more stiff Swiss-German-speaking Switzerland; to the southwest you find the wine drinking and laissez-faire style known from the French; in the southeast, south of the Alps, the sun warms cappuccino-sippers loitering in Italian-style piazzas; and in the center: classic Swiss flugelhorns and mountain landscapes. Binding it all together is a distinct Swiss mentality.

Switzerland can be a glorious whirlwind trip whether you've packed your hiking boots, snowboard, or just a good book and a pair of sunglasses.

Economy

Switzerland is a peaceful, prosperous, and stable modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labor force, and a per capita GDP larger than that of the big Western European economies. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness. Switzerland remains a safe haven for investors, because it has maintained a degree of bank secrecy and has kept up the franc's long-term external value. Reflecting the anemic economic conditions of Europe, GDP growth dropped in 2001 to about 0.8%, to 0.2% in 2002, and to -0.3% in 2003, with a small rise to 1.8% in 2004-05. Even so, unemployment has remained at less than half the EU average.

Activities

  • Trek Via Alpina Green Trail, Altdorf to Adelboden. This trek combines exhausting hikes during the day (climb 12,157 m/39,885 ft on 144 km/89 mi of trails in 7 days), comfortable accommodations, haut cuisine, low cost, all with non-stop spectacular scenery in the middle of the Swiss alpine mountains. Refer to the link for a trip report that includes route overview, description, GPX track, lodging, packing list, and references.
  • Get around. The Swiss landscape is very impressive with mountains higher than 4000 m (13,000 ft) over the sea level. Traveling from one place to another by car, bus, train or bike along alpine roads and railroads is often an experience in itself.

Food

Switzerland is famous for many kinds of cheese like Gruyère, Emmental and Appenzeller. Two of the best known Swiss dishes, fondue and raclette, are cheese based. Fondue is a pot of melted cheese that you dip a piece of bread into using long forks. Usually fondue is not made of one single type of cheese, but instead many different cheeses are blended. That's the reason why fondue doesn't taste the same all over Switzerland. Raclette is made by heating a large piece of cheese and scraping off the melted cheese which is eaten together with potatoes, ham and vegetables. Another typical dish is rösti, potato pancakes quite similar to hash browns. Unlike Germany, France and Italy, Switzerland cannot boast a large variety of indigenous meat dishes. Probably the best known meat dishes are the sausage cervelat and the specialty of region around Zürich, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (sliced meat and mushrooms).

Swiss chocolate is world famous and there is a large range of different chocolate brands. Also, the breakfast dish Müsli comes from Switzerland.

Like most other things, eating out is expensive in Switzerland. You can save money by cooking your own food.

Another way to reduce food costs is to eat in the cafeterias of department stores such as Coop, Migros and Manor. These cafeterias are usually considerably less expensive than stand-alone restaurants. Coop and Manor also offer beer and wine with meals while Migros does not. Smaller department store outlets might not have a cafeteria.

Supermarket Chains

Swiss employment law bans working on Sundays, so shops stay closed. An exception is any business in a railway station, which is deemed to be serving travellers and so is exempt. If you want to find an open shop on a Sunday, go to the nearest big railway station. If a business is family-owned, you aren't employing anybody so you can open, hence small shops can also open on Sundays in some cantons.

Swiss supermarkets can be hard to spot in big cities. They often have small entrances, but open out inside, or are located in a basement, leaving the expensive street frontages for other shops. Look for the supermarket logos above entrances between other shops. Geneva is an exception and you usually don't have to go very far to find a Migros or coop.

The most important supermarket brands are:

  • Migros - This chain of supermarkets (in fact a cooperative) provides average to good quality food and no-food products and homeware. However, they do not sell alcoholic beverages nor cigarettes. Brand name products are rare as the chain does their own brands (quality is good, which chain that you go to does not matter). Migros stores can be spotted by a big, orange Helvetica letter "M" sign. The number of "M" letters indicates the size of the store and the different services available - a single "M" is usually a smaller grocery store, a double M ("MM") may be larger and sells other goods like clothing, and a MMM is a full department store with household goods and possibly electronics and sporting goods. Offers change weekly on Tuesdays.
  • Coop - Also a cooperative. Emphasis on quality as well as multi-buy offers, points collection scheme(s) and money off coupons. Sells many major brands. Come at the end of the day to get half-priced salads and sandwiches. Coop City is usually a department store with a Coop grocery store inside, a multi-floor layout provides space for clothing, electrical items, stationary, paperware as well as beauty products and perfume. Offers change weekly (some exceptions - fortnightly), on Tuesdays.
  • Denner - A discount grocery store, noticeable for their red signs and store interiors. Relatively low priced. Offers change weekly, usually from Wednesday. Denner was bought by Migros in late 2006, but will not be rebranded at present.
  • Coop Pronto - a convenience store branch of Coop, usually open late (at least 20:00) seven days a week. Usually has a petrol, filling-station forecourt.
  • Aperto - also a convenience store, located in the railway stations
  • Manor - the Manor department stores often have a grocery store on the underground level.
  • Globus - in the largest cities the Globus department stores have a grocery store on the underground level.

Coop offers a low-price-line (Coop Prix-Garantie) of various products and in Migros you can find "M-Budget" products. Sometimes it's exactly the same product, just for cheaper price. They also offer prepaid mobiles as cheap as 29.80 CHF, including 19 CHF money on the SIM-Card and the some of the cheapest call rates.

The German discounters Aldi and Lidl are also present in Switzerland. The prices are a little lower than at the other supermarket chains, but still significantly higher than in Germany.

Drinks

Usually the tap water is drinkable and in many cities and towns there are fountains with drinking water. Soft drinks in supermarkets are one of the few things that aren't notably more expensive than elsewhere in Central Europe. A local specialty is the lactose based soft drink Rivella. The Lake Geneva region is famous for its wines.

Shopping

Switzerland is not part of the European Union and the currency is the Swiss franc (or Franken or franco, depending in which language area you are), divided into 100 centimes, Rappen or centesimi. However, many places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, sightseeings' box offices, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept Euro bills (but not coins) and will give you change in Swiss Francs or in Euro if they have it in cash. A check or a price-label contain prices both in francs and in Euro. Usually in such cases the exchange-rate comply with official exchange-rate, but if it differs you will be notified in advance. Changing some money to Swiss Francs (CHF) is essential. Money can be exchanged at all train stations and most banks throughout the country.

Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid by cash, even Fr 200 and Fr 1000 notes. Some establishments (but fewer than before) do not accept credit cards so check first. When doing credit card payments, carefully review the information printed on the receipt (details on this can be found in the "Stay Safe" section below). All ATMs accept foreign cards, getting cash should not be a problem.

Coins are issued in 5 centime (brass, rare), 10 centime, 20 centime, ½ Franc, 1 Franc, 2 Franc, and 5 Franc (all silver colored) denominations. One centime coins are no longer legal tender, but may be exchanged until 2027 for face value. Two centime coins have not been legal tender since the 1970s and are, consequently, worthless.

Banknotes are found in denominations of 10 (yellow), 20 (red), 50 (green), 100 (blue), 200 (brown), and 1000 (purple) Francs. They are all the same width and contain a variety of security features.

Banking

Switzerland has been renowned for its banking industry since the Middle Ages. Due to its historical policy of banking secrecy and anonymity, Switzerland has long been a favourite place for many of the world's richest people to stash their assets (sometimes earned through questionable means). Although current banking secrecy laws are not as strict they used to be, and anonymous bank accounts are no longer allowed, Switzerland remains one of the largest banking centres in Europe. Opening a bank account in Switzerland is straightforward, and there are no restrictions on foreigners owning Swiss bank accounts. The largest banks in Switzerland are UBS and Credit Suisse.

Costs

When planning your travel budget, keep in mind that Switzerland is a relatively expensive country with prices comparable to Norway or central London. Except soft drinks and car fuel almost everything from groceries and souvenirs to train tickets and accommodation costs more than in the neighboring countries. In fact, many Swiss people living near the borders drive into neighbouring countries to purchase fuel and groceries, as it is significantly cheaper.

"Swiss-made": Souvenirs and Luxury Goods

Switzerland is famous for a few key goods: watches, chocolate, cheese, and Swiss Army knives.

  • Watches - Switzerland is the watch-making capital of the world, and "Swiss Made" on a watch face has long been a mark of quality. While the French-speaking regions of Switzerland are usually associated with Swiss watchmakers (like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe), some fine watches are made in the Swiss-German-speaking region, such as IWC in Schaffhausen. Every large town will have quite a few horologers and jewelers with a vast selection of fancy watches displayed their windows, ranging from the fashionable Swatch for 60CHF to the handmade chronometer with the huge price tag. For fun, try to spot the most expensive of these mechanical creations and the ones with the most "bedazzle!!".
  • Chocolate - Switzerland may always have a rivalry with Belgium for the world's best chocolate, but there's no doubting that the Swiss variety is amazingly good. Switzerland is also home to the huge Nestlé food company. If you have a fine palate (and a fat wallet) - you can find two of the finest Swiss chocolatiers in Zurich: Teuscher (try the champagne truffles) and Sprüngli. For the rest of us, even the generic grocery store brand chocolates in Switzerland still blow away the Hershey bars found elsewhere. For a good value, try the Frey brand chocolates sold at Migros. If you want to try some real good and exclusive Swiss chocolate, go for the Pamaco chocolates, derived from the noble Criollo beans and accomplished through the original, complex process of refinement that requires 72h (quite expensive though, a bar of 125 g/4 oz costs about CHF 8.-). For Lindt fans, it is possible to get them as low as half the supermarket price by going to the Lindt factory store in Kilchberg (near Zurich).
  • Cheese - many regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese speciality. Of these, the most well-known are Gruyère and Emmentaler (what Americans know as "Swiss cheese"). Be sure to sample the wide variety of cheeses sold in markets, and of course try the cheese fondue! Fondue is basically melted cheese and is used as a dip with other food such as bread. The original mixture consists of half Vacherin cheese and half Gruyère but many different combinations have been developed since.
  • Swiss Army knives - Switzerland is the official home of the Swiss Army Knife. There are two brands Victorinox and Wenger. Both brands are manufactured by Victorinox. The Wenger business went bankrupt and Victorinox purchased it in 2005. Victorinox knives, knife collectors will agree, are far far superior, in terms of design, quality, and functionality. The most popular Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ which has 33 functions and currently costs about CHF78 . Most Tourists will purchase this knife. The "biggest" Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ 1.6795.XAVT- This has 80 functions and is supplied in a case. This knife costs CHF364. The 1.6795.XAVT may in years to come be a collector's model. Most shops throughout Switzerland stock Victorinox knifes, even some newsagents stock them. They are excellent gifts and souvenirs. The actual "Swiss Army Knife" is not red with a white cross (as usually seen by tourists), but gray with a small Swiss flag. The Swiss Army Knife is also produced by Victorinox. Its main particularity is to have the production year engraved on the basis of the biggest blade (and no cork-screw because the Swiss soldier must not drink wine on duty).

Note that Swiss Army Knives must be packed in hold luggage.

Ski and tourist areas will sell the other kinds of touristy items - cowbells, clothing embroidered with white Edelweiss flowers, and Heidi-related stuff. Swiss people love cows in all shapes and sizes, and you can find cow-related goods everywhere, from stuffed toy cows to fake cow-hide jackets. If you have a generous souvenir budget, look for fine traditional handcrafted items such as hand-carved wooden figures in Brienz, and lace and fine linens in St. Gallen. If you have really deep pockets, or just wish you did, be sure to shop on Zurich's famed Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world. If you're looking for hip shops and thrift stores, head for the Niederdorf or the Stauffacher area.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Switzerland on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in Switzerland

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Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, with a population of some 400,000 in the city proper and 1.2 million in the agglomeration area. Zurich is on Lake Zurich, where the lake meets the Limmat River, in the north of Switzerland.

Interesting places:

  • Zurich Town Hall
  • Lindenhof
  • St. Peter Church
  • Fraumuenster
  • Lakeside Promenade
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Geneva , Switzerland's second-most populous city and the largest French-speaking city in Switzerland, is one of the world's major centers of international diplomacy, having served as the site of the initial headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Although the United Nations is now ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Tavel House History Museum
  • Saint-Pierre Cathedral
  • English Garden Park
  • Flower Clock
  • Bourg-de-Four Square
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Lucerne is a beautiful small city in the heartland of Switzerland, across the lake from Altdorf, where legend has it William Tell shot an apple off of his son's head. In addition to being a fine place to visit in and of itself Lucerne is a great base from which to explore famous Swiss sites such as Mount ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Chapel Bridge
  • Jesuit Church
  • Mill Bridge
  • Lucerne Arts Museum
  • KKL Lucerne
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One of Switzerland's underrated tourist destinations, Basel has a beautiful medieval old town center, a fascinating Carnival, and several world class art museums built by architects like Renzo Piano, Mario Botta and Herzog & De Meuron. Basel is also rich in architecture old and new, with a Romanesque ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Munsterplatz
  • Basler Muenster
  • The Palantine
  • Marktplatz
  • Basel Town Hall
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Lausanne, (pron: low-ZANNE) the capital of the Swiss canton of Vaud, is a medium sized city (around two thirds the size of Geneva) which sits at the northernmost point of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). The city is the host to the International Olympic Committee and two major universities. It is also the ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Lausanne Cathedral
  • Lausanne Historical Museum
  • Olympic Museum
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
  • International Olympic Committee
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Berne , the capital of Switzerland, is a small to medium sized city with a population of about 130,000 in the city proper and roughly 350,000 in the agglomeration area. It sits on a peninsula formed by the meandering turns of the river Aare. The remarkable design coherence of the Berne's old town has earned ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Einstein-Haus
  • Berner Munster
  • Bundeshaus (Swiss Parliament)
  • French Church
  • Theater am Zytglogge
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Mostly known for its world-famous two week long Jazz Festival (a bit of a misnomer: you're just as likely to catch David Bowie or Beck as, say Steve Coleman), Montreux is well worth a wander through, if only to get to the scenic Château de Chillon or to get to the hiker's paradise of Hauts de Montreux.

Interesting places:

  • Place du Marche
  • Freddie Mercury Statue
  • Chateau de Chillon
  • Montreux Casino
  • Musee du Vieux Montreux
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Lugano is a lakeside city in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of southern Switzerland, and is the largest Italian-speaking city in Switzerland, or for that matter, outside Italy. Part of a temperate micro-climate, Lugano offers palm trees, picturesque boulevards, stunning views of the lake and the Alps, and ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Piazza della Riforma
  • Parco Ciani
  • Palazzo dei Congressi
  • San Lorenzo Cathedral
  • Swissminiatur
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Davos is a winter and summer resort village located in the heart of the Graubünden in the east of Switzerland. In the early 90s, Davos became famous for hosting the World Economic Forum, an annual winter gathering of international politicians and financiers who represented a transnational elite. Together with ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Vaillant Arena
  • Parsenn Ski Resort
  • Kirchner Museum
  • Lake Davos
  • Jakobshorn Ski Resort
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Interlaken is a small city in the Bernese Highlands region of central Switzerland. Located between two alpine lakes (Lake Brienz (Brienzersee) and Lake Thun (Thunersee)), Interlaken is a popular base camp for outdoor sports and travel in the surrounding Bernese Oberland Alps. Interlaken itself is a superb ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Interlaken Casino
  • Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn Glacier
  • Hoeheweg
  • Tell-Spiele
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Points of Interest in Switzerland

The seven wonders

  • The Castle of Chillon: near Montreux
  • The Lavaux vineyards: on the shore of Lake Geneva
  • The Castles of Bellinzona: in the southern canton of Ticino
  • The Abbey of St. Gallen
  • The Top of Europe and the Sphinx observatory: a "village" with a post office on the 3,500 metres high Jungfraujoch above Wengen
  • The Grande Dixence: a 285 metres high dam, south of Sion
  • The Landwasser viaduct: on the railway between Chur and St. Moritz

The seven natural wonders

  • The Matterhorn: from Schwarzsee, Gornergrat or simply from the village of Zermatt
  • The northern walls of the Jungfrau and Eiger: two of the most celebrated mountains in the Alps, they can be seen from the valley of Lauterbrunnen or from one of the many summits that can be reached by train or cable car
  • The Aletsch Glacier: the longest in Europe, the Aletsch wild Forest is located above the glacier, best seen from above Bettmeralp
  • The lakes of the Upper Engadin: one of the highest inhabited valley in the Alps at the foot of Piz Bernina, they can be all seen from Muottas Muragl
  • The Lake Lucerne: from the Pilatus above Lucerne
  • The Oeschinensee: a mountain lake with no rivals above Kandersteg
  • The Rhine Falls: the largest in Europe, take a boat to the rock in the middle of the falls

Events

  • The European Football Championships in 2008 was held in Austria and Switzerland. Basel, Berne, Geneva and Zurich were all hosting sites.

St. Peter Church - Zurich

Saint-Pierre Cathedral - Geneva

Jesuit Church - Lucerne

Munsterplatz - Basel

Einstein-Haus - Bern

Schloss Laufen - Schaffhausen

Piazza della Riforma - Lugano

Lausanne Cathedral - Lausanne

Place du Marche - Montreux

Naturmuseum - Solothurn

Kleine Scheidegg - Grindelwald

Thun Castle - Thun

Lake St. Moritz - St. Moritz

Gorner Ridge - Zermatt

Swiss Reformed City Church - Biel

Jungfraujoch - Lauterbrunnen

Castle of Gruyeres - Gruyeres

St. Nicolas Cathedral - Fribourg

Piazza Grande - Locarno

Santis - Schwende

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