Although expensive, Switzerland is still one of the most visited European countries. If you have already planned your vacation and know which cities you want to visit and which places you want to explore, not knowing some basic facts about Switzerland can make your trip unpleasant and make it harder to get by. The list below will show you some things you need to know to make your trip easier for you and help you make the most out of it.
1. Switzerland is not a part of the European Union
Switzerland has the same (if not better) standards as the European Union, but it is not formally a part of this alliance. This means that the Euro is not formally considered a valid currency in Switzerland, but some touristic places will accept it as the method of payment. If you only have Euros in your wallet, head over to the first post office (Die Post) or even to the nearest train station and exchange your Euros into Swiss Francs. The exchange rate is approximately 1:1.
2. Multilingual and multicultural
Switzerland is not a big country, but it has a lot of mixed cultures and four official languages, depending on where you are. The most spoken language is German, followed by French and Italian. Romansch is the fourth language, but it is only spoken in one small canton in the Northeastern part of the Switzerland. All these languages have their own Swiss version, but official documents and the newspapers are written in the unchanged versions of the languages they came from. Most of the locals know English very well, so do not worry about getting lost or having any troubles communicating.
The train system in Switzerland is amazing. You can get anywhere by train, and it is simple. All you need to do is press the name of the city where you need to go, and the ticket will tell you where to go, which train(s) to take, and when their time of departure. Make sure that you are not a minute late because the trains will leave you behind. In the larger cities, you can take trams and busses. Taxis are expensive, so avoid taking them
TIP: DownloadSBB that will plan your route so you can get to your destination by the fastest way possible. SBB also offers a lot of tourist discounts and you can even get a daily pass that is valid for all public means of transport for an entire day!
4. Early bird catches the worm
Most of the supermarkets open between 6.30 and 8.00 AM and close between 6.00 and 8.00 PM. If you do not get up earlier, you will have trouble buying groceries and souvenirs. Try to avoid the highways around 12.00 and 2.00 PM because this is the usual time morning shift gets home from work, and you will probably get stuck in a traffic jam. Gas stations are usually open the whole night, but you should shop there only if it is a must. Waking up early in Switzerland can be amazingly relaxing, as it is quiet and there is nothing better than watching the sunrise while drinking your morning coffee.
5. Be quiet!
Swiss people like keeping the things quiet. You will never hear them sitting by a balcony and chatting loudly after 10.00 PM, and this goes so far that even flushing the toilet after this time is considered rude and disrespectful if you are living in a flat. Also, you will never hear people yelling or making any kind of unnecessary noise in public.
Swiss folks are polite and they even greet random passersby on the street. The most commonly used words in Swiss- German conversation are “danke” (Thank You) and “bitte” (please). Foreigners always seem to forget that, so make sure you learn to use these two words properly and you will experience just how Swiss people can be polite and helpful. People in Switzerland are not chatty, so don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t want to make a small talk with you.
On Sundays, supermarkets are closed including every single shop in Switzerland except the gas stations which are very well equipped, but pricey. Sunday is the day people with families spend their entire day outdoors, enjoying the sun, and the beautiful view. Do your shopping on Saturday and head to the nearest lake, and you will have a very pleasant day.
TIP– Go shopping on Saturday around 9.00 AM, because this is the time you can find food that is near its expiration date and its price is usually reduced by half or even three-quarters if you are lucky!
Switzerland is one of the leading countries in Europe in recycling. Nothing goes to waste here. Trash bins are almost at every step, and most of the bigger supermarkets have containers where you can dispose PET bottles. Recycling bins are marked, and you can easily find the nearest one wherever you are. Littering is considered rude, and if a policeman sees you, you will receive a ticket that will make you think twice before throwing a cigarette butt on the floor ever again.
9. Leaving the tips
The majority of waiters/ waitresses around the world are highly dependent on the tips they receive, but that is not the case here. You will not be marked as a cheapskate if you do not tip your server. However, if you decide to leave a tip, you should know that in most places the worker have a tip jar and they will use the tips collected to improve their work conditions and service.
10. Border Crossing
Depending on your country of origin, your passport may be susceptible to further control. Swiss border officers can be strict and if you seem suspicious, you will be required to show further documentation which can include: valid Visa, invitation letter or a hotel reservation, travel insurance, return ticket, etc. It is all listed on their website so you can check out what documentation you need to have.
Tip: If you are asked to show money to Swiss border control, you need to know that you will be expected to have 150.- CHF for every day of your stay in Switzerland.
Updated: July 12, 2017