Published on August 10th, 2016 | by Sandeep Patil1
Switzerland Travel Tips: FAQ Style
I dedicate this blog post to Late Yash Chopra ji, who almost single-handedly is responsible for average Indian’s fascination towards Switzerland; consequently covering almost everything in the Indo-Swiss tourism… beginning with small-time traveling-tips kind of blog-posts like the present one…. to the big-time Bollywood movies that were shot somewhere in your backyard, but during the song sequence the stars caught a flight to Switzerland, sung their songs merrily wearing colorful chiffon sarees and sleeveless blouse at 4000 meter altitude (link) and returned to the forsaken backyard again to continue the story! Yes, that’s the dream Yash ji has sold to ordinary Indian, the sweet-romantic image of Switzerland, what even the Swiss themselves may be deprived of. Swiss would be easily the most sought out travel destination for the 21st Century Indian.
Having spent some time in neighbouring Germany, time-to-time friends ask me for Travel info/tips about Switzerland. Somehow, I am perceived to be a veteran of Swiss Travel (collective duration of stay of about 11 man-days, split in 3-4 trips, stretched over a period of 12 years; if you call that veteran… yeah, sure!). Nevertheless I have came to know some typical questions that the fellow travelers, especially the first timers, like to ask about the Swiss trip. I thought it a good idea to make a FAQ style blog post, spilling my Swiss knowledge beans all over.
Please fill free to suggest me / correct me / contradict me, in order to make this post more informative and accurate. Hopefully this post helps coming generations in planning their Switzerland trip!
What is good time duration to ‘cover’ Switzerland?
In my opinion, 4-7 days is a good duration, to visit the key places in Switzerland. For a longer period, it becomes kinda monotonous. For smaller period like 2-3 days, it turns out to be costlier affair (if you consider cost per day).
Why is a short trip to Switzerland not so cost-effective?
Because of two main reasons. First, The Swiss Pass! The Swiss Pass is a great price saver – almost a must – if you are travelling by Train. The Swiss Pass is Available for 3 days or more. (More info on Swiss Pass follows). Second reason is Holiday Homes – which are again price savers in comparison with staying in Hotels. The Holiday Home owners too normally want the guests to stay at least for 3-4 days. These two things help in reducing price significantly.
What are possible modes of transportation to visit Switzerland?
I can think of 3 different ways, for traveling in Switzerland – by Car, by Public Transport (Trains, Buses, Ferries) or by Private Tour Operators. Each has its benefits and compromises.
The best way, IMO is cars. But the public transport (rail, bus, boat) or private tours are also good options. They will be similar in price, but may take more time. It is possible to do mix-n-match though.
What are benefits of Car Travel? Where should I be careful?
Car Travel is the most flexible, time and money saving way. Especially with Car, you can pick your stay in some remote, serene, less commercialized country place – thus can see the Swiss way of life more closely and at cheaper price. Plus driving to remote corners in Switzerland is never boring! Word of caution, the rules of driving in Switzerland are very strict and the fines are way too high! While entering Switzerland, you must buy a car-sticker (called ‘vignette’) which is like Toll for entering Switzerland. It is valid for the whole calendar year.
What are the good’s and bad’s of Train Travel?
Train Travel is understandably the natural option for the short-term visitors or the first-timers. It is somewhat costlier than the car option. In some cases it is time saving compared to Car, thanks to amazing Swiss Tunnels. But most important is, with train you need to plan things much ahead and be on schedule.
How about the private tour operators?
It is a good option for those who do not want the hassle of planning the trips. It is also good for elderly people, since they don’t have to run after trains. But I am not a particular fan of it.
I am travelling by Railway, provide some more info about Swiss-Pass.
Buy a “Swiss-pass” (google). It comes around 200 CHF for 3 days and
-You can travel ALL public transports – trains, buses, boat for FREE
-Most museums/castles are free
-The sight-seeing tours are 50% or sometimes 25% off
The sight-seeing tour itself roughly costs 60-120 CHF (some are as costly as 200 CHF). So a 50% saving per person adds up a lot.
For people in South Germany (Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria) – Buy a ticket till first town on German-Swiss boundary e.g. Basel. (This could be your regional/state-ticket too). Then onward use your Swiss Pass. You can order it online or buy it at any major railway station. You need to show your ID proof (Passport) to buy the Swiss pass.
I want to travel by Railway, but don’t want to buy Swiss-Pass
Then book your tickets as early as possible. Last minute tickets for one day may cost as much as Swiss Pass for 3 days 🙂
Provide some generic Information on Rail Travel in Swiss
All tourist destinations are well connected over Rail-bus Network. But since it is a hilly area, routes are not optimum and normally you need to switch a couple of trains and/or buses before you arrive at your destination. Always on previous night, find the route and time-table TO-AND-FRO for your destination. Be on time at any cost, for if you miss one link in the connection, you may have to wait 1-2 hour, losing your valuable time and daylight.
Provide some tips on planning the route/time-table to destination
Go to the website of the attraction you are visiting, find the section like “How to reach us” and see “by Train/public Transport” option. Most websites give adequate information on this, like the Trains to take, the Bus-connections etc. If you are going to visit a Mountaintop by cable-car/furnicular/local train etc. make note of the first and last trip, as well.
What are the good locations to stay?
There is no big plus in staying at one specific location. In my opinion, staying on a stretch between Bern and Interlaken is a good option. The region you are mainly going to explore is “Jungfrau-Altesch”. Train travelers should see that the accommodation is near to a Train station, especially a junction (like Spiez). Google for a rail map of Switzerland and pick a suitable location based on train routes and the destinations you are interested in. Avoid Interlaken town, its’ too costly.
What are the good accommodation options?
For families – Holiday Homes. For bachelors or couples – Hostels. Camping sites – for everyone (my fav). Camping sites may not be near to train route, but they may have shuttle service to the nearest train station.
Why Holiday Homes is a good option?
First it is cheaper. Secondly, you can cook your own food – at least breakfast and dinner. (If you like cook lunch and carry with). Food is especially costly in Switzerland!
What to keep in mind while renting Holiday Homes?
First timers, please note that Holiday Home renters are especially strict with maintaining the apartment and leaving it as clean as it was occupied. While booking the holiday home, check the total charges carefully. There may be a ‘cleaning charge’ quoted in the price – some owners take it compulsary, some make it optional. If you pay the cleaning charge, then you don’t have to do the cleaning in the end. Having said that, a basic cleanliness is expected in apartment, like emptying the garbage containers, doing the dishes etc. Also, the Holiday Home renters many times do not speak English – this may lead to misunderstanding and cause regret/frustration in the end. So it is better to clear these things before booking the Holiday Home.
Provide some information about staying in Holiday Homes
The Holiday Home owners typically provide Towels and Bed-sheets (In some parts of Europe, you have to pay charge for it). Additionally they may stock up a few necessary things – like cleaning material, Toilet papers, Kitchen Towels etc. Sometimes they even stock up food items too. But there is no fix rule for this. Typically they tell you the location of nearest supermarket and you have to buy the necessary ration for yourself for your stay. Whatever is left in the end and cannot be carried with – like Cereal Boxes, Salt, Oil, Kitchen-Towels – can be left at the apartment as courtsey to the next visitor.
What are the good websites for renting accommodations?
Hotels – booking.com, Expedia, Agoda, tripadvisor, airbnb
Holiday Homes – fewo-direkt (in English Homeaway.co.uk), Airbnb
Hostels – hostelworld
Camping – google 🙂
Also try, couchpotato.com (haven’t tried myself).
What other things to keep in mind while travelling?
Plan everything ahead, even the smallest things. It will save lot of frustration and make good use of your limited time in Switzerland. Do consider the weather before deciding destination. Weather can make or break Swiss trip.
Remember, with train it’s difficult to cover more than two destinations in a day, particularly with children. So rather than rushing through places, try to spend quality time at one-two places per day and have the bus-train schedule beforehand to avoid disappointments.
Also keep in mind a lot of places are hyped-up – the lesser known places are as good as the famous ones. This way you can save some money and meet less crowd.
Carry your food if possible (like sandwiches) – it will save both time and money.
What are the main destinations to consider?
Interlaken surroundings – Lake Brienz (Brienzsee), Lake Thun (Thunsee), Thun Castle*, Grindelwald region (many options including Jungfraujoch – Europe’s topmost peak and First – another top-view location nearby), Lauterbrunnen Region – famous valley of waterfalls including Trummelbach Falls and Schiltthorn (panoramic view), Kanderstieg (hiking), Reichenbach (for Sherlock Holmes fans)
Lucerne Surroundings –Mt. Titlis, Mt. Pilatus, Mt. Rigi*, (all panoramic views) Cogwheel Museum*, Lake Lucerne, old-bridge of Lucerne, Zug, Zurich
Brig and nearby – Matterhorn (Zermatt) – most famous Swiss mountain, Riffelsee, Altesch Glacier and nearby trails
Geneva region – Montruex (Chateau de chillon* – a game of thrones style castle), Wevey, Lausanne, Geneva
North Switzerland – Rheinfalls (waterfall), Mt. Santis, Lake Constance, Zurich
Cities – Zurich, Geneva, Bern, Lausanne, Lucerne
*Good for children
For couples – romantic trails – go for lakes, waterfalls or the destinations marked as (panoramic view) but try to walk your way up, at least a part of it. There are chocolate making classes available in Interlaken as well, if you want ‘that’ kind of holiday.
For adventure lovers – Interlaken is the Adventure sport capital of Europe, need I say more.
What should be considered while choosing the destinations?
Do a mix and match of destinations – like one-two from each Panorama, Lake, Castle, Waterfall. Do not miss Lake Brienz, Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen valley. Reserve the day with best weather for Grindelwald and/or panoramic views. Grindelwald is what I liked the most, it reminds you of Kashmir in Shammi Kapoor or Rajesh Khanna movies.
Matterhorn (Zermatt) is considered to be icon of Switzerland, but you need a whole day (with clear weather) to travel to and fro from Interlaken. Also for Matterhorn, check if the access to Riffelsee is available (often it is covered with snow).
What are the points to consider from Photographer’s point of view?
Unlike normal convention, I found twilight hours (with orange oblique light) not so good for taking photos in Switzerland. It is rather worth taking pictures under white daylight – using the principles of afternoon photography (underexposed pictures). Make generous use of fill-in flash in the afternoon. An overcast sky is also good for shooting Swiss landscapes.
What are the points to consider for the posing models? 🙂
Swiss has dominance of white-blue-green, the cool colors. So preferably wear warm colord clothes (red-orange-yellow) and you can safely rely on plain clothes. Swiss flag is an example :-). Otherwise, Best location to pose in Sweaters :-). PS: I am not sure about this if you are visiting in Fall.
What can be avoided, if time is limited?
I am not a fan of Swiss cities, so would not recommend you those (except Bern). Go to the Panoramic view only if weather is perfectly clear – most web-sites have web-cam view of the panorama, so check that in the morning before leaving and then take a call :-).
The places in North Switzerland are easily accessible from Germany, so you can visit them at later point of time.
Top Secret: Switzerland is not the only beautiful destination in Europe. Germany’s southern state Bavaria, Salzburg and Tyrol Region in Austria, almost entire Italy, South of France, Spain and Norway – they all offer their unique splendid beauty, at par with Switzerland. It’s just that a few Bollywood movies were shot at Switzerland and the rest is history…
What are the ‘hyped-up’ places according to you?
Its’ individuals choice, but many places seen in Bollywood movies are hyped-up according to me. If you explore Switzerland little carefully, you will find that at some places you find a lot of Indians and at some other places relatively very less Indians – then you would know the answer why 🙂
PS: For more photos of Switzerland, visit the Switzerland gallary.