Switzerland Tours and Travel Guide
Switzerland Attractions & Landmarks Guide
With its snow-covered alpine peaks, clear mountain lakes and rivers (with cruise boats), miles of beautifully marked and maintained hiking trails, vibrant cities, scenic railway trips that run on the dot, three separate cultures -- German, French and Italian -- and some of the world's cleanest lodgings and eateries, Switzerland combines nature and urbanity in a seamless way, like few other places in Europe.
Switzerland can lay a good claim to being the world’s most beautiful country.
With the snow-capped Swiss Alps and a raft of deep blue lakes gleaming in the sunshine, the pastoral hills with cows grazing peacefully on verdant slopes, the rivers coursing through steep gorges, and the well-maintained hiking trails snaking through them all, you can experience an outdoor setting with few rivals.
The villages, and even the largest cities, are neat as a pin and almost impossibly picturesque, with church steeples and medieval towers dominating the skylines and A-frame chalets dotting the hillsides.
You can ride boats across or around the lakes, ride trains large and small through the most scenic areas, and dine on delicious specialties such as rosti potatoes, raclette (a melted cheese dish), cheese fondue, and of course Swiss chocolate.
Everything runs on time in Switzerland, so if your cell phone is out of juice, you may want to pick up one of the famously accurate Swiss watches. City streetcars and buses run on the honor system for payment, but spot checks that find you without a ticket will cost you a small fortune in Swiss francs. (Swiss efficiency can have its drawbacks.)
Here are some highlights to look out for on Switzerland tour through Switzerland:
Taking the Train in Switzerland
Many tours of Switzerland include a ride on one or more of the country’s trains, renowned for their punctuality and cleanliness, and their large windows which come in very handy to view the spectacular scenery.
Train tours in Switzerland are a classic activity when visiting the country. Trains are much connected with the culture and history of Switzerland and provide the perfect way to learn about the Swiss culture as you wind your way through alpine mountains, meadows, villages, and take in the spectacular scenery all around.
Here are some of the top train journeys you can enjoy in Switzerland:
This exciting train journey travels through far eastern and southern Switzerland.
You can ride the incredible Bernina Express from the city of Chur (or the resort town of St. Moritz) to the Italian-Swiss town of Poschiavo and continue to Tirano across the border in Italy via the Alps, as you climb and dip repeatedly around steep curves.
If you are afraid of heights, you may want to consider another Switzerland train trip. No less than 196 bridges are crossed along your journey on the Bernina Express.
Equally scenic is the Glacier Express, which runs from St. Moritz through the Alps to Zermatt, in the shadow of the Matterhorn. The full trip, which takes seven hours, crosses nearly 300 bridges, runs through nearly 100 tunnels, climbs mountains (up to 6,600 feet at Oberalp Pass) and snakes through deep gorges.
This is one of the longest routes for Switzerland’s scenic train journeys. While it’s possible to pick it up at one of the many stops along the way, many travelers opt to take the entire route.
Dive into Switzerland’s extensive chocolate cultural history aboard this delectable journey. Don’t be dissuaded if you’re not interested in chocolate. On this train trip, you will also sample cheese - Switzerland’s other famous food group.
You’ll begin with a tour of Gruyere Castle (not a castle of cheese, sadly). After which enjoy a leisurely lunch in town. Which will include the famous namesake, Gruyere.
Continue on to the Cailler-Nestle chocolate factory in Broc. This is a very popular Switzerland tour activity, and though it may be a bit crowded and tourists, it’s a fun afternoon nonetheless.
Jungfraujoch Cog Railway
The most amazing train may be the Jungfraujoch, a cog railway that climbs up the adjacent alpine peaks of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch to Europe’s highest train station at more than 11,000 feet, a remarkable feat of engineering completed a century ago. From the top, you have panoramic views of the valleys and villages below – and can play in the snow if you wish.
Switzerland's Resort Areas
St. Moritz and Zermatt – which make up the two ends of the Glacier Express route -- are probably the best known. Both are in German-speaking Switzerland and both feature excellent alpine skiing. But they’re also very pleasant places to stay in the summer, offering exceptional hiking in cooler temperatures than most places in Europe at that time.
If you really want to experience alpine climbing, however, sign up for a guided expedition up the Matterhorn, whose spiral shape forms the iconic image of Disneyland. This is no Disney adventure, though – while a few thousand people make the climb every year, some never come back. It’s not for novices.
But fear not. If you want to see the famous mountain, you don’t need to sign up for a life threatening mountaineering tour. The Matterhorn is a classic Swiss natural landmark, also visible from safe distances. Your tour guide will point out the best viewing opportunities!
Another popular resort area is Lake Constance in northwest Switzerland, which also shares borders with Germany and Austria. A cycling path circles the entire lake.
One often overlooked resort area is the Interlaken-Wengen-Grindelwald region, which lies in the shadow of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch. The area features superb hiking, and scenery, including dozens of little trains climbing the hills to a variety of villages. The three mentioned here are all considered to be in the top ten of scenic Swiss villages.
Hiking and Walking Tours in Switzerland
Walking tours of Switzerland are extremely popular. Classic alpine hills provide the quintessential Swiss experience, as you explore small towns nestled high in the mountains. These can be accessed by strenuous hikes, but one of the unique things about Switzerland is that they don’t have to be.
Attractive to many older travelers, Switzerland’s alpine meadows aren’t a pipe dream! Easily accessible by the many cog railways, it’s possible to breathe that mountain air without over exertion. Many walking tours will stay in luxury mountain lodges, allowing you plenty of time to rest up for another full day outside among the wildflowers.
If you are a hiker, this can be an exhilarating way to experience Switzerland's famous alps. Make sure you’re up for the challenge! The mountains are no joke, even though Captain Von Trapp made it look easy. Most hiking tours through the alps don’t involve camping and you will stay in moderate by comfortable lodges and hotels along the way.
Some of the most popular hikes in Switzerland include:
Champlönch Children's Trail: As the name might suggest, this is one of the simplest trails in Switzerland, but no less beautiful than some of the more demanding hikes. A great option for families with young children, as you walk among the meadows and enjoy the alpine air of this 100 year old nature reserve. You’ll end at Hotel Il Fuorn, which is no longer a functioning hotel, but serves as a base to rest before heading back to the train.
Mont Blanc: a great through-hike experience for first timers. You’ll stay in classic mountain villas and lodges along the way, enjoying delicious local cuisine, and experiencing the hospitality of small Alpine villages. The mountain views are impeccable - some of the best in all of Switzerland. A tour of Mont Blanc can be experienced in many ways, from luxury to hard core trekking, but trekking is appealing to many for the accomplishment of crossing three international borders on foot.
The Eiger Trail: within view of three mountain peaks that sound like they should be characters in a classic fairy tale, “the Ogre, Monk and Maiden” (Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau), the Eiger is a challenging by manageable trail. Roughly two hours long, among spectacular views of the Jungfrau region, the trail is accessed by one of Switzerland’s renowned mountain trails. More serious climbers often brave the mountainsides in this area, and hikers along the 3.7 mile Eiger trail can sometimes see them - bring binoculars!
Aletsch Trail: for sweeping glacier views of Great Aletsch Glacier, this hike is long, but moderate - most relatively physically fit travelers will be able to enjoy the 7 mile trail. Feel like you’re in Lord of the Rings as you follow rock steps, and snow capped peaks flank you on either side. Along the way you’ll reach beautiful Lake Märjelen where an apple tart from Restaurant Gletscherstube is not to be passed up.
Food in Switzerland
What can you expect from the cuisine of Switzerland? Well, for starters, what you’re probably thinking right now is actually true. Chocolate and Swiss cheese will feature prominently on your Switzerland tour! But there are many other things as well to try.
Swiss food features a lot of cheese, potatoes, and has a rustic homey vibe. Most dishes have a regional variety, though are popular throughout the country.
Here are some of the top can’t miss foods to try in Switzerland:
1. Fondue - Another classic Switzerland food experience. This delicious and gooey meal has many modern iterations in today’s food scene, but the traditional way to serve and make it is still the most prominent in Switzerland. This involves melted swiss cheese and chunks of thick country bread. Usually enjoyed in the wintertime, it has snuck into the other seasons as well to the delight of travelers who visit year round.
2. Raclette - Sometimes confused to be synonymous with Fondue, Raclette is in fact it’s own specific dish. Though it does involve melted cheese. Raclette is a hard round cheese that, when melted becomes a soft piece of heaven. The old way to prepare it involved a hot stone - today the process is similar but a bit more advanced than stone. Special Raclette pots are used to heat the cheese which is then scraped off into a bowl or onto individual plates. Various meats and vegetables are then dipped into the delicious, strong tasting cheese.
3. Chocolate - The Swiss are among the largest consumers of chocolate in the entire world, eating on average 23 pounds per person per year. So if you really want the local experience in Switzerland, you will have to sample some chocolate. What a shame! Luckily there are many ways to eat chocolate in Switzerland while also learning about chocolate history with the country or just having a lot of fun, including chocolate festivals, chocolate museums, and chocolate tours.
The Swiss legacy with chocolate began in the 1800s when this most delectable of products from South America began arriving in Europe. Swiss innovators added milk to the mixture, turning the traditionally dark flavors of cacao sweeter and more welcoming to European palates. Many recognizable names from this era come to the surface: Tobler and Nestle among them.
4. Leckerli - A Christmas tradition in Switzerland, these gingerbread biscuits have German roots, but have been enjoyed throughout Switzerland for centuries. If you’re touring Switzerland at other times of the year, you may still find Leckerli, but it is most commonly enjoyed during winter. A delicious treat to have strolling through idyllic Christmas markets with twinkling lights and softly falling snow.
5. Rosti - A classic potato pancake, made from shaved raw potato which is then fried. This dish is served all over the country - though it began as a traditional farmer breakfast in the Bern region. Often regions around Switzerland will add their own touches to Rosti, such as onions or cheese. You’re sure to encounter many versions of Rosti on your Switzerland tour!
Switzerland's 4 National Languages
Sharing borders with Italy, France, Germany, and Austria, it should come as no surprise that there are 4 national languages in Switzerland.
German is the most widely spoken, followed by French, then Italian. The fourth most popular language spoken is called Romansh. This is the official language of a small Swiss canton in the far eastern part of the country. It was established as a national language in 1938.
Approximately 70,000 people speak this language, which is primarily influenced by German, and descended from the latin of the Roman Empire.
Weather in Switzerland
Not counting the Alpine regions, Switzerland has a relatively mild climate. It gets quite cold in the wintertime and summers are generally temperate with the highest temperatures hovering in the mid 90s. Summer can be rainy too however, with temperatures in the high 50s (F).
The Alps is an entirely different story. Mountain weather is notoriously difficult to predict. In the eastern Swiss Alpine regions, you can expect cold but very dry conditions. The Western Alps tend to get more precipitation. The best time to visit the Swiss Alps for hiking is between June and September.
Some of the mildest weather in the Alps occurs between April and June and in the Fall. If you’re visiting Switzerland during the months of August and September and October, this is a great time to visit wineries during harvest.
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