I spent three months living in Switzerland, and want to pass on my knowledge I've gained to you! This Swiss Tips Guide will help in your planning process and when you're there.
- All of Switzerland has great public transportation. Each city has its own system, but all run similarly. At every bus and train stop I’ve seen, you can buy a ticket from a kiosk there (think Redbox). You cannot buy a ticket from a bus/train driver or conductor.
NOTE: Rarely will anyone be checking tickets. It is primarily an honor system, but fines are hefty if you get caught without paying.
- If visiting a city for a day, you could purchase a day pass that lets you on all the cities, trains, and trams. OR you could buy an hour pass at the beginning of your day and another at the end to get to/from your main destinations.
The great thing about Swiss cities is they’re small and very pedestrian friendly. You can often walk from one end of a town to the other in less than an hour (e.g. Lucerne & Bern).
- Interrail service (IR) train line is your best friend for inter-country travel! You can book online in advance, or at a Swiss ticket kiosk.
- If you’re driving, know:
- Roundabouts are common. The jury is out if you should use signals at roundabouts (I rarely do unless I’m taking the first exit/turning right).
- They drive on the right side of the road.
- Automated speed radars are everywhere (you’ll rarely or never see police cars chilling on the side of the road trying to catch people).
- Roads are smaller, as are the cars. You will need to be more aware of the size of your car and your surroundings. In towns it’s also common to have to wait for oncoming traffic to go through a one-lane area created to slow down car traffic for pedestrian safety.
- Since Switzerland is a very pedestrian friendly country, also know that bike lines are EVERYWHERE. You can drive on them until you have a cyclist in front of you. Then, slow down until you can safely pass them.
- NO TURN ON RED.
- Since Switzerland is in the middle of continental Europe, you'll like travel through while backpacking! Logistically, train services are incredibly easy to use for fast and cheap(er) travel. I highly recommend booking through Eurail!
- They care about their trash, so make sure to put things in the correctly labeled trash bins (paper, plastic (PET 1 only), glass, etc.).
- On almost every packaged product you buy, you will find a picture that tells you how to dispose of it (garbage or the proper recycling bin).
- In every major city, you will definitely be able to find people who can speak English if you don’t know the regional language.
- Western Switzerland - French
- Eastern Switzerland - German
- Southern Switzerland - Italian and/or German
- Since Switzerland is not part of the EU, they have their own currency, Swiss Francs (CHF). However, most places will also take Euros.
- Personally, I’ve begun traveling Europe without any hard currency, because there’s less fear of being robbed. Also, I don’t have to worry about exchange rates or random coins. However, recently I have found that some smaller tourist attractions or places like foodtrucks only accept cash. It's good to have on hand about $20 on hand in that case.
- If you’re using a non-EU debit card, I highly suggest opening a checking account with a bank like Charles Schwab, because they don’t charge exchange rate fees when you use their debit card abroad!
- Swiss is a European country, which means everyone tends to dress a little bit classier than, and mostly in neutrals. Blue jeans are rare (even on the weekends).
- Since Switzerland is a very mountainous country, weather can change quickly. Be mindful when packing for a vacation or even a day trip out and about. Layers are always highly recommended.
- An odd thing I’ve noticed is that no one really wears open toed shoes. Sandals are not popular even on warm days, so make sure you bring a pair of cute sneakers (e.g. neutral Keds).
- I tried to avoid having to speak someone at the supermarket since I didn’t know French, so I went to self check out. Unfortunately since I was using my American debit card, I needed to sign my receipt which required me to fumble my way through French before I finally meekly spoke in English to the attendant.
- One night my train from downtown Geneva home was replaced by a bus, which normally isn’t a big deal. However, I was reading and this bus didn’t have clear announcements at each stop. So, I accidentally got off a stop early. This resulted in me walking to my actual bus/train stop at 10:30pm on a shady (though well-lit) path. While speed walking and praying for my life, I came across a group of what I can only describe as “shabab” (a colloquial Arabic term for “the youth”). They were all casually smoking and drinking with their motorbikes nearby. I passed quickly and quietly thankfully with no problems. At the end of the night, I could only help but [nervously] laugh at the whole situation.