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m (In English and in German the name of the Swiss capital city is spelled "Bern". The French spelling is "Berne". One should really stick to one spelling or the other throughout, and perhaps the German spelling is better.)
(Undo revision 1981156 by Orangeace (talk) The official and correct English spelling is Berne, but see my remakrs later on the cities paragraph)
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=== By airplane ===
 
=== By airplane ===
Major international '''airports''' are in [[Zurich]], [[Geneva]] and [[Basel]], with smaller airports in [[Lugano]] and [[Bern]]. Flying into nearby [[Milan]] ([[Italy]]), [[Lyon]] or even [[Paris]] ([[France]]) or [[Frankfurt]] ([[Germany]]) are other options though rather expensive and time-consuming (3h Frankfurt-Basel, 4h Milan-Zurich, 5h Paris-[[Bern]]) by train.  Some discount airlines fly to [[Friedrichshafen]], [[Germany]] which is just across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) from [[Romanshorn]], not too far from [[Zurich]].
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Major international '''airports''' are in [[Zurich]], [[Geneva]] and [[Basel]], with smaller airports in [[Lugano]] and [[Berne]]. Flying into nearby [[Milan]] ([[Italy]]), [[Lyon]] or even [[Paris]] ([[France]]) or [[Frankfurt]] ([[Germany]]) are other options though rather expensive and time-consuming (3h Frankfurt-Basel, 4h Milan-Zurich, 5h Paris-[[Berne]]) by train.  Some discount airlines fly to [[Friedrichshafen]], [[Germany]] which is just across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) from [[Romanshorn]], not too far from [[Zurich]].
 
The Flagcarrier of Switzerland is SWISS [http://www.swiss.com] which is a member of Star Alliance [http://www.staralliance.com] and successor of the famous Swissair.
 
The Flagcarrier of Switzerland is SWISS [http://www.swiss.com] which is a member of Star Alliance [http://www.staralliance.com] and successor of the famous Swissair.
  
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# SWISS [http://www.swiss.com] (Basel/Mulhouse (EuroAirport Swiss), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport, Zurich Airport)
 
# SWISS [http://www.swiss.com] (Basel/Mulhouse (EuroAirport Swiss), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport, Zurich Airport)
# Darwin Airlines [http://www.darwinairline.com] (Bern (Belp Airport), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)
+
# Darwin Airlines [http://www.darwinairline.com] (Berne (Belp Airport), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)
 
# FlyBaboo website [http://www.flybaboo.com] (Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)
 
# FlyBaboo website [http://www.flybaboo.com] (Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)
  

Revision as of 20:52, 14 January 2013

[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Switzerland]]
Location
[[File:noframe|250px|frameless]]
Flag
[[File:Sz-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Berne
Government Federal Republic
Currency Swiss Franc (CHF)
Area 41,285 km²
Population 7,952,600 (December 2011) including 1,814,800 foreigners (23%)
Language Swiss-German [1], German, French, Italian, Lombard, Romansh
Religion 38.8% Roman Catholic, 30.9% Protestant, 20.1% non-denominational, 4.5% Muslims, 2.4% other christian communities, 1.1% other religious communities, 0.24% Judaism
Electricity 230V/50Hz
Country code +41
Internet TLD .ch
Time Zone UTC+1

Switzerland [2] (German: Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansch: Svizra, Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica) 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 while Lake Maggiore is only 195 m above sea level.

Contents

Understand

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, stiffer 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 alphorns 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.

Regions

Politically, Switzerland is divided into cantons, but the traveler will find the following regions more useful:

Regions of Switzerland
Lake Geneva
On the northern shores of Lac Léman, from the Jura to the Alps
Jura Mountains and Fribourg
Hiking, lakes, watch-making
Bernese Lowlands
The core region of Traditional Bernese influence
Bernese Highlands
The Majestic Bernese Alps
Central Switzerland
The birthplace of the Swiss Confederation, the legends of William Tell
Basel and Aargau
Home of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry; launching point to Germany and France
Zurich
The country's largest city, a tourist region in its own right
Northeastern Switzerland
Between the Alps and Lake Constance and home to many scenic dairy farms
Valais
Europe's highest peaks and largest glaciers
Graubünden/Grisons
Officially, tri-lingual, the region is very mountainous, lightly populated and home to many great tourist cities and includes the ancient Romansh minority language and culture
Ticino
Italian speaking region including famous alpine lakes


The Swiss Alps stretch through the regions of Valais, Bernese Highlands, Central Switzerland and Graubünden.

Cities

The capital city of Berne


  • Basel — the traveller's gateway to the German Rhineland and French Alsace with an exceptional medieval downtown at the knee of the Rhine river; excellent museums (~40) and art's mecca during ART BASEL, world's largest art fair; also famous for its huge and contemplating carnival around February (Basler Fasnacht); German-speaking world wide renowned theatre (including opera and ballet)
  • Bern — capital of Switzerland at the shores of the cristal-clear green-blue Aare river with an amazingly well preserved old-town with arcades along almost every street; great restaurants abound, as do bars and clubs
  • Geneva — this centre of arts and culture is an international city that is home to around 200 governmental and non-governmental organizations (with some major UN organizations) at the end of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman flows into the river Rhône), founding place of Calvinism and THE Red Cross (ICRC); almost every second inhabitant is a foreigner
  • Interlaken — the outdoor and action sports capital of Switzerland; anything from skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, white-water rafting, to canyoning; between the two lakes Brienz and Thun; starting point for many, many tourists for excursions into the Bernese Alps
  • Lausanne — scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws at the shores of the great Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) with a view of Swiss and French Alps; world-wide renowned for its Béjart Ballet Lausanne
  • Luzern — main medievial city of the Central region with direct water links to all of the early Swiss historic sights at the end of the many branched lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee ends into the river Reuss) along of many steep mountains; also famous for its tremendous and ethnic carnival (Lozärner Fasnacht) around February; host of the world-renowned Lucerne Festivals, a classical summer music festival in the Culture and Congress Centre (KKL) designed by Jean Nouvel; starting point for many excursions into the Alps
  • Lugano — a gorgeous old-town in Italian-spoken Switzerland, at the southern end of the Alps with a mediterranean climate at the pretty lake of Lugano in the middle of forested mountains; much Italianata combined with Swiss seriousness
  • St. Gallen — main city of north-eastern Switzerland, renowned for its Abbey of St. Gallen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its library contains books which date back to the 9th century, it also functions as the gate to the very exclusive Appenzell region.
  • Zurich — largest city of Switzerland at the end of Lake Zurich (ends into the river Limmat), a major centre of international banking and national major companies and media; great culture & arts possibilities; more than 50 museums and around 100 galleries; great restaurants (more than 1500) and bars (more than 500); excellent cinema selection (~60 show rooms); has a thriving nightlife (~80 clubs on weekends); host of the largest European party rave Street Parade in August with almost 1 million visitors every year; renowned opera, excellent theatre; host of the renowned theatre festival Zürcher Theater Spektakel during August; every third inhabitant is a foreigner

Other destinations

  • Grindelwald — the classic resort at the foot of the Eiger
  • Rhine Falls — the largest falls of Europe, close to Schaffhausen
  • Zermatt — famous mountain resort at the base of the mighty Matterhorn

Get in

Entry requirements

Minimum validity of travel documents

  • EU and EEA citizens, as well as non-EU citizens who are visa-exempt (e.g. New Zealanders and Australians), need only produce a passport which is valid for the entirety of their stay in Switzerland.
  • Other nationals who are required to have a visa (e.g. South Africans), however, must produce a passport which has at least 3 months' validity beyond their period of stay in Switzerland.
  • However, EU and EEA citizens can still enter Switzerland without a valid travel document if their citizenship has been established. The burden of proof rests with the person concerned. Proof of citizenship may be furnished by any appropriate means (e.g. an expired passport, official document proving identity and/or citizenship of holder).
  • More information about the minimum validity of travel documents, as well as entry for EU and EEA citizens without valid travel documents, is available at the FAQs section of the website of the Federal Office for Migration (under the 'Border-crossing/Travel documents' heading).

Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).

Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, however. Therefore, travellers entering Switzerland are subject to customs controls even if there are no immigration controls, and persons travelling elsewhere in the Schengen Area will also have to clear customs.

Unaccompanied minors (travellers under the age of 18 years) are strongly advised to have a note of consent from their parents/guardian, as well as a copy of the parents' or guardian's valid passport or ID card. For more information, visit the FAQs section of the website of the Federal Office for Migration (under the 'Border-crossing/Travel documents' heading).

By airplane

Major international airports are in Zurich, Geneva and Basel, with smaller airports in Lugano and Berne. Flying into nearby Milan (Italy), Lyon or even Paris (France) or Frankfurt (Germany) are other options though rather expensive and time-consuming (3h Frankfurt-Basel, 4h Milan-Zurich, 5h Paris-Berne) by train. Some discount airlines fly to Friedrichshafen, Germany which is just across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) from Romanshorn, not too far from Zurich. The Flagcarrier of Switzerland is SWISS [3] which is a member of Star Alliance [4] and successor of the famous Swissair.

By train

Trains arrive from all parts of Europe. Switzerland is together with Germany one of the most central-lying countries in Europe, making it a center of railways and highways to the rest of Europe. Some major routes include:

By bus

  • Eurolines has incorporated Switzerland in its route network.
  • Due to the Bosnian war in the 1990'ies there are several bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the Balkans. Turistik Prošić runs from various destinations in the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina to Switzerland.

By car

Common tourist destinations within Switzerland are easily reachable by car, e.g. Geneva from central eastern France, and Zurich from southern Germany. Although Switzerland is now part of the Schengen agreement, it is not part of the EU customs/tariff union. Therefore EU/Swiss border posts will focus on smuggling etc. and checks on main roads will remain in place even after 2008. Delays are usually short but cars may be stopped and no reason needs to be named. Some delay may be caused by queuing at busy times and there are often queues lasting hours to use the tunnels under the Alps from Italy such as Mont Blanc, Gotthard etc. Swiss motorway vignettes (40 Swiss Francs) can and should be purchased at the border if your car does not already have a valid one for the year and you intend to use the Swiss motorways which is almost unavoidable. Keep in mind when choosing means of transport that most cities do not have free parking.

Get around

By plane

The following carriers offer domestic flights within Switzerland:

  1. SWISS [7] (Basel/Mulhouse (EuroAirport Swiss), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport, Zurich Airport)
  2. Darwin Airlines [8] (Berne (Belp Airport), Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)
  3. FlyBaboo website [9] (Geneva (Geneve-Cointrin Airport), Lugano Airport)

But in almost every case you will be better off taking the train.

Public transport

The Swiss will spoil you with fantastic transportation - swift, disturbingly punctual trains, clean buses, and a half dozen different kinds of mountain transport systems, integrated into a coherent system. The discount options and variety of tickets can be bewildering, from half fare cards to multi-day, multi-use tickets good for buses, boats, trains, and even bike rentals. In general there's at least one train or bus per hour on every route, on many routes trains and buses are running every 30 min, or even 15 min, but as with everything in Switzerland the transit runs less often, or at least for a shorter period of the day, on weekends, and especially on Sundays. Authoritative information, routes, and schedules can be found at Swiss Federal Railway's (SBB-CFF-FFS) website [10], or from a ticket window in any train station.

Tickets

Almost nobody in Switzerland pays full fare for the transit system. At the very least they all have a Half-Fare Card (French: Demi-tarif, German: Halbtax) which saves you 50% on all national buses and trains and gives a discount on local and private transit systems. Press the '1/2' button (in the French speaking part often called tarif reduit) on the ticket machines to indicate you have this card, and be prepared to hand it to the conductor along with your ticket on the train. Annual half fare cards cost CHF 175.- [11]; visitors from abroad can buy a 1-month Swiss Half-Fare Card cards for CHF120 [12] [13]. You save CHF 62.- on a round-trip ticket from Zurich to Lugano, so if you are planning on traveling a lot, it will quickly pay for itself. Children between ages 6 and below 16 (before the 16th date of birth!) pay 1/2 fare for travel around Switzerland. Children travelling with a paying parent or grandparent can travel for free, if the parents purchased a Junior Card, or the grandparents purchased a Grandchild Travelcard [14]. Parents from abroad in possession of any kind of a valid Swiss Pass/Card/Ticket by the Swiss Travel System [15] can get a Swiss Family Card for free with the same advantages [16].

The most convenient way to travel with public transport in Switzerland is either a GA travel card (French: Abonnement général, German: Generalabonnament), or for visitors only a Swiss Pass, which grants you access to all national bus (including Swiss PostAuto bus) and rail, all boats, all city transit systems, and the same hefty discount as a half-fare card on privately operated cable cars, funiculars, and ski lifts. Swiss Passes range from CHF 272.- for a 4-day, 2nd class pass to CHF 607.- for a month pass, 2nd class. Like the half-fare, you can buy this from any train station ticket office [17].

There are a few other possibilities in between a half-fare card and a Swiss Pass: See an overview here [18] and for all possible tickets here [19].

Only two trains in Switzerland require reservations: the Bernina Express, running daily between Chur and Tirano and the Glacier Express running from St. Moritz to Zermatt. Reservations is also recomended for the GoldenPass Line from Montreux to Interlaken and further to Luzern, as well as for the Wilhelm Tell Express from Luzern to Flüelen by boat and further from Flüelen to Lugano or Locarno in Ticino by train.

Normally, you do not have to make reservation for any of the public transport system in Switzerland. Though, there are some exceptions. Besides the mentioned scenic trains, some of the yellow bright Swiss PostAuto bus lines require them as well. The easiest way to check this is by the time table [20]. If you find a capital R in a square, then seat reservation is compulsory. And of course, it is also compulsory for most of the international connections.

In general, you will always find a free seat, except for rushing hours (departure time about between 6:30 to 8, and about between 17 and 18:30) especially on non-stop connections between the major business cities, and in particular between Zurich and Bern, and between Zurich and Basel in both directions. You can easily check this on the time table by the statistically based occupancy indication. And during winter season at weekends to and from major ski areas, it can be packed as well. But normally, nobody makes a reservation.

On most trains in Switzerland, tickets can no longer be bought on board, so it is recommended to buy tickets before hand. You will get fined, if you have not got a ticket. Swiss Rail kiosks accept credit/debit cards, although they require that a PIN be entered. You can also buy a ticket on the Swiss Federal Railway (SBB-CFF-FFS) website [21]. Or on SBB's smart phone apps [22] for paperless on-the-mobile-phone tickets, but you need to register an account and a credit card first.

A national single rail ticket is always valid the whole calendar day and therefore valid for any train running on the given route during the day, or more precisely from 5AM to 5AM of the next day; train operation, or in general any public transport system in Switzerland, stops for a few hours during the night. A national return rail ticket always costs exactely the double amount of a single ticket. This is not necessarily true for suburban ticket areas of shorter distances, or for cities' local transport systems.

Any national fare does not change for at least a whole year. So there is no need to buy national tickets in advance and therefore you cannot even buy national tickets online earlier than 30 days ahead. There are only very rare occasions to buy national rail tickets with deductions. And they are only available 14 days before travel date. And you can buy them only online, if there are any at all. And they are only valid for the chosen connection/train of a given date and time! All online bought national tickets are not refundable and only valid for one single calendar day of the chosen date.

Travel

Using the trains is easy, although the number of different kinds of trains can be a bit confusing unless you know that the schedules at a Swiss train station are color coded. The yellow sheet is for departures and the white sheet is for arrivals. Faster trains appear on both of these sheets in red, while the trains in black stop at more stations. For long trips it is often easier to use the website, as it will pick transfers for you. You need not fear transfers of five minutes or less. You will make them, provided you know exactly which platform you arrive on and which one you depart from. Many Swiss commute with a one or two minute transfer!

At the track, the signs indicate the destination and departure time. The small numbers and letters along the bottom show you where you can board the train. The letters indicate the zone you should stand in, and the numbers indicate the class. The class (1st or 2nd) is indicated by a "1" or "2" on the side of the car, these correspond with the numbers on the sign. All Swiss trains are non-smoking — this is also indicated on the side of car, as well as inside.

Luggage can be stowed above your seat or in between seats, or on a rack at the end of the car. During busy periods, people often stow large luggage (or skis) in the entrance area in between cars. This is usually fairly safe, but use common sense.

The variety of trains is bewildering at first, but is actually quite simple. The routes the SBB-CFF-FFS website suggests will make much more sense if you understand them. All trains have a one or two letter prefix, followed by a number, for example RE2709, IR2781. Only the prefix, the destination, and the time of departure are important.

  • R (Regio/Régional) trains are local trains. They stop everywhere or almost everywhere, and generally reach into the hinterlands of a major station like Lausanne, but not to the next major station (in this case Geneva). If you are going to a small town, you may transfer at a large station to an R train for the last leg. Often you can use tickets from city public transit on the S (suburban) system, but ask before trying. For example, Zurich's integrated public transport system (ZVV, [23]) includes everything and all, city trams, buses, SBB-CFF-FFS trains, S-Bahn trains, boats and Postbuses as long as you are within its area with a ticket valid for the zones you travel in (check the fare zone map: [24]).
  • RE (RegioExpress) trains generally reach from one major station to the next, touching every town of any importance on the way, but don't stop at every wooden platform beside the tracks.
  • IR (InterRegio) trains are the workhorses of Swiss transit. They reach across two or three cantons, for instance from Geneva, along Lake Geneva through Vaud, and all the way to Brig at the far end of the Valais. They only stop at fairly large towns, usually those that boast three or four rail platforms.
  • IC (InterCity) trains are express trains with restaurant cars. They are sumptuous and comfortable, often putting vaunted services like the TGV to shame, and make runs between major stations, with occasionally stops at a more minor one where tracks diverge.
  • ICN (InterCityNeigezug, or Intercity Tilting Train) trains are the express tilt-trains, as luxurious as the IC trains. They run on major tracks, such as between Geneva (City and Aéroport) - Lausanne - Biel/Bienne - Olten - Zurich (HB) - St. Gallen, Basel (SBB) - Delémont - Biel/Bienne - Lausanne - Geneva (City and Aéroport), Chiasso - Lugano - Bellinzona - St. Gotthard - Arth-Goldau - Luzern - Olten - Basel (SBB), and Zurich (HB) - Zug - Arth-Goldau - St. Gotthard - Bellinzona - Lugano - Chiasso.
  • TGV (Train à grande vitesse) Lyria, French high-speed rail connecting Paris (Gare de Lyon) with Geneva, Vallorbe - Lausanne, Neuchâtel - Bern, and Basel - Zurich.
  • ICE (InterCity-Express) trains, German high-speed trains serving Interlaken - Spiez - Bern - Basel, and Zurich - Basel into Germany with direct connections to several German cities, such as Frankfurt, Köln, Dortmund, Hamburg, Kiel, and Berlin, or even to the Dutch Amsterdam.

There are also a number of narrow gauge railways that don't fit this classification that supplement the buses in the hinterlands, such as the line from Nyon to La Cure or the line from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen.

You can bring your bicycle on almost every train and some Postbuses in Switzerland, with two provisos: you must have a ticket for it (available from the ticket machines, CHF 18 (full-fare) for a day pass), and you must get on at a door marked with a bicycle. On ICN trains and some IR trains this is at the very front of the train. Check the time table for every single connection and train you intend to use: if you find an icon with a stroke-through bycicle, then their self-service loading transfer is not allowed. If you find an icon with a bicycle, then a reservation is compulsory (mainly for journeys with Postbuses and international train connections) [25].

As good as the Swiss train system is, if you have a little time, and you only want to travel 1-200 miles, you could try purchasing the world's best footpath maps and walk 10-20 miles a day over some of the most wonderful and clearly-marked paths, whether it is in a valley, through a forest, or over mountains. There are more than 60'000 km well maintained and documented hiking trails [26].

The trails are well-planned (after a number of centuries, why not?), easy to follow, and the yellow trail signs are actually accurate in their estimate as to how far away the next hamlet, village, town or city is--once you've figured out how many kilometers per hour you walk (easy to determine after a day of hiking).

There are plenty of places to sleep in a tent (but don't pitch one on a seemingly pleasant, flat piece of ground covered by straw--that's where the cows end up sleeping after a lazy day of eating, and they'll gnaw at your tent string supports and lean against your tent sides. And definitey don't do this during a rainstorm!), lots of huts on mountain tops, B & B's on valley floors, or hotels in towns and cities. You could even send your luggage ahead to the next abode and travel very lightly, with the necessary water and Swiss chocolate!

Information for railway fans

In Switzerland nearly all railways run electrically but it is possible to find many steam railways such as the Brienzer Rothornbahn or the Furka Railway for instance. There are many interesting mountain railways of all types. In Switzerland most electric trains get their power from a single phase AC network at 15 000V 16 2/3Hz. This network uses its own powerlines run with 66 kV and 132 kV, which have, unlike normal power lines, a number of conductors not divisible by 3. Most powerlines for the single phase AC grid of the traction power grid have four conductors. Railway photography is permitted everywhere provided you don't walk on forbidden areas without permission.

Here is short list of the most remarkable railway lines:

  • The Glacier Express from Davos or St. Moritz in the Grisons to Zermatt in canton of Valais, an 8 hours journey in the Swiss Alps.
  • The Bernina Express from Chur to St. Moritz to the Italian Tirano, the highest train transversal in the Alps over the Bernina pass (2328m o.s.l.), high mountain scenery.
  • The Jungfrau railway, from Interlaken (560m o.s.l) to the Jungfraujoch station (3450m o.s.l.) lying on a saddle between the peaks of Jungfrau (4158m o.s.l.) and Mönch in two hours. Definitely one of the most impressive journeys in the Alps. The route from Kl. Scheidegg (2061m o.s.l.) to Jungfraujoch through the mountains Eiger and Mönch, was being realized between 1896 and 1912 almost exclusively by a tunnel.
  • The Gornergrat railway, departure from Zermatt to the 3090m o.s.l. high Gornergrat.
  • The Mount Rigi cogwheel railways either from Vitznau, or from Arth-Goldau, the oldest mountain train in Europe, started running on 21st May 1871.
  • The Mount Pilatus cogwheel railway, from Lucerne to the Pilatus summit (2119m o.s.l.)), the steepest (max. 48% gradient) cogwheel railway in the world, opened 1889.
  • The Brienz Rothorn steam cogwheel railway above lake Brienz to the Rothorn summit (2350m o.s.l.) and almost exclusively run by steam locomotives.
  • The Lötschberg is a line connecting Bern and Brig, not considered as a mountain train but with still impressive scenery, especially if you take the route by a regional train ('RE') through the old 14.6km long Lötschberg vertex tunnel (between Kandersteg and Goppenstein, 500m above the 34.6km long Lötschberg Base Tunnel, a high-speed train tunnel newly opened in 2007).
  • The St. Gotthard line with its many spiral train tunnels and the 15km long St. Gotthard train tunnel (built between 1872 and 1882, 199 workers spent their lifes for its construction) connecting the German spoken nothern Switzerland Zurich/Luzern and the Italian spoken southern Switzerland Ticino (Bellinzona, Lugano, Locarno). Also advertised as the Wilhelm Tell Express between Luzern and Flüelen by boat, and further then by train to either Lugano, or Locarno.

By car

If you like cars, Switzerland can seem like a bit of a tease. They feature some of the greatest driving roads in the world, but can literally throw you in jail for speeding, even on highways. If you stick to the limits, the back roads/mountain roads will still be a blast to drive on, while ensuring you are not fined or arrested. Driving is the best way to see a wonderful country with outstanding roads.


Don't Think You'll Speed Undeterred
If you get fined but not stopped (e.g. caught by a Speed Camera) the police will send you the fine even if you live abroad. In Switzerland, speeding is not a violation of a traffic code but a Legal Offence, if you fail to comply there is a good chance that an international rogatory will be issued and you have to go to court in your home country. This is enforced by most countries, including all of Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in South America and Asia. Failure to comply can result in a warrant being issued for your arrest by your home country.

Also, starting from 2007, Switzerland banned all GPS appliances with built-in speed cameras databases as they are equipped with "Radar Detectors".

According to some GPS navigator producers, it is advised to remove the Swiss radar database while driving in the country as the police may give you a fine and impound your device even if it is turned off and placed in the trunk of your vehicle!


To use the motorways (known as Autobahnen, Autoroutes, or Autostrade, depending on where you are), vehicles under 3500 kg weight need to buy a "vignette", a sticker which costs 40 CHF that allows you to use the motorways as much as you like for the entire year (more precisely, from 1 December of the preceding year to 31 January of the following, so a 2009 vignette is valid from 1 December 2008 until 31 January 2010). Trailers must have a separate vignette. Avoiding the motorways in order to save the toll price is generally futile; the amount is well worth it, even if you are only transiting. Failure to possess a valid vignette is punishable by a 100 CHF fine and a requirement to purchase a vignette immediately (total fine of 140 CHF). Sharing vignettes is, of course, illegal and subject to the same fines as not having one.

Rentals should have the vignette already paid for that vehicle, but ask to be sure.

Vehicles larger than 3500 kg have to pay a special toll assessed through special on-board units that is applied for all roads, not just the motorways.

Speed limits: 120 km/h on motorways, 80 km/h on normal roads and inside tunnels and 50 km/h inside villages. Vehicles unable to travel at 80 km/h are not permitted on the motorways. Whilst driving "a wee bit too fast" is common on motorways, people tend to stick pretty closely to the other two limits. Fines are hefty and traffic rules are strictly enforced. If stopped by Police, expect to pay your fine on the spot.

The blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.05%. As in every country, do not drink and drive, as you will lose your license for several months if you are cited and a heavy fine may be imposed.

Driving is on the right side of the road everywhere in Switzerland, just like in most of Europe. Be aware that the priority to right rule exists everywhere in Switzerland on any street, if not indicated otherwise. I.e. that at intersections, priority is given to the driver on the right except when driving on a road with right of way indicated by a Priority Road (German: Hauptstrasse, French: route principale, Italien: strada principale) sign (yellow square with a broad white border sitting on one of its edges [27]). One exception is when merging into traffic circles (roundabouts), where priority is given to the drivers being within the roundabout. But this is no exception to the 'priority of right' rule, since the street signs indicate that the traffic circles entering vehicle has no right of priority.

Some examples of fines by failing to follow traffic rules

  • driver license not at disposal: CHF 20.-
  • Exeeding the valid parking period (<2h): CHF 40.-, (2h<t<4h): CHF 60.-, (4h<t<10h): CHF 100.-
  • On a pedestrian crossing, parking: CHF 120.-, stopping: CHF 80.-, even during rush hours: CHF 60.-
  • Ignoring pedestrian's right of way on pedestrian crossings: CHF 140.-
  • On a bicycle lane, parking: CHF 120.-, stopping: CHF 80.-
  • On the yellow stripe before a pedestrian crossing, parking: CHF 120.-, stopping: CHF 80.-
  • Not adjusting snow chains when requested: CHF 100.-
  • Not following directions by arrows either printed on the street, given by sign posts, or traffic lights: CHF 100.-
  • Driving on a bus lane or on a tram trail: CHF 60.-
  • Not correctly stopping at a stop sign: CHF 60.-
  • Ignoring traffic lights (red light, and direction indicators): CHF 250.-
  • Ignoring flashing (yellow) traffic lights: CHF 250.-
  • Using of a mobile phone without speakerphone: CHF 100.-
  • Not using seat belts by any passenger: CHF 60.-
  • Unsecured children of age below 12 (special seat for children): CHF 60.-
  • Not flashing when requested (also requested when leaving roundabouts): CHF 100.-, misusing of flashing: CHF 40.-
  • Not stopping to flash after manoeuvre: CHF 100.-
  • More passengers than allowed: CHF 60.-
  • Dirty licence plates: CHF 60.-
  • Driving with insufficient tires: CHF 100.-
  • Driving too fast (minus the measurement uncertainty)
    • Within cities, towns and villages (speed limit: 50 km/h):
      • 1-5 hm/: CHF 40.-
      • 6-10 km/h: CHF 120.-
      • 11-15 km/h: CHF 250.-
      • above 15 km/h: juridictional decision
    • outside of cities, towns, and villages (speed limit: 80 km/h), or on highways (standard speed limit 100 km/h):
      • 1-5 hm/: CHF 40.-
      • 6-10 km/h: CHF 100.-
      • 11-15 km/h: CHF 160.-
      • 16-20 km/h: CHF 240.-
      • above 20 km/h: juridictional decision
    • on motorways (standard speed limit: 120 km/h):
      • 1-5 hm/: CHF 20.-
      • 6-10 km/h: CHF 60.-
      • 11-15 km/h: CHF 120.-
      • 16-20 km/h: CHF 180.-
      • 21-25 hm/: CHF 260.-
      • above 25 km/h: juridictional decision


Pass on the left, not the right, on motorways as well. When passing, do not cross a double or even a single white line. When completing a passing manoeuvre, you must signal with your vehicle's right indicator before you re-enter the right lane. Actually you have to flash (indicators) all the time when you change your direction or lane.

You are not allowed to pass trams (normally only on the right side) at a tram stop, if there is no passenger island on which pedestrians can wait. If a pedestrian wants to cross the road on a respectively marked place (pedestrian crossing: yellow stripes on the street), then any car approaching must stop and give priority to the pedestrians. This is a general law valid anywhere in Switzerland, but especially applicable for tram stops. Do not stop on a pedestrian crossing, even during rush hours.

You must always give way to police, ambulances, fire engines, and buses pulling out have priority.

At traffic lights and railway crossings, you must switch off your engines ("Für bessere Luft - Motor abstellen!", "Coupez le moteur!") to avoid traffic pollution.

Dipped headlights are strongly recommended at all times.

Six tips for mountain roads:

  • Honk if you're on a small road and you don't see around the bend.
  • The Postal Bus (bright yellow) always has priority. You can hear it approaching by means of its distinct three tone horn
  • The car driving uphill has priority over the car driving downhill.
  • Don't even think about driving as fast as the locals: they know every bend, you don't.
  • In general, drive at a speed which allows you to stop within the distance you can see, in order to be safe; and drive so that you would be happy to meet yourself coming the other way!
  • During Winter, although most vehicles are equipped with winter tires (not to be mismatched with all-season tires or even summer tires; winter tires request by Swiss law at least a profile depth of 4mm and are made of different rubber [28]), it may be required to apply chains to the wheels of your car if driving in an area with snow on the street. Autos rented in Switzerland are routinely supplied with tire chains, but ask. Some mountain roads, towns and villages may require chains. Illustrated signs showing snow chains will be posted at the beginning of the route. If chains are requested, winter tires are not sufficient at all! Failure to obey may incur a fine. Service stations located on these routes may provide a chain installation service, for a fee. It's worth the expense, since an inexperienced driver can be tortured for an hour or more, sometimes in terrible weather, learning to self-install tire chains. Don't assume all roads are open; higher altitude moutain passes (ex: Gotthard, Furka, Grimsel, Oberalp, Julier) will be closed for part or all of the winter. Check that a mountain road or pass is open before driving, or you may encounter a red multilingual "CLOSED" sign at the beginning of the route.

Bicycle

Veloland Schweiz has built up an extensive network of long distance cycle trails all across the country. There are many Swiss cities where you can rent bicycles if that is your means of traveling and you can even rent electric bicycles. During the summer it is quite common for cities to offer bicycle 'rental' for free!

Cycling in cities is pretty safe, at least compared to other countries, and very common. If you decide to bicycle in a city, understand that (in most cities) you will share the road with public transport. Beware of tram tracks which can get your wheel stuck and send you flying into traffic, of the trams themselves which travel these tracks frequently (and may scare you into getting stuck into the track as just noted), and the buses, which make frequent stops in the rightmost lane.

In-line Skating

Besides the main types of transportation, the adventurous person can see Switzerland by in-line skating. There are three routes, measuring a combined 600-plus kilometers designed specifically for in-line skating throughout the country. They are the Rhine route, the Rhone route, and the Mittelland route. These are also scenic tours. Most of the routes are flat, with slight ascents and descents. The Mittelland route runs from Zurich airport to Neuenburg in the northwest; the Rhine route runs from Bad Ragaz to Schaffhausen in the northeastern section of the country. Finally, the Rhone route extends from Brig to Geneva. This is a great way to see both the country-side and cityscapes of this beautiful nation.

See

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 Engadine: 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

Plan

The official “MySwitzerland” ipad app [29] from Switzerland Tourism (the national tourism organisation) offers a wealth of useful information and inspiring ideas to help you plan your holiday – anything from a summer in the mountains to a city break. You will find tips for refreshing adventures on the water, breathtaking trips into nature, thrilling train journeys, cultural treats and top events, great accommodation offers – and much more.

Do

  • Trek Via Alpina Green Trail, Altdorf to Adelboden, [30]. This trek combines exhausting hikes during the day (climb 12,157m on 144km 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.

Buy

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 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 1970's 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.

"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 125g 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).

Holey moley!
Have you ever wondered why Swiss cheese, known locally as Emmentaler, always has those distinct holes? Bacteria are a key part of the cheesemaking process. They excrete huge amounts of carbon dioxide which forms gas bubbles in the curd, and these bubbles cause the holes.


  • Cheese - many different 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 (2005). Victorinox knives, knife collectors will agree, are far far superior, in terms of design, quality, 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 original "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.

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.

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.

For the "self catering":

  • Migros [31] - 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 [32] - 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 [33] - 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 [34] - also a convenience store, located in the railway stations
  • Pick-Pay [35] - another discount grocery. Yellow logo. (Sold to Denner in Sept. 05, rebranding in progress)
  • Manor [36] - the Manor department stores often have a grocery store on the underground level.
  • Globus [37] - in the largest cities the Globus department stores have a grocery store on the underground level.

As of March 2005, Coop launched low-price-line (Coop Prix-Garantie). In Migros, you find "M-Budget" products. Sometimes it's exactly the same product, just for cheaper price. They also offer pre-pay 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 discounter, Aldi Suisse started with 5 discount shops in the eastern part of Switzerland in early 2006. The prices are a little lower than at the other supermarket chains, but still significantly higher than in Germany.

Talk

Map of languages in Switzerland

There is no Swiss language. Depending on where you are in the country the locals might speak Swiss-German ([38], "Schwiizerdütsch", expressed in a Swiss-German dialect form), French, Italian, or, in the valleys of Graubünden (engl.: Grisons), Romansh, an ancient language related to Latin. All four languages are considered official languages (except that Swiss Standard German [39] is the official German language, and not any of the various Swiss German dialects). Some cities such as Biel/Bienne and Fribourg/Freiburg are officially bilingual, and any part of Switzerland has residents who speak something besides the local vernacular at home, English, and French being the most widely spoken second languages.

First languages spoken in Switzerland:

  • German: 63.7%
  • French: 20.3%
  • Italian: 6.5%
  • Romansh: 0.5%/0.9%
  • Serbo-Croatian: 1.5%
  • Albanian: 1.3%
  • Portugese: 1.2%
  • Spanish: 1.1%
  • English: 1%
  • Turkish: 0.6%
  • Rest: 1.9%


Around two-thirds of the population of Switzerland is German-speaking, located particularly in the center, north, and east of the country. French is spoken in the west, around Lausanne, Geneva, around Lake Neuchâtel, Jura, and the lower Valais, while Italian is spoken in the south of the Alps. Romansh is almost exclusively located in the canton of Graubünden (engl.: Grisons). The Swiss themselves learn one of the other Swiss languages in school. In French-speaking Switzerland, this is typically German, but English will eventually be the second foreign language they learn. In any of the larger cities you will have no trouble finding people who speak English. In the countryside, it is less common, but hardly rare. People under the age of 50 typically speak more fluent English than older people. Generally speaking, in the past when two Swiss meet for the first time, they would first address each other in one of their local languages, and then switch to a language both are most comfortable with. English, however, has now eventually become the most important second language in German-speaking Switzerland much to the dismay of Francophone Switzerland including a debate, which second language should be taught as the first foreign language (French (or any national language) or English) in Swiss German public schools. In higher grades, pupils will learn anyhow at least two non-nativ languages.

The Swiss German language situation is insofar exceptional that every locally grown-up person use a regional-specific dialect to express themself orally (and there are at least as many dialects as there are numbers of German cantons (18+3) as a rough estimation), mainly used in personal and informal, ordinary settings (family, friends, job, markets, etc.), but generally use the Swiss Standard German ([40], only slightly different from the Standard German spoken in Germany) for the written form and official situations (newspapers/magazines, literature, theater, school/universities, museums/exhibitions, news on TV and radio, national/cantonal/communal parliaments, courts, formal presentations, documentaries etc.). You can say that Swiss German dialects are only used orally, but since the beginning of text messages (SMS) on mobile phones, a lot of Swiss Germans (mainly the younger ones) also (try to) write in their dialect variants, though there is no given standard how to write them, at all. Linguists have a term for this: Diglossia ([41], [42]). Speaking profanely, you could say, the dialect spoken by a Swiss German person, on one hand, and the Swiss Standard German, on the other hand, are just the two sides of the very same medal: their German language.

Swiss German is no concise dialect group itself, but just another word for the group of diverse dialects being spoken in Switzerland. They have their historic roots in several so-called Alemannic (in German: Alemannisch) subgroups (Low, High, and Highest Alemannic). Do not mismatch these rather artificially used linguistic terms with the geographical region of the tribe Alemanni (nowadways the region of Swabia and Bavaria). And Alemannic itself is one of the two groups of the Upper German language group being spoken in the geographically higher regions of the German speaking world for the last ~2200-250 years (i.e. ~200AC-1650AD). But this is rather of linguistic interest. However, since the rise of High German as the Standard German (originally mainly used for trade situations) language since around 1650/1750, German speaking Switzerland moved into a specific situation, since they were the only ones who kept maintaining the dialects as the community's everyday or vernacular language, eventually very strongly based on their profoundly federal, political understanding and subsidiary organisation of the Swiss Confederation. This did not happen in Germany, and in Austria just occasionally, but was not offcially supported.

E.g. the dialect spoken in Basel are based on the Low Alemannic roots, while the very special dialect spoken in the German spoken part, the eastern part of the valley Valais (also called Upper Valais in south-western Switzerland) has its roots in the Highest Alemmanic languages. What it still makes special nowadays and therefore also hard to be understood by any other Swiss German fluent person, if being purely spoken among the "Walliser", is the fact that they missed several changes in German languages taking place during the several hundred years, so e.g. to some extend the so-called "Second Germanic consonant shift" ([43]) mainly taking place between the 4th and 9th century in the geographically higher regions of the German spoken world those days. The other place, where this consonant shift was not happening neither, was far away in the north of Germany, actally north of the so called Benrather Line (e.g. in Hamburg). But it took place in the rest of the German part of Switzerland. The "Walliser" most probably missed it, since the German Valais (in German: "Deutsches Wallis") had been virtually seperated from the rest of the world by not easily surmountable high Alp mountain chaines in the north, the east, and the south, making it extremely hard to have constant and regular exchanges with the other part of the world, and to the west, where the French spoken Savoys lived; another natural, but societal border.

So do not be surprised, if you can not understand the locals, even if you are fluent in Standard German. On the other hand, all German-speaking Swiss learn Swiss Standard German in school, so in the major German-speaking cities (e.g. Basel, Bern and Zürich), almost all people will be able to speak Standard German perfectly well. In countryside, it should still be spoken moderately to fluently by anyone educated in a modern school, so if you do not approach someone old with low education, you should be fine. Since Swiss German is the (orally) spoken language by the Swiss Germans, it is no surprise that you will find a lot of dialect-based broadcastings in Swiss media. However, news, movies, (political) discussions, interviews, documentaries etc. are being broadcasted in (Swiss) Standard German on most TV and radio stations. However, smaller, mostly locally broadcasting TV and radio channels are most of the time spoken in the dialect of the coincidentially given speaker of the moment, from whatever region he/she comes from. This is especially true for radio channels with a rather younger and/or lower educated audience. On the other side, it is rather unsual that movies in cinemas are being shown in a synchronized version (quite opposite to Germany, France, or Italy for example), but are shown in their original languages with subtitles in German and French (or Italian).

The French version of La Suisse Romande / La Romondie ([44], the French-speaking Switzerland), Swiss French [45], is essentially standard French with some differences. It is spoken more slowly, with more of a drawl. The numbers are not the same. Though anyone will understand you when you use soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt-dix (70, 80, 90), the use of these vanish as you proceed east along Lac Léman: in Geneva soixante-dix becomes septante and quatre-vingt-dix becomes nonante.quatre-vingts and huitante are both acceptable ways to say the number eighty. However, by the time you reach Lausanne, quatre-vingts has given way to huitante, and in the Valais it is possible to hear the almost Italian octante.

Another difference is that you may encounter people using the word cornet to define a plastic bag (as opposed to the word sachet that would be heard in France). French has also had a significant impact on Swiss German vocabulary, making it different from the German heard spoken in Austria or Germany. Remember even in German Switzerland, a streetcar is a "Tram", not a "Strassenbahn"! Swiss dialects have quite a few words from French, which are perfectly assimilated. Glace (ice cream) for example is pronounced /ɡlas/ in French but [ˈɡ̊lasːeː] or [ˈɡ̊lasːə] in many Swiss German dialects. The French word for 'thank you', merci, is also used as in merci vilmal, literally "thanks many times". Possibly, these words are not direct adoptions from French but survivors of the once more numerous French loanwords in Standard German, many of which have fallen out of use in Germany.

Swiss Italian [46] is basically standard Italian with German and French influences and is the native tongue of most people in Italian-speaking Switzerland, although old and rural people often speak the related Lombard language instead, though in this case Italian is most often spoken in addition to this.

Rumansh [47] is a Rhaeto-Romance language descended from the Vulgar Latin spoken by the Roman era occupiers of the region. It is closely related to French, Occitan, and Lombard, as well as the other Romance languages to a lesser extent. In the 2000 Swiss census, 35,095 people (of which 27,038 in the canton of Grisons) indicated Romansh as the language of "best command", and 61,815 also as a "regularly spoken" language. Spoken by around 0.9% of Switzerland's 7.9 million inhabitants, Romansh is Switzerland's least-used national language in terms of number of speakers and the tenth most spoken language in Switzerland overall.

Learn

Switzerland has some universites of world renown, like ETH in Zurich, EPFL in Lausanne, IHEID in Geneva, University of Lausanne or the University of St. Gallen (also known as the HSG). Keep in mind, it's much better to speak the local language, so if you can't speak either French, German or Italian, better go for a language course first. There are a few English courses as well, but it will be much easier to go with local language. Also have in mind that if you're a foreigner, and you want to go for popular subjects, you have to pass entry-tests, and it will cost you a lot, not only for university fees, but also for living.

If you like cheaper learning, go for Migros Klubschule, they offer language courses in almost every language as well as a lot of different courses for many subjects, just have a look on their website [48]. You may also want to try the different "Volkshochschule", which offer a large variety of subjects at very reasonable fees (such as [49] in Zurich, for instance).

If you are looking for quality French courses for adults or juniors, you can learn French in one of the ESL schools centres located in Switzerland [50]. You can also choose LSI (Language Studies International) and go for one of the many schools in their extensive network to learn French in Switzerland [51].For more info about Best 5 colleges in Switzerland

Work

If you want to work in Switzerland, be aware that you generally need to obtain a work permit.

Switzerland signed an agreement with the European Union that allows citizens of the old EU-15 states to work and search jobs at arms length with Swiss citizens. In these cases you only need a valid passport and have to register with the local administration. The same system applies in general to citizens of the new EU-10 states (Eastern European states in general) plus Bulgaria and Romania but there are limitations on the number of permits. For all other countries in the world the best way is to check with your embassy if there are, for example, exchange programs.

Switzerland has an unemployment rate of about 2.9% (june 2011). Skilled academics will have good job opportunities.

The high level of Swiss salaries reflect the high costs of living, so keep in mind that you must spend a lot for accommodation and food, when you negotiate your salary. Still, if you want or have to make money fast, you can save a substantial amount per month while working in a low-paying job. In general, you work 42 hours/week and have 4 weeks of paid holidays.

Switzerland has no legal minimum salary. The salary depends on the industry you work in, with most companies paying at least 3500 CHF per month, for example as cashier in a supermarket. Overtime work is usually paid (unless otherwise agreed in contract).

If you want to check the average salaries by industry or make sure you get the right amount paid, Swiss employees are heavy organized in trade unions SGB [52] and always keen to help you.

Sleep

Most tourist areas in Switzerland have a tourist office where you can call and have them book a hotel for you for a small fee. Each town usually has a comprehensive list of hotels on their web site, and it is often easiest to simply call down the list to make a reservation rather than try to book online. Many hotels will request that you fax or email them your credit card information in order to secure a reservation. In general, hotel staff are helpful and competent, and speak English quite well.

Hotel rates in Switzerland can get quite expensive, especially in popular ski resort areas.

There is also a hostel network in Switzerland for students. Types of hotels in Switzerland include historic hotels, traditional hotels, inns located in the country, spas and bed and breakfasts.

Stay safe

Switzerland is not surprisingly one of the safest countries in Europe, but anywhere that attracts Rolex-wearing bankers and crowds of distracted tourists will also bring out a few pickpockets. Obviously, keep an eye on belongings, especially in the midst of summer crowds.

Quite a few Swiss establishments will print your entire credit card number onto the receipt, thus raising identity theft concerns when shopping with a credit card in Switzerland. Therefore, visitors using credit cards should carefully review the information printed on all receipts prior to discarding them. This happens, for instance, in some book and clothing stores and even at the ubiquitous K-Kiosk. This list is obviously not exhaustive; therefore, the visitor must beware whenever using a credit card.


Women traveling alone should have no problems. The younger Swiss tend to be very open with public displays of affection - sometimes too open, and some women may find people getting too friendly especially in the wee hours of the club & bar scene. Usually the international language of brush-offs or just walking away is enough.

Swiss police take on a relatively unobtrusive air; they prefer to remain behind the scenes, as they consider their presence potentially threatening to the overall environment (practice of deescalation). Unlike some more highly policed countries, officers will rarely approach civilians to ask if they need help or merely mark their presence by patrolling. However, police are indeed serious about traffic violations. Jaywalking (crossing a red pedestrian light), for example, will be fined on the spot. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that automobile drivers are generally very well-disciplined, readily stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, for example (but note that, in Basel city at least, whilst the cross-walks give priority to pedestrians many drivers will stop on and reverse over cross-walks without much care or attention). Generally, you are safe anywhere at any time. If, for any reason, you feel threatened, seek a nearby restaurant or telephone booth. The emergency phone numbers in Switzerland are:

  • Police emergency call: 117
  • Fire station: 118
  • Medical emergency, emergency rescue service: 144
  • International emergency call: 112 (for international compatibility), operators are generally English-speaking.

and:

  • Car break-down service (Strassen-Pannenhilfe): 140
  • Personal crisis line (Telefon Seelsorge, Dargebotene Hand): 143
  • Toxin information (Giftinfos, Notfall-Beratung): 145
  • Children, youth emergency (Kinder-Jugend Notruf): 147
  • Road condition (information only): 163
  • Avalanche/all-points bulletin (information only): 187
  • Rega, air rescue: 1414
  • Air-Glacier: 1415
  • Parents emergency call (Elternotruf): 044 261 88 66
  • Tropes institute (Tropeninstitut Basel): 061 284 81 11
  • Animal rescue service (Tierrettungsdienst): 044 211 22 22

Football (soccer) games are the only notable exception to the above rule. Due to the potential threat of hooligan violence, these games (especially in Basel or Zurich) are generally followed by a large contingent of police officers with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas, in case of any major unrest.

Switzerland has very strong Good Samaritan laws, making it a civic duty to help a fellow in need (without unduly endangering oneself). People are therefore very willing and ready to help you if you appear to be in an emergency situation. Be aware, though, that the same applies to you if you witness anyone in danger. The refusal to help to a person in need can be punishable by law as "Verweigerung der Hilfeleistung", i.e. refusal of aid. The general reservation of Americans to avoid entanglement with strangers due to possible future civil liability does not apply in Switzerland, for it would be practically impossible to wage a civil suit against anyone providing aid.

The drinking age for beer, wine and alcoholic cider is 16 (but not in all cantons, so make sure to ask before buying) while the age for any other alcohol (e.g. spirits, "alcopops", etc) is 18. The public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland is legal, so do not be alarmed if you see a group of teenagers drinking a six-pack on public property; this is by no means out of the ordinary and should not be interpreted as threatening.

Switzerland is not a country of insane civil lawsuits and damage claims; consequently, if you see a sign or disclaimer telling you not to do something, obey it! An example: in many alpine areas, charming little mountain streams may be flanked by signs with the message "No Swimming". To the uninitiated, this may seem a bit over the top, but these signs are in fact a consequence of the presence of hydroelectric power plants further upstream that may discharge large amounts of water without warning.

In mountain areas, be sure to inquire about weather conditions at the tourist information office or local train station as you head out in the morning. They should be well informed about severe weather conditions and will advise you about possible avalanche areas.

There have been problems with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. That could be a considerable problem if you are travelling alone.

Stay healthy

Generally there is no problem with food and water in Switzerland. Restaurants are controlled by strict rules. Water is drinkable everywhere, even out of public fountains unless specially marked (Kein Trinkwasser - Non potable). There are many organic food stores and restaurants available and it's currently illegal to sell any genetically modified food.

Respect

Learning the mother tongue of the area you will be staying in is a great sign of respect. English is widely spoken in Switzerland, but any attempt to speak the local language is always appreciated (especially in the French-speaking part of the country), even if you're replied to in English. It’s always polite to ask if they speak English before starting a conversation.

Make an effort to at least learn Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank You in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you. If you are in the German speaking region of Switzerland, it is generally wise to try to communicate in German rather than attempting to speak Swiss German. The German Swiss almost instinctively switch to German once they notice that they are speaking to a foreigner.

German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who you consider to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers.

As a general rule, you shouldn't use the informal with someone you don't know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder.

Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a gray area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.

Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times (left - right - left). This is the usual thing to do when being introduced to someone in the French and German speaking part. If it is a business related meeting you just shake hands. Don't be shy as you if you reject the advance it appears awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips the skin after-all, as a fake kiss will do.

Do not litter. While Switzerland will not fine you (as in Singapore), littering is definitely seen as bad behaviour in this country and in general in German speaking Europe or Central Europe for that matter. Also make sure that you put it in the correctly labeled bin (e.g. recyclable). Some bins actually have times to when this should be done to avoid excess noise!

Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.

Contact

Many of the internet cafes that have emerged in the 1990's have closed since, probably because Switzerland has one of the highest rate of high-speed internet connections in homes in the world, but almost any video rental shop and most train stations will have a few internet terminals. The tourist office should be able to direct you to the nearest one. The going rate is 5 CHF for 20 minutes. Also, you can send email, SMS (text messages to cell phones) or short text faxes from just about every public phone booth for less than 1 CHF. Some public phone booths allow you to browse the internet. There are many shopping centers and cities (Lausanne and Vevey for example) that offer free wireless internet access: ask the young locals; maybe they know where to go.

The public phones are surprisingly cheap, and have no surcharge for credit cards.

If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 Mhz bands - they usually cost around 10-40 CHF and are obtainable in the shops of the mobile service providers Swisscom, Orange or Sunrise in most cities. Swisscom mobile network coverage is close to 100% by area, even in the mountainous, non-populated areas. Other operators cover mainly cities.

There are also a lot of cheap prepaid cards for local calls from other providers. The prepaid cards of the big supermarket chains Migros (M-Budget-Mobile [53]) and Coop ( Coop Mobile [54]) for example cost around 20 CHF and include already 15 CHF airtime. The cheapest prepaid card for calls within Switzerland is Aldi Mobile [55]: 0,14 CHF/min Switzerland fixed and Aldi mobile, 0,34 CHF/min other mobiles. The cheapest prepaid card for international communication is yallo [56]: 0,39 CHF/min within Switzerland as well as to all European and many more countries (to the mobile and fixed networks). This includes the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. SMS cost 0,10 CHF. The prepaid cards can be bought online (30 CHF with 30 CHF airtime inclusive), in most post offices (29 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive) or Sunrise shops (20 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive). An other prepaid card with cheap rates offers Lebara Mobile (Sister company of Sunrise). The prepaid card is available for 5 CHF with an equivalent talk time and recharge vouchers offer the talktime equivalent to the price of the voucher.


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