When you hear “Switzerland,” you may think of chocolate, cheese, watches, army knives and the Alps. Switzerland is home to more than 8 million people and is a fantastic vacation destination to many more. Three years ago, I got to visit my older sister, who is currently studying in Zurich. She showed me some of the major attractions back then, and now, after living in Switzerland for a few years, my sister has found more favorites and sweet spots in Switzerland. I asked her a few questions on her favorite places and recommendations around Switzerland so that when you get a chance to visit, you have an idea of what to do.
What is special about Switzerland?
People often know Switzerland for its nature, especially the Alps mountains, and winter sports. There’s a lot to enjoy in the country, and being in the middle of Europe, you can easily access nearby countries. Switzerland is also known for having one of the highest standards of living. The people here value work-life balance, ensuring time for family, leisure and outdoor activities outside of work. Despite having a small population of 8.5 million, Switzerland has a high GDP, and while the cost of living is high, wages are also high. People in Switzerland speak four main languages: German (with a Swiss dialect), French, Italian and Romansh. However, you will be able to get by with English in most cities (although it may be harder in French-speaking areas).
Politically, Switzerland is very interesting. With Switzerland being a politically neutral country, political issues are sorted with a referendum, and many headquarters of international organizations, including the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization, are located here. Switzerland is also home to CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.
Five “must do” items in Switzerland
Visit a cheese factory (there is one in Gruyère), see the Matterhorn, hike in the Alps, ride the ferry on Lake Zurich and eat Swiss chocolate. Oh, one more — if you’re a soccer fan, visit the FIFA museum!
Homemade raclette is so delicious. Raclette is like cheese fondue, except instead of dipping food in cheese, you pour melted cheese over food. If you purchase a raclette grill, it’s convenient to make at home where you can cook meat and mushrooms while melting cheese. I like to add boiled potatoes to mine. Another go-to food is Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, which is a Zurich-style veal dish with creamy mushroom sauce. Many Swiss call it comfort food.
The Swiss chocolate is actually distinguishably special
Swiss chocolate is amazing — the rich texture and harmonious flavors make it like no other kind of chocolate. Läderach is my favorite chocolate shop — its dark chocolate with cranberries and nuts and its strawberry chocolate are particularly good. Switzerland also has high-quality croissants with chocolate filling, called Schöggigipfel, which I often grab for breakfast.
Best mode of transportation
Switzerland has a great public transportation system, including trams, buses and trains. Each has its perks. The trains are fast, while on slower trams and buses you can enjoy the beautiful view outside. Taxis and Uber are usually pretty pricey but are still an option.
Best area to watch the sunset
Zollikerberg or Käferberg are both great places to watch the sunset. Zollikon is a neighborhood just outside the city of Zurich that overlooks Lake Zurich. Because of its beautiful view over the lake, it is called the Golden Coast of Zurich. The sunset at Käferberg, a summit located in the northwestern part of the city, provides a great view overlooking the city.
Best place to hike
A great hike is the Monte San Salvatore in Lugano, the Italian part of Switzerland. You can hike, and there are also cable cars to ride up and down the mountain. Sentiero Monte Brè is another great hike in Lugano. Be sure to check out the Matterhorn in Zermatt, and if you are looking for more signature touristy hikes, definitely plan to hike the Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen at Interlaken.
Tips for visiting Switzerland?
Because Switzerland has a beautiful landscape, definitely do spend some time hiking and enjoying nature. Even when compared to costly cities in the U.S., things may feel expensive. I recommend taking public transportation instead of a cab. If you buy train tickets in advance, you can get them cheaper! You can also get a special transportation pass such as the “Swiss Travel Pass,” which allows you to use public transportation in most parts of Switzerland. Switzerland is generally pretty safe, especially in German-speaking areas, compared to other European countries. Also, tips in restaurants are optional. One last tip: most bathrooms are binary, and often the signs are only in German. Just remember that “Damen” is female and “Herren” is male — I learned from experience.
Hopefully, this will give you several ideas on what to do when you visit Switzerland. Switzerland is a beautiful country, which explains why it is featured in so many movies and films. Definitely worth a trip — I hope to visit again sometime soon!