Small, mountainous and wealthy, with a population of
just seven million, Switzerland is renowned for its
enviable quality of life in a country that ticks along
like clockwork. Its products are sought after the world
over, from dangerously delicious cheese and chocolate
to luxurious watches whose timekeeping is as sharp as
a Swiss army knife, another popular export from this
clever little nation in the Alps.
Switzerland’s famed political neutrality and isolated
location, ring-fenced by mountains, have enabled it
to play a safe but central role in European affairs.
These factors also gave rise to the coveted Swiss bank
account, whose anonymity, along with tax relief and
what may be the safest banks in the world, have made
Zürich one of Europe’s major financial hubs. The
conveniently central location in the middle of Europe
has also made Switzerland a favourite meeting place
for conventions and international conferences – Geneva,
for instance, is home to the United Nations.
Switzerland is not only a place for professionals,
though. As a stylish tourist destination it offers top
ski resorts like Zermatt and celebrity-studded St Moritz,
while the white peaks of mountains set against blue
skies make a wonderful backdrop for summertime hiking.
The ancient capital of Berne provides opportunities
for sightseeing and elegant shopping, while nightlife
can prove to be a lot of fun, too, since the Swiss like
their food and folk music even in discotheques and nightclubs.
Full country name: Swiss Confederation
Area: 41,295 sq km (16,105 sq mi)
Population: 7.3 million
Capital city: Bern (pop 130,000)
People: 74% German, 20% French, 4% Italian &
Language: German, French, Italian & Romansch
Religion: 49% Roman Catholic & 48% Protestant
Government: Federal republic
President: Kaspar Villiger
Passport: Passport valid for three months after
intended period of stay required by all except:
(a) nationals of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland,
France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein,
Luxemburg, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, Portugal,
San Marino, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Spain holding
a valid national ID card.
(b) foreigners holding national Identity Cards issued
by the governments of Belgium, France or Luxemburg,
provided they are resident in one of these countries.
Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, Ireland,
New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the USA do not
require a visa. A maximum stay of three months applies
though passports are rarely stamped
Currency: Swiss Franc (SFr) = 100 rappen or
centimes. Notes are in denominations of SFr1000, 500,
200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations
of SFr5, 2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10 and 5 centimes.
Eurocheques: Eurocheques are no longer guaranteed
and and can not be accepted for encashments but may
be useable for payments wihtout the guarantee.
Currency exchange: Personal cheques within the
Eurocheque system are accepted. ATMs provide a convenient
means of obtaining Swiss Francs. There are Bureaux de
Change at train stations and banks.
Credit & debit cards: MasterCard, American Express,
Diners Club and Visa are widely accepted. Check with
your credit, or debit, card company for details of merchant
acceptability and other facilities which may be available.
Travellers cheques: Pound Sterling, US Dollar,
Euro or Swiss Franc cheques are accepted at airports,
railway stations and banks. To avoid additional exchange
rate charges, travellers are advised to take travellers
cheques in Pounds Sterling, Euros or US Dollars.
Currency restrictions: There are no restrictions
on the import or export of local or foreign currencies.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 08:30-16:30.
You can visit Switzerland any time throughout the year.
Summer lasts roughly from June to September, and offers
the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits. Unfortunately,
you won't be the only tourist during this period, so
prices can be high, accommodation hard to find and the
mainstream sights crowded. You'll find much better deals
and fewer crowds in the shoulder seasons of April-May
If you're keen on winter sports, resorts in the Alps
begin operating in late-November, move into full swing
around Christmas, and close down when the snow begins
to melt in April.
There & Away
The main entry points for international
flights are Zurich and Geneva. Basel, Bern and Lugarno
airports also receive international flights. There is
no departure tax when flying out of Switzerland. Trains
are a popular and convenient way to travel to Switzerland,
and European rail passes make train travel affordable.
Buses tend to be slower and less comfortable, though
sometimes cheaper. Getting to Switzerland by road is
simple, since there are fast, well-maintained motorways
through all surrounding countries. If you have time
and money, it's possible to get to Switzerland by boat
along the Rhine all the way from Amsterdam. Switzerland
can also be reached by lake steamer ferries from Germany
via Lake Constance, from Italy via Lake Maggiore and
from France via Lake Geneva.
Switzerland has a fully integrated and comprehensive
public transport system incorporating trains, buses,
boats, funiculars and cable cars. Internal flights are
not of great interest to the visitor, owing to the excellent
ground transportation. The Swiss rail network covers
5000 km. Trains are clean, reliable and frequent. Yellow
postbuses supplement the rail network and their stations
are next to railway stations. There are car-rental agencies
in most sizeable towns. Roads are well maintained, well
signposted and generally not too congested, though you
may find it hard to concentrate with such wonderful
scenery unfolding around you. Bicycles can be hired
from most railway stations and returned to any station
with a rental office. You'll need calf muscles the size
of an ox to get very far though. All the larger lakes
are serviced by steamers, and rail passes are valid
on most steamer routes.
Hiking : This is a national passion in Switzerland,
and hikers are very well catered for. Approximately
50,000 km of trails lead through all kinds of terrain
in this spectacularly beautiful country. Hiking times
are given on the signposts, and trails are graded according
to degree of difficulty. The organisation responsible
for maintaining the trails and for co-ordinating local
hiking associations is the Swiss Hiking Federation.
The Federation can supply maps and guide books, which
may be purchased at a discount by members. Guided walks,
weekend trips and holidays are regularly organised by
the Federation and the local associations and are open
to individuals and groups. Most associations run at
least one day’s walk per week (usually on Sunday), and
these do not need to be booked in advance. All trips
are led by qualified volunteer guides. Details of the
walks and addresses of local hiking associations are
given in the free booklet Switzerland on Foot, available
from Switzerland Tourism or directly from the Swiss
Hiking Federation. Programmes of walks are also published
on the Federation’s website (see above). In addition
to the above excursions, there are also ‘Radio Walks’,
which are announced during the season every Sunday at
0655 on Swiss Radio DRS in the Guten Morgen programme.
The meeting point, cost, timing and route are also given
on teletext, on the Internet and on the special telephone
line of Swiss Hiking Trails. Participants need merely
to turn up at the station or meeting point as announced.
Mountain sports : These are widely practised,
and include climbing,
ice climbing, ski
touring, snow boarding,
The Swiss Association of Mountain Guides publishes a
list of approved mountaineering centres as well as a
list of approved guides. Staff at the centres are all
qualified, and there are strict rules governing leader-participant
ratios. Accommodation is available in the mountains
in the form of alpine huts or chalets. As these are
open according to season, visitors should check availability
with local tourist boards before arriving. It is often
necessary to book in advance. For further information
on skiing, see Ski Resorts in the Resorts & Excursions
Cycling : There are 3300 kms (2046 miles) of
well-marked interlinked trails, most of which offer
easy cycling. Bicyles can be hired at most railway stations
and at many other locations. Those hired at stations
can then be returned to any station at the end of the
tour. There are also inline
skating routes throughout the country, varying
in difficulty from easy to demanding.
Watersports : Lakes such as Lake Geneva, Lugano,
and Neuchâtel offer sailing,
Rowing can be done on Lake Zurich.
has long been Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan city.
Situated at the southwestern end of Lac Léman
– the country’s largest lake – and astride the Rhône,
Geneva is the departure point for lake steamers. Only
an arrival by water can convey just how well sited the
city is, with foreground hills rising against a backdrop
of mountains. The river bisects the city – some refer
to the north side as the right bank (Rive Droit) and
the south as the left bank (Rive Gauche). The city centre
is sited on both shores, with the main railway station
and the suburbs to the north of the river and the Old
Town (Vieille Ville) to the south of the river.
The city is also a major banking centre – a ‘city of
wealth by stealth’ as the British actor Robert Morley
put it – and plays a significant role in the manufacture
of watches, scientific instruments, jewellery and foodstuffs.
These roles have contributed to it being an expensive
city in which to live or stay, although it has much
to offer the visitor, principally the Old Town and some
fine museums. Geneva is an efficient, clean city. Its
excellent public transport system, coupled with the
ease and pleasure of walking around the centre, make
a car unnecessary, even a nuisance.
The city enjoys a mild central European climate with
relatively low rainfall. The super-rich community of
international civil servants and tax exiles demand good
food, top hotels and entertainment and Geneva provides
it all. Beneath the stereotypical veneer of diamonds
and watches, however, one finds a tolerant and safe
society with the Genevois strangely similar to the British
– reserved but courteous.
is located at the centre of the Zurich canton, on Switzerland’s
central plain, with the elevation rising towards the
south and the Alps. Positioned at the northern tip of
the Zürichsee (Lake Zurich), lakeside promenades
and expensive houses are prominent and can be spotted
along both shores. But the city’s most familiar sites
are, without a doubt, the Fraumünster and Grossmünster
minsters, which solemnly face each other across the
River Limmat. The Old Town spans this river, and some
of the most interesting lanes and buildings are clustered
along its banks. The nearby Lindenhof was once the site
of a Roman customs post and is a good vantage point.
Surrounding the Old Town, the Kreis (districts) of Zurich
are arranged clockwise around the city centre, with
the numbers corresponding to the last digit in the postcode.
In summer the view of the city is beautiful, with the
lake reflecting the mountains and clear blue sky. But
the winter snowfalls bring a magic of their own.
The citizens enjoy a high standard of living, and this
is evident in the many fashionable and enjoyable bars,
cafés and restaurants that fill the Old Town.
The ambience is heightened by the large swathes on either
side of the River Limmat that are pedestrian-only areas.
But for those who find the comfortable burgher lifestyle
a little too tame, there are always alternative places
to seek out. This is, after all, the city that saw the
birth of the artistic movement of Dadaism – the antithesis