Switzerland Trip Planner (Make The Most Of Your Visit)

switzerland trip planner

Planning a trip to Switzerland can be overwhelming if you don’t know a lot about the country. Which cities should you visit, where are the best attractions, how much money you need, and how you can get around Switzerland are all valid questions I have answered in this detailed guide.

It’s the ultimate resource for planning trips in Switzerland, with information on the best destinations, attractions, outdoor activities, accommodations, restaurants, and more. Whether you want to discover the biggest cities or the highest mountains, this guide has got you covered!

General Information

LocationCentral Europe
Population8.703 million (as of 2021)
CurrencySwiss Franc (CHF)
LanguageGerman, French, Italian, Romansh
WeatherModerate climate; no excessive heat or cold in the cities
Colder at higher altitudes, some mountains have snow year-round
TransportationTrain, bus, ferry, taxi, funicular, cable car, tram
General information about Switzerland

Visa Requirements

Switzerland is a member of the Schengen zone, so one visa grants you access to 27 countries in Europe. Nationals of EU member countries can travel to Switzerland without a visa and stay as long as they want.

Nationals from European countries outside the EU can visit Switzerland, but can only stay up to 90 days in a period of six months. The same applies to nationals from most countries in Asia and the Americas.

Here’s a list of countries whose nationals will need to apply for a visa before they can travel to Switzerland:

Switzerland Visa Requirements

Processing a visa request can take up to 15 days and the average fee is 80 Euros, so make sure you submit all the documentation in time. See my guide to Switzerland visa requirements for more information on necessary documents, waiting times, the application process, and more. 


swiss franc banknotes
Swiss Franc Banknotes

The official currency in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc, but you can use Euros in many stores, train stations, and restaurants. However, you should avoid paying in Euros because you will get the change back in Swiss Francs and the exchange rate will not be in your favor. 

Instead, go to a bank or an exchange office to exchange your Euros for Swiss Francs. You can also pay with cards in most stores, restaurants, train stations, and museums throughout the country, especially in the bigger cities.

Cash is still king in the rural parts of Switzerland, so it’s best to have some francs on hand if you’re exploring the mountain villages.


language map of switzerland
Language map of Switzerland

Switzerland has four national languages:

  • German – 62.8%
  • French – 22.9%
  • Italian – 8.2%
  • Romansh – 0.5%

German is the most widespread language in the country, and nearly 63% of the Swiss population speak it as their first language. French is a close second as it is most widespread in the west of Switzerland, close to the border with France. Italian is most widely spoken in the south, on the border with Italy, while Romanch has the most speakers in the east and parts of Central Switzerland.

Many locals speak more than one language and most people who work with tourists are fluent in English. You shouldn’t have any problems communicating in English in the bigger cities and major tourist centers, but there could be a language barrier in the rural areas.

Best Time to Visit

Lake Lucerne Switzerland
Lake Lucerne in the Summer

Any time of the year is a good time to visit Switzerland. Whether you visit in the spring, summer, autumn, or winter, you will have plenty of things to do and see.

Summer is the peak season for travel in Switzerland. The days are long, it’s nice and warm outside, and everything in the country is fully open. On the other hand, the hotels are the most expensive in the summer and they’re usually at full capacity. Crowds are everywhere, from the train stations to the hiking trails.

Spring and autumn are the shoulder seasons, and they’re a great time to travel if you want to avoid the crowds. Late spring and early autumn are the best time to travel because there are fewer tourists around, but most of the attractions are still open.

Winter is the peak season in the mountains and most ski resorts operate at full capacity. Switzerland is magical in the winter with the snow-capped Alps and Christmas Markets in its largest cities. But it’s also cold and winter is not a good season to visit if you want to walk around the cities, hike, and go on lake cruises.


Zurich train station Switzerland
Trains at the Zurich HB train station

Switzerland has an excellent network of public transportation and it’s the best country to travel without a car. The main modes of public transport in Switzerland are: 

  • Trains
  • Buses
  • Ferries/Passenger boats

Trains are the best and quickest way of traveling through Switzerland. They’re reliable and punctual, and there are many resources online that will help you find information on tickets and timetables. The SBB app is great for tourists in Switzerland because you can use it to buy tickets, travel passes, and check timetables. 

Ferries and passenger boats are great for traveling between cities that are on the shore of the same lake. They’re not as fast as trains but are definitely more scenic.

Buses are available for some short-haul relations in areas that don’t have widespread railway coverage.

Zurich Tram
A tram in Zurich

Within the major Swiss cities, you can usually rely on:

  • Trains
  • Trams
  • Buses
  • Taxi/Uber

On the other hand, the public transport in the rural areas and mountains is slightly different. It’s still widely available and punctual, but instead of trams and buses, you have:

  • Trains/Cogwheel trains
  • Funiculars
  • Gondolas/Cable cars
Switzerland Mount Rigi Cable Car
The cable car to Mount Rigi

Additionally, it’s possible to rent a car and drive whenever you want, but it’s not necessary. This is often the more expensive way of getting around the country (for 1-2 people), and it’s usually slower than train travel. Also, some villages in Switzerland are car-free, so if you’re considering visiting places like Zermatt and Wengen, there’s really no point in renting a car.

Must-Visit Destinations in Switzerland

Every destination in Switzerland is special to me, and given enough time, I could convince you to visit even the remotest, tiniest villages. But I’m trying to be objective, so here’s a general overview of the must-visit destinations in this stunning country.


Zurich Switzerland

Location: Central Switzerland

Recommended Stay: 1-5 days

The largest city in Switzerland is the top destination for anyone who visits the country. Zurich has a river, a lake, and a home mountain, and that’s all in addition to a stunning old town, famous streets, and countless museums.

It’s a city you can quickly tour in a day, or spend five days exploring and still not see everything. Zurich’s most famous attractions are:

The city also has beaches, countless museums, botanical gardens, and exciting nightlife. Whether you want to shop, party, or explore the traditions and culture of the locals, you’ll have plenty to do in Zurich.


best walking tours lucerne

Location: Central Switzerland

Recommended Stay: 1-3 days

Medieval buildings, spectacular lake views, and ancient city walls are the top three reasons why I consider Lucerne Switzerland’s prettiest city. It’s incredibly charming and it’s just small enough that you can discover all its top attractions in about two days:

And then there are the mountains. Mount Pilatus and Mount Rigi are two imposing summits less than an hour outside of Lucerne. Both offer plenty of hiking trails, panoramic cable car rides, and captivating views of Lake Lucerne and the Swiss Alps. 


Interlaken switzerland from above
An aerial view of Interlaken

Location: Central Switzerland / Bernese Oberland

Recommended Stay: 2-5 days

Interlaken is the perfect destination in Switzerland for travelers who enjoy spending time outdoors and exploring nature. Surrounded by lakes Thun and Brienz on either side, this magical town offers easy access to some of the tallest mountains in Switzerland.

Some of the top things to do in Interlaken are:

On the other hand, destinations you can easily visit from the town include:

  • Harder Kulm (Interlaken’s home mountain)
  • Lauterbrunnen (famous for Staubbach Falls)
  • Grindelwald (charming resort village)
  • Jungfraujoch (highest post office and train station in Europe)
  • Mount Schilthorn (famous for Piz Gloria)
  • Thun (known for Thun Castle)

I could go on and on about Interlaken but there’s still plenty of ground to cover and we’re only at destination number 3. See my detailed guide to the best things to do in Interlaken for more information on the town.


Zermatt Switzerland
Zermatt town

Location: Southern Switzerland

Recommended Stay: 2-5 days

Zermatt is a resort town in the mountains best known for sprawling views of the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most famous summit. The peak that inspired the design of the Toblerone chocolates is absolutely iconic, and many of the attractions in Zermatt are centered around it.

This town is one of the best ski resorts in Switzerland, so it is immensely popular in the winter. Summertime means the ski trails turn into hiking trails and there’s plenty to discover:

  • Matterhorn
  • Klein Matterhorn (Matterhorn Glacier Paradise)
  • Kleine Scheidegg
  • Gornergrat
  • Gorger Gorge
  • Riffelberg and Riffelsee
  • Schwarzsee
  • Zinal Glacier

Each of these destinations is at least a half-day trip from Zermatt, so you could easily spend an entire week in the town, discovering a new Swiss landscape every day.


Bern Rosengarten View
Views from the Bern Rosengarten

Location: Northwestern Switzerland

Recommended Stay: 1-2 days

The old town of Bern is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s one of the best Swiss destinations if you like old buildings and historic city centers.

The top sights in Bern are:

  • Bern Cathedral
  • Käfigturm
  • Bern City Hall
  • Kramgasse
  • Zytglogge Tower
  • Bern Bear Pit
  • The Rose Garden
  • Einstein House

Bern’s location in Switzerland also makes it an excellent place to stay for further exploration of the Bernese Oberland. It’s less than an hour away (by train) from Basel, Interlaken, Lucerne, and Zurich, so you can explore a large portion of western and central Switzerland from the city.


basel old town

Location: Northern Switzerland

Recommended Stay: 1-2 days

Bordering France and Germany, Basel is known as the cultural capital of Switzerland. It’s the home of Art Basel after all, which has grown into one of the largest internal art fairs in the world. The city has many excellent museums and a charming old town full of gorgeous Gothic architecture. 

Some of the best things to do in Basel include:

  • Basel Cathedral and Cathedral Square
  • Marktplatz
  • Freie Strasse
  • Spalentor
  • University of Basel Botanical Garden
  • Basel Historical Museum (Barfuesserkirche)
  • Tinguely Fountain

Basel is one of the best cities to visit in the winter because it has a wonderful Christmas Market that has made it to the list of the top ten in Europe several times. The city’s proximity to mountains (in Switzerland, France, and Germany) makes it a great destination even if you’re predominantly interested in skiing and winter sports.


geneva switzerland

Location: Southwestern Switzerland

Recommended Stay: 1-3 days

Geneva is the second-largest city in Switzerland by population known for its international, jet-setter vibe and captivating views of Lake Geneva. Exploring the city’s most famous landmarks and attractions shouldn’t take more than a couple of days:

  • Jet d’Eau (the water fountain)
  • Jardin Anglais
  • St Pierre Cathedral
  • Rue du Rhone
  • Conservatory and Botanical Garden
  • Parc de l’Ariana
  • CERN

Consider a longer stay in this city because it’s ideally situated for exploration of southern Switzerland. There are many other towns and cities along the shore of Lake Geneva you could visit:

  • Lausanne
  • Vevey
  • Montreux
  • Morges
  • Nyon
  • Evian Les Bains (in France)

They’re all an hour or less by train from Geneva, so you could easily manage to visit two or even three places in a single day.


Lugano Switzerland

Location: Southern Switzerland

Recommended Stay: 1-3 Days

Lugano is the sunniest town in Switzerland with a mild climate, gorgeous lake views, and easy access to many other destinations in southern Switzerland and northern Italy.

The town doesn’t have a vast amount of attractions you could spend days exploring; its old town is rather small and the top sights are:

  • Parco Ciani
  • Piazza della Riforma
  • Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angioli
  • Cathedral of Saint Lawrence
  • Lido di Lugano
  • LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura

Realistically, it shouldn’t take you more than an afternoon to do a tour of all these landmarks. But you should stay in Lugano longer because of the easy access to other small towns in Ticino and Italy, each of which has something special to offer to first-time visitors:

Want To Save This For Later?

I will email this post to you, so you read it for later (or keep for reference).

  • Locarno
  • Ascona
  • Bellinzona
  • Brissago Islands
  • Airolo
  • Como
  • Monza
  • Milano

It will take you 30-90 minutes to reach any of these places by train, and direct trains are available even for the towns in Italy.

Top Attractions in Switzerland

Narrowing down the countless attractions and landmarks in Switzerland to just a few of the best is difficult and a disservice to half the country. Below are the most famous and highest-rated attractions and landmarks in Switzerland.

Rhine Falls

Rhine Falls in Switzerland
Rhine Falls

Schaffhausen, a small town in the northeast of Switzerland is home to the largest waterfall in Europe. The Rhine Falls are one of the best natural landmarks in the country with a height of 150 meters and a width of 23 meters. 

Observation decks and wooden walkways offer impressive views of the captivating cascades. Museum zu Allerheiligen in Schaffhausen has an exhibit on the formation of the Rhine Falls, which took place approximately 14,000-17,000 years ago.



The mountain saddle of Jungfraujoch is a once-in-a-lifetime attraction in Switzerland. It’s home to Top of Europe, a visitor’s complex that hosts the highest train station and post office on the continent.

Here you can see glaciers, walk through an ice palace, and marvel at the panoramic views of the snow-capped Alps. Stay in Interlaken or Grindelwald for the easiest access to Jungfraujoch.

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

Glaciers, 4,000-meter mountain peaks, and gorgeous Alpine lakes are the highlights of Matterhorn Glacier Paradise in southern Switzerland. Easily accessible from Zermatt by cable cars, this is a wonderful natural landmark worth visiting.

In addition to the panoramic views of the Matterhorn, you can also enjoy hiking, skiing, and mountain biking here. There’s even a Cinema Lounge at the gondola station, which is the highest in Europe!

HR Giger Museum

HR Giger Museum
HR Giger Museum

Situated in the charming village of Gruyeres, the HR Giger Museum is a must-visit attraction for all lovers of Alien. The museum exhibit is dedicated to the works of Hans Rudi Giger, and the artist’s work on the film franchise is central to the exhibit.

There’s also a Giger Bar in town, where you can enjoy a traditional Gruyeres fondue while sitting on chairs adorned with bones. Morbid, incredibly interesting, and unlike anything else in Switzerland are the three phrases I’d use to describe the Giger attractions. The Gruyeres Castle in the village is also popular and worth your time. 

Chillon Castle

Chillon Castle Switzerland
Chillon Castle

Chillon Castle is hardly the only castle in Switzerland, but it’s the most famous one. Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva just 10 minutes outside Montreux, it’s a must for anyone traveling in the south of the country. 

Explore the castle’s rooms and underground vaults at your own leisure, or book a guided tour to learn everything about its rich history, which dates back to the Bronze Age.

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge and Water Tower
Chapel Bridge and Water Tower

Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in the entire country. Crossing the river Reuss via the wooden footbridge is a must when you’re in Lucerne; not just because it’s the quickest path but because of the spectacular paintings mounted under the roof of the bridge.

Originally built in the 14th century, the bridge nearly ceased to exist in 1993 when it was engulfed in flames. Two-thirds of the paintings were destroyed in the horrible fire, which spread across the entire bridge in less than 10 minutes.

Bernina Express

Bernina Express
Bernina Express Panoramic Train

The Bernina Express is a panoramic train that connects Chur with Tirano. Without a doubt, this is one of the best train journeys in Switzerland, featuring changing landscapes or mountains, lakes, and rivers. 

For the absolute best experience aboard the Bernina Express, spring for first-class tickets. Train cars in the first class have large windows that curve onto the roof, for the most extensive views imaginable.

Bern Old Town

Bern Old Town Zytglogge
Bern Old Town

Although it’s not my favorite old town in Switzerland, the historic center of Bern is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage sight, which makes it a must for most travelers.

Medieval buildings, stunning Gothic architecture, cobblestone alleys, and magical views of the Bernese Alps are just a few reasons why it deserves a spot on this list.

Outdoor Activities

The varied landscapes of Switzerland are a proper playground for all outdoor lovers. If you prefer to explore nature instead of big cities, this is absolutely the country for you.


Hiking in Switzerland
Hiking in Switzerland

Hiking trails are abundant in Switzerland whether you’re staying in a city or a mountainous village. Even Zurich has trails that start in the downtown area and take you up a mountain in about an hour, so you truly won’t struggle to find a decent trail no matter where you choose to stay in Switzerland.

However, if hiking is one of the primary things you are interested in, I recommend staying primarily in Interlaken or Zermatt. Both towns are surrounded by enchanting landscapes, with so many hiking trails that it would take you several months to explore them all.

Mountain Biking

mountain biking zermatt
Mountain biking in Zermatt

Where there are hiking trails, there are mountain biking trails. Whether you’re exploring the landscapes of the Swiss National Park or hanging out in Zurich, you’re never far away from an MTB trail.

Verbier, Lernzerheide, and Crans-Montana are home to some of the best Swiss bike parks. Runs range from easy and suitable for beginners, to steep, challenging descents only experienced cyclists should attempt.

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing Switzerland
Rock Climbing

Switzerland is a great destination for experienced Alpine climbers. With designated climbing areas, countless via ferratas, and climbing routes in both the Alps and the Jura Mountains, a rocky ascent is always in the cards.

Experienced climbers will love Magic Wood, one of the most famous climbing areas in the world. Head to Lake Oeschinen for fun climbing routes with the best views in Switzerland.


rafting switzerland

River rafting is immensely popular in the Alpine country and the perfect summertime activity for all adventurous travelers. The Bernese Oberland (Simme River) and Valais Canton (Rhone River) are the best destinations for rafting, with options for everyone’s skill level.

It doesn’t matter if this is your first or a hundredth rafting adventure – the Swiss rivers are suitable for everyone.

Suggested Itineraries

I’ve already written up a few detailed itineraries for Switzerland. See them for ideas on what to visit if you have limited time in the country:

Don’t worry, I’ll keep adding more!


Basel Hotels
Hotel in Basel

Choosing the best accommodation for your trip to Switzerland will mostly depend on your budget.

Tip: Choose hotels outside the city center for the best prices.

Budget Accommodation (<100 CHF)

Valley Hostel Lauterbrunnen
Valley Hostel Lauterbrunnen

Hostels and low-budget hotels are the only type of budget accommodation available in Switzerland. The exact cost of a room varies depending on location and it usually ranges from 40 to 100 CHF.

In Zurich and Geneva, you can expect to pay around 80 CHF for a night in a hostel. In Interlaken, it’s around 40 CHF for the bed. Hotels with one and two stars are in a similar price range, although it’s important to consider their location and abundance of accommodation options – the fewer hotels there are in the village, the more expensive they will be.

Mid-Range Accommodation (100-300 CHF)

Uetliberg Uto Kulm hotel
Uto Kulm hotel at Uetliberg

Mid-range hotels are widely available throughout Switzerland and are generally the best value for money. They’re not exactly cheap but do offer excellent service and a great location, usually in the city center.

On average, a night at a three or four-star hotel can cost anywhere from 100 CHF to 300 CHF. It depends on the region and the number of other hotels in the area; while 150 CHF can be enough for a four-star hotel in Interlaken, it will hardly be enough for a three-star hotel in St. Moritz.

Luxury Accommodation (300+ CHF)

Mount Pilatus Hotel
Mount Pilatus hotel

There’s absolutely no shortage of luxury accommodation options in Switzerland, whether you’re booking hotels in city centers or high up in the mountains. All the big cities have hotels that are more than 1,000 CHF per night, where you will be spoiled, pampered, and treated like royalty during your stay.

Luxury hotels in the bigger cities start at 300 CHF per night, but they can be somewhat more affordable in places off the beaten path. On the other hand, in the more exclusive resorts like Zermatt and St. Moritz, 300 CHF is more in the range of mid-range than luxury.

Recommended Restaurants & Swiss Dishes to Try

Bread in fondue
Cheese Fondue

Swiss cuisine is heavy on cheese and dairy products, which is heaven to me. The most famous Swiss dishes are:

  • Rosti (sauteed grated potatoes)
  • Swiss fondue
  • Raclette
  • Papet Vaudois (leeks, sausage, potatoes)
  • Meringue (dessert)
  • Bündner Nusstorte
  • Muesli (breakfast)

The German-speaking region of Switzerland is heavy on meat – cured meat, sausage, steaks, etc. The French-speaking region is heavily influenced by French cuisine, so it includes lots of cheese and pastry. The cuisine in the Italian-speaking region is heavy on pasta, risotto, and polenta.

Fritschi Restaurant Lucerne Old Town
Restuarant in Lucerne Old Town

Every city and village has great restaurants that serve authentic local cuisine. Fine dining is also popular and the country has more than 130 restaurants that have at least one Michelin star. Here are some of my favorite restaurants in Switzerland, including a mix of local and fine-dining options:

  • Cheval Blanc (Basel, three Michelin stars)
  • Zeughauskeller (Zurich)
  • Kronenhalle (Zurich)
  • Old Swiss House (Lucerne)
  • Grand Café-Restaurant Schuh (Interlaken)
  • Regina Montium (Rigi Kaltbad near Lucerne, one Michelin star)
  • Chez Vrony (Zermatt)

Most cities also have a variety of international restaurants, so you’ll have plenty of other options if you’re not enamored with Swiss cuisine.


Budget Brand Migros
Budget shopping at Migros supermarket

Switzerland is an expensive country, but it is possible to travel around the country on a tight budget. You will need to make some compromises:

  • Staying in hostels
  • Avoiding restaurants
  • Using public transport instead of taxi and Uber

At the very least, you will need around 100 CHF per day to cover accommodation, meals, and public transport.

Train tickets will take up a good chunk of your budget. You can look up the cost of tickets on the SBB website, and then it should be easy to figure out if it would make sense for you to purchase one of the travel passes. In my experience, the half-fare card is usually the best value for money, especially if you’re not traveling to a different city every day.

Accommodation in Switzerland is expensive. The cheapest beds in Zurich are around 80 CHF per person – that’s for a night in a hostel with access to a shared bathroom. Accommodation in Interlaken is cheaper (around 40 CHF per bed), so stay in a smaller town to save money on accommodation. Avoid staying in Zurich and Geneva because they’re the most expensive cities.

zurich food
Restaurant meal in Zurich

Eating at restaurants will also be very expensive. On average, you’ll spend 20-30 CHF per meal. My tips for minimizing your food budget in Switzerland are:

  • Get food to go (it’s cheaper than eating at restaurants)
  • Shop at supermarkets (Migros, Coop, Aldi, Lidl, etc.)
  • Avoid restaurants in the city centers
  • Pay extra for hotel breakfast

And remember, it’s okay to splurge every now and again. It’s perfectly fine to pay extra for fondue or rosti because the experience of eating an authentic Swiss dish while you’re in Switzerland is special and you’ll always cherish it. Also, the food is really good and you won’t have any regrets, as long as you don’t fall into a tourist trap.


Switzerland is a safe country – one of the safest in Europe – even for solo female travelers. Pickpocketing and bag snatching are the two things you should look out for, as is the case with every major city in Europe. Be extra careful at busy tourist attractions and train stations, and never leave your belongings unattended. 

Wear your purse diagonally across your torso and your backpack kangaroo style. When seated at an outdoor table, don’t just leave your purse on the chair behind you. Keep it in your lap or on the table (if it’s small), so it’s always in your field of vision. The same goes for a jacket, especially if you usually keep a wallet in your jacket pocket.

Packing Tips

switzerland packing list
Packing for Switzerland

What should you pack for your trip to Switzerland? It mostly depends on the season when you’re doing the trip. In the winter you’ll need: 

  • Waterproof and insulated jacket, boots
  • Hat, scarf, gloves
  • Hoodies, sweaters
  • T-shirts, shirts, and undershirts (layer up!)
  • Thermal socks
  • SPF (yes you need it even in the winter)

It’s best to dress in layers so you can easily change clothes when going from indoor to outdoor areas. Also, if your itinerary includes any mountain peaks higher than 1,500 meters, pack all your warmest clothes.

The weather is more mild in the summer, so you’ll need lighter clothes and shoes. However, if your summer itinerary includes any summits that are 3,000 meters or taller, you will still need a warm winter jacket.

Map of Switzerland Attractions and More

Frequently Asked Questions

How many days are enough in Switzerland?

Five days are just enough in Switzerland for a short but eventful trip. You can travel to 3-4 different cities, go on day trips to nearby mountains and villages, and explore quite a bit of one Swiss region. Three days should be enough for just one big city, while two weeks would allow you to plan a road trip throughout most of the country.

How does tipping work in Switzerland?

Tipping in Switzerland is not obligatory like in North America, but it is customary. People usually tip service staff, taxi drivers, and receptionists to show their appreciation for excellent service. If you are unsatisfied with service at a restaurant or a hotel, not tipping the staff will indicate your unhappiness.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *