TIPS & TRICKS
Emergency Phone Numbers
Ambulance - 144
Fire - 118
Police - 117
Swiss Rescue - 1414
European emergency number - 112
general inquiries, e.g. doctors, theaters, etc. - 1811
breakdown service - 140
weather report - 162
road report - 163
avalanche report - 187
Switzerland has four unevenly distributed languages and a wealth of dialects.
German is by far the most widely spoken language in Switzerland: 19 of the country’s 26 cantons are predominantly (Swiss) German-speaking. If you can speak German, then don't assume that you can understand the Swiss or vice-versa. Swiss German is an old dialect and each canton can have its own dialect. The Swiss will make every effort to try to speak "High" German (as spoken in Germany), but this is a second or third language to them.
French is spoken in the western part of the country, the "Suisse Romande." Four cantons are French-speaking: Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel and Vaud. Three cantons are bilingual: in Bern, Fribourg and Valais both French and German are spoken.
Italian is spoken in Ticino and four southern valleys of Canton Graubünden.
Romansh is spoken in the only trilingual canton, Graubünden. The other two languages spoken there are German and Italian. Romansh, like Italian and French, is a language with Latin roots. It is spoken by just 0.5% of the total Swiss population.
Do not be afraid to explore. 95% of the Swiss people speak English. Ask for directions, tips, tours, and/or hikes that you should take. The Swiss are very friendly and want to help.
Carry your passport with you at all times. You never know when you may be asked to show it.
If your group gets separated, set up a meeting point where you can find each other. Each train station in the major cities have a "Treffpunkt" (Meeting Place) sign. This will look like four arrows pointing to a circle in the middle.
When you arrive in a city or town, locate the Information Center. "i" These are usually located in or very near the train station. Most cities have a walking tour map plus information on things to see and do.
Pharmacies in German speaking Switzerland have a sign saying "Apotheke" and are usually open during regular business opening times (8 am to noon, and 2 pm to 6 pm, and on Saturday to 4 pm/5 pm). Some pharmacies (often at train stations and airports) have longer hours or are open on Sundays. In French or Italian, the names would be "Pharmacie" and "Farmacia" respectively.
Medical care in Switzerland is among the best in the world. You can consult any attending doctor in Switzerland. For emergencies, you may go to the nearest hospital or emergency practice, or in urgent cases, call the ambulance (144). Each hospital has an emergency department. Make sure that you are adequately insured. Depending on your situation, additional travel insurance may be worth considering. You should have your insurance card with you each time you visit a doctor or purchase medicines. Depending on the insurance, you will be refunded part of the cost.
Voltage and plugs
The voltage in Switzerland, as in most of Europe, is 230V/50 Hz.
Switzerland uses type C (2-pin) and Type J (3-pin) plugs. (Type C 2-pin plugs also fit J sockets.)
Adapters are available in most hotels.
The water in Switzerland is excellent for drinking. Unless it says " non potable", it is even safe to drink from the fountains.
Please note that the currency in Switzerland is called the Swiss franc, usually indicated as CHF. While Switzerland is not part of the European Union and thus is not obliged to convert to the Euro, many prices are nonetheless indicated in euros so that visitors may compare prices.
Merchants may accept euros but are not obliged to do so. Change given back to the client will most likely be in Swiss francs.
There is no 1, 2, or 5 Franc paper bill. Rather, they are coins and the 5 Franc coin is quite heavy. In fact, at some restaurants, the Swiss will play an instrument using a bowl and a 5 Franc coin.
Bank notes: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 1000 Francs
Coins: 5, 10, 20, 50 Cents and 1, 2, 5 Francs
Phoning home and within Switzerland
If calling from Switzerland, you need to enter the international country code. For example, for Germany the international country code is "+49", for France "+33", for the U.S.A. "+1". The country code is followed by the area code (without the "0") as shown in the following example: "+49221123456". As a rule, the "+" sign appears if you press and hold the "0" key for a few seconds on your mobile phone.
As a rule, all hotels add a surcharge for phone calls. With the Swiss phone card (Taxcard©) you can make cashless domestic and international calls from public phone boxes in Switzerland. The Taxcard© can be purchased from Swisscom Shops, post offices, kiosks and petrol stations for CHF 5, CHF 10 and CHF 20.
Using your USA phone in Switzerland
Most cellular providers in the USA have international calling disabled. Do not be surprised if your phone does not work in Switzerland. This can be fixed by contacting your cellular provider, usually 2 to 3 weeks prior to the start of your trip, and have them enable international calling. Beware though, that unless you are using T-Mobile, the cost for this service can be extremely high.
Food and Drink
If variety is the spice of life, Swiss food truly presents a flavorful platter. Regional cuisine is wide and varied. Masterful local chefs create new ways to present traditional treats. Some gain international acclaim with edible artworks based on simple country fare. You just can't go wrong eating out in Switzerland. There's a match for every taste and budget.
Lunch is usually served between noon and 2 pm, and even a little earlier at some restaurants. Dinner is usually served from 6 pm to 9.30 pm. Many restaurants and pubs, especially in the cities, also offer continuous (11 am-10 pm) hot dishes.
Be warned that usually kitchens stop serving hot meals promptly at 2PM. In the tourist areas, restaurants will, generally, have a cold selection. Otherwise, the restaurant will be closed until 6PM.
Many popular restaurants require reservations or recommend reservations. Do not assume that they will take walk-ins.
Our Favorite Swiss Dishes
We have spent many years in Switzerland and sampled many different dishes. Here are some of our favorites.
The Alpine cow milk based dairy product is most commonly used for melting, but is also consumed as a slice. Raclette is a Swiss dish, also very popular in Savoie (France), based on heating the cheese and scraping off (from French: racler) the melted part. It is usually served with small fingerling potatoes, onions, gherkins, and bread. It may also be accompanied by sliced dried meat.
Swiss melted cheese served in a communal pot (caquelon or fondue pot) over a portable stove (réchaud) heated with a candle or spirit lamp, and eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long-stemmed forks. It was promoted as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930s, and was popularized in North America in the 1960s.
The first mention of Zürcher (Züri) Geschnetzeltes is in a cookbook from 1947. That recipe describes the ingredients as sliced veal strips, white wine, cream, mushrooms, and demiglace. Always served with a side of Rösti.
Many Swiss people consider rösti to be a national dish. Rösti is a potato dish, similar to the American dish of Hashed Browns.
Pizza in the Napoli (Naples) style
Pizzerias are very common throughout all of the regions of Switzerland. The proximity to Italy has been an influence.
Perch from the lake
Anyone traveling along the lakes of Switzerland will notice them time and again on menus: freshly caught "filets de perches" (perch fillets), served fried, à la meunière, or in a fine white-wine sauce. Professional fishermen sail out onto the lakes early in the morning to collect the perch from their nets.
The name literally means "Schnitzel from Wien (Vienna in English)". This famous Austrian dish is common in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. We have attempted to discover the best of this dish in all of the above countries and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the best is in Luzern Switzerland at the Old Swiss House. Do no let the restaurant scare you away as it looks extremely touristy. It serves some of the best food in Switzerland.
Wienerschnitzel is a very tender cutlet of veal that is dipped in a blend of beaten egg, Swiss cheese and herbs. The cutlet is then coated in specially prepared breadcrumbs and cooked in pure butter. It is usually served with half a lemon and fresh egg noodles.
Type of dessert or candy traditionally made from whipped egg whites and sugar and occasionally an acidic ingredient such as lemon, vinegar, or cream of tartar. It is claimed that Meringues were invented in the Bernese Alpen town of Meiringen. If you visit this town, you will notice that almost every bakery serves Meringues; often with fruit, ice cream, double cream, or whipped cream.
Black Forest Cake
Black Forest Cake consists of several layers of chocolate sponge cake sandwiched with whipped cream and cherries. It is decorated with additional whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings. In some European traditions, sour cherries are used both between the layers and for decorating the top. Traditionally, kirschwasser, a clear spirit made from sour cherries, is added to the cake.
Most people incorrectly assume that this cake comes from the Black Forest region of Germany. In fact, the first Black Forest Cakes were Swiss and the cherries on the top of the cake resemble the head piece of the traditional dress from the women of the Appenzell Canton of Switzerland.
Every region of Switzerland has its own cheese specialty. What we know as Swiss Cheese is really Emmentaler and comes from the Emmental region. There are also Gruyère, Appenzell, Neuchâtel, and many many other varieties. There are many cheese "houses"; where you can get tours and tastings.
What is more Swiss than Chocolate? Do not be fooled by your friends and associates. The Swiss make the absolute best milk and dark chocolates in the world. The Swiss will be the first to tell you that they are the only country in the world that uses real milk from cows in their chocolate. Other countries use powdered milk.
Our favorite chocolates come from Cailler, Sprüngli, or Teuscher. You can take a day trip to the Cailler factory in Broc in the French section of Switzerland. Sprüngli and Teuscher do not offer tours, but they have shops in the larger cities.
The Swiss have an excellent wine industry with both red and white wines. Due to increasing domestic demand, only a small percentage is exported. Do yourself a favor and don't be a wine snob. Try a glass or ask for a wine steward at your restaurant to suggest a good bottle of Swiss wine to complement the meal.
You never have to worry about tipping in Switzerland, as tips are included in the price. You can, however, add a smile to the face of someone who has provided good service by rounding up to the nearest franc or round figure.
There are many websites that have information on how to plan for your trip to and around Switzerland. Three of my favorites are:
MySwitzerland is my preferred site.
MySwissAlps has a wonderful tutorial on how to choose a Swiss rail pass in 5 steps.
The Swiss Federal Railways, SBB, has timetables for all of the national and regional trains.
Don't plan every single day before you arrive in Switzerland. There are many things to see and do. Take your time, look at the weather and then plan your day. Relax and have fun!
Do not be afraid to explore as 95% of the Swiss people speak English. Ask for directions, tips, tours and/or hikes that you should take. The Swiss are very friendly and want to help.
If you are staying at a hotel or a bed and breakfast, pick up your "Visitor's Card". This will give you discounts plus free transportation within the city or town.
Since May 1, 2010, smoking has been forbidden in Switzerland in enclosed areas when they are open to the public or serve as a workplace for more than one person. Hence it is forbidden to smoke in restaurants, public buildings and offices. Smoking is also forbidden on public transport. Smoking is permitted in separate smoking rooms, outdoors and in private homes.
During the winter, Central European Time (CET) applies in Switzerland. From the end of March to the end of October, Summer Time applies (CET + 1 hour).
Traveling by car
When entering a freeway, notice that there are two colors of signs: Green or Blue. Green indicates a high speed freeway and Blue is more of the "country style" road. If you wish to use the Green high speed freeway, then you MUST purchase a "Swiss Motorway Sticker".
If you rented a car picked up in Switzerland, it should have the Green sticker. If you rented outside Switzerland, you need to purchase the sticker at the border.
Be aware that speeding tickets can be quite expensive. Here is a informational chart.
Instead of renting a car, think of getting the Swiss Pass. Depending on the pass you choose, it may include an all-inclusive ticket for transportation throughout Switzerland. It may also includes trains, boats, buses, trams and cable cars up to a certain altitude. Admittance for some of the museums
Traveling by train
You can get anywhere with the national railway within a few hours. Find a centrally located city like Interlaken and go on day trips. Wouldn't you like to stay a little longer, unpack and relax rather than packing your suitcase and moving from city to city?
If you need information about the Swiss Pass.
MySwissAlps has a wonderful tutorial on how to choose a Swiss rail pass in 5 steps.
The Swiss Federal Railways, SBB, has timetables for all of the national and regional trains.
The SBB has the following services:
R: Regio (Regionalzug): stops at all stations
S: S-Bahn (commuter train): organized as a rapid transit system around major agglomerations, with several lines and generally high frequent service.
RE: RegioExpress: local trains to access the region.
IR: InterRegio: 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.
ICN: InterCity Tilting Train Same kind of product as IC, but using tilting trains instead of standard/double-decked trains. The ICN designation was discontinued as of 10 December 2017, with former ICN services now being branded as IC, but still run by tilting trains.
ICE- Intercity express: stops at major cities
CityNightLine: specially equipped night trains to
EXTra: Charter train or special train added when exceptionally heavy traffic is expected.
When you arrive at a train station, look for the yellow sign that says "Abfahrt". This means departure". There are usually two of these types of signs at the train station. Look for the train or bus symbol in the upper corner of the sign. Your day will be less stressful if you know the times to return before you start your daily adventure.
On the IC (Inter-City) and ICE (Inter-City Express) trains, all the stops will be announced either in German, French, Italian and possibly English. English is usually not included when riding on the RE (Regional) trains. If you are unsure of when you will reach your destination, please ask the conductor. He or she will be glad to assist you.
A few of the regional trains often split into two parts and continue to different destinations. Check before your departure to make sure your destination is for the front or the back of the train. If you find yourself on the wrong part of the train, there will be an announcement at the station where the train splits. At this time, you can change to the opposite part of the train in order to continue your journey.The destination may also be found on the outside of the coach.
Ausfall means failure or broken down
ca. 11 min später - arriving approximately 11 minutes later than the scheduled time
When you arrive at your train track, look for the signs above your platform. This will tell you your track number, time of departure, type of train, the destination and where your first class or second class coach is located.
The Aareschlucht Ost train stop at the Aare Gorge is quite unique. This is a stop on request station.
If you buy a single ticket for the bus, tram or train, you must validate your ticket before getting on.
Not all train doors open automatically. There might be a green button to push or a handle to pull
Look for the yellow/orange signs with arrows on them. These are called "Wanderweg" (Hiking way) signs. They will point you to your destination and may tell you how long it will take to complete that section of the hike. Stunden means "hour" in German. So, 1 Std 30 Min means: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
At some of the ski resorts, you may see huge signs which indicate what is open or closed.
A network of 9 scenic bicycle routes (3,300 km in total) throughout the country was opened in 1998. These sign-posted routes enable cyclotourists to explore the most beautiful landscapes of Switzerland on mostly paved trails undisturbed by motor traffic. Hotels, hostels and B&B-places along these routes are specialized in accommodating cyclists. Bicycles can be rented at many railway stations, and the Swiss Railways offer bike-friendly services.
If you are departing from Switzerland and returning directly home from either the Geneva, Zürich or Basel airports, give yourself a treat. Any local train station will take your luggage and check it to the airport train station or directly onto Swiss Airlines. This must be done by 8 AM, 24 hours in advance of departure. There is a minor charge of approximately 20 CHF per bag. Check the exact cost at the train station.
There is nothing worse than trying to move yourself, your family, and numerous pieces of luggage through one or more train stations.
Follow an old rule that we set for ourselves years ago. "You can ruin your entire vacation with one bad trip home". Be good to yourself and ship your luggage ahead of time.
U.S. Embassy and Consulates
You never know when you may need to contact the U.S. embassy or a consulate concerning U.S. Citizen Services such as: Alerts and Messages- Emergency Assistance- Local Resources- Passports and Citizenship- Federal Programs