Last Updated: 21st Jan 2014
Currency: Swiss Franc (official) Euro (unofficial)
Language: German, Italian, French, Romansh (dialects of all), English is widely understood
Visas: Travel Visa Information
Switzerland……land of chocolate, St Bernard dogs, Swiss banks, precision engineering, watches, Swiss army knives, cows and cow bells, green rolling hills and yodeling. The main reason people come to Switzerland though is for the Alps – Fresh, clean and pristine and simply amazing. Even those who have seen, or are from New Zealand or the Rocky Mountains and are used to the mountains are blown away by the vast size and beauty of the mountains in Switzerland.
As massive as the mountains are, the physical size of Switzerland is small, but as many people will tell you, good things come in small packages. As well as mountains the countryside is filled with waterfalls, lakes, green rolling hills in the warmer months and snow covered fields in winter. This totally landlocked country (surrounded by Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Lichtenstein) is home to about 8 million people with the biggest cities home to no more than about 300,000 people. You can drive from one side of the country to the other in a little over three hours – small but beautiful.
Manners and Customs
- Switzerland is a confederation of different states or ‘Cantons’ and traditions and customs vary from Canton to Canton
- Generally the Swiss are extremely polite
- The Swiss are very formal and traditional, shops usually are not open on Sundays and everything generally runs strictly to time and schedule. Often it’s considered rude not to arrive about 10 minutes before a scheduled meeting time
- Wages in Switzerland are relatively high and tipping, while not frowned upon, is generally not required
- The Swiss take excellent care of their environment and you should take care to help them recycle
Words cannot even come close to describing the simply breathtaking views from the tops of the Alps. It is one of, if not the main motivator for people to visit this country and no trip to Europe is complete without a glimpse of their snow-capped peaks. Not only are they inspiring from below but to stand atop the Alps in Switzerland is to create an impression that will last a lifetime.
The highest mountains in Switzerland are in the south-west. The Highest mountain peak in Europe is the French Mount Blanc on the Swiss/French/Italian border and the highest mountains in Switzerland are part of the Mount Blanc range. The most famous mountain is of course the Matterhorn (or ‘Zermatt’ in Swiss German) while other notable and well know summits include Mt Titlis near Engelberg , Mt Pilatus and the Stanserhorn near Lucerne while the Jungfrau of Lauterbrunnen is simply too amazing for words.
Please note: The weather in Switzerland can change very quickly, particularly in the Alps and mountain excursions as well as staying on Mt Pilatus can sometimes be canceled due to poor or dangerous weather.
Food and Drink
Chocolate chocolate chocolate! Switzerland is one of, if not the chocolate capital of the world. Not only do the Swiss produce some of the best and well known chocolate in the world, (Toblerone and Lindt among others) they also love eating it themselves with the Swiss consuming over 50 kilograms (over 100 lbs) per capita every year. Although Swiss made chocolate is available all over the world, chocolate just seems to taste better in Switzerland. Other less known but very popular Swiss dishes include Rosti (a grated and fried potato dish), Fondue (Usually cheese) and Wurst (sausage). Food however varies from region to region with Italian and French and German style foods common near their respective border regions. Perhaps the most famous restaurant in the Lucerne region is the Stadtkeller in the heart of Lucerne.
The official currency of the Switzerland is the Swiss Franc (CHF) but you fill find that the Euro is widely accepted, particularly in the tourist regions of the country.
Swiss Army knives are one of the icons of the country and make a great souvenir either for you, a friend or family member. They are significantly cheaper in Switzerland than they are elsewhere in the world and some places will even engrave knives with names for free.
Watches and timepieces are also significantly cheaper in Switzerland than they are elsewhere. The Swiss have had a reputation for producing the highest quality watches in the world for hundreds of years and today companies like Longines, Tissot, Rolex, TAG, Swiss Army and Swatch to name but a few carry on this tradition.
Most Contiki Tours either visit or stay in Lucerne which also offers a wide variety of retail shopping at prices that are a little (but not greatly) cheaper than the rest of the European Economic Zone.
The Swiss have four national languages with the most common and understood being a dialect of German. The western regions have mixed French dialects and the border regions in the south speaking Italian while only a very small region still communicates in Romansh. In most parts of Switzerland you will find the locals are more than happy to communicate in English.
Places Contiki Visits in Switzerland
- Lucerne – perhaps the most beautiful town in the country, amongst the Alps and on the edge of Lake Lucerne
- Lauterbrunnen – On the floor of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, soaring Alps, green hills, waterfalls – simply spectacular.