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Switzerland Travel Guide

Updated on February 4, 2013
Rosenlaui Glacier
Rosenlaui Glacier

With small dimensions, rich and with only 7.5 million inhabitants, Switzerland is renowned for its invidious life quality and the precise hour clocks. The national products like cheese, chocolate, precise watches and multi-functional pocket knives are popular around the world. It’s reputable political neutrality, its financial power, isolated location and gorgeous mountains have permitted Switzerland to play a central role in European affairs. Due to its central location this is a meeting place for international conventions and conferences.

Switzerland is a classy tourist destination that offers modern ski resorts like Zermatt, Verbier and St Moritz and tracks for hiking during summer. The old capital city of Bern is an ideal location for walks, shopping and traditional entertainment, while Zurich is outstanding concerning the art, creativity and nightlife that ranges from opera concerts and theatre plays to elegant pubs and nightclubs.

The unique Swiss political model is based on mutual agreement and considering the diverse languages that exist in this country (Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh), Switzerland’s domestic peace is admirable.

Zurich University of Law Library
Zurich University of Law Library

Switzerland's Tourist Attractions

  • Explore the biggest city in Switzerland, Zurich. The historical center (Altstadt) has a special beauty. Don’t miss the Fraumunster gothic monastery, with Chagall stained glass, the imposing Grossmunster cathedral with the two twin towers, the SwissNationalMuseum and the modern art collections from Kunsthaus Zurich.

  • Visit the clock museum and the watch factories from La Chaux de Fonds. There are also factories in Le Locle, all characterized by the famous precision of the Swiss watches.
  • Discover the old city of Geneva by walking towards the St Pierre cathedral, a magnificent example of Romanesque architecture. Near the lake Geneva you can see the flower-clock from Jardin Anglais, with over 6500 flowers, that brings an homage to the clock industry in Geneva.
  • Explore Lausanne, on the Geneva’s lake banks, the International Olympic Commission headquarters since 1915. Attractions include the Notre Dame cathedral and the Olympic Museum. O walk on the old Port d’Ouchy’s promenade will reveal to you a much peaceful way of living.
  • Visit one of the most important historical buildings in the whole country, in Vaud. Make your way towards the small city of Romainmotier to discover the 9th century Benedictine monastery.
  • Discover the capital city of Bern on the river Aare, with its unique historical medieval center that consist of streets with 11th century archways, the famous 13th clock tower and the medieval bear dens that remind you of the bear that you can see on the city’s flags, statues, stained glass and souvenirs.
  • In the elegant historical center of the city St Gallen admire the Baroque cathedral and the famous monastery library enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  • Go to Neuchatel, which has a beautiful settlement on the lake’s banks and where you can see the medieval buildings made of yellow bricks, once described by Alexander Dumas as being “sculptured in butter”. The city is admired for its cultural cafes and first class cuisine.
  • Visit the most important Baroque castle in Switzerland. The historical city of Brig from the Valais region presents the Stockalperschloss. The enthusiasts can also visit the Leuk, Martigny, Monthey and Sierre castles.
  • Explore Berner Oberland, an important tourist area that includes a spectacular landscape that consists of the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger peaks, alpine lakes, mountain springs, wild flowers, the highest railway in Europe and famous resorts like Adelboden, Grindelwald si Interlaken.
  • Also in this region, climb the SchilthornMountain with the cableway that became famous with the James Bond film, His Majesty’s Secret Services. Visit the Reichenbach waterfall and explore the open air SwissMuseum from Ballenberg, with preserved houses and craft tools.
  • Discover the old academic city of Basel. Cross the river between the Jura and Alsace regions from France and the Black Forest from Germany. Don’t miss the Art Museum and the red Munster rocks.
  • Cross the 170m covered bridge over the ReussRiver in Luzern, the oldest one in Switzerland (1333). Explore the pleasant medieval city, explore the SwissTransportsMuseum and take a cruise on the Vierwaldstattersee.
  • Explore the southern end of Switzerland, where Italian is spoken, in the Ticino region. Follow the road through the alpine valleys in Bellinzona, with its medieval castles, to Locarno and Lugano, the lake resorts from the southern Ticino.
  • Get closer to the highest mountains in Switzerland, in the Valais region, with the peaks Dufourspize (4.634m), Dom (4.545m), Weisshorn (4.509) and Mattehorn (4.478m). The popular resorts are Saas Fee, Verbier si Zermatt.
  • Visit one of the most photogenic villages in Switzerland, Gruyeres, where the most famous cheese is being made and where you can see castles and various cheese factories.
  • Drive through the most traditional shire, Appenzell, with its scenic villages, colourful houses and verdant hills. Santis is the most famous peak which offers sights towards Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
  • Hiking is the Swiss favorite activity. There are over 50.000km of marked tracks.
  • The main ski areas are Portes du Soleil, Davos, Klosters, Zermatt, Verbier, Saas Fee and St Moriz.
  • There are 3300 mountain tracks for bicyclists, most of them located on soft terrain.
  • On the prestigious international jazz festival occasion in Montreux you can listen to the world’s greatest jazz, blues and rhythm artists.
  • Go in Basel when the Basler Fasnacht carnival takes place that consists of three days of mask parties and street parades with costumes.

The Border Between Switzerland and Italy
The Border Between Switzerland and Italy

Swiss Cuisine

The Swiss food is generally diverse. Usually the basic food is bread and dairy products, especially the famous Swiss cheese – Gruyere, Vacherin, Emmental and Tete de Moine. There is also a large variety of sausages and salami – Beinwurst, Engadinerwurst, Kalbsleberwurst (calf liver pate), Knackerli, Landjager, Leberwurst (pate).

The national specialties include – Viande sechee (pork meat or dry beef) consumed with pickled onions, Pieds du porc, Rosti (French fries), Fondue Bourguignonne (meat balls with sauce) and Leckerli (apple pie covered with sugar topping).

A typical breakfast includes bread, butter, jam or honey, and maybe some cheese or cereals, plus milk, hot chocolate, tea or coffee. The beverages range from water, to refreshments and a large variety of beers and wines.

Swiss History

Called Helvetia in ancient times, in 1291, Switzerland was a league of shires in the Holy Roman Empire. Located around the core of three woodsy German shires, the Swiss Confederation started to add new districts. By the Treaty of Westfalia in 1648 Switzerland gained its independence versus the Roman Empire.

The French revolutionary troops invaded the country in 1798, naming it Helvetica Republica, but in 1803 Napoleon gave back its freedom. Until 1815 the French and Italian population in Switzerland had political equality.

The Vienna Congress in 1815 granted the neutrality and recognized Switzerland’s independence. In the revolutionary period in 1847 the catholic shires disbanded, forming a union called Sonderbund, which was shortly after reintegrated in the federation.

The new Swiss constitution from 1848 established a similar union with the one in the United States. The federal constitution in 1874 established the basis for a strong central government, in the same time sharing control power with every district. The banking system had already become a national treasury.

In both wars Switzerland maintained its neutrality. Geneva was the headquarters for the Nations’ League and other international organizations.

The 1990s accusations regarding the secret assets of the Holocaust’s Jew victims deposited in Swiss banks lead to international criticism and founding a retribution fund for the victims and their families.

Surprisingly enough, women didn’t have the right to vote or to hold official positions until 1971. The first woman to be the president of Switzerland was Ruth Dreifuss, in 1999.

In September 2000, Switzerland voted against reducing the number of foreigners in the country to 18% of the population. Since 1970 four proposals of this kind were refused.

In 2002 Switzerland gave up its famous neutrality and became a member of the United Nations.

Useful Info

The locals usually speak English but the effort of learning at least some phrases is appreciated. Try at least to learn how to say “good day”, “goodbye”, “thank you” and “I would like”.

Kissing the cheeks three times is common among friends and when presentations are being made (except for men). The Swiss are individuals that care a lot about cleanliness and precision.

If you’re invited to someone’s house there is the custom of bringing unpacked flowers to the host. Avoid red roses and never offer chrysanthemum or marguerite, because they are considered to be funerary flowers. The local hour is GMT+1.

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