Switzerland is a tiny country in Europe with so MUCH to see. Although everyone will tell you that it is an expensive country to travel in (which I assure you it is ☺), it doesn’t really have to be, if you know some tricks! If you’re on a luxury trip and you want to splurge, go right ahead. To each his own ☺
Flights: Swiss Air has daily direct flights from Mumbai to Zurich. It’s slightly more expensive than other flights with a layover, but book well in advance, and you should get a great deal.
Visa: Indian nationals require a Schengen visa to travel to Switzerland. In order to save cost, make your application online and visit your nearest vfs global centre. Visit https://www.vfsglobal.ch/switzerland/india/ for more information.
Brochures: The official Switzerland tourism site has a great app and is the most proactive tourism department I have every come across. If you email them, they will send you hard copies of all the brochures possible. They are extremely interactive. Every region has their own Webpage. There is no dearth of information.
Best time to visit: My pick would be to go either in June or in July. The weather is excellent. Not too hot and not too cold. You get long days to explore as much as you want.
What to pack: I love to travel light. I hate lugging around huge suitcases during my holidays, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look good. Pick out what you’re going to wear, carry your evening dresses, get those loafers out, but please, don’t pack like you’re moving countries. It slows you down and it ruins the fun. If you organize yourself, you really can manage without over stuffing. My trip to Switzerland would have been 50% less fun if I’d been heavy on luggage. I went with a huge backpack, no suitcase. But hey, if you’re driving around, you have nothing to worry about.
My list of things to absolutely carry. Now some of these may be obvious, as they should be if you travel often, but if you don’t, here it is –
An empty bottle – Don’t buy water anywhere in Switzerland. It’s expensive and unnecessary. Just carry it around and refill at any tap you see. Drinking tap water is safe.
A small back pack – Pack this with you for carrying around when you do your touristy things. This should have your water, small snack, sunglasses, camera, and anything warm that you may need. Try not to carry handbags, they just get in the way.
Some winter wear – Yes I know I said you were going in the summer but even when you do travel in summer, you will be going up the alps where you will find snow. A windbreaker and waterproof shoes are the least to bring along. You will need these for Mt. Titlis, Jungfrau, Schilthorn and all the summits you head up to from Zermatt.
Your tablet – This will serve as your guiding map for all places you go. Keep your phone and your tablet separate with separate mobile phone connections.
Power converter – This depends on where you’re travelling from. It’s best to just buy a converter that is compatible for all locations around the world. Then you just need to remember to pop it in your bag every time you travel.
Travel Insurance – Never, ever, travel out of your country without travel insurance. While this is usually on the checklist for your visa, please ensure you have it!
Car Charger – If you’re travelling by car in and around Switzerland, please carry a car charger. You will need this, especially because you’ll be navigating a lot with your tablet.
Currency: Switzerland uses both Euros and Swiss Francs.
Getting Around : My personal choice for getting around Switzerland is public transport. Now I know for a lot of people this is a scary proposition. What bus number, what time, what stop, frequency, etc. etc. but there is really no reason for you to worry about any of this in Switzerland. You can literally NEVER GET LOST.
If you’re travelling with family or with a lot of friends, or you’re not comfortable walking, you can choose to hire a car. However, please remember that in some cities in Switzerland, parking is difficult to find and it is also expensive. Please weigh the cost of public transport vs. a car before making a choice. Switzerland follows a left hand drive system and requires you to procure an international drivers’ license from your country of origin. If the international drivers license is in a language other than English, please carry an official translation. Also, it’s much cheaper to just use google maps on your iPad for navigation while driving around than getting a “tom tom”.
First Things first: Before you leave your own country, if you’re using public transport in Switzerland, download the SBB mobile app on your tablet. Let it detect your location. This app works like google maps. You can literally stand on the street, punch in wherever it is you want to go in Switzerland and it will guide you through the process. If your travel requires you to take multiple public transport options such as a bus, followed by a tram, a train and a mountain cable car, it will guide you through that process as well, as you move. It works literally like this:
Walk 200 mtrs to the bus stop. Board bus No. 2 arriving in two minutes. The status will also change to say “arriving now” when it’s in front of your nose so you simply cannot go wrong.
It will tell you where to get off the bus, walk you to the station, tell you what platform to wait at, and at what time you need to board the train. If it says take the 12.23 train, you take it. You do not wait for the 12:24 or hop on to the 12.22. They never get their timing wrong.
Just do what the app tells you, and you can go to whatever hill, mountain, forest, cable car, blah blah…and you will never need to ask for directions. If the thought “what the app tells me could be wrong” even crosses your mind, banish it.
Connectivity in Switzerland is superb so you will never lose cellular network, not even at the highest summit in the Swiss alps. Most public places also have free Wi-Fi, so you will not need to worry.
As soon as you’re off your plane, get yourself a local sim, available at a lot of stores at the airport. One with about 2 GB data for your tablet will suffice. Get one with a local prepaid number for your cell phone (separate from the one on your tablet), or if you’re using your international number for calls, remember to disable data. It can be expensive. You can now start using your SBB app on your tablet.
The Swiss Travel Pass: If I were you, I’d buy this instead of wasting my time buying a ticket every single time for a bus ride, train ride or whatever ride. The pass comes in different validity periods. Choose the one best suited to you. You will get this at the information counter at the airport. You need to carry this with your passport wherever you go. Don’t waste your money on a first class pass, a second class pass is excellent.
With this pass, transport in most of Switzerland is free whether by bus, tram, train, long distance train. Some cities are not covered. These are listed in the pass. You will also receive a 50% discount on mountain railways. These are typically the ones that will take you up to Jungfrau and other mountain peaks.
You do not need reservations on local travel or if you go up mountains. The only two instances I required these were on the panoramic trains i.e. the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express. These are long distance trains. I’ll cover these in my itinerary.
You also get plenty of other sops with the Swiss pass including free entry to museums, but the convenience of travelling without having to buy tickets was good enough to convince me to buy it.
Trains are very comfortable, there’s also always a cafeteria where you can grab a bite on the run.
Where to Stay: Switzerland is one country I decided to use only AirBnb. There are so many options! They are also so much cheaper and friendlier than regular hotels. You can also choose to travel without any confirmed bookings. That way you can change your itinerary and stay where you please.
Where to Eat: This is where you will be spending most of your money. If you eat at a restaurant, one meal for two could cost you as much as Euro 110/ INR 9,000 (without alcohol) and a cup of coffee in a regular store could cost you as much as Euro 4/ INR 300. That’s expensive! I was in Switzerland for about 2 weeks and because I lived in AirBnb, I had a kitchen at my disposal everywhere. There were a few days when I would pick something up from the supermarket that could be cooked in 15 minutes and eat. If you want to save up, please do this.