Trip planning

Planning a Trip to Switzerland

Everywhere you look in Switzerland, beauty is all around you.  From towering mountain peaks that are snow-capped even in summer, to crystal clear lakes, well-preserved medieval cities, lush alpine pastures and charming villages, Switzerland has it all.

It’s a breathtakingly beautiful country and I’m so glad you are planning to explore Switzerland.

Planning a trip to Switzerland can be overwhelming, though. When should you visit? Which places are must-sees? How should you travel around? What is the cost of a trip to Switzerland?  If you’re asking these questions and wondering how to plan a trip to Switzerland, you’ve come to the right place.  

To help make your Switzerland trip preparation easy, this article will answer those questions and many more. It will also guide you through the steps I follow when planning and booking my trips to Switzerland.

Useful Facts about Switzerland

Population: Switzerland has a population of around 8.5 million.

Location: Switzerland is a landlocked country located in central Europe. It shares borders with Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.

Capital City: The capital city of Switzerland is Bern.

Cantons: There are 26 Cantons (states).

Languages: There are four official languages in Switzerland – German, French, Italian and Romansch.

Currency: The Swiss franc is the official currency of Switzerland.

Driving: Vehicles drive on the right in Switzerland.

[This post may contain compensated links. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.]


What to consider when planning a trip to Switzerland

Passports and Visas

As soon as you start making plans to travel overseas you should check the validity of your passport.  Many countries, including Switzerland, require you to have at least 6 months’ validity on your passport at the time of travel (ie. the date of departure from your home country).

Don’t assume 5 months’ validity will be OK – it won’t – and don’t leave checking your passport until closer to your departure date.  Check it months before you travel and, should you need to renew your passport, you’ll have plenty of time to do so.

At the same time, it’s wise to check if you require a visa to travel to Switzerland.  In most cases you won’t, but check here just to be sure.


When to visit Switzerland

Montreux, Switzerland

One of the first things you’ll need to decide is the dates that you will travel.  This can be dependent on a number of factors including:

  • When you can take your Annual leave/time off work
  • If there is a specific event you are attending in Switzerland
  • Weather considerations – are you planning on visiting for Christmas/New Year, would you like to take a ski trip to Switzerland or would you prefer to take advantage of the longer daylight hours in summer, for example?

Find out the pros and cons of visiting Switzerland in the different seasons in this article. It covers the average temperatures throughout the year and offers advice on what to see in Switzerland in Summer, Autumn (Fall), Winter and Spring.


How to get to Switzerland

As it is centrally located in Europe, Switzerland is easily accessed by land from numerous other countries.  It borders Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein and excellent road and train connections are available from all neighbouring countries.

If your arrival into Switzerland is by air, you’re most likely to fly into one of the two major international airports at Zurich and Geneva.


Which places to visit in Switzerland

Map of Switzerland

The next step – and possibly the most exciting – in your Switzerland trip planning is deciding which places to include in your itinerary.  There are so many fabulous cities and towns to visit that it can be difficult to say which are the best places to visit in Switzerland – to my mind, they all are!

Which places you visit may be dependent on how you plan to travel around Switzerland (more info on the different transport options below), who you are travelling with and whether or not you have any specific interests.

Would you like to visit a Swiss chocolate factory, soak in a thermal bath, take a selfie in front of the Matterhorn or go paragliding in Interlaken?  Having an idea of what activities you’d like to include in your trip to Switzerland is really helpful when planning your itinerary.

If you plan to join an escorted coach tour then you will be limited a little by the itineraries on offer, however there are a huge number of coach companies to choose from.  Most, if not all, offer itineraries that take in many of the ‘must sees’ for first time travellers so there are plenty of Switzerland vacation ideas to get you started.

Planning a Trip to Switzerland?

Need help planning your dream trip to Switzerland? Join my FREE Facebook group, Switzerland Travel Planning, where you can ask questions and get more tips and inspiration for your trip.

You can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter for podcast updates, Swiss travel news and special deals. Click here to subscribe and I’ll send you 10 Useful Things to Know Before You Visit Switzerland as a special thank you!

If you are happy to drive yourself or use Switzerland’s excellent rail network, you will have more flexibility with your itinerary and can plan your trip to include places that are of particular interest to you.

The most important thing when planning which cities and towns will be part of your itinerary is to ensure that you actually get to see what you want to see in each place. 

It can be tempting to try to fit too much into your trip but then you risk overdoing it and being too rushed.

Whilst Switzerland is a relatively small country and travel distances aren’t too great, visiting seven different towns in seven days is not going to result in a relaxing holiday.

Some of the most popular places to visit in Switzerland are listed below.

  • Major citiesZurich, Lucerne, Bern, Geneva
  • Jungfrau Region – the holiday resort town of Interlaken and the nearby mountain villages of Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Murren and Grindelwald
  • Montreux – a pretty town on the shores of Lake Geneva
  • Zermatt – the alpine village at the foot of the Matterhorn

Suggested Switzerland itineraries

3 day trip to Switzerland : Lucerne 2 nights or Interlaken 2 nights

5 day trip to Switzerland : Lucerne 2 nights + Interlaken 2 nights  (If you are travelling by train, consider taking the GoldenPass Line between towns.)

7 day trip to Switzerland : Lucerne 2 nights + Interlaken 3 nights + Zermatt 1 night

10 day trip to Switzerland : 5 cities/areas – eg. Zurich 2 nights + Lucerne 2 nights + Interlaken 3 nights + Montreux 1 night + Zermatt 1 night

14 day trip to Switzerland : 7 cities/areas – eg. Zurich 2 nights + Lucerne 2 nights + Interlaken 3 nights + Montreux 1 night + Zermatt 1 night + Lugano 2 nights + St. Moritz 2 nights

To can see these itineraries in more detail > click here.


How much is a trip to Switzerland?

Swiss currency

Knowing exactly how much to budget for your vacation in Switzerland can be one of the hardest parts of the trip planning process.  

As well as the major expenses of flights and accommodation there are lots of other costs to take into consideration including transport, travel insurance, sightseeing, incidentals and spending money.

Of course, every person’s trip to Switzerland costs will be different.  The budget you need will depend on the length of your trip, the standard of accommodation you prefer, the mode of transport you choose, the time of year you travel, and many other factors.


Accommodation costs

To give you an idea of accommodation costs, you should allow the following amounts:

(The above prices are approximate and will vary based on location, date of travel, etc.)

Visitor’s/City Tax: All guests staying at hotels and lodgings in Switzerland are required to pay a Visitor’s Tax, also known as a Swiss Tourist Tax. Rates vary depending on the type of establishment (and the season of travel, in some cases) but generally range from CHF 2.50 to CHF 3.50 per person per night. The tax is not always included in the accommodation rate – you may be required to pay the tax in cash upon check out.


Budgeting for your trip

When it comes to spending money, rather than setting a daily budget, I usually allocate a set amount of spending money per week. Then I just multiply that amount by the number of weeks I’ll be away to calculate what I’ll need in the way of spending money in Switzerland.

I usually allow around CHF 800 per week for two adults to cover meals, groceries, fuel, road tolls/vignettes, tours/sightseeing that I haven’t pre-purchased, souvenirs, etc. and this is more than adequate.

You can download my budget calculator  to keep track of all your travel expenses.

Once you’ve decided how much you’ll need for your weekly ‘living’ expenses, you need to decide how you will access your money in Switzerland.  I recommend using a fee-free debit card – you can read more about the different ways to take money to Switzerland in this article.


Booking your trip to Switzerland

Booking your flights

Once you have your travel dates sorted, it’s time to start getting prices for your air travel. If you are flexible with your dates, you may even be able to take advantage of lower fares by moving your trip a couple of weeks either way. 

International airfares can make up a significant part of the cost of a holiday to Switzerland so it pays to be sure you are paying a fair price. Good value doesn’t necessarily mean securing the cheapest fare but finding the fare that best suits your needs. 

Are you prepared to take a flight with a longer layover (or more stops) in order to save a few dollars or would you rather pay a bit more to arrive in Switzerland sooner?

Switzerland’s two major international airports are Zurich and Geneva however if your trip to Switzerland is part of a European vacation that includes visits to other countries, flying in and out of Switzerland may not be the best option for you.

An open-jaw fare – where you fly into one city and return home from a different one – might work best for you, so keep that in mind, too.

Booking your air tickets well in advance can also mean ‘Early Bird’ savings, so keep an eye out for special deals advertised in the media and online and ask your travel agent for a quote.


Buy your travel insurance

Travel insurance

No trip abroad should start without having a good travel insurance policy in place.

Whilst you might expect not to need travel insurance, unforeseen things do happen – luggage gets lost, mobile phones get stolen, flights get cancelled, people get sick and injured.

Travel insurance is a holiday expense that none of us really want to have to pay but IT IS ESSENTIAL.

I recommend you purchase your insurance as soon as you’ve booked your flights so that should the unexpected happen and you need to change or cancel your flights, you are covered.

Note that not all travel insurance policies are equal. Do your research to make sure the policy you decide to purchase provides the cover you require. Find out what to look for in this article.


Booking your transport in Switzerland

How you get from A to B is going to be a major consideration in your trip planning.  The three main options are train, car and on an organised coach tour.


Organised tours of Switzerland

If your time is limited, you’re a first time traveller to Switzerland, or you’re a bit apprehensive about getting around by yourself, a fully escorted tour is definitely worth considering. 

With all your accommodation pre-booked, it’s just a matter of hopping on the coach each morning and being taken to your next destination where your hotel room awaits. 

The major tour companies generally use large coaches and cater for around 40-50 people per tour but an increasing number of small group tour companies are offering itineraries for more intimate groups, with passenger numbers often not exceeding 20.

There’s also a growing number of tour operators that offer tours of Switzerland by train instead of coach.  There are a huge range of fully escorted coach and rail tours in Switzerland available. Click here to browse the options.


Travelling by train in Switzerland

Swiss train

Travelling around Switzerland by train is a fantastic way to not only get from one city to another but it’s also a most relaxing and scenic form of transport. The Swiss Railway (SBB) has a fantastic network of rail services around the country, and on all major routes an hourly or two-hourly service operates. 

With modern trains and regular services, trains can get you to most places fast!  

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about using the Swiss rail system.

If you plan on taking a few train journeys in Switzerland, the Swiss Travel Pass may be the best value for you. 

This all-inclusive Swiss travel pass not only allows you to travel via the Swiss rail system, but also provides free entry into around 500 museums and travel on buses and ferries, as well as providing discounts on most of Switzerland’s mountain excursions.

There are a number of different Swiss Travel Passes available for purchase which you can read about in my comprehensive article on this link.


Travelling by car in Switzerland

Driving in Switzerland

Repeat travellers to Europe and those who prefer ultimate flexibility are often inclined to rent a car, and driving in Switzerland can give you the greatest flexibility of all. 

Having your own car allows you to stop where you like, when you like and get off the beaten track and into smaller villages that are off the tourist trail.  

With your own car, there are no more timetables to adhere to and your itinerary is as flexible as you want it to be. 

Regardless of whether you prefer to have your entire route planned in advance or are more of a ‘go-where-the-wind-takes-you’ style of traveller, a self-drive holiday in Switzerland offers so many advantages.

Get essential tips about driving in Switzerland in this article.

Now that you have all the information you need about the various transport methods, you can go ahead and book yourself on a tour, buy a rail pass or reserve your rental car.


Booking your Switzerland accommodation

Hotel

If you’ve decided on an independent holiday in Switzerland – either driving yourself or travelling by train – instead of an organised tour, you’ll need to make your accommodation arrangements. 

Whilst some travellers prefer to take the less organised approach, I always recommend pre-booking as much of your accommodation before you go as possible. This not only means you will have a confirmed bed for the night but it can also save time and money.

The variety of accommodation available in Switzerland is huge.  For hotel and B&B reservations, we mostly use Booking.com as they offer a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets.  

Other booking sites we’ve used include Airbnb and Interhome. These two sites are particularly good for self-catering options.

There are also more than 50 Swiss Youth Hostels that are located across the country which you can search and book online here

You can also read our accommodation guides for specific Swiss destinations:


Booking mountain excursions, tours and attractions

Mt Pilatus cable car

When planning your Switzerland itinerary, it’s worth considering purchasing a regional transport and sightseeing pass.  These passes usually include all public transport in the local area as well as discounted or free travel on cable cars, funiculars and mountain railways.

We’ve written detailed guides on all the major regional transport passes in Switzerland which you can read by clicking the links below.

Lucerne 

Interlaken/Jungfrau Region

If a pass doesn’t make economical sense for your itinerary, you can purchase individual tickets to many of Switzerland’s most popular attractions including Jungfraujoch Top of Europe via GetYourGuide.


Switzerland trip planning timeline

Swiss train beside Lake Lungern

Planning your trip to Switzerland is probably not going to be a last minute decision so it’s likely that you’ll have plenty of time to prepare. 

I tend to start my trip planning process about nine or ten months before I intend to travel so that I have got firm dates in place.

Of course you can arrange your whole trip in less than nine months but this is a good timeframe for me.  

9 months before departure

  • Book flights to/from Europe. If you are redeeming frequent flier miles, you may even need to book more than 9 months ahead.
  • Purchase travel insurance. Read why I never travel without it here.
  • Book accommodation and/or tours that are crucial parts of your itinerary and those that are likely to book out early.
  • If leasing a car, book now to secure your preferred vehicle type and to take advantage of early booking offers.
  • Check your passport to ensure it has at least six months validity from your return date.

6 months before departure

  • Book any internal flights within Europe
  • Book car hire and/or buy rail pass
  • Book accommodation
Switzerland Rail Passes ebook

3 months before departure

  • Book remainder of accommodation

2 months before departure

  • Book sightseeing tours and airport transfers 
  • Reserve seats on Glacier Express or Bernina Express (seat reservations are compulsory for these two panoramic trains)
  • Check currency exchange rates and consider purchasing and loading foreign currency onto a travel money card if you intend to take one

1 month before departure

  • Check/reconfirm all reservations
  • Advise the airline if you have any special meal requests
  • Subscribe to your government’s Foreign Affairs website (in Australia you can subscribe here and in the US you can subscribe here) to keep up to date with travel advisories for the destinations you’ll be visiting
  • Print out or take note of any special instructions you need to take with you (details on picking up the key for apartments, etc)
  • Load any apps/travel guides that you wish to take with you onto your smart phone or mobile device – you’ll find some useful apps here

I hope you’ve found this Switzerland trip planner helpful and that you’re now ready to make your Switzerland holiday a reality.


Read More Trip Planning Guides For Switzerland By Clicking The Links Below