Accommodations in Switzerland
Accommodations in Switzerland tend to be expensive. There are usually fewer hotels located around train stations than in other countries. You may inspect a hotel before committing to it.
Hotel rooms in Switzerland tend to be smaller than other places, but there are usually more services available. Prices include service, taxes and sometimes breakfast (ask).
Most Swiss hotels are members of the Swiss Hotel Association, which rates them according to their facilities and not necessarily their charm. For more general information on European hotel ratings, see our article: Hotels and their Star Ratings.
The hotel booking agent I use when traveling is usually Venere. You can find hotels on a map or by a list, then rank the hotels by guest rating, price, stars, or location. SeeSwitzerland Hotels (book direct) for more.
The Swiss currency is the Swiss Franc, abbreviated to CHF. Swiss Franc banknotes are issued in the following denominations: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 Francs. At the time of writing, 1 US Dollar = 1.35350 Swiss Franc (January, 2003). For the current rate, see Currency Converter by OANDA.com, The Currency Site.
Language in Switzerland
Four primary languages are spoken in Switzerland. See the map above for the approximate areas those languages are spoken in. The Federal Constitution stipulates that German, French, and Italian are Switzerland's official languages, whereas Romansh is an official language for communicating with Romansh-speaking persons. English is increasingly taught at an early age, sometimes taking priority over a second national language.
Foreign Languages for the Tourist gives a list of resources for learning just enough language to get along. Page two of that article is an account of going to language school in Perugia, Italy. I recommend undertaking such an experience in Switzerland if you're interested in the Swiss languages and people.
Transportation in Switzerland
Switzerland is served by more than 13000 miles of train, bus and boat routes. Find out more about Swiss transportation options in the article Swiss Rail Passes and Transportation information.
Switzerland is served by eight major airports. See our Interactive Switzerland Airports Mapfor locations and information.
If you are driving in Switzerland, be aware that you'll need a permit called a "vignette" affixed to your windshield to drive on the autobahn, or toll roads. You can buy one of these at the border as you enter Switzerland.
For distances between major cities, see our Switzerland Driving Distances map and calculator.
Weather in Switzerland - When to Go
Due to the mountainous terrain in Switzerland, weather can vary greatly with altitude. Prediction of the weather can be tricky. For some historical climate information, including historic temperature and precipitation graphs that might help you plan your vacation in Switzerland, as well as current conditions see Travel Weather Switzerland.
Eating in Swiss Restaurants
Although eating in a Swiss restaurant is generally more expensive than eating in a neighboring country, you can find interesting, inexpensive food in Switzerland. Lunches are often cheaper than the same meal at dinner. Look for the plate of the day.
General Eating Times: Lunch: 12-2 Dinner 6-8 pm
As you might expect, Swiss cuisine is based around dairy products -- cheese, milk, cream, butter and/or yogurt.
Beer is often cheaper and more readily available then soft drinks.
Meals include a service charge, but tipping is common. 5% of the total is the usual tip. According to locals in Zurich, it is customary, when paying with a credit card, to leave the tip in cash rather than adding it to the card total.
Public Holidays in Switzerland
New Years: January 1st and 2nd
Labor Day - May 1st
National Day: August 1st
Christmas Eve (afternoon only)
Christmas: December 25 and 26th
New Year's Eve (afternoon)
Tipping in Switzerland
Restaurants. A service charge is built into menu prices (unlike in some countries, where it's tacked onto the bill). However, it's customary to round up amounts when paying the waiter or waitress if you're happy with the service. This means that you might hand the server CHF 50 for a CHF 47 meal. If you're paying by credit card, hand the server a cash tip of up to 5%.
Hotels. Tip CHF 1-2 for each bag or service rendered, depending on the class of your hotel. Except in the cheapest hotels and pensions, consider leaving CHF 1 per day for the hotel maid. In a resort hotel, you might want to leave a tip with the manager for dividing among the staff. (The amount will vary according to the length of your stay, the price of the accommodations, and your own generosity.)
Taxis. A service charge is included in Zürich cab fares; it may not be in other parts of the country. As in restaurants, round up or add 5% when you're happy with the service.
Barbers and hairdressers. Tip up to 15%.
When you need to obtain or exchange money in Europe, the solution is usually easy: Use your ATM card (but be sure to read our ATMs and Currency Exchange Machines and ATM "Conversion Fees" articles before you leave home.)
You'll almost always get a better rate from an ATM than from a bank, an exchange counter, or--worse yet--a hotel or shop.
Also beware of hidden fees on overseas transactions with credit cards, which can range from 2% to 5%. Read our credit-card surcharges article, then check to make sure that your Visa or MasterCard provider isn't double-dipping every time you make a purchase in a foreign currency. Also see the other tips and warnings in our article on Using credit cards in Europe.
ATM "conversion fees" can also suck money from your budget. And prepaid travelers' cash cards are even worse, as we explain in our article on the Visa TravelMoneycards.
If you're from outside the euro zone, read our euro article to learn how the "common currency" of 16 European nations will (or won't) affect your trip.
Finally, if you're on a budget and are worried about exchange rates, read Money-Saving European Travel Tips before deciding that you can't afford a European or Continental vacation.
Currency-exchange tip: Before changing small amounts of money, make sure the bank or exchange counter doesn't charge a flat fee or a minimum commission.
Wheelchair Users / Disabled
Switzerland is a country that poses challenges for wheelchair-bound travelers, if only because its most scenic areas are mountainous. Still, the Swiss have made great strides in improving access for disabled tourists, so there's no reason to let an Alp stand in your way of your travel plans.
According to Switzerland Tourism, more than 150 railway stations now have wheelchair ramps, and another 150 have special wheelchair lifts to help passengers on and off trains. In smaller towns, station employees may lift wheelchair passengers on and off the train by hand.
Many lake steamers are wheelchair-accessible. (The main deck is usually at the same level as the landing platform or gangway.) Check with the local boat ticket office, since some sailings may be more wheelchair-friendly than others. And don't bother paying extra for a first-class ticket. Second class is just as comfortable, and the cheaper fare will save you from climbing stairs to the first-class deck on larger boats.
If you're driving, your vehicle's handicapped sticker or an International Wheelchair Badge on the dashboard will allow parking in designated spaces.
Hotels, pensions, and inns vary in their accessibility. Small inns in rural areas may not have elevators, but many do--although the lifts may be cramped, without automatic doors.
Newer or renovated hotels often have special handicapped facilities such as bathrooms with roll-in showers and toilets with grab bars. The Swiss Hotel Guide uses symbols to identify accessible hotels, and a special hotel guide for disabled travelers can be ordered by mail from Switzerland. (See Switzerland Tourism's "Travel Tips for the Disabled" in the list of links below.)
In resorts and rural areas, you can often save money by renting a private room (Privatzimmer) from a homeowner or farmer. Vacation apartments are another option if you're staying a week or longer. Local tourist offices can provide lists of such accommodations. However, since the lists seldom indicate which rooms or apartments are accessible, you'll need to inquire directly or ask the tourist office to check for you.
Many cities and towns have special public restrooms for disabled travelers. Typically, these are unisex restrooms with the international wheelchair symbol on the door.
In train stations, the wheelchair restroom may be locked. If that's the case, you can borrow a key from the stationmaster or the clerk at the information counter.
Larger cities and towns such as Zürich, Geneva, Bern, and Lucerne are usually easy to get around, at least in the main tourist areas. Lakeside promenades are especially nice for wheelchair travelers.
In the mountains, don't hesitate to seek advice from the local tourist office. Many hiking paths are paved, some aren't at all steep, and quite a few are accessible by cogwheel train or cablecar. You don't need to be a wheelchair athlete to enjoy Switzerland's alpine scenery--although I'd recommend visiting mountain resorts in the summer, since ice and snow can make it difficult to get around on wheels during the winter.
Two helpful guidebooks
Wheelchair Travel Through Europe, by Annie Mackin, has good travel advice on Switzerland and Europe in general. The spiral-bound paperback lists accessible budget hotels, describes personal travel experiences in Switzerland, and is a good value if your trip will take you to other countries in Europe. It costs US $12.95 postpaid in the United States (add $5.00 for international orders). Send your check or money order to:
In 1998, a new Swiss hotel guide for wheelchair users was published in German, French, and Italian. You can order it for SFr 14.80 plus shipping and handling from: