Swiss Alps, Switzerland village, and Swiss food

Switzerland Rail Tours - Switzerland Travel Tips

Switzerland Travel Tips - Table of Contents

photo of the famous Jungfrau Mountains, in the Berner Oberland region

Beautiful views like this await you in Switzerland

Passports

  • United States citizens:
    • The U.S. travel rules change frequently so it's important to check with the U.S. Department of State Travel web site for the latest international travel and passport info (which of course supercedes the info you'll find here).
    • Every US citizen traveling to Europe must have a passport, valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of your return flight to the USA. This must be a regular passport, not the little Passport Card.
  • Canadian citizens: Check Canada's travel web site for the latest information.
  • United Kingdom citizens: Check the UK's travel web site for the latest information.

Arrival at Kloten Airport

Zurich's Kloten Airport's new 1 1/2 Billion Dollar International Terminal has finally been completed. I have always enjoyed spending time at this airport, with its great shops full of Swiss products, and am looking forward to this new airport facility. Do not be alarmed when you first see the colorful Swiss Guards with machine guns slung over their shoulders. Kloten is one of the safest airports in the world.

After our arrival, your luggage is automatically sent on to Interlaken, and then to the hotel (if your flight arrives at the Zurich airport before 0830, on Sunday after your Saturday night departure, from your hometown gateway, on the beginning date of your tour). We will proceed downstairs to the rail station, and begin our first rail adventure of the week. Sit back and enjoy the magnificent scenery on our 2 1/2 hour trip via Berne, to Interlaken.

Customs

Duty free limits are as follows:

  • Visitors from non European countries may import 400 cigarettes, 100 cigars or 500 grams of pipe tobacco.
  • The allowance for alcohol is the same for everyone: one liter of spirits plus two liters below 15% volume.
  • Tobacco and alcohol may only be brought in by people aged 17 or over.
  • Gifts up to the value of SFR. 100 may also be imported, and food provisions for one day.

Swiss Rail Pass

photo of 4 women, one laying on the laps of three, on train
What a tour!

One of the special aspects of my tours are the Swiss Rail Passes, featuring unlimited travel on the extensive and sophisticated Swiss Rail System. From your train window, you will see the scenery change, minute by minute. Each bend of the track brings new vistas that somehow seem even more beautiful than the last.

Trains run on an hourly basis beginning early morning until close to midnight. Train connections are easy and usually only require a few minutes changing time. Railway stations are clean, safe and staffed with helpful rail personnel to assist you.

Your included Swiss Rail Pass provides unlimited rail travel on the Swiss Federal Railways, private railway segments are not included, postal buses, lake steamers, city buses, and streetcars for your weeks tour. You'll also get a 25-50% discount on most mountain top excursions that are not covered with your Swiss Pass.

We will travel on the graceful lake steamers during our week in this marvelous country. Interlaken (which means "between the lakes"), lies between the sister lakes of Thun and Brienz. The Thunersee is open to the sky and almost subtropical in ambience, while the Brienzersee is hemmed in by mountains and forest.

I always suggest you take at least a half day and just get on any train, ride until you see a lakeside or mountain village that looks interesting, hop off the train, explore as long as you want, sample the local cheese or wine, or tasty bakery treats, then hop back on another train or even a lake steamer, for a further adventure all your own.

Shopping in Switzerland

English is spoken in most shops and department stores. Switzerland's superb products make it a shopper's paradise. All major Credit Cards are accepted in fine shops and most Department stores, but now carry a 3% service fee. Shops are usually open from 9am to 6:30pm on weekdays and from 9am to 4pm on Saturdays, but do close from 12 noon until 2pm for lunch and a rest during the week.

photo of shoppers on sidewalk
Happy Shoppers

Fine watches come in an infinite variety and are generally less expensive than in other countries. Chocolates come in a variety of sizes, shapes and flavors. Excellent buys are: textiles, embroideries, fine handkerchiefs, linen, precision instruments, drafting sets, multi blade pocket knives, music boxes, woodcarvings, ceramics and other handmade items as well as antiques and art books.

You may ask at the shops for your Tax free Shopping Cheque and reclaim the VAT if your purchase costs at least CHF. 400. Europe Tax free Shopping offers you a swift cash refund system at Zurich and Geneva airports as well as at all major airports in Europe.

Banking and Post Office Hours

Banks are usually open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Once a week they extend their hours. Please check locally. They are closed Saturdays, Sundays and on public holidays. Post offices in large cities are open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 12 noon and from 1:30pm to 6:30pm: Saturday 7:30 to 11am.

Cell Phones and Telephone Calls

Cell phones: Check with your cell phone provider to see if you can add international coverage for your phone. Some unlocked phones can use SIM cards from European countries. Also, local phones can be purchased or rented.

Any country in the world can be called from private or public telephones (coins, phone or credit cards). To find a number in Switzerland, check the phone book or dial 111.

For any other country except Germany (192) and France (193) call 191. Dialing 114 will connect you with the international operator. The country code for the U.S.A is 001. Omit the first 0 of the local area code. To find out other country codes or the cost of domestic and foreign calls, please consult the first pages of any Swiss phone book.

Wining and Dining

Dining in Switzerland is just one of the many wonderful adventures on your tour with me. This tour gives you the freedom to enjoy lunch and dinner in the mountain villages, old world cities, even aboard a lake steamer, or a quaint lakeside restaurant. I will take you to some of my favorite places to eat that I have found over the years. Because of its cultural diversity, Switzerland offers an unusually wide range of gastronomic delights.

photo of plate with beef, gravy, cooked carrots, and potatoes
Yum

French, German and Italian influences prevail in regions where those languages are spoken. Quality is uniformly good. Each region has its specialties: Fondue and Raclette (melted cheese dishes) in the French part; sausages, roasts and fried potatoes (Rosti) in the German part; sliced air dried beef (Bundnerfleisch) and ham in the Graubunden region; Italian specialties in the Ticino.

Swiss pastries and desserts are world famous. Swiss wines are excellent, especially when ordered in the region where the grapes are grown - always ask for the local wine. Swiss beer is first rate. Liquors are delicious, but highly potent - Marc, Kirsch, and Williamine are the most popular.

Jet Lag

Westbound flights cause less jet lag than traveling eastbound. Westbound travel lengthens the day, and science suggests that the human circadian rhythm - your internal clock - is regulated by the sun. Airlines generally schedule westbound flights as day flights, which also seems to create less jet lag. Eastbound travel, meanwhile, shortens the day and sends travelers to bed before their normal bedtimes.

Before you leave on your trip, if you can go to bed an hour early each night for a week, waking earlier the next morning by 60 minutes. Avoid large meals before, during and after flights. On the plane, immediately set your watch for your destination's time.

Long flights don't have to leave you rumpled, bloated and cranky - with a little planning you can arrive ready to launch into your holiday in better shape. The biggest obstacle to comfort when you're flying is low humidity aboard the aircraft, typically about 10 per cent. Dry air promotes dehydration, which can impair digestion, intensify fatigue and heighten jet lag.

photo of azure colored Lake Brienz
Geissbach Falls on Lake Brienz

The views on this vary somewhat, but try to drink one glass of water or juice per hour and stay away from alcohol, carbonated drinks and salty snacks that can dehydrate you further.

It's also important to dress in loose, layered clothing that can ward off the chill of excessive air conditioning or be removed if you're stuck sweltering on the tarmac. Wear roomy, flat shoes, and slip them off when you're at your seat.

Frequent flyers also recommend getting up once every hour to walk around the cabin, even if it's only to the washroom and back. This will restore circulation to your lower legs and feet, which can swell up as a result of pressure on the backs of your thighs. Take the time to do a few stretches of your neck, shoulders and legs to loosen up muscles constricted from sitting.

Another of the biggest discomforts of a long haul flight is sleep deprivation. Pack earplugs, eye shades and your own small pillow in your carry on case. Notify a flight attendant if you do not wish to be roused for breakfast. Consider taking a mild sleep medication, but test it out before your flight, as landing in a strange city is not a good time to be sedated.

When you land, stay awake until the appropriate bedtime and avoid stimulating activities. Adjust your meal times and eat a carbohydrate snack before bedtime to induce drowsiness. Take a long, hot bath for relaxation. Sleep in a dark, cool and comfortable setting. Don't watch the clock. Get up early regardless of how much sleep you've had.

Travel Insurance Info

Switzerland requires all visitors to have health insurance. We highly recommend the purchase of coverage for peace of mind as well. For your convenience we provide a link to HTH Worldwide Travel Insurance

When you have a health emergency away from home, the best medicine is good travel insurance. If you don't have coverage, you may be forced to cough up the cost of a physician's treatment, a hospital stay or even an emergency flight to the nearest major medical center. The right policy can be a lifeline if you become ill or are injured while you're on the road. But it's obviously important to think about travel insurance before you go. So before you cancel the newspaper, kennel the dog and pack your suitcase, consider these pointers:

  • Don't buy insurance you don't need. You may already be covered for medical emergencies outside your home state under your private insurance, Health Maintenance Organization or Medicare.
  • Before you travel, call the agencies handling your car or home insurance to ask about any accident coverage.
  • Ask your credit card companies if insurance is part of their baseline service to card holders.

Establish a contact with your insurance company. Find out how to get help and to file a claim. Take this information, together with the name of the person you contacted, with you when you travel. Pack your policy number and details. Your proof of coverage will direct medical authorities to seek payment from your insurance company.

photo of inside a double decker train
Inside a double decker train, with tour guide in background

Hiking and Walking

Switzerland with its well kept hiking paths is the ideal hiking country. Hiking is best from May through October. Walking and hiking maps are available from the local tourist offices or from well stocked bookstores in Switzerland.

During the Summer the choices are great, ranging from easy lake shore walks to challenging mountain ridge hikes or glacier tours. In Winter well maintained, clearly marked trails are accessible for relaxing walks.

Rock Climbing and Mountaineering: The most challenging peaks of the entire alpine region are in Switzerland. In summer and winter they offer many attractive excursions and climbs. Mountaineering schools offer guided tours as well as courses in rock climbing and mountaineering.

Bikes

City and mountain bikes can be rented for a moderate fee at most railway stations. You may return it at the same station or to any other railway station.

Sports

photo of parasailer, with moon
Para sailing

Golf: Switzerland has more than 30 ideally situated golf courses. Playing golf in Switzerland combines the pleasure of the game, the enjoyment of a beautiful landscape and the benefit of a bracing climate.

Tennis: There is hardly a Swiss resort without tennis courts. Numerous hotels maintain their own courts. Please ask your hotel or the local tourist offices.

Water Sports: Most lakeside beaches are open from June to September. Sailing, water skiing, wind surfing are popular throughout Switzerland. Cities and resorts have public indoor and outdoor pools. Many resort hotels have their own heated pools.

Adventure Sports: River rafting, canoeing, yachting, hang gliding, parachuting, bungie jumping, horseback riding are just a few of the adventures waiting for you in Switzerland

Skiing and Snow boarding: Switzerland has an abundance of magnificent slopes and the most extreme vertical drops which guarantee every possible skiing thrill in a breathtaking setting. The ski schools are staffed with expert instructors and most of them speak English. They offer classes for beginners, intermediate skiers, snow boarding lessons as well as classes for children.

Castles of the Bernese Oberland

For some great castle touring, head to the Lake Thun area, a day excursion by lake steamer, in central Switzerland just south of Bern. In the town of Thun itself, you'll find the 12th-century Schloss Thun on the hill. It contains a good historical museum and there are fine views from the turrets of the Romanesque tower.

One of the best castles around the lake is the 13-century Schloss Oberhofen, which was once held by the Hapsburgs, and has a good collection of grand furniture, portraits and musical instruments, authentic suits of armor and weapons, and even boasts a Turkish smoking room. The gardens were landscaped in the 19th century and are a fine place for a stroll.

Schloss Hunegg at nearby Hilterfingen was built in the 1860s and renovated in 1900. It's a fascinating mix of Neo-Renaissance and art nouveau styles and has a funky split level bathroom complete with nickel plated bathtub. If you're a castle buff, you can squeeze in a visit to all three fortifications in a day trip by boat.

To enjoy the many villages along the shore, simply leave the boat whenever you see an appealing spot and catch another boat in an hour or two.

 

Contact Switzerland Rail Tours and start arranging your trip!
email or call 1-800-277-6128

 

Read more about the Springtime guided Rail/Train Tour or the guided Fall Foliage Train/Rail Tour. Or check out the hotels where you will be staying. There is also a photo gallery with pictures from previous tour members, and a map.

Switzerland Tour Dates

2014 GUIDED SPRING AND
FALL TOURS

Oct 18 - 26, 2014
days to pack!

2015 GUIDED SPRING AND
FALL TOURS

May 16 - 24, 2015
days to pack!

Oct 17 - 25, 2015
days to pack!

Certifications

Fla. Seller of Travel Ref. No. ST38442

Journey's/Switzerland Rail Tours have successfully attained the following certifications:

Certified Switzerland Specialist badge, words with a small Edelweiss flower; from the Switzerland Network
Professional Switzerland Specialists
Switzerland Platinum Advisors
Switizerland Travel Tribe Advisiors

AND  

graphic of words, which state: Rail Europe Certified European Rail Expert; from Rail Europe.
Certified European Rail Experts

Mentioned in Newsweek

Newsweek's The Good Life, in Travel: Finding Fall's Best Foliage has this to say: “Swiss Journey offers a Fall Foliage Rail Tour through the cities and Alps of Switzerland.” by Rebecca Hall

Useful Links

HTH Worldwide Travel Insurance

Insurance options include: non refundable financial expenses associated with a canceled or interrupted trip, lost baggage, and medical emergencies.

Check Air Fare

US & Switzerland Travel Status