Switzerland Schilthornbahn
Switzerland Schilthornbahn

Switzerland - the alpine country offers great travel experiences

Travel Guide

Switzerland Schilthornbahn

The Swiss Confederation is the official name of the democratic, federalist state in the heart of Europe. With an area of 41,285 square kilometers and 8.7 million inhabitants (as of December 31, 2020), Switzerland is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe.

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Excursion destinations

For those interested in culture, there are museums and galleries to admire not only in the centers of cities, but also in rural areas. Among the most visited museums in Switzerland is the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, where historical artifacts of the country from prehistory to the present are exhibited.

In addition to exhibition houses for contemporary art, the Arts Museums of Switzerland, there are also several regional museums and open-air museums in Switzerland that focus on the rural past. One example is the Ballenberg Open-Air Museum in the Bernese Oberland, where traditional farmhouses and homesteads from various eras are open to visitors.

In Switzerland, you'll also find numerous places with an intact historic city center and buildings from different eras, including gems like the old towns of Bern, St. Gallen and Bellinzona, all three of which are UNESCO protected sites. In total, 12 cultural and natural properties in Switzerland have been designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Castle Attractions Switzerland

As in all of Europe, there was a veritable castle-building boom in Switzerland during the Middle Ages, which produced some of the most imposing fortifications in Europe, such as the knights' and dragons' castle of Lenzburg, one of the oldest hilltop castles in Switzerland, and the grandiose fortress of Aarburg, both located in the canton of Aargau. Later followed the imaginative noble castles and palaces in the first cities.

Some castles and palaces are still privately owned today, some are run by the state, are open to the public and, with their special ambience, serve as venues for medieval festivals, theater performances and concerts, as well as museums.

Special animal experiences are made possible by an excursion to one of the Swiss nature parks, such as the Swiss National Park near Engadin and Val Müstair, one of the oldest wilderness protected areas in the Alps, to a Swiss zoo or to one of the huge facilities of a Swiss aquarium.

Music Festivals Switzerland

The Swiss Top Events list includes festivals of all musical genres every year, which is why Switzerland is considered a stronghold of music festivals.The Lucerne Festival, for example, falls into the classical music category.

One of the oldest festivals in Switzerland is the Open Air St. Gallen, which takes place every last weekend in June. The Zurich Street Parade, the world's largest open-air techno party, also attracts millions of visitors.

Not to mention the regular concerts by local and international musicians in the bars and discos of the cities and vacation regions. The traditional federal festivals with typical Alpine folk music are also an important part of the Swiss events calendar.

Folklore evenings, alphorn concerts, shepherd festivals and alpine pasture drives take place in every region of Switzerland and at every time of year. If you want to experience the otherwise rather reserved Swiss in a really exuberant way, you should come at the time of carnival, when the Swiss celebrate carnival with carnival parades and Guggen music starting on Ash Wednesday.

Activities in Switzerland

The scenic diversity of Switzerland allows all outdoor activities that the heart of active vacationers, families with children, nature lovers and cultural travelers desires at any time of the year

Whether you are looking for relaxation on your vacation, want to enjoy a family vacation together, want to feel the wild and romantic nature up close or come to Switzerland for a short city trip - the possibilities for activities in Switzerland are almost limitless.

Mountain activities

One of the attractions for vacationers is the mighty Swiss mountains, which captivate many visitors. Hikers, climbers and paragliders enjoy the alpine landscapes with their breathtaking panorama and clear air from spring to autumn.

Winter activities

Everywhere you will encounter fragrant alpine meadows, spectacular peaks, thundering waterfalls, mystical gorges and energetic power spots. In Switzerland's 9 glacier ski areas you can even go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and sledding all year round.

One of the largest glaciers in the Alps is the impressive Aletsch Glacier in the Jungfrau region in the Swiss canton of Valais. The Aletsch Arena ski area, home to the resorts of Bettmeralp, Riederalp and Fiesch-Eggishorn, is an El Dorado for winter sports enthusiasts.

Another 300 ski resorts in Switzerland with state-of-the-art lifts and excellent infrastructure are open from November to April for winter sports enthusiasts.

Water activities

Countless rivers and lakes in Switzerland are also waiting to be explored by canoe, kayak and rubber dinghy. Lake Geneva, the Swiss areas of Lake Constance, Lake Zurich, Lake Lucerne and Lake Thun are among the most famous Swiss waters.

River rafting through the Swiss Grand Canyon near Ilanz/Glion in the canton of Grisons and canyoning through the gorges of the torrent near Champéry in the canton of Valais, one of the oldest tourist resorts in Switzerland, are just a few of the many options for adrenaline junkies.

Bicycle or "Velo

You can also reach many sights and excursion destinations in Switzerland by bicycle, which the Swiss call "Velo". On the numerous signposted bicycle paths through Switzerland you can discover the Alpine country from its most beautiful side. If you don't have your own bike with you, you can rent bikes of different models in the vacation regions and cities and even take part in guided bike tours in Switzerland.

Rope parks

More and more popular among young and old are trips to the rope parks in Switzerland, which can be found all over the country. Each of these adventure parks is unique and offers extraordinary elements that are not only fun, but also help develop the sense of balance, concentration and fitness.

For bad weather days, there is even an indoor rope park in Grindewald in the canton of Bern, which was designed with 40 creative elements and promises a lot of action.

Regions

The Swiss territory is roughly composed of three major geological regions: the Alps, the Jura and the Swiss Plateau. The Alps are composed of the pre-alpine region, the high alpine region and the southern side of the Alps

Only the regions around Bern in the north and Mendrisitto in the south are not counted among these major regions, but belong on the one hand to the Upper Rhine Plain and on the other hand to the Po Valley.

The three large regions are in turn subdivided into 26 cantons, which in turn are subdivided into several political districts and municipalities. These cantons, also known as estates or states, enjoy a high degree of autonomous self-determination and are administered by their own cantonal governments.

All state functions concerning administrative law, health, education, finance, justice and policing fall within the remit of the cantonal parliaments. However, intercantonal concordats have been concluded over the centuries in order to create regulations that are as uniform as possible throughout the country.

The cantons of Zurich, Bern, Vaud and Aargau are among the most populous Swiss cantons, while the cantons of Uri and Appenzell-Innerrhoden are the smallest Swiss cantons.

The Swiss cantons are also grouped into 13 tourist regions according to morphological, cultural and culinary similarities, offering varied outdoor opportunities, diverse excursion destinations and exceptional attractions.

These popular vacation regions are

  1. Grisons
  2. Eastern Switzerland/Liechtenstein
  3. Zurich Region
  4. Lucerne-Lake Lucerne
  5. Basel Region
  6. Bern Region
  7. Jura & Three-Lakes Region
  8. Lake Geneva Region (Vaud)
  9. Geneva
  10. Valais
  11. Ticino
  12. Fribourg Region
  13. Aargau Region

That's why it's almost too bad if you visit Switzerland only once, because there are so many special features to discover.

Languages

As far as languages in Switzerland are concerned, there is no typical Swiss dialect, because in the small alpine country 4 official languages are used and every village as well as every valley seems to have its own dialect.

While the west on the border with France is assigned to the French language area, in the south on the border with Italy it is the Italian language and in a few small areas in the southeast it is the Rhaeto-Romanic language, including the canton of Graubünden.

Most of Switzerland, about 17 cantons that also form the center of the country, use German as their official language. Some cantons are also bilingual or multilingual. To illustrate the diversity of languages: In German-speaking Switzerland alone, there are 5 different expressions to order a small beer of 0.3 - Becher, Chübeli, Kleines, Rugeli or Stange.

History

The first traces of human settlement in Switzerland can be traced back to the Paleolithic Age. But it is only with the end of the last ice age that a larger number of settled people can be detected in Switzerland. They have left their traces in the almost 60 discovered sites of prehistoric lake dwellings in Swiss lake landscapes. Today, these are part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. On Lake Zug in the canton of Zug alone, there are remains of around 50 settlements.

This trend of living on the lake has occurred simultaneously in several regions of Europe at the same time, which is quite remarkable in view of the lack of mobile phone and Internet connections. After settlement by some Celtic tribes, the Helvetians in the Swiss Plateau and the Raeter in eastern Switzerland being among the best known, the Romans also extended their empire over Switzerland and Romanized the population.

It is often assumed that the still existing Rhaetian language goes back to the Raetians, but this is rather a form of vulgar Latin of the Romanized population.

After the Romans came the Franks, then the Swabians, the Burgundians and the Alemanni. As early as the 13th century, a 1st Confederation was formed from the original cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, which had united to protect their freedoms.

The Rütli Oath - Founding of Today's Switzerland

The founding date is considered to be August 1, 1291, which is why August 1 was designated as Switzerland's national holiday. The letter of alliance issued at that time as a founding document is kept in the Bundesbriefmuseum in the municipality of Schwyz.

After numerous armed conflicts on Swiss soil and with the end of the so-called Special Federal War and the Federal Constitution of 1848, in which the conservative Catholic cantons were defeated by the progressive liberal cantons, Switzerland began its rise to become a modern federal state, which today is one of the 20 largest economies in the world.

The Swiss Confederation is characterized by direct democracy, a high degree of regional and local autonomy, special participation of the population in joint decision-making, and the principle of self-imposed neutrality. The government consists of a Federal Council with seven Federal Councillors, headed by a Federal Chancellor.

Food and drinks

When it comes to food, there are also specialties that are attributed to all of Switzerland. One example is the delicious Swiss cheese fondue, which originated in the canton of Valais, but is enjoyed all over the country and includes different types of Swiss cheese, such as Emmentaler, Gruyère and Appenzeller, depending on the region.

Almost every breakfast buffet in European hotels features Bircher muesli, which is made with yogurt, oatmeal, hazelnuts and raisins. Also delicious are the Zürcher Geschnetzelte with Rösti, the Engadiner Nusstorte and the Älplermagronen, i.e. macaroni and potato baked with cheese.

The menu of the different linguistic regions is strongly influenced by the neighboring countries to which they border. Thus, each region has produced its own additional local specialties, such as the Lake Geneva region's Papet vaudois (leek stew), the Munder saffron risotto in the canton of Valais, with Mund being the only place in the German-speaking world where saffron is grown. Or the Lozärner Chügelipastete from the Lucerne-Lake Lucerne region, which is a historical specialty of the Lucerne people and is traditionally eaten at the annual Bärteli meal of the guilds.

You can also taste these culinary delicacies at the respective folk festivals or at the regular farmers' markets. Whether Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen or Winterthur - every city has its own farmers' market. Something special are the pass markets at the Swiss alpine passes, like at the Gotthard, on the Oberalp and at the Lukmanier.

And what counts as typical Swiss beverages? While Swiss wine, which is grown in more than 10 cantons, is rarely available outside the Alps, Swiss spirits, such as the dark Alpenbitter, are best known abroad. The Feldschlösschen brewery holds the largest market share in the beer sector, but as everywhere in Europe, many small private breweries have sprung up, especially in recent years. Around 600 of them are counted throughout the country.

The most popular soft drink among the Swiss is Rivella - a carbonated soft drink made from whey, which is now available in several flavors. Produced near Rothrist in the canton of Aargau, the Swiss national non-alcoholic drink is also exported across borders.

A traditional drink of eastern Switzerland is the delicious orange cider, while the sweet and sour lemonade Gassosa is popular in the canton of Ticino.

Arrival and mobility

Getting to Switzerland is possible in many ways. If you are traveling by car, you can use the excellently developed highways, freeways and main roads as well as the pass roads in Switzerland, which provide a connection to all neighboring countries.

The Swiss highway network is considered one of the densest in the world. Since 2008, Switzerland has been a member of the Schengen area, which means that although border controls are no longer required when traveling to and from Switzerland, goods controls are not.

By the way, especially in the Alpine regions, there are more than 20 car-free places, such as Zermatt, where electric buses are in use, Bettmeralp, a car-free high plateau, and the spa town of Braunwald above Rinthal and Rüti. It is convenient to travel by plane to the three national airports of Zurich, Geneva and Basel-Mühlhausen. In addition, there are 11 regional airports and 44 airfields for private air traffic.

The Swiss government invests a lot of money in public transportation, which is why traveling to Switzerland by train is also a relaxing way to get around. Most of the railroad lines are operated by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). Remote towns that are not connected to the dense Swiss railroad network can be reached by post buses and regular buses.

In the wild mountain worlds, the best way to get around is to use the numerous mountain railroads that reach even the highest peaks. At the Jungfraujoch, the highest railroad station in the world was built at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters

But in Zurich and Bern, too, iconic mountain railroads and cable cars take visitors up the surrounding mountains. Local transport in the cities and regions is mainly provided by buses, streetcars and light rail.

With Zurich Airport's Skymetro and Lausanne's Métro, there are only two subways in Switzerland. In the tourist lake areas, there are excursion boats and passenger ferries, which are also excellent for getting from one place to another. As in all large cities, parking spaces for cars are scarce in the major Swiss cities.

Therefore, you should definitely choose either public transportation or the bicycle. The bicycle lanes, which have been increasingly developed in recent years, allow you to reach every corner of a city in no time, without getting stuck in the nerve-racking traffic jams. Also in the vacation regions, the bicycle is an ideal means of transport and the best way to get to know an area in a special way.