Fondue, anyone? Today I’m going to share some photos and blather on about a few Switzerland travel tips. What a neat chunk of planet this place is. So for those of you aspiring to Financial Independence, keep saving up and put this destination on your travel list. Switzerland travel tips, here we come!
For those of you already debt-free and looking to travel somewhere awwwzome, look no further than Die Schweiz! (Or, if you’re like me and don’t give a sh*t about debt, go anyhow. You’ll still have fun!)
Much of what I’m about to recount is from nine years ago. I don’t think Switzerland has changed all that much since then. They still use Swiss Francs for their primary currency and most places take dollars and euros. And credit cards. The people are nice and speak English, especially those YOU will interact with as tourists.
Ever since our ’09 trip, I’ve referred to this lovely country as Disneyland for Grown-ups. That’s right. Disneyland proper is for kids, so stop kidding yourself that you need to keep going back as an adult.
Switzerland is what you need to mature into, Pipsqueak. It’s just as pricey as Disney, but more grown-up friendly. It really is like a well-manicured theme park there. The trains are clean and run on time. The scenery, especially in the Alps, is spectacular. And the food is pretty dang good. (Why am I comparing this to Disneyland again???)
Switzerland Travel Tips: Getting There
This part sucked. The one time I really hated on President Obama was when he visited NYC the same day we were to fly out of JFK to Zurich. You can guess what happened. The traffic, both street and air, got hosed up for hours.
Our only recourse, with our flight delayed for HALF A DAY was to get an earlier connection to Atlanta, and then skip over the pond around tea time (or tee-time in Georgia.) I’ll never forget how crummy it was trying to sleep on cylindrical benches at JFK, before our 4AM flight to Atlanta.
The flight from Atlanta to Zurich was uneventful. I had a fleeting moment of wishing I’d voted for McCain but it must’ve been drug induced. At any rate, we get to Zurich and our luggage hadn’t arrived with us. But of course!
We didn’t get too wound up about it. Zurich is a highly efficient airport with English speaking help at every corner. And it sure didn’t hurt to clear Customs and have our friends waiting at the door to pick us up. Finally, we’re on VACATION.
Zurich and other burgermeister bergs
I like European cities. We’ve been to Paris. I’ve seen Oslo. Zurich is similar to both in its own way: Pretty old buildings, a fairly efficient and easy to use mass transit, and tourists everywhere!!!
Rick Steves is one of my favorite people. His books are supremely useful, and “must reads” for those visiting a European country for the first time. We use Rick to help us navigate our own walking tours. He picks good restaurants across different price ranges, and most importantly, he keeps us from coming off as Americans in Socks with Sandals…
Steves gives his best advice in his Switzerland guide by advising us to skip the cities and head straight for the Alps. Based on our experience, he was spot-on. Granted, you can’t beat a fine European city. You could do worse!
But when you have the Alps within reach, don’t fart around at sidewalk cafes. Save that for Paris!
Pilatus and Luzern First
On our way out of Zurich to the Alps (the Berner Oberland, to be specific) we took the train and my oh my, did the scenery get ever more spectacular as the trek moved on. A stop at Mount Pilatus is a fun little day trip.
There’s lots of activities for the whole family, and a neat observation deck at the top of the mountain. We didn’t climb it. Why would you, when Switzerland has mastered the art of cable car technology?
After a few hours of taking in the fine views atop Pilatus, we ambled down the mountain not in a cable car, but instead on a cogwheel train. That was pretty cool. Slow, but fun.
Luzern awaited. What a pretty town. We would spend the night here at one of the cleanest, and spartan hostels on the planet. You don’t mind sharing bathroom facilities in Switzerland, and this hostel was no exception. Not that I minded sharing facilities in Peru, but at least Switzerland had hot showers.
Finally, the Swiss ALPS!
After the overnight in Luzern, we were off to the Berner Oberland. We had chosen to stay roughly halfway up the mountains in a little town called Gimmelwald. We pretty much followed the Rick Steves’ script – and so glad we did. The views alone were worth staying in this quiet farming community. A more ritzy, ski resort town called Muren was just a short 15 minute hike up the mountain.
Hiking in the Alps is incredibly fun. You can amble about on easier hikes with limited undulation, or go full-on alpine. We stuck to the easier stuff, but definitely got our walk on, putting in a good 10 miles or so one day. Gotta earn your fondue dinner. That stuff is rich!
There is so much going on here in the summertime, but you never feel crowded by tourists. The wait times at restaurants were very reasonable, and hiking trails were far from congested. Sometimes it felt like we had the whole mountain to ourselves.
Bond, James Bond
One of the highlights was taking a cable car up to the top of Schilthorn – Piz Gloria. This was the set used in the Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It is absolutely crazy to think about the effort to put this sophisticated, modern structure atop an alp. With a rotating deck, no less!
There is an option to hike your way down, but we wisely chose the cable car option. Even then, it was so windy coming down, we were literally stuck for about 5 minutes. Add a few nearby lightning cracks for terrifying effect and you start getting nervous. Again though, something about confidence in all things Swiss engineered kept me from freaking out.
The Verdict: Can’t Miss!
We absolutely LOVED Switzerland. And we only got to see some of the highlights. That said, what we did manage to get to were the top of the list from Rick Steves’ perspective, so we feel good we took the itinerary we did. And once you’ve stepped foot in the alps, you wonder why you spent a hot minute in the fine Swiss cities.
What made our trip as affordable as it was came down to a few tried-and-true tactics that I highly recommend:
- Stay at a hostel, and stay with friends. We are so fortunate to have friends who live just outside of Zurich. They are gracious hosts, and we anticipate getting back soon, with the twins about ready for a Transatlantic adventure. Oh, and hostels here are better and cleaner than most US hotels. Back then we paid about $100 a night – not sure if that rate still holds in 2018…
- Buy and prepare your own breakfast and lunch. With hiking, it’s kind of a no-brainer to hit the grocery store beforehand and buy some fancy Swiss bread, hard boiled eggs, and gruyere to make an oh so good sandwich. (If only their bread came pre-sliced for travelers without serrated bread knives in tow!)
- Use the mass transit options. It’s so easy to get around by train and cable car in Switzerland. I won’t tell you the trains are cheap, but it’s definitely a better deal and less hassle than renting a car. Sit back and enjoy the rails!
- Don’t blow your money on souvenirs. Buy some mass produced Lindt chocolates at the supermarket for cheap if you have to. Otherwise photos make the best and most lasting souvenirs.
- Get stranded at JFK so you can write a complaint letter to your chosen airline. You might get some compensation. But then, ideally, your flight goes off without a hitch.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever been to Switzerland, and what you’d recommend checking out. I’m also happy to answer any general questions for those thinking about a trip there. Auf Wiedersehen!