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Swiss Alps ©Artur Staszewski
With snow-capped Alps, forested hills, fairytale castles, Renaissance cathedrals, shimmering lakes, stylish spas and luxury ski resorts, it's easy to see why Switzerland has been one of the world's top tourist destinations for the past two centuries.
It is the country that fashioned tourism, so it's no surprise that Switzerland caters to visitors all year round. In spring and summer it offers lakeside chalets, mountain trails and spa resorts. In the sunny southern region of Ticino, near the Italian border, visitors will find palm-fringed Riviera-style resorts offering a variety of water sports. Those keen on hiking and mountaineering will find over 31,000 miles (50,000km) of mountain and forest trails throughout the country.
In November the country's ski resorts begin opening, and visitors pour in throughout the Christmas season and the crowds do not abate until the snow begins to melt with the onset of spring. With the highest pistes in Europe, Switzerland's ski runs offer reliable snow and breathtaking views. Most resorts also have plenty to do for those not so keen on skiing, making Switzerland the perfect destination for a winter fantasy of log fires, fondues and glistening snow.
Switzerland's cities are pristine and beautifully laid out with famous Swiss precision. Zurich is widely regarded as the intellectual and artistic centre of the country, sporting incredible architecture and more than a thousand fountains, with many museums and galleries to boot. Geneva is the principal city for the international community, and is home to hundreds of world organisations. Its setting on the shores of Lake Geneva gives it a romantic atmosphere, and the city has an exciting, if rather expensive, nightlife.
The international country dialling code for Switzerland is +41. Mobile phone GSM networks operate throughout the country. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts; some public phone booths also have internet and email access.
112 (General); 117 (Police); 144 (Ambulance)
The three official languages are Swiss German, French and Italian. A few people speak Romansch, but this is confined to the southeastern corner of the country. Most people know at least three languages, including English.
Travellers to Switzerland over 17 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 2 litres alcohol up to 15 percent and 1 litre alcohol over 15 percent. The maximum allowance of wine is 20 litres, but duty will be payable on this quantity. A reasonable amount of personal effects and gifts (including perfume) to the value of Sfr200 for residents of Switzerland and Sfr100 for other travellers. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.
Electrical current in Switzerland is 230 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are of the linear, rounded three-pin type, but rounded two-pin plugs will fit the outlet.
The temperature is moderate with no extremes of hot and cold, so Switzerland can be visited at anytime of year. Summer is warm to hot lasting from about June to September, and although good for outdoor activities it is also the most crowded time for a holiday. Ski resorts open in late November and remain so until the snow begins to melt in April.
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and as of December 2008, Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
US passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
No visa is required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar, and 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom). All other British nationals are entitled to a maximum stay of 90 days without a visa.
Canadian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
Australian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
South African passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, and a Schengen visa. Temporary passports are not accepted. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
Irish nationals require a valid passport, but no visa is necessary.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to three months. Visitors must hold required documents for return or onward journey.
Swiss medical facilities and health care are among the best in the world, but very expensive and health insurance is recommended. Immunisation certificates are only required if the traveller has been in an infected area within two weeks prior to arrival in the country. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Medical insurance is advised for other nationalities.
Switzerland has a low crime rate compared to other European countries and is generally a safe country to travel in, however there has been a recent increase in petty theft and visitors should be alert to pickpockets and thieves, particularly in the city centres and on public transport. Be aware of robberies on overnight trains.
Emergency Phone Number
112 (General); 117 (Police); 144 (Ambulance)
* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov
The official currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF), divided into 100 rappen (German) or centimes (French). Although not part of the EU, many prices are nonetheless indicated in Euros and some merchants may accept Euros. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are widespread; many are equipped with the Cirrus or Maestro system. Banks offer the best exchange rates, but it is also possible to exchange money at major hotels, main train stations and airports. Banks are open Monday to Friday.
Exchange RateNot available.
Embassies of Switzerland
Swiss Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 745 7900.
Swiss Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7616 6000.
Swiss Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 1837.
Swiss Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6162 8400.
Swiss Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 452 0660.
Swiss Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 218 6382.
Swiss Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 472 1593.
Foreign Embassies in Switzerland
United States Embassy, Bern: +41(0)31 357 7011.
British Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 359 7700.
Canadian Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 357 3200.
Australian Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 (0)22 799 9100.
South African Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 350 1313.
Irish Embassy, Bern: +41 (0)31 352 1442.
New Zealand Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 (0)22 929 0350.
Privacy and discretion are highly valued in Swiss culture, and strangers generally do not speak to each other. The Swiss are naturally reserved and conservative, and prefer structured rules to govern their daily lives. Littering is a serious social crime in Switzerland, and you should also make an effort to throw your recyclables in the proper receptacle. French and German-speaking Switzerland have different customs in some areas. When being introduced to someone, German-speaking Swiss will shake hands, while French-speaking locals may kiss on the cheek three times (generally left, right, left). While many Swiss speak English, it is considered polite to inquire before attempting conversation.
Swiss business culture is based predominantly on merit. The Swiss are masters of building well-oiled machines. The business world reflects this and operates in a similar fashion. Efficiency and organisation are prioritised. A formal, no-nonsense approach is central to business culture in Switzerland. There is little room for humour or lack of preparation in negotiations and business meetings. While the Swiss are slightly less pedantic than their German or French counterparts, great value is attached to appearance and punctuality.
Dress codes for business people in Switzerland are quite formal and conservative, particularly in the banking sector where dark suits are the norm. Sports jackets and a collared shirt and tie will suffice for businessmen while businesswomen in Switzerland should adopt corporate wear - either trousers or suit skirts are appropriate. Business and pleasure are entirely separate in the Swiss work environment. In keeping work and personal compartmentalised, Swiss businesspeople even shy away from calling their colleague's by first names, which reinforces formality and boundaries between work and play. When invited to a Swiss business associate's home, a small gift such as flowers or a box of chocolates is appropriate.
In Swiss business culture those in senior positions garner a great deal of respect, but decision-making processes are often quite democratic. Switzerland is home to over 1000 multinationals and has become something of a melting pot of business customs, regional influences and etiquette. English is the corporate language in Switzerland particularly for multinationals. However, regional languages, such as French, German and Italian, are sometimes preferred in their respective areas. wiss-German business meetings are rarely over food and are often as brief as possible with little small talk. But the Swiss-French and Swiss-Italians often meet over lunches and talk is not restricted only to business. Handshakes are common for addressing both men and women. Business hours are from 8am to 5pm on weekdays with a lunch break from 12pm to 2pm.
A 15 percent service charge is normally included in all hotel, taxi, bar and restaurant bills in Switzerland, and further tipping is not necessary, but small change left over is appreciated.
Public Holidays in Switzerland
Sightseeing in Switzerland is a feast for the senses, with gorgeous, soul-stirring scenery and picture-perfect cities and villages to experience. Switzerland is a country that exudes wealth of both the material and natural kind - after all, this tiny nation has more millionaires and mountains per capita than anywhere else on earth. Its many riches made the country one of the very first global tourist destinations, and as a result, modern-day Switzerland is extremely well prepared for foreign visitors.
Getting to Switzerland's many attractions is effortless, if rather expensive. The rail network is clean and efficient, with other public transport filling the gaps in between. Alternatively, with impeccably maintained and signposted roads, renting a car is an attractive option, especially for travellers who value their independence while abroad.
With cold winters perfect for skiing and mountain viewing, and glorious summers to enjoy the exciting cities of Geneva and Zurich and the charming Alpine villages, Switzerland is truly a year-round destination. An obligatory stop on any grand tour of the continent, Switzerland is a sure bet for travellers looking to experience the best of what Europe has to offer.
Map of Switzerland
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