Things to do 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.

Fraumünster Church photo

Fraumünster Church

Of the church spires that characterise Zurich's skyline, the thin blue spire of Fraumünster is the most graceful. Overlooking the historic old square of Münsterhof, the former pi…

Fraumünster Church

Of the church spires that characterise Zurich's skyline, the thin blue spire of Fraumünster is the most graceful. Overlooking the historic old square of Münsterhof, the former pig market, the church was founded in 853 and its convent inhabited by German noblewomen until the 13th century. Important architectural features include the Romanesque choir and the enormous elaborate organ, but its chief attractions are the five beautiful stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall in 1970.

Address Münsterhof 2

Website www.fraumuenster.ch

Opens 10am-5pm (November to February) and 10am-6pm (March to October).

Admission

CHF 5 (including audioguide or brochure)

Rhine Falls photo

Rhine Falls

An excellent day trip from Zurich and close to the town of Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls (Rheinfall) is the largest and waterfall in Europe, impressive not so much for its height o…

Rhine Falls

An excellent day trip from Zurich and close to the town of Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls (Rheinfall) is the largest and waterfall in Europe, impressive not so much for its height of 75ft (23m), but more for the volume of water thundering over its broad breadth. This natural wonder is especially remarkable during spring, when the snowmelt adds to its volume. On the hill above the falls is a medieval castle, Schloss Laufen, housing a restaurant, shops and a hostel. Rainbow-coloured mists rising from the forest and encircling the castle create an enchanting atmosphere. In summer one of the highlights of a visit to the falls is a boat trip across the white-water of the cataracts to the Centre Rock, with a short climb up some stairs to the top for an exhilarating view of the rushing water. Breathtaking views can also be enjoyed from three different lookout platforms along a path leading from the castle. The Känzeli Lookout, with a protruding platform at the base of the falls, is the most spectacular.

The Rhine Falls is host to the fantastic fireworks display held on Swiss National Day (1 August) that attracts thousands of spectators every year.

Website www.rheinfall.ch/

Transport

By car and by train (Rheinfall Neuhausen).

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) photo

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)

One of the largest lakes in central Europe and shared by both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) has for decades drawn visitors to …

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)

One of the largest lakes in central Europe and shared by both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) has for decades drawn visitors to its shores. Attracted by the alpine panorama, quaint wooden chalet villages, vineyard-covered slopes and sailboats skimming across the blue waters, many famous writers, musical composers, actors and poets came to settle and the area has become something of an inspiration to the arts. Situated in the westernmost district of Vaud, the region contains a diversity of attractions and activities, from wine-growing villages and mountain ski resorts, picturesque castles, and magnificent cathedrals, to low-key lakeside resorts, boat cruises, and cosy fireside pots of fondue. Sophisticated shopping and cultural life can be found in the cities of Geneva and Lausanne, with sweeping views across the sparkling lake to the Alps and the distinctive pinnacle of Mont Blanc. Among the vineyards and affluent villas clinging to the slopes lie the lakeside towns of Vevey and Montreux, the pearls of the Swiss Riviera.

Scenic winding roads stretch along the shores, and train trips offer outstanding views, while below steamers crisscross the waters of Lake Geneva, offering a variety of ways to experience the splendour of its location.

Lausanne photo

Lausanne

Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the energetic city of Lausanne is built above the lake on a sequence of tiers connected by a small metro. The upper or Old Town contains the g…

Lausanne

Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the energetic city of Lausanne is built above the lake on a sequence of tiers connected by a small metro. The upper or Old Town contains the grand Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame; its turreted towers a well-known symbol of the city. The lower town on the lakeshore was once the small fishing village of Ouchy and is now the prime waterfront area with outdoor dining and cafés, promenades and sporting activities. The gardens around the Quay d'Ouchy are home to the city's foremost attraction, the Olympic Museum, containing a wealth of sporting memories and a collection of unique objects pertaining to the Olympic Games from its beginning until the present. Lausanne relishes its importance as the Olympic World Capital and headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.

Website www.lausanne-tourisme.ch

Château de Chillon photo

Château de Chillon

One of the best-maintained medieval castles in Europe, the 13th-century Château de Chillon is the most visited historical building in Switzerland. With its stunning lakeside locat…

Château de Chillon

One of the best-maintained medieval castles in Europe, the 13th-century Château de Chillon is the most visited historical building in Switzerland. With its stunning lakeside location near the chic town of Montreux, jutting out into the water and framed by mountains, it is one of the most photographed castles in Europe. An important fortress in the Middle Ages, it was positioned to control the narrow passage between mountains and lake, protecting the major north-south route. It was also the favourite summer residence of the Counts of Savoy; while later, it served as a state prison. Visitors can tour the dungeons where the castle's most famous prisoner was chained for four years, the priest François Bonivard: a supporter of the Reformation. The fortress became famous when Lord Byron wrote about Bonivard's fate in an inspired poem entitled Prisoner of Chillon. Besides the dungeons, visitors can wander round the towers and courtyards, discover narrow secret passages, and see the grand knight's halls, frescoed chapel, luxurious bedchambers and rooms containing medieval weapons, furniture and paintings.

Address Avenue de Chillon 21

Website www.chillon.ch

Transport

By car, train (Veytaux) or bus (line 201 from Vevey, Montreux and Villeneuve).

Opens April to September, 9am-7pm (last entry at 6pm); October, 9:30am-6pm (last entry at 5pm); November to February, 10am-5pm (last entry at 4pm); March, 9:30-6pm (last entry at 5pm)

Admission

CHF 12.50 adults, CHF 6 for children ages 6-15 years, other concessions available

Bern photo

Bern

According to legend, Bern was named when its founder, Berchtold, was advised to go on a hunt and to name the town after the first beast that he caught. The bear has remained the sy…

Bern

According to legend, Bern was named when its founder, Berchtold, was advised to go on a hunt and to name the town after the first beast that he caught. The bear has remained the symbol of the capital city ever since. One of the most charming cities in Europe, its Old Town centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the preservation of its cobbled medieval street plan, with many fountains, towers and a massive astronomical clock. With its relaxed atmosphere, farmers' markets and friendly people, it is easy to forget that this is the Swiss capital, an important city of politicians and international meetings. And with its interesting museums, theatres, long-standing monuments and landmarks, Bern is a popular base from which to explore the mountains and lakes of the nearby Bernese Oberland.

Website www.berninfo.com

Polybahn and Rigiblick Funiculars photo

Polybahn and Rigiblick Funiculars

Trains, buses, trams and bikes are common ways of getting around Zurich. To get above the bustling streets and cobbled walkways, travellers should hop onto either the Polybahn or R…

Polybahn and Rigiblick Funiculars

Trains, buses, trams and bikes are common ways of getting around Zurich. To get above the bustling streets and cobbled walkways, travellers should hop onto either the Polybahn or Rigiblick Funicular for panoramic views of the city and Lake Zurich. The traditional Polybahn was first opened in 1889 to solve the transport problem of students travelling from central Zurich to the University of Technology, which is situated on the towering Zürichberg hill. The Polybahn has maintained its classic Swiss appearance and continues to haul students and tourists to the Polyterasse viewpoint. Serving an attractive neighbourhood north of Zurich, the Rigiblick Funicular rewards travellers with a sweeping panoramic view of the city and the unmistakable Mount Rigi (1797m).

Address Polybahn: Central station (Hauptbahnhof). Rigiblick: Seilbahn

Niederdorf photo

Niederdorf

Situated in the old town, across from central station, the narrow lanes of Niederdorf wind through towering 14th century buildings revealing small plazas where restaurants spill on…

Niederdorf

Situated in the old town, across from central station, the narrow lanes of Niederdorf wind through towering 14th century buildings revealing small plazas where restaurants spill onto cobbled streets and buskers entertain diners and passers-by with miscellaneous music. This charming district has an interesting array of fashion stores, bookshops and antique dealers as well as superb independent cheese, wine and pastry shops. In the evening the area transforms into one of Zurich's buzzing nightlife venues with a wide selection of bars, restaurants and clubs to be explored.

Address Niederdorfstrasse

Jet d'Eau photo

Jet d'Eau

One of the tallest fountains in the world, the Jet d'Eau is a Geneva attraction that cannot be missed. Projecting 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200…

Jet d'Eau

One of the tallest fountains in the world, the Jet d'Eau is a Geneva attraction that cannot be missed. Projecting 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200km/h) and pumping 132 gallons (500 litres) of water per second, the fountain was initially established to release pressure for hydropower generation on the Rhone River, but was so loved by the populace that in 1891 the city created a permanent fountain. As Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York has the Empire State Building, Geneva has the Jet d'Eau. For a breathtaking and romantic sight, tourists should visit at night, when the fountain is lit up.

Address Quai Gustav-Ador

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum photo

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

One of the most creative and thought-provoking museums in Europe, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum brings together sculpture, installation, photography and film …

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

One of the most creative and thought-provoking museums in Europe, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum brings together sculpture, installation, photography and film to highlight the importance of human rights, the history of conflict in the 20th century and the humanitarian work the Red Cross has done in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in both war and natural disasters. Funded entirely by outside donors, the museum is appropriately situated on the hillside opposite the United Nations, within the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A significant stopover on a visit to Geneva, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum provides insight into the gross implications of war and the tragedy that surrounds, as well as the committed work of the volunteers and Red Cross representatives alike. All the exhibits have an English language option.

Address 17 Avenue de la Paix

Website http://www.redcrossmuseum.ch/en/

Opens 10am-6pm (April to October), 10am-5pm (November to March)

Admission

CHF 15

Public Parks photo

Public Parks

Public parks cover over one quarter of Geneva providing the populace with a quiet haven of rolling lawns and tree lined walkways. Dotted with many curious sculptures and attraction…

Public Parks

Public parks cover over one quarter of Geneva providing the populace with a quiet haven of rolling lawns and tree lined walkways. Dotted with many curious sculptures and attractions, there are a few parks worthwhile visiting. Bastion Park houses the 328-foot (100m) Reformation Wall, a monument commemorating the major figures and events of the Protestant Reformation, as well as life size chess boards at the north end of the park.

To view the famous flower clock, a symbol of the Swiss watch industry, head to the English Garden close to the water fountain and for outstanding views of Mont Blanc and the lake, Park Moynier is a firm favourite, with the History of Science Museum situated in the centre. Twenty hectares of woodland and hiking trails is what you will find at Batie Woods on the outskirts of the city.


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Barbier-Mueller Museum photo

Barbier-Mueller Museum

Featuring a comprehensive collection of 7,000 artworks and artefacts from civilisations around the world, the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva is the outcome of the tireless accumu…

Barbier-Mueller Museum

Featuring a comprehensive collection of 7,000 artworks and artefacts from civilisations around the world, the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva is the outcome of the tireless accumulations of Josef Mueller, whose collection began in 1907 and is continued to this day by his heirs. Founded in 1977, the museum wanted to preserve and study the sculptures, fabrics and ornaments brought from "primitive" civilisations that were once isolated communities. Visitors should look out for the megalithic monuments from Indonesia, the statues and items of worship from Oceania, pre-Columbian art from the Americas and ancient masks and shields from Africa.

Address 10 Rue Jean-Calvin

Website www.barbier-mueller.ch

Transport

By bus: 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 12 (Molard stop) and 36 (Hôtel de Ville stop)

Opens 11am to 5pm

Admission

CHF 8 adults, free for children under 12, other concessions available.

Swiss Alps photo

Swiss Alps

The Alps contain some of Switzerland's most dramatic landscapes, in a country already well endowed with spectacular scenery and fabulous alpine vistas. Situated at the heart of the…

Swiss Alps

The Alps contain some of Switzerland's most dramatic landscapes, in a country already well endowed with spectacular scenery and fabulous alpine vistas. Situated at the heart of the Alps, Switzerland shares the mountain range with France, Italy and Austria and provides winter and summer time enjoyment for skiers, snowboarders, walkers and climbers. Switzerland boasts the first ever ski resort, and since then over 200 first-class resorts have attracted thousands of Swiss and international downhill and cross-country skiers as well as snowboarders.

The tradition of skiing goes back two centuries. Today, with more than 1,700 mountain railways and ski lifts, renowned ski schools and instructors, the best ski equipment in the world, and outstanding slopes and facilities catering for all levels of ability, it deserves to be called 'Europe's winter playground'. The ideal resort for beginners or families is Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region, while intermediates and snowboarders head for the twin resorts of Davos and Klosters, with miles of excellent ski terrain and acclaimed to be one of the top snowboarding destinations worldwide.

Expert skiers can enjoy the challenge of 7,200 ft (2,700m) vertical drops on the Klein Matterhorn at Zermatt, and the ski valley of Verbier is ideal for shoulder-season skiing as its location provides early snow that lingers late into the spring. The stylish resort of St Moritz offers the most energetic and varied nightlife out of all the Swiss resorts. The ideal ski season runs from January to late March, but is most crowded during the Christmas holidays and the month of February. Climbers and walkers head to the Alps between June and September when the weather is warmer and more settled. There are more than 40,390 miles (65,000km) of well-marked and maintained hiking trails as well as longer treks across the country that will reveal miles and miles of unspoiled beauty.

Grindelwald has long been the capital of summer hiking in the Bernese Alps, and more recently added a network of groomed trails for winter hikers. Climbers have long been lured by the challenges of the Matterhorn and there are some memorable hikes up to the cliffs below the summit. The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) is the best source of information on mountaineering. The most accessible and visited alpine area is the magnificent Bernese Oberland region in the centre of the country with classic Swiss scenery - picturesque peaks, quaint wooden chalets and charming mountain villages, green pastures, lakes and the tinkle of cow bells. This is a fabulous area for walking and provides exceptional winter sports.


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