When we had the opportunity to visit Switzerland but only a short window of time to do so, I initially thought there was no way we’d see very much of the country. I could not have been more wrong. In three days we were able to immerse ourselves in the culture and splendor of Switzerland (with a bonus stop in Lichenstein!) learning a great deal about this amazing country and invaluable travel tips, too.
The first, and most beneficial travel tip I have for visiting a country within a short window of time is to sign up for a full day tour of areas that interest you. It’s the quickest, most-convenient, least stressful way to cover a lot of territory and experience highlights of the area. No worries about getting lost, finding a restaurant, ordering the best food, or even figuring out where to shop for the items you want. On a quality tour, you’ll have an insider’s view and recommendations from experts who know the area and the country inside-out.
“Heidiland, The Great Country Tour” through Gray Line is the first tour we chose which covered Zurich, Rapperswil, Toggenburg, Liechtenstein and Heidiland. As country folk, we wanted to get a taste of rural life in Switzerland but I have to admit we were also attracted to the idea of seeing two countries in one day. During the tour we learned a great deal about the agriculture, tourism, and political structure of the country. Breath-taking views and enchanting moments.
The second tour we chose was “Mountains, Cheese and Chocolates” through Best of Switzerland Tours. Despite the fact that we chose to take this tour on a Swiss holiday, which meant the chocolate outlet was closed, we still had a fabulous time and we still got our chocolate at other shops along the way our guide directed us to, plus we each received a complimentary bar at the end of the tour, nice touch!
Which leads to my second tip – when visiting a country on a national holiday, expect businesses to be closed and remain flexible in your itinerary. While we were barred from doing some things, like visiting the chocolate factory outlet store, we were able to experience once-in-a lifetime events we would not have access to any other time. So while there is a minus, there is often a huge plus.
The drawback to tours is not always having enough time at each location to look around or shop as much as you might like, but when you are on a limited time schedule, it’s a compromise you make. See a lot, stay a little.
However, I did find that each tour allowed us ample time to explore and get a good flavor for the area, particularly the stops where we had extra time to dine. We never felt rushed and all along the way, we were constantly presented with stunning scenery and excellent insights from our tour guide covering a wide array of topics from forestry, government and laws to banking and classroom education.
Full day tour prices can seem a little spendy on the surface, but when you weigh the cost of the tour against the price of a rental car, gas, maps and tour guide books, they are quite close. We found the tours that we took actually priced lower than the alternatives. Discounts are generally available for children, which lowers the cost of the tour even further.
My third tip, and one I always find beneficial for family travel, is to let your children lead the way. It’s easy to get caught up in rushing through exhibits and trying to get your children to pay attention to every detail – because you never know when they will need to recall the big celestial clock or sundial you just saw on the building! – the journey can be far more rewarding to let them point out what they notice and allow them to get excited by their surroundings, supplementing their exploration with the tidbits (like why those clocks are important and what Roman numerals are) along the way.
We certainly control where we are headed, but once we are there, it’s refreshing to just go with the flow and not put pressure on ourselves or the children to see every iota. Over-processing only leads to over-exhaustion and can often lead to you missing things you would have over-looked in your rush to “see it all.”
Other tips that may come in handy during your Switzerland travels:
Be sure to check the currency exchange prior to traveling. This will come in handy when determining how much you are actually paying for an item or meal.
Avoid high priced currency exchanges at the airports and other locations. A better option is to obtain currency from your bank prior to your trip or to use your ATM card to withdraw local currency. The fees from the ATM are generally far cheaper than visiting an exchange booth service.
When dining out, food prices are quite high. Expect to spend a good chunk of your budget on food. For example, a reasonable dinner for four exceeded our hotel bill for a night’s stay. A way to help curb costs is to find a hotel with a buffet breakfast included, which will take care of one meal each day, plus often offer items like apples and bananas that can be tossed in your backpack for snacking later.
Ordering water to your table in Switzerland is spendy! Most restaurants wanted the American equivalency of $12 for a liter of bottled water. If you enjoy other beverages, it’s generally less expensive to order them and drink water along your travels outside of the restaurant. Grocery stores offer water bottles for significantly less and many areas have public water “fountains” where you can fill up the bottles with fresh water.
The public transportation system in Switzerland is excellent and inexpensive. It’s a great way to travel to and from the airport as well as throughout the cities and country. However, it can be difficult to navigate, especially when instructions are often not in English! We found that working with our hotel concierge and a transportation map was the best way to ensure we arrived at our desired destinations. When in doubt, we did find plenty of friendly passengers and public transit employees who were very helpful in pointing us in the right direction, too!