Switzerland, sometimes referred to as the “island inside Europe,” is a land with many identies. From its busy banking centers in the cities to the lovely mountains and Alpine villages, Switzerland is also a land of many contrasts. The robust culture of this country is exemplified by the four different languages spoken by its population: German, French, Italian, and the native Romansch.
One of the most noteable Swiss traits is their model efficiency, seen everywhere from their clean and timely rail system to their beatifully organized parks. Switzerland is a wonderful place to travel, and this efficiency makes traveling around the country so easy that day trips into the mountains or heading off to another city on a whim are easy and well worth the effort.
Traveling in Switzerland
Switzerland is by far one of the most pleasant countries in Europe to get around. The train system is first rate–clean, friendly, and efficient. Most places in the country can be reached within a couple of hours, and the train is certainly the desired mode of transport, being both comfortable and offering you the ablity to take in the scenery unfolding outside your cabin window.
Due to what some of the Swiss refer to as their country’s “secret banking” Switzerland does not use the Euro as its currency. This is only a minor inconvience, and some places do except the Euro, as well as the Swiss Franc. Prices in Switzerland tend to be higher than other places in Europe (particularly in the summertime), but for the budget-conscious traveler Switzerland has some of the best hostels in Europe, which–for a backpacker–is the preferred place to rest your blissed-out head and tired feet. Try to book in advance as the hostels fill up quickly. In the summer, they’re often fully booked months ahead of time.
Weather in Switzerland
The weather in Switzerland can vary a tremendously. Due to its rugged geography, Switzerland has many microclimates; you can leave one beautiful sunny place only to travel a half-hour away and find it cloudy, cold, and overcast. The southern part of the country gets more of the Mediterranean climate, while the rest of Switzerland tends toward conditions more typical of central Europe, with temperatures in the summer reaching 20° to 25°C, and 1° to 5°C in the winter.
What to Know
SwitzerlandTaking advantage of Switzerland’s great transportation system is easy. Don’t be afraid to use it to discover as much of the country as possible, which is not hard even if you intend keep a single “home base” from which to travel outward. Hostels are cheap and a good place to meet people; many have private rooms, so are more like higher-end hotels. Take advantage of travelers’ knowledge at any hostel and you’ll be able to glean more timely and pertinent information about the country–such as, other places to stay, where the crowds are, the best routes to take, good eats, etc.–than most guidebooks will be able to offer. If you intend to walk into a hostel and book a room for the same day, make sure to get there early, as many have daily sign ups for rooms that are not opened up until later in the afternoon/evening: the earlier you get your name on the list, the better chance you have of getting a bed for the night.
Population: 7.3 million
Government: Federal Republic
Square Miles: 16,105 sq mi (41,295 sq km)
Capitol: Bern (pop 130,000)
Official Language: German, French, Italian, and Romansch
People: 74% German, 20% French, 4% Italian, 1% Romansch
Religion: 49% Roman Catholic, 48% Protest
Major products/industries: Banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, precision instruments, tourism