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Switzerland
Switzerland
10.11.12

Switzerland awaits your arrival with fantastic alpine scenery, superb gastronomy, modern museums and plenty of delightful winter traditions. We’ve prepared a list of handy tips with Swiss savoir-faire so you don’t miss a beat when visiting this stunning country.

Swiss Rail Passes

Non-Swiss travelers can take advantage of special rail passes for Swiss Rail’s vast network of trains:

  • Swiss Pass: Allows unlimited travel for consecutive days by train, bus and boat on the Swiss Travel System network, plus free entry to 450 museums; 50% discounts apply on most gondolas, funiculars and mountain railways.
  • Swiss Flexipass: Same as Swiss Pass, but available for less days or nonconsecutive days; 50% discounts on days in between.
  • Swiss Card: Round-trip travel from any Swiss airport or border station; 50% discount on tickets within the country; valid for one month.
  • Swiss Transfer Ticket: Simple round trip from the airport to your destination at less cost than a point-to-point ticket.
  • Half-Fare Card: 1 month of half-price travel on nearly all Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) trains, postal buses, public transport, lake vessels and mountain railways.

For more information, visit:
traintickets.myswitzerland.com/index.html
www.swissrailways.com/index.php?show_wizard=1

Local Trains & Day Passes

Most Swiss trains don’t require reservations. It’s easy to buy point-to-point tickets at all rail stations. Day passes that allow unrestricted travel with the Half-Fare Card (see Swiss Rail Passes, above) are available at larger stations. Day passes and single tickets for local trains are self-control, meaning passengers must date stamp them before boarding. Look for machines in the railway ticket office or on platforms.

Highway Permit

To cover the cost of maintaining the pristine Swiss autobahns, all motorists must buy an annual vignette (permit) and affix it to their car’s windshield—even if they only use the car for an hour and are only passing through the country. Vignettes are available at border crossings, service stations, post offices, car rental agencies and Swiss Touring Club offices for 40 Swiss francs ($42 U.S.). Cash fines are steep if you’re caught without a vignette or if the sticker is improperly affixed.

Petrol

If you’re driving, keep in mind that gas stations in Switzerland don’t always accept credit cards and they charge by the liter (1 gallon = 3.79 liters). Be prepared with Swiss francs of varying denominations or enough gas to get you to the next station that accepts credit cards. Stations aren’t always open 24 hours, and certain pumps and cash machines require a minimum payment of 10 or 20 Swiss francs ($10.50-$21 U.S.), regardless of how much petrol you need.

Parking Zones

Swiss parking regulations are strict and classified by colored zones in large cities. Fines are forwarded to your home, payable in Swiss francs. Free or discounted park-and-ride lots on the outskirts of big cities are connected by tram or rail, and may be the best option if you have a rental car.

  • Blue Zones: 1 hour of permit-free parking during the day. Requires a parking disc time device (parkscheibe) on the dashboard at all times. Car rental agencies provide these devices with their cars; you can also get complimentary parking discs from tourist offices, TCS motoring club offices, gas stations, police stations and banks. Day permits (tageskarten or tagesbewilligung) for Blue Zones are available at police stations in Zurich for 15 Swiss francs ($16 U.S.) per day.
  • White Zones: Unlimited permit-free parking.
  • Red Zones: Up to 15 hours with a red parking disc. Available at the same places you find Blue Zone devices (see above).

Cross-Country Ski Tickets

In Switzerland, most cross-country trail skiing is subject to a fee. If you plan to cross-country between villages in the Goms Valley area, you’ll need to buy a ticket. Ski patrols do check, and skiers caught without one will be fined. But at less than 10 Swiss francs per day (approx. $10.60 U.S.), trail tickets are a bargain. You can buy them at certain area hotels or the small huts found on the side of the skiing trails.

Three Languages & English

Residents of the three regions of Switzerland each speak a different language. In the west (Geneva, Lausanne, Sion), it’s French. In the southeast (Lugano), it’s Italian. The majority of people—who make up central and eastern Switzerland (Bern, Basel, Zurich)—speak Swiss-German, which is pronounced differently than standard German. Many Swiss speak excellent English, especially in larger cities and tourist areas, but don’t expect it—citizens of smaller towns often stick to their own language. Always have a few phrases ready for greetings, gratitude and necessities (directions to gas stations and restrooms).

Banks & Francs

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union and still uses Swiss francs. Although euros are accepted more widely in Geneva, don’t bank on it elsewhere. Hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, tourist locales, rail and gas stations may accept euros, but you’ll usually get Swiss francs as change. Many establishments take credit cards, but since Switzerland is more cash-oriented than other countries, it’s a good idea to have Swiss francs on hand. Get them at any Swiss ATM or bank, or visit the currency exchange in most Swiss airports and rail stations.

Saving – It’s a Cultural Habit

The Swiss are known for saving—and not just money. Hallway lights in traditional chalets, smaller hotels, B&Bs and rentals are often automatic, meaning you may think there’s a blackout when there isn’t. Push the switch when entering a hallway to turn on the lights and they’ll turn off automatically after a few minutes. Some lights are motion-sensitive. At tunnels, stoplights and rail crossings, or while waiting in traffic or lines, the Swiss also turn off car headlights and engines.

The Swiss Way

Orderly, precise, conscientious and conservative all describe the Swiss. As courteous and law-abiding people, they expect the same of others. Give up seats for the elderly and don’t put your feet on train seats without taking off your shoes—a conductor may give you a slap on the foot. In general, mind your manners, keep things tidy and try to maintain a low-key profile.

Shopping Hours

Fiercely protective of workers and their free time, the Swiss continue to vote for restrictions on retail hours. Regulations vary by canton (province), but in general:

  • Stores are closed on Sunday.
  • Retail and grocery stores close between 6:30 and 7 p.m. on weekdays, and between 4 and 6 p.m. on Saturdays; service shops may be closed midday for lunch breaks.
  • One night per week (usually Thursdays), shops stay open until 9 p.m.
  • In downtown Zurich and Basel and at regional shopping centers, stores stay open until 8 or 9 p.m. on weekdays.
  • Bakeries, newsstands, florists, gas stations, rail stations, airports and tourist areas are granted exemptions to stay open longer.
  • Many pharmacies are closed on Tuesdays.

Special Needs

Travelers with impaired mobility will find it easy to get around Switzerland. Trains and buses as well as many cable cars, funiculars and boats are wheelchair-accessible. The Swiss Rail network offers the SBB Call Center Handicap for passenger assistance and help choosing suitable trains. Special badges for the disabled are available for cars. Mobility International Switzerland provides a database of wheelchair-accessible restaurants, short-term accommodations and tourist attractions, as well as accessibility information and traveler reports.

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