Transportation - Get In
Major international airports are in Zurich IATA: ZRH, Geneva IATA: GVA and Basel (for the Swiss part: IATA: BSL) , with smaller airports in LuganoIATA: LUG and Berne IATA: BRN. Some airlines fly to Friedrichshafen, Germany which is just across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) from Romanshorn, not too far from Zurich.
Basel airport is a peculiar case, as it also serves neighbouring Mulhouse and Freiburg and has three different IATA codes, as well as different customs procedure (and sometimes even airfares) depending on whether you fly to "Basel" or "Mulhouse". The airport also has an area code for the "metro-area" IATA: EAP that should get you flights for both destinations.
Almost all major European airlines fly to at least one Swiss airport. The flag carrier of Switzerland are the Swiss International Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance and the Lufthansa Group. Together with their subsidiaries, charter/holiday airline Edelweiss Air and short-haul Swiss European Air Lines, they offer connections to most major airports across Europe, as well as many intercontinental destinations.
Additionally, some smaller Swiss-based airlines also offer connections to Switzerland - Etihad Regional mainly out of Geneva and Lugano, Helvetic Airways out of Zurich and Berne and Sky Work Airlines out of Berne and Basel. AirBerlin also has a marked presence in the Swiss market through its subsidiary Belair, although pretty much all flights are sold as AirBerlin flights.
The major European low-fare airlines, however, have very limited presence in Switzerland, usually offering a singular flight from their home hub to either Zurich or Geneva. The exception is EasyJet, who has a dedicated subsidiary, EasyJet Switzerland, and offers flights to and from Basel, Geneva and Zurich within its usual low-fare business model. Ryanair flies to Basel from Dublin and London Stansted, as well as to Strasbourg and Baden-Baden in nearby France and Germany respectively.
In the winter season, many airlines specialising in charter and holiday flights offer connections to Swiss airports to cater to the skiing and winter sport markets.
It is possible to fly into an airport nearby in a neighbouring country. Grenoble in France is an alternative for Geneva and Stuttgart (IATA: STR) and Munich Airport (IATA: MUC) in Germany are in driving distance to Bern and Zurich respectively. There is a small airportin Memmingen (IATA: FMM), catering primarily to no-frills airlines that is close to the border and marketed as being close to Munich (which it isn't).
Due to the excellent train connections (see below) you might also conceivably fly into Frankfurt Airport (IATA: FRA) and take the train from there.
Switzerland is, together with Germany, one of the most centrally located countries in Europe, and trains arrive from all parts of Europe. Some major routes include:
- The TGV Lyria (Train à grande vitesse, French/Swiss high-speed railway connection), with several trains daily from/to Paris, Dijon, Lyon, Valence, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Toulon, Cannes, Antibes, and Nice.
- Examples of travel time: Paris-Geneva 3h, -Lausanne 3.5h, -Basel 3h, -Berne 4h, -Zurich 4h;
- and Geneva-Lyon 2h, -Avignon 3h, -Marseille 3.5h, -Nice 6.5h;
- and Basel-Marseille 5h
- Hourly EuroCity (EC) trains to/from Milan with connections to all parts of Italy.
- Examples of travel time: Milano-Berne 3h, -Basel 4h, -Geneva 4h, -Zurich 4h
- Regular ICE (InterCity Express, German high-speed trains) from Zurich / Interlaken via Berne, Basel to Freiburg i.B., Offenburg, Baden-Baden, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Frankfurt a.M. (main railway station or airport) in Germany, many continuing toward Cologne and Dortmund, or Hannover and Hamburg, or Berlin, or Amsterdam.
- Examples of travel time: Frankfurt Airport-Basel 3h, -Berne 4h, -Interlaken 5h, -Zurich 4h
- Regular ICE trains between Zurich and Stuttgart, travel time 3h
- Regular EuroCity (EC) trains between Zurich and Munich, travel time 4h
- Regular RailJet (RJ) trains between Zurich and Innsbruck (3.5h), Salzburg (5.5h), Vienna (8h) in Austria, and further to the east
- Night trains from Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, and Belgrade to Basel, Geneva, Zurich and some also to Lausanne. These trains are either EuroNight (symbol: EN) or CityNightLine (symbol: CNL) services. Due to business decisions by Deutsche Bahn as well as other European railways, many of these connections are to be phased out in the near future. Austrian ÖBB on the other hand has given a commitment to sleeper trains and may even take over some routes previously abandoned by other railroads including Deutsche Bahn.
- Eurolines has incorporated Switzerland in its route network.
- There are several bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap way of getting to the Balkans. Turistik Prošić runs from various destinations in the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina to Switzerland.
- Most companies providing Intercity buses in Germany also serve a couple of stops in Switzerland.
Any Swiss city and many common tourist destinations within Switzerland are quite easily reachable by car, e.g. Geneva from central eastern France, and Zurich from southern Germany. However, some tourist destinations, espcially some smaller, quintessentially Alpine villages such as Zermatt or Wengen are car-free.
Although Switzerland is now part of the Schengen agreement, it is not part of the EU customs/tariff union. Therefore EU/Swiss border posts will focus on smuggling etc. and checks on roads on or after the border stay in place. Delays are usually short but cars may be stopped and no reason needs to be given, even for searches inside Switzerland.
Some delay may be caused by congestion at busy times and there are often queues lasting hours to use the tunnels under the Alps from Italy such as Mont Blanc, St. Gotthard etc. Swiss motorway vignettes (40 Swiss Francs) can and should be purchased at the border if your car does not already have a valid one for the current year and you intend to use the Swiss motorways which is almost unavoidable. Keep in mind that most cities do not have free parking; expect to spend between CHF 25 and 40 for a day's parking. Some cities are entirely off-limits to cars but easily reachable by public transport, so strongly consider arriving by train instead if your final destination is one of these places.
When using mountain roads, bear in mind that they are also used by buses - most relevant on hairpin bends, which they will occupy entirely in order to get around. And most mountain roads are frequently used by the yellow Swiss PostAuto bus. If you see a postal bus, or hear it approaching a bend by its distinctive three tone horn, hold right back (before the bend!) and let it pass, they always have priority and their drivers count on your cooperative driving.
Transportation - Get Around
As Switzerland has probably the most well-developed public transportation system in the world, and the country's airports are not that far apart anyway, there is very limited domestic air traffic. The connections offered by Swiss International Airlines and Etihad Regional include Zurich-Geneva, Zurich-Lugano and Geneva-Lugano. In most cases taking the train, sometimes combined with bus or other means, will be a cheaper option, and often it may prove just as fast and convenient as flying. If you arrive on an international flight to Flughafen Zürich (in Kloten) or Genève Aéroport (in Cointrin), you may take a direct train or bus from stations integrated into the airport terminals. From there, easy connection with several means of transportation including only one or two swift transfers will bring you to many destinations
The Swiss will spoil you with fantastic transport - swift, disturbingly punctual trains, clean buses, and a half dozen different kinds of mountain transport systems, integrated into a coherent system. The discount options and variety of tickets can be bewildering, from half-fare cards to multi-day, multi-use tickets good for buses, boats, trains, and even bike rentals. In general there's at least one train or bus per hour on every route, on many routes trains and buses are running every 30 or even 15 minutes. Inner city transit often runs every 5-7 minutes during rush hours, but less frequently during weekends, particularly on Sundays and public holidays in less densely inhabitated areas.
Authoritative information, routes, fares and schedules for almost all public transport can be found online on Swiss Federal Railway's (SBB CFF FFS) nation-wide coherently integrated timetable, or from posters and screens at any stop, or from a ticket window in any railway station. This timetable is also available as a free smart phone app. At any railway station of any provider you can get information and tickets (at manned ticket counters) for any of the many members of the railway network of Switzerland and most bus systems, in particular PostBus Switzerland which provides a online timetable as well with the same data.
Bus and train do not and are even legally not allowed to compete each other in Switzerland, rather quite the opposite, they are complementary to each other – besides being coordinated timetable-wise. That way, almost all inhabited village and town in Switzerland can be reached by public transport. This is actually constitutionally demanded by the Public Service regulations of the Swiss Confederation; Public Service is a particular Swiss term loosely refering to all kinds of laws, acts, and ordinances, which define the basic supply of public services and infrastructure in particular concerning postal services, telecommunication, electronic media, public transport and road infrastructure.
There are about twenty regional fare networks throughout the country, which incorporate many kinds of public transport (city bus, tram, metro, any kind of train, PostBus, boats, funiculars and others) by many different providers around urban centers into one single fare system, such as ZVV in the canton of Zurich, or unireso (see also: Geneva's tpg) in the canton of Geneva and its French adjacent area, or mobilis around Lausanne in the canton of Vaud at the northern shore of Lake Geneva, passepartout in the cantons of Lucerne, Nid- and Obwalden (keyword: Titlis). Usually these networks sell zone-based tickets valid for a particular time frame (instead of point-to-point tickets) for journeys within their fare network borders. Many of these networks and transit operators provide their own free smartphone apps; sometimes to be found at the major city's transit company website.
Even if there is no train or city transit available, the comprehensive PostAuto/CarPostale/AutoPostale network gets you there. Where applicable, PostBus Switzerland is part of regional fare networks. You find all timetable information on SBB's online timetable, but PostBus Switzerland also provides their own free app with the same information as by SBB as well as many additional features.
Hiking and cycling
As good as the Swiss train system is, if you have a little time, and you only want to travel 1-200 miles, you could try purchasing the world's best footpath maps and walk 10-20 miles a day over some of the most wonderful and clearly-marked paths, whether it is in a valley, through a forest, or over mountain passes. There are more than 60,000 km of well maintained and documented hiking trails and cycling routes.
The trails are well-planned (after a number of centuries, why not?), easy to follow, and the yellow trail signs are actually accurate in their estimate as to how far away the next hamlet, village, town or city is - usually given in terms of time, not distance. Once you've figured out how many kilometers per hour you walk (easy to determine after a day of hiking), you can adjust these estimates up and down for your speed.
There are plenty of places to sleep in a tent (but don't pitch one on a seemingly pleasant, flat piece of ground covered by straw–that's where the cows end up sleeping after a lazy day of eating, and they'll gnaw at your tent string supports and lean against your tent sides. And definitey don't do this during a rainstorm!), lots of huts on mountain tops, B & B's on valley floors, or hotels in towns and cities. You could even send your luggage ahead to the next abode and travel very lightly, with the necessary water and Swiss chocolate!
Switzerland is a great country for leisure cycling. There is a large network of safe and well-signposted cycling routes all across the country. Maps and information are available on the government-supported homepage Veloland Schweiz. The routes are connected so you can do trips for several days or even weeks. They lead through picturesque landscapes, mostly on dedicated cycling paths or smaller roads with little traffic, so they’re safe even for kids and families.
Cross-country mountain biking is a huge sport in Switzerland. This is unsurprising to anyone who has watched a World Cup race before and seen half of the top ten seized by Swiss riders. The main reason for Swiss excellence in this sport is probably the amazing training area they have in their backyard. Thus Switzerland is an amazing place for everyone who likes mountain biking. Locals use the Swiss Singletrail Maps to find the best routes. These cover the whole country in the scale 1:50’000 with single trails and routes mapped and classified. You have to buy them in paper format since they’re not available online.
The cycling infrastructure for everyday cycling varies between cities. Winterthur and Berne are the champions which can almost compete with Dutch and Danish cities. In general the German-speaking regions are better for cycling than the French-speaking. There are many Swiss cities where you can rent bicycles if that is your means of traveling and you can even rent electric bicycles. During the summer it is quite common for cities to offer bicycle 'rental' for free! Cycling in cities is safe and very common. If you decide to cycle in a city, understand that you will share the road with public transport. Beware of tram tracks which can get your wheel stuck and send you flying into traffic, and of course keep an eye out for the trams themselves and the buses, which make frequent stops in the rightmost lane and always have right of way.
Besides the main types of transportation, the adventurous person can see Switzerland by in-line skating. There are three routes, measuring a combined 600-plus km (350 mi) designed specifically for in-line skating throughout the country. They are the Rhine route, the Rhone route, and the Mittelland route. These are also scenic tours. Most of the routes are flat, with slight ascents and descents. The Mittelland route runs from Zurich airport to Neuenburg in the northwest; the Rhine route runs from Bad Ragaz to Schaffhausen in the northeastern section of the country. Finally, the Rhone route extends from Brig to Geneva. This is a great way to see both the countryside and cityscapes of this beautiful nation.
If you like cars, Switzerland can seem like a bit of a tease. They feature some of the greatest driving roads in the world, but can literally throw you in jail for speeding, even on highways. Traffic rules are strictly enforced. If you stick to the road rules and especially the speed limits, the back roads/mountain roads will still be a blast to drive on, while making sure you are not fined or arrested. Driving can be a good way of seeing the country and the vista from some mountain roads makes it worth the cost and hassle.
|Don't Think You'll Speed Undeterred|
If you get fined but not stopped (e.g. caught by a speed camera) the police will send you the fine even if you live abroad.
In Switzerland, speeding is not a violation of a traffic code but a Legal Offence, if you fail to comply there is a good chance that an international rogatory will be issued and you have to go to court in your home country. This is enforced by most countries, including all of Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in South America and Asia. Failure to comply can result in a warrant being issued for your arrest by your home country.
Switzerland has also banned all GPS appliances with built-in speed cameras databases as they are equipped with "radar detectors".
According to some GPS navigator producers, it is advised to remove the Swiss radar database while driving in the country as the police may give you a fine and impound your device even if it is turned off and placed in the trunk of your vehicle!
To use the motorways (known as Autobahn(en), autoroute(s), or autostrada/e, depending on where you are), with green signs and white characters, vehicles under 3500 kg (7,716 lb) weight need to buy a vignette, a sticker which costs CHF 40 that allows you to use the motorways as much as you like for the entire year (more precisely, from 1 December of the preceding year to 31 January of the following, so a 2009 vignette is valid from 1 December 2008 until 31 January 2010). Trailers must have a separate vignette.
Avoiding the motorways in order to save the toll price is generally futile; the amount is well worth it, even if you are only transiting. Failure to possess a valid vignette is punishable by a CHF 200 fine and a requirement to purchase a vignette immediately (total fine of CHF 240). Sharing vignettes is, of course, illegal and subject to the same fines as not having one. It actually must be irretrievably attached to the windscreen, otherwise you will be fined the same way like you would for omitting it. Rentals should have the vignette already paid for that vehicle, but ask to be sure.
Vehicles larger than 3,500 kg (7,716 lb) have to pay a special toll assessed through special on-board units that is applied for all roads, not just the motorways.
Swiss road signs follow international norms (Vienna 1968), however some of them are Swiss-specific. Motorways and expressways are indicated by green signs with white characters. Principal roads are indicated with blue signs and white characters, while for minor roads the signs are white with black characters.
Speed limits: 120 km/h (75 mph) on motorways, 100 km/h on expressways (de: Autostrasse(n), fr: semi-autoroute(s), it: semiautostrada/e; often with oncoming traffic), 80 km/h (50 mph) on normal, principal roads outside of villages and towns and often inside tunnels, and a general valid 50 km/h (31 mph) limit inside villages and towns and often only indicated by the name of the village, or town respectively.
Moreover, some roads are limited to 30 km/h (19 mph) or even to 20 km/h (12 mph) in built-up areas, where you can meet playing children in the street, and to 70 km/h outside built-up areas. Vehicles unable to travel at 80 km/h or faster are not permitted on the motorways or expressways.
Expect the speed limits to change frequently on any road, including motorways; cruise control won't be a big help in Switzerland. Most speed limits are only signposted once, so pay attention. Missing a sign will not be accepted as an excuse by the police, and fines are hefty. As a driver you are expected to focus your attention fully on the road, so don't get distracted by the beautiful landscape, or anything else for that matter. Whilst driving "a wee bit too fast" is common on motorways, people tend to stick pretty closely to the other speed limits. If stopped by the police, expect to pay your fine on the spot.
The blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.05%. As in every country, do not drink and drive, as you will lose your license for several months if you are cited and a heavy fine may be imposed.
Motorists in Switzerland are required to switch on their headlights or daytime running lights while driving during the day or risk a CHF 40 fine.
Driving is on the right side of the road everywhere in Switzerland, just like in most of Europe. Be aware that the priority to right rule exists everywhere in Switzerland on any street, if not indicated otherwise. I.e. that at intersections, priority is given to the driver on the right except when driving on a road with right of way indicated by a priority road (de: Hauptstrasse, fr: route principale, it: strada principale) sign: yellow diamond on white background, see pictogram no. 303, or no. 304 respectively.
When merging into traffic circles (roundabouts) respect the street signs, which indicate that priority is given to the cars already in the roundabout.
|Some examples of fines by failing to follow traffic rules|
Indicate each time you change your direction or lane, and always overtake on the left, including on motorways. When overtaking never cross an unbroken centre line, particularly on mountain roads; they are in place for your and everybody's safety and not to aggravate you! Don't forget to indicate at the beginning and end of the overtaking manoeuvre.
You are not allowed to pass trams at a tram stop, if there is no passenger island on which pedestrians can wait. Moving trams can be overtaken on the right. If a pedestrian wants to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing (yellow stripes on the road), then any car approaching must stop and give priority to the pedestrians. This is a general law valid anywhere in Switzerland, but especially applicable for tram stops. Do not stop on a pedestrian crossing, even during rush hours.
You must always give way to police, ambulances, fire engines, and public transport buses pulling out as they have priority.
At traffic lights and railway crossings, you must switch off your engines ("Für bessere Luft - Motor abstellen!", "Coupez le moteur!") to avoid traffic pollution.
On all car journeys in Switzerland you are required by law to wear a seat belt, on both, the front and back seats. Children younger than 12 years old or smaller than 150 cm must be secured by officially approved child safety seats, and are allowed to be transported on the back seats only.
Six tips for mountain roads:
- Honk if you're on a narrow road, which is too small for a normal two-lane road (i.e. lacking of a white middle line), and you can't see around the bend; required by law!
- The bright yellow Postal Bus always has priority. You can hear it approaching by means of its distinctive three tone horn. This is most relevant on hairpin bends. If you see a PostAuto, or even much better, hear it approaching a bend, hold back (before the bend!) and let it pass, their drivers count on your considerate driving!
- The vehicle going uphill has priority over the vehicle coming downhill.
- Don't even think about driving as fast as the locals: they know every bend, you don't.
- In general, drive at a speed which allows you to stop within half the distance you can see – it is even a law for narrow roads! – in order to be safe; and drive so that you would be happy to meet yourself coming the other way!
- During winter, although most vehicles are equipped with winter tires (not to be mismatched with all-season tires or even summer tires; winter tires have at least a tread depth of 4mm and are made of different rubber), it may be required to apply tire chains to the wheels of your car if driving in an area with snow on the road. Cars rented in Switzerland are routinely supplied with tire chains, but ask. Some mountain roads, towns and villages may require chains. Illustrated signs showing snow chains will be posted at the beginning of the route. If chains are requested, winter tires are not sufficient at all! Failure to obey may incur a fine. Service stations located on these routes may provide a chain installation service, for a fee. It's worth the expense, since an inexperienced driver can be tortured for an hour or more, sometimes in terrible weather, learning to mount tire chains. Don't assume all roads are open; higher altitude moutain passes (e.g. Gotthard, Furka, Grimsel, Oberalp, Julier) will be closed for part or all of the winter. Check that a mountain road or pass is open before driving, or you may encounter a red multilingual "CLOSED" sign at the beginning of the route.
As Switzerland is very mountainous and has a comprehensive railway network , it is possible - and often both faster and cheaper - to load your car onto a train. This is called "Autoverlad" in Swiss Standard German and the SBB website walks you through the process.