Switzerland is infamous for world-class engineering, cutting-edge urban planning and infrastructure and impeccable social decorum. In spite of how successful these qualities have proven for the Alpine wonderland, they have nonetheless garnered Switzerland a reputation for being boring and even sterile.
But is Switzerland a boring place to travel? In my experience the answer is “no,” although some elements of daily life in Switzerland are far from exciting. If you can deal with sky-high prices and the occasional cold-shouldered local, you’ll be surprised at how stimulating an experience traveling in Switzerland can be.
The primary reason traveling in Switzerland isn’t boring is also the most apparent: The country is home to the some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. Front and center are its famous Alps, which you’ll see at eye level long before your plane lands at one of the country’s international airports. If you’re into skiing and other winter sports (I’m not; boring, I know), there is literally no better place in the world to partake in them than Switzerland’s pristine slopes.
Of course, it isn’t just these towering mountains — or any of the bottled-water-clean lakes that sit within their foothills — that make Switzerland as beautiful as it is. In the summer, Switzerland’s low-lying fields and pastures are an emerald dream, their vast expanses peppered with cows, pigs and just about any other livestock you can think of.
Switzerland is decidedly landlocked, so you won’t be getting any beach time here — but who cares? Rivers and creeks flow out of the Alps and through Switzerland’s cities, making it simple to find a cosy spot on the water to curl up, feed swans or even smoke a joint.
Nightlife and Parties in Switzerland
Swiss people have a reputation as being reserved. Although my best friend Bianca and her posse are definitive exceptions, this is unfortunately an understatement for the majority of the Swiss population. One time, I was on a rush hour train and decided to start down the put-together woman sitting across from me to see if she’d flinch — she didn’t.
Accordingly, Swiss nightlife isn’t always what I would call exciting, particularly if you’re outside of major urban areas like Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zürich. Many bars in smaller towns and villages through Switzerland’s 26 cantons are quiet and seated even when fully packed, something that probably owes itself to how difficult it is to get drunk when drinks are CHF15 (about $16) each. Yikes!
This being said, nightclubs in big cities like Geneva and Zürich can get positively hopping, owing to the high quality and availability of party drugs like ecstasy and cocaine in Switzerland. This is further compounded at frequent techno parties held in the country, the crown jewel of which is the massive StreetParade, the second-largest party in Europe (after Berlin’s LoveParade) by number of attendees.
Dining in Switzerland
Ah, to be a foodie in Switzerland. Since my best friend lives there, I’ve been lucky enough to sample many of Switzerland’s finest foods in a home-cooked setting. From creamy gruyère fondue to crispy potato rösti to sweet, tangy Bircher muesli, Swiss cuisine makes it easy to have a party right inside your mouth — or, as the case was for me, eat away the real party from the night before.
As is the case with nearly all other purchases in Switzerland, buying Swiss food (or any food, for that matter) in restaurants is going to cost you a pretty penny. No matter what or where you eat, I wouldn’t bank on getting out of the restaurant for under CHF30 (about $32) per head including a soft drink. Or a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, since those cost about as much as soda in Switzerland.
If you happen to be a vegan traveling in Switzerland, I recommend you check out the delicious Hiltl restaurant in central Zürich. A variety of amazing, healthy vegetarian (and mostly vegan) offerings presented in buffet style, Hiltl’s chic dining room, which becomes a club at night, makes your cruelty-free dining experience all the more delightful.
Oh yeah, and Switzerland is known as the “Land of Chocolate” for a reason. While I’m sure it’s possible to tour factories of world-famous chocolateries like Lindt and Toblerone, you need only visit your nearest convenience store or gas station to enjoy a wider selection of the stuff than you’ll find almost anywhere I’ve been in the United States.
Travel in Swiss Cities
Although financial hubs of Geneva and Zürich dominate the global vernacular — and also, quality-of-life indices — when it comes to Swiss cities, the country is home to more than a dozen medium-to-large sized cities, all of which are easily reachable from the “Big Two” via Switzerland’s extensive rail network.
The capital Bern, for example, looks like a veritable gingerbread city set amid the Alps. Interesting trivia: its name derives from the German word for “bears,” a connection that becomes extremely clear to you the moment once you cross eastward over the Aare River to the Bärengraben, where two real-life bears play freely for visitors. They aren’t caged as in a traditional zoo, although sturdy fences prevent their escape.
Other great Swiss cities include Luzern, which is less than an hour from Zürich and set on a picturesque lake bearing the city’s name. Down in the French part of Switzerland, the city of Montreux — home to the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival — is a picture of perfection, hugging the eastern shores of Lake Geneva.
The bottom line is that: No matter where in Switzerland you visit or what you do there, you aren’t going to be bored. You’ll likely be broke when you leave and almost certainly weigh more, but the delightful memories you’ll take with you make earning that money back and working the weight off a labor of love.
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.