Switzerland travel guide
Combining expansive greenery, slick cities and bucketfuls of fresh air, Switzerland is a stylish tourist destination offering countless outdoor adventures and contemporary urban breaks.
Switzerland’s Alpine vistas are so picture perfect, they can appear plucked from the pages of a storybook. But these disarming landscapes are alive and kicking, as a spot of skiing, hiking or mountain biking will attest. Ski resorts like Zermatt (home to the lofty Matterhorn), Verbier and celebrity-studded St Moritz provide everything from big, bad Olympic runs to encouragingly gentle novice slopes. And when the snow melts at low altitudes, the white-tipped mountain peaks remain against a backdrop of blue skies, providing a superb setting for summertime hiking.
The ancient capital Berne provides almost endless opportunities for sightseeing, shopping and traditional folk entertainment, while Zurich leads the way in art, design and nightlife; from opera and world-class theatre to stylish bars and nightclubs. Geneva is the sleekest and most upscale of Switzerland's cities, acting as home to a thriving community of expats, many of whom work for the numerous international organisations that are headquartered there.
Yet Switzerland’s cultural offerings don’t stop there. When it comes to contemporary art, polished Basel reigns supreme, with more than 40 museums and galleries packed into this compact city. For a few days every year, it takes centre stage for the eminent Art Basel fair. French-flavoured Montreux also steals a moment in the cultural spotlight when it becomes the centre of focus for the jazz world during the Montreux Jazz Festival. Elsewhere, dotted around green foothills, are countless spruce towns and folkloric villages, where ancient farm culture survives and cattle still loiter amid flower-filled pastures.
Small, mountainous and wealthy, Switzerland is renowned for its enviable quality of life, with public services ticking along like clockwork. Come for the pungent cheese, smooth chocolate and luxury watches; stay for the exquisite culture, incredible scenery and sheer sense of fun.
41,284 sq km (15,940 sq miles).
8,379,477 (UN estimate 2016).
196.7 per sq km.
Federal City Bern.
Alain Berset since January 2018.
Alain Berset since January 2018.
Last updated: 19 February 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There’s a danger of flooding in lower regions. Many ski areas and hiking routes have been temporarily closed. For further information, you should contact the relevant train companies, local authorities and your tour operator. Before travelling, check the latest local weather forecast and check for information on any possible dangerous weather conditions.
If you plan skiing or hiking, check weather conditions and follow local advice before going. Take care and observe all written notices and warnings.
There has been an increase in reports of theft especially in larger cities, at Geneva airport and on trains to/from Geneva.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Switzerland. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.
British nationals made 703,933 visits to Switzerland in 2016. Most visits are trouble-free.
If you need to contact the emergency services, call 112 (general emergency calls), 118 (fire), 117 (police) or 144 (ambulance).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired. Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC so you should also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance and make sure it covers winter/mountain activities.
The official website of Switzerland tourism provides useful information for travellers in a wheelchair or with impaired mobility.
Safety and security
There is a low rate of serious crime in Switzerland. However, the British Embassy has received increased reports of theft especially in larger cities, at Geneva airport and on trains to/from Geneva.
Watch out for pickpockets, confidence tricksters and thieves in city centres, airports, railway stations, on trains and in other public places. Don’t leave your luggage unattended at any time. Don´t keep your passport, credit cards and other valuables in the same place. Use the inside compartments in bags where possible. Carry your bag across your body rather than on your shoulder. Pickpockets can work in gangs: one to distract you while the other one goes into your bag. Keep your belongings close to you in restaurants and bars. Alcohol and drugs can lead to you being less alert, less in control, and less aware of your environment. If you’re going to drink, know your limit and take sensible precautions. Don’t become separated from friends.
This leaflet produced by the British Embassy and the Swiss transport police gives more advice on what to do if you’re pickpocketed, including useful contacts. The emergency number for the Police is 117.
Foreign visitors and residents can be targeted by scam artists. Scams can cause great financial loss. If you receive an e-mail claiming to be from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs HMRC offering a tax refund on provision of your bank details you should make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam.
Road users have to comply with Switzerland’s traffic laws, such as speed limits, rules on alcohol intake and child security, or risk fines or other punishments.
Follow instructions given by local police and officials on the main alpine transit routes and in areas of heavy traffic congestion.
A reflective jacket and a warning triangle are compulsory and must be kept within easy reach (not in the boot). You must also have a first aid kit in the car. Radar detectors are prohibited in Switzerland whether in use or not. The limit for alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.5% and police may request any driver to undergo a breath test or drugs test. Swiss traffic regulations are strictly enforced. Any serious breach of the regulations can result in heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
The speed limit on Swiss motorways is 120km/h unless otherwise indicated. To travel on Swiss motorways, road users must purchase and display a vignette (sticker) or face large on the spot fines. You can buy a vignette at most border crossings, petrol stations, post offices, by phone (+800 1002 0030) and online. The price of a vignette is currently CHF 40.
Serious traffic offences (including driving over speed limit) can lead to criminal prosecution. You may face detention while awaiting trial. There’s no standard penalty because sentencing varies from canton to canton.
If you receive a traffic fine while driving in Switzerland you might be asked to pay on the spot. If you wish to challenge the fine, you can appeal in writing to the competent Swiss authority by the deadline, giving your reasons and presenting documentary proof.
Under Swiss federal law, unpaid fines can subsequently be changed into a prison sentence. Fines imposed by the Swiss authorities can be enforced on Swiss territory for a period of 3 years. This measure encourages foreign motorists who wish to re-enter Switzerland to pay their fine.
Many roads are narrow and winding and road conditions can deteriorate fast even in summer, especially during heavy rainfall and subsequent snowfall at higher altitudes. You should reduce your speed significantly to suit the conditions.
Alpine winters often make driving more difficult. You should equip your car with winter tyres and snow-chains, and check road conditions prior to departure. The Swiss motoring organisation, TCS, has up-to-date information on its website.
Drivers must be 18 years of age and hold a full valid UK, or other EU/EEA, driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents. There is no need for an International Driving Permit.
Motorway journeys are usually trouble-free, but if you´re involved in a car accident, use the orange emergency phones to ask for help.
Information about rail services is available on the Swiss Travel System website.
Outdoor sports activities
Make sure your insurance covers you for sports activities such as skiing, potholing, mountain biking and mountaineering. Travel insurance should also include mountain rescue services and helicopter costs.
Many accidents happen due to insufficient information, inappropriate equipment or overestimation of your own capabilities. Don´t undertake any activity alone, and consider hiring a guide for expert advice. Always leave copies of your itinerary with someone. Follow the advice given by local authorities and guides. To ignore such advice could put yourself and other mountain users in danger.
The following alpine hazards exist throughout the year:
- avalanches and snow drifts
- landslides and flooding
- glacial crevasses and hollows
- thunder storms and lightning
- altitude sickness
- sun exposure
- sudden weather changes
- take note of weather forecasts and conditions
- make sure you are physically fit and have the necessary experience
- be in a team of at least two
- inform someone of your plans.
- take warm clothes and wet weather gear.
- use sun block (SPF20 or higher) and sun glasses.
To check the latest avalanche risk, visit the website of the Swiss Federal Commission for Snow and Avalanche Research. Observe all warnings about avalanches and where appropriate consider carrying search equipment. Conditions on roads in mountainous areas can quickly become difficult in winter. You should carry water, food and warm clothing and medicines in your vehicle.
Off-piste skiing is highly dangerous. You should follow all safety instructions carefully given the danger of avalanches in some areas and particularly during times of heavy snow. Avalanche beepers (receivers) are the most common rescue devices and when properly used provide the fastest way of locating an avalanche victim.
Read more about how to stay safe on the slopes.
For more information and advice on enjoying outdoor activities safely and responsibly, visit the Official website of Swiss Tourism.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Switzerland. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Smoking has been banned throughout Switzerland in the workplace and in most enclosed spaces accessible to the public, including bars, restaurants, cinemas, schools, shopping centres and sports centres. Exceptions can be made at a local level where smoking licences are sometimes granted to small restaurants, cafés and bars. Larger restaurants and bars have the option of providing separate areas for smokers.
It’s illegal to cover your face in public places in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino. Failure to comply with the ban is punishable by a fine ranging from 100 CHF to 10,000 CHF. The law doesn’t provide any exemption for tourists.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
If you are a British Citizen or British Subject with Right of Abode in the United Kingdom, you will not need a visa to enter Switzerland. Other British passport holders should check entry requirements with the nearest Swiss Diplomatic mission.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
For information and advice about Swiss customs regulations, visit the official website of the Swiss Customs Administration.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Switzerland.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re visiting Switzerland you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Swiss nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. The EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or non-urgent treatment, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
There is an increased risk of tick bites from April to October. The Ministry for Health warns of a significant number of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) cases annually. For more information read insect and tick bite avoidance
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 or 144 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.