Getting there & away
When visiting Switzerland from outside Europe, it's worth investigating whether it's cheaper to fly to a European 'gateway' city and travel on from there. London and Frankfurt are the most obvious candidates.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
Visas are not required if you hold a passport for the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, whether visiting as a tourist or on business. Citizens of the EU, Norwegians and Icelanders may also enter Switzerland without a visa. A maximum three-month stay applies, although passports are rarely stamped. Citizens of several African, Asian and Arab countries, plus Eastern European and Balkan states, require visas. A current squabble with Libya means visas for citizens of that country are not being issued by Switzerland. For up-to-date details on visa requirements, go to the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (www.eda.admin.ch) and click 'Services'.
In Switzerland, carry your passport at all times and guard it carefully. Swiss citizens are required always to carry personal identification, so you will also need to be able to identify yourself at any time.
Ensure your passport is valid until well after you plan to end your trip - six months is a safe minimum. Swiss citizens are required to always carry personal identification, so carry your passport at all times and guard it carefully. Citizens of many European countries don't need a passport to travel to Switzerland; a national identity card may suffice. Check with your travel agent or the Swiss embassy before departure.
Check for cheap fares in major newspapers and try the following online booking sites (or their local versions):
Eurolines (www.eurolines.com), via local operator Alsa+Eggman (0900 573 747 per min Sfr1.50, Geneva022 716 91 10, Zürich043 366 64 30; www.alsa-eggmann.ch), operates services on about 35 routes to/from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Germany, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Spain.
There are fast, well-maintained motorways (freeways) to Switzerland through all surrounding countries. The German motorways (Autobahnen) have no tolls, whereas the Austrian, Czech, French (autoroute) and Italian (autostrada) and Slovak motorways do.
The Alps present a natural barrier to entering Switzerland, so main roads generally head through tunnels. Smaller roads are scenically more interesting, but special care is needed when negotiating mountain passes. Some, like the N5 (E21) route from Champagnole (in France) to Geneva, aren't recommended if you have no previous experience driving in the mountains.
An EU driving licence is acceptable throughout Europe for up to a year. Third-party motor insurance is a minimum requirement: get proof of this in the form of a Green Card, issued by your insurers. Also ask for a 'European Accident Statement' form. Taking out a European breakdown assistance policy is a good investment.
A warning triangle, to be displayed in the event of a breakdown, is compulsory almost everywhere in Europe, including Switzerland. Recommended accessories include a first-aid kit (compulsory in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece), a spare bulb kit and a fire extinguisher. In the UK, contact the RAC (0906-470 1740, per min 60p; www.rac.co.uk) or the AA (0870-550 0600; www.theaa.com) for travel information.
Taking the train is more expensive and time-consuming than flying within Europe. However, some travellers enjoy the experience, and it can seem somehow appropriate to arrive in environmentally friendly Switzerland via a relatively green mode of transport. Contact www.raileurope.co.uk, www.raileurope.com or your local European rail operator.
From the UK, the quickest train route is via Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) to Paris and then onwards by French TGV (train à grande vitesse). A fare to Geneva generally costs between UK£150 and UK£200 for adults between 26 and 59 years, with slight discounts for those under 26 or over 60. Allow approximately nine hours for this trip, or 10 to Zürich.
Zürich is the country's busiest international terminus. Four daily trains (four hours) connect with Münich. Two daytime trains (nine hours) and one night train leave for Vienna, from where there are extensive onward connections to/from cities in eastern Europe.
Formalities are kept to a minimum when entering Switzerland by air, rail or road, although passports will be checked.
More than 100 scheduled airlines fly to/from Switzerland, the most important of which are listed here. Lufthansa part-owns Swiss International Air Lines and their two timetables have been integrated.
Air France (022 827 87 87; www.airfrance.com)
American Airlines (044 654 52 56; www.aa.com)
Continental Airlines (0800 776 464; www.continental.com)
Darwin Airline (0800 177 177; www.darwinairline.com)
Lufthansa Airlines (0845 773 7747; www.lufthansa.com)
Qantas Airways (0845 774 7767; www.qantas.com)
Swiss International Air Lines(0848 852 000; www.swiss.com)
South African Airways (0870 747 1111; www.flysaa.com)
United Airlines (0845 844 4777; www.ual.com)
This market changes often, so keep an eye out for new entrants and be aware that current players might abandon certain routes.
Air Berlin (0848 737 800; www.airberlin.com)
easyJet (0848 888 222; www.easyjet.com)
flybe(+ 44 0 1392 268 500; www.flybe.com)
Helvetic(043 557 90 99; www.helvetic.com)
SkyEurope(043 557 90 99; www.skyeurope.com)
The two main Swiss airports are Zürich Airport (043 816 22 11; www.zurich-airport.com), Geneva International Airport (022 717 71 11; www.gva.ch), and increasingly EuroAirport (061 325 31 11; www.euroairport.com), serving Basel (as well as Mulhouse, France and Freiburg, Germany).
South Africa is the best place on the continent to buy tickets to Switzerland. Swiss International Air Lines (0860 040 506; www.swiss.com) has direct flights daily from Johannesburg to Zürich (from 4500 rand in low season).
With tourism from India the fastest growing sector of the Swiss tourism market, Swiss International Air Lines (Delhi 91-011 2341; 5th fl, World Trade Tower, Barakhamba Lane; Mumbai 022-2287 01 22; 1st fl, Hoechst House, 193 Nariman Point) has plenty of offices in the country. It operates nonstop flights to Zürich from Mumbai, with connecting flights to/from Geneva.
Expect to pay about 38,000 rupees in the low season, or try STIC Travels (11-233 57 468; www.stictravel.com) for cheaper tickets.
The Sydney-based Swiss Travel Centre (02 9250 9320; www.swisstravel.com.au) has specially negotiated airfares to Switzerland.
Swiss International Air Lines (1300-724 666, 02-8251 3950; c/o Walshes World Agencies, Level 3, 117 York St, Sydney 2000) has linked services with Air New Zealand, British Airways, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. Expect to pay up to AUD$3200 or NZ$2700 in the low season.
The number of low-cost flights has mushroomed in recent years. If you book very early - and are lucky - you might find flights for as little as €22 each way (plus taxes).
Air Berlin (www.airberlin.com) flies to Zürich from dozens of destinations in Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Beware that you need to book very early with this particular low-cost carrier to get the best deal.
Aside from STA Travel (www.statravel.com), agencies in major European cities include the following:
London is a major centre for discounted air tickets. Including taxes, you should be able to find a scheduled return flight for between UK£120 and UK£200.
The two main scheduled carriers are British Airways (0845-773 3377; www.ba.com) and Swiss International Air Lines (0845-601 0956; www.swiss.com), which both have services leaving from Heathrow and London City airports.
Several low-cost carriers travel between the UK and Switzerland, including easyJet (0870-600 0000; www.easyjet.com) and Helvetic (020 7026 3464; www.helvetic.com). Note that if you travel Air Berlin (0870 738 8880; www.airberlin.com) or Germanwings (0870 252 1250; www.germanwings.com) your flight will be routed via Germany.
In the USA, try consolidators (budget travel agencies), such as Air Brokers (1-888-883 3273; www.airbrokers.com), Airline Consolidator (1-888-468 5385; www.airlineconsolidator.com) and Airtech (212-219 7000; www.airtech.com).
Scheduled fares start at approximately US$450 for return flights to Switzerland. American Airlines (1 800 433 7300; www.aa.com) and Swiss International Air Lines (1 877 359 7947; www.swiss.com) code-share on several nonstop flights per day to Zürich from New York (both JFK and Newark), Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, as well as direct flights to Geneva. Continental Airlines (1-800-231 0856; www.continental.com) also has nonstop flights from Newark, while Delta (1-800-221 1212; www.delta.com) flies nonstop from Atlanta.