All About Switzerland
Switzerland is an Alpine showcase of ski chalets under postcard peaks, tidy banking cities by glacier-fed rivers, cathedrals and cow bells and castles all snuggled into a famously neutral nation less than half the size of South Carolina. Switzerland sits at the heart of Western Europe and straddles the culture line between the Latin and Teutonic worlds—it's no mistake that the Swiss speak four languages: German, French, Italian, and in some of the mountain valleys a vestigial Latin language called Romansch.
Yes, you’ll want to spend some time wandering the medieval streets of Zurich, touring the marvelous modern art galleries of Basel, visiting the museums of Bern, and experiencing the joys of Lake Geneva, its shores strung with castles, vineyards, and the charms of pretty little Lausanne, the pan-musical jazz festival in Montreaux, and the cultural highlights in Geneva itself. But you really don't come to Switzerland for the city life. You come for the Alps. You come for the crooked-nose profile of the Matterhorn and, above the twin lakes of Interlaken, the mighty trio of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in the Berner Oberland with some of Switzerland’s best hiking and skiing—not to mention the chance to ride up to Jungfraujoch, the highest rail station in Europe with glorious views and an Ice Palace carved into a glacier.
Switzerland’s mountains are also threaded with some of Europe’s most impossibly gorgeous mountain passes, and your railpass gets you free or discounted rides on some of the world’s most famous and spectacular scenic train rides—including the Glacier Express, Wilhelm Tell Express, Bernina Express, and Golden Pass—as well as on tickets for many lake cruises and boat trips.
When to Go to Switzerland: Switzerland is one of the few countries in Europe that is at its best all year round. Hikers will want to aim for the summertime, and while winters can be a bit cold and chilly if you stick to just the cities, if you love to ski there's no better place to be in winter than Switzerland. Spring carpets the farm fields and mountain meadows with wildflowers, and fall rusts the forests with the changing of the leaves. Switzerland is gorgeous, and a lot of fun, at any time of year.
Events and Holidays in Switzerland:
|Top skiers take just 2.5 minutes to rocket down the 4.5km (2.8 miles) of the world's longest competitive downhill ski run above in Wengen, a village in Switzerland's Bernese Alps.|
|The Basler Fasnacht is the the world's only Protestant Carnival celebration, taking place (unusually) the Monday to Wednesday after Ash Wednesday, with brass bands and parades of masked characters on floats flinging confetti and candy on the crowds.|
|Since 1938, Lucerne has celebrated classical music with a summer orchestra festival featuring guest soloists and conductors, now with an Easter edition and a November Piano Festival as well.|
|Zurich celebrates the coming of spring by burning a fireworks-packed snowman called Böögg in effigy at the parade of guilds.|
|The Festspeile Zurich is a monthlong celebration of the arts as venues across town present a slate of concerts, dance, opera, art exhibitions, and theater performances.|
|All summer long, lovely Lausanne puts on more than 450 free performances, concerts, films, and other cultural events at venues—many open-air or otherwise unusual—across town.|
|Local communities celebrate Swiss National Day with fireworks and hilltop bonfires; two special events: a re-enactment of the original Swiss confederation pact on the Rütli meadow above Lake Lucerne, and Schaffhausen's illumination of its 25-meter (82-foot) Rhine Falls.|
|A million partiers descend upon Zürich to help it take up the mantle from Berlin's defunct Love Parade as Europe's biggest technoparade celebrating love, tolerance, wacky costumes, and dancing to electronica blasted by DJs on colorful trucks mounted with massive sound systems.|
|Farmers from the surrounding area truck more than 50 tons of onions to Bern's Old Town market stalls, and restaurants serve onion dishes like savory onion tarts and onion soup.|
|St. Nikolaus Day is the feast day of Saint Nicholas—or Samichlaus, who in Swiss folklore is accompanied on his annual parade through the village streets by the menacing Schmutzli (in French-speaking areas: Père Fouettard), a hooded monk bearing a switch of twigs... but also often small gifts for the kiddies.|