A Switzerland holiday has long been in my bucket list. It wasn’t included in my 70-day backpacking trip in Europe because I lacked the time, but Switzerland has never left my mind. Hopefully this year, I will get a Schengen visa and I can finally visit the Swiss Alps. In the meantime, check out this guest post by fellow blogger Anna Timbrook!
Ah, Switzerland. That mysterious Alpine country that is shrouded in neutrality and filled with chocolate. Most people have heard of Switzerland, seen a couple of photos of the Alps, or eaten Lindt chocolate. However, most people don’t know much about it or why it is such a stunning destination to visit.
As someone who has lived, traveled, and experienced this country for over 15 years, I want to share with you how to make the most of this alpine gem as a solo traveler.
What To Do in Zurich and Other Tips
As a solo traveler, if you are anything like me, you are always on the lookout for ways to meet new people. Sure, you can plonk yourself down in the common room of the hostel and hope to make friends, but there are better ways.
Zurich has some of the best night life in the country, and heading out to some of the most popular bars and nightclubs is certainly a great way to make new friends, especially on a weekend. Clubs, like in most cities, tend to open late, so head out for a bite to eat first and maybe a drink at a nearby bar before the clubs really get pumping.
In the summer, when the nights are hot and the lakes super inviting, there are even bars where you can swim beforehand. I personally love the Letten, Bade Enge, and Rimini.
Another way to get to know people quickly in Zurich is to check out what is going on in terms of Meetups. If you have not used it before, Meetup is a great website for finding fun activities near you.
On any given day, Zurich has dozens of varied activities going on, and even more so on weekends. You can make new friends over a drink, dinner, or even while hiking. You can also get to know the Zurich startup scene, learn a new skill, or just chat to people you would never had a chance to meet otherwise.
Around 20% of Zurich’s workforce is from another country, so there are plenty of people looking to meet new people in this city and you can easily become one of them!
Hostels in Zurich are often in more out of the way places. Not that anything is far or difficult to get to in Zurich. However, if you want to stay right where the action is, City Backpacker Biber in the city center is your best bet.
Things To Do in Geneva — A Taste Of France, In Switzerland
One of the biggest downsides of German-speaking Switzerland is that the locals are quite closed to outsiders. It’s not that they are unfriendly, it’s just a little more difficult to strike up a random conversation or meet new people.
That is where the other parts of Switzerland come in handy, like the French-speaking part in the west. No city is more cosmopolitan and worthy of a visit than Geneva.
Geneva is home to a stunning old town and some great window shopping (unless you have a deep wallet, that is, and then you can buy to your heart’s content). It has some great museums and activities, including the watch museum from one of the original and premiere watchmakers, Patek Philippe.
Perched right on the shores of the gigantic and stunning Lake Geneva also comes with some great benefits. As in Zurich, there are swimming pools in the lake in the center of town. The Place de jeux des Bains des Pâquis is right on the shore in town, and super affordable as well.
As a solo traveler though, you will perhaps be drawn to some of the other group activities in the city. I would personally start off with a walking tour, to get to know the city, and Free Walk is a great way to do this and meet some fellow travelers.
If you have a little more cash on hand, a 3-hour chocolate tour combines a tour with something very Swiss — chocolate. In terms of accommodation, there are a couple of hostels in Geneva with the City Hostel being right downtown.
Lucerne — A City With Stunning Scenery
Whether you are traveling solo or not, Lucerne is an absolute must-see on any Swiss travel itinerary. It has a stunning old town, complete with covered bridge. It is located right on the shores of Lake Lucerne, which is spectacular in and of itself.
To top it all off, the lake is surrounded by mountains, meaning you are right in the heart of the Alps too. What more could you ask for?
I would not come to Lucerne for the night life, so leave that behind in Zurich or Geneva. Instead, make sure you have some space on your camera, because the views and buildings are breathtaking!
There are so many things to do in Lucerne, you might feel a little overwhelmed. Personally this is what I would recommend:
- Explore the old-town, along the river including the iconic Chapel Bridge
- Take a trip on a steam boat (many of the local ferries are run on steam)
- Head to at least one of the local mountains taking a super-steep train up (Pilatus or Rigi)
- If you have more time, add on a trip to Burgenstock and the glass Hammetschwand lift.
It is a little more challenging to find new travel buddies in this city, so I would stay at a hostel, join group walking tours, and again consider Meetup to see what other local activities you can find.
In terms of hostels, Backpackers Lucerne and Lion Lodge are a little further out, but still within walking distance.
Interlaken — This Is Where the Action Is
Interlaken is the action capital of Switzerland, so this is where you come for your adrenaline hit. Even if you are not one to throw yourself off a perfectly good mountain (with a parachute of course) this is the place where all the backpackers congregate, so it’s perfect if you’re traveling solo on your Switzerland holidays.
I would definitely stay in a hostel in Interlaken itself. Balmers used to be the place to be, but these days Villa Sonnenhof tops all the ratings. And remember, when you stay in a hostel in Switzerland, it will usually blow your socks off in terms of cleanliness and facilities.
In terms of activities, you are a little spoiled for choice here. There is anything from skydiving from a helicopter to canyoning. Here are a few things to do in Interlaken that I would definitely not miss:
- A train ride up to the Junfraujoch (where there is year-round snow on the glacier, so lots to do!)
- A trip up to First ski resort to get a prime view of the three kings of the Alps — Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau (you can also do an amazing zipline or cliff walk here)
- Head to Lauterbrunnen to see the stunning valley, waterfalls and the gondola in James Bond (Schilthorn)
Of course, as a solo traveler organizing such adventures from the hostel will often mean you get to do these things with other travelers, so I would always go that route if you can.
Tips for Traveling Solo in Switzerland
As a solo traveler there are a few things that are on your mind that might not concern people in groups or traveling as a couple. This section is for you!
Here are some tips from a local, and someone who has traveled extensively in Switzerland (solo and as a couple) and around the world.
Switzerland is probably one of the safest places on the planet. Honestly, you could walk down the street in a bright green suit waving hundred dollar bills and no one would try to steal them from you. However, having said that, there are a few things to be aware of.
First, theft does happen. Not often, and not very blatantly, but still use your usual amount of caution when on public transport (especially when it’s busy or at night). Keep your valuables in sight (and in hand when it’s busy), but don’t be overly paranoid and hang your backpack on your chest, it’s not that dangerous.
When walking around at night, just be aware that the quieter and more industrial parts of any city are not great places to be alone as a woman late on a weekend. Rarely does anything happen, but try to use public transport, which is everywhere, or Uber if you are in an out of the way place.
If you are in the busier center, then I would be less concerned. Overall though, the chances of anything happening here are slim.
How to Go Around Switzerland
The Swiss public transport is one of the best in the world, and you should definitely take advantage of that. In most cities, you will be able to walk anyway, but sometimes, when you are tired, it’s worth jumping on a bus or tram.
Just familiarize yourself with the system before you head out for the day as sometimes it’s a little confusing (zones, tariffs, etc). It is expensive though, so if you are using the train to travel between cities, I would definitely get the Swiss Rail Pass, which can be used either in specific periods or number of days in a period (this one is usually what you want, as there will be gaps while you stay in a place for a while).
Another option if you know some one local is to get them to order you a Half Tax Card, which might be even better, especially if you will travel a lot.
Eating on a Budget in Switzerland
Switzerland is insanely expensive for most people, especially backpackers. So, if the sight of a $40-meal scares you, then keep reading. If you want to save some money on food, either cook for yourself (which might also not be cheap if you like meat) or try things like Doner Kebab, Indian takeaway, or some burger joints. The supermarket takeaway stores near train stations (Migros or Coop have them) may also have some affordable food.
Some restaurants might also have cheaper lunch deals, and then you can just eat some fruit or bread and cheese for dinner (Switzerland has awesome cheese). Don’t forget to indulge in chocolate while you are here too. The most common, and great, options include Lindt, Laderach, Sprungli, and the local chocolatiers in places like Geneva.
A Switzerland holiday should definitely be on any solo traveler’s bucket list. Hopefully, this guide has given you lots of tips, options, and ideas to make that possible. Just remember to head here when there sun is shining in the summer and you will go home with some experiences you will never forget!
- Tips for Traveling Solo on Your Switzerland Holidays - May 31, 2019
I am headed to Switzerland in November for the first time and since we booked the flight all I can do is plan my trip. This has been the best post I have come by. Thank you so much for putting this together!
Interlaken looks like one of the most gorgeous places on earth Anna. Reminds me of my South Island trip in New Zealand.
Switzerland and New Zealand have a lot in common Ryan, although New Zealand is way less developed!
Switzerland is my favorite country to visit. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I am not a back packer and don’t usually stay at hostels. So it was interesting to see my favorite place from different perspective.
Thanks for the lovely comment Larry, there sure are different ways to see a place. And I too no longer “backpack” as often as I used to. Age and money play a bit of a role in that :>