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There’s a version of Switzerland many know from storybooks: soaring alps covered in pristine snow, picturesque villages nestled among green pastures dotted with wildflowers, and peaked castles reflected in expansive lakes. You can find that wonderland here — alongside hardy skiers, pots of warm fondue, and packets of sweet milk chocolate — but Switzerland has a thrillingly urbane side, too. Medieval and modern architecture mingle in chic metropolitan centers Zurich, Geneva, and Basel, which pulse with cutting-edge culture and nightlife. Ringed by Germany, France, and Italy, Switzerland exudes a truly international culture, and ritzy après-ski scenes and opulent lakeside resort towns rival any European locale for sheer luxury. Yet it remains tough to compete with the natural allure of the country, whose landscape boasts glaciers, mighty rivers, more than 1,000 lakes, and pastoral plateaus.
Zurich Airport (ZRH) is the country’s largest international air hub. There are also major airports in Basel — EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (BSL) — and Geneva (GVA). Many visitors rent cars to explore the scenic beauty of Switzerland, but this is also a country with excellent transportation options, including a comprehensive rail network and a fleet of smaller airports servicing other regions of the country such as Lugano and Bern. A Swiss Travel Pass, which can be purchased online and loaded on your phone, gets you unlimited rides on rail, bus, and boat networks as well as discounted admission to museums and other cultural attractions.
Deciding when to go to Switzerland depends on how you want to optimize your trip. Spring is verdant and summer is warm and sunny. Temperatures are cool in the fall during harvest season, and in winter it’s brisk and snow falls in the mountains. Winter, of course, is the ideal time for snow sports and coziness. The country doesn’t experience extreme weather, and a suitcase packed with layers will see you through most seasons. Switzerland is host to world-class events year round, including the Ski World Cup in Wengen in January; the Lucerne Festival, a massive celebration of classical music that takes place in Lucerne every August and September; and the legendary Art Basel, which alights in the eponymous city in September, showcasing thousands of artworks from around the world.
Cosmopolitan Zurich is Switzerland’s largest and perhaps most fascinating city. Renowned for its hip atmosphere, it’s also an eminently liveable place with a free bike-sharing program. Spend your days among the significant art collections of the Kunsthaus and the Rietberg museums and your nights at Zürich-West, a former industrial hub reimagined as a nexus of nightlife and culture.
A trip to stunning Lake Geneva isn’t complete without a visit to this elegant fortress. Get a sense of Switzerland’s medieval past at this 25-building castle from which royals once gazed down upon their kingdom. Guided tours will take you past 14th-century wall paintings and into subterranean chambers. Nighttime events allow visitors to explore the compound until midnight.
One of the prettiest and most relaxing ways to cover a lot of ground in Switzerland is by rail. Hop aboard the Glacier Express to swoosh through wintry Alpine landscapes featuring staggering peaks and glacial lakes. The Bernina Express threads through varied landscapes and picturesque towns and features open-air cars in the summer.