Please sign in to post.

1st time Swiss, after Christmas itenerary, train, and feedback questions

My sister and I are thinking of Going to Switzerland right after Christmas (Dec 26 to Jan 7ish). We do not know any languages besides English. Will we be able to get around and communicate when needed? Would you suggest buying a eurail pass or paying for train tickets as you go through something such as trainline.com ? Is this itinerary realistic and am I hitting all the must do's? We like winter activities , hikes, views, thrills, food and culture. If you had to shave a couple of days off of this trip, where would you cut off time and is this too many destinations/too rushed? I am supposed to be back work on the 6th but I could probably take a few days off, if needed.
Also, I saw its expensive there. What is the average cost for meals and lodging?
Here is our sketch-
Rough draft Idea: Zurich (Days 1-2), Lucerne (Day 3), Interlaken and Jungfrau Region (same area) (Days 4 and 5 ), Zermatt (Days 6-8) to St Moritiz (Days 9-11 to St Gallen (Day 12) to Zurich Airport (Day 13) <~really pushing it time wise- but might could swing it with work leaving Dec 26 and returning Jan 7 or 8

Posted by
3342 posts

My sister and I are thinking of Going to Switzerland right after
Christmas (Dec 26 to Jan 7ish). We do not know any languages besides
English. Will we be able to get around and communicate when needed?

All Swiss schoolchildren learn English as a 3rd or 2nd language so most will be able to speak decent English. But it will help if you learn a bit of German.

Would you suggest buying a eurail pass or paying for train tickets as
you go through something such as trainline.com ?

Avoid Trainline and other 3rd party ticket resellers. Buy your tickets from SBB, www.sbb.ch . Regarding a rail pass, you have to do the maths and see what works out best for you. But my gut feeling is that a pass will not be worth it.

Posted by
50 posts

Funny that you call it German :D

Majority of Germans don't even understand swiss people :D at least not at the beginning..

12 to 13 days for traveling in switzerland sounds reasonable. May I ask from where you will travel to Switzerland?

Posted by
3342 posts

Funny that you call it German :D Majority of Germans don't even
understand swiss people :D at least not at the beginning..

True, but one thing I remember from when I studied a bit of linguistics at university is that the difference between language and dialect is not easy to determine. And Schwiizerdütsch was one of the examples used. Despite it being very hard to understand in spoken form for many Germans, it is (or was at the time) mostly considered a German dialect. Partly because the standard written form is very close to written Hochdeutsch. There are some differences in vocabulary and a few other Swiss specialities, like the diminutive suffix -li. Also, in my experience most german speaking Swiss can speak at least decent Hochdeutsch.

And since I think one of the most important things to learn for tourist is to read basic signs, learning a bit of standard German will probably work fine.

Posted by
1424 posts

At a restaurant you can expect to pay around 15-25 SF for lunch and 30-40 SF for dinner, modest meals each. Consult a guidebook or booking.com for the cost of lodging.

Posted by
807 posts

There are also affordable food options. Take out items from the grocery store chains Migros and Coop which have big stores and smaller convenience stores located in city centers and train stations. The restaurants in the Manor dept stores (Manora) get high marks for price and quality. We've found good takeout options in European bakeries that often have sandwiches, salads, etc.

I highly recommend buying the Rick Steves Switzerland guide which was just updated this month. Lots of useful information for an affordable trip.

Posted by
6779 posts

A good guidebook will help you figure out your questions. My suggestions are to skip Zurich - its nice enough, but just another cosmopolitan big city, not in the mountains. There is a rail station at the Zurich airport from which you can take a train directly (or connecting in Zurich HBF) to Luzern on arrival which is much nicer. Its only about 1 hour 15 minutes from airport to Luzern. Distances are deceiving in Switzerland so you are going to be eating up a lot of time in transit between all those places. I'd choose either Zermatt or the "Interlaken and Jungfrau region" but not both. Preferably the latter, but dont stay in Interlaken, stay up the valley in one of the more scenic towns like Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, or Mürren. If you go to Zermatt I guess you're thinking of taking the Glacier Express route over and then down to St Moritz. Note thats amounts to almost a whole day of travel. St Gallen, I've only passed through - you must have a reason for going there.

Look at the man in seat sixty one site seat61.com for some understanding of passes and half fare cards in Switzerland. You dont need to buy tickets or passes in advance. Note Eurail passes don't cover all the rail lines in Switzerland and its unlikely to pay off, but the Swiss Rail Pass might. Also note its ski season at that time, and who knows how crowded some of these places might be.

Posted by
16883 posts

The Swiss Travel Pass is the one for Switzerland (versus a Eurail-brand pass covering many countries). Lots of details and price comparisons on our link. You would most likely want the version covering 15 consecutive days on most modes of transport and museums (and discounts on those same days on many higher mountain lifts, but no lift discount on Piz Nair by St. Moritz) for about $525 per adult in 2nd class. This is only $100 more than the version covering 8 days of travel within a month and the additional benefits during your length of stay could easily outweigh that increase. A Half-Fare card is certainly better than buying full price tickets for this much travel, but if total costs are similar, then the STP adds some hop-on convenience.

Posted by
2144 posts

I heartily agree with Stan: skip Zurich and travel directly to Luzern, upon your arrival. If you have the STP, going up [boat, cogwheel train] to Mt. Rigi [from Luzern] is completely covered, and is a great adventure.
Note that the days are short in winter: it's not light until about 8:00am, and gets dark around 4:30 pm.
Have a safe and healthy trip!

Posted by
16941 posts

Keep in mind that Christmas to New Years is super prime time for European ski vacations and several of your destinations (Jungfrau region, Zermatt, St Moritz) are ski resorts. As such you will run into minimum stay requirements at hotels. Jungfrau region, maybe Lauterbrunnen would work, but Interlaken has a lot of big hotels and should have places in a pinch. Pontresina, rather than St Moritz might work and people here seem to prefer it to St Moritz anyway. Zermatt could be a problem, so I would try to nail something down there right away.

As far as language, I've been to Switzerland many times in the areas you have planned and have never had occasion to need any German. Everybody I had contact with, hotels, trains, restaurants, shops, were comfortable speaking English. Even people I shared a chairlift or T-bar with for casual conversation spoke English. Announcements on the train PA systems are repeated in English.

Posted by
5789 posts

The Swiss are very literate and fluent in English.

Do the numbers on train passes. The SBB website is helpful (and in EN): https://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

The Zurich Airport SBB ticket office person was helpful. Do the numbers with respect to train travel cards.
https://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

Here you will find comprehensive information on travelcards,
SwissPasses and tickets for Switzerland and Europe.

The hotels we used in Luzern and Klosters both gave us Visitor Cards that included free local transportation and discounts;
https://www.luzern.com/en/services/visitor-card-lucerne/

The Visitor Card gives over night guests free use of buses and trains
within zone 10 of the city network, as well as a range of discounts
for cableways, mountain railways, museums and excursions in the
Lucerne-Lake Lucerne Region.

RE Luzern. Train is only about a hour from Zurich Airport and runs several times an hour.

Posted by
21289 posts

The train fares shown on the SBB website assume the traveler has a Half Fare Card. For the purposes of figuring out what sort of rail pass is best, you'll need to double those default fares before making your comparison.

Posted by
1204 posts

I'd suggest dropping a destination or two; otherwise, you're going to spend a lot of time in transit and finding/checking into your lodging. Slow down and enjoy the places you do decide to visit.

Posted by
822 posts

Funny that you call it German :D
Majority of Germans don't even understand swiss people :D at least not at the beginning..

Nothing funny about, in the German speaking part of the country all kids learn Standard German, or what we call High German, on starting school from the age of about five and it is the language of instruction in schools all the way through. They also learn a second Swiss national language usual French in the German speaking area and German in the French and Italian speaking part of the country, plus a third language.

So most kids will speak: the local Swiss German dialect, German, French and usually English, although a small number will take Italian in stead.

Posted by
13 posts

I agree, Jim. I've lived in Zurich for 3 years. The Swiss have excellent English skills, though they will sometimes say they do not, but they may feel self-conscious when they say that. But I could count on 1 hand the number of times I encountered people couldn't speak English in my first two years here on the Swiss German side. In some remote parts of the country, yes it may be an issue, but you can pull out the Google Translate app to help. (Install that in advance.) Last year in Ticino, the Italian speakers there would prefer to speak to me in High German instead of English when I could manage it.

The Swiss Germans speak their dialect amongst themselves but don't expect any outsiders to know it; they will often say to newcomers that it's not worth the time to learn it. It is a spoken language, not a formal written one. All education is in High German after 1st grade, though Swiss is the language at breaks and on the playground. Swiss German was dying out until WW2, but made a resurgence when the Swiss wanted to differentiate themselves from what their German-speaking neighbors were doing.

Posted by
13 posts

I would also agree with prior comments that you should eliminate either the Jungfrau Region or Zermatt or St. Moritz. That way you could slow down and savor one of the mountain resorts. But you are probably going from Zermatt to St Moritz because of the Glacier Express. I'd probably cut Jungfrau Region in that case, if the Glacier Express is important to you. You should also investigate your accommodation options because those one-week minimums at Christmas are standard in ski towns (though there are exceptions). Resorts may be more in need of occupants this winter, making things very different. All the old advice may not apply anyway.

I assume you are going to St Gallen for the library, which is cool. It can be done as a day trip from Zurich at the beginning or end of your trip. Or on the way back from St. Moritz to Zurich. One of my houseguests last Summer went to the library, loved it, and even fit in a side trip to Liechtenstein and drove through Austria for a little bit on the same day. But with such a busy trip and without a car, I wouldn't suggest that for this situation.