7 Things to Do Before Visiting the Swiss Alps


On the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe, a snowstorm was raging and the wind was so cold that my poor ungloved hands turned to ice. I packed a heavy jacket for this trip to the Jungfrau region of Switzerland, but I didn’t bring anything else for winter like a hat or gloves.

I’m experiencing summer in the Swiss Alps near the town of Grindelwald in central Switzerland, so I don’t think I’ll need anything other than a coat for cold nights.

However, even though the sun was shining warmly down the valley, I was shivering and chilling in the summer, but in the winter, storms ravaged the Jungfraujoch, one of the two main 4fts of the Bernese Alps. Furious snow blocks most views of the 1,000,11-foot Aletsch Glacier.

Not being prepared for a variety of weather conditions was one of the few mistakes I made on my first visit to the Jungfrau region. I’m usually good at researching places before visiting, but I still missed a few tips that would have made my life a little easier when visiting Switzerland.

1. With layers

The weather in Switzerland’s idyllic valleys is very different from that on the region’s mountaintops and peaks. Since the Swiss Alps straddle the Nordic climate and the warmer Southern European climate, the weather can be cool and warm at the same time. In fact, you can experience the sun in one valley while the rain pours down the other side of the mountain.

When in doubt, it’s better to have that extra jacket and pair of gloves and not need it than to need it and not have it. Carrying heavy winter gear along with shorts and a vest can mean extra luggage, but don’t underestimate the variability of weather in Switzerland any time of year.

Pro tip: The temperature drops about 1.8 degrees for every 328 feet of elevation gain. So, for example, if you go to the top of Jungfraujoch, you are 2.14 miles above sea level, and in summer the summit is cold and sometimes covered in thick snow.

2. Be prepared for altitude sickness

Likewise, the altitude can cause some misery for Swiss tourists if they are not prepared for it. With an average elevation of 4,429 feet, Switzerland is one of the highest countries in the world. Dufourspitze, the highest mountain in Switzerland, is 15,203 feet above sea level.

Altitude sickness can be quite painful if you are not used to high altitudes. Acute mountain sickness is ” not uncommon at moderately high altitudes,” according to a study titled “Prevalence of acute mountain sickness in the Swiss Alps.” It can cause “severe headache, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and pronounced lung crackles.”

One of the ways to fight this disease is to ask your doctor for a prescription for a drug called acetazolamide, or Diamox. This is a common prescription for preventing acute mountain sickness, high-altitude pulmonary edema, and high-altitude cerebral edema.

You can also buy over-the-counter medications to combat altitude sickness, but they don’t work as well in my personal experience.

Pro tip: If you’re at high altitude, treat any headaches, dizziness, or vomiting as altitude sickness. Descend immediately to a lower altitude and make sure you stay properly hydrated at all times. If you do plan to climb or summit these peaks, spend a day or two in one of the nearby towns to slowly acclimate.

3. Stomach problems are common

One of the best things about Switzerland is the food and drink. The Swiss are masters in the art of chocolate, cheese-making and wine, so prepare to be seduced by the abundance of tasty, rich and dairy-heavy treats.

While planes, trains, and car travel usually cause me to “slow down” my digestion process – if you know what I mean – rich and tempting food makes me more constipated than usual. Others may have the opposite problem, depending on their body type.

So if you plan on indulging in all the rich cheese dishes and fondues, mouth-watering chocolates and hearty sausages, be sure to pack an over-the-counter belly remedy for either problem.

4. Switzerland is expensive

You may have heard that Switzerland is expensive. In fact, Zurich and Geneva are often included in lists of the most expensive cities in the world.

Yes, certain things are much more expensive in Switzerland, like groceries, clothes, buying shoes, eating out or drinking. In fact, unless you eat fast food, it’s hard to find a meal for less than CHF 20 ($20.51).

Public transport, tourist excursions and medical costs are also much higher than in other destinations.

Having said that, if you can afford to stock up on light groceries to pay for breakfast and lunch, you’ll be able to indulge in the good value for money the restaurant has to offer here. Just, be aware of the costs you may face and budget accordingly.

5. Invest in rail passes

Switzerland is home to some of the best public transport in the world, and taking the trains, gondolas and cable cars is the way to go if you want to see everything this beautiful country has to offer. As mentioned above, Switzerland can be a bit expensive, so buying separate train tickets and gondola tickets can add up after a while, and a rail pass can save you a lot of money.

The Swiss Travel Pass from Rail Europe entitles you to travel on panoramic trains such as the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Lucerne-Interlaken Express, Golden Pass Panorama Train and Gotthard Panorama Express. While it’s a better option than buying an individual plane ticket, you can expect to pay a lot for the Swiss Travel Pass, so prepare for sticker shock.

The rail pass also has public transport in more than 90 Swiss towns and cities. It even offers premium passes. The Swiss Travel Pass is valid for 3, 4, 8 and 15 days and offers free entry to more than 480 museums and exhibitions.

6. Buy alcohol in stores

Like many other things in Switzerland, going out to drink and buying wine in restaurants is an expensive affair. Don’t drink at bars and restaurants, just buy wine and beer at the grocery store and drink at hotels or rentals.

Remember that alcohol hits the body faster and harder at altitude, making you a cheap drunk on the mountain.

7. Get a Universal Adapter

If you’re traveling in Europe and Switzerland, choose the right adapter to charge your electronic devices. While most of Europe uses Schuko plugs (type F), Switzerland uses J- type sockets, which are smaller.

You can buy a universal travel adapter instead of both. Just make sure it includes a J-type socket.

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