- RESEARCH TRANSPORT PRICES IN ADVANCE: If you intend to travel to different places whilst you are in Switzerland, it may be cheaper to buy a Swiss Travel Pass. There are various different passes available that you can check out on the website. The pass also provides you with free entrance to a range of museums as well as certain mountain excursions. To really make the most of the travel pass, I would recommend that before you visit each town or city, research places nearby so if you finish earlier than expected, you can just hop onto a train to another place.
- PUNCTUALITY IS KEY: If a train has a certain departure time, chances are it will leave exactly at that time and so get there early!
- SBB WIFI IS A LIFESAVER: When you go to your first Swiss train station, connect to the wifi. Each station has free wifi and so you will automatically connect in the future.
- BE PREPARED FOR THE TRAIN JOURNEYS: Depending on where you visit, the train journey could be around three hours and so take something to keep you occupied. Fatima brought along some cards and so our journeys consisted of the only two player card games we knew: Irish Snap, Go Fish and Spit!
- SUPERMARKET FOOD WILL BECOME YOUR BEST FRIEND: If you are travelling to Switzerland on a budget, I wouldn’t recommend eating out often as the prices are exceptionally high. You can grab warm food or sandwiches from any of the supermarkets as well as picking up ingredients to cook a meal yourself. A wrap from Coop is about 6 CHF (£5); whilst it’s still pricey for a wrap, trust me when I say it is much cheaper than eating out!
- TAKE A REFILLABLE WATER BOTTLE: There are plenty of fountains dotted around Switzerland where you can fill up your bottle with drinkable water, which will save you from buying water every day.
- STOCK UP ON SNACKS FROM HOME: A very Asian thing to do but again, this will save you a lot of money!
- VISIT TOURIST INFORMATION CENTRES: Although we only thought to do this on the last day of our travel pass, it was an extremely useful thing to do as you can grab a map of the city or town, marking out the places you would like to visit.
- MAKE LISTS: It will make your life a lot easier to research what you would like to visit in a certain place and so when you arrive, you won’t waste time finding things to do.
- RESEARCH AND BOOK: Unfortunately, we didn’t get to tour a chocolate factory or do any adventure sports like we wanted to as we didn’t realise you have to book in advance. Don’t make the same mistake we did!
We had finally reached the end of our trip and so it made sense to spend the last day exploring Basel. Not having to catch any trains, we planned to have a lie in but of course that didn’t happen and we ended up waking up at eight. We got ready at a leisurely pace and then caught the tram to Basel Munster. However, when we arrived we couldn’t go in as there was a service taking place and so we waited outside for fifteen minutes where we had a great view of the river as well as listening to a street performer play a few songs.
The Munster was impressive on both the outside and the inside; with its red sandstone walls and colourfully decorated roof to the interior column arches and vibrant stained glass windows.
Our next stop was the Rathaus which was a five minute walk from the Munster and was by far the most opulent Rathaus we had seen. On the day that we went, there was a little market outside selling fruit and vegetables as well as food.
When we had finished at the Rathaus, it began to rain and so we decided to get some food from Coop to take back to the apartment and eat. We ended up picking up some ravioli and some sauce to make which was really nice.
After lunch, we visited the two remaining city gates we had yet to see: Spalen and St Alban Tor.
One thing I learnt in Switzerland was that I have a slight obsession with fountains; there’s something that is extremely soothing and therapeutic about the cascading water. And so naturally, my favourite place in Basel was the Tinguely Fountain; we sat there for half an hour and then to Fatima’s amusement, we ended up going back once we had visited all the other places. The fountain was actually made in 1977 by Jean Tinguely where the stage of a theatre company once stood; Tinguely sculpted nine machines which continuously move, almost like the performers that previously stood in the same spot.
Our next stops were the Congress Centre which is used to hold conferences and a bridge where people can attach their own locks.
For dinner, we walked to a sushi restaurant in France which was only fifteen minutes away. It was my first time trying sushi that was not from a supermarket but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it all apart from the sashimi.
It was the last day we could use our Swiss Travel Pass and so we chose to make the most of it by travelling to Geneva, even though it meant waking up at six in the morning! I guess you can say we were a bit backwards as it was actually the first time we started off or even visited a tourist information centre, probably one of the wisest things we did on the whole trip! We were able to pick up a map there and circle the places we wanted to visit, allowing us to mark out a route.
Our first destination was the flower clock which we were really eager to see. However, when we got there, the clock had been closed off and so slightly deflated, we continued to walk alongside the lake towards the Jet d’Eau. The Jet d’Eau is an impressive fountain in the middle of Lake Geneva; in 1886, a power station was built to deliver high pressure water to buildings around the city; the constant pressure build-ups meant that a pressure relief valve had to be installed and so the Jet d’Eau came to exist.
After having lunch on the benches beside the pier, we headed towards St Pierre Cathedral. The Cathedral is known for housing John Calvin, a theologian, who was vital to the Protestant Reformation; again we were really excited as we had studied Calvin in History.
Trying to find the Reformation Wall from the Cathedral proved to be quite difficult and so drastic measures had to be taken… we whipped out the Huawei! I think we were both in shock when it actually got us there! On route to the wall, we also got the chance to see other fascinating monuments such as the one below.
The wall features many famous reformers with John Calvin, Guillame Farel, Theodore de Beze and John Knox portrayed in the middle.
Our next stop was meant to be a visit to CERN ( the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), however, after catching a tram that we thought would get us there, we found ourselves lost and instead caught a tram back and headed to the UN building.
In front of the UN building, there is a sculpture of a broken chair. It was created in 1997 for the NGO, Handicap International and symbolises the campaign against landmines; it conveys the message of remembering those who were victims of landmines as well as encouraging governments to promote a landmine ban.
After Geneva, we visited Lausanne, a city also located on the lake. The theme of our day seemed to be visiting places that were closed as when we went to the tower and castle, we were disappointed to find they were both shut.However, we still had the chance of seeing the iconic Cathedral which was built in a Gothic style.
On the walk to the Cathedral, we passed a rally which we encountered again on the way to the metro station. Although we couldn’t understand what was written on their banners, we realised it was a communist rally from the flags. It was actually really lively with people playing the drums as well as them singing and marching through the streets.
For dinner, we picked up some food from a shop near the metro and ate on the train. I went for prawn sushi and Fatima opted for a vegetable soup.
We initially decided that we would spend the day on a panoramic train which was included under our Swiss Travel Pass, starting from Spiez and getting off at Interlaken so that we could then visit Grindelwald. As it turns out, what was meant to be ten minutes in Spiez turned into two hours! Although Spiez is a small town, it is located on Lake Thun and surrounded by mountains making it a very peaceful yet picturesque place to visit.
We walked around the town before spotting a castle on a hill. When we went inside, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could go in for free ( again because of the travel pass), as well as there being information about the history provided in English. The castle was a fun change from the countless Altstadts, Münsters and clock towers we had visited, providing interactive activities such as writing using a quill and climbing onto a wooden horse.
The view from the tower, the oldest part of the castle, was insane!
When we finished touring the castle, we spoke to the woman at reception who was extremely helpful and friendly. After telling her our next stop was Interlaken, she suggested we take a boat rather than a train, allowing us to have an even better view of the mountains. (The boat ride was also free with the pass.)
The journey was just under two hours and when we reached Interlaken, we were starving. As it was a bank holiday and we couldn’t see any nice restaurants nearby, we just picked up some veggie pizza slices from Avec ( yet another supermarket) and ate them at the station. We then explored Interlaken and ended up finding numerous halal restaurants we could have eaten at! One thing we did notice was that there were a lot of Indian people as well as multiple Indian flags hung onto each building; we later discovered that it was because many of the Bollywood movies are actually filmed there; so if you want to meet a Bollywood star, Interlaken is the place to be!
In Grindelwald, we wanted to do a zipline or quad biking but discovered when searching online we had to book in advance and so we decided we would go to St Gallen instead; another city we had passed on our train journey on a previous day. Without consulting a map, we hopped onto a train. Halfway into what seemed like an endless journey, we realised that St Gallen was on the opposite side of the country from Interlaken!
When we did finally arrive in St Gallen, we visited the Abbey and Cathedral; the Baroque style interior was amazing!
In order to get back to the apartment for ten, we didn’t have that much time to fully explore the city and so the remainder of our time there was spent roaming the streets.
For dinner, we picked up falafel sandwiches from Coop to eat on the train; I can’t say I was a big fan; they definitely needed some hoummus!
The one day on our trip where there were actually clear skies and sun meant we had to visit Lucerne. First on our itinerary was Mount Pilatus; we caught a tram to Kriens where we could ride a cable cart which was free with our Swiss Travel Pass. The ascent gave us breathtaking views from both sides of our cart: Lucerne and the lake from one window and Pilatus from the other.
When we reached the top, we were able to exit the cable cart and experience the view without a layer of glass and as cliché as it may be, I cannot even begin to describe how it felt. We also managed to make a few friends whilst at the top; at one point, Fatima was taking a picture of me where I was knee-deep in snow, when suddenly a woman jumped beside me, wrapped her arm around me and motioned for her husband to take a photo. After calling Fatima to also get into the shot, she then proceeded to switch places with her husband; we were caught off guard to say the least! The couple, who we discovered were from China, were so friendly and caught the cable cart back down with us.
We enjoyed our lunch beside the lake before exploring the city of Lucerne itself, starting with a walk across the 14th century Kapellbrücke ( Chapel Bridge), one of the oldest wooden bridges in Europe. Across the bridge, there are triangular panels hanging from the roof which describe events from Swiss history. There were originally 158, however, after a fire in 1993, only thirty out of the fourty- seven paintings that survived, were able to be restored.
After walking through the streets in the centre, we decided to visit the Lion Monument. The dying lion was carved into a sandstone cliff face in remembrance of the Swiss guards who died during the French Revolution in 1792. The Latin inscription above the lion translates to ‘To the Loyalty and Bravery of the Swiss.’
After Lucerne, we visited a town called Rapperswil which is located on the upper half of Lake Zurich. We first walked along a wooden bridge which is the longest in Switzerland and then turned back so that we would have time to see the other sights. We walked up to the castle where we had a great view of the whole town, as well as spotting some deer. As we entered the castle, we saw a couple of people who were frantically placing decorations up stop and stare at us; whilst I was oblivious to what was going on and continued to walk around, Fatima realised that there was a wedding due to start and so we quickly hurried out!
To get back to the apartment from Rapperswil, we had to change at Zurich and so we decided to pick up some dinner from the station. We ended up eating noodles and rice at a Thai place called Kaimug; it was initially quite bland for us but after adding a chilli sauce and plenty of lime, it wasn’t too bad.
After dinner was when all the chaos began! We picked up some froyos from Coop before heading to our train which was a big mistake. Not only were the froyos much more expensive than we originally thought, but the platform was on the opposite side of the station from where we were. Running to get onto the train, we got there in time to see it departing without us. Although what really topped off the ordeal was when I was running, I dropped the spoon from my froyo and got laughed at by a random stranger!
Stepping out of the train station at Bern, we immediately experienced a different type of atmosphere from the previous places we had visited. Perhaps it was the distinct contrast in temperature (it was still raining), or the fact that Bern is the capital city and so was teeming with people, either way we had already decided we loved the place!
Seeing as the Huawei had proven to be useless, we decided to just wander around and hopefully encounter the sights on our list. Our first stops were the Dreifaltigkeitskirche and Rose Garden. Again, we didn’t take any pictures inside this particular Church as there were people who were praying and so we felt it would be disrespectful to do so. The Rose Garden was really beautiful with a pavilion area where you could sit and face a view of the whole city. Whilst in the garden, we met a really friendly Swiss woman, who initially started speaking to us in Arabic; after taking in our blank faces, she asked what languages we spoke and then welcomed us into her country.
We then walked to the House of Parliament which is also referred to as the Federal Palace of Switzerland. Outside the building, there is an impressive display of twenty- six fountains which represent each of the cantons.
As always, we took a walk through the city’s Altstadt (old town). Having seen various Altstadts on our travels in Switzerland, it is safe to say Bern’s was by far my favourite: with coloured flags to countless fountains and the Zytglogge (clock tower) I had been excitedly anticipating, what was there not to like? The Zytglogge, built in 1530, was the city’s first western gate.
Slightly further on from the Zytglogge, we saw the house of Albert Einstein, where he stayed for two years and developed his Theory of Relativity.
After seeing the Rathaus and a few other sites, we headed towards the bear park which Fatima was really looking forward to. Seeing it in a vlog, where there were only two bears, I warned her not to get her hopes up as it didn’t look very promising but she was adamant it would live up to her expectations. Having walked ten minutes in the rain, we arrived and discovered there were no bears! I’m not going to lie, I was in tears from laughing so much whereas Fatima was pretty much devastated. However, a few minutes later we saw a group of people gathering on the opposite side near the river and so went to see what they were looking at: THERE WAS A BEAR!! The bear was really cute and was slowly moving around and as it walked through another gate, we discovered a second bear! Even though I went there not expecting much, I am so glad we did go and would really recommend visiting as it is quite a different activity.
We finished in Bern at around 17:00 and decided to visit a town called Olten that we had passed on the train earlier in the day. Olten provided a relaxing end to our busy day; we went for a walk beside the River Aare and walked across an old bridge.
When we finally arrived back at the apartment, we were exhausted and so decided to order in a take- away. We opted for a Domino’s vegetarian pizza; considering I don’t see the hype in the UK, the pizza was actually pretty good!
When planning for the trip, we decided that we wanted to see as much of the country as possible without spending a fortune on transport which is something we managed to accomplish. We discovered the beauty of the Swiss Travel Pass before we flew out and chose to go with the four day pass which gives you access to most types of transport as well as free entry to museums and discounted prices on mountain excursions. I will put the link of the website here with all the details if anyone is interested in finding out more and I will write a separate blogpost with tips for travelling in Switzerland soon.
Our first stop using the pass was the largest city in Switzerland: Zurich. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not on our side and so as we stepped out of the station, we were met with rain. However, we were still excited and raring to see all the sights on our list.
Walking away from the train station, we whipped out our Huawei containing a Swiss sim; this allowed us to use the internet and so access Google Maps, guiding us to our destinations quickly and easily. Or so we thought… The Huawei literally took us in circles for what seemed like an eternity. Freezing cold and fed up with its non-existent navigation system, I decided to take matters into my own hands and navigate using my own sense of direction.
Finally, we walked up the stairs to St. Peter’s Church, and were able to see its clock face which is the largest in Europe. Upon entering the Church, we found it to be empty apart from an organist who played for us allowing us to take in the interior of the Church at our own pace.
The next two churches we visited were the Fraumünster and Grossmünster. The Grossmünster was particularly interesting for us as it was the origin of the Swiss Reformation which was led by Ulrich Zwingli, who we studied during AS History. The church also featured some pretty spectacular stained glass windows, however, photography was not permitted inside.
We then took a walk along what we thought was a river but later realised was Lake Zurich, passing the Rathaus (town hall) and several shops on the way. Quite soon after, we decided to call it a day in Zurich as the weather was freezing and so we hopped on a tram which would take us to the train station. Little did we know that it would take us to the wrong station! But all was well because having the Swiss Travel Pass meant we could just hop onto another train to the main Zurich Station. You’re probably laughing right now, but trust me the best is yet to come!
Upon arrival to the main station, we picked up wraps from Coop to eat on a bench inside; mine was Mediterranean style and Fatima’s had grilled vegetables. After searching frantically for a place to sit and not having any luck, we had a eureka moment and thought we would just get onto a random train to eat our lunch! Spotting a train that went to Winterthur, a place we had considered visiting, we immediately got on.
When we reached Winterthur, we grabbed a couple of doughnuts from Migros (another major supermarket) and then googled things to do or see there. I don’t know if it was the rain and cold weather or the fact that everything was so far apart but we decided that we didn’t actually want to stay in Winterthur and so instead caught a train to Bern. All in all, it wasn’t our brightest moment when we decided to catch a train to Winterthur just to eat our lunch!
Basel is a prime location to stay if you are looking to not only explore Switzerland, but also France and Germany. It is situated in the Northwest of the country and so borders both countries. Using this to our advantage, on Thursday we decided to take a train to Colmar, a town in France.
From the train station, we walked through a park, Champ de Mars, where we could see various monuments and a fountain. The highlight for me by far was the 1900 Carousel; from what I could understand of the signs using my basic knowledge of French, the Carousel is unique in Europe due to it’s size and being made from wood- it actually took fifty people two years to construct! Unfortunately, it was not actually open when we visited but it was still impressive!
We then proceeded to walk into the city centre. Not knowing which way to go, we contemplated following what looked like a large group of tourists (this was a recurring theme on our trip!) before finding some signs to point us in the right direction. It was then we got our first experience of the cobbled streets lined with medieval buildings and small boutiques with plenty of character.
For lunch, we decided to find a place to sit by the river in the area known as ‘Little Venice.’ Whilst we sat, we saw various people taking boat rides but we were quite surprised to see them return in literally three minutes!
We then continued to wander through the town, coming across various sights such as Saint Martin’s Church, the former customs house (Koifhus), the Dominican Church and the Pfister House.
There is also a chance to see a replica of the Staue of Liberty in Colmar. Throughout the day, we kept seeing images of the Statue on the floor with arrows we assume pointed you in its direction, however, we didn’t actually get the time to visit it ourselves. The statue was built to honour the 100th death anniversary of Auguste Batholdi ( the sculptor of the original), who was actually born in Colmar.
I also got really excited when I spotted a Sephora seeing as we don’t have one in the UK. However, I was quite disappointed as most of the brands were French; the other brands- Urban Decay, Makeup Forever and Benefit are already available in the UK and were a lot more expensive there.
We headed back to Basel at around 17:00 and then caught a tram to Weil am Rhein in Germany to have dinner. I had doner in bread with salad which was really nice but very filling!
After an extremely early start, we reached Basel at around 13:00 and then headed to the apartment to freshen up. Whilst the weather was fairly cold, we still decided to head to the nearest supermarket (Coop) to grab some lunch to eat beside the River Rhine.
When browsing for some halal friendly options, we were very much intrigued by the concept of a sushi sandwich and so picked one up in addition to a teriyaki tofu salad and some cous cous.
The walk down to the river took us ten minutes, allowing me to have my first glimpse of Basel: multi coloured buildings lined with bicycles; an array of cute, little shops and a diverse community of people. At this point, I think I was already in love with the country!
On the way back from the river we passed St Johanns Tor, also known as the Gate of Saint John. It was built after 1356, forming part of the city’s fortifications and remains as one out of three of the entrance gates in Basel.
In the evening, we caught the tram to a Halal Turkish Restaurant called Aladin. Not being able to choose one thing as usual, we ordered several dishes and shared. I really enjoyed the falafel and houmus as well as the Dolma which I absolutely love!