Travel and visas in Switzerland

Visas

Tourist visits totalling no more than 90 days over any 180-day period by nationals of the European Union, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US do not require a visa. UK passport holders can visit Switzerland without a visa for up to 90 days over any 180-day period. Check before travelling.

Getting there and away

By rail

The Channel Tunnel and Eurostar services to Lille, Paris Gare du Nord and Brussels have transformed the rail map of Europe, opening up possibilities for practical day journeys to Switzerland. TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) services to Switzerland are operated by Lyria, a Swiss and French railways joint venture, which began in June 2007.

Trains leave from Paris Gare de Lyon, reached from Gare du Nord by taking RER Line D for just two stops (direction Melun/Malesherbes). The opening of the high-speed LGV (Ligne à Grande Vitesse) Rhine/Rhone in December 2011 reduced journey times between Paris and Basel/Zürich by half an hour. Journey time from the French capital to Basel is 3 hours, to Zürich 4 hours, Geneva 3 hours, Lausanne 3½ hours, Neuchâtel 4 hours, Bern 4½ hours and Interlaken 5½ hours.

For those combining a visit to Switzerland with other countries, the range of trans-European trains is impressive. The following principal stations in Switzerland are linked by direct services with the cities that follow:

  • Basel Amsterdam, Berlin (Nightjet and ICE – Inter-City Express, the German high-speed train), Cologne, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt (ICE), Hamburg (ICE), Hanover, Milan, Paris (TGV), Strasbourg
  • Bern Berlin (ICE), Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Milan
  • Geneva Grenoble, Lyon (TGV), Milan, Paris (TGV), Valence, Venice
  • Interlaken Berlin (ICE), Frankfurt (ICE)
  • Lausanne Milan, Paris (TGV), Venice
  • Zürich Amsterdam (Nightjet), Berlin (Nightjet), Bratislava (Nightjet), Budapest, Cologne, Düsseldorf (Nightjet and EuroCity; EC), Frankfurt (ICE), Genoa, Hamburg (Nightjet and ICE), Innsbruck, Koblenz, Ljubljana, Milan, Munich, Paris (TGV), Prague, Salzburg, Stuttgart, Venice, Vienna, Zagreb

By air

Three Swiss airports receive regular flights from the British Isles: Basel, Geneva and Zürich. The easiest connections between air terminal and railway station are at Zürich and Geneva where the two facilities are adjacent. Both have frequent train services to many parts of Switzerland. Currently there are flights to:

  • Basel from: Bristol, Dublin, Edinburgh, London Gatwick, London Heathrow and Manchester
  • Geneva from: Aberdeen, Belfast International, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Dublin, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton, Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton
  • Zürich from: Birmingham, Dublin, Edinburgh, London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton and Manchester
  • North American airports served by Swiss include: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Montréal, New York, Orlando, Ottawa, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver

Getting around

Switzerland has the densest network of public transport in the world. For two-thirds of Swiss people it is less than 5 minutes’ walk from their homes to the nearest public transport; 97.5% live less than a kilometre away. Besides just over 5,000km (3,125 miles) of state- and privately owned railways, there are 936 postbus routes operated by over 2,400 vehicles and over 600 funiculars, cable cars, rack railways and chairlifts. With local transport and steamer services, this amounts to a public transport network of about 28,382km (17,636 miles).

By rail

A range of rail passes has been created to suit the travel requirements of most visitors. These not only make use of the system much easier; they also represent excellent value (and accompanied children under 16 travel free).

The Swiss Travel Pass entitles the holder to unlimited travel for 3, 4, 6, 8 or 15 consecutive days on more than 28,000km (17,000 miles) of railway, boat and postal bus networks and on the municipal transport systems of over 90 towns and cities. It also entitles the holder to 50% discounts on nearly all mountain railways and aerial cableways.

There is also a wide range of regional passes which usually cover trains, buses and boats, but the precise scope and conditions should be checked.

Postbuses

The Swiss postbus system, operated by Swiss Post (PTT), has a network of 936 routes covering over 16,865km (10,541 miles) with 2,238 vehicles. It evolved from the 19th-century mail coach service, which in 1913 was using 2,523 horses, 2,231 coaches and 1,059 sleighs, and on which the first motor service between Bern and Detligen was introduced in 1906. Postbuses operate all non-urban services and are painted in distinctive yellow livery with a red band.

By car

Given the extent of Swiss public transport, there is almost nowhere that cannot be reached by it and a short walk. However, if using a car is unavoidable, around 3,000 Click & Drive hire cars are available at over 1,500 points, mostly railway stations – provided by Mobility for a basic charge covering 3 hours.

To use this pay-by-use offer, an initial registration with a driving licence is necessary, most easily completed by smartphone app and following the instructions before a journey. After completing this procedure, you will be able to reserve your car online. There are seven different categories of vehicle to choose from, including small budget cars, electric cars and seven-seater minivans. Visit mobility.ch/tourists for further details.

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