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Mistakes I Made on My First Trip to Switzerland; How I’d Avoid Them

I went to Switzerland for the first time last year, riding trains out of Zurich and through the Swiss Alps.

Though I have lots of experience traveling in Europe, some norms in the country caught me off guard during the nine-day trip.

As I made my way first to Zurich, then Sion, and finally to St. Moritz, I made a few traveling blunders that I’ll be sure to avoid next time.

Trying to walk into restaurants without a reservation

Without a reservation, there was a long wait at Restaurant Zeughauskeller.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen

Multiple people told me to eat at Restaurant Zeughauskeller, the most famous classic Swiss restaurant in Zurich, so on my second night there, I strolled over.

Even though it was a Wednesday, the former medieval armory was packed. I joined a huddle of about a dozen other reservation-less people waiting outside.

When I peeked into the huge dining room with high wood-beamed ceilings, where each long table was filled with people eating and drinking, a server told me over the din of voices that the wait could be over an hour.

When I arrived in Sion, a small town in the mountains, I thought I’d be fine without any restaurant reservations. But each high-rated Sion eatery I went to turned me away, saying they were full.

I wandered the streets of Sion for a bit before I found a restaurant with an open table.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen

By the time I got to St. Moritz, I’d learned my lesson and called ahead to make reservations. I had no issues getting into those restaurants.

Not realizing water costs extra

I made another gaffe inside the Swiss restaurants. Coming from the US, I assumed water was free with any meal.

Later, when I looked at my receipts, I realized flat or sparkling water at almost every restaurant cost an extra 3 to 5 Swiss francs.

According to the restaurant directory, only one of the country’s 26 cantons (similar to states in the US) has a law requiring restaurants to provide free water. The directory asks customers to consider tap water a “hospitality service.”

Using Airbnb instead of a hotel

On the plus side, there was a gorgeous view on the bridge near the Airbnb I didn’t like.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen

When I was booking my trip, I checked Airbnb first because it was much cheaper than hotels when I recently visited France.

I didn’t have many options, but I snagged an Airbnb in Zurich that ended up being the worst place I stayed during the entire trip.

The tiny studio apartment featured an uncomfortable bed with scratchy sheets, a small table with chairs, a kitchen sink, and a bathroom.

I either had to leave the windows open and expose myself to direct sunlight and noise from the busy road below or close them and let the room get stuffy.

Thankfully, I only stayed there for two nights. I think I would’ve been better off in a cheap hotel room, which likely would’ve had a better bed and no kitchen area, which I didn’t need.

The city has a lot of Airbnb options, though, so I probably could’ve gotten a nicer studio if I’d spent more money or booked further in advance.

Plus, there may be even more options in the future. In its Q4 2023 earnings report, Airbnb said it was expanding its “playbook” in a few European countries like Switzerland, continuing its efforts at “investing in under-penetrated international markets.”

In Sion and St. Moritz, I had booked rooms in boutique hotels instead and they were lovely.

Using Google Maps to locate bus stops

This sneaky bus stop was in an underground pass beneath a building.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen

Switzerland lived up to its reputation for efficient, on-time trains with clear signage, but I can’t say the same for the buses.

In Zurich, I struggled to find bus stops. I would walk to the exact spot where Google Maps said the bus stop was and see no signs or benches. I’d wander around looking for the bus stop while watching several buses drive past me without stopping.

Each time, I had to ask a local or two where the bus stop was. It was usually at least a block away from the location I saw in the app.

Plus, the buses didn’t arrive nearly as often as they were said to on Google Maps.

Next time, I wouldn’t rely solely on Google Maps to get around. I’ll probably use the SBB website or mobile app to find bus stops and public transit routes.

Buying a one-device outlet adapter at the airport

I forgot to pack an adapter to plug my American devices into Swiss outlets, so I had to buy one once I landed at the Zurich airport.

Unfortunately, it only charged one device at a time.

Since I was carrying a phone, a portable phone battery, AirPods, two laptops, an electric toothbrush, and a camera, I would’ve preferred some extra charging capacity.

Every moment I was in a hotel room or café, I was plugging something in. Several nights, I brushed my teeth manually with my dead electric toothbrush.

I could’ve saved a lot of hassle and about $15 by ordering an adapter with multiple USB ports on Amazon ahead of my trip.


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