When one thinks of Switzerland, it would be safe to assume that some of the first things that spring to mind are snow-capped mountain peaks, pristine glacial lakes, or a chocolatier pouring liquid chocolate at an agonisingly slow rate.
These ingrained mental images are no doubt a result of the small Alpine nation being a common fixture on seemingly every travel focused online blog and Instagram account alike. It’s easy to understand why, as there are truly few countries with scenic landscapes as photogenic as Switzerland.
In addition to spectacular natural beauty, Switzerland is often famed for its high level of liveability. This is owing to several factors such as world-class infrastructure, lack of crime, low tax-rates, and an anonymised banking system that does not concern itself over accepting significant sums of money with dubious origins.
High-quality of living aside, when it comes to the discussion of which world destinations are the most dynamic and ‘must-visits’, Swiss cities such as Zurich, Geneva, or Basel are never the subjects of focus. This shouldn’t be a surprise however, given these cities tend to be utterly boring.
Conceivably, the dullness of the cities may be inherently grounded in the country’s geography and climate. Take Zurich as an example, with steep hills surrounding its location and being positioned at the end of a large lake, the Zurichsee. During the damp Autumn and Winter seasons, these geological factors combine to produce a dense, grey fog that envelopes the city for depressingly long stretches of time.
It’s during these miserable periods, that Zurich residents often elect to escape ‘en masse’ their lifeless city and head southwards to the Alps which, while definitely colder, usually tends to remain quite bright with sunshine throughout winter. Similar seasonal migrations are also typical for residents of Geneva, Lausanne and Lucerne.
Ignoring potential geographic influences, there is a general sense that the typical elements which can lead a city to feel ‘interesting’, such as cuisine, architecture, or nightlife have been curated in Switzerland to align with the desires and preferences of a soulless, wealthy banker.
A mention of Swiss cuisine would likely conjure up thoughts of a molten cheese fondue or a similarly delicious artery-clogging meal. While one can easily find these sorts of rustic dishes in the more rural regions, most of the restaurants in the cities seem to be more inclined to offer menus that are generically European (i.e. an undecisive mishmash of Italian, French and German fare).
On the topic of architecture, Swiss cities tend to have well-maintained and intact historical old towns; a result no doubt of the country being spared of any destruction during the two World Wars. However, despite this fact, most building facades could be described as conservatively understated and lacking quaint charm.
The feeling of complete sterility is further cemented by the absence of any sort of vibrant nightlife which leads Swiss city centres to be completely abandoned after about 8 o’clock. This could be due to the fact that up until the 1990s, all bars and clubs within the country had to be closed by midnight. Regardless, it’s difficult to take advantage of the longer opening times on a night out given that the bill one can expect to receive will likely bankrupt most budgets.
Of course, the matter of money must be mentioned when exploring the root causes of what exactly makes Switzerland’s cities so mundane. The exorbitant costs that will be incurred during a visit certainly hampers any chance of experiencing joy. It would not be unheard of to spend an equivalent sum of money on a greasy kebab in Switzerland as one normally would for a meal at a mid-range restaurant in the neighbouring western European countries.
Unless you happen to have a limitless line of credit at hand, it would be quite difficult to justify Switzerland as your next travel destination. Sure, the natural scenery cannot be denied, however a better alternative might be to instead visit the next country over, Austria, which in all honesty, has similar beautiful landscapes, more interesting cities, and much more reasonable prices.
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