I am going on a Topdeck European bus tour that is passing through 20 countries. During the trip, we pass through many countries that don't use the Euro, such as Poland - which uses the Zloty or the Czech Republic, which uses the Koruna. The tour information recommends changing some money into Euros and Swiss Francs before we go. Is there any reason why it might be particularly important to obtain Swiss Francs? Are ATMs particularly rare or are in country exchange rates particularly bad?
Switzerland is not part of the European Union and the currency is the Swiss franc (or Franken or franco, depending in which language area you are), divided into 100 centimes, Rappen or centesimi. However, many places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, sightseeings' box offices, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept Euro and will give you change in Swiss Francs or in Euro if they have it in cash. A check or a price-label contain prices both in francs and in Euro. Usually in such cases the exchange-rate comply with official exchange-rate, but if it differs you will be notified in advance. Changing some money to Swiss Francs (CHF) is essential. Money can be exchanged at all train stations and most banks throughout the country.
Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid by cash, even Fr 200 and Fr 1000 notes. Some establishments (but fewer than before) do not accept credit cards so check first. When doing credit card payments, carefully review the information printed on the receipt (details on this can be found in the "Stay Safe" section below). All ATMs accept foreign cards, getting cash should not be a problem.
As they mention, there are ATMs everywhere, which is what I did when I went - I simply drew cash on arrival. I do this in all my travels - it's convenient, and only 'failed' in Buenos Aires where one of the airport ATMs was down, and in Uzbekistan (Khiva) where only one bank in town could let you draw money from my card type, and there were no ATMs.
ATM's in Switzerland are really really widespread. You won't have any problems to find one. Each village has at least one or two, even in very remote areas. In cities you don't have to walk more than a few hundred meters to find one.
Additionally, it is possible to pay with your credit, maestro, visa or almost every other card almost in every store. Even if you only buy small items for 1 franks or so, it is most often possible to buy with a card. In restaurants this is a little bit different. There the minimum value is around 20 franks most time.
In every major city, in every tourist village and in really every big store you can also pay with Euro in cash. However this is not recommended because the exchange rate then is very bad. But in a case of emergency this can be an option. However, be aware that you're exchange money will be in Swiss franks.
You can also change Euros to Swiss Franks in every Post office. But be aware, post office also keep a huge fee when exchanging money.
So in general the best option is either to buy with card or just withdraw cash from an ATM.
I usually stop at the first ATM in a new country and draw some money. Which is never a problem (at least in Europe), when you arrive at airports or train stations.
Only if I know I will need cash, before there's a chance to find an ATM (e.g. road toll, when entering the country by car) I change some money in advance.