Quick Facts

Full country name: Swiss Confederation
Area: 41,295 sq km (16,105 sq mi)
Population: 7.3 million
Capital City: Bern (pop 130,000)
People: 74% German, 20% French, 4% Italian & 1% Romansch
Language: German, French, Italian & Romansch
Religion: 49% Roman Catholic & 48% Protestant
Government: Federal republic
President: Micheline Anne-Marie Calmy-Rey
GDP: US$192 billion
GDP per head: US$26,400
Annual Growth: 2%
Inflation: 2%
Major Industries: Banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals, chemicals & precision instruments, tourism
Major trading partners: EU (esp. Germany, France, Italy, UK), US, Japan
Member of EU: Yes

February: Carnival time, or Fasnacht, in many towns, but Basel really funks it up with elaborate parades beginning at 4 am.
July: Montreux Jazz Festival.
November: Onion market (Zibelmarit) at Bern, where traders take over the whole town center
Swiss franc
Costs are higher in Switzerland than anywhere else in Europe. All major travelers’ cheques and credit cards are accepted. Commission is not charged for changing cash or cheques, but shop around for the best rates (hotels usually have the worst rates).
Beaten Track:
The village of Ascona on the shore of Lake Maggiore is a regional center for the arts and its back streets are filled with art galleries and craft shops. The community of artists and intellectuals living here at the beginning of the century embraced the back to nature’ movement and welcomed the exiled Lenin for a time. The Museo Comunale D’Arte Moderna includes paintings by artists connected with the town, among them Paul Klee, Hans Arp, Ben Nicholson and Alexej Jawlensky.
Franches Montagnes
Overlooked by most visitors, this pretty area of pastures and woodlands in the Jura mountain chain has 1500 km of hiking trails and some 200 km of cross-country ski trails. Horse riding is also popular, and the horses in the area are supposedly renowned for their gentleness and calm disposition.
The first inhabitants of the region were a Celtic tribe, the Helvetia. The Romans appeared on the scene in 107 BC. They were gradually driven back by the Germanic Altemanni tribe, which settled in the 5th century. The territory was united under the Holy Roman Empire in 1032 but central control was never very tight. That was all changed by the Germanic Habsburg family, which became the most powerful dynasty in Central Europe. Habsburg expansion was spearheaded by Rudolph I, who gradually brought the squabbling nobles to heel.
Upon Rudolph’s death in 1291, local leaders saw a chance to gain independence. Their pact of mutual assistance is seen as the origin of the Swiss Confederation. Encouraged by early successes, the Swiss gradually acquired a taste for territorial expansion themselves and gained independence from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in 1499. After a number of military victories, the Swiss finally over-reached themselves when they took on a combined force of French and Venetians in 1515. Realizing they could no longer compete against larger powers with better equipment, they renounced expansionist policies and declared their neutrality.
The Reformation in the 16th century caused upheaval throughout Europe. The Protestant teachings of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin spread quickly, although central Switzerland remained Catholic. While the rest of Europe was fighting it out in the Thirty Years’ War, the Swiss closed ranks and kept out of trouble. At the end of the war in 1648 they were recognized in the Treaty of Westphalia as a neutral state. Nevertheless, the French Republic invaded Switzerland in 1798 and established the Helvetic Republic. The Swiss, however, did not take too kindly to such centralized control. Napoleon was finally sent packing following his defeat by the British and Prussians at Waterloo. The ensuing Congress of Vienna guaranteed Switzerland’s independence and permanent neutrality in 1815.
In 1848 a new federal constitution was agreed on and it is largely still in place today. Bern was established as the capital and the federal assembly was set up to take care of national issues. Switzerland was then able to concentrate on economic and social matters. It developed industries predominantly dependent on highly skilled labor. Networks of railways and roads were built, opening up previously inaccessible Alpine regions and helping the development of tourism. The international Red Cross was founded in Geneva in 1863 and compulsory free education was introduced.
The Swiss have carefully guarded their neutrality in the 20th century. Their only WW I involvement lay in the organizing of Red Cross units. In WW II, however, Switzerland played a more insidious role as an amenable money launderer for Nazi Germany. Switzerland’s quiet anti-Semitism included shutting its borders to Jewish refugees and forcibly repatriating many of those who escaped Nazi-occupied Europe, in full knowledge of the fate, which awaited them.
While the rest of Europe underwent the painful process of rebuilding from the ravages of war, Switzerland was able to expand from an already powerful commercial, financial and industrial base. Zurich developed as an international banking and insurance center, and many international bodies, such as the World Health Organization, based their headquarters in Geneva.
Afraid that its neutrality would be compromised, Switzerland declined to become a member of the United Nations (though it currently has observer’ status) or NATO. It did, however, join EFTA (the European Free Trade Association). In the face of other EFTA nations applying for EU (European Union) membership, Switzerland finally made its own application in 1992. As a prelude to full EU membership Switzerland was to join the EEA (European Economic Area), yet the government’s strategy lay in ruins after citizens rejected the EEA in a referendum in December 1992. In 1998 the Swiss government agreed to pay US$1.2 billion compensation to relatives of holocaust victims whose funds were deposited in Swiss banks.
Switzerland does not have a strong artistic heritage> Yet many foreign writers and artists (such as Voltaire, Byron, Shelley, James Joyce and Charlie Chaplin) have resided or settled in the country. On the other hand, many creative Swiss such as Charles Le Corbusier, Paul Klee, Albert Giacometti and Jean-Luc Godard left the country to make their name abroad.
The naturalized Swiss writer Hermann Hesse is the most famous local’ author. A copy of his novel Siddartha used to be found in the backpack of every questing Westerner heading on the hippy trail to India. German-Swiss dramatist and novelist Max Frisch was one of Europe’s most respected authors in the 1950s. The 18th-century writings of Rousseau, who lived in Geneva, played an important part in the development of democracy. And Carl Jung, based in Zurich, was instrumental in developing modern psychoanalysis.
Switzerland is a linguistic melting pot with three official federal languages. German is spoken by about 66% of the population, French by 18% and Italian by 10%. A fourth language, Romansch, is spoken by 1% of the population.
Switzerland doesn’t have a great indigenous gastronomic tradition. Instead, Swiss dishes borrow from the best of German and French cuisine. Cheeses form an important part of the Swiss diet. Emmenthaler and Gruyère are combined with white wine to create fondue, which is served up in a vast pot and eaten with bread cubes.
Switzerland is landlocked by France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria and Italy. The Alps occupy the central and southern regions of the country and the modest Jura Mountains straddle the border with France in the north-east. Over 60% of the country is mountainous and a quarter of it is covered in forests. Farming of cultivated land is intensive and cows graze in Alpine meadows as soon as the retreating snow line permits.
Climatic variations mean that vegetation ranges from palm trees in Ticino to delicate alpine flora in the mountains. There are plenty of conifer forests in the mountains, but as altitude increases these are replaced by bushes, scrub and pretty alpine meadows. The most famous and distinctive alpine animals are the ibex (a mountain goat with huge curved horns) and the chamois (a horned antelope). Despite strong environmental legislation, birdlife is on the retreat in Switzerland – 81 species are currently threatened with extinction.
The mountains are mainly responsible for the variety of local and regional microclimates. Ticino in the south has a hot, Mediterranean climate, but most of the rest of the country has a central European climate, with temperatures typically between 20

You can visit Switzerland any time throughout the year. Summer lasts roughly from June to September, and offers the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits. You’ll find much better deals and fewer crowds in the shoulder seasons of April-May and late-September-October.

If you’re keen on winter sports, resorts in the Alps begin operating in late-November, move into full swing around Christmas, and close down when the snow begins to melt in April.


Zurich is Switzerland’s most populous city and offers plenty of cultural diversions. The town boasts free bicycle loans as well as a variety of cycle festivals. Visitors can explore galleries, the pedestrian streets of the old town and Zurich’s lakeside setting.
Goethe described Switzerland as a combination of ‘the colossal and the well-ordered,’ and Zurich, like the country’s other towns and cities, runs on minute-perfect time. That doesn’t mean it’s predictable: Its people did, after all, spawn Dadaism, that anti-art art movement, which goes to show that even cities bubbling over with affluence hold some unexpected surprises.
Population: 348,000Area: 1729 sq km (668 sq mi)Main Language: FrenchCountry: SwitzerlandTime Zone: GMT/UTC plus one hourTelephone Area Code: 01 (the area code is an intrinsic part of the number and must be used at all times).


July: Zuri Fäscht, when a huge fairground takes over central Zurich, topped off with a lavish fireworks display.
August: Street Parade, a large-scale electronic music event with international DJs on the decks.
September: Zuri Jazz Woche.
November: Expovina, held on boats on the Burkliplatz, offers samples of international wines.


Zurich is at the northern end of Lake Zurich (Zurichsee), with the city center split by the Limmat River. Like many Swiss cities, it is compact and conveniently laid out. The main train station (Hauptbahnhof) is on the or left bank of the river.

When to go:

You can visit Switzerland any time throughout the year. Summer lasts roughly from June to September and offers the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits. Unfortunately, you won’t be the only tourist during this period, so prices can be high and accommodation hard to find.

Beaten Track:

Lindt & Sprungli
The Lindt & Sprungli chocolate factory is a few kilometers south of the city center at Seestrasse 204. There is a free museum and a rather self-congratulatory film is screened. These facilities are not always open, however, so phone ahead for their schedule. It is well worth a visit, not least for the very generous free gift of chocolate given at the end.
Kanzlei Flohmarkt
Just a 15-minute walk from Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, this low-key flea market attracts a young artsy-kitschy crowd of bargain shoppers. There are piles of secondhand records, clothes, bicycles and what-have-you on offer every Saturday. There is also an outdoor cafe with fresh pastries and kick-start coffee, and a wine bar where you can wind down at day’s end.
The lawns in the Arboretum on the west bank of Lake Zurich are perfect for strolling. Designated areas for outdoor swimming and sunbathing are open from May to September. Well-known spots are Utoquai on the east shore of the lake and Mythenquai on the west shore. There are also various free-swimming spots, such as the one just north of the confluence of the Sihl and Limmat Rivers.


Zurich started life as a Roman customs post by the name of Turicum. Expansion thereafter was slow, but merchants trading in textiles gradually increased the financial clout of the town. In 1218 it graduated to the status of a free city under the Holy Roman Empire. In 1336 the increasingly powerful merchants and artisans formed guilds that took over the governing of the city.
Zurich’s reputation as a cultural and intellectual center began after it joined the Swiss Confederation in 1351. From 1519 Huldrych Zwingli helped things along with his teachings during the Reformation, and he became a key figure in the running of the city, until his death on the battlefield in 1531. Zurich’s intellectual and artistic tradition continued during WW I with the influx of luminaries such as Lenin, Trotsky, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp and James Joyce.
In 1916 the Dada art movement was born in Zurich, with the creation of the ‘artist tavern’ known as Cabaret Voltaire by Hugo Ball. Around the same time, Carl Jung was honing his psychoanalytical theories in the city.
On the financial side, Zurich’s international status as an industrial and business center is thanks in no small part to the efforts of the energetic administrator and railway magnate Alfred Escher (1819-1882). Throughout his life, he was also a strong force in politics. In 1877 Zurich’s stock exchange was founded, and it is still the most important in the country.
In recent years, the Social Democrats have been at the helm of Zurich’s administration, but the guilds retain a powerful, if behind closed doors, voice in the running of the city.

Getting There:

Kloten airport, 10 km north of the city center, handles domestic and international flights. The journey from the airport to Hauptbahnhof station takes 10 minutes by train. The busy Hauptbahnhof has direct trains to Stuttgart, Munich, Innsbruck and Milan, as well as to many other international destinations. There are also hourly departures to most Swiss towns. For drivers, the N1 is the fastest route from Bern and Basel; it also services routes to the north and east of Zurich.

Getting Around:

There is a comprehensive and unified bus, tram and S-Bahn service in the city, which includes boats on the Limmat River. Tickets allow you to switch between modes of transport, as you like. Taxis in Zurich are expensive even by Swiss standards.


Switzerland’s third-largest city is located on the banks of Lake Geneva. More than one in three residents are non-Swiss and 250 international organizations are based there. These include the European headquarters of the United Nations, the International Red Cross and the World Health Organization.
This acclaimed neutral territory is in pristine condition: clean, efficient and safe, yet spirited in style and adventure – much like the way the Swiss make watches. The cuisine is excellent and among the most varied in Europe.
Population: 178,400Area: 282 sq km (110 sq mi)Main Language: FrenchCountry: SwitzerlandTime Zone: GMT/UTC +1Telephone Area Code: 022


June: Bol d’Or, when Lake Geneva come alive with the bobbing white sails of some 600 yachts racing to the far end of the lake and back.
August: The Fêtes de Geneve, spanning two weekends with parades, open-air concerts and fireworks,
December: l’escalade festival, involving the wild consumption of chocolate and marzipan.


Geneva’s city center hugs the shore of Lake Geneva and is split down the middle by the westward-flowing Rhône. The main train station is conveniently in the center of town on the northern side of the river, as are most of the international organizations. Geneva’s most visible landmark, the Jet d’Eau giant fountain, is on the southern shore.

When to go:

Geneva is a popular base for the Alps, making it a destination year round for sightseeing, skiing and hiking. At any time of year the climatic conditions can vary extremely in Alpine regions, with mid-August to late October providing the most settled weather. The best of the weather is between June and September – but this is also the high season in the high country.

Beaten Track:

The scale of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, will truly impress. It attracts science buffs from the world over. Near Meyrin, 10 km north of Geneva, the center is not just nerd-vana. The birthplace of the World Wide Web, it also has the world’s biggest machine – a 27 km circular particle accelerator – and the largest magnet.
Montreux, located on Lake Geneva, is the centerpiece of the Swiss Riviera. The city began attracting artists to its shores in the 19th century and continues to be a magnet for world-class performers with its legendary Montreux Jazz Festival held each July. It was here in 1971 that the Casino Theatre spectacularly caught fire during a gig by Frank Zappa. Watching the flames from across the lake were the band Deep Purple, who were inspired to write their classic toe-tapper Smoke on the Water.
Being anywhere around the Swiss Alps on a lake means there is no shortage of year-round activities, and Geneva is no exception. There is an excellent walking tour of the old town from the Mont Blanc tourist office or you could take in the beautiful vistas with some hiking in the nearby Jura Mountains or Mont Saleve to the southeast.


Geneva was successively occupied by Romans and then Burgundians in the 5th century. The city became increasingly affluent through its fairs and markets, raising the interest of the House of Savoy, who made several plays for control of the city. In 1530, under pressure from the Swiss Confederation, the Duke of Savoy finally agreed to leave Geneva alone.
The Reformation was introduced to Geneva in the 1530s, courtesy of John Calvin. His pulpit preachings were so successful that the city became known as the ‘Protestant Rome’. There ensued a time so austere that it seemed fun itself had been banished to hell; dancing and the wearing of jewels were seen as corrupting and therefore forbidden. Around the same time the taking of interest on a loan was legalized for the first time. Such repression might have been expected to deter visitors but Geneva’s reputation as an intellectual center attracted many free thinkers, including Rousseau and Voltaire.
In the meantime, Geneva had to put up with another incursion from Savoy in 1602. In a famous and commemorated victory, the hopelessly outnumbered yet canny Genevese were able to repel the entire Savoyard force. There was no further trouble with Savoy, but in 1798 the French annexed the city and held it for the next 16 years before it was freed on 1 June 1814 and admitted to the Swiss Confederation.
Geneva’s fame as the home of many international humanitarian institutions dates back to 1859 and the work of businessman and humanitarian Henry Dunant, whose initiatives led to the establishment of the International Red Cross. The Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864, and Dunant went on to become co-winner of the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
On the grounds of its established neutrality, the United Nations (UN) European headquarters, the World Health Organization and more than 250 international organizations are based in the city.

Getting There:

Geneva airport is an important transport hub and has frequent connections to every major European city and many other cities worldwide. Trains and buses also regularly service Geneva from France, Germany, Italy and Spain as well as from within Switzerland.

Getting Around:

Cointrin airport is only 5 km from the city center and six minutes by train, of which there are 200 a day into Gare de Cornavin. Geneva’s public transport runs to Swiss Timing precision. Buses, trolley buses and trams service the city cheaply and efficiently with a wide range of tickets available for single trips or multiple rides. A night bus operates on weekends.


Is the dominant city in the French-speaking Canton of Vaud and one of Switzerland’s most important cultural centres. Perched above Lake Geneva, the city has, over the centuries, attracted such literary giants as Voltaire, Byron and Dickens. It was here, in fact, that TS Eliot wrote The Waste Land.


Occupies one of the most beautiful natural locales imaginable on the shores of a pristine alpine lake, surrounded by forests and dizzying snow-covered peaks. Lucerne’s mixture of Renaissance and medieval architecture and its relaxed continental ambience has established this little alpine settlement as one of Europe’s major tourist destinations. The imposing silhouette of Mount Pilatus stands watch over the city. Everywhere you look, Switzerland’s magnificent mountain scenery meets your gaze.


The Jungfrau is one of the main summits in the Bernese Alps, situated between the cantons of Valais and Bern in Switzerland. Together with the Eiger and Monch, the Jungfrau forms a massive wall overlooking the Bernese Oberland and is considered one of the most emblematic sights of the Swiss Alps.


Schaffhausen is a city in northern Switzerland and the capital of the canton of the same name; it has an estimated population of 34,587 as of December 2008
Rhine Falls as seen from Neuhausen am Rheinfall
The old portion of the city has many fine Renaissance era buildings decorated with exterior frescos and sculpture, as well as the impressive old canton fortress, the Munot. A train runs out of town to the nearby Rhine Falls in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Europe’s largest waterfall, a tourist attraction.

The mountains and lakes of Switzerland are a natural playground. There are dozens of ski resorts throughout the Alps, the Pre-Alps and the Jura. Zermatt and Verbier have the best combination of slopes, scenery and nightlife. Hiking is the number-one activity in the country, with 50,000 km of designated footpaths and regular refreshment stops en route. There are well-established mountaineering schools in Pontresina and Meiringen. Ski mountaineering is popular along the Haute Route in Valais. Many of the resorts also offer paragliding and hang-gliding and hire out the gear. Water-skiing, sailing and windsurfing are common on most lakes.

Time: Summer is 3 1/2 hours behind India and Winter is 4 1/2 hours behind India
Tourism: 11 million visitors annually
Food, ingredients and the way to prepare it varies greatly all over the country. Generally speaking, basic food items include a huge selection of bread (white, whole wheat etc.), dairy products such as milk, yogurt, butter and – of course – a great variety of the world famous Swiss cheese. Also important are vegetables including beans, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach etc. Sausages and meat – mainly veal, beef, pork, chicken or turkey – are served in many different ways: grilled, cooked, sliced or cut. Side dishes include French fries, rice, potatoes and different types of pasta. Fruits are available from all over the world, locally grown fruits include apples, pears, grapes and different types of berries, such as black berries, blueberries, raspberries, red currants and strawberries. Finally, there are a lot of sweets, including the second type of food that Switzerland is world famous for: Swiss chocolate.

Need Help?