Switzerland is a country in Europe.

Switzerland may also refer to:


Capital Berne
Currency Swiss franc (CHF)
Population 8,183,800 (June 2014)
Electricity 230V/50Hz
Country code +41
Time zone UTC+1

Switzerland (German: Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansch: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica) is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It has borders with France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Germany to the north.

Switzerland is known for its mountains (Alps in south, Jura in northwest) but it also has a central plateau of rolling hills, plains, and large lakes. The highest point is Dufourspitze at 4,634 m (15,203 ft) while Lake Maggiore is only 195 m (636 ft) above sea level. The climate is temperate, but varies with altitude. Switzerland has cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters and cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers with occasional showers.

Switzerland is intrinsically culturally more diverse than perhaps any other European country. It has four official languages, which have historically been dominant in various regions, or cantons - German, French and Italian in the regions bordering the respective country, and the uniquely local Romansch. Switzerland also has one of the proportionally largest expat/immigrant populations, consisting of almost all of the world's nationalities and enthnic groups. Renowned for tolerance, neutrality and direct democracy, as well as almost-legendary affluence, Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living in the world - and prices to match.

Switzerland can be a glorious whirlwind trip whether you've packed your hiking boots, snowboard, or just a good book and a pair of sunglasses.


  • Regions 1
  • Cities 2
  • Other destinations 3
  • Understand 4
    • Diversity 4.1
    • Economy 4.2
  • Get in 5
    • Entry requirements 5.1
    • By airplane 5.2
    • By train 5.3
    • By bus 5.4
    • By car 5.5
  • Get around 6
    • By plane 6.1
    • Public transport 6.2
      • Tickets 6.2.1
      • Travel 6.2.2
      • Information for railway fans 6.2.3
    • Hiking and cycling 6.3
      • Hiking 6.3.1
      • Bicycle 6.3.2
      • In-line Skating 6.3.3
    • By car 6.4
  • Talk 7
  • See 8
    • The seven wonders 8.1
    • The seven natural wonders 8.2
  • Do 9
  • Buy 10
    • Currency 10.1
    • Banking 10.2
    • Tipping 10.3
    • Costs 10.4
    • "Swiss-made": Souvenirs and Luxury Goods 10.5
  • Eat 11
    • Supermarket Chains 11.1
  • Drink 12
  • Sleep 13
  • Learn 14
  • Work 15
  • Stay safe 16
  • Stay healthy 17
  • Respect 18
  • Connect 19


Politically, Switzerland is divided into cantons, but the traveler will find the following regions more useful:

Regions of Switzerland (motorways: red, expressways: yellow, waterways: blue)
Lake Geneva
On the northern shores of Lac Léman, from the Jura to the Alps
Jura Mountains and Fribourg
Hiking, lakes, watch-making
Bernese Lowlands
The core region of traditional Bernese influence
Bernese Highlands
The majestic Bernese Alps
Central Switzerland
The birthplace of the Swiss Confederation and the legends of Wilhelm Tell
Basel and Aargau
Culture, arts and home of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry; neighbouring Germany and France
The country's largest city with a sprawling metropolitan area
Northeastern Switzerland
Between the Alps and Lake Constance, Abbey of St Gall, and home to many scenic dairy farms on rolling hills in Appenzell
Switzerland's highest peaks and Europe's largest glaciers
Officially trilingual, the region is very mountainous, lightly populated and home to many great tourist cities and includes the ancient Romansh minority language and culture (in English also known as The Grisons)
Italian-speaking region including famous alpine lakes
Swiss cantons
Politial divisions: Swiss cantons

The Swiss Alps stretch through the regions of the eastern part of Lake Geneva, Valais, Bernese Highlands, southern part of Central Switzerland, almost the entirety of Ticino except for the most southern part, southern part of Northeastern Switzerland, and Graubünden.


Berne, seat of the federal institutions
  • Berne (Bern) — as close as this highly devolved nation gets to having a capital with an amazingly well preserved old-town, with arcades along almost every street; great restaurants and bars abound
  • Basel — the traveller's gateway to the German Rhineland and French Alsace with an exceptional medieval centre at the knee of the Rhine river
  • Geneva (Genève) — this centre of arts and culture is an international city home to around 200 governmental and non-governmental organisations, birth place of the World-Wide-Web at CERN and the Red Cross organisation (ICRC)
  • Lausanne — scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws
  • Lucerne (Luzern) — main city of the central region with direct water links to all of the early Swiss historic sights
  • Lugano — a gorgeous old-town, a pretty lake; much Italianata combined with Swiss seriousness
  • St. Gallen — main city of north-eastern Switzerland, renowned for its Abbey of St. Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it also functions as the gate to the very special Appenzell region.
  • Zurich (Zürich) — Switzerland's largest city and a major centre of banking with a thriving nightlife

Other destinations

  • Bellinzona — renowned for its medieval castles, world UNESCO heritage, pretty centre and capital of the canton of Ticino, overlooking one of the few flat rural areas of Switzerland towards Lake Maggiore.
  • Davos – large ski resort where the annual meeting of the WEF takes place
  • Chur — capital of the canton of Graubünden (The Grisons) it is the only trilingual Swiss canton, in the east-south of the country; gate to several glitzy ski and hiking resorts
  • Grindelwald — the classic resort at the foot of the Eiger
  • Interlaken — the outdoor and action sports capital of Switzerland; anything from skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, white-water rafting, to canyoning
  • Rhine Falls — the largest falls of Europe, close to Schaffhausen
  • St. Moritz – glitzy ski resort in the Engadine valley in south-eastern Switzerland
  • Zermatt — famous mountain resort at the base of the mighty Matterhorn


Switzerland has a history reaching far back into the Roman Empire times, when the tribes inhabiting it were called "Helvetians" by Roman sources - hence the modern-day Latin name "Confoederatio Helvetica", used internally wherever it is not advisable to give preference to any of the country's official languages. You can find many references to "Helvetia" or "Helvetic" in the naming of Swiss organisations and companies, and the International Registration Letter and Swiss top-level Internet domain are CH and .ch, respectively.

The Helvetians and their successors have adopted various forms of democracy and devolution to govern their lands, rather than feudalism or autocracy prevalent in the rest of Europe, thus conserving and in a sense modernising Germanic traditions otherwise only found in the Nordic countries. Functioning as a (initially very loose) confederation for centuries, the country has grown to become one of the most diverse in Europe, while also vividly celebrating their national and local identity and the direct democracy employed to make a wide range of civic decisions.

Switzerland's independence and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers and Switzerland has not been involved in any international war since Liechtenstein), Switzerland is NOT a member of the European Union.

The Swiss linguistic diversity is best reflected in multilingual signage - often in three or four Swiss languages, and English added on top for the international visitors' convenience


Switzerland showcases three of Europe's most distinct cultures. To the northeast is the clean and correct, 8-to-5-working, more stiff Swiss-German-speaking Switzerland; to the southwest you find the wine drinking and laissez-faire style known from the French; in the southeast, south of the Alps, the sun warms cappuccino-sippers loitering in Italian-style piazzas; and in the center: classic Swiss flugelhorns and mountain landscapes. Binding it all together is a distinct Swiss mentality. Switzerland is sometimes called a "nation of choosing" as the Swiss are one nation not because of ethnicity or language, but because they want to be a nation and want to be distinct from the Germans, Italians and French around them. Even though conflict sometimes arises between the different groups, the common Swiss identity is usually stronger than the dividing factors.

While most of the cantons, save for the small Romansch-speaking regions, use languages in common with neighbouring countries, the language spoken there is not necessarily just the same as across the national border. In particular, Swiss German is very different from any of the variations of German spoken in Germany or Austria, with its own peculiar pronunciation and vocabulary. Even fluent speakers of standard German (Hochdeutsch) may have a hard time understanding even the regular Swiss spoken on the street or in mass media. Fortunately for the visiting, most Swiss are perfectly capable of speaking both Hochdeutsch, English, and at least one other national language (e.g. French). Even in its written form, Swiss standard German differs notably from its German and Austrian counterparts, though most differences are minor and the one you are most likely to notice is the fact that Switzerland doesn't use the letter "ß", replacing it with "ss", which however doesn't affect pronunciation. Swiss French and Swiss Italian differ only lexically from their counterparts spoken in other countries, while Romansch is different enough from all European languages that only people who learned it can understand it. Romansch is, however, only spoken in remote alpine communities, where most people speak at least one other Swiss language just as well.


Switzerland is a peaceful, prosperous, and stable modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labour force, and a per capita GDP larger than that of most of the big European economies. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness, and ensure smooth trade with their biggest trading partner, the EU. Switzerland remains a safe haven for investors, because it has maintained a degree of bank secrecy and has kept up the franc's long-term external value. Both of these have recently been called into question, as the Swiss Franc has risen to almost parity with the Euro due to being seen as a "save haven" and the famous Swiss bank secrecy is more and more under attack from fiscal offices in America, Germany and elsewhere, with many high profile cases of tax evasion via Swiss banks recently ending up in court. Even so, unemployment has remained at less than half the EU average. This together with the exchange rate (especially to the Euro) make Switzerland one of the pricier destinations.

Get in

Entry requirements

Minimum validity of travel documents

  • EU and EEA citizens, as well as non-EU citizens who are visa-exempt (e.g. New Zealanders and Australians), need only produce a passport which is valid for the entirety of their stay in Switzerland.
  • Other nationals who are required to have a visa (e.g. South Africans), however, must produce a passport which has at least 3 months' validity beyond their period of stay in Switzerland.
  • However, EU and EEA citizens can still enter Switzerland without a valid travel document if their citizenship has been established. The burden of proof rests with the person concerned. Proof of citizenship may be furnished by any appropriate means (e.g. an expired passport, official document proving identity and/or citizenship of holder).
  • More information about the minimum validity of travel documents, as well as entry for EU and EEA citizens without valid travel documents, is available at the FAQs section of the website of the Federal Office for Migration (under the 'Border-crossing/Travel documents' heading).

Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty – the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. Please see article Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works and what the requirements are for your nationality.

In autumn 2015 an exceptional number of refugees entering the European Union has prompted some countries to reinstitute border controls within the Schengen area and traffic by some border crossings is much less smooth than normally. Delays may occur in particular in the south-east of the European Union.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, however. Therefore, travellers entering Switzerland are subject to customs controls even if there are no immigration controls, and persons travelling elsewhere in the Schengen Area will also have to clear customs.

As a tourist: Keep in mind that personal goods worth a total of more than CHF 5,000 and cash and all cash equivalents in excess of CHF 10,000 have to be declared. Also some amounts of alcoholic beverages, foodstuffs and tobacco goods are liable to duty. Note: The importation of animal products coming from countries other than EU states and Norway is prohibited. When you enter Switzerland, personal effects, travelling provisions and fuel in the tank of your vehicle are tax and duty-free. For other goods being carried, VAT and duty will be levied depending on their total value (over CHF 300) and according to the quantity. Also take care if you want to travel with your pets. And generally comply with bans, restrictions and authorisations regarding animals and plants, cash, foreign currencies, securities, weapons, pyrotechnic articles (fireworks), narcotics and drugs, transfer of cultural property, product piracy, counterfeits, medicines (medicinal products) and doping, radar warning devices, and citizens' band radio (CB radio).

Unaccompanied minors (travellers under the age of 18 years) are strongly advised to have a note of consent from their parents/guardian, as well as a copy of the parents' or guardian's valid passport or ID card. For more information, visit the FAQs section of the website of the Federal Office for Migration (under the 'Border-crossing/Travel documents' heading).

Zürich Airport is the main aerial gateway to Switzerland, enjoying a serene location against the alpine backdrop, and excellent connectivity air-wise and on the ground (modified picture, background of mountains has been added)

By airplane

The Cointrin airport in Geneva also sees many connections from accross the globe due to the international importance of the city. It is also a gateway to the Swiss and French Alps.

Major international airports are in Zurich IATA: ZRH, Geneva IATA: GVA and Basel (for the Swiss part: IATA: BSL) , with smaller airports in Lugano IATA: LUG and Berne IATA: BRN. Some airlines fly to Friedrichshafen, Germany which is just across Lake Constance (the Bodensee) from Romanshorn, not too far from Zurich.

Basel airport is a peculiar case, as it also serves neighbouring Mulhouse and Freiburg and has three different IATA codes, as well as different customs procedure (and sometimes even airfares) depending on whether you fly to "Basel" or "Mulhouse". The airport also has an area code for the "metro-area" IATA: EAP that should get you flights for both destinations.

Almost all major European airlines fly to at least one Swiss airport. The flag carrier of Switzerland are the Swiss International Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance and the Lufthansa Group. Together with their subsidiaries, charter/holiday airline Edelweiss Air and short-haul Swiss European Air Lines, they offer connections to most major airports across Europe, as well as many intercontinental destinations.

Additionally, some smaller Swiss-based airlines also offer connections to Switzerland - Darwin Airline mainly out of Geneva and Lugano, Helvetic Airways out of Zurich and Berne and Sky Work Airlines out of Berne. AirBerlin also has a marked presence in the Swiss market through its subsidiary Belair, although pretty much all flights are sold as AirBerlin flights.

The major European low-fare airlines, however, have very limited presence in Switzerland, usually offering a singular flight from their home hub to either Zurich or Geneva. The exception is EasyJet, who has a dedicated subsidiary, EasyJet Switzerland, and offers flights to and from Basel, Geneva and Zurich within its usual low-fare business model. Ryanair does not fly to Switzerland at all, neither to airports very close to the Swiss border.

On balance, especially in the winter season, many airlines specialising in charter and holiday flights offer connections to Swiss airports to cater to the skiing and winter holiday markets.

It is possible to fly into an airport nearby in a neighbouring country. Grenoble in France is an alternative for Geneva and Stuttgart (IATA: STR) and Munich Airport (IATA: MUC) in Germany are in driving distance to Bern and Zurich respectively. There is a small airport in Memmingen (IATA: FMM), catering primarily to no frills airlines that is close to the border and marketed as being close to Munich (which it isn't).

Due to the excellent train connections (see below) you might also conceivably fly into Frankfurt Airport (IATA: FRA) and take the train from there.

By train

Switzerland is, together with Germany, one of the most centrally located countries in Europe, and trains arrive from all parts of Europe. Some major routes include:

Central departure board in Lausanne also announcing that timetable will change in a few days (always happening on the second Sunday in December)!
Arrival screen, here in Basel SBB / Bâle CFF
Examples of travel time: Paris-Geneva 3h, -Lausanne 3.5h, -Basel 3h, -Berne 4h, -Zurich 4h;
and Geneva-Lyon 2h, -Avignon 3h, -Marseille 3.5h, -Nice 6.5h;
and Basel-Marseille 5h
  • Hourly EuroCity (EC) trains to/from Milan with connections to all parts of Italy.
Examples of travel time: Milano-Berne 3h, -Basel 4h, -Geneva 4h, -Zurich 4h
Examples of travel time: Frankfurt Airport-Basel 3h, -Berne 4h, -Interlaken 5h, -Zurich 4h

By bus

  • Eurolines has incorporated Switzerland in its route network.
  • There are several bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap way of getting to the Balkans. Turistik Prošić runs from various destinations in the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina to Switzerland.

By car

Common tourist destinations within Switzerland are easily reachable by car, e.g. Geneva from central eastern France, and Zurich from southern Germany. Although Switzerland is now part of the Schengen agreement, it is not part of the EU customs/tariff union. Therefore EU/Swiss border posts will focus on smuggling etc. and checks on roads on or after the border stay in place (even after 2008).

The top of the Furka mountain pass is almost 2.5 kilometers (1.6 mi) above sea level

Delays are usually short but cars may be stopped and no reason needs to be named, even inside the country. Some delay may be caused by queuing at busy times and there are often queues lasting hours to use the tunnels under the Alps from Italy such as Mont Blanc, St. Gotthard etc. Swiss motorway vignettes (40 Swiss Francs) can and should be purchased at the border if your car does not already have a valid one for the year and you intend to use the Swiss motorways which is almost unavoidable. Keep in mind when choosing means of transport that most cities do not have free parking; expect to spend between CHF 25 and 40 for a day parking. Some cities are entirely off limits to cars but well reachable by public transport, so if your final destination is one of these places, strongly consider arriving by train instead.

When using mountain roads, bear in mind that they are also used by buses - most relevant on hair pin bends, which they will occupy entirely in order to get around. And most mountain roads are frequently used by the yellow Swiss PostAuto bus. If you see a postal bus, or even much better, hear it approaching a bend by its distinctive three tone horn, hold right back (before the bend!) and let it pass, they always have priority and their drivers count on your passive driving (see also mountain road hints below)!

Get around

By plane

As Switzerland has probably world-wide the most well-developed public transportation system, and the country's airports are not that far away anyway, there is very limited domestic air traffic. The connections offered by Swiss International Airlines and Darwin Airlines include Zurich-Geneva, Zurich-Lugano and Geneva Lugano. In most cases taking the train, sometimes combined with bus or other means, will be a cheaper option, and oftentimes it may prove just as fast and convenient as flying. If you arrive on an international flight to Flughafen Zürich (in Kloten) or Genève Aéroport (in Cointrin), you may take a direct train or an easy connection with several means of transportation incuding only one or two swift tansfers – often taking only single-digit minutes – to many of the country's destinations from railway stations integrated into the airport terminals.

Public transport

Railway network in Switzerland (see also)
Wengernalp railway

The Swiss will spoil you with fantastic transport - swift, disturbingly punctual trains, clean buses, and a half dozen different kinds of mountain transport systems, integrated into a coherent system. The discount options and variety of tickets can be bewildering, from half fare cards to multi-day, multi-use tickets good for buses, boats, trains, and even bike rentals. In general there's at least one train or bus per hour on every route, on many routes trains and buses are running every 30 or even 15 minutes, city transit every 5-7 minutes during rush hours, but as with everything in Switzerland the transit runs less often, or at least for a shorter period of the day, during weekends, and particularly on Sundays and public holidays in less densely inhabitated areas.

Authoritative information, routes, fares and schedules for almost all public transport can be found online on timetable) nation-wide coherently integrated SBB CFF FFSSwiss Federal Railway's (, or from posters and screens at any stop, or from a ticket window in any railway station. The nation-wide coherently integrated timetable is also available as a free smart phone app. At any railway station you can get information and tickets (at manned ticket counters) for any of the many integrated railways network of the entire Switzerland and Swiss PostBus network.

There are several regional fare networks throughout the country, which incorporate any kind of public transport (city bus, tram, metro, any kind of train, PostBus, boats, funiculairs and others) by many different providers around urban centers into one single fare system, such as ZVV in the canton of Zurich, or unireso (see also: tpgGeneva's ) in the canton of Geneva and its French adjacent area, or mobilis around Lausanne in the canton of Vaud at the northern shore of Lake Geneva, passepartout in the canton of Lucerne, Nid- and Obwalden (Titlis). Usually they sell zones-based tickets valid for a particulair time frame instead of point-to-point tickets for journeys within their fare network borders. Many of them, or the main city transit operators provide their own free smart phone apps.

When there is no train or city transit available, this is not the end, not at all, since there is where the Switzerland-wide network of the bright yellow Swiss PostAuto bus network comes in. Where applicable Swiss PostBus is part of regional fare networks. Of course you find all timetable relevant information also on SBB's timetable or app, nevertheless Swiss PostBus provides their own free app with many additional features.

An overview of the railway network in Switzerland you find here. The same about the Switzerland-wide country-side bus network.


An InterRegio, the workhorse of Swiss trains

Almost nobody in Switzerland pays full fare for the transit system. At the very least they all have a Half-Fare Card (fr: abonnement demi-tarif, de: Halbtax-Abonnement, it: abbonamento metà-prezzo) which saves you 50% on all national buses and trains and gives a discount on local and private transit systems. Press the '1/2' (or tarif reduit, reduzierter Preis, tariffa ridotto) button on the ticket machines to indicate you have this card, and be prepared to hand it to the conductor along with your ticket on the train. Annual half fare cards cost CHF175; visitors from abroad can buy a 1-month Swiss Half-Fare Card for CHF120. You save CHF64 on a round-trip ticket from Zurich to Lugano, so if you are planning on travelling a lot, it will quickly pay for itself. Children between ages 6 and below 16 pay half price for travel around Switzerland. Children travelling with a paying parent or grandparent can travel for free, if the parents purchased a Junior Card, or the grandparents purchased a Grandchild Travelcard. Parents from abroad in possession of any kind of a valid Swiss Travel Pass/Card/Ticket from the Swiss Travel System can get a Swiss Family Card for free with the same advantages.

The most convenient way to travel with public transport in Switzerland is either a 1, 2, or 3 years GA travelcard (fr: abonnement général, de: Generalabonnement, it: abboamento generale), or for visitors only a Swiss Travel Pass (equally valid like a GA travelcard), which grants you access to all national buses, including Swiss PostBus, and railways, almost all boats, all city transit systems, and hefty discount on privately operated cable cars, funiculars, and some ski lifts. Swiss Travel Passes range from CHF210 for a 3-day, 2nd class pass to CHF440 for a 15-days pass, 2nd class. Like the half-fare card, you can buy this from any railway station ticket office.

There are a few other possibilities in between a half-fare card and a Swiss Travel Pass: See an overview here and for all possible tickets here.

Only two trains in Switzerland require reservations: the Bernina Express (BEX), running daily between Chur / Davos and Tirano and the Glacier Express (GEX) running between St. Moritz / Davos and Zermatt. Reservations is also recommended for the GoldenPass Line from Montreux to Interlaken and further to Luzern, as well as for the Wilhelm Tell Express from Luzern to Flüelen by boat and further from Flüelen through the 135 years old and 15 km long St. Gotthard tunnel in the middle of the Alps to Lugano or Locarno in the southern Ticino by train and its many spiral tunnels. For the Pre-Alpine Express (VAE) between Luzern and St. Gallen/Lake Constance in north-eastern Switzerland you do not need any reservation. For the Lötschberger between Bern, Spiez in the Bernese highlands and Brig in the Valais over the old, 500m higher situated line through the more than 100 years old and 14 km long Lötschberg tunnel you do need no reservations, neither.

Normally, you do not have to make reservation for any of the public transport system in Switzerland. Though, there are some exceptions. Besides to the mentioned scenic trains, some of the yellow bright Post bus lines require them as well. The easiest way to check this is by the timetable. If you find a capital R in a square, then seat reservation is compulsory. And of course, it is also compulsory for many of the international connections, particularly for TGVs to/from France, and ECs to/from Italy.

Montreux railway station

In general, you will always find a free seat, except for rush hours (departure times ca. 06:30-08:00, and about 17:00-18:30) especially on non-stop connections between the major business cities and its suburbs, and in particular between Zurich and Bern, between Zurich and Basel, and between Lausanne and Geneva in both directions. You can easily check this on the timetable by the statistically based occupancy indication; updated daily and available from 30 days before departure. And during winter season at weekends to and from major ski areas, it can be packed as well. But normally, nobody makes a reservation.

On most trains in Switzerland, tickets can no longer be bought on board, so it is highly adviced to buy tickets before hand. You will get heavely fined if you have not got a ticket. Swiss railway machines accept credit/debit cards, although their ticket machines require that a PIN be entered. You can also buy a ticket on the Swiss Federal Railway website as printable online-tickets (only valid on paper!) or on SBB's smart phone app as a mobile ticket, given you have an account registered with a valid CC, but take care – they must be bought before the train officially leaves the station (automatic time checks with timetable by the scanners) and you are responsible for the working condition of your smart phone (battery!)!


Two-storey InterRegio leaving Lucerne (a terminal station) from platform 9 (Gleis actually means track); picture shot from sector D at the dead end of the platform

Using the trains is easy, although the number of different kinds of trains can be a bit confusing unless you know that the schedules at a Swiss railway station are colour coded. The yellow sheet is for departures (fr: Départ, de: Abfahrt, it: Partenza) and the white sheet is for arrivals (fr: Arrivée, de: Ankunft, it: Arrivo). Faster trains appear on both of these sheets in red, while the trains in black stop at more stations. For trips with transfers it is often easier to use online timetable information, as it will pick transfers for you. You need not fear transfers of five minutes or less. You will make them, provided you know exactly which platform you arrive on and which one you depart from. Many Swiss commute with a one or two minute transfer! On departure and arrival posters you can consult the standard platform, indicated by a track number. Departure/Arrival screens and boards, as well as SBB's online timetable and smart phone app provide you with eventually updated information. Online you can also track the current location of a train, as well as other real-time information.

Overhead display of older version in Basel SBB / Bâle CFF: The EuroCity train to Kiel Hbf (Hauptbahnhof (German abbrv.: Hbf, Swiss abbrv.: HB) means main railway station) with scheduled departure at 12:20 from platform 10, but with an expected delay of 6 minutes, with intermediate stops in Basel Badischer Bahnhof (German railway station in Basel), Freiburg im Breisgau (first stop in Germany), Köln (Cologne), Düsseldorf, and Hamburg – besides other stops. 1st class coaches are to be found in sector A, the restaurant coach in sector B, and 2nd class coaches in sectors B an C.

At the track, overhead displays indicate the (larger and) final destination(s) and the official departure time. The small numbers and letters along the bottom show you where you can board the train. The letters indicate the platform area you should stand in, so called sectors of the platform indicated by blue overhead signs with large capitals (such as A, B, C, D, E, or F), and the numbers indicate the class. The class (1st or 2nd) is indicated by a "1" (and a thick, horizontal yellow stripe on the coach's outside) or "2" on the side of the coach, these correspond with the numbers on the overhead display. This train composition information (class number, bicycle coach, family coach, restaurant/bistro coach and respective sector letter) you can also find online for most domestic trains (currently the ones operated by SBB or BSL) and international trains leaving from or arriving in Switzerland (currently with exception of TGV) of a particular connection with a departure or arrival time quite close to the future (online timetable: by clicking the plus sign next to platform number; SBB Mobile app: by selecting the respective stop name in the details).

All Swiss trains are non-smoking — this is also indicated on the side of coach, as well as inside.

Underground station with yellow departure poster on the left and overhead display of modern version (click and then zoom in to the picture): The S-Bahn S11 with scheduled departure at 17:14 on platform 2 to Schaffhausen with intermediate stops in Winterthur, Marthalen, and Neuhausen – besides other stops. This train halts next to sectors A and B, consists of 6 coaches (two-storey) of which the second coach and the second last coach are mixed with 1st and 2nd class departments, all other coaches have only 2nd class seats, with locomotives at each end, and it will leave in the direction of sector C ... being already late for more than 2 minutes!

Small luggage, coats and jackets can be stowed above your seat. In most trains where four seats build a compartment you can store small and middle sized luggage between the backs (!) of the seats. For larger luggage you often find a rack at the end of the coach. During busy periods, people often stow large luggage (or skis) in the entrance area in between coaches. This is usually fairly safe, but apply common sense and keep an eye on them. Further, SBB provides a totally safe and effective nation-wide baggage delivery service to any manned railway station, or Post office reachable by PostBus (usually called " Post/Posta") destination, especially addressed to tourists and skiers with large, heavy luggage or many suitcases, so that you can fully enjoy you journey and make your swift transfers easily and without any hassle.

The many different type of trains is bewildering at first, but is actually quite simple. The routes the SBB CFF FFS timetable suggests will make much more sense if you understand them. All trains have a one or two letter prefix, followed by a number, for example RE2709, IR2781. Only the prefix, the destination, and the time of departure are important. However, your ticket will be valid for all of them, given they run the same route. Normally, a train ticket is valid the entire calendar day until the end of day service (legally 5 o'clock AM of the next day), but just for one journey! And, normally, you are allowed to make intermediate stops and continue later on the same day. Exceptions are super saver tickets, which are only valid for a particular train connection, and fare network tickets (check their own regulations!).

Rabde 500 high speed train of the ICN family
  • Regio/Régional (R) trains are local trains. They stop everywhere or almost everywhere, and generally reach into the hinterlands of a major station like Lausanne, but not to the next major station (in this case Geneva). If you are going to a small town, you may transfer at a larger station to an R train for the last leg. Most of the time you can use tickets from city public transit on the suburban S system, but ask before trying.
  • Suburban trains are usually indicated by an S (for S-Bahn) and followed by the number of the line, such as S12.
  • RE (RegioExpress) trains generally reach from one major station to the next, touching every town of any importance on the way, but don't stop at every wooden platform beside the tracks.
  • IR (InterRegio) trains are the workhorses of Swiss transit. They reach across two or three cantons, for instance from Geneva, along Lake Geneva through Vaud, and all the way to Brig at the far end of the Valais. They only stop at fairly large towns, or railway junctions.
  • IC (InterCity) trains are express trains with restaurant cars. They are sumptuous and comfortable, often putting vaunted services like the TGV to shame, and make runs between major stations, with occasionally stops at a more minor one where tracks diverge.
  • ICN trains (InterCityNeigezug, or Intercity Tilting Train) are the express tilt-trains, as luxurious as the IC trains. They run between major cities like Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich, Biel, and Basel.

There are also a number of narrow gauge railways that don't fit this classification that supplement the buses in the hinterlands, such as the line from Nyon to La Cure or the line from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen.

You can bring your bicycle on almost every train in Switzerland (check the timetable, sometimes you must make a reservation, or it is not allowed at all, e.g. on international connections!), with two provisos: you must have a ticket for it (either special bike day pass for CHF18 a day or a regular ticket, both of which are available from ticket machines; your half-fare card is also valid for your bike, a day velo pass costs then CHF12), and you must get on at a door marked with a bicycle. On ICN trains and some IR trains this is at the very front of the train.

Panoramic train on the Gotthard line

Information for railway fans

Jungfraubahn at the Kleine Scheidegg railway station with the Eigernordwand in the background

In Switzerland more than 99% of the railway infrastructure are electrified, but it is possible to find many steam railways such as the Brienzer Rothornbahn or the Furka Railway for instance.

There are many interesting mountain railways of all types. In Switzerland most electric trains get their power from a single phase AC network at 15,000V 16 2/3Hz. This network uses its own power lines run with 66 kV and 132 kV, which have, unlike normal power lines, a number of conductors not divisible by 3. Most power lines for the single phase AC grid of the traction power grid have four conductors. Railway photography is permitted everywhere provided you don't walk on forbidden areas without permission.

Here is short list of the most remarkable railway lines:

  • The Glacier Express (GEX) between Davos / St. Moritz (en: Grisons, de: Graubünden) and Zermatt (Valais), a 8 hours travel through the central Swiss Alps.
  • The Bernina Express (BEX) between Davos / Chur and Tirano in Italy, via Pontresina / St. Moritz over the Bernina pass (2253m o.s.l.) the highest rail transversal in the Alps, high mountain scenery.
  • The Pre-Alpine Express (VAE, Voralpenexpress) running between St. Gallen / Lake Constance and Lucerne, throught the rolling hills of the Appenzellerland down to Rapperswil, where it crosses the first, eastern part of Lake Zurich, then up again through the lovely moor of Rothenturm (safed from military distruction by a publicly initiated referendum in 1987) and close to Einsiedeln down again to Arth-Goldau at the bottom of the Rigi and further to Lucerne along the Lakes of Zug and Lucerne.
  • The Jungfrau Railway, from Interlaken (560 meters) to the Jungfraujoch station (3450m a.s.l.) in two hours. Definitely the most impressive journey in the Alps.
  • The Gornergrat Railway, departure from Zermatt to the 3090m a.s.l. high Gornergrat.
  • The Mount Rigi Railway, oldest mountain railway in Europe.
  • The Mount Pilatus Railway, from Lucerne to the top, the steepest (max. 48% gradient) railway in the world.
  • The Brienz Rothorn steam cogwheel railway above lake Brienz to the Rothorn summit (2350m a.s.l.) and almost exclusively run by steam locomotives.
  • The Lötschberger is a line connecting Berne / Spiez (Bernese Highlands) and Brig (Valais), not considered as a mountain train but with still impressive scenery, especially if you take the route by a regional train ('RE') through the old 14.6 km long Lötschberg vertex tunnel (between Kandersteg and Goppenstein, 500m above the 34.6 km long Lötschberg Base Tunnel, a high-speed train tunnel newly opened in 2007).
  • The St. Gotthard line with its many spiral train tunnels and the 15 km long St. Gotthard train tunnel (built between 1872 and 1882, 199 workers spent their lifes for its construction) connecting the German spoken nothern Switzerland Zurich/Luzern and the Italian spoken southern Switzerland Ticino (Bellinzona, Lugano, Locarno). Also advertised as the Wilhelm Tell Express between Luzern and Flüelen by boat, and further then by train to either Lugano, or Locarno.

Hiking and cycling


As good as the Swiss train system is, if you have a little time, and you only want to travel 1-200 miles, you could try purchasing the world's best footpath maps and walk 10-20 miles a day over some of the most wonderful and clearly-marked paths, whether it is in a valley, through a forest, or over mountain passes. There are more than 60,000 km of well maintained and documented hiking trails and cycling routes.

The trails are well-planned (after a number of centuries, why not?), easy to follow, and the yellow trail signs are actually accurate in their estimate as to how far away the next hamlet, village, town or city is–once you've figured out how many kilometers per hour you walk (easy to determine after a day of hiking).

There are plenty of places to sleep in a tent (but don't pitch one on a seemingly pleasant, flat piece of ground covered by straw–that's where the cows end up sleeping after a lazy day of eating, and they'll gnaw at your tent string supports and lean against your tent sides. And definitey don't do this during a rainstorm!), lots of huts on mountain tops, B & B's on valley floors, or hotels in towns and cities. You could even send your luggage ahead to the next abode and travel very lightly, with the necessary water and Swiss chocolate!


Veloland Schweiz has built up an extensive network of long distance cycle trails all across the country. There are many Swiss cities where you can rent bicycles if that is your means of traveling and you can even rent electric bicycles. During the summer it is quite common for cities to offer bicycle 'rental' for free!

Cycling in cities is pretty safe, at least compared to other countries, and very common. If you decide to bicycle in a city, understand that (in most cities) you will share the road with public transport. Beware of tram tracks which can get your wheel stuck and send you flying into traffic, of the trams themselves which travel these tracks frequently (and may scare you into getting stuck into the track as just noted), and the buses, which make frequent stops in the rightmost lane.

In-line Skating

Besides the main types of transportation, the adventurous person can see Switzerland by in-line skating. There are three routes, measuring a combined 600-plus km (350 mi) designed specifically for in-line skating throughout the country. They are the Rhine route, the Rhone route, and the Mittelland route. These are also scenic tours. Most of the routes are flat, with slight ascents and descents. The Mittelland route runs from Zurich airport to Neuenburg in the northwest; the Rhine route runs from Bad Ragaz to Schaffhausen in the northeastern section of the country. Finally, the Rhone route extends from Brig to Geneva. This is a great way to see both the countryside and cityscapes of this beautiful nation.

By car

If you like cars, Switzerland can seem like a bit of a tease. They feature some of the greatest driving roads in the world, but can literally throw you in jail for speeding, even on highways. If you stick to the limits, the back roads/mountain roads will still be a blast to drive on, while ensuring you are not fined or arrested. Driving is the best way to see a wonderful country with outstanding roads.

Don't Think You'll Speed Undeterred

If you get fined but not stopped (e.g. caught by a Speed Camera) the police will send you the fine even if you live abroad.

In Switzerland, speeding is not a violation of a traffic code but a Legal Offence, if you fail to comply there is a good chance that an international rogatory will be issued and you have to go to court in your home country. This is enforced by most countries, including all of Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in South America and Asia. Failure to comply can result in a warrant being issued for your arrest by your home country.

Also, starting from 2007, Switzerland banned all GPS appliances with built-in speed cameras databases as they are equipped with "Radar Detectors".

According to some GPS navigator producers, it is advised to remove the Swiss radar database while driving in the country as the police may give you a fine and impound your device even if it is turned off and placed in the trunk of your vehicle!

To use the motorways (known as Autobahn(en), Autoroute(s), or Autostrada/e, depending on where you are), with green signs (and white letters), vehicles under 3500 kg (7,716 lb) weight need to buy a "vignette", a sticker which costs CHF40 that allows you to use the motorways as much as you like for the entire year (more precisely, from 1 December of the preceding year to 31 January of the following, so a 2009 vignette is valid from 1 December 2008 until 31 January 2010). Trailers must have a separate vignette. Avoiding the motorways in order to save the toll price is generally futile; the amount is well worth it, even if you are only transiting. Failure to possess a valid vignette is punishable by a CHF200 fine and a requirement to purchase a vignette immediately (total fine of CHF240). Sharing vignettes is, of course, illegal and subject to the same fines as not having one.

Rentals should have the vignette already paid for that vehicle, but ask to be sure.

Vehicles larger than 3,500 kg (7,716 lb) have to pay a special toll assessed through special on-board units that is applied for all roads, not just the motorways.

Speed limits [1]: 120 km/h (75 mph) on motorways, 100 km/h on expressways (ge: Autostrasse(n), fr: semi-autoroute(s), it: semiautostrada/e; often with oncoming traffic), 80 km/h (50 mph) on normal, principal roads outside of villages and towns and often inside tunnels, and a general valid 50 km/h (31 mph) limit inside villages and towns and often only indicated by the name of the village, or town respectively.
Major roads are indicated with blue signs (and white letters), while for minor roads the signs are white (with black letters). Moreover, some roads are limited to 30 km/h (19 mph) or even to 20 km/h (12 mph) in built-up areas and to 70 km/h outside built-up areas. Vehicles unable to travel at 80 km/h are not permitted on the motorways or autoroutes. Whilst driving "a wee bit too fast" is common on motorways, people tend to stick pretty closely to the other two limits. Fines are hefty and traffic rules are strictly enforced. If stopped by Police, expect to pay your fine on the spot.

Buildings at the top of the Oberalp mountain pass in the central parts of the country

The blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.05%. As in every country, do not drink and drive, as you will lose your license for several months if you are cited and a heavy fine may be imposed.

Since 1 January 2014 motorists in Switzerland are required to switch on their headlights or daytime running lights while driving during the day or risk a CHF40 fine.

Driving is on the right side of the road everywhere in Switzerland, just like in most of Europe. Be aware that the priority to right rule exists everywhere in Switzerland on any street, if not indicated otherwise. I.e. that at intersections, priority is given to the driver on the right except when driving on a road with right of way indicated by a Priority Road (German: Hauptstrasse, French: route principale, Italien: strada principale) sign (yellow square with a broad white border sitting on one of its edges). One exception is when merging into traffic circles (roundabouts), where priority is given to the drivers being within the roundabout. But this is no exception to the 'priority of right' rule, since the street signs indicate that the traffic circles entering vehicle has no right of priority.

Some examples of fines by failing to follow traffic rules

  • driving licence not produced: CHF20.
  • Exceeding the valid parking period (<2h): CH40, (2h
  • On a pedestrian crossing, parking: CHF120, stopping: CHF80, even during rush hours: CHF60.
  • Ignoring pedestrian's right of way on pedestrian crossings: CHF140.
  • On a bicycle lane, parking: CHF120, stopping: CHF80.
  • On the yellow stripe before a pedestrian crossing, parking: CHF 120, stopping: CHF80.
  • Not adjusting snow chains when requested: CHF&100.
  • Not following directions by arrows either printed on the street, given by sign posts, or traffic lights: CHF100.
  • Driving on a bus lane or on a tram trail: CHF60.
  • Not correctly stopping at a stop sign: CHF60.
  • Ignoring traffic lights (red light, and direction indicators): CHF250.
  • Ignoring flashing (yellow) traffic lights: CHF 250.-
  • Using of a mobile phone without speakerphone: CHF 100.-
  • Not using seat belts by any passenger: CHF 60.-
  • Unsecured children of age below 12 (special seat for children): CHF 60.-
  • Not flashing when requested (also requested when leaving roundabouts): CHF 100.-, misusing of flashing: CHF 40.-
  • Not stopping to flash after manoeuvre: CHF 100.-
  • More passengers than allowed: CHF 60.-
  • Dirty licence plates: CHF 60.-
  • Driving with insufficient tires: CHF 100.-
  • Driving too fast (minus the measurement uncertainty)
    • Within cities, towns and villages (speed limit: 50 km/h, 31 mph):
      • 1-5 km/h: CHF 40.-
      • 6-10 km/h: CHF 120.-
      • 11-15 km/h: CHF 250.-
      • above 15 km/h: jurisdictional decision
    • outside of cities, towns, and villages (speed limit: 80 km/h, 50 mph), or on highways (standard speed limit 100 km/h, 62 mph):
      • 1-5 km/h: CHF 40.-
      • 6-10 km/h: CHF 100.-
      • 11-15 km/h: CHF 160.-
      • 16-20 km/h: CHF 240.-
      • above 20 km/h: jurisdictional decision
    • on motorways (standard speed limit: 120 km/h, 75 mph):
      • 1-5 km/h: CHF 20.-
      • 6-10 km/h: CHF 60.-
      • 11-15 km/h: CHF 120.-
      • 16-20 km/h: CHF 180.-
      • 21-25 km/: CHF 260.-
      • above 25 km/h: jurisdictional decision
    • juridictional decision will lead to very hefty fines based on your personal wealth and can include prison and confiscation of your car!

Pass on the left, not the right, on motorways as well. When passing, do not cross a double or even a single white line. When completing a passing manoeuvre, you must signal with your vehicle's right indicator before you re-enter the right lane. Actually you have to flash (indicators) all the time when you change your direction or lane.

You are not allowed to pass trams (normally only on the right side) at a tram stop, if there is no passenger island on which pedestrians can wait. If a pedestrian wants to cross the road on a respectively marked place (pedestrian crossing: yellow stripes on the street), then any car approaching must stop and give priority to the pedestrians. This is a general law valid anywhere in Switzerland, but especially applicable for tram stops. Do not stop on a pedestrian crossing, even during rush hours.

You must always give way to police, ambulances, fire engines, and buses pulling out as they have priority.

At traffic lights and railway crossings, you must switch off your engines ("Für bessere Luft - Motor abstellen!", "Coupez le moteur!") to avoid traffic pollution.

On all car journeys in Switzerland you are required by law to wear a seat belt.

Six tips for mountain roads:

  • Honk if you're on a small road and you don't see around the bend.
  • The Postal Bus (bright yellow) always has priority. You can hear it approaching by means of its distinctive three tone horn. This is most relevant on hair pin bends. If you see a PostAuto, or even much better, hear it approaching a bend, hold right back (before the bend!) and let it pass, their drivers count on your considerate driving!
  • The vehicle going uphill has priority over the vehicle coming downhill.
  • Don't even think about driving as fast as the locals: they know every bend, you don't.
  • In general, drive at a speed which allows you to stop within the distance you can see, in order to be safe; and drive so that you would be happy to meet yourself coming the other way!
  • During Winter, although most vehicles are equipped with winter tires (not to be mismatched with all-season tires or even summer tires; winter tires request by Swiss law at least a tread depth of 4mm and are made of different rubber), it may be required to apply tire chains to the wheels of your car if driving in an area with snow on the street. Autos rented in Switzerland are routinely supplied with tire chains, but ask. Some mountain roads, towns and villages may require chains. Illustrated signs showing snow chains will be posted at the beginning of the route. If chains are requested, winter tires are not sufficient at all! Failure to obey may incur a fine. Service stations located on these routes may provide a chain installation service, for a fee. It's worth the expense, since an inexperienced driver can be tortured for an hour or more, sometimes in terrible weather, learning to self-install tire chains. Don't assume all roads are open; higher altitude moutain passes (ex: Gotthard, Furka, Grimsel, Oberalp, Julier) will be closed for part or all of the winter. Check that a mountain road or pass is open before driving, or you may encounter a red multilingual "CLOSED" sign at the beginning of the route.


See also: Swiss-German phrasebook, German phrasebook, French phrasebook, Italian phrasebook
Map of languages in Switzerland
Switzerland has four official languages at the federal level, namely German, French, Italian and Romansch, and the main language spoken depends on which part of the country you are in. Individual cantons are free to decide on which official language to adopt, and some cities such as Biel/Bienne, Fribourg (or Freiburg), and Sion (or Sitten) are officially bilingual. Any part of Switzerland has residents who speak something besides the local vernacular at home, English, German and French being the most widely spoken second languages. Note that you are unlikely to hear Romansch, as essentially all the 65,000 Romansch speakers also speak German, and they are actually outnumbered in Switzerland by native English speakers, as well as by Portuguese, Albanian and Serbo-Croatian-speaking immigrants.

Around two-thirds of the population of Switzerland are German speaking, located particularly in the centre, north, and east of the country. Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) is not a single dialect, but rather a blanket term for the dialects of German spoken in Switzerland. These dialects are so divergent from standard German that native speakers from Germany can hardly understand them. All German-speaking Swiss learn standard German in school, so almost all locals in the major German-speaking cities (e.g. Zurich, Bern, Basel) and many in the countryside will be able to speak standard German. The many different Swiss German dialects are primarily spoken, colloquial languages, and the German-speaking Swiss write almost exclusively in standard German despite speaking Swiss German. Swiss German dialects are highly regarded by all social classes and are widely used in the Swiss media, in contrast to the general use of standard German on TV and radio in other countries.

Rousseau street in Geneva

The second most spoken language is French, which is mostly spoken in the western part of the country, which includes the cities of Lausanne and Geneva. Speakers of standard French will generally not have any major problems understanding Swiss French, though there are certain words which are unique to Swiss French. The most noticeable difference is in the number system, where septante, huitante and nonante (70, 80 and 90) are commonly said instead of soixante-dix, quatre-vingts and quatre-vingts-dix as in standard French. All French speakers understand 'standard' French.

Italian is the primary language in the southern part of the country, around the city of Lugano. Swiss Italian is largely comprehensible to speakers of standard Italian, though there are certain words which are unique to Swiss Italian. Standard Italian is understood by all Swiss Italian speakers. The northern Italian language of Lombard is spoken by some as well.

All Swiss are required to learn one of the other official languages in school, and many also learn English. English is widely spoken in the major German speaking cities and therefore English-speaking tourists should not have a problem communicating. In contrast, English is not as widely spoken in the French and Italian speaking areas, the exception being the city of Geneva, where English is widely spoken due to its large international population.

Politicians lead the way

Swiss parliament is a unique place that displays this multilingualism, as representatives are allowed to speak in their mother tongue and there are no translators of any kind, forcing everybody to be reasonably fluent in all three major languages in Switzerland if (s)he is thinking about a political career. The German speaking Swiss usually speak standard German in parliament for the benefit of those for whom German is a second language, though.


The seven wonders

Chateau de Chillon
  • The Castle of Chillon: near Montreux
  • The Lavaux vineyards: on the shore of Lake Geneva
  • The Castles of Bellinzona: in the southern canton of Ticino
  • The Abbey of St. Gallen
  • The Top of Europe and the Sphinx observatory: a "village" with a post office on the 3,500 metres high Jungfraujoch above Wengen
  • The Grande Dixence: a 285 metres high dam, south of Sion
  • The Landwasser viaduct: on the railway between Chur and St. Moritz

The seven natural wonders

  • The Matterhorn: from Schwarzsee, Gornergrat or simply from the village of Zermatt
  • The northern walls of the Jungfrau and Eiger: two of the most celebrated mountains in the Alps, they can be seen from the valley of Lauterbrunnen or from one of the many summits that can be reached by train or cable car
  • The Aletsch Glacier: the longest in Europe, the Aletsch wild Forest is located above the glacier, best seen from above Bettmeralp
  • The lakes of the Upper Engadin: one of the highest inhabited valley in the Alps at the foot of Piz Bernina, they can be all seen from Muottas Muragl
  • The Lake Lucerne: from the Pilatus above Lucerne
  • The Oeschinensee: a mountain lake with no rivals above Kandersteg
  • The Rhine Falls: the largest in Europe, take a boat to the rock in the middle of the falls


See also: Winter sports in Switzerland
The road crossing the Furka mountain pass in central Switzerland

Switzerland is renowned the world over for downhill skiing, and the country is also great for many other outdoor activities, including hiking and mountain biking. Mountain climbing from easy to very hard can also be found in Switzerland and there is hardly a place with a longer tradition for it. Some routes, like the North face of the Eiger ("Eiger-Nordwand" in German) have become near-mythical due to the hardships sacrifice and even deaths suffered by the first people to climb them. And because of the breathtaking views, travelling from one place to another by car, bus, train or bike along alpine roads and railroads is often an experience in itself.



Switzerland is not part of the Eurozone and the currency is the Swiss franc (or Franken, or franc, or franco, depending in which language area you are), divided into 100 Rappen, centimes, or centesimi. However, many places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, sightseeings' box offices, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept euro bills (but no coins) and will give you change in Swiss francs or in euro if they have it in cash. Many price tikets contain prices both in francs and in euro. Usually in such cases the exchange-rate complies with official exchange-rates, 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. After an experiment with a "fixed floor" for the exchange rate (meaning in practice that one Euro would always be at least 1.20 francs) the Swiss Central Bank decided in early 2015 to let the franc float freely once more. This, along with speculation regarding the future of the euro and the Swiss franc being seen as a "safe" currency, has led to skyrocketing exchange rates for the franc and, consequently, prices.

Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid by cash, even CHF200 and CHF1000 banknotes. 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.

Coins are issued in 5 centime (brass, rare), 10 centime, 20 centime, ½ franc, 1 franc, 2 franc, and 5 franc (all silver coloured) denominations. One centime coins are no longer legal tender, but may be exchanged until 2027 for face value. Two centime coins have not been legal tender since the 1970s and are, consequently, worthless. Keep in mind that most exchange offices don't accept coins and with current exchange rates the biggest coin (5 francs) is worth more than five Dollars and roughly the same as five Euros, so spend them or give them to charity before leaving.

Banknotes are found in denominations of CHF10 (yellow), CHF20 (red), CHF50 (green), CHF100 (blue), CHF200 (brown), and CHF1000 (purple). They are all the same width and contain a variety of security features.


Switzerland has been renowned for its banking industry since the Middle Ages. Due to its historical policy of banking secrecy and anonymity, Switzerland has long been a favourite place for many of the world's richest people to stash their assets (sometimes earned through questionable means). Although current banking secrecy laws are not as strict they used to be, and anonymous bank accounts are no longer allowed, Switzerland remains one of the largest banking centres in Europe. Opening a bank account in Switzerland is straightforward, and there are no restrictions on foreigners owning Swiss bank accounts. The largest banks in Switzerland are UBS and Credit Suisse.


Swiss service personnel enjoy a relatively highly set minimum wage compared to other countries, so tips are rather modest. By law, a service charge is included in the bill. Nevertheless, if you feel satisfied, especially in restaurants, you may round up the bill and add a few francs with a maximum of 5–20 francs depending on the kind of establishment, regardless of bill size. If you were not happy with the service, you needn't tip at all. If you just drink a coffee, it is common to round up the bill to the nearest franc, but some people are still quite generous. Keep in mind, tipping is always your personal contribution and never legally requested.


When planning your travel budget, keep in mind that Switzerland is an expensive country with prices comparable to Norway or central London. Except soft drinks and car fuel almost everything from groceries and souvenirs to train tickets and accommodation costs more than in the neighboring countries. In fact, many Swiss people living near the borders drive into neighbouring countries to purchase fuel and groceries, as it is usually significantly cheaper; a trend that has only increased in recent times with the Franc soaring in exchange rate compared to the Euro. Though there are no systematic immigration controls thanks to the Schengen agreement, there are spontanous custom checks, even inside the country, since Switzerland is not part of EU Customs Union, so you must clear customs. Therefore make sure you comply with Swiss custom regulations for importing goods!

"Swiss-made": Souvenirs and Luxury Goods

A Rolex watch

Switzerland is famous for a few key goods: watches, chocolate, cheese, and Swiss Army knives.

  • Watches - Switzerland is the watch-making capital of the world, and "Swiss Made" on a watch face has long been a mark of quality. While the French-speaking regions of Switzerland are usually associated with Swiss watchmakers (like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe), some fine watches are made in the Swiss-German-speaking region, such as IWC in Schaffhausen. Every large town will have quite a few horologists and jewellers with a vast selection of fancy watches displayed their windows, ranging from the fashionable Swatch for CHF60 to the handmade chronometer with the huge price tag. For fun, try to spot the most expensive of these mechanical creations and the ones with the most "bedazzle!!".
  • Chocolate - Switzerland may always have a rivalry with Belgium for the world's best chocolate, but there's no doubting that the Swiss variety is amazingly good. Switzerland is also home to the huge Nestlé food company. If you have a fine palate (and a fat wallet) - you can find two of the finest Swiss chocolatiers in Zurich: Teuscher (try the champagne truffles) and Sprüngli. For the rest of us, even the generic grocery store brand chocolates in Switzerland still blow away the Hershey bars found elsewhere. For good value, try the Frey brand chocolates sold at Migros. If you want to try some real good and exclusive Swiss chocolate, go for the Pamaco chocolates, derived from the noble Criollo beans and accomplished through the original, complex process of refinement that requires 72h. These are quite expensive though, a bar of 125g (4 oz) costs about CHF8. For Lindt fans, it is possible to get them as cheaply as half the supermarket price by going to the Lindt factory store in Kilchberg (near Zurich).

Holey moley!

Have you ever wondered why Swiss cheese, known locally as Emmentaler, always has those distinct holes? Bacteria are a key part of the cheesemaking process. They excrete huge amounts of carbon dioxide which forms gas bubbles in the curd, and these bubbles cause the holes.

  • Cheese - many regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese speciality. Of these, the most well-known are Gruyère and Emmentaler (what Americans know as "Swiss cheese"). Be sure to sample the wide variety of cheeses sold in markets, and of course try the cheese fondue! Fondue is basically melted cheese and is used as a dip with other food such as bread. The original mixture consists of half Vacherin cheese and half Gruyère but many different combinations have been developed since.
Likely the most typical Swiss souvenir
  • Swiss Army knives - Switzerland is the official home of the Swiss Army Knife. There are two brands: Victorinox and Wenger, but both brands are now manufactured by Victorinox since the Wenger business went bankrupt and Victorinox purchased it in 2005. Victorinox knives, knife collectors will agree, are far far superior, in terms of design, quality, and functionality. The most popular Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ which has 33 functions and currently costs about CHF78. Most Tourists will purchase this knife. The "biggest" Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ 1.6795.XAVT- This has 80 functions and is supplied in a case. This knife costs CHF364. The 1.6795.XAVT may in years to come be a collector's model. Most shops throughout Switzerland stock Victorinox knives, even some newsagents stock them. They are excellent gifts and souvenirs. The actual "Swiss Army Knife" is not red with a white cross (as usually seen by tourists), but gray with a small Swiss flag. The Swiss Army issue knife is also produced by Victorinox. Its main particularity is to have the production year engraved on the base of the biggest blade (and no cork-screw because the Swiss soldier must not drink wine on duty). Swiss Army Knives can not be carried on board commercial flights and must be packed in your hold baggage.

Ski and tourist areas will sell the other kinds of touristy items - cowbells, clothing embroidered with white Edelweiss flowers, and Heidi-related stuff. Swiss people love cows in all shapes and sizes, and you can find cow-related goods everywhere, from stuffed toy cows to fake cow-hide jackets. If you have a generous souvenir budget, look for fine traditional handcrafted items such as hand-carved wooden figures in Brienz, and lace and fine linens in St. Gallen. If you have really deep pockets, or just wish you did, be sure to shop on Zurich's famed Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world. If you're looking for hip shops and thrift stores, head for the Niederdorf or the Stauffacher area.


A pot of Fondue, pieces of bread and fondue forks

Switzerland is famous for many kinds of cheese like Gruyère, Emmental and Appenzeller. Two of the best known Swiss dishes, fondue and raclette, are cheese based. Fondue is a pot of melted cheese that you dip a piece of bread into using long forks. Usually fondue is not made of one single type of cheese, but instead many different cheeses are blended. That's the reason why fondue doesn't taste the same all over Switzerland. Raclette is made by heating a large piece of cheese and scraping off the melted cheese which is eaten together with potatoes, ham and vegetables. Another typical dish is rösti, potato pancakes quite similar to hash browns. Unlike Germany, France and Italy, Switzerland cannot boast a large variety of indigenous meat dishes. Probably the best known meat dishes are the sausage cervelat and the specialty of region around Zürich, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (sliced meat and mushrooms).

Swiss chocolate is world famous and there is a large range of different chocolate brands. Also, the breakfast dish Müsli comes from Switzerland.

Like most other things, eating out is expensive in Switzerland. One way to reduce food costs is to eat in the cafeterias of department stores such as Coop, Migros and Manor. These cafeterias are usually considerably less expensive than stand-alone restaurants. Coop and Manor also offer beer and wine with meals while Migros does not. Smaller department store outlets might not have a cafeteria.

Supermarket Chains

Swiss employment law bans working on Sundays, so shops stay closed. An exception is any business in a railway station, which is deemed to be serving travellers and so is exempt. If you want to find an open shop on a Sunday, go to the nearest big railway station. If a business is family-owned, you aren't employing anybody so you can open, hence small shops can also open on Sundays in some cantons.

Swiss supermarkets can be hard to spot in big cities. They often have small entrances, but open out inside, or are located in a basement, leaving the expensive street frontages for other shops. Look for the supermarket logos above entrances between other shops. Geneva is an exception and you usually don't have to go very far to find a Migros or coop.

The most important supermarket brands are:

  • Migros - This chain of supermarkets (in fact a cooperative) provides average to good quality food and no-food products and homeware. However, they do not sell alcoholic beverages nor cigarettes. Brand name products are rare as the chain does their own brands (quality is good, which chain that you go to does not matter). Migros stores can be spotted by a big, orange Helvetica letter "M" sign. The number of "M" letters indicates the size of the store and the different services available - a single "M" is usually a smaller grocery store, a double M ("MM") may be larger and sells other goods like clothing, and a MMM is a full department store with household goods and possibly electronics and sporting goods. Offers change weekly on Tuesdays.
  • Coop - Also a cooperative. Emphasis on quality as well as multi-buy offers, points collection scheme(s) and money off coupons. Sells many major brands. Come at the end of the day to get half-priced salads and sandwiches. Coop City is usually a department store with a Coop grocery store inside, a multi-floor layout provides space for clothing, electrical items, stationary, paperware as well as beauty products and perfume. Offers change weekly (some exceptions - fortnightly), on Tuesdays.
  • Denner - A discount grocery store, noticeable for their red signs and store interiors. Relatively low priced. Offers change weekly, usually from Wednesday. Denner was bought by Migros in late 2006, but will not be rebranded at present.
  • Coop Pronto - a convenience store branch of Coop, usually open late (at least 20:00) seven days a week. Usually has a petrol, filling-station forecourt.
  • Aperto - also a convenience store, located in the railway stations
  • Manor - the Manor department stores often have a grocery store on the underground level.
  • Globus - in the largest cities the Globus department stores have a grocery store on the underground level.

Coop offers a low-price-line (Coop Prix-Garantie) of various products and in Migros you can find "M-Budget" products. Sometimes it's exactly the same product, just for cheaper price. They also offer prepaid mobiles as cheap as CHF29.80, including CHF19 money on the SIM-Card and the some of the cheapest call rates.

The German discounters Aldi and Lidl are also present in Switzerland. The prices are a little lower than at the other supermarket chains, but still significantly higher than in Germany.


Usually the tap water is drinkable and in many cities and towns there are fountains with drinking water. Soft drinks in supermarkets are one of the few things that aren't notably more expensive than elsewhere in Central Europe. A local specialty is the lactose based soft drink Rivella. The Lake Geneva region is famous for its wines.


Stern und Post in Amsteg, a typical Swiss town hotel

Most tourist areas in Switzerland have a tourist office where you can call and have them book a hotel for you for a small fee. Each town usually has a comprehensive list of hotels on their web site, and it is often easiest to simply call down the list to make a reservation rather than try to book online. Many hotels will request that you fax or email them your credit card information in order to secure a reservation. In general, hotel staff are helpful and competent, and speak English quite well.

Hotel rates in Switzerland can get quite expensive, especially in popular ski resort areas.

As in most European countries, Switzerland offers a wide range of accommodation possibilities. These go from 5-star hotels to campgrounds, youth hostels or sleeping in the hey. Compared to other European countries, accommodations in Switzerland are in general amongst the more expensive. The prices of Swiss Youth Hostels are on the usual European level

The following prices can be used as a rule of thumb:

  • 5-star-hotel: from CHF350 per person/night
  • 4-star-hotel: from CHF180 per person/night
  • 3-star-hotel: from CHF120 per person/night
  • 2-star-hotel: from CHF80 per person/night
  • Hostel: from CHF30 per person/night

The Swiss hotel stars are issued by the hotelleriesuisse Swiss Hotel Association. All members of hotelleriesuisse must undergo regular quality tests to obtain their hotel stars. On swisshotels.com you can find information on hotel stars, infrastructure and specialisations.

Tips are included with all services. For special efforts, a small tip, usually by rounding up the sum, is always welcome.

There is also a hostel network in Switzerland for students. Types of hotels in Switzerland include historic hotels, traditional hotels, inns located in the country, spas and bed and breakfasts.


Switzerland has some universities of world renown, like ETH in Zurich, IHEID in Geneva, University of Lausanne or the University of St. Gallen (also known as the HSG). Keep in mind, it's much better to speak the local language, so if you can't speak either French, German or Italian, better go for a language course first. There are a few English courses as well, but it will be much easier to go with local language. Also have in mind that if you're a foreigner, and you want to go for popular subjects, you have to pass entry-tests, and it will cost you a lot, not only for university fees, but also for living.

If you like cheaper learning, go for Migros Klubschule, they offer language courses in almost every language as well as a lot of different courses for many subjects, just have a look on their website. You may also want to try the different "Volkshochschule", which offer a large variety of subjects at very reasonable fees (such as the one in Zürich , for instance).

If you are looking for quality French courses for adults or juniors, you can learn French in one of the ESL schools located in Switzerland . You can also choose LSI (Language Studies International) and go for one of the many schools in their extensive network to learn French in Switzerland.


If you want to work in Switzerland, be aware that you generally need to obtain a work permit. In November 2014, the Swiss people narrowly approved a referendum that requires the government to restrict immigration to 0.2% of the population each year. You should check regularly through 2015 to see how this will affect your plans.

Although Switzerland signed an agreement with the European Union that allows citizens of (most) EU states to work, it may be forced to withdraw this agreement because of the referendum and it is unclear what will happen. You should check regularly with your local Swiss consulate throughout 2015 to determine how the immigration changes affect you.

Switzerland has an unemployment rate of about 2.9% (June 2011).

The high level of Swiss salaries reflect the high costs of living, so keep in mind that you must spend a lot for accommodation and food, when you negotiate your salary. Still, if you want or have to make money fast, you can save a substantial amount per month while working in a low-paying job. In general, you work 42 hours/week and have 4 weeks of paid holidays.

Switzerland has no legal minimum salary. The salary depends on the industry you work in, with most companies paying at least CHF3500 (PPP US$2275) per month, for example as cashier in a supermarket. Overtime work is usually paid (unless otherwise agreed in contract).

If you want to check the average salaries by industry or make sure you get the right amount paid, Swiss employees are heavy organised in trade unions SGB and always keen to help you.

Stay safe

Switzerland is not surprisingly one of the safest countries in Europe, but anywhere that attracts Rolex-wearing bankers and crowds of distracted tourists will also bring out a few pickpockets. Obviously, keep an eye on belongings, especially in the midst of summer crowds.

Quite a few Swiss establishments will print your entire credit card number onto the receipt, thus raising identity theft concerns when shopping with a credit card in Switzerland. Therefore, visitors using credit cards should carefully review the information printed on all receipts before discarding them. This happens, for instance, in some book and clothing stores and even at the ubiquitous K-Kiosk. This list is obviously not exhaustive; therefore, the visitor must beware whenever using a credit card.

Women traveling alone should have no problems. The younger Swiss tend to be very open with public displays of affection - sometimes too open, and some women may find people getting too friendly especially in the wee hours of the club & bar scene. Usually the international language of brush-offs or just walking away is enough.

Swiss police take on a relatively unobtrusive air; they prefer to remain behind the scenes, as they consider their presence potentially threatening to the overall environment (practice of deescalation). Unlike some more highly policed countries, officers will rarely approach civilians to ask if they need help or merely mark their presence by patrolling. However, police are indeed serious about traffic violations. Jaywalking (crossing a red pedestrian light), for example, will be fined on the spot. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that automobile drivers are generally very well-disciplined, readily stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, for example (but note that, in Basel city at least, whilst the cross-walks give priority to pedestrians many drivers will stop on and reverse over cross-walks without much care or attention). Generally, you are safe anywhere at any time. If, for any reason, you feel threatened, seek a nearby restaurant or telephone booth. The emergency phone number in Switzerland is 117, and operators are generally English-speaking.

Football (soccer) games are the only notable exception to the above rule. Due to the potential threat of hooligan violence, these games (especially in Basel or Zurich) are generally followed by a large contingent of police officers with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas, in case of any major unrest.

Switzerland has very strong Good Samaritan laws, making it a civic duty to help a fellow in need (without unduly endangering oneself). People are therefore very willing and ready to help you if you appear to be in an emergency situation. Be aware, though, that the same applies to you if you witness anyone in danger. The refusal to help to a person in need can be punishable by law as "Verweigerung der Hilfeleistung", i.e. refusal of aid. The general reservation of Americans to avoid entanglement with strangers due to possible future civil liability does not apply in Switzerland, for it would be practically impossible to wage a civil suit against anyone providing aid.

The drinking age for beer, wine and alcoholic cider is 16 (but not in all cantons, so make sure to ask before buying) while the age for any other alcohol (e.g. spirits, "alcopops", etc.) is 18. The public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland is legal, so do not be alarmed if you see a group of teenagers drinking a six-pack on public property; this is by no means out of the ordinary and should not be interpreted as threatening.

Switzerland is not a country of insane civil lawsuits and damage claims; consequently, if you see a sign or disclaimer telling you not to do something, obey it! An example: in many alpine areas, charming little mountain streams may be flanked by signs with the message "No Swimming". To the uninitiated, this may seem a bit over the top, but these signs are in fact a consequence of the presence of hydroelectric power plants further upstream that may discharge large amounts of water without warning.

In mountain areas, be sure to inquire about weather conditions at the tourist information office or local train station as you head out in the morning. They should be well informed about severe weather conditions and will advise you about possible avalanche areas.

There have been problems with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. That could be a considerable problem if you are travelling alone.

Stay healthy

Generally there is no problem with food and water in Switzerland. Restaurants are controlled by strict rules. Water is drinkable everywhere, even out of public fountains unless specially marked (Kein Trinkwasser - Non potable - Non potabile). There are many organic food stores and restaurants available and it's currently illegal to sell any genetically modified food.


Street sign in Geneva asking partygoers to keep their voices down at night


Take care not to inadvertently violate privacy of anybody in Switzerland. The Swiss Civil Code and Federal Act of Data Protection states that it is forbidden to make recordings of a person without their explicit consent and this is also true for pictures and video recordings as soon as a person is recognisable. Potentially you could be sentenced for up to 3 years prison for taking and especially publishing pictures and other recordings of any person without their explicit consent, so take care of what you make pictures and respect the request for privacy for both the general public and celebrities alike

English is widely spoken in Switzerland, but any attempt to speak the local language is always appreciated (especially in the French-speaking part of the country), even if you're replied to in English. It’s always polite to ask if they speak English before starting a conversation.

Make an effort to at least learn Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank You in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you.

German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of the verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who you consider to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers.

As a general rule, you shouldn't use the informal with someone you don't know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder.

Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a grey area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.

Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times (left - right - left). This is the usual thing to do when being introduced to someone in the French and German speaking part. If it is a business related meeting you just shake hands. Don't be shy, if you reject the advance it appears awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips to the skin after-all, as a fake kiss will do.

Littering is seen as particularly anti-social. While Switzerland will not fine you (as in Singapore), littering is definitely seen as bad behaviour in this country and in general in German speaking Europe or Central Europe for that matter. Also make sure that you put your litter in the correctly labeled bin (e.g. recyclable). Some bins actually have times when this should be done to avoid excess noise!

Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.


Many of the internet cafes that have emerged in the 1990s have closed since, probably because Switzerland has one of the highest rate of high-speed internet connections in homes in the world, but almost any video rental shop and most train stations will have a few internet terminals. The tourist office should be able to direct you to the nearest one. The going rate is CHF5 for 20 minutes.

Also, you can send email, SMS (text messages to cell phones) or short text faxes from just about every public phone booth for less than one franc. Some public phone booths allow you to browse the internet. There are many shopping centers and cities (Lausanne and Vevey for example) that offer free wireless internet access: ask the young locals; maybe they know where to go.

The public phones are surprisingly cheap, and have no surcharge for credit cards.

If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands - they usually cost around CHF10-40 and are obtainable in the shops of the mobile service providers Swisscom, Orange or Sunrise in most cities. Mobile network coverage is close to 100% by area, even in the mountainous, non-populated areas.

There are also a lot of cheap prepaid cards for local calls from other providers. The prepaid cards of the big supermarket chains Migros (M-Budget-Mobile [2]) and Coop ( Coop Mobile [3]) for example cost around CHF20 and include already CHF15 airtime. The cheapest prepaid card for calls within Switzerland is Aldi Mobile [4]: 0.14 CHF/min Switzerland fixed and Aldi mobile, 0.34 CHF/min other mobiles. The cheapest prepaid card for international communication is yallo [5]: 0.39 CHF/min within Switzerland as well as to all European and many more countries (to the mobile and fixed networks). This includes the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. SMS cost CHF 0.10. The prepaid cards can be bought online (CHF 30 with CHF 30 airtime inclusive), in most post offices (CHF 29 with CHF 20 airtime inclusive) or Sunrise shops (CHF 20 with CHF20 airtime inclusive). Another prepaid card with cheap rates offers Lebara Mobile (Sister company of Sunrise). The prepaid card is available for CHF5 with an equivalent talk time and recharge vouchers offer the talktime equivalent to the price of the voucher.


Swiss Confederation
Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (German)
Confédération suisse (French)
Confederazione Svizzera (Italian)
Confederaziun svizra (Romansh)
Confoederatio Helvetica (CH) (Latin)

Flag Coat of arms
Motto: (traditional)
"Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno" (Latin)
"One for all, all for one"
Anthem: Swiss Psalm
Location of  Switzerland  (green)

in Europe  (dark grey)  –  [Legend]

Capital None (de jure)
 Bern (de facto)[note 1][1]
Largest city Zürich
Demonym Swiss
Government Federal multi-party directorial republic with elements of direct democracy
 -  Federal Council
 -  Federal Chancellor C. Casanova
Legislature Federal Assembly
 -  Upper house Council of States
 -  Lower house National Council
 -  Foundation date c. 1300[note 2] 
 -  de facto 22 September 1499 
 -  de jure 24 October 1648 
 -  Restored 7 August 1815 
 -  Federal state 12 September 1848[3] 
 -  Total 41,285 km2 (135th)
15,940 sq mi
 -  Water (%) 4.2
 -  June 2014 estimate 8,183,800[4][5] (96th)
 -  2011 census 7,954,700
 -  Density 198/km2 (65th)
477.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2014 estimate
 -  Total $444.702 billion[6] (40th)
 -  Per capita $55,237[6] (8th)
GDP (nominal) 2014 estimate
 -  Total $679.028 billion[6] (20th)
 -  Per capita $84,344[6] (4th)
Gini (2011) 29.7[7]
HDI (2013) Steady 0.917[8]
very high · 3rd
Currency Swiss franc (CHF)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Drives on the right
Calling code +41
Patron saint St Nicholas of Flüe
ISO 3166 code CH
Internet TLD .ch

Switzerland (; German: die Schweiz ;[note 3] French: la Suisse ; Italian: la Svizzera ; Romansh: la Svizra or ),[note 4] officially the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica, hence its abbreviation CH), is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities, the so-called Bundesstadt ("federal city").[1] The country is situated in Western and Central Europe,[note 5] where it is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them are the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva.

The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Area – although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area. Switzerland comprises four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and the Romansh-speaking valleys. Therefore, the Swiss, although predominantly German-speaking, do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnic or linguistic identity; rather, the strong sense of identity and community is founded on a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy,[10] and Alpine symbolism.[11]

Switzerland has the highest nominal wealth per adult (financial and non-financial assets) in the world according to Credit Suisse and eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product on the IMF list.[12][13] However, Switzerland is also the most expensive country in the world to live in, as measured by the price level index.[14]

Swiss citizens have the second-highest life expectancy in the world on the UN DESA list. Switzerland is tied with the Netherlands for the top rank on the Bribe Payers Index indicating very low levels of business corruption. Moreover, for the last five years the country has been ranked first in economic and tourist competitiveness according to the Global Competitiveness Report and the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report respectively, both developed by the World Economic Forum. Zürich and Geneva have each been ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world, with the former coming second globally according to Mercer.[15] However, Mercer also rates those two cities as the fifth- and sixth- most expensive cities in the world to live in.[16]


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Early history 2.1
    • Old Swiss Confederacy 2.2
    • Napoleonic era 2.3
    • Federal state 2.4
    • Modern history 2.5
  • Geography 3
    • Climate 3.1
    • Environment 3.2
  • Politics 4
    • Direct democracy 4.1
    • Administrative divisions 4.2
    • Foreign relations and international institutions 4.3
    • Military 4.4
  • Economy and laboral law 5
    • Education and science 5.1
    • Switzerland and the European Union 5.2
    • Energy, infrastructure and environment 5.3
  • Demographics 6
    • Languages 6.1
    • Health 6.2
    • Urbanization 6.3
    • Religion 6.4
  • Culture 7
    • Literature 7.1
    • Media 7.2
    • Sports 7.3
    • Cuisine 7.4
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • Bibliography 11
  • External links 12


The English name Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, which was in use during the 16th to 19th centuries.[17] The English adjective Swiss is a loan from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century. The name Switzer is from the Alemannic Schwiizer, in origin an inhabitant of Schwyz and its associated territory, one of the Waldstätten cantons which formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The name originates as an exonym, applied pars pro toto to the troops of the Confederacy. The Swiss began to adopt the name for themselves after the Swabian War of 1499, used alongside the term for "Confederates", Eidgenossen (literally: comrades by oath), used since the 14th century.

The toponym Schwyz itself is first attested in 972, as Old High German Suittes, ultimately perhaps related to suedan "to burn", referring to the area of forest that was burned and cleared to build.[18] The name was extended to the area dominated by the canton, and after the Swabian War of 1499 gradually came to be used for the entire Confederation.[19][20] The Swiss German name of the country, Schwiiz, is homophonous to that of the canton and the settlement, but distinguished by the use of the definite article (d'Schwiiz for the Confederation,[21] but simply Schwyz for the canton and the town).[22]

The Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica was neologized and introduced gradually after the formation of the federal state in 1848, harking back to the Napoleonic Helvetic Republic, appearing on coins from 1879, inscribed on the Federal Palace in 1902 and after 1948 used in the official seal.[23] It is derived from the name of the Helvetii, a Gaulish tribe living on the Swiss plateau before the Roman era. Helvetia appears as a national personification of the Swiss confederacy in the 17th century, with a 1672 play by Johann Caspar Weissenbach.[24]


Switzerland has existed as a state in its present form since the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. The precursors of Switzerland established a protective alliance at the end of the 13th century (1291), forming a loose confederation of states which persisted for centuries.

Early history

The oldest traces of hominid existence in Switzerland date back about 150,000 years.[25] The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland, which were found at Gächlingen, have been dated to around 5300 BC.[25]

Founded in 44 BC by Lucius Munatius Plancus, Augusta Raurica was the first Roman settlement on the Rhine and is now among the most important archaeological sites in Switzerland.[26]

The earliest known cultural tribes of the area were members of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel. La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age from around 450 BC,[25] possibly under some influence from the Greek and Etruscan civilisations. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. Steadily harassed by the Germans, in 58 BC the Helvetii decided to abandon the Swiss plateau and migrate to western Gallia, but Julius Caesar's armies pursued and defeated them at the Battle of Bibracte, in today's western France, forcing the tribe to move back to its original homeland.[25] In 15 BC, Tiberius, who was destined to be the second Roman emperor and his brother, Drusus, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. The area occupied by the Helvetii—the namesakes of the later Confoederatio Helvetica—first became part of Rome's Gallia Belgica province and then of its Germania Superior province, while the eastern portion of modern Switzerland was integrated into the Roman province of Raetia. Sometime around the start of the Common Era, the Romans maintained a large legionary camp called Vindonissa, now a ruin at the confluence of the Aare and Reuss rivers, near the town of Windisch, an outskirt of Brugg.

The first and second century AD were an age of prosperity for the population living along the Swiss plateau. Several towns, like Aventicum, Iulia Equestris and Augusta Raurica, reached a remarkable size, while hundreds of agricultural estates (Villae rusticae) were founded in the countryside.

About in 260 AD, the fall of the Agri Decumates territory north of Rhine transformed today's Switzerland in a frontier land of the Empire. Repeated raids of the Alamanni tribes provoked the ruin of the Roman towns and economy, forcing the population to find shelter near Roman fortresses, like the Castrum Rauracense near Augusta Raurica. The Empire built another line of defense at the north border (the so-called Donau-Iller-Rhine-Limes), but at the end of the fourth century the increased Germanic pressure forced the Romans to abandon the linear defence concept, and the Swiss plateau was finally open to the settlement of German tribes.

In the Early Middle Ages, from the end of the 4th century, the western extent of modern-day Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians. The Alemanni settled the Swiss plateau in the 5th century and the valleys of the Alps in the 8th century, forming Alemannia. Modern-day Switzerland was therefore then divided between the kingdoms of Alemannia and Burgundy.[25] The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the 6th century, following Clovis I's victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.[27][28]

Throughout the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties). But after its extension under Charlemagne, the Frankish empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843.[25] The territories of present day Switzerland became divided into Middle Francia and East Francia until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.[25]

By 1200, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg, and Kyburg.[25] Some regions (Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, later known as Waldstätten) were accorded the Imperial immediacy to grant the empire direct control over the mountain passes. With the extinction of its male line in 1263 the Kyburg dynasty fell in AD 1264; then the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (Holy Roman Emperor in 1273) laid claim to the Kyburg lands and annexed them extending their territory to the eastern Swiss plateau.[27]

Old Swiss Confederacy

The 1291 Bundesbrief (Federal charter)

The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps. The Confederacy facilitated management of common interests and ensured peace on the important mountain trade routes. The Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden is considered the confederacy's founding document, even though similar alliances are likely to have existed decades earlier.[29][30]

The Old Swiss Confederacy from 1291 (dark green) to the sixteenth century (light green) and its associates (blue). In the other colors are shown the subject territories.

By 1353, the three original cantons had joined with the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the Lucerne, Zürich and Bern city states to form the "Old Confederacy" of eight states that existed until the end of the 15th century. The expansion led to increased power and wealth for the federation.[30] By 1460, the confederates controlled most of the territory south and west of the Rhine to the Alps and the Jura mountains, particularly after victories against the Habsburgs (Battle of Sempach, Battle of Näfels), over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The Swiss victory in the Swabian War against the Swabian League of Emperor Maximilian I in 1499 amounted to de facto independence within the Holy Roman Empire.[30]

The Old Swiss Confederacy had acquired a reputation of invincibility during these earlier wars, but expansion of the federation suffered a setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano. This ended the so-called "heroic" epoch of Swiss history.[30] The success of Zwingli's Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal religious conflicts in 1529 and 1531 (Wars of Kappel). It was not until more than one hundred years after these internal wars that, in 1648, under the Peace of Westphalia, European countries recognized Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality.[27][28]

During the Early Modern period of Swiss history, the growing authoritarianism of the patriciate families combined with a financial crisis in the wake of the Thirty Years' War led to the Swiss peasant war of 1653. In the background to this struggle, the conflict between Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the Battles of Villmergen in 1656 and 1712.[30]

Napoleonic era

The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a Republic.

In 1798, the revolutionary French government conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution.[30] This centralised the government of the country, effectively abolishing the cantons: moreover, Mülhausen joined France and Valtellina valley, the Cisalpine Republic, separating from Switzerland. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. It had been imposed by a foreign invading army and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. The fierce French suppression of the Nidwalden Revolt in September 1798 was an example of the oppressive presence of the French Army and the local population's resistance to the occupation.

When war broke out between France and its rivals, Russian and Act of Mediation which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 cantons.[30] Henceforth, much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons' tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government.

In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality.[27][28][30] Swiss troops still served foreign governments until 1860 when they fought in the Siege of Gaeta. The treaty also allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva. Switzerland's borders have not changed since, except some minor adjustments.[31]

Federal state

The first Federal Palace in Bern (1857). One of the three cantons presiding over the Tagsatzung (former legislative and executive council), Bern was chosen as the federal capital in 1848, mainly because of its closeness to the French-speaking area.[32]

The restoration of the power to the patriciate was only temporary. After a period of unrest with repeated violent clashes such as the Züriputsch of 1839, civil war (the Sonderbundskrieg) broke out in 1847 when some Catholic cantons tried to set up a separate alliance (the Sonderbund).[30] The war lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties, most of which were through friendly fire. However minor the Sonderbundskrieg seems to be when compared with other European riots and wars in the 19th century, it nevertheless had a major impact on both the psychology and the society of the Swiss and of Switzerland.

The war convinced most Swiss of the need for unity and strength towards its European neighbours. Swiss people from all strata of society, whether Catholic or Protestant, from the liberal or conservative current, realised that the cantons would profit more if their economic and religious interests were merged.

Thus, while the rest of Europe saw revolutionary uprisings, the Swiss drew up a constitution which provided for a federal layout, much of it inspired by the American example. This constitution provided for a central authority while leaving the cantons the right to self-government on local issues. Giving credit to those who favoured the power of the cantons (the Sonderbund Kantone), the national assembly was divided between an upper house (the Swiss Council of States, 2 representatives per canton) and a lower house (the National Council of Switzerland, representatives elected from across the country). Referenda were made mandatory for any amendment of this constitution.[28]

Inauguration in 1882 of the Gotthard Rail Tunnel connecting the southern canton of Ticino, the longest in the world at the time.[33]

A system of single weights and measures was introduced and in 1850 the Swiss franc became the Swiss single currency. Article 11 of the constitution forbade sending troops to serve abroad, though the Swiss were still obliged to serve Francis II of the Two Sicilies with Swiss Guards present at the Siege of Gaeta in 1860, marking the end of foreign service.

An important clause of the constitution was that it could be re-written completely if this was deemed necessary, thus enabling it to evolve as a whole rather than being modified one amendment at a time.[34]

This need soon proved itself when the rise in population and the Industrial Revolution that followed led to calls to modify the constitution accordingly. An early draft was rejected by the population in 1872 but modifications led to its acceptance in 1874.[30] It introduced the facultative referendum for laws at the federal level. It also established federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters.

In 1891, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remain unique even today.[30]

Modern history

General Ulrich Wille, Commander-in-Chief of the Swiss Army during World War I

Switzerland was not invaded during either of the world wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) and he remained there until 1917.[35] Swiss neutrality was seriously questioned by the Grimm–Hoffmann Affair in 1917, but it was short-lived. In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, which was based in Geneva, on the condition that it was exempt from any military requirements.

Reduit. Switzerland was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers.[37]

Switzerland's trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to the Third Reich varied according to the perceived likelihood of invasion and the availability of other trading partners. Concessions reached a peak after a crucial rail link through Vichy France was severed in 1942, leaving Switzerland completely surrounded by the Axis. Over the course of the war, Switzerland interned over 300,000 refugees[38] and the International Red Cross, based in Geneva, played an important part during the conflict. Strict immigration and asylum policies as well as the financial relationships with Nazi Germany raised controversy, but not until the end of the 20th century.[39]

During the war, the Swiss Air Force engaged aircraft of both sides, shooting down 11 intruding Luftwaffe planes in May and June 1940, then forcing down other intruders after a change of policy following threats from Germany. Over 100 Allied bombers and their crews were interned during the war. During 1944–45, Allied bombers mistakenly bombed a few places in Switzerland, among which were the cities of Schaffhausen, Basel and Zürich.[37]

After the war, the Swiss government exported credits through the charitable fund known as the Schweizerspende and also donated to the Marshall Plan to help Europe's recovery, efforts that ultimately benefited the Swiss economy.[40]

During the Cold War, Swiss authorities considered the construction of a Swiss nuclear bomb.[41] Leading nuclear physicists at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich such as Paul Scherrer made this a realistic possibility. However, financial problems with the defense budget prevented the substantial funds from being allocated, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was seen as a valid alternative. All remaining plans for building nuclear weapons were dropped by 1988.[42]

Switzerland was the last Western republic to grant women the right to vote with some Swiss cantons approving this in 1959, and later with a federal level in 1971[30][43] and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden (one of only two remaining Landsgemeinde) in 1990. After suffrage at the federal level, women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member Federal Council executive being Elisabeth Kopp, who served from 1984–1989,[30] and the first female president being Ruth Dreifuss in 1999.

In 2003, by granting the Swiss People's Party a second seat in the governing cabinet, the Parliament altered the coalition which had dominated Swiss politics since 1959.

Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963.[28] In 1979 areas from the canton of Bern attained independence from the Bernese, forming the new canton of Jura. On 18 April 1999 the Swiss population and the cantons voted in favour of a completely revised federal constitution.[30]

In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican City as the last widely recognised state without full UN membership. Switzerland is a founding member of the EFTA, but is not a member of the European Economic Area. An application for membership in the European Union was sent in May 1992, but not advanced since the EEA was rejected in December 1992[30] when Switzerland was the only country to launch a referendum on the EEA. There have since been several referenda on the EU issue; due to a mixed reaction from the population the membership application has been frozen. Nonetheless, Swiss law is gradually being adjusted to conform with that of the EU, and the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the European Union. Switzerland, together with Liechtenstein, has been completely surrounded by the EU since Austria's membership in 1995. On 5 June 2005, Swiss voters agreed by a 55% majority to join the Schengen treaty, a result that was regarded by EU commentators as a sign of support by Switzerland, a country that is traditionally perceived as independent and reluctant to enter supranational bodies.[28]


Physical map of Switzerland

Extending across the north and south side of the Alps in west-central Europe, Switzerland encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi).[44] The population is about 8 million, resulting in an average population density of around 195 people per square kilometre (500/sq mi).[44][45] The more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than the northern half.[44] In the largest Canton of Graubünden, lying entirely in the Alps, population density falls to 27 /km² (70 /sq mi).[46]

Switzerland lies between latitudes 45° and 48° N, and longitudes and 11° E. It contains three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps to the south, the Swiss Plateau or Central Plateau, and the Jura mountains on the west. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country, comprising about 60% of the country's total area. The majority of the Swiss population live in the Swiss Plateau. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps many glaciers are found, totalling an area of 1,063 square kilometres (410 sq mi). From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhône, which flow in the four cardinal directions into the whole of Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of freshwater in Central and Western Europe, among which are included Lake Geneva(also called le Lac Léman in French), Lake Constance (known as Bodensee in German) and Lake Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes, and contains 6% of Europe's stock of fresh water. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the national territory. The largest lake is Lake Geneva, in western Switzerland shared with France. The Rhône is both the main source and outflow of Lake Geneva. Lake Constance is the second largest Swiss lake and, like the Lake Geneva, an intermediate step by the Rhine at the border to Austria and Germany. While the Rône flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the French Camarque region and the Rhine flows into the North Sea at Rotterdam in the Netherlands, about 1000 km apart, both springs are only about 22 km apart from each other in the Swiss Alps.[44][47]

Contrasted landscapes between the regions of the Matterhorn and Lake Lucerne

48 of Switzerland's mountains are 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) above sea in altitude or higher.[44] At 4,634 m (15,203 ft), Monte Rosa is the highest, although the Matterhorn (4,478 m or 14,692 ft) is often regarded as the most famous. Both are located within the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen valley, containing 72 waterfalls, is well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m or 13,642 ft) Eiger and Mönch, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritz area in canton of Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighbouring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m or 13,284 ft).[44]

The more populous northern part of the country, comprising about 30% of the country's total area, is called the Swiss Plateau. It has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open pastures, usually with grazing herds, or vegetables and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. There are large lakes found here and the biggest Swiss cities are in this area of the country.[44]


The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities,[48] from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant near Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. There are some valley areas in the southern part of Switzerland where some cold-hardy palm trees are found. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall so they are ideal for pastures and grazing. The less humid winters in the mountains may see long intervals of stable conditions for weeks, while the lower lands tend to suffer from inversion, during these periods, thus seeing no sun for weeks.

A weather phenomenon known as the föhn (with an identical effect to the chinook wind) can occur at all times of the year and is characterised by an unexpectedly warm wind, bringing air of very low relative humidity to the north of the Alps during rainfall periods on the southern face of the Alps. This works both ways across the alps but is more efficient if blowing from the south due to the steeper step for oncoming wind from the south. Valleys running south to north trigger the best effect. The driest conditions persist in all inner alpine valleys that receive less rain because arriving clouds lose a lot of their content while crossing the mountains before reaching these areas. Large alpine areas such as Graubünden remain drier than pre-alpine areas and as in the main valley of the Valais wine grapes are grown there.[49]

The wettest conditions persist in the high Alps and in the Ticino canton which has much sun yet heavy bursts of rain from time to time.[49] Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year with a peak in summer. Autumn is the driest season, winter receives less precipitation than summer, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland are not in a stable climate system and can be variable from year to year with no strict and predictable periods.

Contrasted climates between the most glaciated area in western Eurasia (Aletsch Glacier),[50] the cold temperate Jura (Vallée de Joux), the southern canton of Ticino (Lake Lugano), and the western canton of Vaud and its vine terraces (Lake Geneva)


Switzerland's ecosystems can be particularly fragile, because the many delicate valleys separated by high mountains often form unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves are also vulnerable, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes, and experience some pressure from visitors and grazing. The climatic, geological and topographical conditions of the alpine region make for a very fragile ecosystem that is particularly sensitive to climate change.[48][51] Nevertheless, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index, Switzerland ranks first among 132 nations in safeguarding the environment, due to its high scores on environmental public health, its heavy reliance on renewable sources of energy (hydropower and geothermal energy), and its control of greenhouse gas emissions.[52]


The Swiss Federal Council in 2014 with President Didier Burkhalter (in the middle)[note 6]

The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the modern federal state. It is among the oldest constitutions in the world.[53] A new Constitution was adopted in 1999, but did not introduce notable changes to the federal structure. It outlines basic and political rights of individuals and citizen participation in public affairs, divides the powers between the Confederation and the cantons and defines federal jurisdiction and authority. There are three main governing bodies on the federal level:[54] the bicameral parliament (legislative), the Federal Council (executive) and the Federal Court (judicial).

The Federal Palace, seat of the Federal Assembly and the Federal Council.

The Swiss Parliament consists of two houses: the Council of States which has 46 representatives (two from each canton and one from each half-canton) who are elected under a system determined by each canton, and the National Council, which consists of 200 members who are elected under a system of proportional representation, depending on the population of each canton. Members of both houses serve for 4 years. When both houses are in joint session, they are known collectively as the Federal Assembly. Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law passed by parliament and through initiatives, introduce amendments to the federal constitution, thus making Switzerland a direct democracy.[53]

The Federal Council constitutes the federal government, directs the federal administration and serves as collective Head of State. It is a collegial body of seven members, elected for a four-year mandate by the Federal Assembly which also exercises oversight over the Council. The President of the Confederation is elected by the Assembly from among the seven members, traditionally in rotation and for a one-year term; the President chairs the government and assumes representative functions. However, the president is a primus inter pares with no additional powers, and remains the head of a department within the administration.[53]

The Swiss government has been a coalition of the four major political parties since 1959, each party having a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The classic distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS, 2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC as it stood from 1959 to 2003 was known as the "magic formula". Following the 2011 Federal Council elections, the seven seats in the Federal Council were distributed as follows:

1 seat for the Christian Democratic People's Party (CVP/PDC),
1 seat for the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP/PBD),
2 seats for the Free Democratic Party (FDP/PRD),
2 seats for the Social Democratic Party (SPS/PSS),
1 seat for the Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC).

The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals against rulings of cantonal or federal courts. The judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for six-year terms.[55]

Direct democracy

The Landsgemeinde is an old form of direct democracy. It is still practised in two cantons.[56]

Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the commune, canton and federal levels. The 1848 federal constitution defines a system of direct democracy (sometimes called half-direct or representative direct democracy because it is aided by the more commonplace institutions of a representative democracy). The instruments of this system at the federal level, known as civic rights (Volksrechte, droits civiques), include the right to submit a constitutional initiative and a referendum, both of which may overturn parliamentary decisions.[53][57]

By calling a federal referendum, a group of citizens may challenge a law passed by Parliament, if they gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Any 8 cantons together can also call a referendum on a federal law.[53]

Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if 100,000 voters sign the proposed amendment within 18 months.[note 7] Parliament can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, and then voters must indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in Parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of the national popular vote and the cantonal popular votes.[note 8][58][59]

Administrative divisions

The Swiss Confederation consists of 20 cantons and 6 half cantons:[53]
Canton Capital Canton Capital
Aargau Aarau *Nidwalden Stans
*Appenzell Ausserrhoden Herisau *Obwalden Sarnen
*Appenzell Innerrhoden Appenzell Schaffhausen Schaffhausen
*Basel-Landschaft Liestal Schwyz Schwyz
*Basel-Stadt Basel Solothurn Solothurn
Bern Bern St. Gallen St. Gallen
Fribourg Fribourg Thurgau Frauenfeld
Geneva Geneva Ticino Bellinzona
Glarus Glarus Uri Altdorf
Graubünden Chur Valais Sion
Jura Delémont Vaud Lausanne
Lucerne Lucerne Zug Zug
Neuchâtel Neuchâtel Zürich Zürich

*These cantons are known as half-cantons and are thus represented by only one councillor (instead of two) in the Council of States.

The cantons have a permanent constitutional status and, in comparison with the situation in other countries, a high degree of independence. Under the Federal Constitution, all 26 cantons are equal in status. Each canton has its own constitution, and its own parliament, government and courts.[56] However, there are considerable differences between the individual cantons, most particularly in terms of population and geographical area. Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zürich), and their area between 37 km2 (14 sq mi) (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km2 (2,743 sq mi) (Graubünden). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,485 municipalities. Within Switzerland there are two enclaves: Büsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy.[60]

Foreign relations and international institutions

Traditionally, Switzerland avoids alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action and had been neutral since the end of its expansion in 1515. Its policy of neutrality was internationally recognised at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.[61][62] Only in 2002 did Switzerland become a full member of the United Nations[61] and it was the first state to join it by referendum. Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as an intermediary between other states.[61] Switzerland is not a member of the European Union; the Swiss people have consistently rejected membership since the early 1990s.[61]

The monochromatically reversed Swiss flag became the symbol of the Red Cross Movement,[43] founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant.[63]

A large number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part because of its policy of neutrality. Geneva is the birthplace of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Geneva Conventions and, since 2006, hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Even though Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, the Palace of Nations in Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member and home to the League of Nations.

Apart from the United Nations headquarters, the Swiss Confederation is host to many UN agencies, like the World Health Organization (

  • State Secretariat for Education and Research, SER
  • The Swiss Portal for Research and Innovation (private source).
Science, research, and technology
  • Universities in Switzerland
  • The Swiss School System
  • Daily newspapers
    • (German) Tages-Anzeiger
    • (German) Neue Zürcher Zeitung
    • (French) Le Temps
    • (Italian) Corriere Del Ticino
  • swissinfo.ch, Swiss News – Worldwide
News media
  • swiss-linguistics.com, a portal on current linguistic research in Switzerland.
  • (German) (French) (Italian) Historical Dictionary of Switzerland
  • Swiss American Historical Society
  • Tourism
  • Federal Office of Topography
  • Searchable interactive map (search.ch)
  • Geographic data related to Switzerland at OpenStreetMap
  • The Federal Council
  • The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation
  • Swissworld.org, Switzerland's information portal
  • Swiss Statistics at the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.
  • Practical informations

External links

  • Church, Clive H. (2004) The Politics and Government of Switzerland. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-69277-2.
  • Dalton, O.M. (1927) The History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  • Fahrni, Dieter. (2003) An Outline History of Switzerland. From the Origins to the Present Day. 8th enlarged edition. Pro Helvetia, Zürich. ISBN 3-908102-61-8
  • von Matt, Peter: Das Kalb vor der Gotthardpost. Zur Literatur und Politik in der Schweiz. Carl Hanser Verlag, München, 2012, ISBN 978-3-446-23880-0, S. 127–138.
  • Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (2002–). Published electronically and in print simultaneously in three national languages of Switzerland.


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  3. ^ A solemn declaration of the Tagsatzung declared the Federal Constitution adopted on 12 September 1848. A resolution of the Tagsatzung of 14 September 1848 specified that the powers of the institutions provided for by the 1815 Federal Treaty would expire at the time of the constitution of the Federal Council, which took place on 16 November 1848.
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  1. ^ De jure "federal city"; de facto capital. Due to historical federalist sensibilities, Swiss law does not designate a formal capital; and some federal institutions such as courts are located in other cities.
  2. ^ The traditional date of the Rütlischwur was 1307 (reported by Aegidius Tschudi in the 16th century). The date of the Federal Charter of 1291 was selected in 1891 for the official celebration of the "Confederacy's 600th anniversary".
  3. ^ Swiss Standard German spelling and pronounciation. The Swiss German name is sometimes spelled as Schwyz or Schwiiz . Schwyz is also the standard German (and international) name of one of the Swiss cantons.
  4. ^ The latter is the common Sursilvan pronounciation.
  5. ^ There are several definitions. See Geography of Switzerland#Western or Central Europe?.
  6. ^ As shown in this image, the current members of the council are (as of January 2014, from left to right): Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, Federal Councillor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Vice-President Simonetta Sommaruga, President Didier Burkhalter, Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer, Federal Councillor Alain Berset and Federal Chancellor Corina Casanova
  7. ^ Since 1999, an initiative can also be in the form of a general proposal to be elaborated by Parliament, but because it is considered less attractive for various reasons, this form of initiative has yet to find any use.
  8. ^ That is a majority of 23 cantonal votes, because the result of the popular vote in the six traditional half-cantons each counts as half the vote of one of the other cantons.
  9. ^ In 2008, the ETH Zurich was ranked 15th in the field Natural Sciences and Mathematics by the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities and the EPFL in Lausanne was ranked 18th in the field Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences by the same ranking.


See also

The most popular alcoholic drink in Switzerland is wine. Switzerland is notable for the variety of grapes grown because of the large variations in terroirs, with their specific mixes of soil, air, altitude and light. Swiss wine is produced mainly in Valais, Vaud (Lavaux), Geneva and Ticino, with a small majority of white wines. Vineyards have been cultivated in Switzerland since the Roman era, even though certain traces can be found of a more ancient origin. The most widespread varieties are the Chasselas (called Fendant in Valais) and Pinot noir. The Merlot is the main variety produced in Ticino.[200][201]

Chocolate had been made in Switzerland since the 18th century but it gained its reputation at the end of the 19th century with the invention of modern techniques such as conching and tempering which enabled its production on a high quality level. Also a breakthrough was the invention of solid milk chocolate in 1875 by Daniel Peter. The Swiss are the world's largest consumers of chocolate.[198][199]

The cuisine of Switzerland is multifaceted. While some dishes such as fondue, raclette or rösti are omnipresent through the country, each region developed its own gastronomy according to the differences of climate and languages.[194] [195] Traditional Swiss cuisine uses ingredients similar to those in other European countries, as well as unique dairy products and cheeses such as Gruyère or Emmental, produced in the valleys of Gruyères and Emmental. The number of fine-dining establishments is high, particularly in western Switzerland.[196][197]

Fondue is melted cheese, into which bread is dipped


Traditional sports include Swiss wrestling or "Schwingen". It is an old tradition from the rural central cantons and considered the national sport by some. Hornussen is another indigenous Swiss sport, which is like a cross between baseball and golf.[192] Steinstossen is the Swiss variant of stone put, a competition in throwing a heavy stone. Practiced only among the alpine population since prehistoric times, it is recorded to have taken place in Basel in the 13th century. It is also central to the Unspunnenfest, first held in 1805, with its symbol the 83.5 kg stone named Unspunnenstein.[193]

Motorsport racecourses and events were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster with exception to events such as Hillclimbing. During this period, the country still produced successful racing drivers such as Clay Regazzoni, Sebastian Buemi, Jo Siffert, Dominique Aegerter and successful World Touring Car Championship driver Alain Menu. Switzerland also won the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in 2007–08 with driver Neel Jani. Swiss motorcycle racer Thomas Lüthi won the 2005 MotoGP World Championship in the 125cc category. In June 2007 the Swiss National Council, one house of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland, voted to overturn the ban, however the other house, the Swiss Council of States rejected the change and the ban remains in place.[190][191]

In a nine-year span, Roger Federer has won a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, making him the most successful men's tennis player ever.[189]

Many Swiss also follow ice hockey and support one of the 12 clubs in the League A, which is the most attended league in Europe.[187] In 2009, Switzerland hosted the IIHF World Championship for the 10th time.[188] It also became World Vice-Champion in 2013. The numerous lakes make Switzerland an attractive place for sailing. The largest, Lake Geneva, is the home of the sailing team Alinghi which was the first European team to win the America's Cup in 2003 and which successfully defended the title in 2007. Tennis has become an increasingly popular sport, and Swiss players such as Martina Hingis, Roger Federer, and most recently, Stanislas Wawrinka have won multiple Grand Slams.

Swiss are fans of football and the national team is nicknamed the 'Nati'. The headquarters of the sport's governing body, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), is located in Zürich. Switzerland hosted the 1954 FIFA World Cup, and was the joint host, with Austria, of the Euro 2008 tournament. The Swiss Super League is the nation's professional club league. For the Brasil 2014 World Cup finals tournament, the country's German-speaking cantons will be closely monitored by local police forces to prevent celebrations beyond one hour after matches end.[185] Europe's highest football pitch, at 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) above sea level, is located in Switzerland and is named the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium.[186]

Skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering are among the most popular sports in Switzerland, the nature of the country being particularly suited for such activities.[183] Winter sports are practiced by the natives and tourists since the second half of the 19th century with the invention of bobsleigh in St. Moritz.[184] The first world ski championships were held in Mürren (1931) and St. Moritz (1934). The latter town hosted the second Winter Olympic Games in 1928 and the fifth edition in 1948. Among the most successful skiers and world champions are Pirmin Zurbriggen and Didier Cuche.

Ski area over the glaciers of Saas-Fee


The government exerts greater control over broadcast media than print media, especially due to finance and licensing.[182] The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, whose name was recently changed to SRG SSR idée suisse, is charged with the production and broadcast of radio and television programs. SRG SSR studios are distributed throughout the various language regions. Radio content is produced in six central and four regional studios while the television programs are produced in Geneva, Zürich and Lugano. An extensive cable network also allows most Swiss to access the programs from neighboring countries.[182]

Switzerland has historically boasted the greatest number of newspaper titles published in proportion to its population and size.[182] The most influential newspapers are the German-language Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ, and the French-language Le Temps, but almost every city has at least one local newspaper. The cultural diversity accounts for a large number of newspapers.[182]

The freedom of the press and the right to free expression is guaranteed in the federal constitution of Switzerland.[181] The Swiss News Agency (SNA) broadcasts information around-the-clock in three of the four national languages—on politics, economics, society and culture. The SNA supplies almost all Swiss media and a couple dozen foreign media services with its news.[181]


Probably the most famous Swiss literary creation, Heidi, the story of an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Alps, is one of the most popular children's books ever and has come to be a symbol of Switzerland. Her creator, Johanna Spyri (1827–1901), wrote a number of other books around similar themes.[180]

Prominent French-speaking writers were Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Germaine de Staël (1766–1817). More recent authors include Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878–1947), whose novels describe the lives of peasants and mountain dwellers, set in a harsh environment and Blaise Cendrars (born Frédéric Sauser, 1887–1961).[180] Also Italian and Romansh-speaking authors contributed but in more modest way given their small number.

Among the classics of Swiss German literature are Jeremias Gotthelf (1797–1854) and Gottfried Keller (1819–1890). The undisputed giants of 20th century Swiss literature are Max Frisch (1911–91) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90), whose repertoire includes Die Physiker (The Physicists) and Das Versprechen (The Pledge), released in 2001 as a Hollywood film.[180]

As the Confederation, from its foundation in 1291, was almost exclusively composed of German-speaking regions, the earliest forms of literature are in German. In the 18th century, French became the fashionable language in Bern and elsewhere, while the influence of the French-speaking allies and subject lands was more marked than before.[179]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not only a writer but also an influential philosopher of the eighteenth century[178] (his statue in Geneva).


Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity.[11][175] Nowadays some concentrated mountain areas have a strong highly energetic alphorn, a trumpet-like musical instrument made of wood, has become alongside yodeling and the accordion an epitome of traditional Swiss music.[176][177]

Switzerland is home to many notable contributors to literature, art, architecture, music and sciences. In addition the country attracted a number of creative persons during time of unrest or war in Europe.[170] Some 1000 museums are distributed through the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950.[171] Among the most important cultural performances held annually are the Lucerne Festival,[172] the Montreux Jazz Festival[173] and the Locarno International Film Festival.[174]

Three of Europe's major languages are official in Switzerland. Swiss culture is characterised by diversity, which is reflected in a wide range of traditional customs.[168] A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language, the country itself being rooted in western European culture.[169] The linguistically isolated Romansh culture in Graubünden in eastern Switzerland constitutes an exception, it survives only in the upper valleys of the Rhine and the Inn and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition.

Alphorn concert in Vals


The country was historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597. The larger cities and their cantons (Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Zürich and Basel) used to be predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, the Valais, the Ticino, Appenzell Innerrhodes, the Jura, and Fribourg are traditionally Catholic. The Swiss Constitution of 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was rejected by 78.9% of the voters.[167] Some traditionally Protestant cantons and cities nowadays have a slight Catholic majority, not because they were growing in members, quite the contrary, but only because since about 1970 a steadily growing minority became not affiliated with any church or other religious body (21.6% in Switzerland, 2012) especially in traditionally Protestant regions, such as Basel-City (42%), canton of Neuchâtel (38%), canton of Geneva (35%), canton of Vaud (26%), or Zürich city (city: >25%; canton: 23%).[164]

As of 2012 Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between the Catholic Church (38.2% of the population), the Swiss Reformed Church (26.9%) and other Christian denominations (5.7%). Geneva converted to Protestantism in 1536, just before John Calvin arrived there. Immigration has brought Islam (4.9%) and Eastern Orthodoxy (around 2%) as sizeable minority religions.[164] As of the 2000 census other Christian minority communities include Neo-Pietism (0.44%), Pentecostalism (0.28%, mostly incorporated in the Schweizer Pfingstmission), Methodism (0.13%), the New Apostolic Church (0.45%), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.28%), other Protestant denominations (0.20%), the Old Catholic Church (0.18%), other Christian denominations (0.20%). Non-Christian religions are Hinduism (0.38%), Buddhism (0.29%), Judaism (0.25%) and others (0.11%); 4.3% did not make a statement. 11.1% in 2000 and already 21.4% in 2012 declared themselves as unchurched i.e. not affiliated with any church or other religious body (Agnostic, Atheist, or just not related to any official religion).[164][166]

The reformed church of Glarus

Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognize official churches, which are either the Catholic Church or the (Protestant) Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.[165]

Religion in Switzerland – 2012[164]
religion percent
Swiss Reformed
Other Christians


Switzerland has a dense network of cities, where large, medium and small cities are complementary.[159] The plateau is very densely populated with about 450 people per km2 and the landscape continually shows signs of man's presence.[162] The weight of the largest metropolitan areas, which are Zürich, GenevaLausanne, Basel and Bern tend to increase.[159] In international comparison the importance of these urban areas is stronger than their number of inhabitants suggests.[159] In addition the two main centers of Zürich and Geneva are recognized for their particularly great quality of life.[163]

Between two thirds and three quarters of the population live in urban areas.[158][159] Switzerland has gone from a largely rural country to an urban one in just 70 years. Since 1935 urban development has claimed as much of the Swiss landscape as it did during the previous 2,000 years. This urban sprawl does not only affect the plateau but also the Jura and the Alpine foothills[160] and there are growing concerns about land use.[161] However from the beginning of the 21st century, the population growth in urban areas is higher than in the countryside.[159]

Urbanization in the Rhone Valley (outskirts of Sion)


Swiss citizens are universally required to buy health insurance from private insurance companies, which in turn are required to accept every applicant. While the cost of the system is among the highest, the system compares well with other European countries in terms of health outcomes, so patients are largely satisfied with it. In 2012, life expectancy at birth was 80.4 years for men and 84.7 years for women.[153] These are the world's highest life expectancy.[154][155] However, spending on health is particularly high, with 11.4% of GDP (2010), however in par with Germany and France (11.6%) and other European countries, but far less than in USA (17.6%).[156] From 1990, a steady increase is observed, reflecting the high prices of the services provided.[157] With aging populations and new healthcare technologies, health spending will likely continue to rise.[157]


Learning one of the other national languages at school is compulsory for all Swiss students, so many Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual, especially those belonging to minorities.[152]

The official languages (German, French and Italian) have terms, not used outside of Switzerland, known as Helvetisms. German Helvetisms are, roughly spoken, a large group of words typical of Swiss Standard German, which do not appear in either of Standard German, nor Standard German dialects. E.g. terms from Switzerland's surrounding language cultures (German Billette[149] from French), from similar term in another language (Italian azione used not only as act but also as discount from German Aktion).[150] The French spoken in Switzerland has similar terms, which are equally known as Helvetisms. The most frequent characteristics of Helvetisms are in vocabulary, phrases, and pronunciation, but certain Helvetisms denote themselves as special in syntax and orthography likewise. Duden, one of the prescriptive sources for Standard German, is aware of about 3000 Helvetisms.[150] Current French dictionaries, such as the Petit Larousse, include several hundred Helvetisms.[151]

Aside from the official forms of their respective languages, the four linguistic regions of Switzerland also have their local dialectal forms. The role played by dialects in each linguistic region varies dramatically: in the German-speaking regions, Swiss German dialects became ever more prevalent since the second half of the 20th century, especially in the media, such as radio and television, and are used as an everyday language, while (the Swiss variety of) Standard German is used for almost all written situations (c.f. diglossic usage of a language).[148] Conversely, in the French-speaking regions the local dialects have almost disappeared (only 6.3% of the population of Valais, 3.9% of Fribourg, and 3.1% of Jura still spoke dialects at the end of the 20th century), while in the Italian-speaking regions dialects are mostly limited to family settings and casual conversation.[148]

The federal government is obliged to communicate in the official languages, and in the federal parliament simultaneous translation is provided from and into German, French and Italian.[147]

In 2011, the languages most spoken at home among permanent residents aged 15 and older were: Swiss German (4,027,917, or 61.1%); French (1,523,094, 23.1%); Standard German (637,439, 9.7%); Italian (545,274, 8.2%); Ticinese and Grisons (107,973, 1.6%); Romansh (37,490, 0.57%); and English (278,407, 4.2%). Speakers of other languages at home numbered 1,382,508, or 16.5% of the population.[146]

Switzerland has four official languages: principally German (65.3% total population share, with foreign residents; 73.2% of residents with Swiss citizenship, in 2011); French (22.4%; 23.1%) in the west; Italian (8.4%; 6.1%) in the south.[145] Romansh (0.6%; 0.7%), a Romance language spoken locally in the southeastern trilingual canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French and Italian (Article 4 of the Constitution), and as official language if the authorities communicate with persons of Romansh language (Article 70), but federal laws and other official acts do not need to be decreed in this language.

Official languages in Switzerland (total / Swiss population):[145]
   German (65.3%; 73.2%)
   French (22.4%; 23.1%)
   Italian (8.4%; 6.1%)
   Romansh (0.54%; 0.7%)


In 2012, resident foreigners made up 23.3% of the population.[142] Most of these (64%) were from European Union or EFTA countries.[143] Italians were the largest single group of foreigners with 15.6% of total foreign population. They were closely followed by Germans (15.2%), immigrants from Portugal (12.7%), France (5.6%), Serbia (5.3%), Turkey (3.8%), Spain (3.7%), and Austria (2%). Immigrants from Sri Lanka, most of them former Tamil refugees, were the largest group among people of Asian origin (6.3%).[143] Additionally, the figures from 2012 show that 34.7% of the permanent resident population aged 15 or over in Switzerland, i.e. 2,335,000 persons, had an immigration background. A third of this population (853,000) held Swiss citizenship. Four fifths of persons with an immigration background were themselves immigrants (first generation foreigners and native-born and naturalised Swiss citizens), whereas one fifth were born in Switzerland (second generation foreigners and native-born and naturalised Swiss citizens).[144]

In 2012, Switzerland's population slightly exceeded eight million. The Swiss population quadrupled between 1800 and 1990.


Switzerland also has internationally the most efficient system to recycle old newspapers and cardboard materials. Publicly organised collection by volunteers and economical railway transport logistics started as early as 1865 under the leadership of the notable industrialist Hans Caspar Escher (Escher Wyss AG) when the first modern Swiss paper manufacturing plant was built in Biberist.[141]

In many places in Switzerland, household rubbish disposal is charged for. Rubbish (except dangerous items, batteries etc.) is only collected if it is in bags which either have a payment sticker attached, or in official bags with the surcharge paid at the time of purchase.[138] This gives a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, since recycling is free.[139] Illegal disposal of garbage is not tolerated but usually the enforcement of such laws is limited to violations that involve the unlawful disposal of larger volumes at traffic intersections and public areas. Fines for not paying the disposal fee range from CHF 200–500.[140]

Switzerland has one of the best environmental records among nations in the developed world;[134] it was one of the countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and ratified it in 2003. With Mexico and the Republic of Korea it forms the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG).[135] The country is heavily active in recycling and anti-littering regulations and is one of the top recyclers in the world, with 66% to 96% of recyclable materials being recycled, depending on the area of the country.[136] The 2014 Global Green Economy Index ranked Switzerland among the top 10 green economies in the world.[137]

Swiss private-public managed road network is funded by road tolls and vehicle taxes. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute system requires the purchase of a vignette (toll sticker)—which costs 40 Swiss francs—for one calendar year in order to use its roadways, for both passenger cars and trucks. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute network has a total length of 1,638 km (1,018 mi) (as of 2000) and has, by an area of 41,290 km2 (15,940 sq mi), also one of the highest motorway densities in the world.[131] Zurich Airport is Switzerland's largest international flight gateway, which handled 22.8 million passengers in 2012.[132] The other international airports are Geneva Airport (13.9 million passengers in 2012),[133] EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg which is located in France, Bern Airport, Lugano Airport, St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport and Sion Airport. Swiss International Airlines is the flag carrier of Switzerland. Its main hub is Zürich.

The most dense rail network in Europe[43] of 5,063 km (3,146 mi) carries over 350 million passengers annually.[128] In 2007, each Swiss citizen travelled on average 2,258 km (1,403 mi) by rail, which makes them the keenest rail users.[129] The network is administered mainly by the Federal Railways, except in Graubünden, where the 366 km (227 mi) narrow gauge railway is operated by the Rhaetian Railways and includes some World Heritage lines.[130] The building of new railway base tunnels through the Alps is under way to reduce the time of travel between north and south through the AlpTransit project.

Entrance of the new Lötschberg Base Tunnel, the third-longest railway tunnel in the world, under the old Lötschberg railway line. It is the first completed tunnel of the greater project AlpTransit.

On 25 May 2011 the Swiss government announced that it plans to end its use of nuclear energy in the next 2 or 3 decades. "The government has voted for a phaseout because we want to ensure a secure and autonomous supply of energy", Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said that day at a press conference in Bern. "Fukushima showed that the risk of nuclear power is too high, which in turn has also increased the costs of this energy form." The first reactor would reportedly be taken offline in 2019 and the last one in 2034. Parliament will discuss the plan in June 2011, and there could be a referendum as well.[127]

The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a citizens' initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes. Plans for a new nuclear plant in the Canton of Bern have been put on hold after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) is the office responsible for all questions relating to energy supply and energy use within the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). The agency is supporting the 2000-watt society initiative to cut the nation's energy use by more than half by the year 2050.[126]

Electricity generated in Switzerland is 56% from hydroelectricity and 39% from nuclear power, resulting in a nearly CO2-free electricity-generating network. On 18 May 2003, two anti-nuclear initiatives were turned down: Moratorium Plus, aimed at forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants (41.6% supported and 58.4% opposed),[124] and Electricity Without Nuclear (33.7% supported and 66.3% opposed).[125]

Switzerland has the tallest dams in Europe, among which the Mauvoisin Dam, in the Alps. Hydroelectricity is the most important domestic source of energy in the country.

Energy, infrastructure and environment

On 9 February 2014, Swiss voters narrowly approved by 50.3% a ballot initiative launched by the national conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC) to restrict immigration, and thus reintroducing a quota system on the influx of foreigners. This initiative was mostly backed by rural (57.6% approvals), suburban (51.2% approvals), and isolated cities (51.3% approvals) of Switzerland as well as by a strong majority (69.2% approval) in the canton of Ticino, while metropolitan centers (58.5% rejection) and the French-speaking part (58.5% rejection) of Switzerland rather rejected it.[121] Some news commentators claim that this proposal de facto contradicts the bilateral agreements on the free movement of persons from these respective countries.[122][123]

On 27 November 2008, the interior and justice ministers of European Union in Brussels announced Switzerland's accession to the Schengen passport-free zone from 12 December 2008. The land border checkpoints will remain in place only for goods movements, but should not run controls on people, though people entering the country had their passports checked until 29 March 2009 if they originated from a Schengen nation.[120]

In 2006, Switzerland approved 1000 million francs of supportive investment in the poorer Southern and Central European countries in support of cooperation and positive ties to the EU as a whole. A further referendum will be needed to approve 300 million francs to support Romania and Bulgaria and their recent admission. The Swiss have also been under EU and sometimes international pressure to reduce banking secrecy and to raise tax rates to parity with the EU. Preparatory discussions are being opened in four new areas: opening up the electricity market, participation in the European GNSS project Galileo, cooperating with the European centre for disease prevention and recognising certificates of origin for food products.[119]

The government has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Economic Affairs. To minimise the negative consequences of Switzerland's isolation from the rest of Europe, Bern and Brussels signed seven bilateral agreements to further liberalise trade ties. These agreements were signed in 1999 and took effect in 2001. This first series of bilateral agreements included the free movement of persons. A second series covering nine areas was signed in 2004 and has since been ratified, which includes the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Convention besides others.[117] They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation.[118]

Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in a referendum in December 1992 and has since maintained and developed its relationships with the European Union (EU) and European countries through bilateral agreements. In March 2001, the Swiss people refused in a popular vote to start accession negotiations with the EU.[113] In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the EU in many ways, in an effort to enhance their international competitiveness. The economy grew at 3% in 2010, 1.9% in 2011, and 1% in 2012.[114] Full EU membership is a long-term objective of some in the Swiss government, but there is considerable popular sentiment against this supported by the conservative SVP party. The western French-speaking areas and the urban regions of the rest of the country tend to be more pro-EU, however with far from any significant share of the population.[115][116]

Switzerland and the European Union

Switzerland Space Agency, the Swiss Space Office, has been involved in various space technologies and programs. In addition it was one of the 10 founders of the European Space Agency in 1975 and is the seventh largest contributor to the ESA budget. In the private sector, several companies are implicated in the space industry such as Oerlikon Space[111] or Maxon Motors[112] who provide spacecraft structures.

Geneva and the nearby French department of Ain co-host the world's largest laboratory, CERN,[110] dedicated to particle physics research. Another important research center is the Paul Scherrer Institute. Notable inventions include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the scanning tunneling microscope (Nobel prize) and Velcro. Some technologies enabled the exploration of new worlds such as the pressurized balloon of Auguste Piccard and the Bathyscaphe which permitted Jacques Piccard to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans.

The LHC tunnel. CERN is the world's largest laboratory and also the birthplace of the World Wide Web.[109]

[108] Many

As might befit a country that plays home to innumerable international organizations, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, located in Geneva, is not only continental Europe's oldest graduate school of international and development studies, but also widely believed to be one of its most prestigious.[103][104]

In addition, there are various Universities of Applied Sciences. In business and management studies, University of St. Gallen, (HSG) and International Institute for Management Development (IMD) are the leaders within the country and highly regarded internationally. Switzerland has the second highest rate (almost 18% in 2003) of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia (slightly over 18%). [101] [102]

There are 12 universities in Switzerland, ten of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. The first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel (with a faculty of medicine) and has a tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. The biggest university in Switzerland is the University of Zurich with nearly 25,000 students. The two institutes sponsored by the federal government are the ETHZ in Zürich (founded 1855) and the EPFL in Lausanne (founded 1969 as such, formerly an institute associated with the University of Lausanne) which both have an excellent international reputation.[note 9][99][100]

The campus of the ETH Zurich. The institution is usually ranked the top university in continental Europe.[97][98]

At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities in several (often three) sections. The fastest learners are taught advanced classes to be prepared for further studies and the matura,[96] while students who assimilate a little more slowly receive an education more adapted to their needs.

Education in Switzerland is very diverse because the constitution of Switzerland delegates the authority for the school system to the cantons.[96] There are both public and private schools, including many private international schools. The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons, but most cantons provide a free "children's school" starting at four or five years old.[96] Primary school continues until grade four, five or six, depending on the school. Traditionally, the first foreign language in school was always one of the other national languages, although recently (2000) English was introduced first in a few cantons.[96]

Some Swiss scientists who played a key role in their discipline (clockwise):
Leonhard Euler (mathematics)
Louis Agassiz (glaciology)
Auguste Piccard (aeronautics)
Albert Einstein (physics)

Education and science

Switzerland has the world's nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest by purchasing power parity. Switzerland is the fifteenth largest exporter and seventeenth largest importer of goods.

Agricultural protectionism—a rare exception to Switzerland's free trade policies—has contributed to high food prices. Product market liberalisation is lagging behind many EU countries according to the OECD.[89] Nevertheless, domestic purchasing power is one of the best in the world.[93][94][95] Apart from agriculture, economic and trade barriers between the European Union and Switzerland are minimal and Switzerland has free trade agreements worldwide. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The Swiss Federal budget had a size of 62.8 billion Swiss francs in 2010, which is an equivalent 11.35% of the country's GDP in that year; however, the regional (canton) budgets and the budgets of the municipalities are not counted as part of the federal budget and the total rate of government spending is closer to 33.8% of GDP. The main sources of income for the federal government are the value-added tax (33%) and the direct federal tax (29%) and the main expenditure is located in the areas of social welfare and finance & tax. The expenditures of the Swiss Confederation have been growing from 7% of GDP in 1960 to 9.7% in 1990 and to 10.7% in 2010. While the sectors social welfare and finance & tax have been growing from 35% in 1990 to 48.2% in 2010, a significant reduction of expenditures has been occurring in the sectors of agriculture and national defense; from 26.5% in to 12.4% (estimation for the year 2015).[91][92]

Switzerland has an overwhelmingly private sector economy and low tax rates by Western World standards; overall taxation is one of the smallest of developed countries. Switzerland is a relatively easy place to do business, currently ranking 28th of 178 countries in the Ease of Doing Business Index. The slow growth Switzerland experienced in the 1990s and the early 2000s has brought greater support for economic reforms and harmonization with the European Union.[89][90] According to Credit Suisse, only about 37% of residents own their own homes, one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe. Housing and food price levels were 171% and 145% of the EU-25 index in 2007, compared to 113% and 104% in Germany.[85]

The Engadin Valley. Tourism constitutes an important revenue for the less industrialised alpine regions.

Around 3.8 million people work in Switzerland; about 25% of employees belonged to a trade union in 2004.[86] Switzerland has a more flexible job market than neighbouring countries and the unemployment rate is very low. The unemployment rate increased from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a peak of 4.4% in December 2009.[87] Population growth from net immigration is quite high, at 0.52% of population in 2004.[85] The foreign citizen population was 21.8% in 2004,[85] about the same as in Australia. GDP per hour worked is the world's 16th highest, at 49.46 international dollars in 2012.[88]

Switzerland's most important economic sector is manufacturing. Manufacturing consists largely of the production of specialist international organisations – is another important industry for Switzerland.

Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Gunvor, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB, Mercuria Energy Group and Adecco.[84] Also, notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Barry Callebaut, Swiss Re, Tetra Pak, The Swatch Group and Swiss International Airlines. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.[81]

The Greater Zürich Area, home to 1.5 million inhabitants and 150,000 companies, is one of the most important economic centres in the world.[83]

The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world,[79] while ranked by the European Union as Europe's most innovative country.[80] For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin (by GDP – per capita).[81] In 2007 the gross median household income in Switzerland was an estimated 137,094 USD at Purchasing power parity while the median income was 95,824 USD.[82] Switzerland also has one of the world's largest account balances as a percentage of GDP.

Switzerland has a stable, prosperous and high-tech economy and enjoys great wealth, being ranked as the wealthiest country in the world in per capita in multiple rankings. In 2011 it was ranked as the wealthiest country in the world in per capita terms (with "wealth" being defined to include both financial and non-financial assets), while the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report showed that Switzerland was the country with the highest average wealth per adult in 2013.[74][75][76] It has the world's nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the twentieth largest exporter, despite its size. Switzerland has the highest European rating in the Index of Economic Freedom 2010, while also providing large coverage through public services.[77] The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger Western and Central European economies and Japan.[78] If adjusted for purchasing power parity, Switzerland ranks 8th in the world in terms of GDP per capita, according to the World Bank and IMF (ranked 15th according to the CIA Worldfactbook[78]).

The Omega Speedmaster worn on the moon during the Apollo missions. In terms of value, Switzerland is responsible for half of the world production of watches.[43][73]

Economy and laboral law

Following the end of the Cold War there have been a number of attempts to curb military activity or even abolish the armed forces altogether. A notable referendum on the subject, launched by an anti-militarist group, was held on 26 November 1989. It was defeated with about two thirds of the voters against the proposal.[70][71] A similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after the 11 September attacks in the US, was defeated by over 78% of voters.[72]

Because of its neutrality policy, the Swiss army does not currently take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but is part of some peacekeeping missions around the world. Since 2000 the armed force department has also maintained the Onyx intelligence gathering system to monitor satellite communications.[69]

Overall, three general mobilisations have been declared to ensure the integrity and neutrality of Switzerland. The first one was held on the occasion of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The second one was decided in response to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The third mobilisation of the army took place in September 1939 in response to the German attack on Poland; Henri Guisan was elected as the General-in-Chief.

Swiss built Mowag Eagles of the Land Forces

The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their Army issued equipment, including all personal weapons, at home. Some organizations and political parties find this practice controversial[65] but mainstream Swiss opinion is in favour of the system. Compulsory military service concerns all male Swiss citizens; women can serve voluntarily. Men usually receive military conscription orders for training at the age of 18.[66] About two thirds of the young Swiss are found suited for service; for those found unsuited, various forms of alternative service exist.[67] Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in recruit centres for a duration from 18 to 21 weeks. The reform "Army XXI" was adopted by popular vote in 2003, it replaced the previous model "Army 95", reducing the effectives from 400,000 to about 200,000. Of those, 120,000 are active in periodic Army training and 80,000 are non-training reserves.[68]

The Swiss Armed Forces, including the Land Forces and the Air Force, are composed mostly of conscripts, male citizens aged from 20 to 34 (in special cases up to 50) years. Being a landlocked country, Switzerland has no navy; however, on lakes bordering neighbouring countries, armed military patrol boats are used. Swiss citizens are prohibited from serving in foreign armies, except for the Swiss Guards of the Vatican, or if they are dual citizens of a foreign country and reside there.

A Swiss Air Force F/A-18 Hornet at Axalp Air Show


Furthermore, many sport federations and organisations are located throughout the country, such as the International Basketball Federation in Geneva, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in Nyon, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the International Ice Hockey Federation both in Zürich, the International Cycling Union in Aigle, and the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne.[64]

bring together top international business and political leaders from Switzerland and foreign countries to discuss important issues facing the world, including health and the environment. Davos in World Economic Forum The annual meetings of the [61]