Switzerland Information | Map Switzerland
Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Central 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 7.8 million people concentrates mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them are the two global cities and economic centres of Zurich and Geneva.
The Swiss Confederation has a long history of neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Switzerland is home to many international organizations, including the second largest UN office, the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization, the International Labour Organization and sports federations such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA. On the European level it was a founder of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Agreement – although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area.
Switzerland comprises three main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, and Italian, to which the Romansh-speaking valleys are added. The Swiss therefore do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnic or linguistic identity. The strong sense of belonging to the country is founded on the common historical background, shared values (federalism, direct democracy, neutrality) and Alpine symbolism. The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291; Swiss National Day is celebrated on the anniversary.
Geography of Switzerland:
Switzerland lies between latitudes 45° and 48° N, and longitudes 5° and 11° E. It contains three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps on the south, the Central Plateau or middleland, and the Jura mountains on the north. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country, comprising about 60% of the country's total area. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps many glaciers are found, totaling an area of 1,063 square kilometres. From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhone, 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, Lake Constance 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.
About a hundred of Switzerland's mountain peaks are close to or higher than 4,000 metres (13,000 ft). At 4,634 m (15,203 ft), Monte Rosa is the highest, although the Matterhorn (4,478 m/14,692 ft) is probably 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/13,642 ft) and Eiger, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritz area in canton Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighbouring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m/13,284 ft).
The more populous northern part of the country, comprising about 30% of the country's total area, is called the Middle Land. 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. The largest lake is Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman in French), in western Switzerland. The Rhone River is both the main input and output of Lake Geneva.
A weather phenomenon known as the föhn (with an identical effect as the chinook wind) can occur at all times of the year and is characterized 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.
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. 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.
Preparation for Switzerland:
Entry in Switzerland:
Passports and Visas
Every traveler must have a valid passport. Visa are required for a continuous stay of more than three months.
Customs Entry Regulations
Duty-and tax free imports per person
Regulations for pets
Information on the import of animals to Switzerland
Money / Duty-free:
Currency, Money, Credit cards, VAT, Money exchange places, Tax Free
Shopping, Business Hours, Public Holidays, Important telephone numbers, Post Prices, Telecommunications, Electricity, Climate, Education and Private School, Nightlife, Events, Gastronomy, Sports, Security / Health / Insurance, Criminality
Capital of Switzerland:
The capital of Switzerland is Bern City, also the capital of the canton Bern.
Facts about Switzerland:
The three official languages are Swiss German, French and Italian. A few people speak Romansch, but this is confined to the southeastern corner of the country. Most people know at least three languages, including English.
41,285 sq. km. (15,941 sq. mi.)
Bern (population about 123,000)
Zurich (341,000), Geneva (176,000) Basel (165,000), Lausanne (116,000)
60% mountains, the remainder hills and plateau. Switzerland straddles the central ranges of the Alps.
Temperate, varying with altitude and season.
Annual growth rate:
Roman Catholic 42%, Protestant 33%, Muslim 4.3%, others 5.4%, no religion 11%
German 63.7%, French 20.4%, Italian 6.5%, Romansch 0.5%, other 9.4%.
The official currency is the Swiss franc (CHF) divided into 100 rappen (German) or centimes (French). Although not part of the EU many prices are nonetheless indicated in Euros and some merchants may accept Euros. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted and ATMs are widespread; many are equipped with the Cirrus or Maestro system. Banks offer the best exchange rates for travelers cheques and foreign currency, but it is also possible to exchange money at major hotels, main train stations and airports. Banks are open Monday to Friday.
Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
Electrical current is 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are of the linear, rounded three-pin type, but rounded two-pin plugs will fit the outlet.
The international country dialing code for Switzerland is +41. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use e.g. (0)22 for Geneva. Mobile phone GSM 1800 and 900 networks operate throughout the country. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts; some public phone booths also have Internet and email access.
Travelers to Switzerland over 17 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 2 liters alcohol up to 15% and 1 liter alcohol over 15%. The maximum allowance of wine is 20 liters, but duty will be payable on this quantity. A reasonable amount of personal effects and gifts (including perfume) to the value of Sfr200 for residents of Switzerland and Sfr100 for other travelers. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.
Tourist Office in Switzerland:
Swiss Tourist Office
Zurich: +41 (0)1 288 1111
Emergencies: 117 (Police); 144 (Ambulance).
- Swiss Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 745 7900.
- Swiss Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7616 6000.
- Swiss Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 1837.
- Swiss Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6162 8400.
- Swiss Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 452 0660.
- Swiss Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 218 6382.
- Swiss Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 472 1593/4.
- United States Embassy, Berne: +41(0)31 357 7011.
- British Embassy, Berne: +41 (0)31 359 7700.
- Canadian Embassy, Berne: +41 (0)31 357 3200.
- Australian Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 (0)22 799 9100.
- South African Embassy, Berne: +41 (0)31 350 1313.
- Irish Embassy, Berne: +41 (0)31 352 1442.
- New Zealand Embassy, Berlin, Germany (also responsible for Switzerland): +49 (0)30 206 210.
Language Spoken in Switzerland:
- German 65%
- French 18%
- Italian 12%
- Romansh 1%
- other 4%
Swiss nationals only:
- German 74%
- French 20%
- Italian 4%
- Romansh 1%
- other 1%
Even though Switzerland is a small country, its people do speak no less than four different languages. Everything from the list of the ingredients on the package of the groceries to the manual of the most complicated TV set has to be printed in three different languages (german, french and italian).
The so called "german speaking" Swiss don't speak the same german as the Germans or the Austrians do, but what is known as "Swiss-German". To make it even worse, each state has its own dialect, but there is no written "Swiss-German" at all ! Fortunately, the Germans, the Austrians and the Swiss-Germans use the same written german language which in turn is close to the so called "high german", a "quasi-standard" of the german languages.
Please note that Switzerland remains with the Swiss franc, usually indicated as CHF. While Switzerland is not part of the European Union and thus is not obliged to convert to the Euro, many prices are nonetheless indicated in euros so that visitors may compare prices.
Merchants may accept euros but are not obliged to do so. Change given back to the client will most likely be in Swiss francs.
The Swiss franc comes in the following denominations:
Coins: 5, 10, 20, 50 Cents and 1, 2, 5 Francs
Bank notes: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 1000 Francs
The safest and easiest form of money are traveler's checks and credit cards. The cards most used are Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Many banks in Switzerland have equipped their ATM machines with the CIRRUS or MAESTRO system. Many other Swiss banks offer ATM machines for cash advances with your credit card. For payments with credit card it is advised to use Global Blue Currency Choice. Therewith the bills can be paid in the settlement currency of the credit card. It is recommended to have a small amount of cash on hand upon arrival in Switzerland for immediate expenses, i.e. taxies, city transportation etc.
Cities in Switzerland:
Switzerland has a dense network of cities, where large, medium and small cities are complementary. The plateau is very densely populated with about 450 people per km2 and the landscape continually shows signs of man's presence. The weight of the largest metropolitan areas, which are Zurich, Geneva–Lausanne, Basel and Bern tend to increase. In international comparison the importance of these urban areas is stronger than their number of inhabitants suggests. In addition the two main centers of Zurich and Geneva are recognized for their particular great quality of life.
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. Some 1000 museums are distributed through the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950. Among the most important cultural performances held annually are the Lucerne Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Locarno International Film Festival.
Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity. Nowadays some concentrated mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski resort culture in winter, and a hiking (wandering) or Mountain biking culture in summer. Other areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism, yet the quieter seasons are spring and autumn when there are fewer visitors. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas and small farms are omnipresent outside the cities. Folk art is kept alive in organizations all over the country. In Switzerland it is mostly expressed in music, dance, poetry, wood carving and embroidery. The alphorn, a trumpet- like musical instrument made of wood, has become alongside yodeling and the accordion an epitome of traditional Swiss music.
The cuisine of Switzerland is multi-faceted. 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. 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.
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 milk chocolate in 1875 by Daniel Peter. The Swiss are the world's largest consumers of chocolate.
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.
Sport in Switzerland:
Skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering are among the most popular sports in Switzerland, the nature of the country being particularly suited for such activities. 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. 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.
Many Swiss are fans of football and the national team or 'Nati' is widely supported. Switzerland was the joint host, with Austria, of the Euro 2008 tournament. Many Swiss also follow ice hockey and support one of the 12 clubs in the League A. In April 2009, Switzerland hosted the 2009 IIHF World Championship for the 10th time. 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 increasely popular sport, and Swiss players such as Martina Hingis and Roger Federer have won multiple Grand Slams.
Motorsport racecourses and events were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster with exception to events such as Hillclimbing. However, this ban was overturned in June 2007. During this period, the country still produced successful racing drivers such as Clay Regazzoni, Jo Siffert 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.
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. 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.
History of Switzerland:
The English name Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, in use during the 16th to 19th centuries. 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 toponym 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. 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.
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, but simply Schwiiz for the canton and the town).
The Neo-Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica was 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. 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.
Modern history of Switzerland:
Switzerland was not invaded during either of the world wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Lenin) and he remained there until 1917. 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.
During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Germans, but Switzerland was never attacked. Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Under General Henri Guisan, a massive mobilisation of militia forces was ordered. The Swiss military strategy was changed from one of static defence at the borders to protect the economic heartland, to one of organised long-term attrition and withdrawal to strong, well-stockpiled positions high in the Alps known as the Reduit. Switzerland was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers.
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 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, carrying on to this day with some Swiss banks and entities still refusing to surrender the assets deposited by victims of Nazi persecution.
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. The fact that the Swiss Air Force consistently beat the Luftwaffe was a recurring embarrassment for Hitler in World War II. The Allies acknowledged this, but the Allied Air Forces also many times intruded Swiss Air Space and made raids on several cities during the War. 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 Zurich.
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, gestures that proved very profitable to the Swiss economy.
Women were granted the right to vote in the first Swiss cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971 and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden 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, and the first female president being Ruth Dreifuss in 1999.
Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963. 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.
In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican 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 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.