Switzerland is a landlocked country in Central Europe. Switzerland’s administrative capital is Bern, while Lausanne serves as its judicial centre. Switzerland’s small size—its total area is about half that of Scotland—and its modest population give little indication of its international significance.
It has borders with France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Germany to the north.
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 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 4,634m while Lake Maggiore is only 195m above sea level.
Cheese, chocolate, clocks and Swiss Army knives. – in Switzerland there are many more than this. The major cities are cosmopolitan and vibrant, transport links are excellent, and the scenery takes your breath away. Switzerland is diverse and multilingual – almost everyone speaks some English along with at least one of the four official languages.
- Cheese – many different regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese speciality. Of these, the most well-known are Gruyère and Emmentaler. 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. 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.
- 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 and Sprüngli. For a good value, try the “Frey” brand chocolates sold at Migros or Läderach. 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 (quite expensive though, a bar of 125g costs about CHF8). For Lindt fans, it is possible to get them as low as half the supermarket price by going to the Lindt factory store in Kilchberg (near Zurich).
- 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 horologers and jewelers 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.
- Swiss Army knives – Switzerland is the official home of the Swiss Army Knife. There are two brands Victorinox and Wenger. Both brands are manufactured by Victorinox. The Wenger business went bankrupt and Victorinox purchased it (2005). 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 knifes, even some newsagents stock them. They are excellent gifts and souvenirs. The original “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 Knife is also produced by Victorinox. Its main particularity is to have the production year engraved on the basis of the biggest blade (and no cork-screw because the Swiss soldier must not drink wine on duty).
Towns in Switzerland:
Berne — capital of Switzerland at the shores of the crystal-clear green-blue Aare river with an amazingly well preserved old-town with arcades along almost every street; great restaurants abound, as do bars and clubs.
The Bern agglomeration, which includes 36 municipalities, had a population of 406,900 in 2014. The metropolitan area had a population of 660,000 in 2000. Bern is also the capital of the canton of Bern, the second-most populous of Switzerland’s cantons.
Set in the heart of Switzerland, Bern is the gateway to the Alps. The capital city may easily be reached by car or by air via the Bern-Belp Airport and bus links to the city centre. Visitors who prefer to travel by train may take advantage of the dense rail network with its direct connections to the major European cities. Bern’s central location makes it the perfect base for overnight accommodation and for excursions throughout Switzerland.
Geneva — this centre of arts and culture is an international city that is home to around 200 governmental and non-governmental organizations (with some major UN organizations) at the end of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman flows into the river Rhône), founding place of Calvinism and THE Red Cross (ICRC); almost every second inhabitant is a foreigner.
Geneva is a global city, a financial center, and worldwide center for diplomacy due to the presence of numerous international organizations, including the headquarters of many of the agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. Geneva is the city that hosts the highest number of international organizations in the world. It is also the place where the Geneva Conventions were signed, which chiefly concern the treatment of wartime non-combatants and prisoners of war.
Slick, cosmopolitan and constantly perceived as the Swiss capital (it isn’t), the people of Switzerland’s second-largest city chatter in almost every language among streets paved by gold.
Basel — the traveller’s gateway to the German Rhineland and French Alsace with an exceptional medieval centre at the knee of the Rhine river; excellent museums numbering 40 or so and ART BASEL, the world’s largest art fair; also famous for its huge and contemplating carnival around February (Basler Fasnacht); German-speaking world wide renowned theatre (including opera and ballet).
Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany. In 2014, the Basel agglomeration was the third largest in Switzerland with a population of 537,100 in 74 municipalities in Switzerland and an additional 53 in neighboring countries (municipal count as of 2000). The official language of Basel is (the Swiss variety of Standard) German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect.
Lausanne — scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws at the shores of the great Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) with a view of Swiss and French Alps; world-wide renowned for its Béjart Ballet Lausanne.
Lausanne has a population (as of November 2015) of 146,372, making it the fourth largest city in Switzerland, with the entire agglomeration area having 420,000 inhabitants (as of March 2015). The metropolitan area of Lausanne-Geneva (including Vevey-Montreux, Yverdon-les-Bains, and foreign parts) was over 1.2 million inhabitants in 2000.
Lausanne is a focus of international sport, hosting the International Olympic Committee (which recognizes the city as the “Olympic Capital” since 1994), the Court of Arbitration for Sport and some 55 international sport associations. It lies in a noted wine-growing region. The city has a 28-station metro system, making it the smallest city in the world to have a rapid transit system. Lausanne will host the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics.
Zurich — largest city of Switzerland at the end of Lake Zurich (ends into the river Limmat), a major centre of international banking and national major companies and media; great culture & arts possibilities; more than 50 museums and around 100 galleries; great restaurants (more than 1500) and bars (more than 500); excellent cinema selection (~60 show rooms); has a thriving nightlife (~80 clubs on weekends); host of the largest European party rave Street Parade in August with almost 1 million visitors every year; renowned opera, excellent theatre; host of the renowned theatre festival Zürcher Theater Spektakel during August; every third inhabitant is a foreigner
The municipality has approximately 400,028 inhabitants, the urban agglomeration 1.315 million and the Zurich metropolitan area 1.83 million. Zurich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zurich Airport and railway station are the largest and busiest in the country.
Lucerne — main medievial city of the Central region with direct water links to all of the early Swiss historic sights at the end of the many branched lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee ends into the river Reuss) along of many steep mountains; also famous for its tremendous and ethnic carnival (Lozärner Fasnacht) around February; host of the world-renowned Lucerne Festivals, a classical summer music festival in the Culture and Congress Centre (KKL) designed by Jean Nouvel; starting point for many excursions into the Alps.
Lucerne is the capital of the canton of Lucerne and part of the district of the same name. With a population of about 81,057 people (as of 2013), Lucerne is the most populous town in Central Switzerland, and a nexus of economics, transportation, culture, and media of this region. The city’s urban area consists of 17 municipalities and towns located in three different cantons with an overall population of about 250,000 people (as of 2007).
St. Gallen — main city of north-eastern Switzerland, renowned for its Abbey of St. Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its library contains books which date back to the 9th century, it also functions as the gate to the very special
St. Gallen is a Swiss town and the capital of the canton of St. Gallen. It evolved from the hermitage of Saint Gall, founded in the 7th century. Today, it is a large urban agglomeration (with around 160,000 inhabitants) and represents the center of eastern Switzerland. Its economy consists mainly of the service sector. Internationally, the town is known as the home of the University of St. Gallen.
Lugano — is a city in southern Switzerland in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino bordering Italy. It has a population (as of December 2016) of 63,932, and an urban agglomeration of over 145,000. The 9th largest Swiss city, it is the largest in Ticino and largest with an Italian speaking majority outside Italy. The city lies on Lake Lugano, surrounded by the mountains of the Lugano Prealps.
From the mid-19th century to 1970 the city recorded constant population growth, especially between 1880 and 1910, when the population more than doubled. This increase was partly due to foreign nationals settling in Lugano (in 1870 18.7% of the population, 1910 43.6%) and people from other language areas of Switzerland (1870 1.4% of the population, 1910 6.9%). In the last three decades of the 20th century, the population fell slightly, despite the merger in 1972, of the municipalities of Castagnola and Brè-Aldesago. This reflected a trend to move away from the city to the suburban communities.