All the quaint stereotypes are true – cheese, chocolate, clocks, obsessive punctuality – but there’s much more to Switzerland 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.
Top image: Zermatt in front of the Matterhorn. Winter in Switzerland © Bernsten/Shutterstock
Population 7.9 million
Area 41,293 sq km
Languages German, French, Italian, Romansch
Currency Swiss Franc (Fr.)
Capital Bern (population: 131,791)
International phone code t+41
The most visited Alpine area is the picturesque Bernese Oberland, but the loftiest Alps are further south, where the Toblerone-peaked Matterhorn looms above Zermatt. Of the northern German-speaking cities, Zürich has tons of sightseeing and nightlife and provides easy access to the tiny principality of Liechtenstein. Basel and the capital, Bern, are quieter, each with an attractive historic core, while Luzern lies in an appealing setting of lakes and mountains. In the French-speaking west, Geneva and Lausanne are at the heart of Suisse-Romande. South of the Alps, Italian-speaking Ticino seems a world apart, particularly the palm-fringed lakeside resorts of Lugano and Locarno.
Switzerland has no big metropolises on the scale of Paris or London. Swiss towns and cities were preserved from bombing in World War II, and all of them retain medieval alleys, houses and churches at their centres. Geneva is positioned at the tip of the idyllic Lake Geneva in the southwest, a short distance from the graceful lakeside city of Lausanne. In the northeast, Zürich too is set on its own lake, within striking distance of the peaceful Bodensee (Lake Constance). The diminutive Swiss capital Bern has a fine cobbled Old Town, while equally attractive Lucerne lies in the centre of the country on its own, famously beautiful, lake. Basel is located on the Rhine at the point where France, Germany and Switzerland meet, while at the opposite end of the country, Lugano basks on the shores of an azure lake a few kilometres from the Italian border.
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