Switzerland or Swiss Confederation, as the democratic, federalist state in the heart of Europe is officially called, is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, with an area of 41,285 square kilometres and 8,603,900 inhabitants (as of 31 December 2019).
The diversity of Switzerland’s landscape enables all outdoor activities that the heart of active holidaymakers, families with children, nature lovers and cultural travellers desires at any time of year. Whether you’re looking for relaxation on holiday, want to enjoy a family holiday together, want to experience wild and romantic nature up close or come to Switzerland for a short city break – the possibilities for activities in Switzerland are almost limitless.
The first traces of human settlement in Switzerland date back to the Palaeolithic Age. However, it was not until the end of the last Ice Age that a larger number of sedentary people became tangible in Switzerland. They left their traces in the almost 60 discovered sites of prehistoric lake dwelling settlements in Swiss lake landscapes. These are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On Lake Zug in Canton Zug alone, there are remains of around 50 settlements.
This trend towards living on the lake has taken place simultaneously in several regions of Europe, which is quite remarkable given the lack of mobile phone and Internet connections. After the settlement of a few Celtic tribes, the Helvetii in the Swiss Mittelland and the Raeter in eastern Switzerland being among the best known, the Romans extended their empire across Switzerland and romanised the population.
It is readily assumed that the Rhaetian language, which still exists today, can be traced back to the Raeter, but this is more a form of vulgar Latin used by the Romanised population.
The Romans were followed by the Franks, then the Swabians, the Burgundians and the Alemanni. As early as the 13th century, a 1st Confederation was formed from the original cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, which had joined together to protect their freedoms.
The Rütli oath – foundation of today’s Switzerland
The date of foundation is 1 August 1291, which is why 1 August was established as the Swiss bank holiday. The letter of alliance issued at that time as the founding document is kept in the Federal Charter Museum in the municipality of Schwyz.
After numerous armed conflicts on Swiss soil and with the end of the so-called Special Federal War and the Federal Constitution of 1848, in which the conservative Catholic cantons were defeated by the progressive liberal cantons, Switzerland’s rise to a modern federal state began, which today is one of the 20 largest economies in the world.
The Swiss Confederation is characterised by direct democracy, a high degree of regional and local autonomy, special participation of the population in joint decision-making and the principle of self-imposed neutrality. The government consists of a Federal Council of seven federal councillors, headed by a Federal Chancellor.
The Swiss national surface consists roughly of the three major geological regions of the Alps, the Jura and the Swiss Mittelland. The Alps are made up of the pre-alpine region, the high alpine region and the southern side of the Alps. Only the regions around Bern in the north and Mendrisitto in the south are not counted among these major regions, but belong on the one hand to the Upper Rhine Plain and on the other hand to the Po Plain.
The three major regions are in turn divided into 26 cantons , which in turn are divided into several political districts and municipalities. These cantons, also known as estates or states, enjoy a high degree of autonomous self-determination and are administered by their own cantonal governments. All state tasks concerning administrative law, health, education, finance, justice and police fall within the remit of the cantonal parliaments. Over the centuries, however, intercantonal concordats have been concluded in order to create regulations that are as uniform as possible throughout the country. The cantons of Zurich, Bern, Vaud and Aargau are among the most populous Swiss cantons, while the cantons of Uri and Appenzell-Innerrhoden are the smallest Swiss cantons.
The Swiss cantons are also grouped together into 13 vacation regions according to their morphological, cultural and culinary similarities, offering a wide range of outdoor activities, a variety of excursion destinations and extraordinary attractions. These popular vacation regions are the Ticino, the Lake Lucerne-Lake Lucernethe Jura & Dreiseenland, Graubünden , the Bernese Oberland, the region ZurichThe region of Geneva, the region of Basel, the Valais, Eastern Switzerland, the Lake Thun region, the Aargau region, the Fribourg region and the Saas-Fee region. Therefore it is almost too bad if you visit Switzerland only once, because there are so many specialities to discover.
One of the main attractions for vacationers is the mighty Swiss mountain world, which casts a spell on many visitors. Hikers, climbers and paragliders enjoy the alpine landscapes with their breathtaking panorama and clear air from spring to autumn.
Everywhere you meet fragrant alpine meadows, spectacular peaks, thunderous waterfalls, mystical gorges and energetic power places. In the 9 glacier ski areas of Switzerland you can even enjoy the Skiing snowboarding, snowshoeing and Tobogganing go.
One of the largest glaciers in the Alps is the impressive Aletsch Glacier in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss canton of Valais. The Aletsch Arena ski area, which is home to the resorts of Bettmeralp, Riederalp and Fiesch-Eggishorn, is an El Dorado for winter sports enthusiasts. A further 300 ski resorts in Switzerland with state-of-the-art lifts and excellent infrastructure are open to winter sports enthusiasts from November to April.
Countless rivers and lakes in Switzerland are also waiting to be explored by canoe, kayak and rubber dinghy. Lake Geneva, the Swiss areas of Lake Constance, Lake Zurich, Lake Lucerne and Lake Thun are among the most famous Swiss waters.
River rafting through the Swiss Grand Canyon at Ilanz/Glion in the canton of Graubünden and canyoning through the gorges of the torrent at Champéry in the canton of Valais, one of the oldest tourist resorts in Switzerland, are just a few of the many opportunities for adventurous adrenaline junkies.
Bicycle or “Velo
You can also reach many sights and destinations in Switzerland by bicycle, which is called “Velo” by the Swiss. On the numerous signposted cycle paths through Switzerland, you will discover the Alpine country from its most beautiful side. If you don’t have your own bicycle with you, you can rent bicycles of various models in the vacation regions and cities and even take part in guided bicycle tours in Switzerland.
For those interested in culture, there are museums and galleries not only in the centers of the cities, but also in the rural areas. One of the most visited museums in Switzerland is the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, where historical artifacts of the country from prehistory to the present are exhibited.
In addition to exhibition houses for contemporary art, the Arts Museums of Switzerland, there are also several regional museums and open-air museums in Switzerland that deal with the rural past. One example is the Ballenberg Open-Air Museum in the Bernese Oberland, where traditional farmhouses and homesteads from various eras can be visited. In Switzerland, you will also find numerous places with an intact historical city center and buildings from various eras, including jewels such as the old cities of Bern, St. Gallen and Bellinzona, all three of which are under UNESCO protection. A total of 12 cultural and natural sites in Switzerland have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Castle attractions Switzerland
As in all of Europe, Switzerland experienced a veritable castle-building boom in the Middle Ages, which gave rise to some of the most imposing fortifications in Europe, such as the Knights and Dragons’ Castle in Lenzburg, one of the oldest high-altitude castles in Switzerland, and the grandiose Aarburg Fortress, both of which are located in the Canton of Aargau. Later, the imaginative noble castles and palaces in the first towns followed.
Some castles and palaces are still privately owned today, while others are run by the state, are open to the public, and with their special ambience serve as venues for medieval festivals, theater performances and concerts, and as museums. More and more popular with young and old are excursions to the Rope parks in Switzerland, which can be found throughout the country. Each of these Adventure Parks is unique and offers extraordinary elements that are not only fun, but also promote the sense of balance, concentration and fitness.
For bad weather days there is even an indoor rope park in Grindewald in the canton of Berne, which was designed with 40 creative elements and promises lots of action. A trip to one of the Swiss nature parks, such as the Swiss National Park near Engadin and Val Müstair, one of the oldest wilderness reserves in the Alps, to a Swiss zoo or to one of the huge facilities of a Swiss aquarium, offers special animal experiences.
Music Festivals Switzerland
Every year, the list of Swiss Top Events includes festivals of all musical genres, which is why Switzerland is considered a stronghold of music festivals, such as the Lucerne Festival in the field of classical music. One of the oldest festivals in Switzerland is the Open Air St. Gallen, which takes place every last weekend in June. Zurich’s Street Parade, the world’s largest open-air techno party, also attracts millions of visitors. Not to mention the regular concerts of local and international musicians in the bars and discotheques of the cities and vacation regions. The traditional Swiss festivals with typical alpine folk music are also an important part of the Swiss calendar of events. Folklore evenings, alphorn concerts, shepherd’s festivals and alpine pasture drives take place in every region of Switzerland and at every time of year. If you want to experience the otherwise rather reserved Swiss in a really exuberant way, you should come to the time of carnival, when the Swiss celebrate carnival with carnival parades and Guggenmusik from Ash Wednesday onwards.
As far as the languages in Switzerland are concerned, there is no typical Swiss dialect, because in the small Alpine country 4 official languages are used and every village and every valley seems to have its own dialect.
While the west, on the border with France, is assigned to the French language area, in the south, on the border with Italy, it is the Italian language and in a few small areas in the south-east it is Rhaeto-Romanic, including the canton of Graubünden.
Most of Switzerland, some 17 cantons, which also form the centre of the country, use German as their official language. Some cantons are also bilingual or multilingual.
To illustrate the diversity of languages: In German-speaking Switzerland alone, there are 5 different expressions for ordering a small beer with the amount of 0.3 – Becher, Chübeli, Kleines, Rugeli or Stange.
There are also specialties in the food, which are attributed to the whole of Switzerland. One example is the delicious Swiss cheese fondue, which originally comes from the canton of Valais, but is popular all over the country. Depending on the region, it includes various Swiss cheeses such as Emmental, Gruyère and Appenzeller.
Almost every breakfast buffet in European hotels features Bircher muesli, which is prepared with yoghurt, oat flakes, hazelnuts and raisins. Also delicious are the Zürcher Geschnetzelte with Rösti, the Engadiner Nusstorte and the Älplermagronen, i.e. macaroni and potatoes topped with cheese.
The diet of the different language regions is strongly influenced by the neighboring countries to which they border. Thus, each region has produced its own additional local specialties, such as the Lake Geneva region’s Papet vaudois (laurel stew), the Munder saffron risotto in the canton of Valais, with Mund being the only place in the German-speaking world where saffron is grown, or the Lozärner Chügelipaste from the Lucerne-Lake Lucerne region, which is a historical specialty of the Lucerne people and is traditionally eaten at the guilds’ annual Bärteli dinner. You can also taste these culinary delicacies at the respective folk festivals or at the regularly held farmers’ markets. Whether Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen or Winterthur – every city has its own farmers’ market. Something special are the pass markets at the Swiss Alpine passes, such as the Gotthard, the Oberalp and the Lukmanier.
And what counts as a typical Swiss drink? While Swiss wine, which after all is cultivated in over 10 cantons, is rarely available outside the Alpine country, Swiss spirits, such as the dark Alpine bitter, are known abroad. Feldschlösschen Brauerei holds the largest market share in the beer sector, but as everywhere in Europe, many small private breweries have been established, especially in the last few years. There are about 600 of them in the whole country. The most popular non-alcoholic beverage in Switzerland is Rivella – a carbonated soft drink made from whey, which is now available in several flavors. The Swiss national non-alcoholic drink produced by Rothrist in the canton of Aargau is also exported across the borders.
A traditional drink of Eastern Switzerland is the delicious orange must, while the sweet and sour lemonade Gassosa is popular in the Canton of Ticino.
The bike-sharing provider PubliBike, in cooperation with the Swiss Federal Railways and the company Rent a Bike, among others, ensures seamless mobility when cycling with around 500 bike-sharing stations throughout Switzerland. There are a total of 8 bike-sharing providers in Switzerland, offering a wide network of stations, as well as sharing providers of e-cargo bikes. On the other hand, the Switzerland Mobile platform, which is operated by the Swiss Confederation among others, is dedicated to providing routes for all non-motorized traffic, be it hiking routes, cycling routes, skating routes, mountain bike routes or canoe routes. The homepages of the individual local transport providers provide information on the numerous discounts on train tickets, tickets for mountain railroads and excursion boats. Often there are also interesting combination offers, which allow multiple use of different means of transport. Almost every region and almost every big city has its own discount passes.
A recommendation is the Swiss Travel Passwhich not only gives you free travel by train, bus and boat to over 90 percent of Swiss cities and vacation regions, but also free admission to around 500 participating museums nationwide. These include rides on some of the panoramic cable cars, such as the Rigi, the Stanserhorn and the world’s steepest cable car to the mountain village of Stoos.
For families with children, the Swiss Family Card pays off, which allows children between 6 and 16 years to travel free of charge. Infants under 6 years of age travel with one parent on the train free of charge anyway. For young people under 26 years of age, there is also the Swiss Travel Pass Youth. As you can see, Switzerland is a multifaceted country with many picturesque regions that offer a variety of possibilities for eventful vacations. Once you come to Switzerland for a vacation, you will never let go of this beautiful alpine country. If you would like to find out more about the aspects of Switzerland and the Swiss briefly touched on here, you will find detailed reports on the respective links.
The journey to Switzerland is possible in many ways. Those who travel by car use the excellently developed highways, freeways and main roads as well as the pass roads in Switzerland, which create a connection to all neighboring countries.
The Swiss freeway network is considered one of the densest in the world. Since 2008, Switzerland has been a member of the Schengen area, which means that although border controls are eliminated when traveling to and from Switzerland, goods controls are not. By the way, there are more than 20 car-free places, especially in the Alpine regions, such as Zermatt, where electric buses are in operation, Bettmeralp, a car-free high plateau, and the health resort of Braunwald above Rinthal and Rüti. The three national airports of Zurich, Geneva and Basel-Mulhouse are easily accessible by air. There are also 11 regional airports and 44 airfields for private air traffic. The Swiss government invests a lot of money in public transport, which is why travelling to Switzerland by train is also a relaxed way to get around. Most railroad lines are operated by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). Remote places that are not connected to the dense Swiss railroad network can be reached by post buses and public buses.
In the wild mountain worlds, the best way to get around is to take one of the many mountain railroads, which reach even the highest peaks. At the Jungfraujoch, the highest railroad station in the world was built at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters. But also in Zurich and Bern, cult mountain and cable railroads take visitors up to the surrounding mountains. Local transport in the cities and regions is mainly provided by buses, streetcars and light rail.
With the Skymetro of Zurich Airport and the Métro Lausanne, there are only two subways in Switzerland. The lake areas used for tourism are served by excursion boats and passenger ferries, which are also excellent for getting from one place to another. As in all large cities, parking spaces for cars are scarce in the major Swiss cities.
Therefore you should definitely choose either public transportation or the bicycle. The bicycle lanes, which have been increasingly expanded in recent years, allow you to reach every corner of a city in the shortest possible time without getting stuck in nerve-racking traffic jams. Also in the vacation regions the bicycle is an ideal means of transport and the best way to get to know an area in a special way.