41,285 sq. km. (15,941 sq. mi.); about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Capital–Bern (population about 123,000). Other cities–Zurich (359,000), Geneva (180,000), Basel (164,000), Lausanne (119,000).

40% mountains, the remainder hills and plateau. Switzerland straddles the central ranges of the Alps.

Temperate, varying with altitude and season.

Switzerland sits at the crossroads of several major European cultures, which have heavily influenced the country’s languages and cultural practices. Switzerland has four official languages–German, French, Italian, and Romansch (based on Latin and spoken by a small minority in the Canton Graubunden). The German spoken is predominantly a Swiss dialect, but newspapers and some media broadcasts use High German. Many Swiss speak more than one language. English is widely spoken, especially among the university educated.

More than 75% of the population lives in the central plain, which stretches between the Alps and the Jura Mountains and from Geneva in the southwest to the Rhine River and Lake Constance in the northeast. Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population.

According to the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, the population in Switzerland was 7,785,806 at year-end 2009 (up from 7,701,900 in 2008), of which 22% were resident foreigners. The majority of this growth was attributable to net immigration, largely from the European Union (EU). Roughly 60% of the foreigners residing in Switzerland are from European Union member countries, while another 30% are from non-EU European countries. Almost all Swiss are literate. Switzerland’s 12 universities enrolled 126,940 students in the academic year of 2009-2010, of which roughly 26% were foreigners. In addition, another 69,676 persons were

studying at technical colleges and 3,604 were in other forms of higher education (e.g., specialized training academies). About 35% of the population aged 25-64 holds a diploma of higher learning. In the 2009-2010 academic year, 553 U.S. students were enrolled in Swiss universities.

Switzerland consistently ranks high on quality of life indices, including per capita income, computer and Internet usage, insurance coverage, and quality of available health care. For these and many other reasons, it serves as an excellent test market for businesses hoping to introduce new products into Europe.

GDP (2009): $494.6 billion (519.2 billion Swiss francs [SFr]). Government expenses (in GDP%, 2008): 38.3% (federal, cantonal, and local). Annual growth rate (2009): -1.9%. Unemployment (October 2010): 3.6%. Per capita income (2009 est.): $63,519. Avg. inflation rate: -0.3% (2009); 1.4% (2010 est.). Natural resources: Water power, timber, salt. Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products–dairy (24%), livestock (26%), grains (4%), fruit and vegetables, potatoes, wine (15%). Arable land (1999): 26%.

Industry (est. 29% of GDP): Types–machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, time pieces, precision instruments, textiles and clothing, pigment, transportation equipment. Services (70% of GDP).

Trade: Merchandise exports (2009)–$173 billion (official exchange rate): food, beverages, and tobacco (3%; +24%); metal and chemical industries (42%; +12%); precision instruments (7%; +8%); watches (8%; +16%); machinery and electronics (21%; +11%); clothing 1.1%; +4%). Major markets–EU, United States, Canada, CIS, India, Brazil, Japan. Merchandise imports (2009)–$156 billion (official exchange rate): consumer goods (38%); equipment (19%); energy (7.1%); raw materials (28%). Major suppliers–EU, U.S., Canada, CIS, South Africa. Exchange rate (November 2010): $1 U.S. = 0.9833 CHF or SFr.

Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland came under Roman rule during the Gallic wars in the 1st century BC and remained a Roman province until the 4th century AD. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne’s empire. It later passed under the dominion of the Holy Roman emperors in the form of small ecclesiastic and temporal holdings subject to imperial sovereignty.

With the opening of a new important north-south trade route across the Alps in the early 13th century, the Empire’s rulers began to attach more importance to the remote Swiss mountain valleys, which were granted some degree of autonomy under direct imperial rule. Fearful of the popular disturbances flaring up following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1291, the ruling families from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed a charter to keep public peace and pledging mutual support in upholding autonomous administrative and judicial rule. The anniversary of the charter’s signature (August 1, 1291) today is celebrated as Switzerland’s National Day.

Switzerland is a federal state composed of 26 cantons (20 are “full” cantons and six “half” cantons for purposes of representation in the federal legislature) that retain attributes of sovereignty, such as fiscal autonomy and the right to manage internal cantonal affairs. Under the 2000 Constitution, cantons hold all powers not specifically delegated to the federation. Switzerland’s federal institutions are:

A bicameral legislature–the Federal Assembly; A collegial executive of seven members–the Federal Council; and A judiciary consisting of a regular court in Lausanne–the Federal Tribunal–and special military and administrative courts. The Federal Insurance Tribunal is an independent division of the Federal Tribunal that handles social security questions; its seat is in Lucerne. The Federal Criminal Court, located in Bellinzona, is the court of first instance for all criminal cases under federal jurisdiction. The Constitution provides for separation of the three branches of government.

The Federal Assembly is the primary seat of power, although in practice the executive branch has been increasing its power at the expense of the legislative branch. The Federal Assembly has two houses–the Council of States and the National Council. These two houses have equal powers in all respects, including the right to introduce legislation. Legislation cannot be vetoed by the executive nor reviewed for constitutionality by the judiciary, but all laws (except the budget) can be reviewed by popular referendum before taking effect.

The 46 members of the Council of States (two from each canton and one from each half canton) are directly elected in each canton by majority voting. The 200 members of the National Council are directly elected in each canton under a system of proportional representation. Members of both houses serve for 4 years.

Switzerland has a stable government and a diverse society. Quadrennial national elections typically produce only marginal changes in party representation. In recent years, Switzerland has seen a gradual shift in the party landscape. The rightist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), traditionally the junior partner in the four-party coalition government, almost tripled its share of the popular vote from 11% in 1987 to 22.5% in 1999, to 26.6% in 2003, and finally to 29% in October 2007, thus overtaking its three major rivals. In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the SVP picked up an additional seven seats in the 200-seat National Council (lower house).

This brought the SVP to 62 seats total. The Greens gained more than 2 percentage points and seven seats in the National Council, bringing their total shares to 9.6% and 20 respectively. They also for the first time gained seats in the Council of States (upper house). The Christian Democratic Party (CVP) booked modest gains of 0.2% and three seats, for a total of 14.6% and 31 seats in the National Council. This halted a downward trend that had cost the CVP a seat on the Federal Council to the SVP in 2003. The FDP lost 1.7% and five seats in the National Council, dropping to 15.6% of the votership and 31 seats in the National Council. Total voter turnout was 48%, a gain of 2.8% over the 2003 elections.

Despite a dearth of natural resources, Switzerland is one of the world’s most advanced and prosperous nations. Per capita income is among the highest in the world, as are wages. Trade has been the key to prosperity in Switzerland. The country is dependent upon export markets to generate income while dependent upon imports for raw materials and to expand the range of goods and services available in the country. Switzerland has liberal investment and trade policies, with the exception of agriculture, and a conservative fiscal policy.

The Swiss legal system is highly developed; commercial law is well defined; and solid laws and policies protect investments. The Swiss franc is one of the world’s soundest currencies, and the country is known for its high standard of banking and financial services. Switzerland is a member of a number of international economic organizations, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Swiss economy shrank by 1.5% in 2010, as a result of the global economic slowdown. Nevertheless, Switzerland led the rankings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011, reflecting the country’s sound institutional environment, excellent infrastructure, efficient markets, competent macroeconomic management, world-class educational attainment, and high levels of technological innovation, which boost Switzerland’s competitiveness in the global economy.

The country has a well-developed infrastructure for scientific research. Companies spend generously on research and development (R&D), and intellectual property protection is strong. Business activity benefits from a well-developed institutional framework, characterized by the rule of law, an efficient judicial system, and high levels of transparency and accountability within public institutions. Higher education and training are rapidly growing in importance as engines of productivity growth.

1 week Switzerland itinerary overview

  • Lucerne – 2 nights
  • Interlaken – 3 nights
  • Zermatt – 1 night

Day 1 – Arrive into Zurich and travel to Lucerne

By train: 1 hour / By car: 45 minutes

Sightseeing in Lucerne (depending on time of arrival)

Overnight: Lucerne

Day 2 – Full day in/around Lucerne 

Spend your day exploring the Old Town and Lake Lucerne and/or enjoy a mountain excursion to Mt. Titlis, Mt. Pilatus or Mt. Rigi.

Overnight: Lucerne

Day 3 – Travel to Interlaken

By train: 1 hour 50 minutes / By car: 1 hour

Sightseeing in Interlaken, Harder Kulm funicular, lake cruise to Brienz, or Thun and Spiez

Overnight: Interlaken

Day 4 – Sightseeing in Jungfrau Region

Suggested: Jungfraujoch excursion (option to stop at Wengen and/or Lauterbrunnen in either direction)

Overnight: Interlaken

Day 5 – Sightseeing in Jungfrau Region

Suggested: Grindelwald-First or Schilthorn excursion (option to stop at Murren and/or Birg in either direction) or get your adrenaline pumping with a tandem paragliding flight.

Overnight: Interlaken

Day 6 – Travel to Zermatt

By train: 2 hours 40 minutes / By car: 2 hours 55 minutes*

*This route travels via the Lotschberg Tunnel.  You are required to drive your car onto a special car-train to go through the tunnel.  The cost is around CHF25 per vehicle for the 10-minute journey through the tunnel.

TIP: Arrive in Zermatt by midday so you have time to enjoy an excursion on the Gornergrat train or the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cableway to see the Matterhorn up close.

Overnight: Zermatt

Day 7 – Return to Zurich

By train: 4 hours / By car: 4 hours

Note: Whilst I refer to Interlaken in this Switzerland one week itinerary above, you could opt to stay at LauterbrunnenGrindelwald or another nearby village should you prefer.

You could start and/or finish this Switzerland 7 day itinerary in Geneva or Basel.  Travel times and distances should be amended accordingly.

Enjoy a day trip to Jungfraujoch from Interlaken.

Switzerland Itinerary – 3 days

Only have three days to enjoy the best places in Switzerland? May I suggest quality over quantity?  I recommend you choose just one place as your base on your Switzerland trip and see it properly rather than squeeze too much in.

Although you’d probably like to fit in as much in three days as you would if you had one week in Switzerland, you’re not going to fully appreciate the places you visit if you overdo it. Sometimes – and definitely in this case – less is more!

What is your ‘must see’ in Switzerland?  If it’s the Alps, you have plenty of options.  Spend your three days in Switzerland in either Lucerne, Interlaken or Zermatt.

Interested in learning more about using the Swiss Rail System to travel around Switzerland? Read our comprehensive guide here.

If it’s the charm of Switzerland’s elegant medieval cities that you’ve always wanted to experience, Zurich, Bern and Lucerne all offer plenty to see and do. 

Basing yourself in one destination doesn’t mean you can’t visit other places. One benefit of having a single base is that you will save valuable time by not having to change accommodation each night.  A day trip from Interlaken to Lucerne (or vice versa) is definitely possible so you can still combine the best of both worlds from one convenient base.


Switzerland Itinerary – 5 days

If you don’t have a full week available for your visit and you can only spend 5 days in Switzerland, I suggest you follow days one to four of the 7 day itinerary above and return to Zurich on day five.

5 day Switzerland itinerary overview

  • Lucerne – 2 nights
  • Interlaken – 2 nights

This Switzerland 5-day itinerary still gives you the chance to explore two of Switzerland’s highlights, Lucerne and the Jungfrau region, without being too rushed.

Chapel Bridge, Lucerne
Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge is a must-see when visiting the city.

Switzerland Itinerary – 10 days

If you do have a few more days available to add to your Switzerland itinerary, 10 days in total gives you the option to add another destination or two. I’d include a couple of nights in Zurich and an overnight stay at lovely Montreux on the Swiss Riviera.

Here’s my recommended itinerary for 10 days in Switzerland

10 day Switzerland itinerary overview

  • Zurich – 2 nights
  • Lucerne – 2 nights
  • Interlaken – 3 nights
  • Montreux – 1 night
  • Zermatt – 1 night

Day 1 – Arrive into Zurich 

Sightseeing in Zurich (depending on time of arrival)

Overnight: Zurich

Day 2 – Full day in/around Zurich

Explore the Old Town and Lake Zurich and/or enjoy a day trip to Stein am Rhein and the Rhine Falls.

Overnight: Zurich

Read more suggestions for things to do in Zurich in this article.

Day 3 – Travel to Lucerne

By train: 1 hour / By car: 45 minutes

Sightseeing in Lucerne (depending on time of arrival)

Day 4 – Full day in/around Lucerne

Explore the Old Town and Lake Lucerne and/or enjoy a mountain excursion to Mt. Titlis, Mt. Pilatus or Mt. Rigi.

Overnight: Lucerne

Day 5 – Travel to Interlaken

By train: 1 hour 50 minutes / By car: 1 hour

Sightseeing in Interlaken town, Harder Kulm funicular, lake cruise

Overnight: Interlaken

Day 6 – Sightseeing in Jungfrau Region

Suggested: Jungfraujoch excursion (option to stop at Wengen and/or Lauterbrunnen in either direction)

Overnight: Interlaken

Montreux, Switzerland
The beautiful city of Montreux sits on the shores of Lake Geneva on the Swiss Riviera.

Day 7 – Sightseeing in Jungfrau Region

Suggested: Grindelwald-First or Schilthorn excursion (option to stop at Murren and/or Birg in either direction)

Overnight: Interlaken

If you’re keen to step outside your comfort zone, why not try one of these things to do in Interlaken for adrenaline junkies?

Day 8 – Travel to Montreux

By train: 2 hours 45 minutes+ / By car: 1 hour 40 minutes

Suggested: Sightseeing in Montreux, Chillon Castle, Vevey, lake cruise, ½ day trip to Gruyeres

Overnight: Montreux

+This route goes via Visp. You can also take the GoldenPass Line from Interlaken to Montreux via Zweisimmen – journey time 3 hours 45 minutes.

Day 9 – Travel to Zermatt

By train: 2 hours 35 minutes / By car: 2 hours^

Arrive by midday so you have time to enjoy an excursion on the Gornergrat train or the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cableway to see the Matterhorn up close.

Overnight: Zermatt

^Zermatt is a car-free town.  All vehicles must be parked in a parking station at Tasch and visitors can transfer to Zermatt by shuttle train.

Day 10 – Return to Zurich

By train: 4 hours / By car: 4 hours

Cable car in Zermatt
Enjoy great views of the Matterhorn and surrounding Alps on an excursion to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.

Switzerland Itinerary 14 days

If, when planning your Switzerland itinerary, two weeks is the amount of time you have available, you’re going to see a great deal of the country and variety of landscapes.

From the attractive cities of Zurich and Lucerne, to the stunning scenery of the Swiss Alps, and the picturesque lakeside towns of Montreux and Lugano, you’ll enjoy a varied and scenic Switzerland vacation.

2 weeks in Switzerland itinerary overview

  • Zurich – 2 nights
  • Lucerne – 2 nights
  • Interlaken – 3 nights
  • Montreux – 1 night
  • Zermatt – 1 night
  • Lugano – 2 nights
  • St Moritz – 2 nights

Use the first nine days of the 10-day Switzerland travel itinerary above for the first part of your trip and then add the following days:

Day 10 – Travel Zermatt to Lugano

By train: 5 hours 20 minutes / By car: 3 hours 10 minutes (from Tasch)

Sightseeing late afternoon (depending on time of arrival)

Overnight: Lugano

Day 11 – Full day sightseeing in Lugano

Explore the city and lakefront promenade, ride the funicular to Monte Bre for spectacular views over Lake Lugano or visit Swissminiatur Open-Air Museum.

Overnight: Lugano

Not sure which month you should travel. This article will help you to decide the best time to visit Switzerland.

Day 12 – Travel Lugano to St. Moritz

By train: 3 hours 50 minutes / By car: 2 hours 40 minutes

Sightseeing in St. Moritz

Overnight: St. Moritz

Day 13 – Full day in St. Moritz

Enjoy a mountain excursion, have a picnic by the lake or take a scenic ride aboard the Bernina Express.

Overnight: St. Moritz

Day 14 – Travel St. Moritz to Zurich

By train: 3 hours 10 minutes / By car: 2 hours 50 minutes

So, there you have my suggested itineraries for 3, 4, 7, 10 and 14 days in Switzerland. Of course you can amend the itineraries to suit your personal interests but they should be a good starting point to help get your Switzerland trip planning off on the right foot.

Choosing your transport

Travelling around Switzerland by train

Now you have an idea of which places you’ll be visiting, it’s time to decide on your method of transport. Switzerland’s rail network is one of the best in the world and trains, and connecting buses, take you all over the country with ease.

If you do plan to travel by train, it’s definitely worth considering purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass as this covers all public transport within Switzerland, free entry to over 500 museums, and 50% off most cable cars and funiculars.