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Switzerland Travel Guide

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View from the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, Switzerland (© Ben Burger - Fotolia.com)
View from the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, Switzerland.

Introduction

Switzerland (Schweiz in German, Suisse in French, Svizzera in Italian) is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons. The country is renowned for its political neutrality, its banking secrecy, as well as for being the seat of a number of international organisations, among which the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Founded in 1291 by the three central cantons of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, Switzerland had grown roughly to its modern size by the early 16th century. Its independence and neutrality were officially recognised by other European countries under the terms of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Apart from a brief and relatively peaceful annexation by France under Napoleon from 1798 to 1815, Switzerland has not been invaded by any foreign power for over 350 years.

Switzerland is one of the most prosperous nations in the world, enjoying a nominal GDP per capita nearly twice higher than the USA. Some of the best known Swiss companies include Nestlé (food), Adecco (HR consulting), Novartis (pharmaceutical), Roche (pharmaceutical), ABB (robotics), Richemont (luxury goods), Rolex (watches) and Swatch (watches).

Though not a member of the European Union, Switzerland has joined the EU's Schengen Area, which abolished passport and immigration controls between member states.

Famous people from Switzerland include (chronologically): the mathematician Leonhard Euler, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Red Cross founder Henry Dunant, the psychotherapist Carl Jung, the painter Paul Klee, the psychologist Jean Piaget, the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and the tennis champion Roger Federer.

Attractions

Western Switzerland (Romandy)

Fribourg
Fribourg (© Mihai-Bogdan Lazar - Fotolia.com)
must-see Fribourg, or Freiburg im Üechtland, is a bilingual city where 64% of the population are native speakers of French and 22% of German. It is the highest Swiss city, with a mean elevation of 667 m (2188 ft). Its Old Town, tucked within a meander of the Sarine River, is one of the best preserved in Switzerland, as are its medieval fortifications. Fribourg has over 200 Gothic-style houses, 67 listed buildings, and many other outstanding town houses and monuments.
Geneva
Geneva (© Mihai-Bogdan Lazar - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Capital of its own republic since 1541, Geneva is the second most populous Swiss city after Zurich. Referred to as the world's most compact metropolis, Geneva is a global city, a leading financial centre, and worldwide centre for diplomacy, owing to the numerous UN agencies and other international organisations headquartered there. Geneva enjoys one of highest quality of life of any city in the world, but is also ranked among the most expensive cities globally. A pleasant city with a definite French air, Geneva nevertheless lacks exceptional tourist sights. Visitors will have to content themselves by browsing its streets and museums.
Chillon Castle
Chillon Castle (photo by Melintir at en.wikipedia, edited by Maciamo at Eupedia.com - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Dating back to the 12th century, Chillon Castle was built as a fortress by the Counts of Savoy. Taken by the Swiss in 1536, it served as a Bernese stronghold until 1798, when the French annexed Switzerland. The castle was praised or served as inspiration for writers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert and Lord Byron. The latter wrote the poem The Prisoner Of Chillon (1816). The castle is one of the settings in Henry James's novella Daisy Miller (1878). Today, Chillon is Switzerland's most visited historic monument.
Lausanne
Lausanne (photo by Christian Mehlführer, edited by Maciamo at Eupedia.com - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
very good Situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, opposite the French town of Évian-les-Bains, Lausanne is the fourth largest Swiss city. It hosts the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Lausanne boasts the country's best preserved Gothic cathedral. Opposite, the Florentine Renaissance-style Palais de Rumine was built from 1892 to accommodate the Cantonal and University Library of Lausanne. It now contains five museums. There are a dozen other museums in the city, including the Olympic Museum.
Neuchâtel
Neuchâtel (© x-drew - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Neuchâtel is a charming town located along the lake bearing its name, in the Jura mountains. Most of the centre is endowed with handsome French-style limestone façades. The main sight is Neuchâtel Castle, perched on a small hill in the middle of town.
Oberhofen Castle
Oberhofen Castle (© Mihai-Bogdan Lazar - Fotolia.com)
very good Picturesquely sited on the shores of Lake Thun, Oberhofen Castle was erected between the 12th and 15th centuries. Its interior dates from the 16th to 19th century. It now hosts an extension of the Berne History Museum.

Other attractions

very good Biel/Bienne
very good Delémont
very good Gruyères
very good La Chaux-de-Fonds ※
very good Montreux
good Sion

Central Switzerland

Bernese Oberland
Jungfrau and Grindelwald Village in Berner Oberland (© nevereverro - iStockphoto.com)
must-see The Berner Oberland (Bernese Highlands) is the area around Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. South of Interlaken, the scenic valleys comprise the villages of Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, and Wengen, all commanding spectacular views of the Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch to the south, and the Wetterhorn to the east.
Lucerne
Lucerne (© olimpiupop - Fotolia.com)
must-see Lucerne was the first city to join the Old Swiss Confederacy, in 1332. One of the cradles of Swiss tourism, Lucerne is a lovely city with remarkably preserved old town. Its most famous landmark is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a wooden footbridge straddling the Reuss River that was first erected in the 14th century (and last rebuilt in 1994 after being partly destroyed by a fire). Overlooking the city, Mount Pilatus can be reached by the world's steepest cogwheel railway from Alpnachstad.
Matterhorn
Matterhorn (© Leroy Julien - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Known as Monte Cervino in Italian and Mont Cervin in French, the Matterhorn is one of the most photographed mountain in the world, thanks to its characteristic pyramidal apex, with each of its four faces pointing in one of the cardinal directions. It is the fifth highest Swiss peak, rising to 4,478 meters (14,690 ft). The mountain overlooks the town of Zermatt to the north-east and Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. Zermatt is however the only access point, providing cable car and funicular railway up the Matterhorn slopes for skiiers all year round. The Glacier Express train connect Zermatt to St. Moritz, where it connects with the Rhaetian Railway.
Zürich
Zürich (© Combo Design - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Largest Swiss city, Zurich is a global city and one of the world's most important financial centre. Several surveys have ranked the city first in the world for its quality of life. Zurich is often deemed the wealthiest city in Europe. Settled continously since the Neolithic, Zurich grew from the Roman outpost of Turicum. Charlemagne's grandson built a castle on the site of the Roman one in what is now the Lindenhof, in the Old Town. Just beside it, St. Peter's Church has the largest clock face in Europe. Zurich boasts several world-class museums, notably the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) and the Zurich Museum of Art (Kunsthaus). The Zurich Opera House, one of Europe's most prestigious, was the seat of Richard Wagner's activities during his 9 years of Swiss exile. Launched in 2005, the Zurich Film Festival is rapidly becoming a spearhead in its category.
Basel
Basel (© David Espin - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Located on the Rhine, just across the French and German borders, Basel is Switzerland third largest city, and is home to its oldest university (founded in 1460). Despite the fact that most of the Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical industry is based here, Basel is no Swiss Manchester and managed to retain a beautifully preserved old town, with a Romanesque cathedral and a Renaissance town hall.
Berne ※
Berne (© swisshippo - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Bern is the seat of Switzerland's federal government, which makes it its de facto capital. Bern is home to 114 Swiss heritage sites of national significances, and its entire historical centre was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. The greenish grey Old Town features arched arcades along all the commercial streets. The most famous landmark is the Zytglogge, a 13th century city gate and clock tower. The most imposing building is the neoclassical Federal Palace (Bundesrathaus), hosting the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly.
Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch ※
Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch (© Mihai-Bogdan Lazar - Fotolia.com)
outstanding The Jungfrau-Aletsch protected area lies in the easternmost side of the Bernese Alps, at the boundary of the cantons of Berne and Valais. It comprises 8 summits above 4000 m, including the famous Jungfrau, as well as the largest glaciated area in western Eurasia, to which the Aletsch Glacier (120 km² / 46 sq mi) belongs. The Jungfrau Railway runs through the area from Kleine Scheidegg to the highest railway station in Europe at Jungfraujoch.

Other attractions

very good Aarau
very good Interlaken
very good Liestal
very good Sarnen
very good Solothurn
very good Thun
very good Zermatt
good Engelberg
good Stans
good Schwyz

Eastern Switzerland

Swiss National Park
Val Trupchun in the Swiss National Park
must-see Founded in 1914, the Swiss National Park is the only National Park in Switzerland and one of the earliest national parks in Europe. It is located in the Engadin Valley, in the Canton of Graubünden, adjacent to the Stelvio National Park in Italy. Spreading on 172 km², it is the largest nature reserve in the country and is part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Its altitude ranges from 1400 m to 3174 m at Piz Pisoc. The park is home to red deer, chamois, Alpine ibex, and some of the last specimens of bearded vultures in the Alps.
Bellinzona ※
Bellinzona (© maurosessanta - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Capital of the Ticino, Bellinzona is a colourful Italian-speaking city, famous for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro), listed by the UNESCO since 2000. Founded under the name of Castelgrande during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus, Bellinzona has long played a protective role in the defence of northern Italy. The Castelgrande was fortified and expanded from the 1st to the 14th century. It was succeeded by Montebello Castle (aka the New or Middle Castle), built by the Visconti in the 14th and 15th century, then by the even smaller Sasso Corbaro, (aka Unterwalden Castle) between the 15th and 17th centuries.




Rhaetian Railway ※
Bernina line of the Rhaetian Railways (photo by Hansueli Krapf - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding The Rhaetian Railway (RhB) is a network of ten railway lines in the mountainous Canton of Graubünden. Two of them, the Albula Railway (between Chur and St. Moritz) and the Bernina Railway (between St. Moritz and Tirano), were added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 2008. The former is particularly famous for its six-arched Landwasser Viaduct.
Schaffhausen
Schaffhausen (© swisshippo - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Schaffhausen is a delightful town filled with Renaissance buildings, some adorned with beautiful frescoes. The stone clocktower of St John's church and the Schwabentor, a medieval city gate, confer the Old Town with a timeless atmosphere. Schaffhausen is the capital of the only canton north of the Rhine, halfway between Lake Constance and the Black Forest. Its 16th-century Munot Fortress dominates the town from the top of a vineyard-covered hill. Schaffhausen's most famous attraction are the Rhine Falls, mainland Europe's largest waterfalls, spanning 150 m (450 ft) in width and reaching 23 m (75 ft) in height.
St. Gallen ※
Abbey of Saint Gall
very good Situated between Lake Constance and Lichtenstein, St Gall is a pretty town with timber-framed buildings. Its main attraction is the Abbey of Saint Gall, a World Heritage Site since 1983. Founded in 719, the abbey became the seat of an independent principality in the 13th century, and was for many centuries one of the leading Benedictine abbeys in Europe (along with Cluny and Fulda). Its library (Stiftsbibliothek) is one of the richest medieval libraries in the world, containing 160,000 volumes, among which 2,100 unique medieval manuscripts.
Saint John Abbey, Müstair ※
Abbey of Saint John in Müstair (photo by Georg Mittenecker - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license)
very good The Abbey of Saint John is Benedictine monastery established circa 780 by the bishop of Chur in the village of Müstair. The core building dates from the 9th to 12th centuries and possess exceptionally well-preserved Carolingian art, notably frescoes and other mural paintings.

Other attractions

very good Appenzell
very good Chur
very good Frauenfeld
very good Locarno
very good Lugano
very good Morcote
very good Winterthur
very good Zug
good Davos
good Glarus

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Eupedia's Rating System

Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

  • : Moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
  • : Recommended - to visit if you have time
  • : Outstanding place - really deserves to be seen
  • : Best of the country - shouldn't be missed
  • : Best of Europe

Natural attractions

  • : Moderately interesting
  • : Recommended
  • : Highly recommended
  • : World-class natural attraction
  • ※ : UNESCO World Heritage site

               




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