Switzerland is best known to travellers for its mountains, which attract skiers from all over the globe. But there are other attractions: It can be a glorious destination whether you’ve packed your hiking boots, a snowboard or just a good book and a pair of sunglasses.
It is a small country that looks on a map as if it could comfortably fit into a national park. Nevertheless, Switzerland packs in a continent-worth of natural wonders, culture and history.
The country is landlocked, bordering France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein and Germany. These varied cultures have made it a showcase of three of Europe’s most distinct cultures.
The total population is made up of 65 percent German, 18 percent French and 10 percent Italian. Religion breaks down to 48 percent Roman Catholic and 44 percent Protestant.
To the northeast is the beer-drinking, sausage-eating, German-speaking Switzerland. To the southwest is wine drinking and shopping that spills into France. In the southeastthe sun warms cappuccino-sippers loitering in Italian-style plazas. And in the centre, you discover classic Swiss flugelhorns and mountain landscapes. Binding it all together is a distinct Swiss mentality.
Public transport (train, boat or bus) is the most comfortable and relaxing way of discovering Switzerland. A panoramic rail trip through the Alpine scenery, a romantic boat trip on a river, or an excursion with a nostalgic paddle steamer on one of the famous Swiss lakes can be an unforgettable experience.
- Zurich: Switzerland’s biggest city and a major centre of banking. Has a thriving nightlife.
- Geneva: The second-largest city in Switzerland and, by far, the international capital. A centre of arts and culture. Was the home of John Calvin during the Reformation, elevating the city to the rank of ‘Protestant Rome’, the effects of which drive Geneva today. The tourist region surrounds Lac Léman.
- Lausanne: While Geneva is busy being the international capital, Lausanne fills the role in most of the rest of French-speaking Switzerland. Scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws.
- Basel: Slightly smaller than Geneva, Switzerland’s third city is the traveller’s gateway to the Rhineland and Alsace.
- Bern: The Swiss capital features an amazingly well-preserved old-town with arcades along almost every street. Great restaurants abound, as do bars and clubs.
- Lugano: Italian-speaking. Switzerland’s top destination, with a gorgeous old-town and a pretty lake. The food is simply amazing.
- Lucerne: Central Switzerland’s main city, with direct water links to all of the early Swiss historic sights. It’s pretty, too, and though it is heavily touristed, the views and museums make putting up with the crowds well worthwhile.