There are many interesting facts about Switzerland that you probably don't know yet. If you want to get ready for your trip to Switzerland, here are 40 fascinating, useless, interesting and fun facts about Switzerland. You'll be perfectly equipped to show off your knowledge. Or did you know that guinea pigs should never be kept alone in Switzerland? Or that the Lord of the Rings was inspired by Switzerland? Read on and widen your knowledge base.
Before visiting a new country, it can’t hurt to brush up on some facts. Be that for your next trivia night, a random chat with someone on the train or just to show off to your friends.
While Switzerland may be small on the map, it still packs its punch in terms of facts. Here is a list of 40 interesting, weird and fun facts about Switzerland.
This is very old news. But it still needs to be said. Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world and it helps to be aware of this before coming here. This means that grabbing the odd Starbucks, eating out, going on day trips and getting groceries will set you back more than you might be used to.
Once you’ve embraced that fact, your 7 USD Big Mac and your 8 USD Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks won’t knock your socks off anymore. And on the plus side, whenever you go back home, things will seem all that much cheaper for you.
Unless you live in Norway, Bermuda or Iceland, of course.
With just over 40’000 km2 in size, Switzerland is a comparatively small place. Sweden is 10 times, Australia 188 times and Canada 243 times bigger. This often leads to Switzerland being underestimated in terms of how much time you need to factor in for your visit.
For a country half the size of Lake Superior, you wouldn’t expect there to be much to see. But let us assure you, even if you can technically cross the whole country six times in just one day by train or by car, only a few days in Switzerland just won’t cut it. Even though it is possible, as we show you in our itineraries for Switzerland.
Can you name them all? German, French, Italian and Romansh. With roughly two thirds, German is the most widely spoken one. Followed by French with around 23 %, Italian with 8% and Romansh with only 1 %. This is one of the reasons why the Swiss grow up learning foreign languages. Apart from English, it’s mandatory to learn at least one other national language in school. In our article about Swiss languages, you’ll learn more about this interesting topic.
In case you were wondering why we didn’t specifically mention Swiss German above as one of the official languages, here’s why. It’s not actually a language. Swiss German is a very complex phenomenon and more of a dialect than an actual language. Or a collection of dozens of separate dialects. How many there are can’t be said for sure.
Swiss German is only spoken, not officially written. It doesn’t follow any strict grammatical rules. Therefore, the constant fights between people speaking different dialects on who says it right are just not leading anywhere. Not that this would stop us from carrying them out, of course.
The five countries bordering Switzerland are Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. This explains why the French part of Switzerland is in the west, while Italian is spoken in the southern part in Ticino.
You find lots of activities on the menu in Switzerland. Be that hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, paragliding, canyoning, rock climbing, kayaking and lots of other cool things. Sadly, whale watching and scuba diving aren’t on that list. Switzerland is completely land-locked and the only access we have to the sea is through our rivers. So leave your snorkel at home and bring your hiking boots instead.
Back in the 19th century, the dramatic cutting down of trees and forests led to several disasters such as landslides and avalanches. This motivated the Swiss to put their forests under protection. When the new law came out in 1876, it was revolutionary. It said, and still does today, that forests can only be cut down in one place if the same amount is re-planted elsewhere in Switzerland.
You’ve been wondering when we would bring up Swiss cheese, haven't you? Well, here it is. There are over 450 different types of cheese in Switzerland. As you might guess, this goes far beyond those sloppy cheddar slices with a hole punched through it. Or whatever it is they try to sell as “Swiss Cheese” these days…
If you’re interested in how Swiss cheese is being made and where you can watch the process of cheese production, head over to our Swiss cheese dairy guide.
Just like the Swiss love their cheese, they also love their chocolate. So much so that they consume over 10 kg per capita per year. It’s no wonder that visiting a chocolate factory is a very popular pastime in Switzerland. After all, it’s the country where milk chocolate was invented.
To find out more about Swiss chocolate and where you can watch it being made, head over to our Swiss chocolate factory guide.
Punctuality is something that the Swiss pride themselves on. Or at least the majority do. This might just have something to do with Switzerland’s rich history in the watchmaking industry. Geneva, Neuchatel, La Chaux-de-Fonds and other places in western Switzerland played a big role in turning the Swiss watchmaking industry into what it is today.
Some of the big names like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Zenith, TAG Heuer, Swatch, Omega, Breitling and IWC are Swiss. You’ll find plenty of watch museums in Switzerland, if this is something you’re interested in. Like for instance the Watch manufacture Zénith in Le Locle.
With over 5300 km worth of railway tracks, Switzerland is a country of train riders. No other nation in Europe travels more kilometres on the train than the Swiss do. This comes as no surprise, as Switzerland has one of the densest railway networks in the world. To find out more about public transport in Switzerland, read our article on that subject.
Apart from the Vatican State, Switzerland is the only country in the world with a square flag. We can find the reason for that, like is often the case, in history. All the way back in the 14th century, Swiss soldiers would use the white cross on a square, red background to recognise each other in the field. This symbol stuck around and in 1848, the white cross on red background became the official Swiss flag.
No other banknote in the world is worth more than the purple 1000 CHF bill. It’s not a common means of payment that you come across often in your everyday live, though. Lots of people use it to store cash in a safe or to pay big amounts in cash. Technically, you could pay your groceries with a 1000 CHF bill. But don’t expect this process to be as smooth as if you were paying with a 100 CHF bill. The person at the cashier might have to go get your change in the save and chances are your bill gets checked for its authenticity.
A whopping 60% of Switzerland is made up of the Alps. The Jura mountains increase this proportion by a further 10%. A good three-quarters of Switzerland thus consists of mountains. However, this part is only inhabited by one tenth of the population.
The mountain regions with their wealth of beauty and nature are important for Swiss tourism. They are habitats for endangered animal species and sometimes rare mountain plant species. With a bit of luck, you will discover the cult alpine flower Edelweiss, a symbol of Switzerland.
The choice of high altitudes in Switzerland is enormous. Over 2000 mountains are considered 2000m peaks. Just over 1000 are 3000m and almost fifty mountain peaks exceed the 4000m mark. At a lofty 3454 metres above sea level, you enter Europe's highest railway station on the Jungfraujoch.
Because of its fatality rate, the Matterhorn is one of the world's 10 most dangerous mountains. This includes the almost 4000 m high Eiger with its 1800 m steep north face.
Here are the top ten Swiss peaks above 4000 metres:
With its 23 km, the Aletsch Glacier in the canton of Valais is the longest glacier in Europe. Between the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountain massifs, this giant of ice winds its way through breathtaking landscapes. In the heart of the Alps, the Aletsch Glacier is part of the largest contiguous glacier area on the continent.
As the tip of a climatic iceberg, the gigantic Aletsch glacier is melting away. In 80 years, small glaciers will have disappeared and large ones will have lost substance. This Swiss natural UNESCO World Heritage site is facing major challenges.
Unique natural and cultural properties are under the care and protection of all humanity. This is the basic idea behind the UNESCO World Heritage List, which comprises around 1200 selected properties in almost 170 countries. There are 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Switzerland.
More than 1500 lakes and 60,000 km of watercourses provide a good part of the Swiss territory with precious water. 6% of Europe's drinking water comes from the Alps. Local springs feed large rivers such as the Rhine, the Rhone and the Inn, as well as the Po Valley. This natural reservoir makes you realise that Switzerland is the water castle of Europe. It all begins in the Swiss Alps. Bubbling springs, abundant precipitation and plenty of meltwater provide the abundance of water. In summer, lakes, rivers and streams invite you to swim.
Switzerland is a tunnel nation. As early as 1707, the Ticino engineer Pietro Morettini built the first traffic tunnel, the "Urnerloch". Since then, over 1300 such structures have been built, with a total of 2000 km of roads and rails.
There is no doubt that the Swiss enjoy a reputation as excellent tunnel builders. Since 2016, the world's longest railway tunnel with its 57 km has been running through the Gotthard massif. The construction of the Gotthard Basis Tunnel is impressive: 2400 workers, 17 years of construction, 11 billion construction costs. Every day, 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains pass through.
The tunnel’s 28 million m3 of excavated rock are partly recycled as railway ballast or aggregate for concrete. When you drive through, you will find the excavated rock as shotcrete on the inner vault. As you can see, Switzerland is also specialised in recycling tunnels.
Switzerland is a country with seven heads of state. The office of Head of State is held jointly by the seven members of the Federal Council of the Swiss government.
The office of President of the Swiss Confederation is assumed by a different member of the Federal Council each year. This function consists only of representational duties as well as individual presidential duties. Otherwise, the President of the Confederation is on an equal footing with the other members of the Federal Council.
The seven-member Federal Council is a distinct collective authority. Its decisions are represented by each individual member even if they do not correspond to his or her own opinion or party line. You see, consensus and collegiality are a Swiss speciality.
The Confederation was formed in stages from the merger of sovereign territories. Switzerland therefore has 26 cantons. Even today, they have their own constitution, laws, government and police. On the smallest territory, you will find 26 school systems with different holiday and timetable schedules.
In the beginning, the Swiss cantons were states with their own currency and armed forces. In the 19th century, they grew into a confederation of states and finally into today's federal state.
Here you can find a list of the individual cantons with their year of accession and some information:
In many countries, voters are only allowed to go to the polls every four or five years. The Swiss vote four times a year - a consequence of direct democracy. As the highest political authority, the Swiss people has the final say on substantive issues.
Citizens have a say in the affairs of state through referendums and popular initiatives. Until 2041, the Federal Chancellery has already planned one vote per quarter. Voting days are scheduled for February/March, May/June, September/October or November. The contents of the vote, which will gradually emerge from everyday political life, remain open.
Although the elixir of life does not (yet) exist, life expectancy in Switzerland is constantly increasing. The average life expectancy for men is currently 82 years, for women it is 86 years. In 1900, the life span was 46-49 years, with hardly anyone reaching the age of one hundred. The main reasons for the high life expectancy are: minimal infant mortality, good nutrition, better living and hygiene conditions, and modern medicine.
Rising life expectancy is putting pressure on the national pension system. Fewer and fewer working people are shouldering the increasing number of pension beneficiaries. Nevertheless, you are left with the certainty that high life expectancy is a great achievement of our time.
Unemployment in Switzerland reaches record lows. Switzerland's low unemployment rate puts it in first place. Economically strong EU countries record twice as much unemployment, while EU laggards exceed 15%. You ask why? Surely the robust Swiss economy and smart economic policies play a role.
In Switzerland, employment offices help the unemployed find jobs and pay for training. The Swiss embody values such as work ethic, reliability, responsibility and education. In one of the world's most innovative countries, economic life flourishes with virtually no unemployment.
A young Englishman undertook an Alpine tour through Switzerland in 1911. It was the famous writer J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), author of the global success "The Lord of the Rings". Inspired by the Swiss mountains, he created the home of the Elves and Hobbits. The Bernese Silberhorn is considered the model for the Misty Mountain "Celebdil". In Interlaken on Lake Brienz you will find the "lakeside town" attacked by the dragon "Smaug".
If you look at the Matterhorn, you recognise "Erebor", the home mountain of the dwarves. "You do know that without Switzerland, the 'Hobbit' would never have existed?" says the founder of the world's largest "Middle Earth" museum in Jenins, Grisons. True fans don't shy away from the compulsory pre-registration. In return, you'll get an expert guided tour through Tolkien's legendary magical world.
A special museum experience awaits you in "Chaplin's World". The "Manoir de Ban" near Vevey houses Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin's (1889 - 1977) life's work. The film legend spent the last 25 years of his life in this stately home. The first world star of cinema enjoyed being able to move about undisturbed in Switzerland. He loved country excursions and enjoyed walking to Vevey for dinner with his children. Charlie Chaplin died in Switzerland at the age of 88.
The World Wide Web was born in the Swiss research institute CERN near Geneva. CERN is one of the world's most important centres for basic research in physics. We owe today's Internet to the intellectual fathers and inventors Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau from CERN. You can find out more about Swiss inventions in our article on this topic.
On the threshold of the new millennium, mankind entered a new era. On 13th November 1990, CERN put the first website online via its own web server: info.cern.ch. The world as we knew it changed fundamentally.
Agent 007, alias James Bond, is Ian Fleming's famous novel character and thus a fictional person. According to sparse novel references, James is the son of a Scottish engineer and Monique Bond from Vaud. A Swiss mountaineer. In real life her name was Monique Panchaud de Bottens. She was attractive and engaged to Ian Fleming for a while. Fleming considered her the Coco Chanel of Switzerland.
The world's smallest vineyard stands like a spread-out towel in the village of Saillon in the Canton of Valais. These 1.6 m2 with only four vines belong to the Dalai Lama. The highest Lama became the owner of the vineyard in 1999, when the Catholic Abbé Pierre gave it to him. Twenty years earlier, it was built in honour of the "Robin Hood of the Alps" Joseph-Samuel Farinet. In the 19th century, he had helped the poor with counterfeit money.
Once a year, the Tibetan leader auctions off 1000 bottles of "peace wine". The few decilitres from the tiny vineyard are bridged by surrounding winegrowers' colleagues with their grapes. The Dalai Lama uses the proceeds of the auction, which amount to around 20,000 Swiss francs, to help the needy of this world. This makes him the smallest landowner in Switzerland.
In 1859, the Geneva businessman and humanist Henry Dunant (1828-1910) witnessed the Battle of Solferino. The misery was enormous and hit the devout Dunant hard. An all-important phrase began to make the rounds: "Siamo tutti fratelli" - "We are all brothers".
Whether friend or foe, the inhabitants of the nearby town of Castiglione cared for all victims regardless of who they were. Dunant actively helped on the front line. His call for multinational aid societies became unmistakable. In 1863, he presented his ideas to the "Non-profit society" in Geneva. This was the birth of the International Committee of the Red Cross, today's ICRC.
The kinship of the Red Cross badge with the Swiss Cross was therefore no coincidence. Geneva became and remained ICRC headquarters. Worldwide, ICRC missions have multiplied to the present day in over 100 countries. The number of staff rose to the current 20.000 and the number of volunteers climbed to over 10 million at present. In 1901, the Swiss Henry Dunant received the first Nobel Peace Prize together with the French pacifist Frédéric Passy.
Did you know that "Popcorning" stands for “a happy guinea pig's leaps of joy”? Like corn kernels in a hot pan, those fluffy little animals jump around when they are excited. The following sentence from our Animal Welfare Act gives them more than enough reason for this in Switzerland: "Animals of socially living species shall be allowed appropriate social contact with conspecifics". Guinea pigs definitely fall under the category of these socially living animals.
They make friends and take care of their old and sick friends. Our hairy "Meersäuli" live in a harem if you let them. It is also forbidden to expose them to excessive noise; after all, their hearing is a lot more sensitive than ours.
By the way, the same rule applies to animals such as pet birds, rats, mice, chinchillas and parrots.
"A letter is not a first name”. A Zurich court rule:, "nothing more than a gimmick by the parents". The judges thus spared the unasked-for baby the mono-letter name "J". All baby names in Switzerland are subject to approval by the civil registry office.
If you invent names, it becomes problematic. The decisive factor is the best interests of the child, which is why bizarre or absurd names are considered unreasonable. A Swiss musician was not allowed to name her daughter "Lexikon". Also rejected were:
So some US celebrity children would have different first names in Switzerland. Brad Pitt's & Angelina Jolie's creations would be put to the test in this country: Maddox Chivan, Pax Thien, Zahara Marley, Shiloh Nouvel, Knox Léon, Vivienne Marcheline. Creativity in naming may be lost, but the children will probably thank you.
Top of Europe is the name of the terminus station on the Jungfraujoch at 3454 m above sea level. It is the terminus of a spectacular train route. Every year, a million visitors arrive at Europe's highest railway station at the exit of a 7 km long tunnel. Countless hands literally hammered it into the rock for 16 years in the late 19th century.
The construction of the Jungfrau Railway through the mountain massif, realised by the Swiss industrialist Guyer-Zeller, is considered a pioneering work and technical masterpiece. Before that, the mountain in the eternal snow and ice of the Bernese Alps remained hidden from the general public. Before arriving at the Jungfraujoch, the train climbs 1400 metres in altitude, with stops in between to acclimatise to the altitude.
Your ultimate Alpine experience begins at the Top of Europe. From the railway track you reach the viewing platform. There, the thin air and a mountain panorama with 200 Alpine peaks will take your breath away. You look down on Europe's longest glacier, the Aletsch, in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch.
Apart from Europe's highest railway station, you will encounter a whole series of other railway superlatives in Switzerland:
The longest staircase in the world earned its spot in the Book of Guinness World Records. It is in Switzerland - more precisely: in the Bernese Alps. Across Lake Thun, 11.674 steps lead up to the 2362 m high Niesen. But you'd better take the rack railway.
As a service stairway next to the rails of the Niesen railway, it is used exclusively for maintenance work. It takes a normal mortal five hours to climb these steps. 300 power women and power men from 20 countries come together for the annual Niesen Run to storm the stairs. The current record holder, Emmanuel Vaudan, managed the 1643 metres of altitude in just under an hour in 2011.
What do you do when you wake up thirsty at night in your Swiss hotel? You drink water from the tap. Switzerland is one of the top ten countries in the world with the best water quality.
Thanks to favourable climatic and geological conditions, Switzerland has clean water in abundant quantities. A sustainable water protection policy also gives Swiss tap water drinking water quality. What comes out of the supply network into taps, showers and toilets is drinking water.
While eggs are stacked unrefrigerated on Swiss shelves, you'll find them in the refrigerated sections of US supermarkets. Regulations there require thorough washing after laying. This breaks down the outer protective layer of the shell, which is why the washed eggs are kept in cold storage. In this way they remain germ-free.
The Swiss do not refrigerate eggs. Egg washing is banned throughout Europe. This means that the eggshell retains its protective coating, but this can cause mould if refrigerated. As much as one egg is like another, these two approaches to hygiene are opposites.
They are never far away: the numerous banks are considered a relevant branch of the Swiss economy. With more than 300.000 employees, they manage around 7000 billion Swiss francs as global market leaders. That accounts for a quarter of the world's cross-border assets.
Why are Swiss banks popular? Reasons can be found in Switzerland's economic and domestic political stability as well as its foreign policy neutrality. The advantageous tax system and strict banking supervision increase the attractiveness of the financial centre. High professionalism and reliability earn Swiss financial institutions international trust.
Early on, Switzerland had to assert its sovereignty against great powers. Until the end of the Cold War, the Swiss militia army was a mass army of 600,000 soldiers. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought peace and neighbouring countries abolished conscription.
What has remained is the federal militia concept: every citizen is a soldier. Despite a reduced army, Switzerland still has compulsory military service. It begins between the ages of 18 and 30 with an 18-week recruit school and lasts 10 years. During this time, there are six refresher courses of three weeks each.
If there are reasons of conscience against armed military service, you have to do civilian service for a longer period of time. Increasingly, women are doing voluntary military service. Today, every soldier is still allowed to keep his weapon at home. This proof of trust, unique in the world, is part of the traditional militia concept of a Switzerland that is willing to defend itself.
More than two million firearms are stored in Swiss households. The Swiss militia system and partly liberal gun legislation make this possible. In Switzerland, there are strictly observed rules for the handling of firearms and an obligation of good conduct when purchasing them.
Although gun ownership is widespread in Switzerland, it remains peaceful. In the gun-friendly United States, there are 5 shootings per 100,000 inhabitants; in this country, the figure is 0.02 cases.
1700 years ago, Emperor Constantine declared Sunday a day of rest. The "Lord's Day" began as a religious rule and developed into a tradition. The Swiss love their Sunday and see this work-free day as a fundamental right. Proposals to loosen Sunday restrictions are regularly rejected by the electorate during votes.
Sunday work is expensive for employers in Switzerland. Cost reasons and regulations keep the shops closed. Shopping is only possible at railway stations, airports, petrol stations, exceptional Sundays and in some tourist destinations. Consideration for neighbours and Sunday peace are highly valued in Switzerland. Mowing the lawn or doing noisy handicrafts in the house are frowned upon.
Have these 40 interesting facts about Switzerland aroused your curiosity? In the destination of superlatives, beautiful, cheerful and exciting things await you in the smallest space. You will benefit from short distances and a rich offer of unforgettable travel experiences.