We look beyond the stereotypes of cheese, chocolate, and mountains to give you a true insight into what life in Switzerland is really like.
What’s the first image that springs to mind when you think of Switzerland? If it’s cheese, chocolate, banking, or mountains, then you have the same impression of the country as most people. But the reality is that there is so much more to this landlocked European country than its stereotypes.
Of course, Switzerland does have all those things and is all the better for it. After all, stereotypes have to come from somewhere. However, if you are moving to this surprisingly diverse country, then you will soon discover a land of diverse natural landscapes, a variety of cuisines and languages, and compelling cities steeped in history. To help you navigate your move, this guide breaks down the ins and outs of living in Switzerland, including:
- Living in Switzerland
- Geography of Switzerland
- The main cities in Switzerland
- Switzerland: facts and figures
- Switzerland: key historical dates
- Economy and living standards in Switzerland
- Swiss people and society
- Swiss lifestyle and culture
- Food and drink in Switzerland
- Politics, government, and administration in Switzerland
- Rights and freedoms in Switzerland
- Crime and policing in Switzerland
- Health, welfare, and social security in Switzerland
- Education in Switzerland
- Work and business in Switzerland
- Environment and climate in Switzerland
- Great places to visit in Switzerland
- Public holidays in Switzerland
- Switzerland: myth-busting
Living in Switzerland
Switzerland has long been an attractive destination for expats and for good reason. The country has stunning natural landscapes, great tourist attractions, solid infrastructure, and a very high quality of life. In fact, three of its cities – Zurich, Geneva, and Bern – rank in the top 10 cities on Mercer’s 2019 Quality of Living City Ranking. Zurich also placed fourth in the 2020 Global Cities and Happiness Ranking.
Much of this is because Switzerland prioritizes safety, efficiency, and good living. It is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world; although, of course, you still have to watch for minor annoyances like petty theft. Swiss public transport is also highly efficient and provides great links throughout the country and beyond.
The education system in Switzerland is also of an exceedingly high level, which also results in a highly innovative economy. The country’s healthcare system is also one of the best in the world. And finally, to protect its abundant nature, Switzerland is very environmentally conscious. In fact, the country ranked third on the 2020 Environmental Performance Index. This is largely due to its great air quality, safe drinking water, and solid waste management. Switzerland also ranks for its commitment to reducing climate change markers and pollution emissions. And this is all before we’ve even gotten to the nation’s iconic food, which includes world-famous chocolate and cheese.
There are around 2.1 million foreign residents living among Switzerland’s 8.6 million permanent resident population. The majority of these are from EU states, including Italy, Germany, Portugal, and France. However, there are also 171,000 residents of Asian descent, and 112,000 from Africa. With a reasonably multicultural population, therefore, expats immediately feel welcome in the country, especially in the bigger cities.
Geography of Switzerland
Switzerland is not a huge country, but despite being just 41,286 square kilometers, it certainly packs a lot into its borders. The landlocked country sits on the cusp of Western and Central Europe. It shares borders with Germany in the north, Italy in the south, France to the west, and Austria and Lichtenstein in the east. As such, all of Europe is within easy reach.
The country is rightly famous for its lakes and mountains. While the Swiss Alps, which lie in the south of the country, might be the most famous, the Jura Mountains are just as impressive. The country is also home to numerous lakes, including famous Lake Geneva and Lake Constance, as well as the Rhine River which cuts a path through the country.
There are 26 cantons in Switzerland, all of which are quite different. Some are French-speaking while others are German or Italian. Some are deeply religious and others are stoutly atheist. And some cantons are more urban and industrial than their agrarian neighbors.
Here is a full list of the Swiss cantons and their current population:
- Zürich: 1,520,968
- Bern: 1,034,977
- Luzern: 409,557
- Uri: 36,433
- Schwyz: 159,165
- Obwalden: 37,841
- Nidwalden: 43,223
- Glarus: 40,403
- Zug: 126,837
- Fribourg: 318,714
- Solothurn: 273,194
- Basel-Stadt: 194,766
- Basel-Landschaft: 288,132
- Schaffhausen: 81,991
- Appenzell Ausserrhoden: 55,234
- Appenzell Innerrhoden: 16,145
- St. Gallen: 507,697
- Graubünden: 198,379
- Aargau: 678,207
- Thurgau: 276,472
- Ticino: 353,343
- Vaud: 799,145
- Valais: 343,955
- Neuchâtel: 176,850
- Geneva: 499,480
- Jura: 73,419
The main cities in Switzerland
Switzerland’s most famous city is built around scenic Lake Geneva and its iconic Jet d’Eau (fountain). Nearby, the gorgeous Old Town is perfect for sipping on alfresco drinks and exploring the many small boutiques, bookshops, and art galleries along the winding cobblestone streets. The city is also shaking off its formerly stuffy reputation thanks to regular infusions of new blood (i.e. expats), young professionals, and a slew of under-the-radar nightlife options.
With so many international organizations based in Geneva, including the Red Cross, United Nations, and World Health Organization, there’s also plenty of work to accommodate the highly educated population. And when you need to get away, you will find easy transport links to all of Europe.
While Switzerland’s capital embodies the same cozy charm as other world capitals like Australia’s Canberra and the US’s Washington D.C, if you dig a little deeper, you will find a city bursting with appeal. The UNESCO-listed Old City of Bern is utterly charming. Of course, its many fantastic boutiques also create a shopper’s paradise. Bears are the symbol of Bern and the city features a famous bear pit (Bärengraben).
However, thankfully, Bern’s three resident bears can now be found roaming around the spacious and leafy Bärenpark down by the river. There are many expat residents living in this vibrant city, all drawn to its small-town vibe and laid-back charm. And like many major hubs in Switzerland, Bern also offers great connections to the rest of Switzerland and beyond.
Lugano is the anomaly of Switzerland. Located within the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and on the shores of Lake Lugano, the town has a distinctly Mediterranean feel. This is hardly surprising, given that Italy – and Milan – is located just an hour away. Expats and visitors alike flock to the sunny south of Switzerland to sample a taste of la dolce vita which includes a balmy climate, palm trees, and café culture.
Located on the French and German borders, Basel is a major draw for expats living in Switzerland. Although it is cozy, the city boasts a vibrant nightlife scene and plenty of cultural offerings. The Old Town – Altstadt – is the heart of the city, offering plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops. Further afield, Basel is home to some of the world’s best pharmaceutical companies, including Bayer and La Roche.
Because of its location, residents have easy access to Germany’s Black Forest, the Jura Mountains, the Rhine River, and the charming border towns of France. In fact, many residents might work in Basel but live across the border in order to avoid the notoriously expensive Swiss rents.
Living in this German-speaking city is practically like living in a fairy tale. A stunning lakeside location with snow-capped mountains in the distance? Check. Historic medieval architecture with compelling backstories? It’s there. Small-town charm with big-city amenities? Absolutely. What’s more, the cost of living is more affordable than the bigger cities, too.
As Switzerland’s economic center, Zurich also stakes a claim as the most expensive city in the world. Despite this fact, for many expats, it is worth shelling out the extra francs to live there. After all, the city offers great public transport, a gorgeous lake, and numerous cultural and family attractions to explore. Of course, a slew of noteworthy bars and restaurants are a given.
From here, you can also get to anywhere you want. So, whether you’re looking to escape to the Alps, enjoy a weekend getaway in Paris, or an island break in Greece, you’re just a short flight (or train ride) away.
Switzerland: facts and figures
- Some 25% of the Swiss population are expats or foreign-born
- The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is located in Geneva
- There are over 7,000 lakes in Switzerland, but the biggest is the famous Lake Geneva
- Despite the population’s penchant for chocolate, cheese, and bread, Switzerland is the least obese country in Europe; although, this may be because of the many active pursuits on offer
- The Nobel Prize may be Swedish, but Switzerland’s universities have produced the most number of Nobel Laureates
- There are four national languages in Switzerland
- There are 208 mountains in the country
- Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in Switzerland
- Watches became a Swiss icon in the 16th century when Calvinists banned jewelry and jewelers found a loophole (watches were acceptable)
- Switzerland is very environmentally friendly; in fact, it is a world leader in recycling and waste management
- The Red Cross was founded in Geneva, and the Red Cross symbol is the Swiss flag in reversed colors
- LSD was created in Basel by a Swiss scientist
- Albert Einstein developed his most famous equation (E=MC²) while living in Bern, and you can visit his former apartment at Kramgasse 49
- The country is fully prepared for nuclear war; its entire population can fit into its specially prepared bunkers
- Switzerland’s Grindelwald Mountains appeared in many Star Wars films
- Switzerland remains politically neutral in world affairs; in fact, its neutral status was certified in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna
- The Swiss are pros at tennis and have produced multiple legends including Roger Federer, Martina Hingis, and Stanislas Wawrinka
Switzerland: key historical dates
Most countries in Europe have long histories that stretch back centuries, if not millennia. Similarly, Switzerland’s history can be traced back to around 500BC. That said, the Switzerland that we know today is a relatively modern creation. Here are some milestone moments in Swiss history:
- 500BC: the first settlers – the Helvetians – arrive, leading to the Confederation Helvetique (which is where the shorthand for Switzerland, CH, comes from)
- 150BC: the Romans arrive bringing with them the establishment of Switzerland’s vineyards and wine tradition
- 1291: Switzerland’s oldest constitution, the Federal Charter, is signed
- 1522: the Affair of the Sausages leads to the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland
- 1648: the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia marks the beginning of modern Switzerland as European powers finally recognize the independent Swiss Confederation
- 1699: the earliest fondue recipe is published in a book in Zurich
- 1815: the end of the Napoleonic Wars certifies Swiss independence and neutrality
- 1848: modern Switzerland and its constitution are born after a civil war, and the country becomes a federal state
- 1863: the Red Cross is founded in Geneva
- 1875: Chocolatier Daniel Peter creates milk chocolate
- 1934: the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) is created, leading to Switzerland’s reputation for privacy in banking
- 1971: women (finally) get the vote
- 2002: Switzerland joins the United Nations
Economy and living standards in Switzerland
Given that Switzerland is the most expensive country in the world, you might expect that it has a booming economy and high living standards. In fact, the OECD Better Life Index rates it as having the third-highest household disposable income at US$37,466/year; one of the highest in Europe. Similarly, it has an 80% employment rate, which is second only to Iceland. The Swiss also believe strongly in their quality of life. As such, 93% report having a very strong support network. In addition, they rate their life satisfaction at 7.5/10, only behind the Nordic countries.
Of course, this all comes at a cost (quite literally) as the cost of living in Switzerland is among the highest in the world. Furthermore, Zurich and Geneva always rank among the most expensive cities in the world. Unfortunately, wealth inequality is a big problem throughout the country. In 2019, for instance, the average income was CHF27,268/year, however, the highest earners brought home far, far more than this.
Nevertheless, Switzerland has one of the world’s most advanced free-market economies and because of this, it is an economic powerhouse. The Swiss banking industry is notorious and very robust, although there are other major industries, too. For instance, it has a well-developed industrial sector that specializes in food processing, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals; not to mention major exports such as watches, chocolate, and cheese. Tourism is, of course, another major moneymaker for the country.
Swiss people and society
Switzerland has a population of approximately 8.6 million people, and the main ethnic group in the country is German, which represents around 65% of this. There are also approximately 18% French, 10% Italian, and 1% Romansh living in the country. There are also a significant number of immigrants and this accounts for the remaining 6% of the population. In fact, in 2019, there were 169,600 new immigrants in Switzerland and 41,100 people acquired Swiss citizenship. Most migrants are aged between 20 and 39. Despite this, the population is an aging one, which is mostly because of a low birth rate (around 1.5) and longer life expectancy.
Language and Religion
There are four official languages in Switzerland. Because the population is predominantly of German ethnic origin, Swiss-German is widely spoken. In fact, some 62% of the population speak it. At 22.8%, French is the second most widely spoken language, followed by Italian which accounts for 8%. Although it is an official language, only 0.5% of the Swiss population speaks Romansh. A further 22.7% speak other languages. This actually increased from 18.9% in 2010, which was largely due to increasing immigration.
Just like languages, there are many different religions in Switzerland. Although 35.% of the population are Roman Catholics, a further 23.1% are affiliated with Protestant or Reformed Churches. Atheism is also common, with 27.8% of Swiss people considering themselves non-religious. There are also Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus in the country, although these religions account for less than 3% of the total population.
The Swiss have a reputation for being rather cold, but really, they are simply reserved and respect privacy. That said, they do warm up as you get better acquainted, and can be very friendly. Of course, they are also very punctual and practical. Politeness is also highly valued in the country. As a society, Switzerland is not particularly structured around class. Indeed, there is no class system per se, although social stratification does occur according to wealth. This is somewhat hard to see, however, due to the fact that the Swiss are very discreet when it comes to how affluent they are; not to mention the general sense of shame surrounding poverty.
Notably, Swiss society is also largely patriarchal. In fact, because of the dominance of men in societal roles, women only gained the right to vote in 1971. In addition, nearly twice as many men as women go on to tertiary education. That said, women still earn nearly 26% less than men. Nuclear families are still very common throughout Switzerland, although other family models have become more acceptable since the 1980s.
Swiss lifestyle and culture
The Swiss love to take advantage of the wealth of nature on their doorstep. As such, many residents spend their free time exploring the great outdoors. They might go hiking in the mountains in spring, swim the many rivers and lakes in summer, and hit the ski slopes in winter. Another popular past-time is visiting badis, which are basically Swiss bathhouses. There are various types to take a dip in, including outdoor badis in summer, indoor badis in winter, and mineral badis to soothe aching muscles.
Switzerland also has a surprisingly rich cultural life. The country hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, from Basel’s famous Fasnacht and the Montreux Jazz Festival to Geneva’s Fête de L’Escalade and the Locarno International Film Festival. There are also plenty of eclectic traditional festivals such as the Eidgenössisches Jodelfest (a yodeling festival) and the Alpabfahrt cow festival.
The country also boasts a surprisingly rich heritage of literature. Of course, most people probably remember Heidi, the popular children’s book character who lives in the Swiss Alps with her grandfather. However, the world of Swiss literature goes far beyond this.
In fact, philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, while Germaine de Stael came from a Genevan family, and her husband Benjamin Constant was from Lausanne. Similarly, Biel-born Robert Walser was a pioneer of modernist literature.
Food and drink in Switzerland
Switzerland has a robust tradition of agriculture, and because of this, Swiss cuisine heavily favors fresh, seasonal produce. Meat is popular, of course, and Switzerland boasts some of the most expensive in the world. If you get the chance, try the OMA barbecued Bratwurst in St. Gallen, or the heaping Berner Platte which includes everything from pork chops to pigs ears. Seafood is also popular and many Swiss dishes incorporate whitefish, perch, pike, and trout. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are widely available too, so you can expect to feast on white asparagus in spring, pumpkins in autumn, and berries in summer.
Bread is a staple of Swiss cuisine and each city and canton has its own specialty. St. Galler and Basel, for instance, bake Brot while Ticino makes Pane Ticinese. Of course, Switzerland is also famous for its cheese – and fondue – which includes Emmentaler, Gruyère, Vacherin, and Appenzeller.
The country also has robust beer and wine industries which are certainly worth exploring. The most popular Swiss beers are Calanda Lager and Hopfenperle, but brews from the country’s French-speaking regions are often made in a heavy Belgian style. The Swiss also enjoy their own sodas such as Passaia, a popular passion fruit drink, and Appenzell Flauder, a fruity blend made with elderberries and lemon balm.
Politics, government, and administration in Switzerland
Switzerland’s constitution is largely inspired by that of the US and was formally adopted in 1848. Of course, it has undergone significant revisions since then, most recently in 2000. The constitution is the main governing document in the country and covers everything from establishing governing rules and the rights of citizens to maintaining political balance. The Swiss political system is sometimes called a consociational democracy because power is shared between many societal stakeholders.
All Swiss citizens above the age of 18 can vote. However, that doesn’t mean they exercise their right. In fact, the country has one of the lowest levels of voter participation. Still, the federal government defers to the judgment of its voters. In fact, it is common for the Swiss to hold referendums on a host of issues to decide whether a topic should be addressed or passed into law.
The Federal Assembly largely consists of a coalition of four different political parties: the Radical Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic People’s Party, and the Swiss People’s Party. This coalition government oversees many affairs of state including security, transport, the economy, the military, and the judicial system. Of course, it is also responsible for foreign policy. At the federal level, Switzerland maintains neutrality in foreign affairs. In fact, it only joined the United Nations in 2002 after a referendum.
Within Switzerland, some government functions are also the responsibility of the 26 cantons. As such, each canton is responsible for its own education and health policies, as well as its public infrastructure. You can read more about that in our Guide to Switzerland’s cantons and regions.
Rights and freedoms in Switzerland
The Swiss strongly believe in human rights and the country often ranks among the best for civil and political rights. Switzerland has also signed all of the international human rights charters and Geneva Conventions. In fact, the promotion of human rights and democracy is one of the country’s official policy goals.
Similarly, Switzerland affords quite progressive rights and policies to its LGBT+ community and currently ranks 25th on the LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index out of 149 countries in 2021. These ratings are based on the agency’s research into civil rights, safety, parenting rights, freedom of expression, and whether it is an excellent place to live for LGBT+ people. Despite its central position in the rankings, Switzerland has improved since the previous year, when it ranked 27th out of 49 countries.
Since 1999, the Swiss Constitution has guaranteed LGBT+ citizens equal treatment before the law, and homophobic discrimination became a criminal offense in 2020. Switzerland also recognized same-sex unions in 2007 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2020.
Although women were given the right to vote in Switzerland in 1971, they have yet to achieve full gender equality within Swiss society. This is largely due to the fact that it is largely patriarchal. That said, legally, women now enjoy many of the same rights as men and have significant legal protections against discrimination and abuse. You can read more about this in our Guide to women’s rights in Switzerland.
Crime and policing in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world. In fact, 77% of residents feel safe here, well above the OECD average of 67%. In addition, the homicide rate is just 0.7, far less than the OECD average of 2.1. Of course, you still have to watch out for petty crimes like pick-pocketing. The bigger cities—including Zurich and Geneva–report the most violent crimes, which include aggravated assault and sexual crimes. However, digital crime is becoming a concern with nearly 24,400 offenses in 2020, while juvenile convictions jumped 6% in 2019.
Criminal law is the responsibility of the federal government. However, sentences are usually carried out by cantons. You should also be aware that there are many different emergency numbers in Switzerland, depending on what services you need and which canton you are in.
Health, welfare, and social security in Switzerland
We already know that the Swiss enjoy a very high quality of life, have a good work-life balance, and are generally quite happy with their lot in life. This is mostly because they also enjoy solid social support from the government. The country also has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, which is partly due to the fact that it is universal and operates at a very high standard. Unlike other countries, the Swiss healthcare system is not paid for through taxes. Instead, each individual makes contributions to different Swiss health insurance schemes, which are mostly run by cantons. All of this is underpinned by big government spending; for instance, Switzerland spent over €8,000 per resident on healthcare in 2016.
Most people, including expats, also choose to buy private health insurance. There are around 60 registered health insurance companies in Switzerland, which each offer the same benefits in their basic health insurance policies. Companies are obliged to accept anyone who applies, regardless of pre-existing health conditions. You are free to choose your own insurer and can change company once a year if you give notice. Some of the leading health insurance companies in Switzerland include the following:
In addition to making health insurance contributions, everyone in Switzerland has to contribute to social insurance schemes. As such, all expats have to take out social insurance schemes to access Swiss social benefits. Because of this, everyone can access a full range of social protections, including pensions, unemployment, and maternity benefits.
Education in Switzerland
As a result of having an excellent education system, Switzerland ranks in the top 10 countries in the OECD/PISA 2021 survey for educational standards among 15-year-olds. Although you can enroll your child in a public school, many expats prefer to send them to a private international school. Either way, your child will enjoy a high-quality education in a multicultural environment.
The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) oversees education at the federal level in Switzerland. That said, each canton is free to create its own educational structure, including its curricula. Most Swiss children begin their education at the age of four, in kindergarten. Notably, education is only compulsory until they reach the age of 15. During this time, they will progress through primary school and lower secondary school. They may then choose to continue their education at upper secondary schools, technical colleges, or baccalaureate schools.
In Switzerland, different finishing certificates are awarded, depending on the type of school a student attends. At VET (technical) schools, most students receive a Federal VET certificate or diploma, or the Federal vocational baccalaureate (Berufsmaturität / maturité professionelle) which are specialized awards that also allow admission to universities of applied science.
Students at baccalaureate schools, however, earn a Matura or Maturié which can be used to apply to a wider range of tertiary courses. Switzerland is famous for creating the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, and this is the main certificate awarded at the country’s private and international schools. However, depending on the school, students are also able to graduate with A-Levels or SATs.
There were nearly 260,000 university students in the 2018-2019 academic year, and some 36% of these were foreign. The universities in Switzerland are truly world-class. In fact, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021 includes 11 Swiss institutions.
There are 12 public universities in the country, including the highly-ranked ETH Zürich, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and Universität Zürich. Like in other countries, students can pursue Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degrees at Swiss universities. There are also private schools that specialize in particular fields such as music, business, and hospitality.
Work and business in Switzerland
There are over 4.6 million Swiss residents in the workforce. Of these, some 21.4% work from home most of the time. In addition, 37.4% of Swiss workers are part-timers, and a further 12.% are self-employed. The number of jobs available had been steadily rising before 2020 and reached a peak in the first quarter of that year at nearly 5.2 million jobs. Of course, this dropped significantly in the second quarter of 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. At this time, there were less than 5.1 million jobs. Since then, however, employment figures have quickly recovered.
The service sector is a major money-spinner for Switzerland, which generates some 74% of the country’s GDP. Trade is also important, and the European Union is Switzerland’s biggest trading partner. Its major exports are chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electronics, and, of course, watches.
As you might expect, Swiss business culture is as restrained as the rest of society. People are generally very formal and conservative in business environments and usually communicate very directly but politely. Similarly, the Swiss also expect punctuality, frugality, and tolerance in business. Notably, people in Switzerland are generally known to work harder than their European counterparts. Although office hours are usually from Monday to Friday, between 08:00 and 17:30, flexible hours are becoming more acceptable. Employees also enjoy at least four weeks of annual leave.
Environment and climate in Switzerland
Switzerland has a continental climate, which means that it experiences the full expression of each of the four seasons. Winters are often long and cold, while summers can be quite mild. However, due to the country’s geographic variations, the weather can also vary across the country. There are three main climate zones: the mountainous Alps, the flat Central Plateau (home to Zurich, Bern, and Geneva), and Mediterranean Ticino in the south.
Although the average population density of Switzerland is 215 people per square kilometer, it is spread quite unevenly across the country. Because much of the terrain consists of mountains and lakes, the main urban areas fall within the Central Plateau. As such, this is where most people live. That said, no city in Switzerland has more than one million residents, which means that they still feel like small towns.
Great places to visit in Switzerland
Swiss cities are great, but there is so much more to this beautiful country. So while you are there, make sure you get out and about and explore the wealth of fantastic places to visit. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Château de Chillon – a 10th-century fort and castle near Montreux that was once home to the Counts of Savoy
- Jungfraujoch – Switzerland’s highest point offers mountain climbing, toboggan, and the famous Jungfrau railway
- Schweizerischer Nationalpark – amazing scenery abounds in Switzerland, but the country’s only national park may be the cream of the crop; expect glaciers, meadows, hiking trails, and plenty of animals
- Lugano – sometimes called the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland,” this is the Mediterranean jewel of Switzerland and offers museums, nature, and a charming lakeside appeal
- Wengen – located in Bernese Oberland, this twee Alpine resort village features mountainside timber chalets and belle époque hotels
- Lake Oeschinen – a go-to destination for sports and outdoor activities of all kinds – and it has great biodiversity, too!
- St. Moritz – one of the world’s oldest ski resorts is nestled in the Engadin Alpine valley and continues to attract high-fliers during the winter
- Villars-sur-Ollon – this upscale resort town offers panoramas over Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva along with three snowparks, thermal springs, hiking, and so much more
Public holidays in Switzerland
Unfortunately, federally-mandated public holidays are few and far between in Switzerland. These are the only country-wide public holidays on offer:
- New Year’s Day: January 1
- Easter Monday: in April
- Ascension Day: in May
- Swiss National Day: August 1
- Christmas: December 25
However, each canton has its own roster of public holidays which are in line with local customs and religious affiliations. For example, the Christian holiday of Epiphany is a public holiday in the cantons of Lucerne, Ticino, and Uri, while Neuchâtel celebrates its historical Republic Day on March 1. In addition, Carnival is celebrated in late February. Although this is not an official holiday, many Swiss either get – or take – the day off.
You probably have a slew of preconceived notions about Switzerland, but that doesn’t mean that all the stereotypes are true. To set the record straight, let’s debunk some of the famous myths, legends, and ideas about the country…
William Tell – the man or the legend?
You might remember the story of William Tell. The legend goes that after defying the local bailiff, he was forced to shoot an arrow through an apple balanced on his son’s head. Supposedly, this happened in the canton of Uri. Although he is now a famous part of Swiss culture, people still argue over whether William Tell actually existed in real life.
Heidi is a fictitious character
You might assume that this famous children’s story by Johanna Spyri is a figment of the writer’s imagination – but you’d be (mostly) wrong. In fact, Spyri based her book on the real-life Heidi Schwaller and her idyllic childhood in the Swiss Alps.
Everyone in Switzerland is rich
Thanks to its infamously high cost of living and highly developed banking industry (and banking secrecy laws) you might think that everyone in Switzerland is very well off – but you’d be wrong. Although the average income is higher than in many countries, great wealth inequality still exists. Furthermore, most residents are surprisingly frugal and discreet about whatever money they do have.
The Swiss are always neutral
Switzerland is famously neutral in international affairs, but that doesn’t mean the country isn’t prepared for conflict. On the contrary, all Swiss males have to undergo compulsory military service, and the country has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world; although they don’t get to use them much. In case of nuclear war, the country also has enough bunker space to protect the entire population.
All Swiss people loves yodeling
Another major myth. There might be festivals dedicated to it but in reality, no one really loves yodeling in Switzerland. And you would really have to go out of your way to hear it.