Switzerland is a landlocked country of around 41,000 square kilometres and is bordered by France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein.
The country is divided into 26 cantons (states) which are part of eight different regions.
In this guide we list the eight regions and 26 Swiss cantons to help you decide on the best places in Switzerland to visit based on your interests.
Regions of Switzerland
Cantons: Geneva (GE), Vaud (VD), Neuchatel (NE), Fribourg (FR), Jura (JR)
Mittelland, Bernese Oberland and Valais
Cantons: Bern (BE), Valais/Wallis (VS), Solothurn (SO), Basel Stadt (BS), Basel Land (BL)
Central Switzerland and Ticino
Cantons: Luzern (LU), Aargau (AG), Obwalden (OW), Nidwalden (NW), Uri (UR), Schwyz (SZ), Zug (ZG), Ticino (TI)
Canton: Zurich (ZH)
Eastern Switzerland and Graubunden
Cantons: Thurgau (TG), Sankt Gallen (SG), Schaffhausen (SH), Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR), Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI), Glarus (GL), Graubunden (GR)
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Language spoken: French; Fribourg – French and German
Geneva: Both the city and the canton share the name, but Geneva the city is probably what you’re more familiar with. It’s surrounded by French territory (and the Alps and Jura mountains), meaning you’ll hear, see and taste many French influences within its borders.
While most people think of Geneva for banking, diplomacy and business, it does offer interest to tourists such as the Jet d’Eau on Lake Geneva, the Palais de Nations (the UN headquarters), and the Reformation Wall.
Vaud: This is another canton which borders France. You may want to visit the Chillon Castle and the pretty town of Montreux, both of which sit on Lake Geneva, or head to the capital city, Lausanne and visit the Olympic Museum.
Head up to the summit of Rochers de Naye via cogwheel train, or spend a day in the wine region of Lavaux where you’ll find 830 hectares of terraced vineyards.
Neuchâtel: Like Geneva, Neuchâtel is both the name of the canton and that of the capital city (again, French is the official language). Here you’ll find a medieval town complete with a 12th century castle and cathedral.
You can also admire art at the the Museum of Art and History, or visit the Laténium, which is Switzerland’s largest archaeological museum. Interested in exotic butterflies? Head over to the Papiliorama.
Fribourg: Once again we have a capital city within a canton sharing the same name as the canton itself. The canton is dual-lingual, with both French and German being official languages of the region.
Fribourg the city is home to everything from the Gothic Fribourg Cathedral which houses a 15th-century sculpture of the Last Judgement to Musée d’Art et d’Histoire which houses medieval art. Have a sweet tooth? Enjoy some discounted Villars Chocolate from the company’s factory store.
Not far away is Murten where you can walk the Medieval City Walls!
Jura: For hiking and cross-country skiing, head to Jura. You can also visit the caves at Les Grottes de Reclere and visit the adjacent prehistoric park.
In the capital city, Delémont, you can visit the Prince-Bishops’ Castle or hike up to the charming Chapelle du Vorbourg for the views and tranquility. Also worth visiting are the Samaritan and Swiss Fountains in Porrentruy, as well as the Refous Tower which dates back to the 1200’s.
Mittelland, Bernese Oberland and Valais
Language spoken: German
Bern: The capital city of Switzerland, also called Bern, sits here. There you’ll find a charming Old Town, the Federal Palace where Swiss Parliament sits, and the 13th-century Zytglogge tower.
But the rest of the canton has plenty to offer, too. In the Bernese Oberland which is home to Interlaken, a popular base for exploring the Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn (the mountaintop made famous by James Bond), there are plenty of other attractions including Lakes Thun and Brienz, where you’ll find plenty of outdoor activities, lake cruises and medieval sites such as Thun Castle and the Ringgenberg Castle Church.
Valais/Wallis: This southern canton is probably most famous for the Matterhorn and the luxury resort town of Zermatt. You’ll find plenty of skiing and hiking options here, but if you’re not up for as much physical exertion, there are thermal spas to soak in, too.
Arriving by the scenic Glacier Express train is a wonderful way to start your stay in Zermatt.
Solothurn: This is a canton, a municipality and a town, for a trifecta of name confusion. In the town, you can stroll through the Verena Gorge Hermitage which is taken care of by a real-live hermit, or for an entirely different experience, visit the Old Arsenal Museum.
In the nearby town of Olten, you can tour the stunning hilltop Aarburg Castle, or enjoy a lovely family-friendly hike past waterfalls and through the forest.
Basel-Stadt: You’ll definitely want a selfie in front of Basel’s 16th-century town hall made of fabulous red sandstone, and be sure to allow plenty of time to wander around Kunstmuseum Basel, an art museum with an entire room dedicated to Picasso’s works.
Stroll around the Old Town and stop into the Pharmazie-Historisches Museum, a museum dedicated to the history of medieval medicine.
In nearby Riehen, you can visit a quaint toy museum, Spielzeugmuseum, or the Fondation Beyeler, dedicated to modern art.
The canton of Basel-Landschaft may be one of the smaller cantons in Switzerland but its location next to Basel-Stadt means it is well populated. The capital Liestal is home to an attractive Old Town with numerous interesting buildings including a medieval city gate, walls and church.
Agriculture plays an important role in Basel-Landschaft and the fields are home to orchards, vineyards and dairy cows. The Bluescht tour, a 69 kilometre drive, is the perfect way to admire the region’s many cherry trees in bloom during Spring and
if you’re visiting during July, be sure to visit one of the many cherry orchards for the annual Cherry Week to sample the local produce.
Central Switzerland and Ticino
Languages spoken: Central Switzerland – German; Ticino – Italian
Luzern: Once again the main attraction in this Canton is the city of Luzern (or Lucerne) itself. A visit to the famous Chapel Bridge is essential as is a stroll through the Old Town’s cobblestone streets with their painted medieval buildings.
A boat tour on Lake Lucerne is another must-do, and why not hop aboard the steepest cogwheel train in the world to the top of Mt. Pilatus?
Aargau: Situated by the lower course of the River Aare, Aargau is one of the most densely populated cantons in Switzerland and also one of the least mountainous.
The capital, Aarau, is built on terraces above the steep riverbank and features an 11th-century castle (now home to a museum). At Baden and Schinznach-Bad, you’ll find hot sulphur springs, whilst there are the remains of Roman settlement at Windisch.
Obwalden: Located in the Sarner Valley in the centre of Switzerland, Obwalden is a split or half canton (the other part being known as Nidwalden).
Visit Obwalden, and you’ll find many lakes, including Lakes Lucerne, Sarnen, Wichel, Tannen, Melch, and Lungern. If you prefer snowy landscapes to watery vistas, you can enjoy trying out the 139 kilometres of ski slopes.
The capital of Obwalden is Sarnen, a historic town that sits on the north shores of Lake Sarnen. The town is framed by mountains and countryside, providing a breath-taking backdrop.
Uri: At the heart of Central Switzerland lies the canton of Uri. Sandwiched between the Gotthard Pass and Lake Lucerne, Uri is considered to be one of the most important cantons, due to its status as one of the founding districts of the Swiss Federation.
The canton features forests and glaciers, with the highest summit of Dammastock (just north of the Furka Pass) standing tall at 3,630 metres.
The main town of Uri is Altdorf, a popular little place boasting an eclectic mix of old and new, including a monument commemorating folk hero William Tell.
Schwyz: The canton of Schwyz is situated in the centre of Switzerland and shares its name with its capital. The canton is flanked by Lake Lucerne and Lake Zurich and makes up part of the Swiss Prealps.
Head to the town of Schwyz and visit the Bundesbriefmuseum; there you will be able to check out the Federal Charter of 1291 (also known as Bundesbrief). This important charter related to the foundation of Switzerland.
The pretty village of Gersau, which was once the smallest republic in the world, is also worth a visit.
Ticino: Although it sits in the south of Switzerland, Ticino is bordered almost entirely by Italy. The influence is impossible to ignore: from the architecture and the food to the climate and the language, but the residents are fiercely Swiss.
The canton boasts lakes lined with palms and pointed Alpine peaks. Ticino is home to the busy town of Lugano, with its glacial lake, promenade, and pretty town square. However, Lugano isn’t the capital; that accolade falls to the smaller town of Bellinzona, with its ancient Medieval castles.
Languages spoken: German
Zurich: Well-known and visited by numerous tourists every year, Zurich is the largest canton in Switzerland and has an international flavour to match. Situated in the Swiss Central Plateau, Zurich is associated with finance and banking.
Those who visit are treated to designer shops, extravagant chocolate, and an abundance of luxury. There’s also the buzzing nightlife and oodles of culture, and we must give a mention to Lake Zurich, a prime spot for swimming, boating and enjoying a picnic.
Eastern Switzerland and Graubunden
Languages spoken: German (in Graübunden – German, Italian and Romansch)
Thurgau: The Canton of Thurgau is based in the northeast of Switzerland and takes its name from the river that spans the canton – the River Thur. Germany lies to the north, and the canton is also adjacent to the Rhine River and Lake Constance.
The views here are truly breathtaking, and the town of Kreuzlingen should be at the top of your list in terms of places to visit. The town sits at the start of a winding lakeside road that takes you through other towns such as Berlingen, Gottlieben, and Steckborn.
St. Gallen: Encircled by Lake Constance, Vorarlberg, and Liechtenstein, the canton of St. Gallen is situated in eastern Switzerland. The capital (also called St. Gallen) is considered an important economic, industrial, and cultural hub and also boasts a university.
The canton is home to a famous monastery, the Abbey of St. Gall. The baroque-style complex features a library that contains an abundance of ancient books; you’ll also find a cathedral with dramatic twin towers. There’s a textile museum nearby too, where you can find out more about St Gallen’s links with the industry.
Schaffhausen: In the north of Switzerland, next door to its neighbours Zurich and Thurgau, lies the canton of Schaffhausen. The canton has much to offer, including the Rhine Falls – a spectacular waterfall that stands at 23 metres and is the second-largest waterfall in Europe.
Take a trip to the old town of Schaffhausen, situated between Lake Constance and the Black Forest. Once there, marvel at the majestic looking Munot fortress and stroll along the pretty streets. Don’t forget to pause and take a look at the houses dotted around town, with their oriel windows and carefully painted facades.
Appenzell Ausserrhoden: Adjacent to the cantons of Appenzell-Innerhoden and St. Gallen sits the canton known as Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The mainly agricultural region has a rugged beauty that will impress all those who visit. You can expect to find around 12,000 hectares of farmland and impressive mountainous vistas.
The highest peak is Säntis, which sits 2,502 metres above sea level. You can take a nerve-jangling cable car to the summit, and, from here, take in the spectacular views that include a vista of six different countries.
Appenzell Innerrhoden: A canton well-known for its culture, traditions, and customs, Appenzell Innerrhoden is a hub for folk music and dance. There are also plenty of things to do for those who love the great outdoors. With loads of hiking trails and three alpine lakes, cyclists and walkers will be in their element.
You will also find quaint mountain inns offering a warm welcome, and six cable cars, too. The canton proves the point that size is not everything – the smallest canton in terms of population, and the second smallest area-wise, this place still has an impressive 65 mountains to its name!
Glarus: Sometimes known as Glaris, the canton of Glarus sits to the east of central Switzerland. A popular tourist destination, you’ll find its capital (also called Glarus) perched at the base of the Glärnisch ridge.
Glarus is the smallest of all the canton capitals, and over the years, the area has become synonymous with industry (in particular, the manufacture of decorative tiles). Alongside this, the canton is a popular tourist destination, offering enthusiastic cyclists, hikers, and mountain climbers plenty to see and do.
Graübunden: Located in eastern Switzerland, Graübunden is renowned for its pretty scenery, and is a mecca for those who enjoy whizzing down the slopes. The alpine town of St. Moritz lies within this canton, an upmarket ski resort that hosted the Winter Olympics.
Try zipping down the various ski runs, or pull on a pair of skates and glide around the outdoor rink.
The canton of Graübunden has plenty to offer year round, including more than 600 lakes, 150 valleys, and 900 summits to explore!
No matter which of these Swiss cantons you plan to visit and whether you plan to travel around by train or car, you are guaranteed spectacular scenery. Which cantons are in your itinerary?
Read our guide to planning a trip to Switzerland for essential information and useful tips.
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