Switzerland and its cantons

The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 full and three half cantons. A canton is comparable to a state in the USA, Germany or Austria. For historical reasons, three of the 23 cantons are made up of two half cantons. These are:

  • Basel (Basel-Landschaft and Basel-Stadt)
  • Appenzell (Appenzell-Innerrhoden and Appenzell-Ausserrhoden)
  • Unterwalden (Nidwalden and Obwalden)

Canton of Zurich

The canton of Zurich is the largest canton of Switzerland with a population of approximately 1’463’000. Geographically, it is situated in the Swiss Central Plateau and Lake Zurich is the biggest lake in the canton. The highest mountain in Zurich is the 1292 m high Schnebelhorn. Popular destinations for climbing and hiking are the Bachtel and the Hörnli which are both in the Zurich Oberland. The city of Zurich is not just the capital of the canton, it is an international metropolis. The city is famous for its cultural scene, the vibrant nightlife and many international top events. Such as the streetparade, which takes place every year in August and attracts millions of fans of techno music from all over the world.

Canton of Berne

The canton of Berne is the second largest of the 26 Swiss cantons by both surface area and population. It’s located in west-central Switzerland. The most populated area is the city of Berne, which is the capital of both the canton and of Switzerland. The city holds the Swiss Parliament, which is situated in the Neo-Renaissance Bundeshaus (Federal Palace). The highest mountain is the Finsteraarhorn with an elevation of 4274 m. Berne fascinates above all by its dreamlike landscape. The Lakes Region; the Bernese Oberland; hilly Emmental; the Bernese Mittelland; Oberaargau with its many forest areas; the old town of Berne; the Bernese Seeland; and the Bernese Jura with the Chasseral Regional Park are some of the highlights that draw visitors to the canton.

Canton of Lucerne

The canton of Lucerne is a German speaking canton. The capital city shares its name with the canton and is the most populous area of Lucerne. Owing to its location on the shores of Lake Lucerne, within sight of the mounts Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne has long been a destination for tourists. One of the city’s famous landmarks is the Chapel Bridge, a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century. For a few days in late winter Lucerne goes wild. The streets are full of people in wonderful masks, playing loud music on trumpets, horns and drums – this is fasnacht, the Swiss version of carnival.

 Its highest mountain is the Brienzer Rothorn  with an elevation of 2349 m and the 2092 m high Hengst (Schrattenfluh) is the highest peak. Over 398‘000 people live in the canton of Lucerne. The lakes Baldeggersee, Mauensee, Soppensee, Sempachersee and Rotsee are all situated within the canton, but the Lake of Lucerne, Hallwilersee and Zugersee are only partly in the canton of Lucerne.

Canton of Uri

The canton of Uri is a German speaking canton. Altdorf, the capital of the canton, is the most populated town. The canton of Uri has a population of 36’000 and is situated in Central Switzerland between the Gotthard Pass and the Lake of Lucerne. It is one of the three original cantons of the Swiss Confederation. Most people live in the lower Reuss plateau as over half of Uri’s area is mountainous. 

When in Switzerland, the visit of the “Rütli” is a must. Here the oath of the Rütlischwur is said to have occurred, the legendary turning-point in the pursuit of independence. Every August 1, on the Swiss National Day, the oath is re-enacted to commemorate the forming of the Old SwissConfederacy.

Canton of Schwyz

Schwyz is located in Central Switzerland and shares its name with its capital. 154’000 people live in the canton of Schwyz, most of them in Freienbach. It is the most important one of the three original cantons of the Swiss Confederation which is why the “die Schweiz” (en: Switzerland) is named after it. The canton is situated between the lakes of Zurich and Lucerne and is geographically part of the Swiss Prealps. The Bös Fulen at 2801 m is the highest point in Schwyz. A beautiful village to visit is Lachen, located on a delta of the Wägi river in the upper section of Lake Zurich.

Canton of Obwalden

The half canton of Obwalden is situated in the Sarner Valley in Central Switzerland and borders the Lake of Lucerne. Obwalden is in a lakeland area which comprises Alpnachersee Lungerersee, Tannensee, Sarnersee, Melchsee and Wichelsee. The highest peak of the canton is in the Uri Alps: Titlis 3238 m. On top of Mount Titlis is the so called Tiflis cliff walk, a one metre wide and over 100 metres long hanging bridge The Titlis Cliff Walk holds the record for being the highest suspension bridge in Europe. The population of Obwalden is 37’100.

Canton of Nidwalden

The canton of Nidwalden is a half canton and, together with the canton of Obwalden, forms Unterwalden, one of the three original cantons of the Swiss Confederation. The Rotstöckli at 2901 m in the Uri Alps is the highest point in the canton. Large areas of the canton belong, however, to the Unterwalden Prealps. The North of Nidwalden is bordered by Lake Lucerne. The population of Nidwalden is 42’400. Nidwalden offers a wide variety of different outdoor sport activities such as rafting, kayaking and paragliding.

Canton of Glarus

The canton of Glarus is a German speaking canton. The capital town shares its name with the canton and has the highest population in the canton. The Linth, the Linth Plateau and Walensee are all within the canton’s borders. Glarus is characterised by its variations in elevation. There are drastic differences in climate and vegetation from the low lying valley region at 400 m to the 3600 m high mountain areas. A mild climate in the valley and an alpine climate in the mountains is what distinguishes Glarus and makes the canton attractive to tourists. Walkers, mountain climbers and cyclists will discover a varied region with plenty of interesting excursions.

Canton Zug

The canton of Zug is in the German part of Switzerland and is situated between the Swiss Central Plateau and the Prealps. The largest town and the canton’s capital is its named Zug. The mountains Chaiserstock at 1’426 m, Rossberg at 1’582 m and Morgartenberg at 1’244 m are the highest peaks in the canton. Zug is one of the smallest but richest cantons in Switzerland. The Lorze river runs through the canton and flows into Lake Zug. The population of the canton of Zug is approximately 122’000. Right at the very heart of Central Switzerland, shared by cantons Zug, Schwyz and Lucerne, lies Lake Zug – Switzerland’s tenth largest lake. During the summer, a cruise on this beautiful lake is highly recommended and can be combined with hiking, biking and skating trails.

Canton of Fribourg

The canton of Fribourg is in the Romandy (the French speaking part of Switzerland). The canton is bilingual, with French spoken by two thirds of the citizens and German by about one third. The The city of Fribourg is the capital of the canton. The western and northern parts of the canton belong to the Swiss Plateau and the southern part to the Swiss Prealps. In the south, 13th-century Gruyères Castle is a highlight of the medieval town, Gruyères. A region which is also world wild known for its cheese. The highest peak of Fribourg is Vanil Noir at 2’389 m. 307’000 people live in the canton of Fribourg.

Canton of Solothurn

The canton of Solothurn belongs to the Espace Mittelland region and is in the German part of Switzerland. The town of Solothurn is the capital of the canton and regarded as the finest Baroque town in Switzerland. The canton branches out in many directions, from Dornach near Basel over the Bernese region nearly until Aarau. Coffee lovers should visit the Jura world of coffee in Niederbuchsiten. This modern museum gives great insight into the wonderful world of coffee as well as the interesting development of the famous Jura coffee machines. Hasenmatt at 1’445 m is the highest mountain in the canton and the largest body of water is the Dünnern. Solothurn has a population of 266’000.

Canton of Basel-Stadt

The canton of Basel-Stadt is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. The most populated place is the city of Basel. The canton is the smallest, but also the most densely populated canton of Switzerland. The canton is made up of the city of Basel and the municipalities of Bettingen and Riehen. Basel-Stadt borders both France and Germany. The canton has a population of 197’000. The main attraction of the city is the yearly carnival, which is part of the city’s identity. Culturally speaking, it is at the heart of Basel’s creative energies. Owing to its uniqueness and quality, it has been  to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list. Basel is also home to some of the finest art museums in the world, such as the Museum Tinguely, the Fondation Beyeler and the Fine Arts Museum.

Canton of Basel-Landschaft

The canton of Basel-Landschaft is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Allschwil has the largest population, but Liestal is the capital. The picturesque old town of Liestal is worth visiting. In Arlesheim, close to the city of Basel, one can view Switzerland’s only cathedral. The region offers numerous of fortresses, castles and hiking trails. The highest mountain at 1’169 m is Hinteri Egg. Area-wise, the canton is one of the smaller cantons, but has a fairly high density of population totalling 283’000.

Canton of Schaffhausen

The canton of Schaffhausen is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. It is the northernmost canton of Switzerland. The capital city shares its name with the canton and is known as a town on the banks of the river Rhine. The canton is home to the second largest waterfall in Europe – the Rhine Falls – which cascades down from a hight of 23 m. Schaffhausen’s population is approximately 79’000. One of the most beautiful villages is picturesque Stein am Rhein. It is still a typical Swiss village with beautifully painted houses.

Canton of Appenzell-Ausserrhoden

The canton of Appenzell-Ausserrhoden  is in the German part of Switzerland. It borders the cantons of St. Gallen and Appenzell-Innerrhoden. Säntis at 2’502 m is the highest peak. The canton is largely agricultural with 12’000 ha of farmland. 54’000 people call Appenzell-Ausserrhoden home.

Canton of Appenzell-Innerrhoden

The canton of Appenzell-Innerrhoden is another German speaking canton. The most populated town is the capital, Appenzell. The canton is area-wise nearly as small as Basel-Stadt and half of that is used for agriculture.  Appenzell-Innerrhoden has a population of 16’000. The region is known for rural customs and traditions such as the ceremonial descent of the cattle in autumn and cultural events such as folk music and rustic dances.

Canton of St. Gallen

The canton of St. Gallen is in the German part of Switzerland as well. The city of St. Gallen is the capital of the canton. It’s  most famous landmark is its Baroque cathedral with the Abbey Library, which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. Lake Constance is the northern, Vorarlberg in Austria and Liechtenstein are the eastern borders of the canton. Ringelspitz at 3’247 m is the highest mountain in the region. The population is currently approximately 500’000 and has been increasing steadily in the last few years.

Canton of Graubünden

The canton of Graubünden is surrounded by the Alps. The canton is in the Eastern Switzerland region. Its capital city is Chur which is the largest town in the canton. The highest peak is Piz Bernina at 4’049 m. Graubünden is area-wise the largest canton in Switzerland and is dominated by a mountainous landscape. There are over 600 lakes, 150 valleys and over 900 mountain peaks in the canton. Graubünden is a paradise for everyone who loves nature and outdoor sports. Many internationally well known skiing resorts are in Graubünden, such as St. Moritz, Klosters/Davos and Arosa. The population is 196’000. 

Canton of Aargau

The canton of Aargau is in the northern part of German speaking Switzerland. The most populated town is Aarau, which is also the capital of the canton. This charming old town boasts the most beautiful eaves, the so-called «Dachhimmel», in Switzerland. The canton is named after the Aare river. There are mountains in the north of Aargau. Many rivers flow into the Rhine and, from there, into the North Sea. 645’000 people live in the canton of Aargau. The Canton of Aargau boasts many castles, including some of Switzerland’s most impressive such as the Lenzburg, the Hallwyl Water Castle and the Habsburg Castle.

Canton of Thurgau

The northeastern canton of Thurgau belongs to German speaking Switzerland. The canton is named after the river Thur which crosses the canton. Large areas of the canton are used for agriculture. The lengthy coastline of Lake Constance is a paradise for cyclists and hikers and countless lakes and lidos entice swimmers in summer. The town of Kreuzlingen shares a border with the German city of Konstanz, and marks the beginning of a lakeside road through towns full of half-timbered houses, such as Gottlieben, Steckborn and Berlingen. Over 267’000 people live in Thurgau.

Canton of Ticino

The canton of Ticino is the only fully Italian speaking canton in Switzerland and situated in the very south of Switzerland. Palm-lined lakes, sharp Alpine peaks, its architecture, cuisine and culture make visitors belief they are in Italy already. Lugano has the highest population, but the capital city is Bellinzona. Rheinwaldhorn at 3’402 m is the highest mountain in the canton. Ticino is south of the Alps and almost completely surrounded by Italy. The two lakes, Lago Maggiore and Lake of Lugano are the most important tourist attractions in the region. The population of Ticino is 351’000.

Canton of Vaud

The canton of Vaud is in the Romandy and its capital is Lausanne. Lausanne is the most populated city in the canton and also the Olimpic Capital. Les Diablerets at 3’210 m is the highest peak of the canton. Lake Geneva is the most important body of water in Vaud, but all lakes in the region have excellent water quality. It is possible to swim, surf, sail and fish in all of them. East of Lausanne are the Lavaux vineyard terraces, with 800 hectares the biggest contiguous vineyard region in Switzerland. The lovely constructed hillside terraces have been protected by UNESCO since 2007. Jazz lovers should not miss the yearly Jazz Festival, which takes place in July in Montreux. it’s the world second largest jazz festival. The canton of Vaud has a population of over 773’000.

Canton of Valais

The canton of Valais is in the southwestern part of Switzerland and is completely in the Alpine region. The canton is part German speaking and part French speaking. The capital city is Sion. There are quite a few mountainss over 4000 m high in the Valais Alps. The Dufourspitze is the highest peak at 4’634 m and one of  the most known mountains in Switzerland is the Matterhorn at 4’478 m in Zermatt. Skiing is big in the canton of Valais and many of its beautiful skiing destination are internationally famous, such as Verlier and Grand Montana. Over 335’000 people live in Valais. The canton of Valais produces excellent wine, both red and wine. And on cold winter evenings, a delicious fondue or raclette is a must.

Canton of Neuchatel

The canton of Neuchatel is in the Romandy, the French speaking part of Switzerland. The canton is divided into four regions. The Lake of Neuchatel is the largest lake wholly within Switzerland and has a long coastline enjoyed by many in the summer. It is ideal for sailing and surfing. The Val des Ruz is north of the city of Neuchatel, which is the capital of the canton. La Chaux-de-Fonds is a watchmaking town where the Musée International d’Horlogerie exhibits historical timepieces. Neuchatel has a population of approximately 178’000.

Canton of Geneva

The canton of Geneva is also in the French part of Switzerland. It is in the southwestern part of the country. The city of Geneva is the capital. It is an important  financial centre and a worldwide centre for diplomacy due to the presence of the headquarters of many agencies of the United Nationsand the Red Cross. It’s landmark, the Jet d’Eau, is a large fountain on the lake. The canton is almost completely surrounded by France and by the Jura mountain range. The landscape is hilly. 484’000 people live in the canton.

Canton of Jura

The canton of Jura is in the Romandy as well. It’s Switzerland’s youngest canton. The largest town in the Jura is Delemont. The canton borders France both in the West and in the North. The Delemont Basin, Clos du Doubs, Ajoie, the hill countries of Movelier and the Freiberge are all in the canton of Jura. At an altitude of 1000 meters, this canton of wide open spaces is the meeting place between man and horse. It is as well a paradise for outdoor activities on foot, bicycle, water, cross country skiing and snow-shoes. The canton is sparsely populated with a total population of 72’000.

Swiss German as an essential part of the Swiss experience

Swiss German is spoken in many of the cantons, but it is not the only language spoken in Switzerland. In the western part of the country, mostly French is spoken; in the canton of Ticino, Italian; and in Graubünden there are villages where Romansh, a language that is in danger of dying out, is spoken.

However, Swiss German is spoken in the largest part of Switzerland and thats is why we offer a video course to teach you the language. Have fun with our course:

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The cantons of Switzerland
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