21 Interesting Facts About Switzerland

Before migrating to Switzerland, I admittedly did not know very much about this European country other than the obvious stereotypes: cheese, chocolate and the Alps. Fortunately, I’ve learned quite a lot more since living here from teachers, friends and by reading. Here’s a list of some of the most interesting facts I’ve found out about Switzerland.

Discover 21 interesting facts About Europe's main home of the Alps, Switzerland via www.theswissfreis.com

History of Switzerland

1.) Switzerland is also known as the Confoederatio Helvetica, (CH)

In Latin, Switzerland is known as Confoederatio Helvetica (Swiss Confederation). You’ll often see cars in Switzerland with white stickers that have the letters CH. Switzerland’s main internet domain also uses this abbreviation with their domain URL’s ending with “.ch”.

2.) The currency of Switzerland is called the Confoederatio Helvetica Franc (CHF)

Most persons who are affiliated with the North American continent know currency as the dollar ($), however, the Swiss currency is referred to as the CHF or the Swiss Franc (it’s pretty tricky to refer to it as CHF since I’m so accustomed to calling currency dollars).

3.) Switzerland gained its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499

4.) The Swiss flag is one of only two square sovereign-state flags

Unlike the conventional rectangular flag all other countries are known to have, the dimensions of the Swiss flag gives it the geometrical shape of a square. The only other sovereign state that is known to have a square flag is the Vatican City.

The flag of Switzerland. Image Credit & Copyright: Balachandar Radhakrishnan

5.) The Red Cross emblem is the Swiss flag with inverted colours

The Swiss flag is a bright red with a white cross in the centre. In 1863 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in Geneva, Switzerland based on the idea of a young Swiss man named Henry Dunant. The emblem for the Red Cross was decided to be the same as the Swiss flag. However, rather than having a red background with a white cross, the cross would instead be red surrounded by a white background (an inversion of Switzerland’s flag).

The Red Cross Flag
The Red Cross Flag

Geography of Switzerland

6.) Switzerland shares borders with 5 countries

Switzerland is landlocked by 5 countries. To the north of Switzerland lies Germany, to the east sits Austria, to the south is Italy, to the west is France. The smallest country with which Switzerland shares its border is the country of Liechtenstein.

7.) The Capital of Switzerland is Bern

Despite Zurich being Switzerland’s most popular metropolitan city, it actually is not the country’s capital. Bern is actually Switzerland’s capital city and is home to the country’s house of parliament.

8.) Switzerland has more high mountain peaks than any other country in Europe

Switzerland is well known for its famous mountain range, The Alps (The Alps actually extend to neighboring countries France, Austria and Germany). In fact, Switzerland has the highest peaks in Europe (48 peaks above 4000 meters) with 60% of its land area being mountains.

Lake Silvaplana, Engadin
Lake Silvaplana with a view of the Corvatsch (the highest lying mountain station in the Eastern Alps), Engadin, Switzerland.

9.) Switzerland is divided into 23 regional zones called cantons

Switzerland’s land divisions are called cantons (In Jamaica and the United Kingdom they are considered parishes). There are 23 existing cantons with the first three being Uri, Schwyz and Obwalden + Nidwalden.

10.) Switzerland has 4 official languages

Due to the influence of its surrounding neighboring countries, Switzerland speaks 4 different languages. Most of the population (63%) speaks a local German dialect called Swiss German. French is the second most spoken language in Switzerland (22.7%) with Italian coming in third position (8.4%). The fourth language, Romansh is spoken by less than 1% of the population and can be heard mostly in local mountain villages in canton Graubünden.

Politics in Switzerland

11.) Switzerland is a Democratic Federal Republic

Switzerland is the first and only country to implement a system of government based on the people’s administration (aka a direct democracy), which involves the constitutional initiative (public petitions) and the referendum. 

12.) Switzerland never participated in any of the World Wars

Although Switzerland has participated in wars up until the 19th century, it was never involved in either World War I or World War II. They have a long-standing tradition of neutrality and choose not to participate in European politics.

Infographic map of Europe showing their political affiliations in World War 2
Infographic of European Countries by Political Affiliation During World War II

13.) Modern day Switzerland has been a Federal State since 1848

Although the foundation of Switzerland dates to August 1, 1291 (now celebrated as Swiss National Day) the federal state of Switzerland that we know today was not formed until 1848.

14.) Switzerland is not a part of the European Union (EU)

Since 2016 the United Kingdom has been in the spotlight for voting to leave the European Union (British Exit- BREXIT). However, they aren’t the only country who has chosen to separate itself from the EU. Switzerland was never a member of the EU since most of its citizens (76.8%) voted against joining. This links back to Switzerland’s longstanding tradition of neutrality and non-involvement in European politics. Switzerland, however, has signed a free-trade agreement with the EU and is subsequently a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). 

15.) The Pontifical Swiss Guard protects the Pope

The Swiss guard is a special group of Swiss soldiers who were charged with the duty of protecting foreign European courts in the 15th  century. Today Switzerland has outlawed foreign military services with the exception of the Pontifical Swiss Guard who are stationed in the Vatican City to protect the Pope and the Apostolic Palace. 

Men in the Pontifical Swiss Guard
The Pontifical Swiss Guard, Switzerland. Image Credit & Copyright: Paul Ronga

16.) Switzerland is prepared for nuclear war, should there ever be one

Swiss law stipulates that all its citizens have access to nuclear fallout shelters should there ever be a nuclear war. As a result, Switzerland has many nuclear bunkers within each populated city/town. They are usually discretely hidden in the form of quaint country homes. A yearly test is also conducted simultaneously in all cantons to ensure that their alert sirens are functional if they are needed to warn their citizens of impending threats (pretty creepy to hear the first time you are living there).

17.) Switzerland is not governed by one head of state

Unlike other political systems that appoint one leader in charge, Switzerland utilizes a system that appoints seven leaders referred to as the Bundesrat (Federal Council). Each year a new president is elected (from these seven) in office and is regarded as the primus inter pares, or first among equals. Currently two women are members of this 7-member board.


18.) The Swiss greet each other with 3 kisses on the cheeks

Instead of giving the usual one kiss per cheek that is typical in other countries in Europe, the Swiss greet each other with three kisses; twice on the left cheek and once on the right cheek.

19.) Switzerland is the world leader in luxury watch production

The saying dependable like a Swiss watch didn’t just appear out of thin air. The Swiss are world-renowned for their production of high-quality luxury brand watches.

20.) Albert Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity E=MC2 in Switzerland

After fleeing Germany and giving up his German citizenship, Albert Einstein lived in the city of Bern where he is known to have developed his famous Theory of Relativity, E=MC2 .

Image of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein with his Theory of Relativity that he developed in Bern, Switzerland. Image Credit & Copyright: Berto Garcia

21.) LSD was invented in Switzerland

Yes, it’s true, the psychedelic drug LSD was first created by Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman in 1943.

Did you know any of these facts about Switzerland? Tell us which you found most interesting!

Discover 21 interesting facts About Europe's main home of the Alps, Switzerland via www.theswissfreis.com