City Guides: Switzerland

What to see and do in Switzerland

Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, is not the capital, but Zurich (Zürich in German) is the Swiss financial capital and one of the wealthiest cities in Europe and the world. With a population of just under 380,000, Zurich reflects the fact that Switzerland’s 8 million people are spread out among many cities and towns. (The surrounding Canton Zürich has 1.4 million residents.) Tina Turner and her new German husband have their home on the shore of Lake Zurich (Zürichsee) in the nearby small town of Küsnacht. Turner has been a Swiss citizen since April 2013.

Basel panorama

A panoramic view of Basel, looking north from the Münster (church) tower over Kleinbasel (Little Basel) and the Rhine bend. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Many of Switzerland’s most interesting and scenic towns are not large at all. Even the Swiss capital city of Bern has a population of only about 120,000. Its most famous resident, Albert Einstein, lived for several years in Bern, and was working there in the Swiss patent office when he developed his now famous Special Theory of Relativity. Continued below…

City Guides for Switzerland
Watch for these Swiss city guides, coming soon. Also see information about Switzerland’s four largest cities below.

  • Basel – Sightseeing, history, photos (coming soon)
    WEB: Kanton Basel-Stadt (in English)
  • Bern – Sightseeing, history, photos (coming soon)
    WEB: Stadt Bern (in English)
  • Lucerne (Luzern) – Sightseeing, history, photos (coming soon)
    WEB: (in English)
  • Zurich (Zürich) – Sightseeing, history, photos (coming soon)
    WEB: (in English)
  • Read about Switzerland’s four largest cities below.

Our Other Pages for Switzerland
Since we do not yet have guides for Swiss cities, please see these related pages:

Switzerland and Its Four Largest Cities (Continued)

Although it is not the governmental capital, Zurich is definitely the de facto capital of Switzerland in many ways. Because of its central role, Zurich is sometimes jokingly referred to as “downtown Switzerland.” It is the economic engine of the surrounding region and the whole country. Contributing to that are Zürich’s universities and technical colleges, plus many cultural organizations and events. The city is also notable for its high standard of living, its beautiful lakeside location and the green, wooded hills that run through the city from north to south. It is also rated as the most expensive city in the world for cost of living.

Zurich from the Uetliberg

Panoramic view of Zurich and Lake Zurich from the Üetliberg.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Zurich’s Old Town runs along both sides of the Limmat River, which flows out of Lake Zurich. Zurich’s ZVV public transport system employs three types of mass transit: the S-Bahn (local trains), trams, and buses (diesel and electric). Zurich is also Switzerland’s Chicago, serving as a major railway, highway, and air traffic hub. Zürich Hauptbahnhof (Zürich HB) is the largest and busiest rail station in Switzerland. There are also passenger ships that criss-cross Lake Zurich, connecting the city with outlying towns such as Rapperswil. Zurich Airport is only about 6 miles (10 km) northeast of the city in Kloten. Zurich Airport also has its own railway station, located underground. (For more about air travel, see our Air Travel page.)

Geneva, in the French-speaking Romandy region of Switzerland, is the second largest city in the country. Known as Genf in German, Geneva has a population of about 194,000 (2013). It lies at the southwestern end of Lake Geneva (French: Lac Léman), where the Rhone river exits the lake. The city of Geneva (ville de Genève) is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. Geneva is a global, international city, known for being the headquarters of many of the agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. The city also is home to many museums, theaters and other cultural sites.

Basel, sometimes spelled Basle in English, counts 172,000 residents, making it the third largest Swiss city. Located on the banks of the Rhine river in what is known in German as the Dreiländereck, the tri-border area (Latin: Regio TriRhena) where Switzerland, Germany and France come together, forming a tri-national region that is home to 830,000 people who speak German, Swiss German, and French. The Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Airport (EuroAirport, BSL/MLH) is actually in France. The German city of Freiburg i.B. lies about 45 miles (73 km) to the north, while the French city of Mulhouse (Mülhausen) is about 25 miles (40 km) north, but west of the Rhine. Although Basel is a major chemical and pharmaceutical industrial center (Novartis, Syngenta, Hoffmann-La Roche, and others), many visitors never realize that as they tour the scenic central and riverside areas of the city. The city is a major cultural center, and is home to the oldest university (founded 1460) in the Swiss Confederation. Switzerland’s first zoo (Zoo Basel) opened its doors in the south of the city in 1874. Today it attracts 1.7 million visitors each year.

Bern is the Swiss federal capital city (Bundesstadt) and home to the Swiss parliament. It is also the capital of the German-speaking Canton of Bern. With a population of 137,919 (2013), Bern is either the fourth or fifth largest city in Switzerland, vying with Lausanne, which also claims the fourth spot. (French-speaking Lausanne had a population of 129,383 in 2011.) The original, old town part of Bern was built upon a hilly peninsula bounded by the Aar river. This scenic, largely medieval city center, with stunning views of the valley and river below, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The Federal Palace (Bundeshaus), built from 1857 to 1902, houses the national parliament, and is open to the public. Bern visitors can also tour the Einsteinhaus (Kramgasse 49), where Albert Einstein lived from 1903 to 1905, the year in which he published his groundbreaking work on relativity.

For more about Lausanne: WEB: (in English).

Next | Switzerland: Facts and Figures

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