Swiss Flag
Home
Swiss Administration
Administration
Map of Switzerland
Cantons
A tone
Culture
CHF 5 coin
Economy
ETH Zuerich main building
Education
The Matterhorn
Geography
Wilhelm Tell
History
Statistical information
Statistics
Various Information
Various
Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ
Keyword Index
Index

 


Geography of Switzerland

Visit SWISSMADE.COM for Swiss made products, design, souvenirs and gifts

 

Swiss horizontal ruler

Switzerland is a small, landlocked country in the heart of Europe. It has a strategic location at the crossroads of central Europe with many easily traversable passes ("Passstrasse", short term "Pass").

Table of contents:

  1. Dimensions
  2. Time zone
  3. Mountains
  4. Passes ("Alpenpässe")
  5. Lakes
  6. Rivers
  7. Glaciers
  8. Climate
  9. Major highways
  10. Table of distances and estimated driving times

Hint: If you are not familiar with our metric unit system, see explanations about metric versus U.S. unit systems


1. Dimensions:

Basic facts:

Switzerland is divided in three major geographical areas:

To table of contents To table of contents

2. Time zone:

Switzerland is located in the Central European Time zone (CET), also known as Middle European Time zone (MET). It is one hour ahead of Greenwich Time (GMT+1).
Daylight saving time (one hour ahead of the standard time) starts in early spring and ends in late fall. Begin and end are synchronized with the countries of the European Union (EU).

To table of contents To table of contents

3. Mountains:

Switzerland hosts about 20% of the Alps. Approximately 100 peaks are close to or higher than 4000 meters (13125 feet) above sea level. Many mountain areas are developed, there are trains, cog railways, aerial cable cars and other means of transportation. Swiss mountains are famous for climbing, skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking and other recreational activities.

Some of the most famous mountains:

Name Canton(s) Elevation Latitude Longitude
Monte Rosa ("Dufourspitze") VS & Italy 4634 m N 45° 56.214' E 7° 52.007'
Dom (Mischabel) VS 4545 m N 46° 05.633' E 7° 51.532'
Weisshorn VS 4506 m N 46° 06.076' E 7° 42.963'
Matterhorn VS & Italy 4478 m N 45° 58.586' E 7° 39.516'
Dent-Blanche VS 4357 m N 46° 02.058' E 7° 36.719'
Grand-Combin VS 4314 m N 45° 56.256' E 7° 17.953'
Finsteraarhorn BE & VS 4274 m N 46° 32.238' E 8° 07.572'
Breithorn (Zermatt) VS & Italy 4164 m N 45° 56.451' E 7° 44.880'
Jungfrau BE & VS 4158 m N 46° 32.207' E 7° 57.753'
Mönch BE & VS 4107 m N 46° 33.510' E 7° 59.838'
Schreckhorn BE 4078 m N 46° 35.393' E 8° 07.089'
Piz Bernina GR 4049 m N 46° 22.941' E 9° 54.485'
Eiger BE 3970 m N 46° 34.652' E 8° 00.324'
Glarner Tödi GL & GR 3574 m N 46° 48.631' E 8° 55.314'
Piz Corvatsch GR 3451 m N 46° 24.501' E 9° 48.964'
Titlis BE & OW 3238 m N 46° 46.325' E 8° 26.265'
Gornergrat VS 3135 m N 45° 58.993' E 7° 47.094'
Chasseral BE 1607 m N 47° 07.980' E 7° 03.562'
Lägern AG & ZH 866 m N 47° 28.914' E 8° 23.625'
To table of contents To table of contents

4. Passes ("Alpenpässe):

Switzerland is famous for its alpine passes. Ever since people move around, these passes are important pathways between the northern and the southern part of Europe. Before you hit the road, check the local road conditions online.

Some of the most important passes:

Name From To Max. Elevation Length Max. grade Open
Umbrail Sta. Maria, Münstertal (GR) Bormio (Italy) 2501 m 33 km 12% Jun - Oct
Nufenen Ulrichen (VS) Airolo (TI) 2478 m 36 km 11% Jun - Oct
Grosser St. Bernhard
(Tunnel)
Martini (VS) Aosta (italy) 2469 m
(1924 m)
79 km
(5.8 km)
11% May - Oct
(all year)
Furka Gletsch (VS) Hospental (UR) 2431 m 28 km 11% May - Oct
Flüela Davos Dorf (GR) Susch (GR) 2383 m 26 km 12% Apr - Nov
Bernina Pontresina (GR) Poschiavo (GR) 2323 m 33 km 12% all year
Albula Bergün (GR) La Punt-Chamues-ch (GR) 2312 m 23 km 12% Jun - Oct
Julier Tiefencastel (GR) Silvaplana (GR) 2284 m 43 km 13% all year
Susten Innertkirchen (BE) Wassen (UR) 2224 m 46 km 9% May - Nov
Grimsel Innertkirchen (BE) Gletsch (VS) 2165 m 33 km 11% May - Oct
Ofenpass Zernez (GR) Sta. Maria, Münstertal (GR) 2149 m 36 km 12% all year
Splügen Splügen (GR) Chiavenna (Italy) 2113 m 39 km 13% May - Oct
St. Gotthard
(Tunnel)
Andermatt (UR) Airolo (TI) 2108 m
(1175 m)
27 km
(16.9 km)
11% May - Nov
(all year)
San Bernardino
(Tunnel)
Hinterrhein (GR) Soazza (GR) 2065 m
(1644 m)
32 km
(6.6 km)
12% Jun - Oct
(all year)
Oberalp Andermatt (UR) Disentis (GR) 2044 m 32 km 10% May - Oct
Simplon Brig (VS) Iselle (Italy) 2005 m 46 km 10% all year
Klausenpass Altdorf (UR) Linthal (GL) 1948 m 47 km 10% May - Oct
Lukmanier Disentis (GR) Acquarossa (TI) 1916 m 48 km 10% Apr - Oct¹
Maloja Chiavenna (Italy) Silvaplana (GR) 1815 m 43 km 11% all year
Col de la Croix Villars-sur-Ollon (VD) Les Diableres (VD) 1780 m 18 km 12% May - Nov
Lenzerheide Chur (GR) Tiefencastel (GR) 1549 m 28 km 11% all year
Col du Pillon Aigle (VD) Gstaad (BE) 1546 m 42 km 11% all year

¹ They try to keep the Lukmanier open all year, so check before making your final decision.

To table of contents To table of contents

5. Lakes:

Switzerland hosts many lakes, from the large Lake Geneva to hundreds of tiny little lakes in the mountains. There are also many dammed-up lakes, mainly to drive water turbines of power plants.

The largest lakes:

Name Canton(s) Size Average elevation
of the surface
Max. depth
Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) GE, VD, VS & France 584 km² 372 m 310 m
Bodensee SG, TG, Austria & Germany 539 km² 396 m 252 m
Neuenburgersee BE, FR, NE & VD 218 km² 429 m 153 m
Lago Maggiore TI & Italy 212 km² 193 m 372 m
Vierwaldstätter See LU, NW, OW, SZ & UR 114 km² 434 m 214 m
Zürichsee SG, SZ & ZH 88 km² 406 m 143 m
Luganersee TI & Italy 49 km² 270 m 288 m
Thunersee BE 48 km² 558 m 215 m
Bielersee BE, NE 40 km² 429 m 74 m
Zugersee LU, SZ & ZG 38 km² 414 m 97 m
Brienzersee BE 30 km² 564 m 260 m
Walensee GL & SG 24 km² 419 m 144 m
Murtensee FR & VD 23 km² 429 m 45 m
To table of contents To table of contents

6. Rivers:

The rivers of Switzerland lead to three different seas: The Rhein with its tributaries Aare and Thur drains 67.7% of the water into the North Sea. The Rhone and the Ticino (a tributary to the river Po in Italy) drain 18% into the Mediterranean Sea. The Inn (a tributary to the river Donau in Germany/Austria) drains 4.4% into the Black Sea.

The major rivers:

Name Length within
Switzerland
Drain area Source Ends in or leaves Switzerland in
Rhein 375 km 27963 km² Oberalp (Vorderrhein) &
San Bernardino (Hinterrhein)
Leaves in Basel
Aare 295 km 17779 km² Grimsel Flows into Rhein near Koblenz, AG
Rhone 264 km 6947 km² Grimsel Leaves in Geneva
Inn 104 km 1792 km² Maloja Leaves in Vinadi (Engadin), GR
Thur 125 km 1724 km² Toggenburg Flows into Rhein near Ellikon, ZH
Ticino 91 km 1616 km² Nufenen Flows into Lago Maggiore, TI and leaves the lake in Italy
To table of contents To table of contents

7. Glaciers:

There are more than 3000 km² of glaciers and firn in Switzerland. Most of the glaciers are decreasing.

The largest glaciers:

Name Canton Area Length
Aletschgletscher VS 118 km² 23.6 km
Gornergletscher VS 64 km² 14.5 km
Fiescher Gletscher VS 39 km² 14.7 km
Unteraargletscher BE 36 km² 13.9 km
Unterer Grindelwaldgletscher BE 27 km² 9.4 km
Corbassièregletscher VS 23 km² 10.9 km
Oberaletschgletscher VS 23 km² 10.4 km
Otemmagletscher VS 22 km² 10.3 km
Rhonegletscher VS 21 km² 9.1 km
To table of contents To table of contents

8. Climate:

From a climate point of view, Switzerland is located in a transition zone. In the west, there is a strong influence of the Atlantic ocean. Winds bring a lot of moisture into Switzerland and cause rainfall. In the east, there is an almost continental climate, with lower temperatures and less precipitation. On the other hand, the alps - which run from east to west - act as a climatic divide. South of the alps, there is an almost Mediterranean climate, with significantly higher temperatures but also a lot of precipitation.

Generally speaking, spring is wet and cool, April is well known for fast and often changing weather conditions. Summer is supposed to be warm and dry with maximum temperature up to 35°C (95°F). The temperature depends primarily on the elevation, the zero line (0°C or 32°F) may raise as high as 4000 meters above sea level (13125 feet). Fall is usually dry, but cool. The temperature will drop significantly in September or October, with the zero line around 2000 meter above sea level (6560 feet). Winter is supposed to be cold and dry. The temperature may drop below 0°C everywhere in Switzerland, especially at night. In the alps, they usually get a lot of snow, but even at lower elevations, there is a good chance that they will get a foot of snow every now and then.

See Climate in Switzerland for much more detailed information and links to weather forecast services.

To table of contents To table of contents

9. Major highways:

The map below shows the major highways in Switzerland and their names plus some major cities.

In Switzerland, names of towns are used for navigation on the roads, rather than highway numbers. Signs show the names of the major cities, road numbers are rarely seen. Signs on or for highways use white letters on green background. Signs for major roads use white letters on blue background, signs for local roads use black letters on white background.

Highways in Switzerland are often congested, particularly in summertime. Weekends are especially bad. The most busy highway is the highway A1 between Zürich and Bern, but also the Gotthard tunnel between Göschenen and Airolo is often very crowded. Cars may build up for as long as 20 km and it needs a lot of patience to get to the other side of the Alps. An alternative is to use the San Bernardino pass but congestions are there very likely too.

In order to use the highways in Switzerland, a toll has to be paid. But there are no toll booth, instead a special sticker - known as "Autobahn Vignette" - is required. The sticker is valid for one calendar year (actually from beginning of December of the previous year until end of January of the following year = 14 months), there is nothing like a one day or one week pass. It costs CHF 40.00 and is available at customs at the borders and at all gas stations and post offices throughout the country. The sticker must be fixed to the windshield on cars and trucks, there are particular rules for where it has to be placed on motorbikes and trailers.

The best choice is the avoid cars at all and use public transportation instead. Trains and busses are available everywhere and on the larger lakes, taking a boat may be a very enjoyable alternative. The "Schweizerische Bundesbahnen" (SBB) - the Swiss Federal Railroad - has a nice website with an on-line time table where you can also purchase tickets and print them on your own printer.

Before you hit the road, check the local road conditions online.

Map of Switzerland

There is an interactive map of Switzerland available at map.search.ch.

To table of contents To table of contents

10. Distances and estimated driving times between major cities:

Distances are measured in kilometers, driving times in hours and minutes (hh:mm). Routes are supposed to be the fastest possible but not necessarily the shortest path. Highways in Switzerland are often under construction and traffic jams occur frequently. During winter seasons, many roads in the mountains are closed and in higher elevations, winter tires or chains may be enforced by law.

Before you hit the road, check the local road conditions online.

Distance Altenrhein¹ Basel Bern Chiasso² Chur Geneva Lausanne Lugano Luzern Sion St. Gallen Zürich Distance
Driving time Driving time
Altenrhein¹ Swiss Flag 185 km 225 km 260 km 90 km 390 km 325 km 235 km 160 km 375 km 25 km 105 km Altenrhein¹
2:00 2:15 2:45 1:00 3:45 3:00 2:30 1:45 3:30 0:15 1:00
Basel 185 km Swiss Flag 100 km 285 km 205 km 260 km 200 km 260 km 95 km 250 km 170 km 85 km Basel
2:00 1:00 3:00 2:15 2:30 2:00 2:45 1:00 2:30 1:45 1:00
Bern 225 km 100 km Swiss Flag 300 km 245 km 170 km 105 km 275 km 110 km 155 km 210 km 125 km Bern
2:15 1:00 3:00 2:30 1:45 1:00 2:45 1:15 1:30 2:00 1:15
Chiasso² 260 km 285 km 300 km Swiss Flag 175 km 460 km 400 km 25 km 190 km 280 km 275 km 230 km Chiasso²
2:45 3:00 3:00 2:00 4:30 4:00 0:20 2:00 4:00 3:00 2:30
Chur 90 km 205 km 245 km 175 km Swiss Flag 405 km 345 km 150 km 145 km 395 km 105 km 120 km Chur
1:00 2:15 2:30 2:00 4:00 3:30 1:45 1:30 3:45 1:15 1:15
Geneva 390 km 260 km 170 km 460 km 405 km Swiss Flag 65 km 440 km 275 km 160 km 370 km 290 km Geneva
3:45 2:30 1:45 4:30 4:00 0:45 4:15 3:45 1:45 3:30 2:45
Lausanne 325 km 200 km 105 km 400 km 345 km 65 km Swiss Flag 375 km 210 km 100 km 310 km 225 km Lausanne
3:00 2:00 1:00 4:00 3:30 0:45 3:45 2:00 1:00 3:00 2:15
Lugano 235 km 260 km 275 km 25 km 150 km 440 km 375 km Swiss Flag 170 km 255 km 250 km 210 km Lugano
2:30 2:45 2:45 0:20 1:45 4:15 3:45 1:45 3:45 2:45 2:15
Luzern 160 km 95 km 110 km 190 km 145 km 275 km 210 km 170 km Swiss Flag 175 km 140 km 60 km Luzern
1:45 1:00 1:15 2:00 1:30 3:45 2:00 1:45 2:30 1:30 0:45
Sion 375 km 250 km 155 km 280 km 395 km 160 km 100 km 255 km 175 km Swiss Flag 360 km 275 km Sion
3:30 2:30 1:30 4:00 3:45 1:45 1:00 3:45 2:30 3:30 2:45
St. Gallen 25 km 170 km 210 km 275 km 105 km 370 km 310 km 250 km 140 km 360 km Swiss Flag 85 km St. Gallen
0:15 1:45 2:00 3:00 1:15 3:30 3:00 2:45 1:30 3:30 1:00
Zürich 105 km 85 km 125 km 230 km 120 km 290 km 225 km 210 km 60 km 275 km 85 km Swiss Flag Zürich
1:00 1:00 1:15 2:30 1:15 2:45 2:15 2:15 0:45 2:45 1:00
Distance Altenrhein¹ Basel Bern Chiasso² Chur Geneva Lausanne Lugano Luzern Sion St. Gallen Zürich Distance
Driving time Driving time
  1. Border to Austria (and Germany) in the very north east of Switzerland at the Bodensee
  2. Border to Italy in the very south of Switzerland

Hint: If you are not familiar with our metric unit system, see explanations about metric versus U.S. unit systems.

To table of contents To table of contents
Swiss horizontal ruler

Home | Administration | Cantons | Culture | Economy | Education | Geography | History | Statistics | Various | FAQ | Index | Search