With snow-capped Alps, forested hills, fairytale castles, Renaissance cathedrals, shimmering lakes, stylish spas and luxury ski resorts - it's easy to see why Switzerland has been one of the world's top tourist destinations for the past two centuries.
It is the country that fashioned tourism, so it's no surprise that Switzerland caters to visitors all year round. In spring and summer it offers lakeside chalets, mountain trails and spa resorts. In the sunny southern region of Ticino, near the Italian border, visitors will find palm-fringed Riviera-style resorts offering a host of water sports. Those keen and mountaineering will find over 31,000 miles (50,000 Km) of mountain and forest trails throughout the country.
Full country name: Swiss Confederation
Area: 41,295 sq km (16,105 sq mi)
Population: 7.3 million
Capitals: Bern (pop 130,000)
People: 74% German, 20% French, 4% Italian & 1% Romansch
Languages: German, French, Italian & Romansch
Religion: 49% Roman Catholic & 48% Protestant
Government: Federal republic
President: Kaspar Villiger
GDP per person: sfr54, 000
GDP: €449 billion
Area: 41,285 sq Km
Unemployment rate: 3,7%
GDP growth: 2,6%
Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the USA do not require a visa. A maximum stay of three months applies though passports are rarely stamped
Health risks: Altitude sickness, hypothermia & sunburn
Time: GMT/UTC plus one hour
Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go
Summer lasts roughly from June to September and offers the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits (apart from exclusively winter sports). In fact, many adventure sports, such as canyoning, are only offered during this time. The peak period is July and August, when prices are high, accommodation often fully booked and the sights packed. You'll find better deals, and fewer people, in the shoulder seasons either side of summer: in April, May and October.
With the exception of the busy Easter break, spring is a beautiful time of year to explore the blooming countryside. In Ticino, flowers are in bloom as early as March. Hikers wanting to walk at high altitudes, however, should be equipped for snow and ice until well into June (and, in some tricky spots, all year).
The winter season in Alpine resorts kicks off in mid-December and moves into full swing around Christmas, closing down again when the snows begin to melt around mid-April. Between the summer and winter seasons, Alpine resorts all but close down (except where year-round glacier skiing is on offer). At the very best, they go into snooze mode and can even be a little depressing.
At any time, as you travel around the country you'll hit many different climatic conditions. The continental climate in the Alps tends to show the greatest extremes between summer and winter. Mid-August to late October generally has fairly settled weather, and is a good period for hiking trips.
In November the country's ski resorts begin opening, and visitors pour in throughout the Christmas season and until the snow begins to melt with the onset of spring. With the highest pistes in Europe, Switzerland's ski runs offer reliable snow and breathtaking views.
Most resorts also have plenty to do for those not so keen on skiing, making Switzerland the perfect destination for a winter fantasy of log fires, fondues and glistening snow.
Attractions - Zürich
While browsing in the elegant boutiques along Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most beautiful shopping areas in Europe, you'll notice that the streets may not be paved with gold, but you can be certain that a couple of meters below, unimaginable treasures are lying in underground vaults.
Zurich is the world's banking capital, but as well as being a city of fat cats parading in pin-stripes, glued to their mobile phones and swinging patent leather briefcases, you'll also discover that this is the city that gave birth to the avant-garde Dadaist movement, and where James
Joyce wrote Ulysses. The city's Museum of Fine Arts houses one of Europe's most extensive collections from 15th century religious iconography to the modern art works of Dali, Arp, Hockney, Cezanne, Monet, Gaugin, Munch and Picasso.
Visitors can spend days exploring Zurich's cobbled streets, wandering through its museums, exploring its flea markets or walking away with free gifts from its chocolate factories. The quays, with their promenades, are made for walking, especially along the shores of the lake. With an active café culture, it's ideal for people-watching, and Zurich has a lively, multi-ethnic population to rival any other major European city. The exacting order of the Swiss, with their passion for neatness and precision may create an impression of rather a prim and staid society, but visitors will discover quite the opposite when exploring Zurich's nightlife. With more bars, clubs and restaurants than you can shake a stick at, as well as a calendar packed full of street parades and festivals, Zurich can exhaust even the most energetic party animal.