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The 26 Swiss Cantons (23 full and 3 half cantons) are fully sovereign territories with their own constitution; they have their own parliament and considerable liberty in legislation and body of law.
Education, health care, welfare and taxation is up to the cantons and they determine the degree of autonomy of each municipality. Each canton of Switzerland has a two-letter abbreviation that you can see on license plates, ISO codes, phone books and more. As you can see below, I placed them next to the name of each Canton.
This page though is not about a history lesson; it's all about where you find what when you visit Switzerland. Hopefully this information will help you plan your trip.
I packed a few Swiss Cantons into regions - not exactly into the official regions but the ones I think could be easily explored at the same time.
I didn't promise to be unbiased, did I? You will understand my love affair with Graubünden once you've visited. It's the fictional home of Heidi, the real one of yours truly, the Rhine river, and the Ibex. Three of our official languages are spoken in this Canton and it is Switzerland's largest and most diverse holiday region.
No matter if you are a mountain enthusiast or a wellness seeker, a daredevil skier, snow boarder, a golfer, biker, hiker or horseback rider - you are hard pressed not to find what you are looking for.
Two of the most famous and scenic trail journeys through the Albula/Bernina landscape (a UNESCO Heritage site) start here, the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express. Graubünden is famous for its alpine architecture, magical and history filled valleys full of fortresses and century old traditions that have been kept alive. It could very well be that you meet one of our elemental spirits while wandering around in the Rhaetian Alps.
Chur, our capital and Switzerland's oldest city, lies at the crossroads of ancient trade routes. It is intimate small but a treasure trove for history buffs.
The Engadin valley with the glitzy resort St. Moritz in the Upper Engadin and the wellness resort of Scuol, the fairytale village Guarda and Ardez with it many scraffitoed houses in the Lower Engadin, is flanked by mountains on both sides. Nowhere is the air as clear and crisp, the sky as blue and the larches as yellow as in the Engadin in the fall.
And then there's the Bregaglia Valley, bordering the Upper Engadin - an off the beaten path gem between Maloja and Castasegna. The mountain village Soglio was chosen as Swityerland's most beautiful village in 2015. The "Palm Express", an extremly scenic postal bus journey, links St. Moritz and the Bregaglia Valley with Lugano in the Canton Ticino.Return to Top Swiss Cantons Index
From the lush and velvety meadows of Appenzell to the rugged Churfirsten that tower high above the Walensee - Eastern Switzerland offers an incredible variation of panoramic views and cultural diversity.
The University town of St.Gallen dates back to 612 A.D and is a UNSECO World Heritage site. The famous Abbey Library attracts scholars from all around the world. From here, you have easy access to the storybook idyll of Appenzell with its colourful traditions and the intensely green landscape that easily could compete with Ireland's famous green scenery.
Music is in the air between Alt St. Johann and Wildhaus in the Toggenburg with its "Tone Trail" where the "Klang Festival" brings traditional instruments like Alphorn, Yodel, Cowbells and "Alpsegen" in a very unusual way to life in combination with Music sounds from around the World.
Lake Constance borders Germany and Austria and is cradled by farmland and orchards, ideal for relaxing, hiking, sailing, surfing and canoeing. At the west end of Lake Constance, where the lake becomes the Rhine again, you find the charming city of Stein am Rhein. Further down, just a short walk from the medieval city of Schaffhausen, the mighty Rhine Fall rages over craggy cliffs.
Liechtenstein shares borders and currency with Switzerland. The Princes Castle sits high above the small capital of Vaduz. You find plenty of activities, from themed trails to winter sports. Malbun, still a well-kept secret, is a preferred winter destination for families.Return to Top of Cantons index
Zürich is the city of festivals and parades, entertainment and culture. When I hear people talking about Zürich, they have first and foremost the city of shopping, lifestyle and design in mind. But the sparkly city that sits like a crystal at the end of the lake, imbedded in nature's glory, has way more to offer than that.
Surprisingly you are never far from nature. There's even a Wilderness Park right at the doorstep. Climb up the "house mountain" Uetliberg (or take the train and walk down) and enjoy the sweeping view over the city and its surroundings. There are nature trails galore, and nearby villages are easily discovered on the bike.
Zürich is ideal as a base to explore nearby cities by train: culture filled Winterthur, St. Gallen, Lucerne, Bern, Basel and the Wellness city of Baden, all are just a train ride away.
I 'attached' Glarus here because it is easily reachable from Zürich (on the way to Graubünden!). Glarus, wedged between steep cliffs and mountain ranges - the Tödi being the highest mountain with 3614m (11'857ft) - is famous for its distinct craggy rock formations in the "Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona". Mountain climbers feel right at home here.Return to Top of Cantons index
Do you have a passion for baroque? Solothurn might just be what you are looking for. Their "house-mountain", Weissenstein, offers excellent views over the Mittelland and if weather permits you can see as as far as the Mont Blanc. Explore Aarau, Lenzburg Olten and Hallwyl with its many castles and Zofingen, one of the most charming little historic towns. Brugg has the best-preserved amphitheater in Switzerland, the Vindonissa Museum. Mineral rich water bubbles out of the ground in Baden, which is known to bring relieve to many ailments.
And last but not least: Basel! I think region and town deserve way more attention, and not just because it is an Art Mecca or hosts Switzerland's largest and most colourful carnival. The Rhine city of Basel borders to Germany and France and is one of the most interesting cities to discover! Just a bit outside of Basel, you find remains of the Roman town of Augusta Raurica.Return to Top of Cantons index
Central Switzerland in the heart of the country is the birthplace of the Swiss confederation. The "Ur-Cantons", the first three communities Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (now Nid- and Obwalden) fought for freedom here and founded the Swiss Confederation in 1291 on the Rütli meadow.
Lucerne is the largest city - the city of light, bridges, palaces and churches sits pretty at the shores of Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee), sandwiched between the Alps and the Swiss Plateau.
The scenery of Central Switzerland is breathtaking to say the least and ideal for all summer and winter activities. Lakes, mountains, legendary railways and cable cars that lead up to some of the most beautiful viewpoints in the country. For example Rigi, "Queen of the Mountains", Titlis, and Pilatus which is reached via the world's steepest cog railway - just to name two.
Don't forget to stop in Zug on your way from or to Zürich. Enjoy their famous sunset over Lake Zug while sampling their local delicacies like Zuger Felchen (fish) and a decadent desert of Zuger Kirschtorte drenched in, well Kirsch, the locally produced cherry liquor.Return to Top of Cantons index
The historic city and capital of Switzerland, Berne, is easy to discover on foot. Stroll and shop "unter den Lauben", Europe's longest covered shopping arcade. Don't miss the "view from above" - climb the 222 steps up the tower of the Gothic Münster Cathedral and enjoy a marvellous view over Bern's unique roof tops to the eternally snow-covered peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
Biel/Bienne, Bern's second largest city, on the banks of Lac de Bienne, is still the capital of watch making.
Deep blue lakes, raging waterfalls, a mosaic of traditional villages and modern cities, are all enveloped in a wreath of mountains topped with eternal snow.
The Bernese Oberland offers alpine bliss year round. Here, the mountains are the celebrities despite the hordes of human celebrities that make Gstaad their second home.
You find alpine luxury and the pleasures of a simple life next to each other. From the calming landscape of the Emmental to the glory of the Bernese Alps and the "Top of Europe", the Jungrfraujoch, the views can only be described as sublime.Return to Top of Cantons index
The most idyllic part of the "Swiss Alpenpanorma" route leads straight through this ever changing and charming landscape, along deep ravines, through the Pre-Alps and picturesque villages.
Take a walk through the medieval arty capital of Fribourg/Freiburg and enjoy a local wine under the ancient arcades of Murten (another well kept secret!) on the shores of Lake Biel/Bienne.
Who hasn't heard of cheese Fondue, and the real one - so the claim - can only be made with the hearty Gruyère that shares the name with the picture-perfect hilltop town of Gryères. This is cheese and chocolate country and who can resist that?Return to Top of Cantons index
Neuchâtel and Jura (including Biel/Bienne) are still the watch making centres.
Lake Neuchâtel is the largest lake entirely on Swiss soil. It's just a hence race away from two other beautiful lakes: Lac de Bienne in the Canton Bern and Lake Murten in the Canton Fribourg.
Enjoy wine, food and a laid back atmosphere in the heart of the Three-Lakes Region close to the unspoilt nature paradise along the river Doubs, where you find St.Ursanne, a historic and walled town with a medieval monastery. Paddle, bike and hike along this natural border with France.
La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, two charming cities, were awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status.
Each September, the "Fête de Vendanges" (Wine festival) celebrates the regions excellent wine.Return to Top of Cantons index
Now there's variety. The Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) Region is blessed with sun and early spring, which makes it Switzerland's best-known wine growing region, though not the largest one. Stone terraced vineyards, elegant cities, a beautiful lake with a dramatic backdrop of mountains make this region picture perfect.
Geneva, Switzerland's most multi-cultural city; the small but elegant town of Nyon; Lausanne, the queen of Swiss cities and Montreux with its elegant palm lined promenades and the eye catching Château de Chillon - that's "Savoire vivre à la Suisse" (yes, yes, we can)!
Stroll or roller blade along lake promenades, enjoy the thrills of a glacier roller coaster ride, bike through the beautiful marshland and lakeside forests and you will make memories for a lifetime.Return to Top of Cantons index
The canton of Valais/Wallis boost 47 mountain peaks (or are there 50?) higher than 4,000 metres. The Dufour Spitze - part of the Monte Rosa massif that is half on Italian soil - is the largest peak with 4,634m (15,203ft). Valais is the ultimate destination for mountain fans. Who hasn't heard of Zermatt and the Matterhorn, apparently the most photographed mountain in the world? Or the Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt - a hike that many have on their bucket list but only few accomplish.
Valais is home to the Aletsch glacier, the Alps largest glacier, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. And there's the World's tallest gravity dam, the Barrage de la Grande Dixence at the very back Val d'Hérémence.
From Zermatt, Saas Fee to Val d'Anniviers and the spectacular Les 4 vallées (Verbier), to the ultimate mountain biking destination Crans-Montana and Nendaz, the capital of the Alphorn - skiing the sun drenched slopes is at its best in this canton (There, I admit it;).
Leukerbad, the highest and largest spa resort in Europe, has mineral rich hot springs. Its therapeutic properties are renowned.
The mountainous canton of Valais is even the biggest wine-producing canton and local specialities range from saffron, apricots and air dried meat and Raclette.Return to Top of Cantons index
Last but not least, the sunny side of Switzerland is a geological treasure chest. Walkers on the hiking trail around the Monte San Giorgio, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, can learn all about flora, fauna and the geological formations of this exceptional mountain.
The southern most corner of Switzerland with its Italian "Dolce Vita" flair is a magnet for all. Secretly, we Swiss German's are jealous of their way of life - they are a little less conservative, a little looser, and a little more fun. We are all on the search of a small corner in the Ticino, a little stone "Grotto" to call our own. And if we can't find (or afford) one, at least we want to spend a few carefree days each year in the lush Mediterranean climate.
It's probably the most contrasting region in Switzerland. Here you find Europe's steepest funicular in the Leventina, the dramatic eroded riverbed of the Verzasca, romantic islands in sparkly deep blue lakes, stone cottages as old as human history and Switzerland's mildest climate - even olive trees grow here. In one word - it's an otherworldly paradise.
Swiss Cantons Coat of Arms via Wikipedia
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