Switzerland in a nutshell
Switzerland is a small, landlocked country in the heart of Europe. It is wealthy, densely populated and well-known for its mountains, chocolate, cheese and watches. Swiss society is complex and organised. Although citizens don't share one linguistic or ethnic identity they are linked by a common historic background and federal system of direct democracy.
The Swiss World website is a good place to start familiarising with the basics of the country, its history and its resources.
Swiss facts and figures
- Surrounding countries: Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein
- Confederation founded: 1291
- Surface area: 41,285 km² (as compared to France, which has a surface area of 640,000 km2)
- Cantons: 26
- Capital city: Bern
- Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)
- Population: 8 million
- Average percentage of foreigners: 23.3 %
- Cities with the highest percentages of foreigners: Geneva 39.4%; Basel Stadt 33.1%
- Average population density: 198.9/km²
- Highest population density: Basel Stadt 5033.9/km²; Geneva 1873.5/km²; Zurich 838.3/km²
- 74% of the Swiss population lives in urban areas and half of this number live in the 5 largest cities
- GDP 2012: CHF 592 Billion
- Unemployment rate: 3.2 % (2013)
- Average life expectancy: women: 84; men: 80
Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office
Languages in Switzerland
Switzerland has four national languages, German, French, Italian and Romansh. Almost two-thirds of the population speak Swiss-German, a regionally spoken Alemannic dialect. High German is the written language and the medium of instruction in schools. Around 22.6% of the population speak French, and 8.34% Italian. Only 0.5% speak Romansh. Other spoken languages include Serbo-Croatian, Albanian, Portuguese, Spanish, English and Turkish.
Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office
Bern general information
Bern consistently ranks amongst the top cities to live worldwide for quality of life and safety. It is Switzerland's capital and is the fifth largest city in the country with about 125'000 inhabitants. German is the official language. Despite its status as the Federal Assembly meeting place where national political decisions are taken, the pace of life is slower in Bern. Bernese people are regarded as relaxed and easy-going.
Bern's beautifully well-preserved old town is easy to explore and has been named a Unesco World Heritage Site. The renovated bear park, house of parliament, clock tower (Zytglogge) and cathedral of Bern are classic tourist attractions in the city. Temperatures can reach over 35 °C in summer and average -1 °C in January. Nature lovers will enjoy a summer swim in the turquoise Aare River that encircles the town or a visit to the Gurten, Bern's small local mountain accessible by funicular. The Gurten also hosts an annual music festival in July.
Bern airport is located in Belp and offers connecting flights throughout Europe. Five airlines, Sky Work, Eurolot, Helvetic Airways, Darwin Airline and InterSky operate from the airport. Many families enjoy the convenience of flying out of Bern-Belp to a holiday destination in the south, to locations such as Mallorca, Sicily or one of the Greek Islands.
Biel-Bienne general information
Biel-Bienne has a population of about 51'000 inhabitants and is situated about 26 km north-west of Bern. It is easily accessible by train or car. Biel-Bienne is bilingual German and French and is the only Swiss city where official documents must be available in both languages.
Biel-Bienne is central to the Swiss watch-making industry. Rolex and the Swatch Group both have factories or headquarters located there. The historic old town has a gothic church that was built in the 15th century and many enchanting restaurants and shops. The city is an ideal starting point for trips to the Jura region. The lake offers several boat cruises. The nearby vineyards offer walks and cellar visits. In January and February the traditional Treberwurst, a pork sausage cooked in the hot steam of a distillation tank, is made in winemakers' cellars.
Photo: Bern Economic Development Agency