Outside perceptions of Switzerland are replete with clichés and stereotypes, from clocks to chocolate and alphorns to Heidi. Here’s what you might not know.

Say “Switzerland” and a host of images come to mind: mountains, watches, chocolate, banks. There is something in all of these, though they tend to obscure the complex reality of Switzerland today. 

Think you know all about Switzerland? Read on for an assortment of facts that goes beyond the clichés. In addition, visit the Federal Statistical Office for a wealth of information.

Random facts

  • Switzerland is bordered by five countries: Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein.
  • Switzerland stretches 350km from east to west, and 220km north to south.
  • The highest mountain in Switzerland is the Dufourspitze in canton Valais, which rises to 4,634m.
  • Switzerland has three main topographical zones: the mountainous alpine region (60%), the central plateau (30%), and the Jura mountains (10%).
  • Life expectancy has almost doubled for the Swiss since 1900. A man born today can expect to live 81 years, while a woman's life expectancy is now 85.2 years.
  • Switzerland has the highest percentage (0.01%) of people over the age of 100 in Europe.
  • The biggest Swiss private corporation is Nestlé. Set up by a German political refugee in 1866, it is now the biggest food company in the world. But most Swiss businesses are small or medium sized: more than 99% of enterprises have fewer than 250 full-time workers, but employ about two-thirds of the total work force.
  • Switzerland is traditionally a Christian country, both Catholic and Protestant, and the Federal Constitution still begins by invoking the name of God.
  • The Swiss national hero William Tell may never have existed, but like Robin Hood, he may have some basis in fact.
  • One of the most influential philosophers of the 18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was a citizen of Geneva.
  • The Helvetii, a Celtic tribe who battled Julius Caesar, gave their name to the Swiss territory. The Latin name for the country, Helvetia, still appears on Swiss stamps. The letters CH appearing on Swiss cars and in internet addresses stand for the Latin words Confoederatio Helvetica, meaning Swiss Confederation.
  • Helvetica is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in Switzerland in 1957.
  • Swiss women only got the vote at national level in 1971. In canton Appenzell Inner Rhodes they had to wait until 1990 before they could vote in cantonal elections.