Switzerland has an area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 square miles). The productive area - that is, the area without the lakes, rivers, unproductive vegetation and no vegetation at all - covers 30,753 square km (11,870 square miles).
Facts and figures
It measures 220 kilometers (137 miles) from north to south and 350 km (217 miles) from east to west.
The Jura, the Plateau and the Alps form the three main geographic regions of the country.
Area: 41285 km² (approx. 10'201'746 acres or 15'940 square miles)
Most northern dimension: Oberbargen (N 47° 48' 35")
Most eastern dimension: Piz Chavalatsch (E 10° 29' 36")
Most southern dimension: Chiasso (N 45° 49' 08")
Most western dimension: Chancy (E 5° 57' 24")
Highest elevation: Mount Monte Rosa ("Dufourspitze"), 4634 m.a.s (15200 feet)
Lowest elevation: Lake Maggiore ("Lago Maggiore"), 193 m.a.s (633 feet)
Time Zone: Central Europe (GMT +1 hour)
Switzerland is divided in three major geographical areas:
Middle land ("Mittelland"): 30%
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 starts in early spring and ends in late fall. Begin and end are synchronized with the countries of the European Union (EU).
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.
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.
There are more than 3000 km² of glaciers and firn in Switzerland. Most of the glaciers are decreasing.
Climate and seasons
The diversity of Switzerland is reflected in its climate, despite its small size. The Alps are an important factor here. They act as a barrier, so the weather in the north is often quite different from that in the south. It is noticeably milder in winter in the south than in the north.
There are also significant differences in the amount of rainfall.
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.
The seasons are clearly defined. In spring (March to May) the trees blossom and the meadows become green. In summer the temperature rises to 25-30 degrees (77-86 degrees Fahrenheit). In autumn (September to November) the fruits ripen, then the leaves turn brown and fall. In winter the snow changes the landscape.
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.
The three regions
The Swiss Plateau
The Plateau stretches from Lake Geneva in the south west to Lake Constance in the north east, with an average altitude of 580 m (1902 ft).
It covers about 30 percent of the country`s surface area, but is home to two thirds of the population. There are 450 people to every square kilometre (1,166 per square mile). Few regions in Europe are more densely populated.
Most of Switzerland's industry and farmland is concentrated in the Plateau.
The Jura, a limestone range stretching from Lake Geneva to the Rhine, makes up about 12 per cent of Switzerland’s surface area. Located on average 700 meters (2,300 feet) above sea level, it is a picturesque highland crossed by river valleys.
Numerous fossils and dinosaur tracks have been found in the Jura region, which has given its name to the Jurassic period. The rocks of the Jura were formed between 208 million and 144 million years ago. Jurassic period rocks are found in numerous places in the world, but it was in the Jura that they were first studied, at the end of the 18th century.
The Alps span some 200 kilometres (125 miles), at an average altitude of 1700 m (5576 ft), and cover nearly two thirds of Switzerland's total surface area. The snow line begins at 2,500 meters (8,200 feet). There are 48 mountains which are 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) or higher and about 1,800 glaciers.
The highest mountain in Switzerland is the Dufourspitze in Canton Valais, at 4634 m (15203 ft).
They provide a continental watershed, determining the climate and vegetation, But while they contribute enormously to the Swiss identity, economic activity is concentrated in the Plateau.
The valleys of several major rivers - the Rhone, Upper Rhine, Reuss and Ticino - divide the mountain ranges.
Tourism in the Alps
The Alps provide recreation and relaxation for the urban population. Mountain railways have been constructed, as well as sports centres, hotels and vacation homes.
60 percent of tourism is concentrated in the Alps and their foothills. This provides employment in the mountain regions, but also causes ecological problems. 75 percent of tourists arrive by private car.
Rivers and lakes
Switzerland has 6 per cent of Europe's stock of fresh water. The Rhine, Rhone and Inn all take their source here, although their waters flow into three seas: The Rhein with its tributaries Aare and Thur drain 67.7% of the water into the North Sea. The Rhone and the Ticino (after the Lago Maggiore called Po) drain 18% into the Mediterranean Sea. The Inn drains 4.4% into the Black Sea.
The Rhine Falls, a few kilometers downstream of Schaffhausen, are the largest in Europe. They are 150 m (450 ft) wide and 25 m (80 ft) high.
In addition, Switzerland has over 1,500 lakes. The two largest, Lakes Geneva and Constance, lie on the border. Lake Geneva is shared with France, and Lake Constance with Germany and Austria. Lake Geneva, which lies on the course of the Rhone, is the largest freshwater lake in central Europe.
The biggest lake which lies wholly within Switzerland is Lake Neuchâtel with an area of 218.4 square km (84.3 square miles). Probably the best known lake is Lake Lucerne in Central Switzerland (113.7 square km / 44 square miles).
There are also many dammed-up lakes, mainly to drive water turbines of power plants.