Geography of Switzerland

Switzerland is a small, landlocked country in the heart of Europe. It has a strategic location at the crossroads of central Europe with many easily traversable passes (“Pass Strasse”, short term “Pass”).



Basic facts:

  • Area: 41285 km² (approx. 10’201’746 acres or 15’940 square miles)
  • Boundary: 1858 km (1150 miles)
    • Germany: 346 km (215 miles)
    • France: 572 km (355 miles)
    • Italy: 734 km (456 miles)
    • Austria: 165 km (103 miles)
    • Liechtenstein: 41 km (25 miles)
  • Largest extension north – south: 220 km (137 miles)
  • Largest extension west – east: 348 km (216 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:

  • Alps (“Alpen”): 60%
  • Middle land (“Mitte land”): 30%
  • Jura: 10%

Time zone:

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 (one hour ahead of the standard 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.

Some of the most famous mountains:

Monte Rosa (“Dufourspitze”)VS & Italy4634 mN 45° 56.214′E 7° 52.007′
Dom (Mischabel)VS4545 mN 46° 05.633′E 7° 51.532′
WeisshornVS4506 mN 46° 06.076′E 7° 42.963′
MatterhornVS & Italy4478 mN 45° 58.586′E 7° 39.516′
Dent-BlancheVS4357 mN 46° 02.058′E 7° 36.719′
Grand-CombinVS4314 mN 45° 56.256′E 7° 17.953′
FinsteraarhornBE & VS4274 mN 46° 32.238′E 8° 07.572′
Breithorn (Zermatt)VS & Italy4164 mN 45° 56.451′E 7° 44.880′
JungfrauBE & VS4158 mN 46° 32.207′E 7° 57.753′
MönchBE & VS4107 mN 46° 33.510′E 7° 59.838′
SchreckhornBE4078 mN 46° 35.393′E 8° 07.089′
Piz BerninaGR4049 mN 46° 22.941′E 9° 54.485′
EigerBE3970 mN 46° 34.652′E 8° 00.324′
Glarner TödiGL & GR3574 mN 46° 48.631′E 8° 55.314′
Piz CorvatschGR3451 mN 46° 24.501′E 9° 48.964′
TitlisBE & OW3238 mN 46° 46.325′E 8° 26.265′
GornergratVS3135 mN 45° 58.993′E 7° 47.094′
ChasseralBE1607 mN 47° 07.980′E 7° 03.562′
LägernAG & ZH866 mN 47° 28.914′E 8° 23.625′

Passes (“Alpenpässe):

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.

Some of the most important passes:

NameFromToMax. ElevationLengthMax. gradeOpen
UmbrailSta. Maria, Münstertal (GR)Bormio (Italy)2501 m33 km12%Jun – Oct
NufenenUlrichen (VS)Airolo (TI)2478 m36 km11%Jun – Oct
Grosser St. Bernhard
Martini (VS)Aosta (italy)2469 m
(1924 m)
79 km
(5.8 km)
11%May – Oct
(all year)
FurkaGletsch (VS)Hospental (UR)2431 m28 km11%May – Oct
FlüelaDavos Dorf (GR)Susch (GR)2383 m26 km12%Apr – Nov
BerninaPontresina (GR)Poschiavo (GR)2323 m33 km12%all year
AlbulaBergün (GR)La Punt-Chamues-ch (GR)2312 m23 km12%Jun – Oct
JulierTiefencastel (GR)Silvaplana (GR)2284 m43 km13%all year
SustenInnertkirchen (BE)Wassen (UR)2224 m46 km9%May – Nov
GrimselInnertkirchen (BE)Gletsch (VS)2165 m33 km11%May – Oct
OfenpassZernez (GR)Sta. Maria, Münstertal (GR)2149 m36 km12%all year
SplügenSplügen (GR)Chiavenna (Italy)2113 m39 km13%May – Oct
St. Gotthard
Andermatt (UR)Airolo (TI)2108 m
(1175 m)
27 km
(16.9 km)
11%May – Nov
(all year)
San Bernardino
Hinterrhein (GR)Soazza (GR)2065 m
(1644 m)
32 km
(6.6 km)
12%Jun – Oct
(all year)
OberalpAndermatt (UR)Disentis (GR)2044 m32 km10%May – Oct
SimplonBrig (VS)Iselle (Italy)2005 m46 km10%all year
KlausenpassAltdorf (UR)Linthal (GL)1948 m47 km10%May – Oct
LukmanierDisentis (GR)Acquarossa (TI)1916 m48 km10%Apr – Oct¹
MalojaChiavenna (Italy)Silvaplana (GR)1815 m43 km11%all year
Col de la CroixVillars-sur-Ollon (VD)Les Diableres (VD)1780 m18 km12%May – Nov
LenzerheideChur (GR)Tiefencastel (GR)1549 m28 km11%all year
Col du PillonAigle (VD)Gstaad (BE)1546 m42 km11%all year


Switzerland hosts many lakes, from the large Lake Geneva to hundreds of tiny little lakes in the mountains. There are also many dammed-up lakes, mainly to drive water turbines of power plants.

The largest lakes:

NameCanton(s)SizeAverage elevation
of the surface
Max. depth
Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)GE, VD, VS & France584 km²372 m310 m
BodenseeSG, TG, Austria & Germany539 km²396 m252 m
NeuenburgerseeBE, FR, NE & VD218 km²429 m153 m
Lago MaggioreTI & Italy212 km²193 m372 m
Vierwaldstätter SeeLU, NW, OW, SZ & UR114 km²434 m214 m
ZürichseeSG, SZ & ZH88 km²406 m143 m
LuganerseeTI & Italy49 km²270 m288 m
ThunerseeBE48 km²558 m215 m
BielerseeBE, NE40 km²429 m74 m
ZugerseeLU, SZ & ZG38 km²414 m97 m
BrienzerseeBE30 km²564 m260 m
WalenseeGL & SG24 km²419 m144 m
MurtenseeFR & VD23 km²429 m45 m


The rivers of Switzerland lead to three different seas: The Rhein with its tributaries Aare and Thur drains 67.7% of the water into the North Sea. The Rhone and the Ticino (a tributary to the river Po in Italy) drain 18% into the Mediterranean Sea. The Inn (a tributary to the river Donau in Germany/Austria) drains 4.4% into the Black Sea.

The major rivers:

NameLength within
Drain areaSourceEnds in or leaves Switzerland in
Rhein375 km27963 km²Oberalp (Vorderrhein) &
San Bernardino (Hinterrhein)
Leaves in Basel
Aare295 km17779 km²GrimselFlows into Rhein near Koblenz, AG
Rhone264 km6947 km²GrimselLeaves in Geneva
Inn104 km1792 km²MalojaLeaves in Vinadi (Engadin), GR
Thur125 km1724 km²ToggenburgFlows into Rhein near Ellikon, ZH
Ticino91 km1616 km²NufenenFlows into Lago Maggiore, TI and leaves the lake in Italy


There are more than 3000 km² of glaciers and firn in Switzerland. Most of the glaciers are decreasing.

The largest glaciers:

AletschgletscherVS118 km²23.6 km
GornergletscherVS64 km²14.5 km
Fiescher GletscherVS39 km²14.7 km
UnteraargletscherBE36 km²13.9 km
Unterer GrindelwaldgletscherBE27 km²9.4 km
CorbassièregletscherVS23 km²10.9 km
OberaletschgletscherVS23 km²10.4 km
OtemmagletscherVS22 km²10.3 km
RhonegletscherVS21 km²9.1 km


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.

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.

Major highways:

The map below shows the major highways in Switzerland and their names plus some major cities.

In Switzerland, names of towns are used for navigation on the roads, rather than highway numbers. Signs show the names of the major cities, road numbers are rarely seen. Signs on or for highways use white letters on green background. Signs for major roads use white letters on blue background, signs for local roads use black letters on white background.

Highways in Switzerland are often congested, particularly in summertime. Weekends are especially bad. The most busy highway is the highway A1 between Zürich and Bern, but also the Gotthard tunnel between Göschenen and Airolo is often very crowded. Cars may build up for as long as 20 km and it needs a lot of patience to get to the other side of the Alps. An alternative is to use the San Bernardino pass but congestions are there very likely too.

In order to use the highways in Switzerland, a toll has to be paid. But there are no toll booth, instead a special sticker – known as “Autobahn Vignette” – is required. The sticker is valid for one calendar year (actually from beginning of December of the previous year until end of January of the following year = 14 months), there is nothing like a one day or one week pass. It costs CHF 40.00 and is available at customs at the borders and at all gas stations and post offices throughout the country. The sticker must be fixed to the windshield on cars and trucks, there are particular rules for where it has to be placed on motorbikes and trailers.

The best choice is the avoid cars at all and use public transportation instead. Trains and busses are available everywhere and on the larger lakes, taking a boat may be a very enjoyable alternative. The “Schweizerische Bundesbahnen” (SBB) – the Swiss Federal Railroad – has a nice website with an on-line time table where you can also purchase tickets and print them on your own printer.

Geography of Switzerland

There is an interactive map of Switzerland available at

Switzerland Diary

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