Six maps that help you understand Switzerland today

Six maps that help you understand Switzerland today
Photo: Depositphotos
Small in size, Switzerland is big on diversity.

Indeed, while its reputation as a neutral country might suggest the Confoederatio Helvetica is homogenous, its federal structure and regional variations can mean it has more in common with the United States than its European neighbours. 

And while you’d have to live in Switzerland to truly get a feel for it, some Swiss residents who have lived there for years still feel a little foreign when stepping outside their home canton. 

See more: Seven diverse maps that explain Berlin

So whether you’re thinking of making a trip to Switzerland, or if you’ve lived there for as long as you remember, these maps can help you make a little sense of the country. 


First things first, Switzerland is known for its linguistic diversity. 

While the country is one of the smallest in Europe – it finds itself out of the top 30, behind countries like Denmark, Estonia, Iceland and Ireland – it supports four native languages, while English is also widely spoken. 

German – or more specifically Swiss German – is the largest native language in Switzerland, spoken by around 65 percent of the population. 

Around 25 percent of the population live in Romandy, the French-speaking west of Switzerland. 

Around eight per cent of Swiss speak Italian as their primary language, while approximately one percent speak Romansh. 

The four native languages of Switzerland. Image: Wikicommons

…and what about English?

Switzerland prides itself on its multi-lingual nature, which makes it all the more surprising that the country sits so low on the global scale of English speakers. 

As The Local covered early in November, Switzerland has dropped to 19th in the world for English proficiency, down from 12th just two years ago. 

It hasn’t been an even fall however, with the lowest level of English in both the French and Italian-speaking regions. 

Switzerland’s English proficiency by canton. Image: Education First

Cantons of Switzerland 

Switzerland is made up of 26 ‘sovereign’ cantons. Pursuant to the Swiss constitution, federal law does not limit that of the cantons, except in relation to a handful of issues including military, currency, telecommunications and postal services, immigration, criminal law and foreign affairs. 

The cantons vary widely in population and in area. Zurich is the largest canton with a population of approximately 1.5 million, while Appenzell Innerrhoden is the smallest with a population of just 16,000. 

Area wise, the Basel City State is the smallest at 37 square kilometres, while the canton of Graubünden/Grisons is the largest at 7,105 kilometres squared. 

The 26 cantons of Switzerland. Image: Wikicommons

Die Dreizehn Alten Orte (the Thirteen Old Cantons)

In the 16th century, the Original Swiss Confederacy was made up of 13 states, before expanding to 19 and later to 22 in the early 1800s. 

Jura was the most recent canton to join the list, splitting from Bern in 1979. 

The thirteen cantons which formerly made up the Swiss Confederacy. Image: Wikicommons

The small Swiss town of Moutier is the latest to indicate a desire to change things up, with a 2017 referendum seeing a majority of residents wanting to leave Bern and join neighbouring Jura. 

In 2017 the Neue Zürcher Zeitung discussed a proposal to reduce the overall number of cantons to 12, while in 2014 state broadcaster SRF considered a proposal reducing the number to nine, but the ideas failed to gain much traction. 

The right to vote in Switzerland

Switzerland’s peculiar federal structure can lead to odd results, particularly when it comes to democracy. As a stable country which in many ways represents liberal Western European values, it comes as a surprise to some just how recently women were allowed to vote in some parts of the country. 

Due to Switzerland’s unusual system of referenda, only those who were currently allowed to vote would be allowed to vote on an expansion of the electorate – which explains why a 1959 men-only vote resulted in 67 percent of electors rejecting expanding voting rights to women. 

Women got the right to vote at a federal level in 1971. Granting the right to vote at a cantonal level took much longer however, with women granted the right to vote in the final canton – Appenzell Innerrhoden – in 1990. 

The right to vote in Switzerland in each canton. Image: Wikicommons

Purchasing power

Switzerland is a lot of things – but it sure aint cheap. OK, so it’s a worn out theme, but it still bears repeating. 

Although you’re unlikely to find a cheap area of Switzerland to live in, there ARE some areas which are cheaper than others – particularly if you’re employed. 

As we covered recently, the place with the highest disposable income is the central canton of Zug, where residents have an average of CHF70,500 per year in disposable income. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Jura has the lowest disposable income, with an annual figure of CHF36,220. 

Purchasing power in Switzerland (2018). Image: GFK

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 14.0px; font: 12.0px Times; color: #0000e9; -webkit-text-stroke: #0000e9} span.s1 {text-decoration: underline ; font-kerning: none}

Member comments

The Local is not responsible for content posted by users.

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.