We did it! Some people make plans and dream about them. I was one of those people, but I have the good fortune to have a partner who helped make some of my dreams come true. In this case, it was the dream of living in Switzerland (check) and while living there visiting all the twenty-six states, also known as cantons (barely but check also). This is my story and memories of visiting all 26 of them.
We started our Swiss journey in the canton of Zurich. Zurich is a canton and one of my favorite Swiss cities-vibrant and happening if you can call any Swiss city that. Something special about Zurich? It’s Switzerland’s largest city.
The canton we are most familiar with is Vaud (the d is silent). I didn’t know that for a while but after many faux pas and corrections, I finally got it. Vaud is beautiful and includes well-known places like Montreux and Lausanne. Vaud is well known for its wine and houses the famous UNESCO heritage site, Lavaux.
Besides these two, two cantons that are probably the most famous in Switzerland are Geneva and Lucerne. Geneva of course is the humanitarian capital of the world with the world-famous UN, WHO, and Red Cross-you name it. Lucerne has got to be one of the prettiest places with its covered bridges and colorful murals covering all downtown. In terms of the other relatively famous cantons, I would name Fribourg canton, home to the famous Gruyeres village. A startling fact about the village named after the famous cheese is that at its peak it gets about a million visitors per year yet has only 170 permanent residents! And I must mention Bern and Valais. Bern canton contains the capital city of Switzerland which happens to also be called Bern. The symbol of Bern is a Bear; they are everywhere-wooden-ones adorning hotels and restaurants, metallic ones carved in beautiful statutes and not to mention real bears you can see at the end of the old town in a small park dedicated to themselves. Valais is the abode of famous mountains like Matterhorn and Jungfrau and equally famous ski destinations such as Zermatt.
In terms of the cantons that were my favorite, and I would recommend visiting were St. Gallen. It’s so different, hidden away in a corner of Switzerland. We even got to attend a local Swiss festival there. It has a beautiful UNESCO Library, considered one of the oldest in the world as well as Switzerland’s famous textile museum. My other favorite canton is Ticino. It’s in the Italian part of Switzerland (the other two parts being French and German). The weather is Mediterranean. You feel like you are in Italy. It’s just beautiful in all respects. You can eat a meal inside restaurants built in shaded areas (called a Grotto).
Besides these, three other cantons I spent considerable time in included Appenzell Ausserrhoden & Appenzell Innerrhoden. This is where the famous and delicious Appenzeller cheese is from. The reason we have two cantons here instead of one is for religious reasons. One is primarily protestant and the other catholic. Another canton famous for its religious offerings is canton Schwyz with the beautiful and majestic Einsiedeln Abbey with its black Madonna. A beautiful place and Abbey.
So far, I have mentioned 12 cantons. The rest I will describe in one or two sentences because these mostly I visited for less than a day and so know them less well.
1. Glarus- Very rural, very rustic but very beautiful.
2. Grabünden-I got to visit this place when we took the famous Rhaetian Railway of Albula/Bernina train ride through various parts of Switzerland including this canton.
3. Thurgau-Thurgau is a canton in northeastern Switzerland bordered by Lake Constance, the Rhine River, and Germany to the north. We visited the wonderful Mohl apple farm in Thurgau.
4. Neuchâtel- This is where started 2022, by having lunch at a wonderful Chinese buffet place, called Brassiere Wok Royal. I also visited the very worthwhile Gorges de l'Areuse from this canton. The famous La Chaux-de-Fonds watch museum is situated here as well.
5. Basel Stadt-I believe this is the smaller of the two cantons. But also has the capital city of Basel in it. It has a beautiful Rathaus (town hall) and some of the best Christmas markets.
6. Basel Landschaft- This canton has the capital of Liestal. I think we must have driven in or out of it while visiting Basel City.
7. Solothurn- This was probably our shortest visit to a canton. We stopped here just to have lunch and walk in the nice downtown. It’s situated next to the beautiful and long Aare river. Seemed nice enough.
8. Zug-It took me forever to visit Zug but my original association with Switzerland is the butteriest cookies from this international canton about 40 minutes away from Zurich.
9. Uri-I loved Uri canton; it has all the best of Switzerland in one place- mountain peaks, valleys, lakes, and all very compressed so you feel like you can touch any or all of the three.
10. Jura-It’s a lovely mountainous canton and we went there to visit the Ragusa chocolate factory.
11. Aargau-It’s a regular-ish Swiss canton and has some ties with Einstein. We had lunch at a restaurant near the train station which served one of the best cinnamon icecreams I have ever eaten or will eat.
12. Nidwalden- Don’t know much about this and the next canton except that Mount Pilatus is situated here.
13. Obwalden- Pilatus, is a 2,129-metre-high mountain overlooking Lucerne in Central Switzerland. It is on the border between the cantons of Lucerne, Nidwalden, and Obwalden. It has the steepest cogwheel railway in the world.
14. Schaffhausen- This is where the famous Rhine Falls is located. It’s quite a small fall but still beautiful to see and visit. On the way back we stumbled upon and thoroughly enjoyed the tree museum, Enea.
Along with the twenty-six cantons, there were some other things I found unique to Switzerland. I hope you will recognize and appreciate them when you visit next. Water fountains- every village, city, and town have free, clean, and fresh water available all spring and fall. In summer they shut it off if there is a water shortage and in winter no one needs them.
Auberges- I am not sure if this is a Swiss thing only but again every village, town, and city has one restaurant dedicated to their local specialties. They usually have inexpensive food and no long lines either.
Decorative roundabouts- The one pet peeve I had about driving in Switzerland was the ever-present roundabouts. I always got the rules confused on whose right of way it was. I did however like looking at them when I was in the passenger’s seat because many of them were so uniquely decorated and fun to behold.
Funky-looking trees- They are all over French Switzerland. I love them. They are hard to miss and very visibly stunning. After a very deep, rabbit hole search I found their name. They are called “Platane”.
Bus/Train system- One of my favorite memories of Switzerland is having the ability (if not time) to get from any point A to any point B by public transport. It was as simple as that. Put in your ‘To’ and ‘From’ addresses on the SBB app (national train system) and you could 99% be guaranteed to be able to get there relatively stress and hassle-free. For the first six months, we managed with Uber and public transport for most of our transport needs.
Cable Cars- To visit Switzerland and not take a cable car ride is a strict no-no. Luckily there is not much chance of that happening because there are cable cars in many tourist destinations. A fun fact is cable cars are part of the SBB app so very easy to know the cable car timings for planning a trip. Some interesting rides include:
Tunnels- Although the public system is great in Switzerland, so is driving. And one thing all drivers will notice is the numerous immaculate and impressive tunnels. There are about 1300 existing tunnels built through mountains and more are slated to be built. One of the most famous ones is the Gotthard Base Tunnel. With a total length of 57 kilometers (35 miles), it’s the longest railway tunnel in the country and an outstanding feat of modern engineering.
The UNESCO famous Rhaetian Railway features a train ride through 42 tunnels. It is a worthy experience as is the whole of Switzerland.
To learn more, visit, watch movies, or read books such as Swiss-watching.