Cantons of Switzerland

administrative divisions of the Swiss Confederation

Switzerland is divided into 26 different territories called cantons. A canton is similar to a state in the United States.

The cantons of Switzerland

In the past, each canton had its own army and money. This changed in 1848 when Switzerland finished the Sonderbund civil war and changed to the structure it has now.

The cantons Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden (Nidwalden and Obwalden together are called Unterwalden) are called Urkantone. An Urkanton is a canton that existed since the foundation of Switzerland in 1291. With time, other cantons joined Switzerland. Jura is the newest canton in Switzerland since 1978. In that year, it split from the canton of Bern, after some rioting.

The cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Obwalden and Nidwalden are different from the others in one way. For historical reasons, their voting is counted differently in national elections. Other than that, they are the same as the others.

In Switzerland, the individual municipalities and cantons are very free. Usually, there is a Swiss law (at the level of the whole confederation). Very often this states general things and says that the cantons must follow this rule. The cantons then make detailed rules, each in the way it sees fit. Sometimes this leads to strange situations. There are 26 different schooling systems.

Drug abuse is a federal offense. Punishment is usually one to three years, but can also be only a fine. The problem is: Consumption itself (not trading, or giving away for free) is not punishable. Also in light cases, the police can say that there will be no fine. This has led to the fact, that in each canton, this law is applied differently. In one canton, smoking marijuana will mean a fine, in another, it can mean a prison term.

The word for that is called federalism. That means each canton has its own government and constitution. The constitution is the highest law in a state.

List and map


The cantons are listed in the order given in the federal constitution.[1]

Flag Abbr Canton Since Capital Population1 Area2 Density3 Nr of Municipalities1 Official languages
  ZH Zürich (Zurich) 1351 Zürich 1,228,600 1,729 701 171 German
  BE Bern 1353 Bern 947,100 5,959 158 399 German, French
  LU Lucerne 1332 Lucerne 350,600 1,493 233 107 German
  UR Uri 1291 Altdorf 35,000 1,077 33 20 German
  SZ Schwyz 1291 Schwyz 131,400 908 143 30 German
  OW Obwalden (Obwald) 1291 Sarnen 32,700 491 66 7 German
  NW Nidwalden (Nidwald) 1291 Stans 38,600 276 138 11 German
  GL Glarus 1352 Glarus 38,300 685 51 28 German
  ZG Zug 1352 Zug 100,900 239 416 11 German
  FR Fribourg 1481 Fribourg 239,100 1,671 141 242 French, German
  SO Solothurn 1481 Solothurn 245,500 791 308 126 German
  BS Basel-Stadt (Basle-City) 1501 Basel 186,700 37 5,072 3 German
  BL Basel-Landschaft (Basle-Country) 1501 Liestal 261,400 518 502 86 German
  SH Schaffhausen 1501 Schaffhausen 73,400 298 246 34 German
  AR Appenzell Ausserrhoden (Outer Rhodes) 1513 Herisau4 53,200 243 220 20 German
  AI Appenzell Innerrhoden (Inner Rhodes) 1513 Appenzell 15,000 173 87 6 German
  SG St. Gallen (St. Gall) 1803 St. Gallen 452,600 2,026 222 90 German
  GR Graubünden (Grisons) 1803 Chur 185,700 7,105 26 211 German, Romansh, Italian
  AG Aargau (Argovia) 1803 Aarau 550,900 1,404 388 232 German
  TG Thurgau (Thurgovia) 1803 Frauenfeld 228,200 991 229 80 German
  TI Ticino 1803 Bellinzona 311,900 2,812 110 244 Italian
  VD Vaud 1803 Lausanne 626,200 3,212 188 382 French
  VS Valais 1815 Sion 278,200 5,224 53 160 French, German
  NE Neuchâtel 1815 Neuchâtel 166,500 803 206 62 French
  GE Geneva 1815 Geneva 414,300 282 1,442 45 French
  JU Jura 1979 Delémont 69,100 838 82 83 French
  CH Switzerland   Bern 7,261,20041,285 174 2,890 German, French, Italian, Romansh

Notes: 1 As of 31 December 2001, National Statistics, 2 km², 3 per km², based on 2000 population 4 seat of government and parliament, the seat of the judicial authorities is Trogen.

The two-letter abbreviations for Swiss cantons are widely used, e.g. on car license plates and in the ISO 3166-2 codes (with the prefix "CH-", i.e. CH-SZ for the canton of Schwyz).


  1. This is the order generally used in Swiss official documents. At the head of the list are the three city cantons that were considered preeminent in the Old Swiss Confederacy; the other cantons are listed in order of accession to the Confederation. This traditional order of precedence among the cantons has no practical relevance in the modern federal state, in which the cantons are equal to one another, although it still determines formal precedence among the cantons' officials (see Swiss order of precedence).