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Switzerland’s top 10 attractions

From grand buildings to stunning natural wonders, here's our checklist of the essential Switzerland attractions and sights

Jet d’eau

Don’t fight it: as possibly the most recognisable image of Geneva (you can even see it from the plane), it’s practically the law to get your photo taken in front of the city’s giant water fountain. Originally built as a pressure release valve for Geneva’s water supply, rather than for any aesthetic reason, the jet d’eau spurts 500 litres of water per second some 140m (459ft) into the air, before thundering back into Lake Geneva. You can get up close to the refreshing spray by walking the path to the fountain from the lake’s left bank. The jet really comes into its own during the city’s annual August fireworks display, when the colours are reflected and refracted in the spray. The fountain is occasionally switched off in high winds.

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Rive Droite / Right Bank

Lavaux vineyards

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You’d be forgiven for not realising that Switzerland is a wine-producing country, as only one percent of the one million hectolitres it produces each year actually makes it to foreign markets. But take a bus a short ride from Lausanne into the Lavaux vineyards and you’ll quickly see how dominant vines are in this part of the country. A UNESCO World Heritage site which dates from the 12th century, the vines here grow in terraces on the steep slopes that sweep down to Lake Geneva. It’s prime grape-growing territory thanks to the so-called three suns: the actual sun, the light reflected from the lake onto the vines, and the heat absorbed by the terraces that keep the vines warm at night. From the village of Lutry it’s possible to stroll through the vineyards all the way to Montreux, though you may not get that far due to certain distractions – many of the wine cellars in villages en route offer tastings. If you’d rather do it the lazy way, in summer a little tourist train, the Lavaux Panoramic, can save you the walk by shuttling you along the scenic route, with various stops.

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Lavaux-Oron

Palais des Nations

It’s worth playing the tourist and joining the sometimes long queues to visit this huge 1930s building which houses the European headquarters of the United Nations – the largest UN centre after New York. Over 100,000 people a year take an hour-long guided tour of the place (available in 15 languages, natch) which, depending on availability, provides a glimpse of the Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber and the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room with its incredible ceiling painted by Spanish artist Miguel Barcelò. Combine your visit with a trip to the Red Cross Museum, just up the road.

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Servette/Petit-Saconnex/Sécheron
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CERN

Straddling the Franco-Swiss border is the laboratory of the European Council for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN – the world’s largest physics lab and a place that’s frequently in the news for the activity (or not, as the case may be) of its Large Hadron Collider. The unfathomable LHC is an accelerator which sends particles shooting round a 27km underground ring in the hope that some of them may hit each other and recreate the big bang (or something). For a better explanation and a guided visit of the lab’s facilities (though not, sadly of the LHC itself) book yourself onto a tour – but think ahead as English tours fill up months in advance. Near the main lab, visitors can also stop by a spherical building called The Globe of Science and Innovation, CERN’s outreach building which hosts a small free permanent exhibition helping you get your head around particle physics. Perhaps the most relatable exhibit here is the computer on which Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web.

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Meyrin

Cathédrale de Lausanne

Perched atop a hill in the Cité, Lausanne’s 13th century gothic cathedral is the largest in Switzerland. The architecture is impressive, particularly the ornately carved portal and the beautiful rose window which is based on the signs of the zodiac. There’s a panoramic view of the city’s red roofs, the expanse of Lake Geneva and mountains beyond from the plateau outside, while you can improve your photo further by climbing the 225 steps of the belfry. Claiming the prize for the most unusual job in town, it’s from up here that the city’s nightwatchman calls the hour every night between 10pm and 2am, a tradition that dates back some 600 years.

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Cité / Old Town

CGN Lausanne-Ouchy

Making the most of its position on one of Europe’s largest lakes, Lausanne’s ferry port at Ouchy offers cruises to many destinations around the lake in both Switzerland and France. Go on the short hop across to the French spa town of Evian-les-Bains, directly opposite Lausanne, enjoy the ride down to Montreux, or float further afield to Geneva and the medieval French village of Yvoire, a tourist’s favourite. There’s a reduced service in winter.

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Ouchy
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The Castles of Bellinzona

Among the most famous monuments of Ticino are the impressive collection of medieval castles at Bellinzona, the capital of the canton, just north of Lugano. Castelgrande (home to an archaeological museum), Castello di Montebello and Castello di Sasso Corbaro are strung out along the original defensive wall, or Murata, which spans the Ticino valley. It's a reminder of the region's historic past at the centre of Europe and has been designated a World Heritage Site.

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Bellinzona

The Rose Garden

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Bern’s Rose Gardens date from 1765 and as you might expect, this public park is a pleasant spot to while away a sunny day. You can sunbathe on the grass or stroll around appreciating the 220 varieties of roses in their immaculate beds. And, as a bonus, there are few places in Bern that offer such a beautifulviews of the River Aare and the Old Town.  A pavilion and a dedicated reading garden are spaces where you won’t be interrupted by frisbee players, although you might need to get there early to find a good corner in good weather.

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Bern

Zoo Zürich

Zurich’s zoo has risen to international fame for its 'Masoalahalle': a large dome filled with the wildlife of Madagascar. Don’t worry – they’ve not included any predators, so it’s safe to walk around and climb the steps to the viewing platform. And don’t miss the zoo’s newest attraction – the elephant park with its modern outside spaces and large indoor area. The on-site Thai food stall serves delicious snacks while you watch the elephants.

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Fluntern
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Rhine Falls

At 150 metres wide and 23 metres high, the Rhine Falls are Europe's largest waterfalls - a fact that becomes apparent even before you can see them. The roar of up to 600,000 litres of water per second crashing over the rocks makes your ear drums throb. There is some lovely walking in the romantic landscape around the falls, but the must-do experience is a boat trip to the rock that stands at the heart of the powerful masses of water. Once there, the captain moors the boat and you can climb out and ascend the rock. Trips run continuously all day from May to September. Don't forget to wear sturdy footwear. Alternatively, pay the entrance fee for the dramatically situated Schloss Laufen and you'll be granted access to viewing platforms just above the water. One benefit of this is escaping the hoards of tourists who tend to crowd the banks trying to find the best angle for a photo.

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Schaffhausen

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