10 Swiss Festivals (You Should Experience In Your Lifetime)

swiss festivals

As one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, Switzerland has plenty to brag about from the soaring Alps to world-renowned products like cheese, chocolate, and chic luxury watches. The Swiss celebrate their unique history and culture with a slew of festivals throughout the year. And since each canton has its own customs and traditions, you can expect a mixed bag of fun and festivities.

Festivals in Switzerland are so popular, many travelers plan their trips around them. Best of all, the ease of getting around in this small country in the heart of Europe makes it feasible to attend more than one. Here are some of the top festivals to consider when planning your trip to Switzerland.

Montreux Jazz Festival

Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux Jazz Festival July, 2007 – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Second in size only to Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival is celebrated every year during the month of July. Montreux is a resort town with castles, cathedrals, and many other things to see and do. The festival is held on the banks of beautiful Lake Geneva, a lake shared by Switzerland and France.

The festival is attended by around 250,000 visitors annually and has featured some of the world’s greatest jazz artists since its kickoff in 1967. The list of performers has included big names like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Stan Getz, and Dexter Gordon. The program is extensive and features other musical genres such as blues, rock, and pop. Recent headliners include Dianna Ross, John Legend, Stormzy, and Van Morrison.

Lively and exciting, the Montreux Jazz Festival is highly recommended for anyone, especially lovers of jazz. The performances are held in two main auditoriums and other smaller venues around town like the Montreux Jazz Café.

Locarno International Film Festival

Locarno International Film Festival
Locarno International Film Festival

With its 75-year-long history, the Locarno International Film Festival has grown into one of the world’s most important film festivals. It’s held for 11 days during August in the charming Swiss-Italian town of Locarno with the famous Piazza Grande at the heart of the festivities. The venue can accommodate around 8,000 people. The surrounding mountains and lakes provide a magical setting.

The film festival in Locarno is one of the world’s most important film events and rivals the Cannes Film Festival in France. Thousands of film professionals, journalists, and cinema-goers gather for screen films in both competitive and non-competitive categories of auteur cinema. Feature-length narrative, short, avant-garde, documentary, and retrospective programs are included. A wide variety of films and formats are featured from geographic thematic and stylistic points of view.

Château-d’Oex International Balloon Festival

Château-d’Oex International Balloon Festival
Château-d’Oex International Balloon Festival

One of the most thrilling Swiss Festivals of all, the International Balloon Festival is held in Château-d’Oex, an Alpine village between Gstaad in the Bernese Oberland and the village of Gruyères. For nine days in January, hundreds of vibrantly-colored hot air balloons in all shapes and sizes fill the winter sky above the picturesque village.

The festival is world-famous and participants come from a long list of other countries to launch balloons. Although the balloons are the stars of the festival, there are other activities like skiing, snowboarding, food, vendors, a kid’s day, and a nightglow show.

Be sure to check out the Château-d’Oex hot air balloon museum where you’ll learn about the Breitling Orbiter that set off from here for its first world tour in 1999.

Zurich Openair

Zurich Festival
Zurich Festival – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Zurich is the largest and most visited city in Switzerland and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. If you visit Zurich during the first week of July, you can’t miss the Zurich Openair Festival. It’s the city’s largest and is spread over the entire center of the city and the streets along the River Limmat. All city traffic is halted during the festivities as two million visitors from around the world descend upon the city.

The huge Zurich Openair festival lasts for three days, specifically the first weekend in July, and the city’s diversity is presented through concerts, opera, theater, dance, and art. You’ll find plenty of food vendors to keep you going until the spectacular musical fireworks display concludes each night.

Autumn Festival

Ascona is a lovely town with Mediterranean-style architecture in the Lake Maggiore region. Every year when fall arrives the townsfolk say farewell to summer and welcome the new season with the Autumn Festival. The festivities are held on the lakefront for three days around the first weekend in October.

Residents and tourists feast on local foods and nibble on chestnuts, the local fruit of autumn. A variety of Ticino wines are available, vendors sell locally-made handicrafts, and various folk bands entertain the crowd. Free guided tours of the local sites are offered giving tourists the perfect opportunity to explore the local history and culture of the region.

Paléo Festival

Paléo Festival, Nyon
Paléo Festival, Nyon

Nyon, a part of the Geneva metropolitan area, is home to the Paléo Festival. It began in 1976 as a small festival and grew to be Switzerland’s largest outdoor music festival. The event takes place for six days and six nights at the end of July and features both established musicians and new talent with more than 100 concerts taking place. A wide variety of genres are featured including rock, reggae, hip-hop, classical music, world music, and French chanson, a type of music reminiscent of medieval and Renaissance times.

Festival-goers can enjoy foods from around the world and shop for local crafts at dozens of food and craft stalls. The festival is very family-friendly and features a day nursery and a play area for children. If you want to extend your visit, a free campsite is available.

Fête de L’Escalade

Fête de L’Escalade
Fête de L’Escalade – Image courtesy of Carolien Coenen

Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République! The phrase means “Thus defeated the enemies of the Republic,” and you’ll hear it repeated often around December 11 every year in Geneva at the Fête de L’Escalade. Held on the weekend closest to the date, this festival commemorates the day when the Duke of Savoy’s troops failed a surprise attack to seize the town in 1602.

You’ll learn about the local history while attending this festival. On the eve of December 11, 1602, troops were waiting outside the walls of Geneva to attack. But the townspeople were warned by the night guard who kept them from climbing the wall by throwing hot vegetable soup on them. The historic day is marked by locals dressed up in period costumes parading the streets with drums and torches and brigades on horseback.

The event is energetic and packed with fun events from parades to reenactments. To symbolize the soup, a huge cauldron is filled with marzipan and chocolate for the oldest and youngest attendees to smash. Folk music and country markets are also part of the festivities.

Basler Fasnacht

Basel Carnival
Basel Carnival

Basler Fasnacht is on the list of the top 50 local festivals in Europe and is recognized by UNESCO. The festival is an excellent way for visitors to soak up the local culture and is Switzerland’s biggest carnival.

Gather with the residents of Basler at 4 o’clock in the morning to listen for the ringing of the bells to mark the beginning of the festivities – the Morgenstreich. The three-day festival held on Monday after Ash Wednesday lasts until 4 am on Thursday. It’s marked by lots of confetti and a carnival march with participants dressed in colorful disguises carrying lanterns with silhouettes symbolizing the past year’s events. Pipers, drummers, and revelers march through the alleyways.

World Snow Festival

World Snow Festival in Grindelwald
World Snow Festival in Grindelwald – Image via Andy Harbach

Held in Grindelwald near Interlaken, the World Snow Festival features international artists from around the world who work in teams to create sculptures from blocks of snow three meters high. Visitors endure the cold to admire a display of frozen art. The figures and sculptures represent the artist’s native country with depictions of Native American teepees, polar bears, mystical creatures, people, and more.

The event is held on Grindelwald’s natural ice rink for six days in mid-January. The event, now one the most popular winter festivals in Switzerland, began in 1983 when artists from Japan carved a giant snow sculpture of the popular Swiss character, Heidi. Teams judge the snow sculptures on originality, topic, and skill. The attendees are also invited to participate in the voting.

Afterward, there’s tobogganing and a chance to warm up with hot mulled wine and delicious cheese fondue.

Fête des Vignerons

Vineyards in the Lavaux
Vineyards in the Lavaux

Fête des Vignerons was organized by the Confrérie des Vignerons in Vevey beginning in 1797. The once-in-a-generation festival was last held in July and August of 2019, 20 years after the one held in 1999. The next one won’t likely happen until 2036 or later.

The event is included in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage. National Geographic tagged the event as the “world’s most exciting destination.”

Fête des Vignerons is mostly a wine festival that is centered around a story about one year in the life of a winegrower. It lasts for three days and features performers, dancers, and singers. Stories are told and poetry is recited.

sechseläuten Zurich
Sechseläuten Zurich

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main festival in Switzerland?

Fasnascht is considered the largest festival in Switzerland with tens of thousands of people participating in some of the larger cities like Basel (Morgenstreich) and Lucerne (Lozärner Fasnacht).

Are there any festivals in Switzerland?

Switzerland hosts a larger number of traditional and music festivals every year. The largest music festivals include OpenAir St. Gallen, Paléo Festival Nyon and Openair Frauenfeld> Big traditional festivals include Fasnacht, Sechseläuten and Schwägalp Schwinget.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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