Switzerland is a rich and dynamic country with influences from many eras and cultures. There is so much to explore in Switzerland, but one of the fastest ways to experience a bit of everything quickly is through festivals. Here are some of the important festivals in Switzerland worthy of your bucket list.
World Snow Festival
The World Snow Festival typically takes place in Grindelwald in mid-January. Each year artists come from all over the world to show off their snow carving skills. All competitors make their carvings during the festival, and they are judged on the last day.
Guests can watch the sculptors working between 8 am and 5 pm during the festival and come by at night to see the sculptures brilliantly illuminated.
If cold weather isn’t for you, then you’ll love Sechseläuten; it’s all about fire. Sechseläuten, roughly translated to “The 6 o’clock ringing of the bells,” takes place on the 3rd Monday in April and is meant to welcome spring.
The most significant event during Sechseläuten is the burning of the Böögg, a giant snowman ragdoll. This explosive event has been celebrated since medieval times and signals the upcoming summer.
Basler Fasnacht, or the Carnival of Basel, is the grandest carnival in Switzerland. It lasts from March 6th until March 9th and is an expression of creativity and playfulness when the whole city goes wild.
Attendees can expect parades, live music, performers, light shows, comedy, and fun. The carnival is so big that the entire city shuts down for three days to party. Wacky costumes, plenty of noise, and traditional folk activities are just a few things you can expect at Basler Fasnacht.
When you try to imagine a Swiss festival, Alpabfahrt is likely the first thing you think of. Nothing says Switzerland quite like flower-adorned cows parading through streets in the alps.
Alpabfahrt marks the beginning of autumn. It is an end-of-summer festival where all the herds are brought down from the mountains to valley pastures. Flower crowns, huge bells, and flags are just of the adornments the cows wear. If you plan to visit Switzerland, this festival will surely make you gather a few fantastic memories.
The Ticino Chestnut Festival is a renowned autumn festival in Switzerland. It takes place in early October in Ascona and features a market, live music, and, of course, chestnuts. Skilled chefs prepare chestnuts in various ways, including roasted, in cakes, with honey, in ice cream, and with marmalade.
There are so many things to do and see during the festival and an endless variety of chestnut-filled foods to consume. This autumn festival is one of Switzerland’s more low-key events but still attracts international audiences. If you love chestnuts, then you don’t want to miss out on this extravagant event.
International Hot Air Balloon Festival
Perhaps one of the most thrilling and unique Swiss festivals is the International Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Participants come from dozens of countries to launch over 70 balloons into the air. The whole event lasts nine days, and while it centers on the balloons, there is also skiing, snowboarding, lodge events, chalets to explore, food, and vendors.
Children 15 or younger get free admission to the whole event, and adults can pay by the day or purchase a pin that grants them entry to all days of the event.
Fête de L’Escalade
The Fête de L’Escalade is an annual event in Geneva that celebrates an ancient battle. The Catholic Duchy of Savoy attacked the city long ago, and the Protestant city’s forces subsequently defeated her.
While the battle took place in 1602, people celebrate the event to this day with parades, reenactments, and lots of vegetable soup.
The army was defeated when the townsfolk poured boiling vegetable soup over the walls onto them. Now, each year many of the festival’s events revolve around soup.
There is also a ginormous cauldron filled with chocolate and marzipan that gets smashed by the eldest and youngest attendees as a symbol of the soupy victory. Kids will also dress up and carol at neighbors’ doors for candy. The event takes place on the closest weekend to December 11th.
International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights
The International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights is a 9-day film festival that takes place in early March each year in Geneva and focuses on addressing worldwide human rights issues and bringing international audiences together.
While there are hundreds of films to discover, there are also meetings, conventions, and forums to discuss and plan humanitarian programs and various talks, debates, and interviews to attend.
The festival also offers special screenings and masterclasses for aspiring filmmakers. There are also photos, videos, and podcasts for those who can’t attend in person.
Locarno International Film Festival
The Locarno International Film Festival has been going strong since 1946. It takes place in August of each year and showcases hundreds of independent films.
There are competitive and non-competitive showings for feature films, short films, documentaries, avant-garde films, narrative, and retrospective programs. 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the festival.
The festival lasts ten days and features films from around the world. It also has special merchandise exclusive to the festival, including apparel, posters, books, and partnered products.
If hard rock is your scene, then you won’t want to miss the Paléo Festival. Paléo is Switzerland’s largest rock festival and takes place in mid-July each year.
The festival lasts for six days and six nights and attracts over 230,000 people. Over 300 concerts and shows occur during the festival across the seven stages. There are also an additional 220 vendors selling food, apparel, and crafts.
Montreux Jazz Festival
The Montreux Jazz Festival is a summer music festival held on the shores of Lake Geneva. It’s second in size only to Canada’s Montréal Jazz Festival.
The Montreux Jazz Festival takes place in early July. While the festival is all about music, there are plenty of other attractions to enjoy as well. There are food vendors everywhere, local performers, and thousands of people to party with.
Gauklerfest is just one of the many Swiss music festivals there are. It lasts two days in mid-August. Gauklerfest is all about street performers and features musicians, acrobats, dancers, singers, magicians, and more.
There’s food and drinks and plenty to see and do. Everywhere you turn, buskers are giving grander and grander performances. Anything you can think of, there are performers for.
As far as traditional Swiss festivals go, this one is only a couple of decades old, but it matches the traditional affairs beat for beat.
The Zurich Festival is the city’s largest festival. It lasts three days during the 1st weekend of July and takes over the entire town center. There’s tons of food, fireworks, music, and dancing to keep you going all night.
The musical fireworks displays are the highlight each night, but there’s plenty to do and see during the day. Pedestrians rein as all city traffic has to stop during the festivities. Needless to say, if you are in Zurich, then you certainly won’t want to miss this epic festival.
Fête de la Musique
Fête de la Musique is the biggest of the Swiss music festivals. It takes place each year on June 21st and includes everything from huge stage performances to local street performers.
Everywhere you go, you’ll see and hear people playing music. There are plenty of music genres, and performers come from far and wide to participate. During the day, regular citizens perform in parks, public squares, and even outside their houses. At night, huge concerts take over for everyone to gather together and celebrate. If you plan to attend this event, keep in mind that most roads are blocked during the festival, so it is best to travel by public transport.
Zibelemärit (Onion Market)
On the 4th Monday of November each year in Bern is the illustrious onion market, Zibelemärit.
Onion soup, onion tarts, and mulled wine are just a few of the foods present at the onion market. You can also find sausages, pizza, and more, all filled with onion, of course. There is also plenty of wine and a friendly atmosphere to keep you warm.
Fête des Vignerons
Fête des Vignerons is a once-in-a-generation festival that’s been around since 1797. It is organized by the Confrérie des Vignerons in Vevey.
Fête des Vignerons is ostensibly a wine festival, though most of the festivities center on the story of a year in the life of a winegrower. For three days, the stadium is filled to the brim with performers. Some dance or sing while others recite poetry and tell stories.
The last Fête des Vignerons last took place in 2016, so the next will likely be set in 2036 or later.
While this may seem like a rather extensive list of Swiss festivals, it barely scratches the surface. There is so much to do, see, and experience in Switzerland, and the festivals are just a small part of that. No matter your preferences or availability, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect Swiss festival for you.