From international extravaganzas, to folk dancing jamborees in tiny villages, Switzerland — one of the most beautiful countries in the world — has masses of festivals and cultural events. As a result, there are a host of great things to do in Switzerland with kids. But this also means deciding the best time to visit Switzerland may well depend on the calendar of festivals in Switzerland. Read on for a run-down of exactly that.
Grindelwald Snow Festival, Grindelwald
Held in the third week of January, the Grindelwald Snow Festival features inventive snow sculptures created by artists from around the world.
International Balloon Festival, Château-d’Oex
In the last two weeks in January, the International Balloon Festival, held 15km east of Montreux, sees hot air balloons from twenty countries turn the wintry skies above Château-d’Oex into a riot of floating colours.
February — March
Celebrated around Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), one of Switzerland’s biggest carnival events, Luzerner Fasnacht, is held in Lucerne for six days, from the Thursday before Mardi Gras up to Mardi Gras night.
Meanwhile, Bern’s carnival runs for two days, beginning on the Thursday evening after Mardi Gras.
One of the most famous festivals in Switzerland happens in Basel, where thousands of residents gather at 4am in the freezing cold, awaiting the four chimes of the city clock that announce the start of Baseler Fasnacht.
Festivities run for three days from the Monday morning after Mardi Gras.
- Best for luxury: Teufelhof. An outstanding boutique hotel in the heart of town.
- Best for big occasions: Trois Rois. Founded in 1681, this is one of the oldest, grandest hotels in Europe.
- Best for couples: Au Violon. Beautifully renovated, with cosy rooms above a quiet courtyard.
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Since getting around Switzerland is an affordable breeze, with a bit of planning, you could take in a few carnival experiences during a single trip.
March — April
Lucerne Festival, Lucerne
Sacred music is the focus in the Easter run of events of the Lucerne Festival. Given that Lake Lucerne is the ultimate slow travel destination, you might want to extend your stay beyond the Easter events.
- Best for nature-lovers: Seehotel Kastanienbaum. In a village outside the city, this gem has a lakeside terrace.
- Best for romantics: Wilden Mann. Dating from 1517, this sits on atmospheric Old Town lanes.
- Best for budget travellers: Backpackers. A laidback lakeshore hostel with pleasant dorms and basic doubles.
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Zürich Sechseläuten, Zürich
- Best for culture vultures: Alma Hotel. An upmarket designer hotel focused on sustainability.
- Best for couples: Hotel Kindli. One of Zürich’s most charming, tranquil small hotels.
- Best for nightlife-lovers: Pension Furdich. Backing onto a park, and close to funky bars and clubs.
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Interlaken Classic Music Festival, Interlaken
- Best for couples: Hotel Restaurant Hirschen. An atmospheric old inn south of the centre.
- Best for luxury: Victoria Jungfrau. One of the grandest hotels in the country, with super views and a spa.
- Best for affordable comfort: Weisses Kreuz. A central, affordable hotel with cosy no-frills rooms.
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Ascona Music Festival, Ascona
May also heralds Ascona’s Street Artists Festival, a free, family-friendly jamboree of mime, theatre, dance, jugglers, tightropewal-kers, fire breathers, musicians, and clowns.
- Best for al fresco style: Hotel Ascona. A plush hillside four-star with fine views and palm-fringed gardens.
- Best for big spenders: Eden Roc. One of Switzerland’s top hotels, this attracts money’s-no-object visitors.
- Best for couples: Romantik Hotel Castello. This four-star hotel has a distinctive tower and romantic rooms.
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Fête de la Musique, Lausanne and Geneva
For three days in mid-June, musicians from across the globe perform in the streets of Lausanne and Geneva under the Fête de la Musique umbrella. Every musical style is represented — from classical and electro-jazz, to rock, pop and world music.
- Best for couples: Angleterre & Residence. A classy hotel on the Ouchy waterfront.
- Best for luxury: Beau-Rivage Palace. Set in ten-acre waterside gardens, this is one of Switzerland’s finest.
- Best for families: Elite. Lausanne's best mid-price hotel.
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Eidgenössisches Jodelfest, varied locations
Hosted in a different city every three years during the fourth week of June, Eidgenössisches Jodelfest presents a four-day showcase of Switzerland’s best yodellers, with Zug set to stage it in 2023.
Ascona Jazz Festival, Ascona
Back in Ascona, late June sees the town host the lively Ascona Jazz Festival.
US Independence Day, Geneva
Geneva’s July 4th celebrations are the biggest outside the US.
- Best for couples: Beau Rivage. A dreamy classical-style palace.
- Best for families: Hotel Central. A quiet hotel with excellent-value rooms for three, four and five people.
- Best for budget basics: City Hostel. A functional backpackers' place with good facilities, dorms and doubles.
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Au Bord du Lac, Sierre
Held in the first week in July, the chilled-out Au Bord du Lac music festival takes place on the beach at Lac de Géronde near Sierre. With a reputation for family-friendly ambience and affordability, the setting is magnificent.
Estival Jazz Lugano
One of the largest jazz festivals in the world takes place in Lugano in the first week in July.
- Best for couples: Hotel Federale. An atmospheric, good-value old town hotel in a leafy district.
- Best for families: Lugano Dante. A quality four-star in a converted townhouse.
- Best for five-star spenders: Splendide Royal. Traditional public spaces and rooms characterize this classic.
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Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux
Running from the end of June to mid-July, Montreux Jazz Festival has a longstanding global reputation. Now featuring as much rock, dance and world music as jazz and blues, and attracting a roster of top names, this might be the most well-known of all festivals in Switzerland.
- Best for palatial luxury: Le Montreux Palace. This legendary luxury hotel is set in its own gardens on the lake.
- Best for couples: Grand Hôtel Suisse-Majestic. Cheaper than Le Montreux Palace, this is a belle époque beauty.
- Best for good-value elegance: Villa Toscane. A fabulous Art Nouveau creation on the Montreux waterfront.
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July also heralds the Lucerne Festival, one of the world’s greatest classical music jamborees, which incorporates three festivals across the year. As such, it’s the one of the best festivals in Switzerland for music-lovers.
Paleo Rock Festival, Nyon
Switzerland’s biggest outdoor music event, Paleo Rock Festival, is held in Nyon in the third week in July. It features 120 concerts spread over six days, with rock, world music, reggae, hip-hop and classical music all represented. There are plenty of a family events and street theatre performances, too.
Gurten Music Festival, Bern
Mid- to late July sees Bern host the Gurten Music Festival — expect around sixty DJs performing with bands from Switzerland and around the world, playing everything from pop, rock, electro and punk, to hip-hop and blues.
- Best for history buffs: Hotel Landhaus. The most attractive budget rooms in town.
- Best for character: Hotel Marthahaus. A friendly, cosy hotel-pension on a quiet cul-de-sac.
- Best for budget travellers: Bern Backpackers/Hotel Glocke. An Old Town fixture with excellent facilities.
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In the last week of July Interlaken enjoys three days of street performances, including acrobats, comedians, jugglers and musicians at the Gauklerfest.
Verbier Festival, Verbier
- Best for families: Ermitage. This well-run option provides unexpected value in the centre.
- Best for couples: Hotel Bristol. Friendly, cosy, quiet and very central.
- Best for quirky charm: Hotel les Touristes. An endearingly eccentric, quiet hotel.
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August — September
Swiss National Day, 1st August
The country’s national day is celebrated with fireworks, folkloric shows and parades. Though marked in every part of the country, festivities are usually ramped up around the Rhine falls near Schaffhausen and the Rütli meadow along Lake Lucerne.
Locarno International Film Festival, Locarno
Held across eleven days during the first two weeks of August, the Locarno International Film Festival is one of the most prestigious film festivals in Europe. It attracts 160,000 filmgoers and hundreds of journalists and filmmakers from around the world.
- Best for couples: Hotel America. Set in a piazza five minutes from Lake Maggiore.
- Best for understated style: Giardino Lago. A quietly opulent waterfront hotel.
- Best for contemporary comfort: H4 Hotel Arcadia. A modern four-star with an outdoor pool.
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Menuhin Festival, Gstaad
Head to Gstaad from mid-August to early September for top classical performances at the Menuhin Festival.
Zürich Street Parade, Zürich
If you’re into techno and dance, zip to Zürich in mid-August for the exuberant street parade.
Lucerne Festival (“Sommer”), Lucerne
Held from the second week in August until the first week in September, the Lucerne Festival is one of Europe’s leading classical music events. Performances by the festival’s own choirs and ensembles draw an audience of tens of thousands.
Alpabfahrt/Désalpe, Alpine villages countrywide
To experience traditional Swiss culture, head off-the-beaten-track to Switzerland’s scenic Alpen villages from late September to early October.
During Alpabfahrt season, you’ll see cows decked out in flower headdresses and jangling bells being led from their mountain summer pastures to winter quarters in valley farms. And all to the tune of oompah bands and yodellers, with street fairs and farmers’ markets providing extra reasons to visit.
Vernier Sur Rock Festival, Geneva
Come mid-October, Geneva’s Vernier Sur Rock Festival puts on three nights of live music at the Salles des Fêtes du Lignon, with punk, reggae and heavy metal predominating.
Lucerne Festival (“Piano”), Lucerne
Head to Lucerne in the last week in November to enjoy the atmospheric winter instalment of the city’s famous festival. The focus is on keyboard music — jazz and classical piano concerts, and organ and harpsichord recitals.
The fourth Monday in November sees Bern host a lively onion market which doubles as the town fair. As festivals in Switzerland go, this might sound pretty eccentric, but it presents a great opportunity to sample a variety of Swiss fare — eating and drinking in Switzerland has plenty to keep foodies satisfied.
Fête de L’Escalade, Geneva
On the Friday to Sunday closest to 12th December, Geneva comes alive with the Fête de L’Escalade. Commemorating the failed attempt by the Duke of Savoy to seize Geneva by surprise in 1602, citizens don period costumes and take to the streets with torchlights and drums. As such, it’s one of the top festivals in Switzerland for history buffs.
Not a fan of planning? Consider booking a hassle-free tailor-made trip to Switzerland, with customisable itineraries curated by local experts covering everything from unforgettable highlights of Switzerland, to touring the Grand Circle.
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