Home Lifestyle Holidays & Celebrations Swiss National Day: what to do and where to celebrate
Last update on September 16, 2020
Written by myswitzerland

Celebrate the founding of the Swiss Confederation with a range of festivities held throughout Switzerland on 31 July and 1 August on Swiss National Day.

Since 1891, Swiss National Day falls on 1 August. Owing to the country’s linguistic diversity, the holiday has four official names: Schweizer Bundesfeier (German), Fête Nationale Suisse (French), Festa Nazionale Svizzera (Italian), and Fiasta naziunala Svizra (Romansh). The date refers to an alliance from 1291 by the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, the foundation of modern Switzerland. It is also the one day Switzerland’s residents come together to celebrate in towns and cities all over the country.

Each Swiss commune offers a day of federal unity by organizing firework displays, concerts, and public speeches to celebrate Bundesfeier. Thousands of people attend festivities in the largest cities Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Bern and Lugano. The main celebrations, however, take place at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen and at the Ruetli Meadows alongside Lake Lucerne.

Celebrating Swiss National Day

Men from the three involved cantons swore eternal allegiance to one another, promising mutual help in August 1291. The alliance was mainly against the Habsburgs, who strove to strengthen their position in the region of the Gotthard Pass.

Alphorn players in Zürich on Swiss National Day
Alphorn players in Zürich on Swiss National Day

Celebrations on 1 August center around the communities; the only exception to this is a radio or television broadcast by the President of the Swiss Confederation. Each communal celebration has a speech by a prominent political or public figure with a concert or choir, gymnastic presentation, or a community rendition of the national anthem. Some wealthy communities and tourist offices may also sponsor their own display of fireworks somewhere in the city.

Children carrying paper lanterns roam the streets at night. Public and private buildings are decorated with national, cantonal, and community flags. You will find in bakeries special bread rolls with a small Swiss flag on top.

Bonfires are also lit to commemorate the expulsion of foreign bailiffs in the 14th century, the news of which was spread in this manner in those days.

See the Swiss tourism board’s list of even more things to do on Swiss National Day and events.

Swiss National Day at the Rhine Falls

Referred to as ‘fire on the rocks’, the show at the Rhine Falls is one of the top Swiss National Day events. After sunset the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen are illuminated with fireworks and light effects for the special occasion, a tradition held here since the mid-19th century. The fireworks display held on July 31 typically attracts thousands of spectators every year; admission to this event is free and food is available around the falls. For something different, visitors can also reserve to enjoy a dinner and have special seats for the firework show, or even watch the fireworks from a boat. Visit their official website here.

Rütli Meadow National Day events

This area is the cradle of the Swiss Confederation. In fact, this is where Switzerland’s historic agreement was made. Friedrich Schiller play Wilhelm Tell (1804) immortalized Switzerland’s founding legends in classical literature, which provides another tourist pull to this scenic region on Lake Uri.

A representative celebration is staged at the Rütli Meadow in the canton of Uri above Lake Lucerne. It takes place in the same location as the legendary pledge of alliance. Visit the Rutli Commission website for the 1 August celebrations (French/German only), and see the program of events.

Bundesfeier in Zurich: Swiss culture on display

Zurich observes Bundesfeier on 1 August from 10.30am with a procession from Werdmühleplatz via Bahnhofstrasse to Bürkliplatz. The procession gives visitors a chance to experience colorful Swiss customs. Later, there is a public folk festival at the pavilion in the town house complex from 12.30pm. Speeches occur in the town house complex near Bürkliplatz from 11pm. For more information visit the Zurich tourism website.

Zurich also holds festivities the night before for alternate celebrations. On 31 July, the exTELLent party kicks off around 7pm with a street festival, and from 11pm a party is held at the Plaza club at Ankerstrasse.

Geneva’s party in the park

Geneva’s festivities kick off in Bastions Park, where from 3pm onwards you can find a diversified program of games, sports activities, workshops and local food trucks. Official procedures begin at 5pm with speeches and the reading of the Federal Charter of 1291. From 6pm to midnight the city switches to evening activites with a paper lantern parade, fireworks, performances, dance shows, and DJ beats; a bonfire and alphorn performances start around 9pm. See even more in the full program.

A traditional parade on Swiss National Day in Vevey, Vaud
A traditional parade on Swiss National Day in Vevey, Vaud

These celebrations preclude Geneva’s summer lake festival, which runs the first two weeks of August; those in the city after 1 August can find a city program of free open-air concerts, a funfair, markets, food stalls and fireworks, alongside fun activities such as parades, races, beach rugby matches or a Miss Geneva contest.

Basel’s National Day celebrations

Basel celebrates the National Day one day early, on 31 July, similar to other Rhine celebrations. The major city festival takes place on the Rhine with a range of food stalls accompanied by entertaining festivities and performances from 5pm until 2am, including the rubber dinghy race and the open-air concert on the Kulturfloss (floating stage). At 11pm, a fireworks display lights up the Rhine. The festival area stretches along both sides of the Rhine, along the Kleinbasler side from Johanniterbrücke to Wettsteinbrücke, and in Grossbasel from Johanniterbrücke to Mittlere Brücke, and from the harbor to the Marktplatz. For more information, visit the Basel tourism website.

Bern’s city brunch and tours

Bern also celebrates Swiss National Day in community style. Throughout the day activities take place for children and adults alike, with 1 August celebrations kicking off with a city bunch on the Münsterplatz and followed by concerts, official ceremonies, a children’s lantern procession and fireworks over Gurten Park. You can also enjoy a rare Open Day at the Bundeshaus (Parliament building), a kids’ program on the Münsterplattform terrace, and guided tours of the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) and cathedral. Visit Bern’s website for even more information.

Wake up to Lugano’s drum parade

Lugano begins festivities on 1 August with a drum procession at 6am and continues celebrations with speeches and concerts around the city. At the end of the day, crowds gather to watch the fireworks display at 10.30pm over the lake. Learn more about Lugano during these festivities.

Fireworks over Lake Maggiore

You can find some of the country’s best Swiss National Day fireworks in the lakeside town of Ascona in Ticino. Celebrations start around 5pm with a barbeque and drinks. They continue with a concert at 9pm and end with fireworks that start at 10.15pm. You can find the even more of the action in the Piazza Giueseppe Motta.