Skiing, wrestling, tennis, and beyond. We explore the most popular Swiss sports and share tips on where to catch the action.
For many expats, the Swiss can seem like tough nuts to crack. However, if you’re a recent arrival in Switzerland, then what better way to get under the skin of your new home country than by checking out some of its most popular sports? Whether you’re playing, attending, or simply watching from the comfort of your living room, Switzerland has plenty of options. To give you some inspiration, here are some of the most popular Swiss sports.
Introduction to Swiss sports
Given its international reputation for neutrality, you might not peg Switzerland as being a sporting powerhouse. However, the Swiss aren’t neutral on the pitch, and the country has a surprising sporting heritage. The Swiss resort of St. Moritz, for instance, has hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice (in 1928 and 1948, respectively). Switzerland also hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1954. And more recently, the Swiss co-hosted the UEFA European Championships in 2008 with neighboring Austria.
However, on a more local level, there is plenty of sporting action to get stuck into in the country. From the charm of traditional wrestling to the glitz of top-class tennis, there’s something for everyone when it comes to popular Swiss sports.
How to watch sport in Switzerland
Whether you’re an avid fan or an armchair supporter, you’ll find plenty of ways to watch sports in Switzerland. As well as buying tickets to matches or races, you can also catch top-level sports from Switzerland, Europe, and beyond on your Swiss TV. After all, many of the biggest home telecom companies in Switzerland offer sports channels as part of their TV and home internet packages, including the following:
Thankfully, live sports channels can be added to most TV subscriptions for an additional fee. However, be sure you know what you’re getting before you sign up. Most of the biggest competitions are available on Swiss TV with the right package, including the English Premier League, Formula 1 motorsport, and NFL. That said, it pays to shop around and compare your options to avoid missing your favorite competitions.
As with many of its European neighbors, when it comes to sheer numbers, the most popular sport in Switzerland is football. The game is played at all levels by men and women across the country; from local five-a-side kickabouts in the park to gleaming stadiums that attract thousands of fans each week. However, while Europe’s biggest leagues remain popular on TV, you can also soak up the matchday atmosphere at a local game. Watching the Swiss chant for their favorite teams from the stands is a great way to see another side of their culture.
At the top of the men’s game sits the Swiss Super League, which consists of 10 teams from across the country (and neighboring Liechtenstein). The season runs from July to May, with a winter break from December to February. Historically, the most successful clubs have been Zurich’s Grasshoppers and FC Basel, although recent years have seen Bern’s Young Boys dominate. The league winners go on to face Europe’s biggest teams in the Champions League. In the women’s game, the highest level is the Swiss Women’s Super League.
The Swiss don’t have one home stadium. Instead, matches are played throughout the country. That said, the most high-profile games are typically played at Basel’s St Jakob Park, which is the largest stadium in the country. The men’s national team is currently on an impressive run of qualifying for international tournaments, so why not try and get tickets to see them play.
Ice hockey is a big deal in Switzerland, which is great news if you’re from North America and don’t want to miss out on some puck action. Traditionally, the sport has rivalled football in terms of attendance numbers and participation. Indeed, stadiums across the country fill up quickly for league games and competitions, and you’ll find plenty of local clubs if you want to dust off your skates.
At the top of the men’s ice hockey game, you’ll find the National League, which is one of the most well-attended ice hockey leagues in Europe. It consists of twelve teams from across the country, the most successful of which is HC Davos, from the famous alpine city. However, recent years have seen SC Bern increasingly dominate. In the women’s game, the highest echelon is the Women’s League.
This addition should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Switzerland. This cozy alpine nation is a paradise for skiers, with its many mountains littered with some of the world’s best ski resorts and runs. With easily accessible pistes, championships and competitions are popular spectator sports throughout the country. During these, you will get to see the biggest ski stars battle against the clock.
If you’re a keen skier, make sure you do your research before hitting the slopes. This can help ensure that you find the right pistes and conditions for you and your family, depending on your ability levels. It can also alert you to any adverse weather conditions, including avalanche warnings. There are a few local apps you can download for the latest piste forecasts such as iSKI, which covers Switzerland and neighboring alpine countries.
Never heard of Hornussen? Then you’re probably not alone. This popular indigenous Swiss sport dates back to the 16th century when it was played by young farmers on harvested fields. In short, teams take turns to hit the Hornuss (a disk of wood or horn) as far as possible into the opponent’s area with a rod-type stick. The defending team has to stop the disk by using a Shingle (catch board). However, the Hornuss can travel at speeds of up to 300km/h and hit a cruising altitude of 70m. Needless to say, this sport is not for the fainthearted. It is, however, a great way to experience Swiss culture.
Hornussen is one of three traditional Swiss sports that are enduringly popular. It is typically played in the Mittelland cantons of Bern, Solothurn, and Aargau, where there is a full schedule of matches. Competitions are always great days out for the whole family, too. The other traditional Swiss sports are Schwingen (Swiss wrestling) and Steinstossen (a Swiss form of stone tossing). Watching these sports can be a great way to better understand the Swiss and experience local culture.
If skiing and ice hockey aren’t for you, then there are plenty of other winter sports to enjoy throughout Switzerland when the mercury drops. One of the most popular is cross-country skiing. As well as being a fun activity for the whole family to take part in, this is also very competitive, and the country hosts several races and championships throughout the year. Those who are more adventurous can also hit the large runs.
If all that sounds a little too chilly, though, you can always head inside to catch some figure skating or curling instead. Although these are both popular with fans and participants alike, they tend to be unfairly overlooked in favor of more well-known sports. However, don’t let that put you off. They are also great options for young children finding their feet on the ice. You can search online for your nearest ice rink or kids’ clubs and see what’s on offer. And you never know, you might be surprised to discover that your little ones take to the ice like Anna and Elsa.
No list of popular Swiss sports would be complete without mentioning tennis. Home of Roger Federer, Martina Hingis, and Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland certainly punches above its weight on court. When it comes to seeing your favorite stars play, the country hosts a few tour events. On the women’s side, you’ll find the WTA Swiss Open which is held in Lausanne. For the men, meanwhile, there is the Swiss Open in Gstaad and the Swiss Indoors in Basel.
If you’re looking to ace your tennis game, you’ll find plenty of local clubs and courts throughout Switzerland. While many courts are clay, you’ll also find hard and indoor courts too, should you prefer them. Many of them also offer discounted rates for families and children, alongside summer camps and training sessions for all ages. You can search online for your local club.