The best festivals in Switzerland in 2018 offer a wealth of attractions, from famous Swiss music festivals such as the Montreux Jazz Festival to open-air Swiss festivals against backdrops of picturesque Swiss scenery.
There is more to Switzerland’s great outdoors than lush meadows and Alpine peaks, as you can discover at the entertaining variety of colourful and quirky Swiss festivals, not least the vibrant Swiss carnival. For those who have an ear for Swiss music festivals, an eye for film or a taste for the performing arts, the annual festivals in Switzerland are not to be missed.
Attending a Swiss festival (or festival Suisse) is a year-round affair in Switzerland, where you can join the masses for outdoor – or indoor – festivals celebrating rock, pop, jazz, classical music, opera, theatre and film. You can see which of Switzerland’s festivals coincide with Swiss public and school holidays or read our pick of top 10 Swiss festivals and top Swiss foods to try at these events.
1 January: New Year’s celebrations
New Year’s parties are similar to elsewhere, except in the Appenzell region in northeast Switzerland where it is custom to celebrate the New Year a second time on 13 January, in reference to the start of the Gregorian calendar. It is tradition for the Silvesterchläuse (New Year’s Eve mummers) to go door to door ringing bells, yodelling and wishing everyone happiness and prosperity for the new year, typically receiving glühwein (mulled wine) and money in return. You can find three types of mummers (ugly, beautiful and ‘woodland and nature’) in the Appenzell highlands, and sometimes in events, parades or exhibitions held in larger cities.
Mid-January: Grindelwald World Snow Festival
The Swiss winter provides a backdrop for the artists and sculptors who specialize in artistic ice sculptures. Every year sculptors from all over the world gather in Grindelwald, near Interlaken. During this six-day Swiss festival, the streets of the snowy town become a charming museum with temporary creations decorating every corner. Until the ice melts, the white statues create an unforgettable experience for both locals and tourists.
End of January: International Balloon Festival, Château-d’Oex
For eight colourful days at the end of January, the Alpine village of Château-d’Oex accommodates around 80 hot air balloons from 20 different countries. Balloons of all kinds of shapes and sizes float over the snowy Alps. It is quite a spectacular Swiss festival to behold, turning the winter greys into a colourful sky.
February: White Turf, St Moritz
Thoroughbreds and jockeys from all over the world come to race on the frozen expanse of the Lake of St Moritz and the chance to win the biggest prize money in Switzerland. They’ll be galloping, cantering or skikjöring, where men are pulled along a 2,700 track on the frozen lake by unsaddled horses at speeds of up to 50 km/h.
Late February-Early March: Basel Fasnacht
Every year for around 700 years, thousands of Basel residents have gathered at 04:00 in the freezing cold, awaiting the four rings of the city clock that announces the start of the three-day carnival. The carnival participants wear masks and colourful disguises, and march in street parades accompanied by orchestras playing piccolos and other wind instruments. The next Basel Fasnacht starts on 6 March, 2017. Read Expatica’s guide to celebrating Fasnacht.
March–April: Interlaken Classics Music Festival
The Interlaken Music Festival is one of the most important events on the classical Swiss music festival calendar, with symphony and chamber music concerts filling the air in April. Performers at this annual music festival in Switzerland always include leading international orchestras and soloists. The 57th Interlaken Music Festival 2018 starts on 28 March and end on 22 April 2018.
Easter, Summer and November: Lucerne Festival
Three times each year, leading music performers from across the world – orchestras, conductors, soloists – convene in Lucerne to celebrate a Swiss music festival of sound. Around 120,000 visitors attend the three festivals, of which the summer one is the largest, presenting some hundred classical and modern concerts in Switzerland. Lucerne Festival at Easter runs for 10 days, culminating on Palm Sunday, placing emphasis on sacred music. Lucerne Festival at the Piano is held every November and celebrates the art of pianism. For one week, classical and jazz pianists, new virtuosos and established masters, organists and harpsichord players alike fill the air with recitals, concertos and improvisations. The Easter Festival will be held from 17–25 March, and the Summer Festival from 17 August to 16 September. The Lucerne Festival at the Piano will be held 17–25 November.
Third Monday in April: Sechseläuten (Six o’ Clock Chimes), Zurich
Members of all the guilds dress in costumes and celebrate the arrival of spring, which is highlighted by the burning of Böögg, a straw figure symbolizing winter. Additionally, there are children’s parades to keep the whole family entertained during this traditional festival in Switzerland. In 2018, the Sechseläuten festival will take place from 13–16 April.
May–June: Ascona Music Festival
The Ascona Music Festival is a prestigious Swiss chamber music festival, which is held in the picturesque town of Ascona. Located next to the majestic Lake Maggiore, this beautiful setting is ideal to celebrate chamber music’s finest repertoire with internationally renowned musicians. The ninth edition of this Swiss festival is held from 12 May to 5 October this year.
June: Fête de la Musique, Geneva
Fête de la musique runs annually, taking over the streets and squares of Lausanne every summer. Over 50 podiums show off musicians from across the globe, celebrating a range of music: classical orchestras, electro jazz bands to rock, pop, world music and French music. It is worth noting that most roads are blocked during the festival, and it is best to travel by public transport. The Geneva Fête de la musique will run from 22–24 June 2018.
June: Lugano Estival Jazz
For three days in the medieval town of Lugano, 17 free jazz concerts entertain jazz fans from around the globe. It is now one of the biggest festivals of its kind in Europe. The 2018 Lugano Estival Jazz will be held from 12–14 July.
June: Eidgenössisches Jodelfest
The most Swiss of sounds, the yodel, probably originated in the Stone Age as a call from mountain to mountain; choirs started singing yodelling songs in the 19th century, and today there are around 2,000 Swiss yodelling songs. You can hear Switzerland’s best yodellers at the Eidgenössisches Jodelfest. This four-day yodelling Swiss festival and competition brings together some 15,000 yodellers every three years, each time in a different city. The next festival will take place in Basel from 26–28 June 2020.
June–July: Zurich Festival
Every second summer for a month, Zurich Festival combines opera, concerts, dance, theatre and art, presenting the city’s diverse cultural institutions. The opening night of Zurich Festival, held in and around the Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, is becoming a tradition. The next Festspiele Zürich will take place from 1–24 June 2018.
June–September: William Tell Festival, Interlaken
Watch performances of the 200-year-old play, a wonderful retelling utilizing 200 amateur actors from toddlers to sprightly pensioners – and don’t forget the horses, cows, goats and sometimes even foxes and squirrels. Tell-Freilichtspiele performances run between 26 June to 1 September 2018.
Early July: Züri Fäscht, Zurich
In summertime every three years, citywide Zurich fest takes over the city with fairground revelry. Millions of visitors enjoy the carnival atmosphere, three days of celebrations and spectacular firework displays. The next Züri Fäscht will take place from 5 to 7 July 2019.
July: Montreux Jazz Festival
The world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival is held on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva. The extensive programme features everything from jazz and blues to rock and pop. Since its inception in 1967, some of the greatest jazz and blues artists have performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, including Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Charlie Mingus and Dexter Gordon. The 2018 edition of this Swiss jazz festival will feature special performances by Elton John and will be held from 29 June to 14 July 2018.
Mid-July: Gurten Music Festival, Bern
This multi-coloured music festival is a highlight of the Swiss festival calendar in Bern. Events last for four days and attract thousands of celebrating youth. Around 60 DJs perform with bands from Switzerland and around the world, playing a range of music from pop, rock, electro, punk, soul, hip-hop and blues. The Gurten Music Festival is held from 11 to 14 July 2018.
July: International Alphorn Festival, Nendaz
The traditional herdsman’s alphorn is a wind instrument that is so long that one end rests on the ground – and the shorter it is, the harder it is to play. The International Alphorn Festival is held every year in Nendaz in the Valais canton and consists of concerts, an official competition, workshops and other folk and traditional music and dances. The 17th festival will be held on 20 to 22 July 2018.
End of July: Paléo Swiss music festival, Nyon
The Paléo Festival is the biggest outdoor Swiss music festival, created in 1976 and situated between Geneva and Lausanne. Paléo Arts and Spectacles is a non-profit cultural association named after a successful racehorse, promoting music and art via concerts and other events. This Swiss music festival takes place over six days, promoting a combination of established stars and new talent through more than 100 concerts in Switzerland. Music genres include rock, French chanson, world music, reggae, hip-hop, classical music and street theatre. This Swiss festival is family-friendly with a day nursery and a children’s play area. There is also plenty of food on offer with over 100 food and craft stalls and restaurants. For festivalgoers, a free campsite is also available. The Paléo Festival runs from 17 to 22 July 2018.
July: Interlaken International Street Artists Festival
The Gauklerfest Interlaken sees the city come alive with street performers from all around the world. For three days at the end of July, this family-friendly Swiss festival has acts of every kind: acrobats, comedians, jugglers, musicians, and more. The Interlaken International Street Artists Festival runs from 27–29 July 2018.
July: Blue Balls Festival, Lucerne
With more than 100,000 visitors over nine days, the Blue Balls Festival is known for presenting internationally acclaimed artists in an intimate atmosphere at the KKL Culture and Convention Centre, plus new talents on five outdoor stages around Lake Lucerne. This music festival in Switzerland, which runs from 20 to 28 July 2018, presents a total of 100 shows, with international blues, jazz, soul, funk, world music, rock and pop acts, as well as music photography exhibitions, a video lounge and street art action painting.
July–August: Fête des Vignerons, Vevey
The Fête des Vignerons (Winegrowers Festival) is a unique Switzerland festival, taking place every 20 years in the Swiss town of Vevey, located in the heart of the Lavaux vineyards in the Canton of Vaud. This wine festival in Switzerland is full of activities, history and centuries-old traditions dating to the 18th century and was the first Swiss intangible cultural heritage to receive recognition by UNESCO in 2016. The town is also home to the new Charlie Chaplin museum and a great jumping point to explore the UNESCO-protected Lavaux vine terraces, making up the largest contiguous vineyard region in Switzerland. The next festival will be held from 18 July to 11 August 2019.
August 1: Swiss National Day
For most people, Swiss National Day on 1 August means fireworks, garden barbeques and brunch. Children can be seen parading through the streets with paper lanterns and people light candles in their windows. The Swiss celebrate their national day with village festivities, with gatherings throughout the country around bonfires in public places, listening intently to speeches about 1291, the start of the Swiss Confederation. Municipality-organized fireworks symbolize the expulsion of the foreign bailiffs in the 14th century. Swiss pride is eminent everywhere, from the flags flying from public and private buildings, to Swiss flag decorations on bread.
National day is definitely an occasion to experience with the locals when living in Switzerland. Thousands of people attend festivities in the largest cities (Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Bern and Lugano). The main celebrations take place at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen and at the Ruetli Meadows along Lake Lucerne.
August: Locarno International Film Festival
Every August, around 160,000 cinema-goers, as well as 1,000 journalists and 3,000 film professionals gather in the small Swiss-Italian town of Locarno, which becomes the world capital of auteur cinema for 11 days. The Locarno screening programme knows no borders – geographic, thematic nor stylistic – and offers all kinds of films and formats. The next Locarno International Film Festival runs from 1 to 11 August 2018.
September/October: Alpabfahrt or Désalpe
Every Autumn, the cows come back down to the valleys after their summer on the mountainside pastures in a procession called the Alpabfahrt or Désalpe. In Alpine villages all around Switzerland the cows, wearing flower headdresses and large jangling cowbells, parade through the streets. Expect mud, crowds, alphornists, brass bands, yodellers, street fairs and farmers’ markets in this cow festival in Switzerland.
Early October: Autumn Festival, Lugano
Every year in the early fall, Lugano residents and tourists say goodbye to the summer and welcome the beginning autumn. Lots of wine, music and local food accompany Switzerland’s celebrations, and visitors can sample an array of Ticinese specialties in Lugano. This year’s festival will take place from 5–7 October 2018.
October: Vernier Sur Rock Festival, Geneva
At the Vernier Sur Rock Festival, you can expect three nights of live music at the Salles des Fetes du Lignon in Geneva. It covers a wide spectrum of sounds including punk, reggae and heavy metal. Famous artists such as Skunk Anansie have performed at this festival. The Vernier Swiss music festival is smaller and more intimate than Paléo. The 2018 Vernier Sur Rock Festival will take place from 11–13 October.
October–November: International Film Festival, Geneva
This world-renowned Swiss festival, held in Geneva, honours some of the most creative and innovative works made for television or cinema. This Swiss festival also includes a Children’s Day, film previews, and a film market. Events take place for six days from the end of October to the beginning of November at Cinéma Tout Ecran, Maison des Arts du Gruetli, Geneva. The 24th Geneva International Film Festival runs 2–10 November 2018.
Fourth Monday in November: Zibelemärit (Onion Market), Bern
This traditional folk festival draws farmers – and 50 tons of onions artistically woven into braids – from the surrounding areas into the city of Bern as early as 05:00. Stalls sell traditional pottery, foods and hot mulled wine while youngsters throw confetti in the streets. This year’s Swiss festival takes place on 26 November 2018.
Mid-December: Fête de L’Escalade, Geneva
L’Escalade is Geneva’s biggest celebrated event. It commemorates the failed attempt of the Duke of Savoy to seize the town by surprise on the night of 11 to 12 December 1602. Locals dress up in costume and parade the streets with torchlights and drums. Brigades on horseback in period costumes, country markets, and folk music are interspersed with Rabelaisian banquets, fife-and-drum parades, and torch-lit marches. L’Escalade is from 7–9 December 2018.
6 December: Christmas in Switzerland
Christmas in Switzerland starts early on 6 December, when Samichlaus (the Swiss Santa Claus) brings presents to children, accompanied by his sinister side-kick Schmutzli. Advent calendars are also popular around Switzerland, and a great way to join the Swiss Christmas fun, alongside visiting a cheery range of traditional Christmas markets around Switzerland.
Experience more top festivals in Europe and abroad:
- Belgian festivals
- Dutch festivals
- French festivals
- German festivals
- Festivals in Luxembourg
- Portuguese festivals
- Russian festivals
- South African festivals
- Spanish festivals
- UK festivals
Click to the top of our Switzerland festivals guide.
Photo credit (CC-Licence): Ivan Babovic (International Balloon Festival), Roland zh (Sechselauten), Elma Okic (Montreux Jazz Festival), © City of Interlaken (Interlaken Street Artists festival), (Alpabfahrt), Roland Zumbuehl pierre bédat (Swiss National Day fireworks and ride), Erdrokan via Wikimedia Commons (L’Escalade), thumbnail photo Markus Nägele via Wikimedia Commons.