A trip to Switzerland offers unparalleled natural beauty and adventure no matter when you visit. Nestled between the Alps and Jura Mountains, the alpine nation is full of vibrant cities, incredible landscapes, and exciting activities. With distinct topographies throughout its regions, Switzerland is also full of diverse microclimates. Every season offers something different. The best time to visit will depend on where you want to go, what you want to see, and how much you’re wiling to spend. Whether you prefer the snowy mountains and Christmas markets of winter, the warm weather and music festivals of summer, or the relative quiet of spring and fall, discover the best time to visit Switzerland for you.
Many people associate Switzerland with après-ski activities and cozy cabins — and for good reason. The whole country gets a romantic glow when the temperatures fall and days grow shorter. Winter (December through March) is one of Switzerland’s high seasons, especially for ski resort areas like Zermatt and St. Moritz.
Of course, snow spreads all the way to the valleys and big cities. Be prepared for bundled days and snuggly nights under heat lamps if you plan on doing some urban exploring. For something truly special, time your trip around some of Switzerland’s famous festivals. In early December, Geneva celebrates its victory against the invading French. Known as L’Escalade, the commemoration fills Geneva’s streets with specially decorated chocolates and parades. To get everyone excited for the celebration, there’s also a five-mile race through the city’s steep Old Town a week before the main events.
The holiday season is an especially popular time to visit Swiss cities like Zurich, Lucerne, and the capital of Bern. Starting in late November, the seasonal markets are in full swing. Each offers unique gifts, beautiful lights, and steamy hot chocolate, but none are as incredible as the market in Montreux. The nearby Chillon Castle also gets in the spirit, showing visitors how Christmas was celebrated in medieval times.
If the holiday crowds are too much to bear, let Switzerland be your first trip in the new year. The village of Grindelwald welcomes international artists in January for the annual World Snow Festival. Visitors can watch as they create giant icy sculptures, toboggan down the hills, and warm up with a forkful of fondue. Carnival is another fun time to visit Switzerland. At the end of February and beginning of March, Basel hosts an incredible carnival. And 2018 is certainly the year to visit this cosmopolitan and cultured city. The tourism board is distributing a BaselCard to every traveler staying overnight in a hotel, hostel, Airbnb, or any other type of accommodation. This offers a range of benefits, including free public transportation, free access to the citywide Wi-Fi network, and 50 percent off all the city’s museums.
Though spring is one of the least popular seasons to visit Switzerland, it’s arguably one of the most idyllic. Nowhere is this charm better seen than the lowlands. You’ll need a jacket to thwart the chill, but it’s a great time to walk through the forests and meadows. Along with experiencing fewer crowds, you’ll witness the natural wonders as they wake up from winter hibernation. Lakes glitter, flowers are in full bloom, and the local produce markets burst with fresh offerings. Spring is when apple, cherry, and magnolia trees hit their peak. Scenic train rides are also open year-round, and with reduced crowds, spring is a great time to enjoy the thrill of one. Be sure to build a balanced itinerary with both country and city experiences.
You can still go skiing and snowboarding in March as the mountains maintain wintry conditions through the month. Thanks to the sun’s rays, it can actually be one of the best times to experience Switzerland’s famed slopes. Best of all, you won’t be fighting for a spot on the chairlift or in the post-run sauna. Most resorts close their doors by mid-April. Around the same time, hiking trails open up. There are more than 40,000 miles of marked trails throughout the country. Just beware that unpredictable spring weather may make them quite muddy.
By May, shoulder season has arrived. It isn’t quite summer, but hotels and attractions will be busier. This is the best time of year for sommeliers, oenophiles, and enotourists. There are 200 vine varieties throughout the country, creating a diverse spread of reds, whites, and blends. Vineyards and wineries open their doors every May to celebrate the harvest, offering tours and tastings throughout their facilities. The tradition is strongest in the French-speaking cantons, where it’s referred to as caves ouvertes and lasts through early June.
Summer is when things really heat up in Switzerland. Temperatures range from 64 to 86 degrees, depending on the region, and sunshine lasts from six in the morning to nearly 10 at night. Summer in Switzerland also boasts the most tourists. Visitors should book accommodations well in advance as hotels in tourist areas like Lugano and Lausanne fill up quickly. Lake Geneva and Zurich also experience a summer surge. And though the weather is most pleasant in summer, there’s also quite a bit of rain and nights can be quite cool. This is especially true in the north, so you’ll want an adaptable wardrobe.
June is the calm before the proverbial storm. It’s warm and dry, but slightly less popular than July or August, making it the perfect time to visit the lakes and waterfalls throughout Switzerland. Summer conditions are ideal for hiking, cycling, kayaking, and enjoying other outdoor pursuits. By mid-July, even the highest altitude trails are clear of snow. You’ll have clear views of the breathtaking Swiss scenery.
Extreme sports and adrenaline-pumping activities have found a new home in Switzerland and summer is a great time to visit the capital of it all, Interlaken. Whether you want to propel down a canyon, bungee-jump off a bridge, paraglide through the valley, go whitewater rafting down a river, or ride a quad bike through a forest, Switzerland has it all. Plus, the dramatic backdrop adds something special to the experience.
Summer is also peak festival season in Switzerland, so despite nature calling, you’ll want to leave some time for city experiences, too. Paléo is the country’s biggest open-air music festival. It takes place in Nyon in July. Music lovers won’t want to miss the Montreux Jazz Festival later in the month. Held along the shores of Lake Geneva since 1967, the event is the largest jazz festival in Europe. If you can, hang around until August 1 for Swiss National Day (also known as Bundesfeier). Swiss pride — in the form of flags on everything from chocolate and bread to paper lanterns — takes over the country. Every city, town, and village light the night with fireworks and bonfires, but the water is the best place to celebrate. Rhine Falls gets especially lit up for the occasion. It would be wise to study the national anthem and other traditional songs before celebrations begin.
While most visitors head back home when August ends, Switzerland is still welcoming in the fall. In fact, the dry, slightly cooler temperatures and fewer crowds of September provide ideal conditions for a hike. If you time it right, you’ll see the trees start to change colors and leaves will lighten up your path. The fall is also suitable for other outdoor activities, like cycling and paragliding, which also only get more beautiful with some added color. You can raft and skydive as well, and if you head to the mountains at the end of the month, snowshoeing season has already begun.
The crisp autumn nights are also a symbol of harvest. Throughout several regions, there are harvest festivals to celebrate grapes, gourds, and apricots. For those interested in culinary travel, the fall and especially October are a great time for sampling the delicious cheese in the country. Fondue parties start up again when the colder weather hits and places like Gruyères and Charmey welcome visitors. And though chocolate tastes good in any season, you’ll want to carve out some time to tour the Maison Cailler factory in Broc during the fall.
The only time you may want to avoid Switzerland is early November when the weather is cold and wet, cable cars and pass roads are closed due to maintenance or bad weather, and the Christmas markets aren’t yet open. If you plan on visiting during late fall, you’ll want to confirm that shops, hotels, and attractions are open at your desired destination.
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