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Culture For Members

Why is everything in Switzerland closed on Sundays - and what can you do instead?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why is everything in Switzerland closed on Sundays - and what can you do instead?
You can't even buy a tuba on Sunday in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

Sunday is a traditional day of rest in Switzerland and much of the country pretty much shuts down. This is why, and what you can do instead.

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If you come from a country with a 24/7 retail culture — the United States, the UK, and Australia, to mention just a few —  then Switzerland’s limited shopping hours will come as a shock and disappointment.

Logic would have it that if people have a day off work on Sunday, they might want to use it to shop — either to stock up on groceries and other basic necessities for the whole week, or just indulge in some relaxing ‘retail therapy’.

If this is your thing, then Switzerland is definitely not for you.

Swiss businesses — including shops — can open from Monday to Friday between 6am and 9pm, and on Saturdays until 6pm.  However, even within these parameters, it is rare to find a store that stays open until 9pm.

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Why is this?

Historically, the reason in this Christian country was that Sunday should be a day of worship, not work.

With time, however, the religious aspect has diminished, as has church attendance: studies show that the number of people who belong to the Catholic and Swiss Reformed churches has continued to fall in Switzerland.

Also, trade unions have stepped up their campaign against Sunday shop openings on the grounds that they prevent retail personnel from enjoying a day of rest spent with their families.

For instance, Switzerland’s largest labour group, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA), argues that “it is not acceptable to subject humans to the pursuit of profit by forcing them to work 7 days a week in sectors where it is not essential”.

READ MORE: Everything foreigners need to know about trade unions in Switzerland

The work-life balance for retail workers has had a strong support of most Swiss consumers as well. Time and again the issue of Sunday shop openings is brought to the ballot box in various cantons and municipalities, and rejected by voters.

For this very same reason, Switzerland’s employment law generally prohibits the employment of staff on Sundays, with a few exceptions (see below).

A number of readers of The Local had weighed in on this issue as well:

Your views: ‘No Sunday shopping is one of the best things about Zurich’

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Is everything closed on Sundays? What if I have to buy a loaf of bread or an unusually large amount of cheese?

Don’t worry, you won’t have to starve.

The law allows certain retailers to stay open on Sundays — for instance, small ‘convenience’ shops at petrol and train stations. Stores are also open at airports (even though there are only three in Switzerland) and in some tourist spots in the mountains.

Keep in mind that these are likely to be more expensive than Swiss supermarkets, so plan ahead and only buy items which are absolutely essential. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Some larger stores will also be allowed to open in the run up to Christmas. 

If you find your cupboards are bare on a Sunday, you can still eat out. 

Many bakeries are open on Sunday mornings, are as coffee shops, tea rooms and restaurants.

So while it seems that life in Switzerland comes to a standstill on Sundays, it doesn’t completely. 

There are, however, limits to what you can (and can’t) do

As The Local has reported on several occasions, Sundays are special days in Switzerland, and not just because of the no-shopping rule.

In Switzerland, Sundays are considered rest days, so your neighbours’ peace and quiet should not be disrupted by any loud sound — such as  a lawn mower, hedge cutter, nail being hammered into a wall, or even the sound of glass bottles being tossed into a communal recycling bin.

Also, you cannot hang your laundry out to dry, as the sight of your undies may be offensive to your neighbours on a Sunday.

And you thought shop closures were your biggest problem. 

READ MORE: Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

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