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OPINION: How you can make the most of the hectic Swiss summer

Clare O'Dea
Clare O'Dea - [email protected]
OPINION: How you can make the most of the hectic Swiss summer
A cyclist at Berghaus Sulzfluh, Saint Antönien, Switzerland. The Swiss love summer activities. Photo by Kay Liedl on Unsplash

The first rule of Swiss summer is that is has to be enjoyed to the maximum. No excuses, you’ve got to be out there making the most of the weather, events and amenities every spare minute, writes Clare O’Dea.


Summer in Switzerland is the most hectic season of the year. The whole country comes out to play and there are more summer festivals per capita than anywhere else on earth. That’s not a real statistic, to be honest, just a very strong impression.

But here’s a real statistic: Switzerland has one of the highest sport participation rates in the world, at around 75 percent. Swiss people love to be outside and they love to be active. And summer is when they come into their own.

Swimming, cycling, hiking, running, paragliding, paddle-boarding, ball games – it’s all happening on Swiss lakes, rivers, mountains, parks, forests and trails. So much so, that it can be hard to escape the crowds.

For those who enjoy crowds and music, not a day goes by in summer without an open-air festival or concert. From baroque to hip hop, all possible tastes are catered for, as this list from Switzerland Tourism shows.

The monster of all festivals is Paléo Festival in Nyon in July. Over six days and six nights, there are more than 300 concerts and shows on seven stages with 150 stalls to serve the 250,000 festival goers. It sounds like my personal hell but 250,000 people can’t be wrong, can they?

Other big-name festivals include the Gurtenfestival in Bern in July, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and Zurich Open Air in August. The iconic Montreux Jazz festival is kicking off this weekend on June 30.

READ ALSO: 10 unmissable events in Switzerland in July 2023

Beat the crowds


Apart from the famous, expensive festivals, there is abundant free entertainment to be found in the form of smaller festivals and celebrations in villages and towns, including sports events. Little wonder that the Swiss like to summer at home. According to a recent Swiss Tourism survey, 43 percent of Swiss residents plan to spend this summer in Switzerland. The top domestic destinations are Graubünden, Ticino, Bern and Valais.

One word of advice, July and August is not the time to visit the main Swiss tourist destinations for international tourists, places like Interlaken, Jungfraujoch and Lucerne’s Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). The Swiss know this already.

READ ALSO: 5 spectacular Swiss tourist sites hit by overcrowding


For those who don’t have the funds to go far, there is always the nearest Badi or public swimming pool, an institution in Swiss summer life. There are 600 such open-air pools in the country, and everyone has their favourite.

Located on the outskirts of towns or in city centres, often directly on rivers and lakes, these are excellent value and a good place to spend the day. Bern’s legendary Marzili Pool on the Aare River just 300 metres from the Swiss parliament building is an outstanding example.

Public pools have the advantage of having changing cabins, showers, lifeguards and usually food and drink on offer, but there are countless access points to Switzerland’s lakes and rivers for those who prefer a quieter setting.

Embrace barbecuing

Grilling outdoors is also a huge part of the Swiss summer experience.

Recreational settings, from mountain trails to lake beaches and city parks, are well served with specially-built grilling stations, and people are expected to use these rather than improvise their own, especially at a time when the threat of wild fires is high all over Europe. Don’t forget your cervelat!

As for grilling on your own balcony, it is allowed – as long as it doesn’t disturb anyone. A bit of a subjective measure. If you have difficult neighbours you haven’t met yet, your first barbecue may be how you get to know them.

READ MORE: Can I have a barbecue on my balcony in Switzerland?


The quiet hours also apply to balcony and garden activity so you have to be aware not to make too much noise at lunchtime, after 10pm or on Sundays.

Enjoy the nature - but be mindful

You might think that mountain hiking in the heat is less appealing but the mountains have the advantage of being a few degrees cooler on hot days.

Beware of going hiking with Swiss people.Their idea of a regular hike is pretty long and strenuous. The highlight for me is when you arrive in the chalet at the end and order a beer shandy.

A drink in the Swiss mountains.

Embrace the breaks in the Swiss mountains.Photo by on Unsplash

Once upon a time, the mountains were havens for nature but a vast network of lifts has put an end to that idyll, and the mountains have been well and truly colonised.

The least we can do is be mindful of wildlife and not leave any rubbish or food scraps behind. As for farm animals, be sure to give cows and sheepdogs a very wide berth. I have had scary encounters with both.

One thing about Swiss summer is that the weather is not reliable. Every year, a certain number of events will inevitably be cancelled. Some weddings will take place in torrential rain. We will certainly have long, hot spells but sudden storms are part of the mix, especially in the mountains where you do not want to be caught out in the open. So it’s wise to keep an eye on your weather app.

But when the sun does shine, it is very strong. As you apply the world’s most expensive sun cream (another possibly true factoid), remember that, amid all the energetic activity, someone has to bring down the average by sitting in the dappled shade, gently turning the pages of a book.


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