Although most travelers save Switzerland for the winter months, our own Swiss writer says summer is the best time to enjoy the country, meet the locals and ingratiate yourself in some of the traditional customs. Moreover, you don’t have to compromise if you’ve had your heart set on a ski break in Switzerland — can actually ski in the summer here!
Switzerland is known as the ultimate winter vacation destination. One would therefore expect that the Swiss prefer the cold winter months, for it allows them to practice their beloved winter sports. While they do indeed love winter, summer with all its fun activities is the most highly anticipated season of every year: It’s all about soaking up the sun and nature.
Let me introduce you to the top five ways that summer is enjoyed, the Swiss way:
Swimming: Everywhere and all the time
As we know, Switzerland is landlocked, which means the country has no direct access to the sea. However, that doesn’t stop the Swiss from putting on their swimsuits: They just take to one of their many beautiful lakes or rivers found throughout the country. And why wouldn’t they? Swiss bodies of water are clean (usually glacially-fed), no sharks and plenty of fun. A lot of lakes have official swimming areas, the so called Badi. You’ll find different services there like restaurants, changing rooms, lifeguards as well as slides and diving platforms. In Switzerland’s capital city of Bern — where there is no lake — locals float down the Aare river in tubes. Another huge plus: Most Swiss cities are built around bodies of water, which allows employees to go for a swim during their lunch breaks. It’s the best way to beat the heat in a country where air conditioners are rare!
Hiking: The best way to enjoy nature
Although many Swiss mountains will maintain their snow caps throughout the summer (you can actually ski in the summer in Switzerland!), most Swiss people head to the spectacularly green hiking paths just below them. With a network of more than 65,000 kilometers of hiking paths, there’s always something new to see. Most are accessible by train, boat or gondola, so there is no need to rent a car if you are traveling in Switzerland during the summer. You’ll see locals all over the trails and will have no problem finding a gourmet lunch at one of the many trailside restaurants. It should come as no surprise that hiking is the most popular sport in Switzerland (according to the Federal Roads Office, ASTRA). Oh and, did you know that sometimes, the Swiss even enjoy hiking trails in the nude? I’d also recommend camping overnight on the trail at one of Switzerland’s official campgrounds.
Hungry? Let’s barbecue
Having spent many summers in Switzerland myself, let me tell you one thing: No Swiss summer is complete without at least half a dozen invitations to a barbecue party. You’re either chilling on the balcony or terrace at a friend’s house or using one of the many public barbecue pits. Those can be found just about anywhere: by lakes, hiking trails, public parks, and more. The cool thing about them is that they’re usually fully equipped with everything you need, such as a grill, wood to burn, and even barbecue tongs. This is especially handy if you’re traveling through Switzerland and staying in a hotel without a kitchen. All you need is some local bratwurst!
Make friends at open air music festivals
Especially for young people in Switzerland, music festivals are a staple in the summer. There are so many of them in the country that you could go to a different one each weekend all summer long. They usually last between two to four days and are held outdoors. Amongst the biggest and most popular ones are the Greenfield Festival in Interlaken (mainly rock music), the Open-Air Frauenfeld in Thurgau (hip-hop music) and the famous Montreux Jazz Festival which brings in tourists and music groups from around the world. There are many lesser-known festivals (and many free ones!) where you can mingle with the locals over cold beers. The Swiss festival experience, however, is only complete if you camp out in the festival’s campgrounds as well.
The best day of Switzerland’s summer? August 1st
Hiking, barbecuing, swimming and dancing – all of these beloved summer activities come together on the first of August: Swiss National Day. It’s a national holiday and everyone – truly everyone (you will not find a grocery store open!) – gets the day off to relax. Throughout the country you will find events celebrating Swiss heritage. Each area of Switzerland has slightly different traditions related to which cultures settled in that area. For example, you can find groups of yodelers and alphorn players performing traditional Swiss folk music. It is also one of the only times of year you can catch a schwingen match, or a type of Alpine wrestling that is done outside. Many popular destinations such as Zermatt and Interlaken host all-day street parties on August 1st, where you can enjoy local food and merriment. (Here is a comprehensive calendar of this year’s August 1st events). In most of Switzerland’s major cities you will find magical fireworks displays that go late into the night.
Winter in the Swiss Alps is on many a traveler’s bucket list, but I’d advise you to add “summer in Switzerland,” as well, if you want to really get to know the country and her people.
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