Towns big and small hold all kinds of events, traditional or sporty. You can find a list of thousands of happenings at MySwitzerland.com, but here are just a few special ones. If you have a chance, attend a tournament of one of Switzerland’s traditional sports, Schwingen or Hornussen.
Vogel Gryff Festival (The Feast of the Griffin), Basel. The "Wild Man of the Woods" appears on a boat, followed by a mummers' parade. For more information, see www.basel.com. Mid-January.
Basler Fasnacht, Basel. A noisy, 3-day party as parades of "cliques" in bizarre masks bury the town in confetti. See www.baslerfasnacht.info. First Monday after Ash Wednesday.
Luzern’s Fasnacht is 2 weeks of music and festivities wrapping up the week before Basel’s. Other towns throughout the country also celebrate Fasnacht, but mostly on a smaller scale.
Sechseläuten (Six O'Clock Bells), Zurich. Members of the guilds dress in costumes and celebrate the arrival of spring. The climax is the burning of Böögg, a snowman figure symbolizing winter. The speed at which his head explodes predicts how hot the summer will be. There are also children's parades. See www.zuerich.com (shows the parade route on a map). Early April.
Corpus Christi. Solemn processions in the Roman Catholic regions and towns of Switzerland. End of May.
Art Basel, Basel. The international art world’s VIPs congregate at the leading art show here, exhibiting works by more than 4,000 artists. Additional art-related events take place around the city, too. www.artbasel.com. One week, mid-June.
William Tell Festival, Interlaken. Performances of the famous play by Schiller. www.tellspiele.ch. June to September.
Fête de la Cité, Lausanne. Free festival with activities for all ages and concerts around the city. For information, see www.lausanne-tourisme.ch. July.
Montreux International Jazz Festival, Montreux. More than jazz, this festival features everything from reggae bands to African tribal chanters. Monster dance fests also break out nightly. The festival concludes with a marathon of world music. www.montreuxjazz.com. Lasts 2 weeks, starting late June or early July.
Züri Fäscht, Zurich. This summertime folk festival takes over the city with fairground revelry. Held every 3 years on the first weekend of July. www.zuerifaescht.ch.
National Holiday, nationwide. Think 4th of July. Look for fairs, fireworks, and Swiss flags a go-go starting July 31 to usher in the national holiday Aug 1. Farms across the country open their doors to host a brunch with their own products and pay tribute to Swiss customs. Must book ahead at www.brunch.ch (German, French, and Italian only).
Fêtes de Genève, Geneva. Highlights are flower parades, fireworks, and live music all over the city. For more information, visit www.fetes-de-geneve.ch. Early August.
Locarno Film Festival, Locarno. Pros and fans have descended on this Ticino town since 1946 to celebrate great filmmaking. Directors like Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch had their international debut here. Details at www.locarnofestival.ch. Mid-August.
Lucerne Festival, Lucerne. Concerts, theater, art exhibitions, and street musicians. For more information, see www.lucernefestival.ch. Mid-August through mid-September.
Zurich Street Parade. Visitors flock to Zurich for a daylong techno/dance party and parade that takes over the entire city. You'll either want to book a hotel far in advance, or avoid this at all costs. Visit www.streetparade.ch. Early to mid-August.
Cow processions, various Alpine villages. As autumn begins, cows are beautified with crowns of flowers and paraded down from the pastures by locals in traditional garb, usually accompanied by a market. Known as Alpabzug, Find information on www.myswitzerland.com. September to October.
Knabenschiessen, Zurich. Translated, this could mean "shooting boys," but it’s actually the other way around—boys shooting. And these days, girls join the shooting competition, which dates back to the 17th century, too. Not everyone shoots a rifle here, but crowds stream to Zurich’s largest annual fair, held in conjunction. Details at www.zuerich.com. Sat–Mon, early September.
Autumn Festival, Lugano. A parade and other festivities mark harvest time. Little girls throw flowers from blossom-covered floats and oxen pull festooned wagons in a colorful procession. For information, call tel. 091/913-32-32 or visit www.lugano-tourism.ch. Early October.
Chestnut Festivals, Ascona and Ticino. The beloved chestnut is feted around the region, with one of the most popular festivals in Ascona. See www.ticino.com. Late September, early October.
Aelplerchilbi, Kerns and other villages of the Unterwalden Canton. Dairy workers and pasture owners join villagers in a traditional festival to mark the end of an alpine summer. www.obwalden-tourismus.ch. Late September to mid-November.
Zibelemärit, Bern. The famous "onion market" fair and folk festival. Visit www.bern.com for more information. Fourth Monday in November.
Christmas Festivities and Market, throughout Switzerland. Ancient St. Nicholas parades and traditional markets are staged throughout the country to mark the beginning of Christmas observances, with a major one at Fribourg. Some other beloved Christmas markets are in Bremgarten, Einsiedeln, Montreux, and Basel. Early December through December 24.
L'Escalade, Geneva. A festival commemorating the failure of the duke of Savoy's armies to take Geneva by surprise on the night of December 11, 1602. Brigades on horseback in period costumes, country markets, and folk music are interspersed with Rabelaisian banquets, fife-and-drum parades, and torch-lit marches. Geneva's Old Town provides the best vantage point. See www.geneve.com. Three days and nights (nonstop) in early December.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.