The Best Time to Visit Switzerland

Matterhorn at Zermatt
Mats Silvan / Getty Images

Dominated by the Alps and dotted with large, clear, and clean lakes, the visually stunning country of Switzerland has plenty to offer year-round. It's an outdoor playground in all seasons, and its cities range from exciting and modern to historic and charming to a little bit of both. Becuase Swiss cities don't draw the same number of tourists as other popular European cities they're unlikely to feel overcrowded.

The best time to visit Switzerland depends on what you want to see and do. If you want to enjoy winter sports in the Swiss Alps, January and February are the best months to visit. Those same mountains are a hiker’s paradise in summer, and Switzerland's many lakes are at their warmest in July and August. If you want to avoid the crowds, autumn and spring are traditionally the country’s shoulder seasons, so you might find more affordable accommodation and fewer crowds.

Weather in Switzerland

Broadly speaking, Switzerland enjoys a moderate climate, with low humidity and four seasons. However, the mountainous terrain of the country means the weather can change quickly, especially as you ascend to higher altitudes. In summer, temperatures hover around 65 to 82 degrees F (18 to 28 degrees C) but it can get much hotter at lower elevations. Summer is the rainiest season in Switzerland, but it's rare to find a day without at least a few hours of sunshine.

Winters are cold and snowy (though snow is not guaranteed), especially at low altitudes. There's always a high chance of finding a winter wonderland in higher-altitude areas like Zermatt and Saas-Fee, especially during the months of January and February. However, some of the country’s ski resorts will boost their base layer at the start of the season with snow cannons. Winter temperatures generally range between 28 to 45 degrees F (-2 to 7 degrees C), but it gets much colder as you venture higher into the mountains.

Spring and autumn see mostly dry weather and cool temperatures, usually between 46 to 59 degrees F (8 to 15 degrees C). These are the best months to beat the crowds and are also excellent seasons for hiking and other outdoor pursuits. However, both spring and fall are too cold for lake swimming and too warm for snowfall and skiing.

Crowds in Switzerland

Switzerland is a popular destination for travelers from all over the world, meaning that its ski slopes, hiking trails, and city centers can get pretty crowded in the peak summer months (June to August). Summer tends to bring in plenty of hikers, bikers, and tourists who want to explore the lakes and walking trails of the country. It helps to make reservations well in advance, especially for popular attractions like the scenic Jungfrau Railway.

In the winter, especially around the Christmas holidays, Alpine towns and resorts fill up with skiers and those who just want to enjoy the snowy landscapes. If you want a winter visit to a popular ski village like Verbier, Zermatt, St. Moritz, or Davos, book your stay way in advance.

If you prefer to avoid the crowds, the shoulder seasons of spring and fall are your best bet, as you’ll enjoy mild weather, cheaper flights, and greater accommodation availability. Just keep in mind that some hotels and restaurants, particularly family-owned ones, may shut down for a few weeks twice a year. They’ll take some time to switch gears from summer to winter (or vice-versa) and frequently close their doors for a much-needed break in November and April or May. 

Tourist Attraction Availability

Most visitors to Switzerland plan their vacation dates around the activities they want to enjoy. In the warmer months (May to September), Switzerland’s sunshine and mild climate are ideal for al-fresco dining, boating on Lake Geneva or Lake Constance, and outdoor sports. Of course, the big draw of the summertime is hiking through Switzerland’s incredible Alpine regions, such as the Bernese Oberland, Appenzell, and Engadine. 

In the winter, many of these same areas become winter wonderlands, attracting not only skiers, snowboarders, ice climbers, and families who want to play in the snow.

Weather is the biggest determining factor for some activities and attractions. Outdoor dining and pop-up bars appear in the summer months but are rarer when it's cold outside. Tour boats on Swiss lakes still run in the winter, but far less frequently.

Key Holidays, Festivals, and Events

There are lots of great events in Switzerland that occur throughout the year, so you might want to time your visit to coincide with one or more of them:

  • Art Basel: One of the world’s most prestigious international art fairs, a visit to Art Basel is an incredible way to see art, new and old, and to rub shoulders with famous artists and celebrities. 
  • Christmas Markets: From November through December, many Swiss towns and cities host outdoor Christmas markets with plenty of merriment, food, and entertainment. Sample Swiss delicacies, enjoy the twinkle of the holiday lights, ice skate, visit Samichlaus (or Saint-Nicolas in French-speaking Switzerland), and shop for traditional handicrafts and souvenirs. 
  • Ski World Cup Wengen: Winter sports fans shouldn’t miss the international Lauberhorn ski races, held in mid-January. The courses are some of the toughest slaloms in the world and are a delight for spectators. 
  • Lucerne Festival: Held on the shores of Lake Lucerne, the Lucerne Festival is a delight for classical music fans, attracting some of the most talented classical musicians from around the world. 

January

After the Christmas and New Year’s rush thins out, usually by Jan. 6, this can be a slightly quieter month in Switzerland, especially away from the ski resorts. You'll still find plenty of fun on the slopes or you can spend some time ice skating. If you’re feeling the chill, pop into one of the country’s cozy fondue chalets to sample one of the world’s best winter comfort foods—fresh bread dipped in melted cheese. 

Temperatures in January are reliably cold, averaging between 25 and 37 degrees F (-4 and 3 degrees C)— and dropping the higher into the mountains you climb. Lower elevations may see more rain than snow, depending on annual weather patterns. Cold temperatures translate to great indoor events, including an annual roster of engaging art museum exhibits around the country.

February

February temperatures are about the same, or often colder, as in January. This is also the driest month of the year, making it a great period for skiing and winter sports. Be sure to reserve early for a hotel room in the ski areas, and expect a long line for the cable cars up to the pistes.

For other indoor activities, you might want to visit some of the country’s amazing museums, like the Swiss National Museum in Zurich or The Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

March

March might be the start of spring, but the weather can still be unpredictable. It’s not uncommon to get warm, sunny days, followed by snow. Most ski resorts will still be fully operational in March. Cities may have a bit of gray pall over them, it is typically overcast in much of the country during this month, with temperatures hovering between about 36 and 50 degrees F (2 and 10 degrees C).

If you’re lucky enough to catch a warm spring day, do as the Swiss do and get out and enjoy it — maybe by way of a lakeside walk. 

April

As the country glides into spring, the beautiful wildflowers and blooms brighten up the country after a long winter. April in Switzerland is a glorious time for getting outside and enjoying lake tours, outdoor dining, and mountain hikes. But it's not time to pack your summer wardrobe just yet, as temperatures rarely creep above 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) in most of the country this month.

May

With the weather getting warmer and the snow melted away, May is the traditional start of the summer tourism season. It can be a beautiful time to visit and enjoy the outdoors before peak season gets underway. Keep in mind that though temperatures can reach into the 70s F, weather is still unpredictable. Pack layers, and don't expect to do any lake swimming—unless you're in the mood for a very chilly dip. While May tends to be rainy, you’re still likely to get plenty of sunshine. 

June

June brings temperatures well into the 70s F, making for a wonderfully pleasant time outside. Plenty of people have the same idea, but thanks to Switzerland's abundance of wide-open spaces, it's possible to have plenty of room to yourself, especially if an Alpine hike is calling your name. Lakes start to warm up ever so slightly and are inviting for a bracing swim, kayaking, or a lake tour aboard a tourist boat. If you'd prefer to stay on land, there are also options for a lakeside bike ride or walk.

June is the rainiest month in Switzerland, but there are still plenty to hours of sunshine, especially in the southern Ticino canton. Just be sure to pack an umbrella and expect a daily thunderstorm.

July

July is the start of the high season, as summer vacations bring plenty of people to the country. Temperatures can get into the 80s F, so July is great for swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking. Many lakes offer outdoor pools, with public facilities for swimming and changing. You'll find a wide range of temperatures between day and night, as daytime temps can top 80 degrees F and evening temps can dip below 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), especially at higher elevations.

To avoid missing out, book your accommodation and excursions well in advance. 

August

August weather is fairly similar to that of July, as are the crowds. There’s always a chance of a summer thunderstorm, but you’ll still have plenty of hot and sunny days to enjoy. This is peak time for hiking and lake activities—be sure not to leave the country without hitting a trail or taking a dip in one of Switzerland's pristine lakes.

Swiss National Day is held on Aug. 1 each year in celebration of the founding of the Swiss Confederation. Throughout the country, expect fireworks and festivities similar to the 4th of July in the U.S.

September

Moving into September, temperatures start to drop a little, especially in the evenings. Temperatures top out in the 70s F and can drop to the 50s F at night. There are still plenty of warm days for outdoor activities and fewer crowds, which is why we consider September a top month for a visit to Switzerland.

If you're in a rural area, especially the villages of the Appenzell canton, you may catch a delightful tradition. During the "Alpine descent," cattle farmers bring their herds down from their summer grazing grounds. The cows are decorated with flower garlands and bells, and the noisy, colorful procession is a celebrated sight as it passes through town. This is also a good time to look for wine festivals, especially in the Vaud region around Lake Geneva.

October

Although the weather becomes noticeably cooler in October, it’s also one of the driest months of the year, so Swiss residents and visitors take advantage and do some autumn hiking before the snowfall arrives. The clear days can be ideal for taking the gondola up to see the Matterhorn, Switzerland's most famous peak. Daytime highs may reach into the 60s F, with nighttime temperatures dipping into the 40s F. 

Look for gastronomic festivals this month; there are events celebrating truffles, chestnuts, cheese, and other delicacies.

November

November definitely feels like winter, with cold temperatures and a high possibility of snowfall. Temperatures seldom top 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) and may dip below freezing, especially at night. Snow conditions permitting, some ski resorts will open towards the end of the month. In cities, cold temperatures mean you might want to plan plenty of indoor activities, like visiting art galleries, shopping, or attending a show—the Zurich Opera season is in full swing. Christmas markets open up toward the end of the month as the festive period kicks in.

December 

December in Switzerland is cold with snow or rain coming, depending on the temperature which can be single-digit freezing or stretch into the low 40s F. Despite the cold and often grey conditions, December is one of the most festive months of the year. Cities and towns are decorated with Christmas trees and twinkling lights, and traditional Christmas markets pop up throughout the country. The dreamy, snow-covered chalets are also popular for Swiss and international families who want to celebrate a white Christmas, so book your accommodations months in advance. As elsewhere, New Year's Eve is a big celebration here.

Was this page helpful?