Switzerland has only four days in a year of National Holidays when all 26 cantons are officially on a day off. These are the following Swiss National Holidays:
- January 1 – New Year’s Day
- Ascension Day – the 40th day after Easter Sunday
- August 1 – Swiss National Day
- December 25 – Christmas Day
From the list above, only August 1 is the official federal holiday.
Holidays For Most Cantons
There are several other days in the year that most of the 26 cantons observe as a public holiday. These are the following:
- Good Friday – Observed by all cantons except Ticino and Valais
- Easter Monday – Observed by all cantons except Valais
- Whit Monday – Observed by all cantons except Valais
- December 26 – St. Stephen’s day – Observed by all cantons except Geneva, Jura, Valais, and Vaud
Holidays For Some Cantons
Cantons can set up their own holidays as they see fit. The only official federal holiday is August 1. As each canton or town can set up its own holiday, it is best to check the local calendar to determine whether a day is a holiday or not. There are other public holidays celebrated by more than half the cantons, mostly predominantly Catholic ones. These are:
- January 2 – Berchtold’s Day
- Corpus Christi – 60th day after Easter Sunday
- November 1 – All Saint’s Day
- December 8 – Immaculate Conception
Unlike some other countries, Christmas Eve (December 24) is not an official holiday. But some shops tend to close early. Most cantons also have holidays during the Carnival season. But this differs from one canton to the next. It is typically sometime after Ash Wednesday.
As mentioned earlier, cantons can declare special holidays for their specific area on certain dates. Some examples are:
- Sechseläuten (in April) and Knabenschiessen (in September): Zurich holidays based on festivals. Sechseläuten is a spring festival with is often during the third Monday in April. But it can also fall on the second or fourth Monday in April. As a spring festival, it celebrates guilds, the beginning of spring, and the end of winter. Knabenschiessen is a half-day with a city fair. Businesses are open in the morning and closed in the afternoon.
- Näfelser Fahrt: April 3 is a holiday in the Canton of Glarus commemorating the Battle of Näfels. It is a reminder of the decisive battle between the people of Glarus and the Habsburgs.
- Jeûne genevois: Jeûne genevois is celebrated on the Thursday following the first Sunday in September. This cantonal holiday is celebrated in Canton Geneva as a fasting day for penitence and thanksgiving. Plum tarts are often served as dessert on this day.
August 1 – Swiss National Day
The biggest holiday as you can imagine is Swiss National Day. The story goes that it was Wilhelm Tell – the Swiss national folk hero – who swore an oath together with other rebels and planted the idea of a Swiss Confederation. This event is called the Rütlischwur. The three founding cantons are Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden. And the meadow mentioned earlier is above Lake Uri near Seelisberg. This happened on the night of November 7th, 1307.
With the Rütlischwur oath, the Swiss democracy was born. Every August 1, the Swiss National Holiday, citizens gather on this meadow sitting right above Lake Uri to remember this sworn oath.
Switzerland During Christmas
Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day are public holidays – Christmas Day for the entire country. St. Stephen’s Day for most cantons. Most Swiss people will be organizing time to be with their families. Some Swiss will choose the longer break to go to a warmer destination in Asia or the Caribbean. During this time, lots of families will also choose to head to the Alps for some winter sports. Skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or winter trails are just among the different possibilities that they have in mountain resorts.
As this is the holiday season, it is best to confirm whether shops, supermarkets, restaurants, museums, and various tourist destinations will be open or closed during the Christmas season.
Prior to the Christmas holidays, Swiss towns and villages will be filled with various Christmas markets. Why not take time to visit one of them and discover some gifts for your loved ones? MySwitzerland, the Tourism Organization of Switzerland, produced a short video to give you a glimpse of Christmas markets. I have included it below.
Traveling During Public Holidays
Traveling during a public holiday is allowed. There are no rules about what you may do. But take note that some shops, especially supermarket shops, will be closed. You will see lots of people storming supermarkets shortly before a long holiday weekend like Easter or Christmas, so plan your supermarket visit accordingly. Most tourist destinations will be open. Restaurants are also likely to be open, but this will vary depending on the one managing it. It is best to place a phone call to check.
Do check the tourist destination for the opening hours. Some might have shorter than usual opening times. For example, during Knabenschiessen, shops will typically close in the afternoon.
Some shops and museums might also close earlier during Christmas Eve (December 24), although this day is not an official public holiday.
- Switzerland has only four days in a year of National Holidays when all 26 cantons are officially on a day off. These are the following Swiss National Holidays: January 1, Ascension Day, August 1, and December 25.
- Most cantons celebrate Easter (Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday). But not all cantons observe it.
- December 24, Christmas Eve, is NOT an official public holiday. But a lot of shops might close early on this day.
- Certain cantons have canton-specific holidays such as Zurich, Geneva, and Glarus.
- It is best to check the shop, supermarket, museum, or tourist destination that you are visiting to confirm that it is open if you plan to visit on a public holiday.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.