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Swiss National Day
Yearly Event on August 1st

The Swiss National Day is celebrated every year on August 1st. It took us hardworking Swiss a while to declare it an official holiday. Although this day has been celebrated regularly since August 1, 1891, it wasn't until 1994 that it became an official holiday.

A wee bit of history

Why August 1st?

Although the foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy has been mostly associated with the "Rütlischwur" in 1307 (oath of the Old Swiss Confederacy) and the "Bund of Brunnen" of 1315, the date is inspired by the Federal Charter (Bundesbrief) of 1291 which is considered one of Switzerland's most important founding documents. It opens with the words: "In the year of the lord 1291, at the beginning of the month of August" - and so August 1st was declared Swiss National Day.

Castle Chillon, illuminated by the light artist Gerry Hofstetter
Castle Chillon in Montreux, illuminated by the light artist Gerry Hofstetter

The tradition of "August bonfires" dates back to ancient times when beacons from mountain tops warned inhabitants from intruders. If this tradition keeps bonfires alive or just the fun of it, I am not sure.

How my family celebrates Swiss National Day

Bonfire on August 1st

When growing up, history wasn't one bit on our minds. It felt more like early Christmas. Our parents bought us cone and rocket shaped fireworks, "bengal" matches and firecrackers. It was hard to keep still until nightfall, when we were officially allowed to "play with fire".

Usually we spend the Swiss National Day celebrations in one of our alpine huts. It's not a showy affair, rather time spent with families and our closest neighbours.

The fun begins way earlier than August 1st. The week before the National Day, every free minute is used collecting fire wood and piling it high into an impressive heap to make sure our bonfire will be seen far and wide. And of course there's also a little competition going on between the bonfire-builders all over the valley.

When August 1st arrives we stick flags into flower boxes on windowsills. As soon as night falls, we set fire to the wood pile and children light paper lanterns and begin to startle each other and grown-ups with fire crackers.

We gather around the fire, stick the lanterns in the ground, maybe someone starts to play "Schwiizerörgeli" (typical Swiss accordion) or guitar, we might dance a little and sing our national anthem and a few other songs while waiting for the fire to subside so we can start grilling "Cervelats" (Swiss Sausages) over the remains of the fire.

So, where can YOU partake in Swiss National Day celebrations?

Every community celebrates the Swiss National Day with bonfires and fireworks, speeches by dignitaries, singing the Swiss national anthem, illuminating paper lanterns, flag throwing and folklore entertainment. Some celebrate more elaborate than others, but it's always a fun party!

Celebrations on the Rütli Meadow above Lake Lucerne
Festivities on the Rütli Meadow above Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee)

Following a few places where festivities are taken further than just the simple celebration our family and friends observe. Below you find regional Google maps, so no matter where you spend Swiss National Day, you'll find easily a place to join the party.

When you open the blue place-marks you find a link to the town or community since festivities start at different times and some even celebrate on July 31.

Central Switzerland

The three cantons Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden swore eternal allegiance to one another, promising mutual help and assistance. The alliance was mainly formed against the Habsburg, who were striving to strengthen their position in the strategic region leading to the Gotthard Pass.

Tips

  • Rütli Meadow: Considered the birthplace of Switzerland. This is the historic and most prominent place where the three cantons pledged their oath. Closely connected with the Rütli oath is the Wilhelm Tell legend. Space is restricted. You will have to bring your passport (or other identification). You can either make a reservation or just go to the boat launch in Brunnen to get your ticket.
  • Flüeli-Ranft: Niklaus von Flüe known as Brother Klaus lived here. He was an activist (though didn't like war) and politician before he became a "living saint", a mystic and hermit. Friends built a chapel and hermitage for him in Flüeli-Ranft where he died in 1487. He is Switzerland's only canonized saint. Yodeler-mass in the church at 7pm, followed by festivities.
  • Flüelen: The large fireworks take place on July 31 (not August 1st)
  • Beckenried: Gathering at the city square to sample local specialties; music. Evening cruise from Beckenried to Brunnen to see the large fireworks. Make early reservations since space is limited.
  • Fronalpstock, Stoos: At 1'922 m (6306 ft) above Sea level, this is a great place to see bonfires and fireworks all over central Switzerland, even on the Rütli and the fireworks in Brunnen as well as the steamship parade on Lake Lucerne. Early risers enjoy an "Alpine breakfast" at the Fronalpstock restaurant at 9am; Festivities start at 3pm.
  • Stanserhorn: Exhilarating ride with the world's first Cabrio (open air) cable car. Celebrations start at 7:30pm.
  • Engelberg and Mount Titlis: Large Fireworks at 10pm in Engelberg on July 31st: Sunrise breakfast buffet on Mount Titlis August 1st. Village party on August 1st in Engelberg, starting with a concert at 11am
  • Zug: All day free entrance to museums, towers, historical buildings. Festivities start at 2pm on the Landsgemeinde square.
  • Spectacular fireworks in Brunnen: Catch a boat that will be near Brunnen at the right time. Several evening cruises frequent the lake, and if the weather is good, you will see many bonfires on the surrounding hills as well as fireworks. Do make to make sure you catch a seat on the boat.

Eastern Switzerland

Tips

  • Spitzemeilenhütte above Flums (SAC mountain hut): Fabulous views to many bonfires and fireworks all over Heidiland
  • Braunwald: Tell-Stafette - fun for the whole family
  • Madrisa (Klosters): Fun for the whole family on July 31. Traditional National Day celebrations on August 1st in Klosters, starting with an all-day flea market
  • Samnaun: Off-the-beaten-path National Day celebrations

Zürich Area


View National Day in Zürich in a larger map

View National Day in Zürich in a larger map

Tip

  • A cruise on Lake Zürich is the best way to see bonfires and fireworks. Do make reservations early.

Bern and Bernese Oberland

Tips

  • Lake Thun: If you can, catch a cruise on the lake. You will see bonfires and fireworks on the surrounding hills. Make a reservation early
  • Open Air Museum Ballenberg: Tradition comes alive at the Open Air museum Ballenberg. Starting with a breakfast at 9am. Combine a visit to Ballenberg with the evening fireworks in Brienz

Mittelland (Swiss Plateau) and Northern Switzerland

Tips

  • Largest fireworks: July 31 in Basel and Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen
  • Dinner Boat "Two Lakes Trip": Large fireworks in Neuchâtel. Ship departs Biel at 7:30 pm. Reservation: Call +41 (0)32 329 88 11

Valais


View National Day in the canton Valais in a larger map

View National Day in the canton Valais in a larger map

Tip

  • Saas Fee and Saas Grund: Impressive celebrations with parades, floats, traditional music groups, alphorn blowers, flag throwers and more.

Southern Switzerland

Tip

  • Dinner on Monte Generoso to see fireworks and bonfires. Reservation necessary

Western Switzerland

Brunch on the Farm on Swiss National Day

More and more farms offer brunch with their own products on August 1st. Start off the day with a hearty breakfast. This is a fun for the whole family. Over 400 farms participate in this event. Unfortunately, the site is not in English. The farms are indexed by Canton. Tourist offices will be able to tell you where the closest Farm brunch will be. Make a reservation in advance.

Need to Know

August 1st is a national holiday in Switzerland, and most shops (except in touristy areas), post offices and banks are closed.

Sources:
Federal Charter of 1291
Rütli Info
Niklaus von Flüe

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