Updated: Oct 21
Often question on forums and social media group is: when is the best time to visit Switzerland. And a simple answer to that is to visit Switzerland in late July. But not only then...
Depending on what you are interested in there are better or worse months to visit Switzerland. This guide is organised mainly around hiking and photography since these two things work the best together. But still, this guide will be useful to you, even if you set your holiday plans around MTB or maybe open water swimming.
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Long story short...
The best time to visit Switzerland is late July
Snow in the lower part of mountains melted, meadows are green and full of flowers and hiking trails are opened. Also water in the lakes is warm enough for swimming. On average, the weather is sunny, days are long and you don't have to wear warm clothes even higher up.
Best time to visit Switzerland for hiking
Hiking season starts around May when you can expect just a little snow on lower mountains like Rigi Kulm (1798 meters) or in Ticino (southern part of Switzerland). But be warned, May is the month, when there is still a lot of snow in the higher mountains and avalanches are not rare. To reach higher parts safely and with dry shoes you need to wait till mid-July.
And in fact, July is the best month to visit Switzerland for hiking. Snow should be gone from places like Gornergrat (3000m) and south-facing slopes. While above 2500m grass maybe still be brown after winter, lower, in the valleys all meadows are covered with flowers.
Unfortunately, because this is the best month for Switzerland, you will not be here alone. Since entire Europe has summer holidays then. This means higher prices, booked hotels and traffic jams on both sides of Gotthard Tunnel.
The hiking season continues till the end of September. In the middle of October, mountain huts are going into winter hibernation and the first snow appears. Early September is best for long, multiday hikes - nights are not so cold and mountain huts are not so occupied. Also, higher passes (2500m+) are snow-free.
While you can be still lucky even in November (like we were with Zermatt) and be able to do some amazing hikes above 2500m without crampons or snowshoes do not count on warm weather. Temperatures below zero at this altitude are common even in September.
Note also the fact, that October and November are the months when the majority of cable cars are under maintenance and examination. That means no services for at least two weeks.
From December your options for hiking are limited. Snow is everywhere in the mountains and the best hiking trails are closed due to the risk of avalanches. However, you are not hopeless - Switzerland has still some easy, maintained winter hiking routes. You do not need even crampons there.
Best time for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in Switzerland
In resorts located high in the mountains, like Saas-Fee, Zermatt or St. Moritz ski season starts usually in mid-November and continues till April. In towns and centres located lower, like Engelberg, Flumserberg, Crans Montana start is in December and pistles are closed around March.
The peak season for skiing and snowboarding in Switzerland is between mid-January and mid-March.
There are places where you can enjoy skiing all year round: Saas-Fee and Zermatt have pistles on glaciers open more than 300 days a year.
Somewhere around January a new season for snowshoeing starts. In every town that has a sport-centre, you can rent a pair of snowshoes for around 30-50 CHF a day. Snowshoe trails are always signposted with yellow polls with pink labels.
Best time for mountain biking
Depending on how high you want to go, the MTB season can start in late March for valleys and lower mountains (1200m) and Ticino or early June for places around 2000m (Flumserberg) to early July if you want to enjoy fully the highest trails in Zermatt (Schwarzsee, Gornergratt).
June is also the month when mountain passes open, but please note, that this is mainly for road bikes. MTB trails in Sustenpass, Oberalppass (the highest parts of Alpine Bike route 1) will for sure be covered with deep snow. For such trails, you need to wait till August.
The peak season for MTB, enduro and trail bikes is between July and October.
MTB season mainly ends in late October when cable cars go to maintenance and service period. Though, you can still enjoy trails in the valleys till late November or even longer if you decide to visit Ticino or Vaud.
Switzerland - seasons and months
So you landed in Switzerland in a wired month and you do not know what to do and where to go? Here is a guide for you (and your camera) to get the answer for: When to go to Switzerland?
January, February and March - Winter in the Swiss Alps
This is the winter sports season. Resorts are full, cable cars are running like crazy. Even if you are not an alpine-pro when it comes to snowboard or skiing there are awesome things to do here. Winter hiking trails are prepared (those are more for family walks than all day long trips) and snowshoeing routes are opened (you can rent a pair in any sports centre). You can also try sledging, but bear in mind, that the pistles for that in Switzerland are nothing you remember from your childhood. A helmet is mandatory, insurance - highly recommended.
Swiss Instagramers take photos of slopes, white mountains and glasses of Aperol-Spritz in snow or fondue. For landscape photography January is the best moment to capture pink colours on mountains and shoot during the blue hour - ski lifts operate after sunset, so you can easily come back from high altitudes (Zermatt, Sass-Fee, Engadin).
If you still have no idea what to do: Winter is a good time to visit St. Moritz for the world-famous Polo on Snow (January) or horse race White Turf (February). It is also carnival season, and parades in Luzern or Basel are spectacular (February).
April - early Spring in Switzerland
While winter is gone for the biggest cities. Around Lake Lucerne grass is green and appletrees are blossom. This is the best time for easy bicycle rides and hikes, around big lakes like Zugersee, Lac Leman or Zurichsee.
Photographers can look for flowers, fresh green colours of hills and cloud inversions. April is also the best season for capturing dramatic storms that pass through central and western Switzerland.
May and June - Spring in Switzerland
While May is still not the best month for hiking in higher parts of mountains (2000m), in valleys you can enjoy beautiful green colours with warm, sunny weather. Tourist season is opened everywhere and old steamboats are back on the lakes.
June is the month when alpine passes are opened, so you can enjoy splendid rides in snow tunnels and access higher parts of the Swiss Alps with ease.
While above 2500m you can still expect a lot of snow (this is the mountaineering season), you can go for some of the most spectacular hikes. Though, if you want to go higher, take crampons and warm clothes with you.
Take your camera for a ride to Grimselpass or Sustenpass or hunt for Crocuses on meadows where snow has just melted. Also, this is a good time for astrophotography in the Alps, because Milky Way in Spring is in its best position quite early.
July - early Summer in the Swiss Alps
In my opinion, July is the best month to visit Switzerland. Meadows above valleys are covered with carpets of flowers, weather and temperature encourage picnics and hiking.
Days are long and nights are warm. Also, this is the holiday period, so expect more tourists and kids in the most popular areas.
In July you want to take photos in Lauterbrunnen, Engadin or in Valais. A fairy-tale landscape awaits you.
Also, you can stop by for Jazz Festival in Montreaux.
August - the holiday peak in Switzerland
Above all, do not miss fireworks on the 1st of August - The Swiss National Day. You want to be in Zurich, Zug, or Lausanne to admire the show from a lakeshore. In general, August is a month of festivals and parades. And there is a variety to choose: Street Parade in Zurich or local, folk festivals in villages in mountains.
This is also a splendid time for hiking and swimming in lakes or rivers. The temperature of lake Zugersee should be around 24°C and Aree river in Bern in August is on average 18°C.
September - end of Summer and early Autumn
While the weather in the central and northern parts of Switzerland is suffering from showers and fogs, you can still enjoy summer in Ticino (Lugano, Locarno, Ascona). This is the time to visit Maggia or Verzasca.
Less warm area than Ticino is Vaud, but here is the grape harvesting period and you can experience nice wine festivals in Lavaux, Laussane or Montreaux.
Higher in the mountains hiking season slowly ends, while the first snow hits 3k peaks. Cold nights are common and it is raining more often.
September is the most optimal month to save on your travel and still get most of Switzerland. Check our tips for Switzerland on a budget.
October - best of Autumn
Long days are gone, same as good weather. Expect more rain and snow in the mountains. The last two weeks of October are spectacular if you are looking for golden colours of leaves. Especially Engadin is a place to go on those dates.
This is a month when cable cars go under two-three weeks of maintenance and service. Mountain hotels and huts are in hibernation. Especially places like Zermatt, St. Moritz or Crans Montana are nearly closed (check what is open before you buy a plane ticket).
Before the end of the month, most of the mountain passes will be closed.
This is the month when Swiss people seek sun on their holidays.
Photography-wise you want to shoot morning fogs and mists. Also yellow, orange and brown colours. Again, don't miss golden larches in Engadin.
November and December - early Winter in Switzerland
This is a period with rather poor weather in Zurich, Lucern and Bern. That's why the Swiss try to go for holidays in this season to some warmer parts of the world. It's grey, trees lost their leaves and grass turned brown. In the mountains, snow is still rare, but temperatures are below freezing. Most of the hotels are closed and resorts wait for skiing season (mid-December).
You can enjoy nice weather in Ticino (Lugano, Ascona).
Photography-wise November in Switzerland is a good time to capture the highest peaks that are not fully covered by snow. You get nice shapes and textures of rocks. Also, this is the best month for cloud inversions in Zurich and Lucern area.
December is for Swiss people a meeting time, that's why Christmas markets are so full and spectacular. Do not miss the one in Zurich and the day when Christmas illumination is turned on!
Best time to visit Switzerland for landscape and mountain photography
We are spending nearly every weekend in the mountains, so it is hard to say for us that there are bad months. But for sure you aim to maximise the chances of capturing the Swiss Alps at their best. For landscape photography, we recommend two periods:
For summer shooting go between July and September
For the winter photography go to Switzerland in November and December (low level of snow) and February for a full experience of winter.