The annual celebration of Swiss National Day is a unique and truly patriotic event celebrated all over Switzerland every summer, to mark the coming into existence of the nation. Booming fireworks, a sea of red and white flags, and a whole day away from the office are the norm in the country on every August 1.
History of Swiss National Day
Each year, Swiss people across the globe celebrate their nation, marking the anniversary of the Federal Charter of 1291 on the first day of August. The Federal Charter is often referred to as one of the founding documents of the Swiss Confederation.
The Federal Charter formed an official agreement between the rural counties (cantons) of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, bringing them together to form the nation now recognised as Switzerland. Despite having been an event in Switzerland for more than a century beforehand, the country only voted to make the day a national holiday in 1993, and the first official non-working national holiday took place in 1994.
Regional variations of Swiss National Day
Like almost everything in Switzerland, each canton has its own traditions and celebrations on Swiss National Day. In many places there are even traditions on a municipal or city level, such as Basel’s famous firework display on July 31.
Famous spots such as Rhine Falls, and Rütli Meadow have larger celebrations that are acknowledged across the nation, however many of the National Day celebrations take place much closer to home.
Cities, cantons, towns or even villages will have their own special traditions for the day, so be sure to check notice boards or search online for local festivals and events.
Rhine Falls will light up for the National Day celebrations
Rhine Falls, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, plays a special part in the celebration of Switzerland’s National Day. The evening before the nation’s special day, on July 31, there is an incredible display of lights and fireworks after sundown to mark the occasion.
The event has taken place for more than a century, and thousands of visitors still flock to watch the sight today. The celebration is known as the Rhine Falls “Fire on the Rocks”, and admission to the event is free - a fun way for spectators to kick-start the celebrations.
Rütli Meadow also holds a symbolic celebration
Situated near Lake Lucerne, the stunning Rütli Meadow is the perfect setting for appreciating all things Swiss. The meadow is the place where the original cantonal alliance was formed, and in honour of this, each year it hosts a reenactment of the historic signing of the alliance.
Not only does the reenactment of history make this a truly patriotic way to spend Swiss National Day, but the surroundings of the meadow are beautiful. With a bright blue lake and dramatic mountains as the backdrop for this celebration, it provides the perfect opportunity for a family picnic nearby once the celebrations are done.
Fireworks on National Day
One popular tradition all across the country is that of setting off fireworks to celebrate the occasion. Though firework displays happen at hundreds of locations nationwide, there are definitely some more famous spots to watch the night sky light up.
Aside from at Rhine Falls, there are official fireworks displays in most major cities, including Basel’s famous fireworks display on July 31. There are often bonfires that accompany the fireworks displays too - a tradition that dates back a long time - and commemorates the expulsion of foreign bailiffs many centuries ago.
Get your flags out for Switzerland
Switzerland has 26 modern-day cantons, each with its own special flag and coat of arms. Though Swiss National Day is a day to celebrate the union of the country, the Swiss are still truly appreciative of their cantons, and often fly cantonal flags on the day too.
In Interlaken, one of the most well-known and beautiful lake spots in Switzerland, there is even a ceremony of paragliders who each unfurl the 26 cantonal flags on their way down to celebrate National Day - an amazing sight for viewers watching from below!
The four ways to say Swiss National Day
The four languages of Switzerland can be tough to study, but if you’re attempting to learn German, French, Italian, or even Romansch, it’s good to know the name of the holiday itself.
It can be especially helpful when looking for events and activities that will be taking place in your local area or for when you want to ask friends and family in the country about their plans for the holiday.
Swiss National Day is known as:
- “Schweizer Nationalfeiertag / Bundesfeiertag” in German
- “Fête nationale Suisse” in French
- “Festa nazionale della Svizzera” in Italian
- “Festa naziunala Svizra” in Romansch
Opening hours on Swiss National Day
It is advised to make any urgent purchases in advance of National Day, since many shops (except for some tourist shops) will close for the public holiday.
Essential stores remain open
Essential stores such as petrol stations and grocery stores at train stations will also remain open, however, most normal grocery stores will close, so it’s wise to stock up in advance of August 1.
Schools and offices will close
Because of the public holiday, schools and offices are also closed for National Day, meaning that many in Switzerland choose to spend the day off with family and friends enjoying the warm weather.
Public transport is limited on National Day
Though public transport in Switzerland runs on almost every day in the year, on National Day, most routes operate a reduced service. It’s, therefore, a good idea to plan transport for the day ahead of time, or to commit to driving on August 1.