When does summer start in Switzerland?

When does summer start in Switzerland?

In June of every year, people in Switzerland and across the northern hemisphere come together to recognise and celebrate the summer solstice. Here’s what you need to know about the event, why it is celebrated and what its connection is with midsummer.

What is the summer solstice?

The summer or festival solstice in the northern hemisphere is when the sun’s path through the sky is the furthest north. The further north the sun heads, the longer the days become, hence why the summer solstice typically coincides with the longest day of the year. The June solstice is also known as the beginning of summer north of the equator.

What does solstice actually mean?

Solstice refers to the time or date when the sun is at its furthest north or south in the sky. This is why the shortest day in the northern hemisphere is the summer solstice in the south and vice versa. 

The word itself is derived from the Latin word solstitium meaning “sun stationary” - a reference to how the sun lingers in the sky during the longest day.

When does summer start in Switzerland?

Like the rest of Europe, the official start of summer in Switzerland is the summer solstice - in 2024, this will be at 10.50pm on June 20, followed by June 21 in 2025, 2026 and 2027. 

On the longest day this year (June 21), the sun will rise first in Switzerland’s easternmost town of Müstair, Canton Graubünden, at around 5.25am, before setting in the country’s westernmost location - Chancy, Canton Geneva - at 9.31pm. In all, people across Swiss cities and cantons will be treated to 15 hours and 46 minutes of daylight on the day.

Summer solstice: Humanity’s relationship with the sun

Historically, humanity has seen the sun as the centre of life and the universe, with people relying on its return every day to grow crops and sustain life. As a result, rituals related to the sun are common throughout the ancient world - from Aztec sacrifices to pacify the sun gods to the sun dances of Native American tribes on the Great Plains.

History of the solstice

Archaeological evidence indicates that humanity has been celebrating the solstice since the Stone Age. Many neolithic monuments discovered in Europe, the Middle East and beyond have stones and structures that align themselves with the setting and rising of the sun during the solstices, indicating that the events were an integral part of early cultures and civilisations.

While there may be more well-known examples of these sites around the world, such as Stonehenge in the UK and Angkor Watt in Cambodia, archaeologists have also found evidence of people in Switzerland using locations designed to track the passing of the sun in the sky. The most prominent example of this is the Blechenflue on the borders of Cantons Basel-Land and Solothurn.

It is believed that the mountain was used by the Celts as a sun calendar which could track the solstice and other astronomical events. This formed part of the “Belchen System” of mountains in Germany, France and Switzerland that were used as a sun calendar by Iron Age societies.

What is Midsummer?

From these Neolithic and Iron Age celebrations came Midsummer, the event most synonymous with the summer solstice in Europe. Midsummer celebrates the solstice and the midpoint of the harvest and is most well-observed in Scandinavian cultures.

An originally Pagan tradition, Midsummer is seen as a time of good fortune and healing, and an opportunity to banish evil spirits with bonfires and traditional dances. While Midsummer is entwined with the longest day of the year, the celebration usually takes place around the summer solstice, rather than on it - some countries where midsummer is a public holiday, like Estonia, have set the date permanently on June 24.

After also being adopted by the Romans as a way to celebrate Fors Fortuna - the goddess of luck - Midsummer was eventually incorporated into Christianity as part of the feast of St. John the Baptist. The event we know of today was completed in the 15th century, with the addition of dancing around a wooden maypole with coloured string or ribbons.

Swiss events on the longest day of the year

While not as well known as those in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, there are a few Swiss events that occur during and around the longest day of the year. However, quite a few of them do not follow the traditional timeframe, with many “Midsummer” events being held in July and August.

Midsummer Day Festival (Festival of Saint John) in Gruyères 

Arguably the largest Midsummer day festival in Switzerland is held in the cheese haven of Gruyères, Canton Fribourg. On the weekend nearest to the summer solstice, the local castle is transformed into a medieval fair full to the brim with exciting food and experiences.

Traditional craftspeople in medieval clothing set up stalls selling gifts, food, drink and more while telling families and individuals how their goods were made in times of old. In between the market and visitors will come acrobats, musicians and jesters, culminating in music and dances around St. John’s fire.

Alongside the major event in Gruyères, many other smaller Swiss towns and cities will be hosting their own Midsummer-related fairs. Some of the most notable occur in Stein (Appenzell Ausserrhoden), Gryon (Vaud), Effretikon (Zurich) and Engelberg (Obwalden).

Midsummer music festivals

Midsummer is also used as an opportunity to host various music festivals, ranging from classic pop to techno and folk. The most prominent of these has to be the Midsummer Festival near Lenk in Simmental, Canton Bern. Amid stunning mountains, the festival is an ideal place to welcome the longest day of the year with open arms and great music.

Mountain Spring Festival in Wengen

If tuneful rhythms are not your style, why not use the summer solstice to tap into Swiss traditions at the Mountain Spring Festival, just a few valleys over in Wengen? While it may not be intrinsically linked to the solstice or Midsummer, the festival brings Swiss music, yodelling and folklore together high in the mountains at the Männlichen restaurant. “This is Switzerland in a nutshell,” organisers proudly claim.

Midsummer run in Bern

Finally, the longest day in Switzerland brings with it the annual early morning run in Bern. Starting at the crack of dawn at 5.15am, participants run and walk their way through the longest day on a 10-kilometre route that leads along Aare River. After the run is over, participants are rewarded for their early start with tea, coffee and pastries!

Video: runandwalk bern / YouTube

All you need to know about the longest day of the year

Well there we are, all you need to know about the longest day of the year in Switzerland. Have a Swiss Midsummer or summer solstice tradition that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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