When the days start to get shorter and temperatures drop, autumn in Switzerland surely can’t be very far off.
If you were to ask 99 Swiss about their favorite season in Switzerland, you would realize that autumn ranks behind spring and summer on the popularity scale. But if you ask this author, what's there more magical than a hike through golden pines on a sunny autumn day?
Autumn hides Switzerland’s true gold
When Indian summer takes hold in the Engadine, when the vineyards of Lavaux turn golden and the apple harvest is in full swing, I love to go outdoors as much as possible before that first snowfall. This is the time when it pays to go for extended walks in the forest, visit little towns on a Saturday morning or stop by a winery for an apéro.
Autumn in Switzerland is a time of abundance on so many levels: from agriculture to culinary and from nature to customs. Here is our ultimate guide to autumn in Switzerland - the true golden season.
When is autumn in Switzerland?
The official dates and months for autumn are:
- Official dates for Switzerland autumn: September 21 to December 20
- Official months for Switzerland autumn: September, October, November
And when is the best time to visit Switzerland in autumn?
September marks the entry of autumn, yet there are still 12 to 13 hours of daylight. In the flatlands, temperatures in September can reach nearly 20 degrees Celsius on nice days. In the mountains, you will find ideal temperatures for hiking averaging at 11 to 12 degrees Celsius.
By the end of October, daylight hours in Switzerland have decreased to 10 hours and temperatures turn noticeably chilly. The temperature in places like Zürich or Bern averages 10 degrees Celsius, but Ticino offers warmer days at 12 to 16 degrees Celsius.
On the last Sunday in October, daylight savings time ends. The later in November you visit, the further south you will need to venture in order to find comfortable temperatures. But frankly speaking, November is not an opportune time to visit Switzerland. The weather is unpredictable, there may be weeks of heavy fog and lastly, all the fun events and customs are over.
A piece of advice for autumn seekers: wear layers of clothing. While days may be warm and sundrenched, temperatures tend to drop by sunset. Before you know it, you will be freezing unless you packed a down jacket...
Where to see the fall foliage in Switzerland?
Switzerland has four major trees displaying fall foliage: beech, birch, larch and maple. The best places to see fall foliage in Switzerland are:
|Lake Blausee||Bern||Located in the Kander Valley, Lake Blausee is a power spot. Its turquoise waters magically reflect the foliage of the surrounding forest.|
|Lake Biel||Biel||Think lakeside vineyards bordering autumn forests: a boat ride on Lake Biel is among the ultimate ways to experience fall foliage in Switzerland.|
|Lake Sils||Grisons||During fall, this deep blue lake popular with kite-surfers receives a golden lining thanks to the Engadine’s larch forests.|
|Roseg Valley||Grisons||Leading up to the Roseg glacier, this valley features yellow larch trees and snow-capped peaks in the distance. Ride the Bernina Express to Pontresina and start hiking outside the station.|
|Lavertezzo||Ticino||A stone-bridge leads up to this romantic town in the Verzasca Valley. In the setting of yellow birch trees and rusty beechwood trees, Lavertezzo has all the ingredients for a perfect photospot.|
|Lavaux Vineyards||Vaud||Hike the Wine Trail between Lausanne and Vevey on a sunny day for the ultimate autumn vibes. Taste the new vintages along the way.|
|Gondo||Valais||Near this village, it is not only the birch woods that shine golden. There is also a gold mine open to the public.|
|Zermatt||Valais||At this high altitude, you will feel like wearing a pair of glasses tinted in shades of gold and rust. Hiking is much recommended.|
Consult the fall foilage tracker by Switzerland Tourism for up-to-date information. And here is a map showing the above places for seeing fall foliage in Switzerland:
If you come from abroad for an autumn road trip in Switzerland, you might need to get an International Drivers Permit (IDP) from International Driver's Association.
The fall season in Switzerland brings about many traditional festivals. Here are 11 of the best:
Alpine descent of sheep in Leukerbad
You may have seen that iconic photograph of sheep negotiating a narrow zig-zag path in Switzerland… This ritual happens once a year in September when the farmers of Leuk bring down their sheep from the alpine meadows.
In order to witness the descent of the sheep, which takes place on a Sunday, make Leukerbad your vantage point. A day before the main event, some 800 sheep are gathered at Gemmi. The day after, on Sunday, the flock makes their way down the steep rock face to Leukerbad - a 1700 meter descent. An alternative sheep descent is Schäful at Belalp.
Chästeilet cheese festival on Mäglisalp
After producing cheese all summer, the local farmers will gather at Mäglisalp for the Chästeilet - a “cheese sharing” event. During this must-see ritual, each stakeholder among the local dairymen and women will receive their fair share of the summer’s cheese. Luckily, onlookers can get a share too - in exchange for Swiss francs.
Farmer horse races in Schwarzenburg
The annual farmer horse races are so popular, the audience will show up in drones no matter the weather. The stars of the day are working horses that would normally pull carriages or help with logging. On race day, all kinds of challenges await the various types of horse breeds: harness races, costumed races and even a Roman chariot event.
Raclette Festival in Le Châble
It would not be the Valais without a festival dedicated to raclette. For one weekend every September, the village of Le Châble is host to the ultimate cheese lover event: Bagnes Capitale de la Raclette.
What all the raclette variations on the menu have in common is that they feature melted cheese. Once a poor man’s food, this festival is special in that it features various local cheese varieties. And if you time your visit just right, stop by an open wine cellar to wash down all that cheese...
Chestnut Festival in Bregaglia
The authentic Bregaglia Valley in the southern part of Grisons is home to the largest chestnut grove in Europe. The sweet chestnut dates back to Roman times and is the staple food in this rugged region.
Every autumn, the valley dedicates an entire month to its favorite fruit. During the Chestnut Festival, there are a number of guided tours, tasting events, and even concerts. Taking the one-hour round trip hike from Castasegna is a good way to acquaint yourself with this scenic valley.
Alpine cheese market and cow races in Flumserberg
Trust me when I say that an entertaining autumn tradition are the cow races at Flumserberg! (I have tried riding a cow there myself…) Given that cows are stubborn by nature, fun is guaranteed as the riders try to maneuver their bovine partners across the finish line at Alp Tannenboden…
During this day-long event starting at 10 AM, there is also an alpine cheese market where local dairy farmers hawk their summer’s production.
Cow beauty contests in the Appenzell region
While cattle shows are omnipresent in Switzerland, the Appenzell region is known for the most decorative ones. At the beginning of October, once their cows have returned from the alpine meadows, several places hold cattle shows, such as Appenzell (the town) or Heiden.
These events showcase local culture more than they are showcasing the cows. People of all ages wearing their traditional outfits will congregate to socialize and yodel.
Autumn and cowbell fair in Romainmôtier
In mid-October, those with an interest in bells meet in the town of Romainmôtier, Vaud. The autumn and cowbell fair is an attraction for bell collectors as well as foodies. While some producers are hawking bells of all sizes, others are serving up delicious regional specialties.
Olma Fair in St. Gallen
Calling the Olma Fair a farmer’s market would be doing it a huge disservice. Switzerland’s largest agricultural fair has grown to be a folk festival that attracts visitors from afar. While the focus of Olma remains to be agricultural equipment, cattle shows and food, there is also a popular fairground, a parade and even pig races.
Apple Cider Festival at the Hallwyl Castle
The moated Hallwyl Castle in Seengen is a destination in its own right. But during the golden days of fall, the romantic castle is home to the Apple Cider Festival. There are demonstrations of the traditional apple cider techniques. Those who want to try their hand at pressing their own juice may give it a try. And finally, there are various booths selling autumnal products and regional produce.
Pumpkin exhibit at Jucker Farm
For many families, friends and couples who live near Zurich, a visit to Jucker Farm has become an autumn tradition. Two locations offer a wide range of activities: a maze through an apple orchard, petting zoos with farm animals, as well as a pumpkin exhibit.
The pumpkin exhibit is really the highlight for many as Jucker Farm interprets a different theme every year with hundreds of pumpkins. In 2020, the theme was “Under the Sea”, so there were pumpkins depicting dolphins and seahorses...