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Leisure and Entertainment

Switzerland - Leisure and Entertainment


The Swiss Alps offer no end of recreational activities, with hiking and walking top of the list in summer and snow sports in the winter. Other summer pursuits you can try around Switzerland include open-air swimming, in-line skating, canoeing, mountain biking, horse riding, tennis, and golf. In the winter you can go ice skating, tobogganing, curling, or can try snowshoe hiking. Water parks are popular and, although there are no major theme parks, you will find smaller activity parks and zoos. There are also plenty of scenic train and boat trips for family excursions.

Switzerland plays host to a number of major festivals such as the famous Montreux Jazz Festival, the Verbier Festival for classical music, and the 10-day Geneva festival which includes fireworks, fairground attractions, music and sports. Lugano, in Italian-speaking Switzerland, has its own large classical music festival and nearby Locarno hosts an annual international film festival at which the Golden Leopard is awarded. In German-speaking Switzerland, Zurich has a full programme of events and parades throughout the year including the summer Zurich Festival with cultural events including music, dance, theatre and opera. Zurich also has its own international film festival. Basel plays host to a film, video and new media festival known as Basel Viper, plus an international music festival, art festival, and dance festival, and the Basel Autumn Fair which is over 500 years old. Fasnacht is another traditional celebration that takes place in Spring, principally in Basel but with smaller celebrations elsewhere in Switzerland. There is a carnival atmosphere during Fasnacht and processions by lantern-light. You can also find a whole variety of quirky local festivals around Switzerland ranging from Medieval spectaculars, Roman festivals, and even a Cheese festival. Swiss cities hold Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) from the end of November or early December. The largest is in Basel but there are also large markets in Bern, Zurich, Lucerne, Rapperswil, and Montreux.

Public holidays in Switzerland are on the whole linked to religious days and are times that are spent with the family, possibly with attendance at religious services or at least quiet reflection. Public holidays are accorded a similar respect as Sundays, being days on which you should avoid noisy activities such as mowing the lawn, home repairs, or using bottle banks. The one exception is Switzerland's National Day, celebrated on 1st August with parades, drumming, flag throwing, and fireworks. Local people often dress up in traditional costumes for this celebration and Swiss customs and music are celebrated in events from alphorn blowing and yodelling to wrestling and stone throwing.

The Swiss public holidays occur throughout the calendar, varying from one canton to another. In Zurich the holidays observed are New Year's Day on 1st January, Good Friday and Easter Monday, Labour Day on 1st May, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Swiss National Day on 1st August, Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day (26th December). In Geneva, Labour Day is not observed and there is a local holiday in early September called Jeûne Genevois. Also in Geneva, St Stephen's Day (i.e. Boxing Day) is not observed but the Restauration de la République is celebrated with a public holiday on 31st December. Other cantons do have their own patterns of holidays observed locally and these can be found on the websites of the respective cantons or via Wikipedia's chart of Swiss public holidays.

Switzerland keeps its long history alive through a variety of museums and castles. The Ballenberg Open Air Museum (Bern canton) recreates rural life of the past, while the Salt Mines at Bex (Vaud) takes visitors into a mine to discover the history of this 'white gold'. There are a number of art galleries including the Kunsthaus in Zurich which has a Giacommetti exhibition plus a selection of water lily paintings by Monet. The Musées d'Art et d'Histoire are four museums that together make up Geneva's most famous museum and include paintings by Renoir and Cezanne in their collection, plus sculptures by Rodin and antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Outside of the festivals, music and drama can be enjoyed at any time of year around Switzerland, with cities hosting concerts and theatre productions including comedy shows and musical theatre. Many live shows, including some international musicals, are in the local language but shows at the Zurich Comedy Club will be in English. Cinemas have a mix of original language (with subtitles, usually German and French) and dubbed movies. Cinemas frequently have an intermission, and children under six are often not allowed in.

You will have no problem finding a street cafe or a restaurant with a terrace for open-air eating, and the Swiss cities have a wide range of dining options with most international cuisines represented. For nightlife try one of the local pubs and bars. These sometimes have live music and offer relaxed socialising. In cities such as Zurich you will find a variety of clubs but these can be expensive and disappointing to those used to the nightlife in cities such as London or New York. Groups of men can have difficulty getting into clubs and there have been cases of discrimination at trendy clubs based on dress, age and even weight.

A smoking ban is in effect in enclosed public places but is not always well-observed by the Swiss away from the cities. Restaurants and bars sometimes have separate areas for smokers, either another room or a partially-covered outdoor area.


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