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World Travel Guide > Guides > Europe > Switzerland

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Switzerland Weather, climate and geography

Weather and climate

Best time to visit

Famous for its mountain and snow sports, Switzerland enjoys a moderate climate year-round with four distinct seasons, though up in its famous, ski-laden alpine landscapes are colder than those at lower altitudes. The North Atlantic Drift brings mild weather and mixes with dry air from the North Arctic to cause great temperature changes and fluxing rain patterns. That being said, weather is generally never unreasonably humid, too hot or too cold. More precipitation comes down in mountainous regions with higher altitudes, whether rain or snow. 

Climatic conditions vary through Switzerland’s four seasons year-round. Many tourists come to Switzerland for winter activities (December-February), particularly the Alps around Christmas time and the New Year, which coincides with the country’s coldest, snowiest weather. January and February’s temperatures range from the low -2°C (28°F) to a more moderate 7°C (45°F). However, warmer spring (March-May), summer (June-August) and autumn (September-November) conditions are more clement and therefore receive plenty of fanfare. Sunny days in Switzerland are perfect for admiring views of its picturesque greenery and are ideal for sightseeing whether you hike, bike or boat. A hot summer’s highest temperature can even surpass 30°C (86°F). 

Zurich, in the north, is the largest city in Switzerland. It has a temperate climate with winters that call for thick jackets and woollen scarves, as average temperatures typically fall below 5°C (41°F). Precipitation is not uncommon throughout the year, but April and May are the rainiest months and give way to June thunderstorms. With a bustling art scene and plenty of nightlife, finding a good time indoors in Zurich is not difficult. 

Geneva, which touches France on the eastern edge of Switzerland, has average winter temperatures of 10°C (50°F) and summers of 23°C (73°C) making all seasons great options for visiting the Jet d’Eau fountain or roaming through the old town with views of the Jura mountains. 

Dipping into Italy on the southern tip of Switzerland, Ticino has a temperate, pleasant climate at any given time. It has much sunnier weather and almost halves the national cloud coverage average with clear, unblemished skies. Some even call Mendrisio, the region on the southern end of Ticino, the “Tuscany of Switzerland,” making it the go-to destination for classic Swiss greenery with a Mediterranean flare. 

Bern, the capital of Switzerland, mixes the country’s temperate climates with ideal skiing conditions in the Bernese Oberlands. Summer visitors should pack an umbrella as June through August is Bern’s rainiest period. Temperatures can also dip to lows near 0°C (32°F) in the winter, so those venturing to the mountains will want to wear a thick coat to brave typically unpredictable Swiss weather.

Required clothing

In winter, pack warm clothes and rainwear. Those planning on hiking in the Alps should remember hiking boots, waterproof layers, hats and coats. Lightweight jackets and clothes are recommended for summer; though still do bring an umbrella in case Switzerland’s varied weather strikes.

Geography

Landlocked Switzerland shares borders with France to the west, Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Italy to the south. It has some of the highest mountains in Europe, together with waterfalls, rivers and lakes set amid green pastures.

The highest peaks are Dufourspitze, 4,634m (15,203ft), on the Italian border; the Dom, 4,545m (14,911ft); the Matterhorn, 4,478m (14,691ft); and the Weisshorn, 4,506m (14,783ft).

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Built in 1976, the Sonnenberg bunker in Lucerne, Switzerland, is one of the world’s largest civilian nuclear shelters, once intended to protect 20,000 people against nuclear threat at the height of the Cold War. Forty years on, Caroline Bishop imagines what it might have been like to be holed up there for two weeks with 19,999 others.