OPINION: The Swiss obsession for the sun is a recipe for frustration

When it comes to weather, Swiss people have a one-track mind. Only the sun will do. Perhaps their proximity to the Mediterranean has made them yearn for a better climate. They need to accept the grey days, Clare O’Dea argues.

OPINION: The Swiss obsession for the sun is a recipe for frustration
How do we explain Switzerland's obsession with the sun? Photo by Casper van Battum on Unsplash

The Swiss climate, at least where most of the people live in the Central Plateau, delivers a mixed bag of weather. There are sunny days, wet days and foggy days. We have falls of snow in winter, heatwaves in summer, hailstorms, and winds with quirky names – the warm Foehn and the cold Bise.

Yet for the sun-worshipping Swiss, the only right weather is sunny weather. The global climate crisis has had little to no effect on this obsession with being bathed in sunlight. The longing for sun runs deep in the Swiss psyche.

Who would want to be a weather forecaster in Switzerland? A big part of your job is to apologise to viewers or listeners that they are being denied their due dose of sun on that particular day. For 55 percent of daylight hours every year, the sun is behind the clouds, and that keeps everyone wanting more.

The weather men and women address the public as if their main purpose in life was pleasure seeking. It doesn’t matter how many days of drought the country has suffered; the focus will be on the possibility of spending the day outside in the sun.

Skiing without sun is considered a minor tragedy

Hikers, lake swimmers or skiers are their target audience. The poor famers don’t get a look in. Anyone temporarily and unjustly trapped beneath low fog, will be advised where they can escape to sunnier altitudes.

It is true that some regions of Switzerland are afflicted by long spells of low-lying fog. There I have more understanding for the sun fixation. These fog interludes occur from late autumn to spring, mostly along rivers and lakes where the air is very damp.

Low lying fog can be the source of much frustration for the Swiss. Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

According to MeteoSwiss, the dry air of the north-easterly Bise causes low-lying fog to rise. Strong, persistent Bise wind can mean that the low cloud cover does not lift for several days or even weeks. It’s tantalising for some during those cold, grey days to know that the sun is shining above the stratus, not far away in the mountains.

For most of Swiss history, people avoided the mountains, unless they were unlucky enough to live on or near them. Now, thanks to tourist infrastructure first built for rich foreigners, the mountains are the playground of the Swiss, easily accessible in winter and summer.

But the first rule of a successful weekend is that it has to be sunny. Whatever activity you undertake, the first question people will ask is whether it was sunny. Skiing without sun is considered a minor tragedy. Little attention is paid to the harm of high temperatures and the regular problem of drought. Every day of sun is a win!

A nationwide epidemic of seasonal affective disorder?

In fact, there seems to be a general lack of awareness of how crucial precipitation is to the Swiss ecosystem, agriculture, water and energy supplies. Instead, every day of rain is greeted as an imposition.

Could it be that Swiss people have a physiological need that is driving all this? A nationwide epidemic of seasonal affective disorder? It doesn’t seem to be a version of SAD because the sun hunger is no less pronounced in the summer, when it is sunny more often than not.

Let’s not be too harsh. I’m not the Ebenezer Scrooge of sunny weather. While writing this article, the sun came out for the first time in many days. I was drawn outside for a break and I turned my face to the sky gratefully. It’s just that I don’t miss the sun terribly when it’s not here. I know it will always come back, and, eventually, with a vengeance. In the summer, I spend most of my time seeking shade.

One part of Switzerland is living the dream, where daylight hours are sunny more than 50 percent of the time. The rest of country looks enviously towards Ticino, known as the sun balcony of Switzerland, for its extra hours of sunlight. Not surprisingly, the canton on the south side of the Alps is the number one destination for domestic tourists.

Italy the top destination for Swiss residents seeking sun

There is a mass migration of Swiss to warmer climes in the summer. A 2022 survey by the insurer Generali showed that Italy was the top destination for Swiss residents taking holidays abroad (29%), followed by France (18%) and Spain (16%).

The inconsistency of Swiss weather is probably what wears people down and feeds the sun fixation. There is a perception that the summer should be warm and dry all the time but May to August is also when it rains the most.

The proximity to the Mediterranean doesn’t help. It’s frustrating to be so close to the European region with the ideal outdoor climate and to get a taste of that in your own backyard on some days but never often enough.

If I may advise, rather than fighting against reality, a little acceptance would take a lot of the frustration away. There’ll be plenty of dazzling days in the summer, don’t worry. It’s just that the pattern will be unpredictable. And, whether we like it or not, winter is actually meant to be a grey time, where we make our own light and find different joys. If it’s any consolation, the sun is always there, whether we can see it or not.

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Social life in Switzerland: 10 things the Swiss do in their free time

Have you ever wondered what Swiss people get up to after work and at the weekend? We have put together 10 of the most popular leisure activities of the Swiss – and some are completely free of charge.

Social life in Switzerland: 10 things the Swiss do in their free time

Hiking and picnics

Not surprisingly, given Switzerland’s magnificent landscape and easy access to various hiking trails and breath-taking views, hiking and picnicking are among the Swiss’ favourite outdoor activities and make for a great not-so-lazy- Sunday afternoon pastime.

In fact, hiking happens to be the most popular sports activity in the country with 97 percent of the Swiss population enjoying a hike frequently, regularly, or occasionally. Of that, 57 percent of people aged 15 and over hiking on the regular. This corresponds to around 4 million Swiss people!

But while the average age of Swiss hikers is 50 years, enthusiasm for hiking is also evident in 15- to 29-year-olds, the youngest age group, with a recent increase recorded among young women.

Hiking is in fact considered a lifetime sport for the Swiss and many keep it up well into their old age as one of the very few sports to be practiced by people over 74 years old.

Meeting friends

According to the Federal Office for Statistics, meeting up with friends is equally high (97 percent) on the Swiss priority list with the majority choosing to meet up after working hours (5 pm to 6 pm).

Once work is wrapped up for the day, the Swiss like to head out for a casual dinner with a friend, blow off steam with some shopping, enjoy a round of pool, or simply get together for a coffee.

However, since the Swiss take punctuality and work ethic very seriously, don’t expect to be partying well into the night on a weekday.

Get fit

Speaking of breaking a sweat, there has been a real fitness boom in Switzerland in recent years and 92 percent of Swiss take their fitness seriously enough to practice it now and again, regularly, or religiously.

While some early risers will squeeze in a quick workout before work, doing so at a gym will be nearly impossible – unless your manager proves extra generous.

Switzerland’s gyms tend to open after 8 am and close at 9.30 pm during the week, which is why you’re more likely to find the Swiss working out after work, either right before dinner, or a good while after.

Some Swiss also like to hit the gym early on a Saturday morning anywhere between 8.30 am. and 12 pm.

Village, district, and club festivals

Three quarters of the people living in Switzerland take every opportunity to be a part of their community by partaking in smaller festivities hosted by villages, districts, or clubs (Vereine).

The latter are great if you happen to be a member of a local social or sports club and are typically held over the weekend.

Card and board games

While you can always invite a few friends over for a board game night on a Friday, many Swiss choose to sign up with local card game clubs, such as all-time favourite Jassen – Switzerland’s national card game – to face more serious competition

READ ALSO: Jass – What is Switzerlands national card game?

Typically, meet-ups take place during the week anywhere from 7pm until 10pm or on a Saturday afternoon from 2pm onwards.

A total of 76 percent of Swiss people listed card and board games as an activity they enjoy doing in their leisure time. So, next time you’re looking to befriend a Swiss, why not suggest a round of Monopoly?


Some of Switzerland’s largest festivals have also made the list with seven out of ten people in the country joining large scale celebrations such as the August 1st (Bundesfeiertag), Fasnacht and various music festivals.


Cinemas are a firm weekend favourite for the Swiss, but unlike in many other European countries that show entire movies without any interruptions (barring the odd cellphone!), in Switzerland most movies break up in the middle allowing the audience to use the loo and buy (more) snacks.

Though the Swiss love late night showings on a Saturday, many also visit the cinema on a Monday or Tuesday. Depending on the canton, district, or town you reside in, many Swiss cinemas grant a 20 percent discount on Mondays or Tuesdays because that day is dubbed the official ‘Kinotag’ (cinema day).


According to a 2020 study by the Verband der Zoologischen Gärten, a third of Swiss zoo visitors (33 percent) had been to a zoo in the past 24 months. Almost half (47 percent) visited a zoo two or three times in that time and 12 percent said they had been to the zoo roughly four to five times. Zoo Zurich counted 1’270’000 visitors in 2021 alone.

Needless to say, the Swiss love their zoos and when asked where that love originates 26 percent of visitors said their admiration for zoos is fuelled by a need to protect and care for the wildlife.

Another 23 percent of visitors said their motivation for going so frequently is to learn more about the animals, while 22 percent think zoos are vital for children.

As with hiking, most Swiss people leave their zoo visits for the weekend or whenever their kids are off school.

Botanical Gardens

Switzerland has an array of wonderful botanical gardens where visitors are enchanted by thousands of native flowers and plant species. Around 48 percent of the Swiss population enjoys frequenting the country’s botanical gardens, particularly during the icy winter!

In Zurich, you can visit not one but eight botanical gardens with the most popular being the Botanischer Garten der Universität Zürich. The garden welcomes visitors from 7 am until 7 pm during the week (March – September) and 8 am – 6 pm in the winter months for free.

Though particularly popular on the weekends, many Zurich city dwellers pay the garden a visit at lunchtime to marvel at its over 7,000 different plant species and enjoy an inexpensive lunch at the university’s canteen. Pssst, the latter is intended for students and researchers, but anyone is welcome!

Night clubs

This one may come as a bit of a shock, but a few select Swiss, namely 37 percent, do like to live it up in a night club from time to time! If you’re looking to dance the night away, remember that Swiss night clubs generally don’t open before 11pm and the party definitely doesn’t start before the clock strikes midnight.

Those looking to make the most of their money may still want to arrive early as most clubs shut their doors at 4am.