Traveling to Switzerland in May and need to know about the weather, places to visit, things to do, events, skiing, and everything else? We’ve got you covered!
May is truly the official start of Spring in the beautiful sweeping hills of Switzerland. The mountaintops still have their white peaks, but the valleys are receiving that glorious warmth of sunshine with refreshing breezes.
May is also solidly in the “shoulder season” for Swiss travel, meaning that crowds can be smaller and better deals may be found on accommodations, transit, etc.
Some of the best things to do this month include visiting major cities like Basel and Geneva before the Summer crowds roll in, hiking the first open trails at Mount Rigi or along the Swiss Grand Canyon, or witnessing events like the traditional Cattle Ascent into the Swiss Alps.
No matter what you choose, May is a great time for visiting this gorgeous country. We’ve built this big guide to equip you with everything you need to have the perfect Swiss vacation.
Switzerland Weather in May
May brings much warmer weather to Switzerland. While the lower elevation regions were already losing their snow in April, the higher elevation areas are now beginning to melt in May.
As far as weather and temperatures goes, one of the best things to keep in mind is the altitude of your destination. Higher altitude towns in the Alps are likely to have cooler weather and some snow, while lower altitude areas will be mild and dry.
Zurich, for example, has an elevation of 1,339ft (408m). The average temperature lows and highs in Zurich during May will be about 45˚F to 65˚F (7˚C to 8˚C) from day to day.
Compare this to an area with higher elevation, like Zermatt. May temperatures in Zermatt are far cooler, averaging 34˚F to 53˚F (1˚C to 12˚C) during the day.
Rainfall can vary throughout the month of May, with the majority of the month having clear skies and dry ground – except where snow melt is occurring.
These estimates are yearly and monthly averages based on prior years, so it’s always important to check the weather leading up to your trip to have the most accurate information about the kind of clothing you should pack.
Average May Temperature in Switzerland (By City)
|City||Avg Low (°F)||Avg High (°F)||Avg Low (°C)||Avg High (°C)|
Switzerland Affordability & Crowds in May
May is a great time to jump on Spring and Summer activities before the influx of visitors swarm the country starting in June. Pricing is low to moderate as far as travel expenses goes and most hotels will be open again this month in preparation for the Summer guests.
Ski season is over at this point and while some Summer tourists may begin to trickle in toward the end of the month, May is still considered a low point or shoulder season in Switzerland. This will grant you some good deals on hotel rates and airfare if you plan ahead. You might also be able to get good rates on tours and attractions during low season.
Trains, planes, buses and boats will be operating and less crowded, so travel within the country will be nice and not overwhelming. Renting vehicles should be fairly easy and the roadways will mostly be filled with locals.
Switzerland Snow & Skiing in May
Most of the ski resorts are shuttered for Summer at this point, with the exception of the highest elevation resorts, like Zermatt, Saas-Fee and Engelberg. These areas have glacier peaks which provide snow all year, while all the rest of the resorts have melted snow.
If skiing is your priority this month, we recommend looking into the glaciers. If hiking is more of your concern, the lower altitude mountains and areas are your best bet for avoiding snow and snow melt. At this point in the year, most hiking areas are opening back up, giving you multiple options to choose from.
The country as a whole will have precious little snow this month. For the most part it has melted, though you’ll still see some at the mountain peaks and on the glaciers.
Average May Snowfall in Switzerland (By Ski Resort)
|Resort Name||Snowfall (in)||Snowfall (cm)||Summit Depth (in)||Summit Depth (cm)||Base Depth (in)||Base Depth (cm)|
Best Switzerland Ski Resorts in May
The snow melt is nearly completed in all parts of the country by this month, which means that most of the ski resorts have closed by the time May rolls around. The only exceptions are the backcountry and glacier areas that keep their snow all year round.
Zermatt may be a little alpine town, but it’s got a huge international draw. Home of the Matterhorn, this ski area is excellent in late season. The lower parts of the ski resort will be closed by late April, but the high altitude glacier areas remain open. You’ll want to stick to the Klein Matterhorn portion of the resort, which undoubtedly gives you the best views of the Matterhorn, as well as epic ski trails.
In town, you’ll feel the warmth of Spring and enjoy the fresh air through the car-free village. Delicious and eclectic restaurants serve everything from seafood to classic European fare and friendly hospitality is given to every visitor. Other activities like hiking on the mountain to see the alpine wildflowers or riding the Gornergrat train to the Matterhorn viewing area are a must.
Engelberg is significantly smaller than Zermatt, but it’s season lasts until late May. Skiers will enjoy the variety of the terrain here, though you’ll be sticking to a few of the same runs this late in the season. Powder hounds will revel in these Spring conditions, as Engelberg is best known for it’s fluffy snow even in Spring.
The village of Engelberg is quite nice for visiting this time of year and has several main attractions off the slopes. The Engelberg Abbey is a beautiful sight to behold which dates back to 1120 AD. The famous Mount Titlis towers above the town and provides great photo ops for your trip. You can also see it up close by braving the Titlis Cliffwalk on the mountainside, or touring the glacier caves which remain ice cold all year.
Best Things to Do in Switzerland in May
Here’s a quick list of some of our favorite places to visit and things to do in April in Switzerland. The locations and activities listed here are a great starting point for figuring out which region of Switzerland works best for your trip.
Basel is a charming town in Northern Switzerland, located on the borders of France and Germany. It’s a popular place to go if you’re looking to explore all three countries, as you can easily travel by train to the historic towns of Colmar, France and Freibug, Germany from Basel. As a matter of fact, there are several tour companies that specialize in this particular trip.
While in Basel, we suggest visiting the old town and seeing Basel Minster for some truly remarkable architecture and Gothic masonry dating back to the 12th century. It’s also got beautiful views of the Rhine River. To see the city by boat, catch the ferry on the Rhine which has four different docking points throughout the city.
Basel has no shortage of cultural entertainment; museums you won’t find anywhere in the country dominate this little town. Everything from the intriguing Paper Mill, dedicated to the history of writing and printing, down to the Antikenmuseum, which gathers artifacts from ancient civilizations, is worth multiple days of exploration.
See Rhine Falls
The Rhine River is such a remarkable natural attraction that it brings in millions of visitors each year, but visiting in May will help you avoid the bustle. Rhine Falls is the largest waterfall in Europe and there are many ways to see it, no matter your capabilities. Whether you arrive by boat, train or car, we have several options for optimal viewing.
You can get the most immersive experience via boat cruise where they’ll take you right to the base of the falls. Second to that is the bridge walkway and viewing platforms that were built right over the falls. You can get here by vehicle if you park on either side of the river or opt to arrive by train. Train passengers can walk to the viewing area right from the Rhine Falls Train Station.
Ride the GoldenPass to Gruyere
The Golden Pass train is one of several famous Switzerland panoramic trains that gives passengers stunning views of snow capped mountains, wildflower covered valleys and little alpine towns dotting the countryside. The route runs from Interlaken to Lake Geneva. We suggest taking the Interlaken leg to the Montbovon stop, then hopping aboard the train to Gruyere for a little detour.
If you’re already familiar with the Gruyere cheese, you’re in for a spectacular experience in the town of Gruyere. May is a great time to visit to beat the summer crowds. The town of Gruyere has preserved medieval shops and homes that still operate today, as well as decadent cheese and chocolate tours that lead visitors along the cobblestone streets.
Lake Geneva is rich in history and culture, with thriving villages and towns all along it’s shoreline. Geneva itself (which is home to Europe’s United Nations) is a popular tourist destination all year, but has fewer crowds in the month of May. Geneva is diverse in culture, but has a strong French influence. It serves as the jumping off point for destinations such as Chamonix, Montreux, and Chateau de Chillon, which make great day trips during your week at Geneva.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you come to Geneva is the striking Jet d’Eau – an impressive man made geyser that propels water 140 meters into the sky. With so much international focus in Geneva, there are many numerous art, history and science museums to explore, as well as city gardens and pristine historic districts to stroll through.
Jungfraujoch has been appropriately named “Top of Europe” due to it’s high elevation on the Bernese Alps. It’s famous for having the highest railway station in Europe and hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. In order to score a ticket onto this train before the crowds come, take a chance in May when the weather is great and the tourists are few.
You’ll get impeccable panoramic views of the mountain tops on the Jungfrau Railway and have delicious food served along the way. When you reach your destination, there are many ways to experience the Top of Europe. The Sphinx Terrace viewing station is the main attraction, in addition to glacier tours, a walk through the Ice Palace sculptures, or take the most modern tricable gondola in the world.
Sightsee in Lausanne
Lausanne is the home of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Museum, which is the biggest tourist attraction in the town. However, once you arrive in Lausanne, you’ll be drawn to the beauty of the old town, where medieval architecture and historic buildings still stand. You’ll find the Cathedrale de Lausanne here, which is known as Switzerland’s Notre Dame and is just as intricately detailed.
Outside of the old town, visitors can see Collection De l’Art Brut or the Hermitage Foundation which rotates artwork from internationally recognized creators. We also recommend you take a boat excursion on nearby Lake Geneva, climb the Sauvabelin Tower for the panoramic views and stroll Le Port d’Ouchy at twilight.
Walk through Lucerne
Yet another lakefront city, Lucerne is all about medieval architecture and tight-knit community. This little town has ramparts on the Northern end that remain from the 14th century and a chapel bridge built in 1333. In addition to it’s old heritage, Lucerne’s boat cruises are the number one attraction.
Getting in touch with the great outdoors should be at the top of your list when visiting Lucerne. You can see beautiful cobblestone streets and red brick homes of the Alstadt from a cruise, take the cogwheel train to hike Mount Pilatus or Mount Rigi, or walk the historic pathways on the covered bridges and rampart towers.
Hike Mount Rigi
Switzerland is slowly becoming a hiking haven as the weather warms and tourists begin to flock back to the country. As the snow has mostly melted, one of the best places to see first is Mount Rigi. The slopes here have a lower altitude and they receive lots of sunshine, making it enjoyable for all levels of hikers.
The entire trail is well-care for and easily accessible for small kids and families. The hike will last approximately 3 hours and we suggest bringing a snack or small meal to enjoy on the mountainside when you reach the viewing point. Mount Rigi has boat tours from Lucerne, making it a great day trip from that area.
Play at Mount Pilatus
Mount Pilatus is a popular hiking destination that looks over Lake Lucerne. It offers incredible views of the town and the lake and Summer visitors come in droves from Zurich and Lucerne. You’re likely to beat the crowd by making this trek in May. Pilatus is made up of several peaks; the tallest of which is Tomlishorn, which is the best for hiking.
If you prefer not to hike but want to see the fascinating panoramic views, take the cogwheel train or the cable car up the mountain to the observation deck. There you’ll have access to stunning views and several restaurants, along with ropes courses and adventure parks for some family fun.
Travel through Ticino
Ticino is located in Southern Switzerland on the Italian border and receives the warmest weather quickest out of most Swiss cities. This beautiful region is home to Lake Lugano and the city of Lugano, which has some of Ticino’s best tourist attractions.
The Falconeria Locarno aviary, the Galleria Baumgartner model train station and Monte San Giorgio fossil site are among some of the must-see attractions here, while others may enjoy the sights at Lugano’s historic churches and cathedrals. No doubt, a boat cruise on Lake Lugano is just what the doctor ordered if you’re looking for that warm Spring breeze and delightful views on the water.
Hike the Swiss Grand Canyon
The Rhine Gorge, otherwise known as the “Swiss Grand Canyon”, is one of the most spectacular and unassuming sights in all of Switzerland. Those who travel to Switzerland specifically to hike the Alps will not want to miss this unique feature. The Rhine Gorge has multiple hiking trails and viewpoints varying in difficulty. The family hiking trails are great for young kids.
Rhine Gorge will see the most visitors later in the Summer, so hikers will love the tranquility and warmer weather in May. If the day is warm enough, you can even cool off after a long hike by swimming in the Caumasee alpine lake.
The capital of Switzerland is often one of the busiest places in the country, but early to late Spring is the best time to avoid the crowds. May is the last portion of the slow season before the summer guests begin to pack the streets again. Though some restaurants and hotels may have taken a break this month, there is still plenty to do when you visit Bern in May.
Some of the best things you can do in Bern during Spring involve taking in the beauty of nature. For instance, kids will love Gurten Park which is a miniature train on operating tracks, jungle gyms and ropes courses. Adults might prefer to pass the time at Minster Terrace off of Bern Minster, which has more refined outdoor games. Tours of Bern Minster’s Bell Tower are also available this month.
For more scenic views, walk along the Rose Garden, or step inside the Botanic Gardens which you can walk to in 10 minutes from the Bern train station. A scenic stroll along the Aare river is also relaxing when you have a moment to spare.
Tour Oberhofen Castle
Oberhofen Castle is a gorgeous 13th century relic located in the Bern canton of Switzerland. It sits on Lake Thun and is considered a romantic getaway. Couples will love the journey through the renovated castle halls, dining on traditional Swiss fare at the castle restaurant and stealing a kiss inside the picturesque top tower smoking lounge.
Arriving in mid-May will guarantee that you’re one of the first guests in the castle for the season. If you plan to spend the day in Oberhofen, take a boat cruise to neighboring Thun on the Aare River. Thun has many scenic walks through the old town, down the historic covered bridges and over to Balliz Island where you can shop at the market and dine at several local cafes.
May Events in Switzerland
Alpine Cattle Ascent
Alpine regions in Europe have long kept the tradition of cattle farming and herding alive and still follow the proper guidelines set by generations past. Part of this tradition includes the annual cattle ascent and fall descent between valley and mountain top. This tradition takes place in towns all over Switzerland, so be sure to look at the schedule for your city of choice if you want to see the cattle ascent.
The procession begins with a prayer over the cattle and herdsmen who are dressed in traditional garb. The cows are led through the city up to the mountain pastures to graze for the summer and their herdsmen and families will typically leave their city dwellings behind to stay in the mountains with their cattle for the summer months.
Ascension Day is a public holiday all over Switzerland that celebrates what they believe to be the ascension of Jesus into heaven after his resurrection. It’s important to note when this day will happen over your trip (usually the last week in May) as most businesses, schools and government facilities will be completely shut down on this day.
The Morges region of Switzerland, located on Lake Geneva, has an annual Tulip Festival in May which commemorates the blooming of the tulips on the mountains and in the valleys. Residents and visitors are invited to participate in seeing the real tulip decorations all over the old town in Morges, while also purchasing flowers for themselves and loved ones.
International Jazz Festival
Bern’s International Jazz Festival takes place this month and hosts world-class performers at two different venues. Over 30,000 visitors come over the course of two months and get to enjoy talented musicians and singers at the hotel jazzroom and inside the jazz tent at Hotel Inner Enge.
Appenzell a Cappella Festival
This little Swiss village hosts a large festival each Spring, which lasts for two months. A Cappella groups from around Europe come to perform shows for locals and visitors, dressed in coordinating outfits and singing familiar tunes. The festivities also include some delicious food and drink for guests.
As you can see, Switzerland has much to offer in the shoulder season, especially in the month of May. If you prefer mild temperatures, slight breezes and warm sunshine, May should be considered for a vacation in Switzerland.
Not only can you still get access to great skiing in places like Zermatt and Engelberg, but you can also venture out onto the hiking trails before the start of the Summer tourist season and take a few tours through typically busy cities that are experiencing a little down time.
This article is part of Roundtript’s series of expert Switzerland travel guides for every month of the year.
Spring in Switzerland
Summer in Switzerland
Fall in Switzerland
Winter in Switzerland
For a summary of each Switzerland month & season all in one place, check out our big guide to the Best Times of the Year to Visit Switzerland.