From cattle drives to Swiss wrestling festivals

Traditional events in the Holiday Region Interlaken

All over Interlaken, you can find numerous events that have a history dating back generations. As well as the Unspunnen Festival, which takes place every 12 years, there are also cattle drives and wine festivals around Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. The Alps have had a defining influence on the people and culture of the Bernese Oberland.

  • Unspunnen Festival – a celebration for Swiss wrestlers, alpine farmers and folk costume enthusiasts from all over Switzerland

  • Celebrations marking Swiss National Day on 1 August

  • Traditional Swiss events such as cattle drives, Chästeilet, Fulehung jesters and the Harder-Potschete

  • International and national events about woodcarving in Brienz

  • Switzerland’s longest New Year’s Eve featuring the traditional Harder-Potschete parade in Interlaken

Events steeped in Swiss tradition

Switzerland is home to many vibrant traditions that date back centuries, such as Swiss Alpine Wrestling, yodelling, alphorn playing, flag swinging and dancing in traditional dress. The herdsmen of the Holiday Region Interlaken have always loved a good party. In 1805, the Unspunnen Festival was held in the Holiday Region Interlaken for the first time, with the aim of forging bonds between the urban and rural communities. It is the largest traditional festival in Switzerland and is held to this day every 12 years. The next Unspunnen Festival, which also features Unspunnen Wrestling and parade, will take place in 2029. In the meantime, in the summer months the Kulturbühne Interlaken featuring traditional music and folk songs takes place in Interlaken, Matten, Unterseen and Wilderswil.

1 August – Swiss National Day

Älplerin mit Kühen läuft auf der Strasse durch Interlaken am Festumzug vom 1. August in Interlaken

In the run-up to Swiss National Day, the Interlaken’s wealth of customs and traditions become the focus of celebrations. The highlights include the bonfires that are lit on the slopes of the surrounding mountains. A variety of folklore shows featuring alphorns, flag swinging and yodelling are also held. A popular choice for kids is the torch-lit parade and firework display. In Brienz, Swiss National Day is celebrated on 1 August with a firework display on the lake, while in Iseltwald, there is a village feast, musical entertainment and fireworks in the evening. The farms in many other villages and on the surrounding Alps also serve up a lavish brunch on 1 August.

The longest New Year’s Eve in Interlaken

The event known as the “Longest New Year’s Eve” takes place in Interlaken every year. It starts on 31 December with a New Year’s party and on 1 January, the first open-air concert of the year takes place. At “Touch the Mountains”, you can listen to free live music. Every 2 January, Interlaken is haunted by the Hardermannli (the spirit of the Harder Kulm mountain), his wife and their children, the Potschen, who, donning masks, frolic through the streets of Interlaken. After the traditional Potschete procession, people gather in the pubs around Interlaken for a cosy evening together. The Harder-Potschete has been celebrated in this way for almost 50 years.

Traditional events in Thun and the Diemtigtal Nature Park

Guggenmusiker beim Umzug an der Diemtigtaler Fasnacht

A court jester known as Fulehung is central to Thun’s “Ausschiesset” folk festival in autumn. Equipped with a mask, nightstick and a pig’s bladder called a “Söiblattere”, Fulehung chases the crowds through the alleyways of Thun while handing out sweets to the kids. In January, it’s time to don your costume again for the Thun Carnival, and in March the carnival in the Diemtigtal Nature Park gets under way. The musical entertainment is provided by a host of brass bands, creating an exhilarating atmosphere.

"Chästeilet" and cattle drives in the Bernese Oberland

In the Bernese Oberland, there’s one event in particular that’s been taking place in September for almost 300 years: the Justistal "Chästeilet". Cheese produced from the milk of 250-plus cows during the alpine summer is apportioned according to a traditional ritual known as the "Chästeilet". Bönigen also holds a "Chästeilet" ceremony to mark the return of the cows from the "Küenzlen-Läger" pasture. At another event, you can watch 150 goats as they make the descent from "Küenzlen-Alpiglen" to Bönigen. Come and enjoy alpine cheese freshly made in the mountains – especially if you like fine cheese containing alpine herbs. Another cattle drive for 60 colourfully adorned animals leads from Iseltwald to Goldswil via Bönigen.

Cheese and wine around Lake Thun

Käse wird am Älpler Markt im Suldtal verkauft

Cheese has a long tradition in Switzerland—and especially in the Holiday Region Interlaken. In the Diemtigtal Nature Park, there’s even a Bernese alpine cheese competition in September, and in Bälliz in Thun, a cheese festival is held every October. Wine is another indispensable part of autumn. The “Läset-Sunntig” event is held every September in Spiez and is followed by the “Spiez Märit” (market of Spiez) the next day. Admire the decorated floats of wine casks and listen to the tinkle and clang of the “Trychler” bell ringers and performances by local musical societies at “Läset-Sunntig”.

Celebrating Brienz’s woodcarving heritage

In Brienz, woodcarving has a long tradition. At the International Woodcarving Symposium, which is held on the quayside in Brienz over 5 days in July, you can see how wooden artworks are created around the world. The festivities are topped off with music, artistic performances and fantastic food. The traditional Brienz Woodcarving Symposium has been running for several years now. Since 2012, the organisation of the symposium was taken over by KUNA, who work in collaboration with Brienz Tourismus.

Axalp Woodcarving Week and Brienz Lumberjack Festival

Wanderer vor einer Holzskulptur auf dem Schnitzlerweg auf der Axalp im Sommer

Also in July, you can watch live demonstrations showing how wooden art is made up on the Axalp. Hike from the Axalp to Lake Hinterburgseeli and discover the carved sculptures along the woodcarving trail, which opened after the catastrophic avalanches of 1998 and 1999. Cyclone Lothar also caused catastrophic damage to Lake Hinterburgseeli and along the hiking trail, felling trees and blocking roads. Afterwards, sculptors from the region came up with the idea of transforming the remaining tree trunks into works of art. The woodcarving trail is now flanked by over 80 figures, and more are added at the end of every July during the Axalp Woodcarving Week. A little later in the year (in September), axes are sharpened and chainsaws are fired up for the Brienz Lumberjack Festival, a thrilling wood-cutting competition held by beautiful Lake Brienz.

Swiss Alpine Wrestling and open-air theatre in the Bernese Oberland

Every April, the Ballenberg Open-Air Museum hosts the annual Ballenberg-Schwinget, a Swiss Alpine Wrestling festival. Burly athletes take to the field in front of the Madiswil farmhouse and fight it out according to the rules of “Schwingen”. Another cultural highlight – also at the Ballenberg Open-Air Museum – is the open-air theatre, which opens its doors every summer. On the other side of the lake in Matten by Interlaken, the William Tell Open-Air Theatre opens from mid-June to the end of August. This magnificent natural stage setting at Rugenwald zu Matten has hosted performances of Friedrich Schiller’s dramatisation of the life of folk hero William Tell since 1912. The vast Tell Troupe is made up of more than 170 actors. Horses, cows and goats add to the impressive experience in the open-air theatre. The covered grandstand with around 2,300 seats means that the production can be performed whatever the weather. As you can see, the Bernese Oberland is home to a breathtaking variety of traditional events. There’s also Brienz Steam Festival, the Bernatone Alphorn Festival in Interlaken and live music at Thun’s legendary Thunfest festival. So visit Interlaken and discover your favourite!