Switzerland has a small but thriving live music scene. However given the linguistic divisions in the country, bands rarely have a national presence; a Swiss-German band is unlikely to make it big in Romandie and vice versa. But that just makes things interesting if you ask us. Helpfully, there are plenty of places to catch local bands playing live at intimate venues like Bleu Lezard, Chat Noir and Papiersaal. Meanwhile, get in quick to see international bands at the huge SEG Geneva Arena and the Hallenstadion, or check out the local and international jazz scene at Moods and Chorus.
Away from the city centre, this live music club in Carouge promises a fun night out. Upstairs there’s a bar and restaurant serving burgers, steaks, tapas and share platters, while downstairs the club lays on a brilliant programme of live music including jazz, soul, French chanson and hip hop. DJ nights, jam sessions and comedy nights pop up from time to time too, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on the programme. Prices aren’t horrendous, and there’s a great set-price offer if you want to combine dinner with a gig. It does pretty good cocktails too.
If you’re seeking something different to the overpriced slick clubs aimed at Geneva’s moneyed jet setters, you’ll certainly find it here. A former gold refinery, this listed building is now an alternative arts venue with a theatre, cinema and several concert spaces presenting an eclectic mix of music including electro, punk, ska, rock, reggae, disco and metal. Artists range from local unsigned bands to international DJs, and the crowd is just as varied. It can be sweaty, smelly and dirty, but if you care about that sort of thing then you’re unlikely to end up here anyway.
In keeping with Carouge’s Italianate style, from the outside this place looks like an old-fashioned rural inn, with pretty shutters and paintwork faded in the strong Italian sun – you’d expect to find an olive grove in the back garden. However inside it’s rather different, sporting a funky bar lit in neon colours and a basement venue, Le Box, which stages live music events and party nights. As such, it’s pretty multi-functional. Come after work for tapas and a cocktail on the leafy outdoor terrace, visit on weekends for a copious buffet-style brunch, or head to Le Box to catch anything from French chanson to improv nights and local rock bands.
Geneva’s biggest concert venue, the Arena is where you go for big name gigs and large-scale entertainment and sporting events. So a season’s programming could include Elton John, Simply Red and Johnny Halliday (well, it does border France), along with musical Dirty Dancing and basketball stars the Harlem Globetrotters. Located next to Geneva airport, it’s easy to get to and draws punters from both France and Switzerland.
This complex in Kreis 5 attracts 350,000 visitors a year to its concerts, club nights, theatre spectaculars, exhibitions and other large-scale events. This is the place to come to see concerts by the likes of Lady Gaga, commercial ballet and dance events, touring productions such as The Rat Pack and sets from major-name DJs. Like any big venue it's not exactly soulful, but its scale and reach are impressive. Expect to pay premium prices for the experience.
In the centre of Sihlcity, Papiersaal presents folk and indie pop concerts on a small stage with a special love for Scandinavian acts. It's an intimate place to discover stars in the making: Alt-J, Zola Jesus and MØ played here their first ever Swiss shows. On Saturdays it hosts 80s and 90s themed club nights for an older audience.
With a focus on Swiss performers, the Exil offers both wild clubbing nights and regular live concerts. Co-founder Nik Bärtschi plays here regularly with his own band, and local acts like to choose the venue for their album release parties. Apart from that, you can expect the resident DJs to play anything from rap to rock and world music, with an emphasis on more exotic genres like dancehall and ragga.
Zurich’s multi-purpose arena hosts myriad events including national sports competitions, gigs by international rock stars, music awards and ice-dancing spectaculars. As home of the ZSC Lions ice hockey team it’s known for hosting the big games, while music fans flock to concerts by everyone from Queen to Deep Purple to Ed Sheeran. The complex also has a theatre and conference centre, and sits alongside trade fair venue the Messe Zurich.
Zurich's third largest gig venue, Komplex is a spacious place and therefore attracts some well known (if not stellar) names looking to play to sizeable crowds. Previous gigs have included the Ting Tings, Tenacious D, Stereophonics and White Lies. Nevertheless, it's not so big as to be souless, and retains an almost cosy feel with nowhere in the venue feeling that far away from the stage. Drink prices are reasonable for a venue of this stature.
Zurich’s most famous night club can’t please everyone. Some call it the place to be, others find it posh and elitist. The girls are all dolled up and the guys look smart as DJs play their tunes in the classy ballroom with its red velvet sofas and wooden panels. The musical programme has taken a swing towards hip hop and soul in recent years, but there is still the occasional house or disco party.
In contrast to the big name commercial vehicles drawing crowds to Les Docks, Le Romandie champions the little guy, giving a platform to alternative, independent rock groups. Nestled under the arches of the Grand Pont in Lausanne’s Flon district, this intimate space is the place to catch up-and-coming bands from the city and surrounding area, as well as carefully selected indie groups from around Europe and further afield. The eclectic programme covers a diverse range of genres from electro and house to heavy metal. The club actively solicits new talent by inviting bands to submit a demo through its website.
This place maintains a rather venerated status among Lausanne’s young people and student population. Both a café-restaurant and a bar-club, there’s a reason to hang out here any time of the day and night. As a restaurant, the food isn’t really anything special – the menu of burgers, salads, steak tartar and larger dishes is perfectly decent but doesn’t wow (although the chips are rather fine). But the lively, youthful ambiance of the restaurant is a definite draw and prices are reasonable, especially the daily changing set lunch menu. However Bleu Lézard’s trump card is in the basement. Its cellar bar and music venue hosts a regular programme of live music in a variety of genres by both local amateur bands and bigger names, making it a good place to immerse yourself in the local music scene. On weekends DJs draw crowds of students and young professionals looking to unwind after a long week.
It’s easy to miss this outwardly unassuming place tucked away in a basement near an underground car park and a swimming pool, but push open the blue door and you’ll step into one of the best jazz clubs in the country. Those in the know flock to a regular programme of free and ticketed ‘prestige’ concerts featuring local, Swiss and internationally-renowned musicians. They play on a small stage under an arched roof that really makes you feel you’re in a secret spot in Lausanne – underneath a railway bridge perhaps, or in a hidden bomb shelter. It’s a grown up sort of place, so the audience watches from table seating, with waiters serving drinks at your seat, though there’s a small bar to order at too. Arrive early and you can eat from a modest menu of Swiss-inspired food including salads, cheese plates and beef tartar. There are plenty of regulars here, but Chorus’ warm atmosphere makes newcomers feel welcome. Make sure to book ahead if you want a table, particularly on ‘prestige’ nights.
Lausanne’s premier live music venue, Les Docks is the place to go to see edgy international bands in an intimate environment. Its 1,000 capacity room means you won’t catch the biggest names on the planet, but it’s so much the better for it. Instead, the eclectic programme includes young singer-songwriters on the up (think Miles Kane, Kate Nash, Switzerland’s Bastian Baker), cult bands (Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye, electro duo Lamb, UK rockers Klaxons) and stellar names enjoying a late-career revival (Moby, Patti Smith, Morrissey). Tickets sell out quickly.
One of Basel’s most popular clubs, this place has a diverse line-up of party nights, DJs and live music covering a wide range of genres. Whether you’re into techno, salsa, reggae or disco – and much else in between – you’ll find a night for you here. As well as live gigs from local and national musicians, Kuppel also hosts cabaret and stand-up comedy nights. The atmosphere is friendly and cosy, and for a Swiss club it’s pretty reasonably priced.
Volkshaus Basel is a brasserie, beer garden and bar with a handy location in Kleinbasel between the Basel Messe and the river. While the name might lead you to expect a traditional beer hall, the venue is a design attraction in its own right and far from folksy. Star Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron have created a dining space that is filled with light and clean lines, while retaining nods to classic brasserie interiors. Firmly Swiss with a touch of French, the menu aims for simple made special. Perennial Swiss favourites share the page with seasonal dishes including daily wild game specials in autumn. Desserts merit a mention thanks to creative flourishes with crème brulées, as does the cheese selection. In summer, the courtyard beer garden offers a shady nook to enjoy a cold beer.