Images of snowflakes, twinkling lights and carol singers wrapped up in woollen hats and scarves spring to mind when I think of a white Christmas and if you spend the festive season in Switzerland you’re likely to see that and a whole lot more.
With its picture perfect scenery and centuries old traditions, Switzerland is one of the best places to enjoy a white Christmas. There’s a festivity in the air in Switzerland at Christmas time that visitors of all ages will enjoy.
But where exactly is the best place in Switzerland for Christmas?
It all comes down to your interests and you’ll find details below on the best Christmas towns and villages to visit in Switzerland.
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Christmas in the Swiss Alps
If your ideal Christmas holiday in Switzerland consists of plenty of snow, the mountains are the place for you. The Swiss Alps at Christmas have a fairytale appeal that can’t fail to get you in the festive spirit so if you’re looking for a truly white Christmas, Switzerland is the destination for you.
Ski bunnies are spoilt for choice with a number of Swiss alpine resorts guaranteed snow over the Christmas season due to their high altitude. These resorts include St. Moritz, Zermatt and Davos/Klosters where you’ll not only find great skiing but great après-ski activities, too.
If you are a skier or snowboarder, my article on the best resorts for skiing in Switzerland might be helpful – click here to read it.
Why not enjoy the best of both worlds? A Swiss Alps Christmas and a skiing vacation in one!
Alpine resorts don’t only cater for skiers and snow boarders, though. There are plenty of activities available to make Christmas in the Alps a special experience for visitors of all ages.Horse-drawn sleighs are a common sight in some resorts, and many villages hold Christmas markets.
In Zermatt, St. Peter’s Church has been known to attract up to 800 people to its Christmas service and not to be missed is the Zermatt Christmas market.
Another resort town, Gstaad, receives a special visit each year from Santa Claus who walks with the town’s children from the Posthotel Rössli, the oldest hotel in town, to the chapel.
Grindelwald, in the Jungfrau region, is a fine example of a Switzerland Christmas village with plenty of fun things to do including sledging and snow-shoeing.
A number of alpine resorts in Switzerland offer special Christmas (and New Year) holiday packages each year. Imagine waking up on Christmas morning in your very own alpine chalet and looking outside to falling snow. That’s a memorable Christmas experience the whole family will enjoy.
Christmas holidays in Switzerland’s cities
If the mountains aren’t for you, a Christmas spent in any of Switzerland’s major cities is a great option.
Whilst snow isn’t guaranteed, Bern, Geneva, Lucerne, Zurich and Basel all have large Christmas markets which run from around November 24 and they will definitely infect you with Christmas cheer, snow or no snow.
The markets are a great place to not only do your Christmas shopping or buy souvenirs for loved ones back home, but to really immerse yourself in the Swiss Christmas spirit. Locals gather after work to sip mulled wine, eat gingerbread cookies or grilled sausages and chat about the day’s events.
This is also where the Swiss buy their Christmas trees – real pine trees not the plastic versions we are so used to here in Australia. You’ll see many a stall selling trees of all shapes and sizes, as well as branches of holly.
Visitors to Bern at Christmas time can enjoy a myriad things to do. Numerous Christmas markets, a giant Christmas tree, an ice rink and an alpine chalet where you can enjoy fondue and raclette made from locally-produced cheese, are just some of the things to do at Christmas in Bern, Switzerland’s capital.
Check the dates for this year’s Swiss Christmas Markets in this article.
Basel’s Christmas market is Switzerland’s largest (and oldest) with over 180 wooden huts set up in the heart of the city’s Old Town. Towering above them is always one of Johann Wanner’s famously decorated Christmas trees.
More of Wanner’s exquisite Christmas ornaments can be found in the Johann Wanner Christmas House nearby, and these are the perfect souvenir to take home to remind you of your white Christmas in Switzerland.
One fun pre-Christmas activity to try is ice skating. Youngsters and the young-at-heart can pull on the skates at specially built ice rinks in many towns and cities, including Locarno, Lucerne, Lausanne and Chur.
Christmas in Geneva, Switzerland’s truly international city, will be celebrated with a Christmas market in the Parc des Bastions in 2018, transforming it into a winter wonderland. As well as stalls selling crafts, there will be a street food village as well as entertainment.
Montreux, another lovely city on Lake Geneva, hosts one of Switzerland’s most popular, and largest, Christmas markets. Over 160 stalls are set up along the lakeside promenade, selling typical dishes and handcrafted gifts. Elves’ Square is a must-visit for those with children.
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Here you will find magic workshops, a beautifully lit Christmas tree and watch as Santa Claus flies overhead on his sleigh.
Nearby, Chillon Castle is home to Medieval Magic (three weekends in December) where visitors can enjoy activities from times gone by and attend cooking, candle-making and pottery workshops.
At St. Gallen you can witness Switzerland’s finest Christmas illuminations. An installation of 700 stars sparkles above the squares and streets in the Old Town of St.Gallen creating an enchanting festive atmosphere. To add to the ambience of a Christmas village, St. Gallen’s Cathedral is home to a giant Christmas tree.
Another Christmas tree worth checking out is the one at Zurich’s main train station. The 50-foot tree is decorated with thousands of sparkling Swarovski crystals.
Zurich also boasts a singing Christmas tree! Standing in tiers amongst a giant tree, choristers entertain onlookers with their rendition of Christmas carols. It’s a favourite event amongst both locals and tourists.
One of the smallest Christmas markets in Switzerland can be found in Ascona on Lake Maggiore. The wooden huts sell regional specialities as well as handicrafts and beautiful gifts, and the twinkling lights reflecting off the shimmering lake, only add to the magical ambience.
In the town of Einsiedel in the canton of Schwyz, over 450 hand carved figures make up the Diorama Christmas Crib.
Spread over 80-square metres, the delicate figures depict the nativity story – from the shepherds receiving news of the Christ Child’s pending birth, to the crib scene in a stable and the arrival of the three Kings.
The Einsiedeln Diorama is the largest Christmas Crib in the world. Buy your admission ticket here >
There are plenty of choices when it comes to planning your Switzerland Christmas break.
Christmas in a Swiss village
A Christmas experience you shouldn’t miss is a stay in a small Swiss village. Twinkling fairy lights, snow dusted rooftops and decorations aplenty, this is where you’ll enjoy the quintessential Christmas in Switzerland.
Their smaller size doesn’t mean Swiss villages celebrate Christmas any less spectacularly than their larger neighbours and it’s often here that you’ll really feel touched by the Christmas spirit.
As locals gather in the village square for Christmas festivities or make their way to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, you can soak up the atmosphere without the frenzied pre-Christmas activity that you often find in larger cities.
In the pretty medieval town of Stein am Rhein, for example, a canopy of stars light up the night. Sparkling lights cover the Rhine Bridge and and Hohenklingen Castle. The town square comes alive with a manger scene, market stalls selling handicrafts and snacks, a merry-go-round and carol singers.
A stroll through the town past the beautifully decorated windows is sure to put you in the Christmas mood.
Wherever you choose to spend Christmas in Switzerland, make sure you take the time to enjoy a meal amongst the locals. Savour the local specialities like fondue, raclette and cookies spiced with cinnamon and ginger and wash it all down with a glass of glühwein (mulled wine).
Swiss Christmas food is just one of the reasons you’ll fall #inLOVEwithSWITZERLAND.
Getting around Switzerland at Christmas time
Now you’ve decided that you’re going to visit Switzerland for Christmas, there are plenty of transport options available to you. Zurich and Geneva are the country’s main international airports servicing flights from all over Europe and around the world.
If you plan to visit multiple destinations within Switzerland, a Swiss Travel Pass is worth considering. Click here to read my Ultimate Guide to the Swiss Travel Pass.
If you prefer to hire a car and drive yourself, read my guide to driving in Europe in winter for essential tips.
By organised tour
Prefer to take the hassle out of your travel around Switzerland? Join an organised coach tour so you can sit back and enjoy the passing scenery. There are a wide range of Switzerland Christmas tours available – click here for more info.
Where to stay for your Christmas in Switzerland vacation
There’s a fantastic range of accommodation to stay in Switzerland to suit all budgets. Once you’ve decided on the location of your Switzerland Christmas holiday you can start browsing the many hotels, apartments, chalets and B&Bs on offer.
Christmas is one of the busiest times of year at Swiss ski resorts so make sure you book your accommodation well in advance.
Weather in Switzerland in December
Once upon a time, snow in Switzerland in December was a given but these days that’s not the case. Average top temperatures are still low (around 4°C / 39°F) but fresh snow is not guaranteed.
To increase your chances of experiencing a true Switzerland white Christmas, I recommend you choose an alpine location. Snow is more likely at higher altitudes than it is on the lowlands.
The towns and cities mentioned above are some of the best places in Switzerland for Christmas. By choosing one of these destinations as your base, you’ll experience Switzerland in Christmas-celebration-mode and will be enchanted by the magic of a festive season you will never forget.
Join the Switzerland Travel Planning Facebook Group
You are also welcome to join my Switzerland Travel Planning Facebook group where you can ask questions about your upcoming trip to Switzerland. Click here to join!
This article is written in conjunction with Switzerland Tourism but all words and opinions are my own.
Top image: Christmas market in Stein am Rhein. Image © swiss-image.ch/Jan Geerk
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