There is arguably no more spectacular place in the world to spend Christmas than Switzerland. The country is a holiday card come to life, from its snowy peaks and Alpine villages to its tidy cities draped in evergreen boughs and fairy lights.
What makes Switzerland an even more unforgettable Yuletide destination (aside from its world-class skiing, of course) are the wonderland-like Christmas markets that pop up from late November through Christmas Eve in villages and cities across the country. Here visitors browse rows of mini-chalet-like wooden stalls piled high with everything from artisan arts and crafts to cold-weather classics like mulled wine and fritters and soak in the uniquely timeless holiday atmosphere.
If you’ve been considering celebrating the holidays in Europe’s Christmas capital, you’ll want to take in at least one of the dozens (hundreds?) of Switzerland’s markets. Keep in mind that they can get very crowded on the weekends, especially the closer you get to Christmas Eve, so it’s a good idea to plan your visit on a weekday.
Here are a few of the most historic and charming Christmas markets in Switzerland to seek out:
For one-stop Christmas market browsing, Switzerland’s largest city is your best bet. There are four main Christmas markets that bustle with shoppers in the city center each December, as well as a number of smaller neighborhood markets.
The charming Niederdorf district is home to the oldest Christmas market in Zurich, beloved for its festive vibe and wide variety of Swiss holiday decorations and treats.
The city’s Christkindlimarkt, located in Zurich’s main train station, is one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe with 150 stalls that sell handmade gifts and artisan crafts painstakingly created by skilled artisans set around sparkling 50-foot Christmas tree, decked out in real Swarovski crystals.
If you’re traveling with family, visit the Christmas village that occupies the steps of the city’s opera house. This market has a designated play area for kids, as well as a cinema chalet that shows seasonal movies, a vintage carousel, and an ice-skating rink.
Take a stroll from the city center towards the shore of Lake Zurich to browse the Wienachtsdorf Christmas market. Local artists and craftspeople sell their wares in about 100 stalls; for the full Hallmark-special experience you can also slip on a pair of skates and take a turn around the ice rink lit with holiday lights.
Basel is considered one of Switzerland’s prettiest Christmas destinations and hosts two Christmas markets, including the oldest and largest in Switzerland: the Münsterplatz market. Home to more than 180 wooden huts set in neat rows beneath the city’s beautiful cathedral in the heart of the old town, this market is known for its dazzling holiday tree decorated with ornaments created by the landmark Johann Wanner Christmas and home décor shop. The market’s Christmas village includes the Fairytale Forest, where kids can participate in a number of activities from lbaking traditional Christmas cookies to making candles.
The city’s second Christmas market takes over Barfüsserplatz during the month of December. A bustling tram hub, this market has a more modern feel but is stocked with familiar handicrafts like wooden toys and holiday decorations. It is also known for its satisfyingly cheesy Chäsbängel (a fondue-filled baguette).
With its intact medieval old town, Bern is a particularly picturesque backdrop for traditional Christmas markets.
The Münsterplatz and Waisenhausplatz markets are considered Bern’s finest, with timelessly charming holiday atmospheres and plenty of stalls stocked with handmade wares from Bern and the outlying Cantons, plus sweet Christmas goodies like gingerbread and apple fritters (Öpfelchüchli).
The artisan market held in front of the town’s cathedral (Munster) is a bit more high-end, with about 100 stalls selling exclusive handcrafted art, accessories, decorations, and more.
This canton set on the Italian border has a number of excellent Christmas markets in its towns and cities. One of the most popular is set in the historic center of Bellinzona, the capital of the canton. There are almost 200 stalls selling Christmas crafts, artisan art and accessories, and hot drinks and snacks to warm you on the chilly Swiss evenings.
The chic lakeside city of Lugano is also known for its picturesque Christmas atmosphere that includes festive concerts and events, spectacular decorations, and a bustling Christmas market that kicks off with the lighting of the Christmas tree in Piazza della Riforma. Here you can browse the stalls, stop for a sweet snack, and keep the kids busy with family-friendly entertainment and activities.
Known as Montreux Noël, this town’s market offers a particularly magical setting on the banks of Lake Geneva and has been one of Switzerland’s most popular markets for almost 30 years. There are around 150 stalls, but the highlight of the market is the arrival of Santa Claus each evening, who makes an appearance overhead in his reindeer-drawn sleigh.
Other holiday highlights include the yuletide light show projected onto the facade of the Montreux Palace, family-friendly Christmas events and activities at Chillon Castle, and the cogwheel train to Rochers-de-Naye where Santa accepts young visitors at his Alpine home.