Christmas in Switzerland: 10 must-see Christmas markets
Switzerland is famous for a number of things: Cheese, chocolate, ski resorts and, of course, Christmas markets. In this article, we have put together a guide to 10 of Switzerland’s best and most beautiful, traditional Christmas markets.
Christmas in Switzerland
Switzerland is known the world over for its love of the festive season, almost rivalling Germany in terms of spectacle and the size of celebrations. Christmas is typically a momentous occasion in Switzerland, with both large cities and small towns alike taking the opportunity to display lights, take part in local traditions and organise Christmas markets.
What is celebrated in Switzerland during Christmas?
The festive season begins with a trip from Santa, or Samichlaus as he is known in Switzerland, on December 6 (Samichlaus Abend). Children gather as he descends from the mountains, accompanied by his trusty donkey and his right-hand man Schmutzli, who is usually wearing all black clothes and sporting a blackened face.
Santa typically brings a big bag of treats for the little ones - but nothing is given out until he has talked to each child individually to make sure they have behaved throughout the year! The children also try and improve their chances of getting a treat by reciting poems to Santa.
Once Samichlaus has ushered in the festive season, it’s time for people to celebrate. Switzerland has plenty of Christmas traditions in the month of December, including the baking of Christmas cookies, carving turnip lanterns (Räbeliechtli) and laying out an Adventkranz (advent wreath).
Another well-loved tradition is the Adventsfenster (advent windows), which sees 24 families or households from a town decorate one window in their house in a Christmas theme. Then, each day between December 1 and Christmas Eve, one family will reveal their window, creating a kind of “live” advent calendar.
What is included in a Swiss Christmas market?
Swiss Christmas markets are pretty uniform in what they offer, although many do boast their own unique attractions. Typically, a Swiss Christmas market will consist of rows of stalls or booths which offer a whole range of festive treats, gifts and ornaments. Glühwein is especially abundant at Christmas markets in Switzerland, as are Christmas cookies and gingerbread. You’ll find plenty of regional delicacies across Switzerland’s Christmas market too, especially fondue, chestnuts and chocolate.
Often, Swiss artists and artisans will come to Christmas markets to sell their wares. As artists, they are very proud of their work and will often take the time to tell visitors all about their pieces. It’s impossible to find a Swiss Christmas market without a beautiful arrangement of Christmas lights, and most Christmas markets also feature a stunningly decorated tree and other typical Christmas decorations, which give the markets an undeniably festive atmosphere.
Make sure you are on your best behaviour when visiting a Christmas market in Switzerland, as Santa and Schmutzli are often found wandering around. At some markets, children can even visit Santa in his home or hut, and in some cases catch him flying through the air on his sleigh. However, typically Santa and Schmutzli will be mingling with visitors, keeping an eye out for who is being naughty and giving out treats to good children.
Best Christmas markets in Switzerland
Switzerland’s Christmas markets provide a real insight into Swiss culture. They give you the opportunity to eat local Christmas treats, browse products made by Swiss artisans and view some of Switzerland’s historical monuments in a truly unique setting. Check out the 10 best Christmas markets in Switzerland below.
1. Basel Christmas market: The oldest and largest in Switzerland
The oldest and largest Christmas market in Switzerland, the Basel Christmas Market at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz turns the German-speaking city into a Christmas wonderland. The market in Basel sprawls outward from the city centre, and is overlooked by Basel’s historic cathedral.
Visitors can take a trip to the top of the cathedral to overlook the city as it bathes in the myriad of magnificent Christmas lights, or simply meander through the stalls: Maybe you’ll find the perfect bauble for your tree at the Kulpa Weihnachtskugeln, or you might enjoy a Glühwein at Basel’s famous Christmas pyramid.
Set against the backdrop of the Old Town in Basel, the market is extraordinarily beautiful and is particularly popular for its culinary options. Visitors can find genuine Baseler Läckerli (gingerbread) and grilled sausages in and around the stalls. However, with over 120 stands offering everything from regional delicacies to handmade toys and Christmas ornaments, there really is something for everyone at the Basel Christmas Market.
2. Zurich Christmas markets
Zurich is home to several Christmas markets, each one with its own unique vibe and attractions. One of the more grandiose attractions is the Swarovski tree, which can be found at the centre of the Christkindlimarkt at Zurich’s main train station, Zurich HB. The enormous Christmas tree is covered with more than 7.000 Swarovski crystals that shimmer magically as visitors walk through the plethora of stands and enjoy the lingering scent of fresh mulled wine.
The Christmas market in Zurich’s Old Town, as well as the Christmas village (Weinachtsdorf) outside Zurich’s Opera House, are not to be missed either. Both of these markets offer a stellar Christmas experience, filled with traditional Swiss food, music and laughter. The market outside the Opera House is also known for its jewellery, with local designers showing off unique and unusual pieces.
Video: Liezel’s World / YouTube
3. Celebrating Christmas in Switzerland at Geneva Christmas Market
The Christmas market in Geneva is known as Noël au Jardin and takes place in Geneva’s famous English Garden. The iconic park, situated on the banks of Lake Geneva, makes for the perfect place to host a Christmas market, offering visitors the opportunity to make once-in-a-lifetime memories.
Take a photo in front of the magnificent Jet d’Eau, discover a new passion in the arts and crafts stalls and warm your cockles with delicious Swiss fondue at Le Chalet à Fondue. This year, visitors can take to the skies and enjoy panoramic views of the garden and the lake by taking a ride on the new Big Wheel attraction.
The market is also a great place for the little ones, with a special programme consisting of all kinds of activities, like face painting, arts and crafts, storytelling, making Christmas decorations for your tree at home and, of course, meeting Santa.
4. Christmas markets in Bern
There is a plethora of Christmas markets to visit in Switzerland’s de facto capital Bern. One of the most impressive is the Minster Christmas market. Located in the heart of Bern’s historic old town (which has now been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site), the market offers a chance for Bernese craftspeople to present their handcrafted wares, giving the market a truly traditional feel. The market is famous for its artisanal nature and, more often than not, the artists are present to explain the thought and meaning behind their pieces.
Another Christmas market to definitely check out in Bern, which also happens to be the newest Christmas market in the city, is the Sternenmarkt. Here, around 80 stalls offer international delicacies, as well as the typical fare of artisanal products, Christmas activities and a wonderfully festive atmosphere. The Christmas market on Waisenhausplatz is also worth perusing if you get the chance.
5. Enjoy the Christmas break with the market in Lausanne
Christmas in Lausanne is characterised by Bô Noël, a Christmas festival that floods the city with the spirit of Christmas. The festival starts with an opening parade, which marches through the city in a spectacle of lights and music. The festival consists of several markets: the main Saint-François market, a creators’ market showcasing the wares of local craftspeople and artisans, and a local market where visitors can sample regional specialities from the area.
The market also boasts a designer boutique which is dedicated to regional designers, a children’s village, two escape rooms for the more adventurous guests and the “Friends Terrace”, where visitors can escape the cold and fill up on hot food and drinks. With a programme that is chock-full of different activities and stalls, from Mexican artisanal products to a fondue carriage, the Christmas festival in Lausanne is not to be missed.
Video: trivial mass / YouTube
6. Christmas in St. Gallen
A truly unique experience for the festive season, St. Gallen transforms into a city of stars. Around 700 giant star lights shine down on the city during the Christmas period, bathing the old town in golden light. The stars can be sponsored, as is often done by private citizens who are proud of their historic city.
The St. Gallen Christmas market offers a large selection of market stalls and various events, including the story contest and a shop window competition. Also, just outside St. Gallen’s famous Abbey of Saint Gall, an enormous Christmas tree is beautifully decorated for all to appreciate.
7. Christmas market in Switzerland’s heart: Lucerne
Lucerne is another Swiss city with plenty of Christmas markets to choose from. The Lozärner Weihnachtsmärt is just one of these but is by far the biggest and most traditional. Located by the old Franciscan church on Franziskanerplatz, the market can be found easily by simply following the smell of Glühwein and gingerbread.
There are more than 60 stalls at the market, each offering festive ornaments, artisanal products, household goods or local delicacies. The market's trademark attraction is a large advent wreath (at over three metres in diameter it's actually the largest in central Switzerland), which is lavishly decorated with lights, candles and baubles.
8. Montreux Christmas market
Known as one of the prettiest Christmas attractions in the whole of Europe, the Montreux Christmas market is situated on the banks of Lake Geneva and provides wonderful vistas for visitors to enjoy. The market is home to a number of unique attractions, including “Light on Ice”, a beautiful skating rink set in an illuminated forest, and even Santa Claus’s house!
Children and their parents can take the railway up the nearby mountain to find Santa’s house hidden away and, if you’ve been good this year, you might even find Santa himself sitting inside, relaxing before his big day.
Visitors at the Montreux Christmas Market are also treated to one of the most fantastic spectacles of the year: Santa flying in his sleigh. Every day, three times a day, visitors can look to the skies and see Santa gliding through the sky, his sleigh being pulled by reindeer, leaving a trail of stars behind him.
9. Christmas market at Neumarkt in Winterthur
Set against the backdrop of Winterthur’s old town, the Christmas market in Winterthur bestows a magical and festive atmosphere upon all who visit. The meticulously decorated stalls, or Christmas houses, offer a plethora of traditional, local gifts and other Christmas paraphernalia, giving the market a truly festive atmosphere.
The market is famous for its procession, called the “Chlaus move-in”, which features hundreds of Santas travelling to the market on different forms of transportation, whether that be a horse-drawn carriage or a giant motorbike with a sidecar. The market also features live music from a number of small local artists.
10. Italian Christmas market in Ascona
With beautiful views over Lago Maggiore, the Christmas market flows through Via Borgo in Ascona, filling the narrow streets with the smells of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. Quaint festive stalls selling Christmas decorations, local food and gifts turn the area into a Christmas fairy tale, complete with costumed musicians and performers.
The market is decorated with beautiful lights that seem to hang down from the night sky, washing the streets below in a soft gold glow and giving the market a truly unique atmosphere; like a hidden gem tucked away in the very south of Switzerland. The market is noted for its local artisanal products and excellent food.
Local Christmas markets in Switzerland
There are plenty of local Christmas markets that can be found in smaller towns and villages throughout Switzerland. While these markets are smaller and more intimate in design, they are not to be missed.
Local Christmas markets in Switzerland are often quieter and more romantic, allowing couples and older visitors to enjoy the festive season away from big crowds. Smaller markets also tend to have a theme, whether that be artisanal, musical or artistic.
Switzerland on Christmas day
One very important thing to note about Christmas in Switzerland is that it is typically celebrated on December 24, known as Heiliger Abend. The holiday is typically celebrated according to Protestant or Catholic traditions, depending on which canton it's being celebrated in.
The Christmas tree is often hidden away and brought out after dinner, which is usually a typical affair, although you will often find Swiss families enjoying fish or ham instead of turkey for their Christmas dinner.
The Christmas tree is usually heavily decorated, sometimes even with real candles, and families take the time after dinner to sing Christmas carols. Parents will often hide presents for children to hunt for. At the end of the day, religious families will attend a Midnight Mass.
Wherever you are spending your Christmas in Switzerland, we wish you a very Schöni Wiehnachte, Joyeux Noël, Buon Natale or Bellas festas da Nadal!