Tis The Season For Switzerland's Christmas Markets

5 December 2013
Read Time: 2.5 mins

Winter is one of the best times to visit Switzerland.  Though the days are short and the weather decidedly frosty, this picturesque Alpine nation’s colourful Christmas markets make it one of Europe’s must-see winter destinations.

When the winter winds begin to gust down the icy slopes of the Swiss Alps, they signal the arrival of one of Switzerland’s most festive seasons. Despite its reputation as a somewhat staid nation, Switzerland’s annual Christmas markets help transform the dark days of winter into one of the country’s most celebrated festive periods. From major metropolises to the smallest Alpine villages, Switzerland’s gleaming Christmas markets light up the land and add a touch of colour to the whitewashed cityscapes all around.

 The Christmas Market in Basel

Located in the north-west corner of Switzerland adjacent to the border of France and Germany, cosmopolitan Basel is one of Switzerland’s most vibrant cities. This picturesque city straddling the Rhine River also plays host to one of the country’s largest Christmas markets, with the city’s historic  Münsterplatz lighting up after dark to the resplendent sight of one of Switzerland’s largest Christmas trees.

Like the Münsterplatz, nearby Barfüsserplatz transforms in late November into a veritable Christmas wonderland, with compact wooden huts chock full of traditional wares and delicious Yuletide treats – including the spicy glühwein ladled out to warm winter-chilled bones on the snowy market squares.

Nestled along the shores of Lake Geneva, the town of Montreux shot to fame when its casino burnt down in 1971, spawning the Deep Purple classic “Smoke On The Water.” Once the smoke cleared on a whole new raft of tourists, it quickly became clear that this pretty French-speaking town at the foot of the Alps was far more than just a place to gamble.

Today, Montreux is as well known for its popular Christmas markets as it is for its rebuilt casino. Tens of thousands of tourists make the pilgrimage to Montreux Noël each year, lured by the chance to visit jolly Saint Nick in the shadow of the towering Rochers de Naye, peruse a traditional Christmas Village in Caux and revel in the chilly Alpine ambiance of one of Switzerland’s most scenic cities.

Though perhaps better known as a centre of global finance, Switzerland’s largest city Zürich is also home to one of Europe’s largest Christmas markets. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Zürich Christkindli Market, held annually in the city’s cavernous central train station.

Boasting more than 150 stalls full of festive-themed arts, crafts and local produce, the most eye-catching element of one of Switzerland’s most popular Christmas markets is a towering 15-metre Christmas tree adorned with thousands of Swarovski jewels. If that fails to catch your eye, there are also markets at Niederdorf in the heart of the Old Town and the lakeside square of Bellevue, making Zürich one of Switzerland’s most festive Christmas cities.

There may be better known markets than those found in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona, but what this charming Italian-speaking locale lacks in a distinctly Christmas cheer, it more than makes up for with its jaw-dropping architecture. Famous for its three UNESCO World Heritage-listed castles Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro, Bellinzona sprawls along the Ticino River like something out of a fairytale.

When the December winds wrap their ghostly fingers around Bellinzona’s striking Old Town, they signal the beginning of the town’s annual Yuletide celebrations. Stretching from the Piazza Nosetto into the heart of the laneways and narrow streets of the Old Town, Bellinzona’s pretty little Christmas market is the perfect place to sample some traditional southern Swiss fare – including many delicious Lombardy-influenced cakes and pastries.

Conveniently located in the very heart of Switzerland, the pleasant town of Luzern – or Lucerne, to give the town its English title – is another of Switzerland’s most popular Christmas destinations. Come Advent, Luzern’s Franziskanerplatz becomes the focal point for the city’s Yuletide festivities, with the bright lights of the square’s wooden huts casting a luminous light through the dark days of December.

With its convivial Christmas markets and compact Old Town, Luzern is the ideal place to experience a European winter in all its charming, snow-swept glory. Spectacularly situated in the shadow of the Swiss Alps, it’s also the perfect starting point from which to explore the Alpine foothills of Central Switzerland, making Luzern a must-see destination for many Christmas market aficionados.

Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.