From Christmas Markets to horse-racing on frozen lakes, a uniquely-Swiss winter awaits 

Obviously, the winter months in Switzerland are the times when people take to the slopes to ski and snowboard, or head to the cross-country ski-trails. As this is such an important facet of holidaying in Switzerland in winter, we have devoted a special section of the website to this, which you can visit by clicking here.

The purpose of this part of the website is to show you that you don’t have to be an ardent skier or snowboarder to get the most out of a winter break in Switzerland. For many, the winter really only gets underway in the country from November onwards, as the cities, towns and villages get into the Christmas spirit. This is when the Swiss Christmas Markets are in a class of their own. The smell – or should that be fragrance – of steaming pots of Glühwein on the stove, sausages cooking on the grill, raclette and fondue is intoxicating and unforgettable. If your reaction to the Christmas adverts coming on TV is one of ‘bah – humbug’, then we can guarantee that a short break to one of Switzerland’s great cities and wandering around their wonderful Christmas Markets will get you into the festive spirit in a way that nothing else can. 
One of the most eagerly-anticipated Markets sees the conversion of the huge entrance hall of Zurich’s iconic Hauptbahnhof (the Main Station) into a collection of wooden huts and stalls selling everything that any self-respecting resident of this great city needs to get themselves into the festive spirit. Perhaps the only thing more anticipated than the Market is the revelation of the city’s Christmas illuminations. These always provoke debate, argument or delight in equal measure.
Whilst all of the cities have their own Christmas Markets – Bern actually gets off to a flying start with a market dedicated to onions at the end of November ! -, but many other towns and communities do as well. Unlike the city markets which tend to last for the whole of December, these markets tend to run for shorter periods from a couple of days to nearly two weeks, so you will need to check with us what is going on when, but these are by no means small ‘productions’. Interlaken’s market, for example, includes a huge ‘Ice Magic’ complex, featuring 5 different ice-rinks, and a separate area where you can try your hand at Eisstockschiessen, a form of curling. Morges, a short train ride along the lakeside from Geneva has 160 stalls in a great wooden hall to protect you from the weather. A 100-year old carousel is the centre-point of the market at St Ursanne in the Jura, whereas the Benedictine Abbey at Einsiedeln in Kanton Schwyz provides a stunning background to their market, which is now renowned as one of the best Christmas Markets in Switzerland – praise indeed.
It’s not just the Christmas Markets that can, or should, entice you to Switzerland in December. Many of the villages now have their own Advent Festivals from the first Sunday in December onwards. These are celebrated with wonderful delicacies to eat, warming drinks and music of different types. The celebration of the Festival of Sankt Niklaus on 6th December is another important date on the way through to Christmas. This is the time when St Nik visits the ‘good children’ and comes bearing gifts as a reward for their behaviour during the year. 
Christmas itself is a magical time. In Switzerland, as in many other parts of Europe, it is Christmas Eve that is the focus of the celebration. Shops, cafes, ski school lessons all close or finish early, and people make their way back to their families, or, for those staying in hotels, it is the time to get dressed up for a special gala dinner. If you are not staying in a hotel, it is essential that you book your table at the restaurant of your choice as soon as you can, as everywhere fills up quickly. After dinner is over, many people will make their way to the Midnight Service in the village church. The choir will usually have been practicing something special, and the church itself, especially in the predominantly Catholic areas, will be engulfed in the heady fragrance of burning incense and candles. 
Whereas Christmas Eve is quieter and more spiritual than in the UK, New Year’s Eve is the real chance to party, with more gala meals, dancing, music, and delicious Swiss sparkling wines flowing in abundance, and the turn of the year being marked with fireworks lighting up the skies.
The winter months are also fabulous for walking, as the villages clear many kilometres of pathways for those people not taking to the slopes. Many of the resorts also offer other activities, such as snow-shoeing, and sleigh-rides. It’s also a great time to visit the cities, as all the museums and art galleries are open as usual, but the hotel rates are usually a lot lower than going in the summer. There are also a selection of unique events which make use of the snow and ice in the most unusual of ways. St Moritz, for example, not only offers the unique challenge of the feared Cresta Run, but also hosts the ‘White Turf’ race meeting in February each year, which sees 35,000 horse-racing enthusiasts gather from around the world to witness the excitement of races across the frozen expanse of St Moritz’s summer lake, all against the stunning back drop of the magnificent peaks of the Engadine.  
Don’t think that you have to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy winter in Switzerland. You’ll find plenty going on and lots to do – you’ll just need to remember to pack good socks, gloves and a nice warm hat!
The Experience Switzerland Travel office is open Monday - Friday between 9.30am and 5pm, and on Saturdays between 9.30am and 1.00pm. We are closed on Sundays.

If you are a client travelling overseas, and need to contact us in an emergency situation, you can call our 24-hour Duty Officer Telephone Number: +44 (0)7766 406759 for information and advice.



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