Switzerland in December is on the wishlist this year, eh? Winter is a great time to visit and we’re going to tell you some amazing places you should definitely add to your itinerary. Read on to learn about some winter activities, festivals, and stops you won’t want to miss on your visit to Switzerland.
Four other countries surround this tiny nation: Germany, France, Italy, and Austria. As of 2020, it has a population of 8.67 million. There are four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Rhaeto-Romansh. As an immigrant (technically), I can say, without bias, that Switzerland is one of the prettiest countries ever. Bonus: If you love winter sports, this country is heaven on earth!
How To Get Around Switzerland in December or Winter Months
Switzerland has arguably one of the best transport systems in Europe. Of course, it’s always more convenient to rent a car, but given how difficult it can be driving in the snow, you can always stick to using public transport. If you do decide to rely on public transport, I recommend getting the Swiss Travel Pass. It can cost a lot, but it sure is worth it. With it, you get unlimited travel by bus, train, boat, and on premium panorama trains. The best thing about the Swiss transport system is that it can reach anywhere, so even if you’re planning a trip to the mountains, you’ll most likely find a bus to get to your final stop. Also, I recommend downloading the SBB app to view timetables and connections more conveniently. In this guide:
In this guide:
- Places to See If You’re Looking to Relax
- Places to Visit If You’re Looking for a Cultural Experience
- Places to Go If You Love the Mountains
- Places to Go If You Love Cities
Places to See If You’re Looking to Relax:
1. Switzerland in December Must: Christmas Markets
You can’t pass up an opportunity to visit a Christmas market (or Weihnachtsmarkt) when visiting Switzerland. Almost all towns and cities in Switzerland in December have Christmas markets. If you’re looking to check out some famous ones, here are some I’d recommend
Zürich: It’s one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe and houses 140 stalls selling food, drinks, clothes, and even toys. The highlight? The 50-foot-tall Swarovski tree is decorated with about 7,000 Swarovski crystals.
Mt. Pilatus: Seriously, it’s a sight to behold. It’s the highest Christmas market in Switzerland (about 2,000 meters above sea level), so not only do you get to experience authentic Christmas markets, but you also get to enjoy a breathtaking view!
Montreux: It’s one of Switzerland’s largest Christmas markets, with about 160 stalls right on the quays of Lake Geneva. Since Montreux is on the French side of Switzerland, it’s more Swiss-French in representation, although you will still find bits and splashes of German Christmas markets, too.
Basel: The Christmas market in Basel is considered one of the largest and most gorgeous markets in all of Europe. It has three Christmas markets, with the most prominent being in Barfüsserplatz in the old town.
For an even more authentic experience of a Christmas market, there are some things you shouldn’t miss out on:
- Glühwein (mulled wine)
- Heisse marroni (roasted chestnuts)
- Magenbrot (a small, sweet glazed biscuit similar to gingerbread cookies)
- Raclette (melted Swiss cheese often paired with baby potatoes, pickles, and vegetables)
- Öpfelchüechli (apple fritters)
2. Bernina Express
If the thought of just sitting back and soaking in the scenery seems like absolute bliss, then the Bernina Express might be for you! An entire trip on the Bernina Express is about four hours long and goes through 55 tunnels, 196 bridges, and inclines of up to 70 miles. The trip starts from the city of Chur and ends in Tirano, an Italian town close to the Swiss-Italy border. While the scenery is gorgeous in the summer, it’s even more breathtaking when you see the white snow glistening against the sun.
3. FortySeven Wellness Thermal Bath
Visiting Switzerland in December or other winter months can be more cold than you’re used to at home. So if you’re wanting a break from freezing temps, check out some of the thermal baths. Just a short train ride away from Zürich main station, you’ll find FortySeven Wellness Thermal Bath in the city of Baden. It’s the perfect place to slow down and take a breather. Baden’s thermal springs have the highest mineral concentration in Switzerland, so you know it will be worth it! The waters come from twelve springs that are about 2,000 meters deep under the earth. I’d say this activity is best done after a long day in the mountains, don’t you think?
4. Lausanne Lights Festival
Here’s another must-see for Switzerland in December: From November 24 to December 24, 2021, Lausanne will light up its city for the Lausanne Lights Festival. Starting from 6:30 pm to midnight, eight buildings will be projected with XXL light displays. It’s a great way to end your evening after walking around the Swiss-French city all day.
5. Berghotel Engstligenalp Igloos
There’s always a first for everything, and sleeping in an Igloo in Switzerland is an experience you shouldn’t miss out on! Lying 2,000 meters above sea level is Engstligenalp. The Igloo hotel is perfect for individuals and couples alike. Aside from sleeping under the snow, guests can enjoy a three-course dinner and a breakfast buffet at the Berghotel Engstligenalp, too! I’d say that would be the perfect winter experience.
6. Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is the largest lake in Switzerland and also one of the largest freshwater lakes in Europe. Plus, it’s also got the mildest climate. Since Switzerland is far from any ocean or sea, we are very fond of our lakes. So, don’t be surprised to see tons of people chilling by the lake having a beer, even in winter.
Places to Visit If You’re Looking for a Cultural Experience
7. Glacier Cave, Mount Titlis
What better way to spend December in Switzerland than to visit a glacier cave? At the top of Mt. Titlis, you’ll find a glacier cave with ice that’s as old as 5,000 years old. Why don’t you pass by Europe’s highest suspension bridge on your way to the glacier cave? Check out the igloo village on your down, too! Although, if you plan to come here, I suggest you prepare yourself for the cold as the temperature inside the cave remains at a constant 29°F.
8. Kunsthaus Zürich
This place has to be one of my favorites and is truly an excellent place to spend a quiet afternoon. While Landesmuseum is all about Swiss history, Kunsthaus Zürich has an international variety. The museum features works from Monet, Gogh, Warhol, and so much more! Entry is 23 CHF ($25), but you might get lucky and get free entry if you go on a Wednesday! Its location is close to the heart of Zürich and is reachable by tram.
So far, we’ve only talked about outdoor stuff. If you’re looking for some peaceful indoor activity close to the city, you should check out the Landesmuseum or the Swiss National Museum. Located right next to Zürich main station, it’s a very convenient location! The museum houses pretty much everything you want to know about Swiss history dating as far back as the fourth century B.C. Entry for adults is about 10 CHF (roughly $10.90).
10. Abbey of St. Gall
The Abbey of St. Gall is one piece of history you wouldn’t want to miss seeing! This abbey has been around for about 1,400 years and is one of Switzerland’s first cultural heritage sites to be included in the UNESCO list. Also, the Abbey Library of St. Gall is the oldest in Switzerland and contains about 170,000 books. For approximately $19.50 (CHF 18), you get access to the entire Abbey: Abbey Library, Vaulter Cellar, and Exhibition Space.
11. Château de Chillon
If you love being surrounded by history, this place is just for you! On the shores of Lake Geneva, just on the south of Veytaux, is Chillon Castle (Château de Chillon in French). Fun fact: This place is the most visited medieval building in Switzerland. Bonus: It has a little café with large windows overlooking the castle if you’re looking for a little culinary break.
12. Rhine Falls
Feel power surge through you as you stand close to Europe’s most powerful waterfall — the Rhine Falls. There are viewing platforms on both sides of the waterfall, which allows you to get reasonably close. However, do expect some splashes from the water. So, dress appropriately and wear something waterproof.
13. Schilthorn, Pilz Gloria
James Bond fans, this is the perfect place for you! If you’ve been a religious fan, you may remember the revolving restaurant in the 1969 Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Did you know they shot that scene here? Aside from the rotating restaurant with majestic views, you can also try out the Thrill Walk, a 200-meter long rocky path that closely hugs the mountain. Seriously, Schilthorn’s got so much to offer; you’re sure to have a great time!
Places to Go If You Love the Mountains
Arosa is another Alpine resort village perfect for skiing, sledding, and relaxing. The village is also a winter sports center, so you can expect a lot of things going on the whole time you’re there. For example, from December 13 to 15, the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup Arosa will take place. From December 9 to 19, the Arosa Humor Festival will also take place.
15. Interlaken (Switzerland in December Favorite)
Interlaken is a town in the Bernese Oberland region known for its gorgeous Swiss cottages and beautiful mountains. If you’re looking for adventure, you won’t run out of activities here! You can head to the mountains nearby and go skiing. Or, if you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous but worth it, why not try paragliding or helicopter diving? However, if all you want is to chill out, the town’s got a lot of restaurants and bars, too.
16. St. Moritz
Due to its status and the fact that they’ve hosted the Winter Olympics twice, St. Moritz is more luxurious than other ski towns. In fact, it’s where the rich and famous go. Still, if you want to experience what those athletes experienced, St. Moritz is a great place to go. Did you know that winter sports were invented in St. Moritz? However, despite the luxury status, the Swiss people’s conservative nature allows the town to stay traditionally Swiss in one way or another.
Standing 3,454 meters above sea level, the Jungfraujoch is an entirely new experience. It’s also known as “Top of Europe” because it is the highest train station in Europe. Like Mt. Titlis, Jungfraujoch has its glacier cave, but artists make sculptures out of the ice this time. They call this attraction the “Ice Palace.” They also have the Sphinx Observatory, which is an astronomical observatory and international research station. This place has so much to offer; you’d need a full day for it!
Zermatt is a car-free Swiss town at the foot of Matterhorn mountain. You may notice that the shape of the mountain looks eerily familiar. Well, that’s because that’s the mountain you see printed on the Toblerone box! For a more relaxed Switzerland in December to-do list, this small yet lively town is the best place to go for a weekend getaway.
19. Laternliweg Schwägalp
From November 19 to March 19, the Laternliweg (literally “lantern trail) gives you a chance to take a peaceful (or romantic) walk through a snow-covered forest. On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the kerosene lamps come on after dusk. After your walk, consider drinking some glühwein to keep you warm. However, I recommend bringing some cash because small shops don’t always accept cards.
Uetliberg is Zürich’s home mountain and the best place to have a full view of Zürich and Zürich lake. The best part is that a train runs directly from Zürich main station to Uetliberg station. From there, you just need to take a 10-minute hike to get to the summit! There’s also a restaurant at the peak if you get tired from hiking all day and want to take a break.
Places to Go If You Love Cities
Even in the winter, there’s so much to do in Lucerne. For one, the area houses a lot of ski resorts, so you can take a trip in the mountains and have a blast skiing (or sledding!) You can just stick to the town, too, and visit some historical sites, like the famous Chapel Bridge. When you walk from one end of the bridge to the other, look around, and you’ll see paintings dating back to the 17th century that shows Lucerne’s history. Then, after your walk, you might want to head over to Max Chocolatier and try their unique chocolate flavors!
For a memorable visit to Switzerland in December, how could I forget the dazzling city of Zürich! Did you know Zürich Bahnhofstrasse is one of the most expensive streets in the world? Aside from shopping, though, this city has so much more to offer. You can talk a walk around the historic old town and check out the Grossmünster church. Or, if you’d like a quiet afternoon, you can head to Lindenhofplatz and just soak in the beauty of Zürich. Then, to close your day, you can hop on the Fondue Tram and experience cheese fondue like a true Swiss.
Although this Swiss-Italian is more famous for being a summer destination, who says you can’t visit during the winter? There are fewer people, so it’s easier to go around. Plus, with smaller crowds, you don’t have to worry too much about bumping elbows while walking shopping at the Centro Storico for some cheese and cured meats!
A lot of people mistake Zürich as Switzerland’s capital, but the capital is actually Bern. Fun fact: It was here that Einstein developed his theory of relativity. You can head over to the Einsteinhaus and have a look around his old home. They are closed from December 19 until mid-March, though, so if you’re here earlier, don’t miss out on this! Check out the 800-year-old clock tower, too. Or, if you want to splurge on a fine dining experience, you can head over to Kornhauskeller and try the Bernese specialty Berner Platte.
Basel is a Swiss city located close to the borders of France and Germany. The city alone is home to 40 museums, including the world-renowned Kunstmuseum Basel. If you take a walk around the city, you’ll understand why Basel is considered the country’s capital of architecture.
Is Switzerland in December safe to visit?
Switzerland is one of the safest countries out there, even for solo travelers. Although we still do recommend being cautious wherever you go
How expensive is Switzerland in December?
Switzerland’s prices can be very expensive but if you purchase a Travel Pass and either make your own food or buy fresh ones from the supermarket, you should be able to save.
How cold is Switzerland in December?
If you’re sticking to the city, the average temperature is 38.7°F. However, if you plan to stick to the mountains, you may have to dress warmly as it can get to as low as 14° F!
Is there anything I need to enter Switzerland?
Regulations vary from time to time, and Switzerland in December is a tourist season, so we suggest visiting their website days before your flight so you’re informed.
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