Christmas markets full of festive surprises

Swiss Christmas markets
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You might think that when you’ve seen one Christmas market you’ve seen them all, but if that’s the case you’ve obviously never been to one in Switzerland.

Twinkling lights, jingle bells, the waft of mulled wine, hot chocolate, ice skating and visits to Santa Claus, all these are a given, but Switzerland’s Christmas markets offer so much more, including the unexpected.

Renowned as one of the most beautiful in Europe, the Montreux Christmas Market on the lakeside (pictured above) brings an extra touch of magic when Santa Claus flies overhead every evening at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm – and at 4pm as well on Saturdays. Montreux Noël runs from 23 November till 24 December.

The Bô Noël in Lausanne, running from 21 November to 31 December, has a unique, live nativity scene, on the Cathedral Esplanade, where children can pet goats, sheep, chickens and rabbits and go on pony rides, plus there’s a 20-metre toboggan run, and a tree made of giant baubles. Also, for the first time this year, it will have a beautiful carousel in the shape of a fir.

And in Zurich, the inner courtyard of the National Museum (Landesmuseum) has been transformed into a sophisticated Christmas wonderland until 30 December with market stalls and, the Illuminariun light show including, new for this year, Yuki’s sphere-disco-dancing Christmas opera (La Traviata reloaded) and Cybercity, the latest digital art show by Projektil.

Here is just a flavour of some of the other fabulous Christmas markets in popular Swiss cities:

Bern (opening dates vary)

The Swiss capital has so many Christmas markets you can visit a different one every day of the week, and each has its own unique character. However, you don’t need to choose one as many are within walking distance of each other!

For a traditional market head to Waisenhausplatz (pictured above, curtesy of Bern Welcome), for handicrafts there’s a lovely market by Bern Minster – where the Märitbeizli (market pub) is rumoured to serve the best white mulled wine in Switzerland – while the Sternenmarkt (Star Market) on the Kleine Schanze has a distinctly trendy vibe.

Baden (Tues-Sun 2 November – 23 December)

Baden, close to Zurich, has not one but three Christmas markets, where all the surrounding alleyways are filled with thousands of dazzling lights. The cosy Badener Wunderdorf has everything you’d expect from a traditional Christmas market, including delicious festive food and drink and Christmasy gifts, in a lovely meeting space in the city’s Theaterplatz.

Photo credit: Jan Geerk

Basel (23 November – 23 December)

Basel’s Od Town is transformed into a winter wonderland with 100 decorated Christmas trees, miles of fairly lights and decorated houses.  The markets are located in Barfüsserpltaz and Münsterplatz, right in the heart of the city. You can’t miss the magnificent Christmas tree in the latter, which is lavishly decorated by well-known decorator Johann Wanner. To soak up the atmosphere, suggest visitors sip a mulled win at the Pfalz, enjoying amazing views of the Rhine and the glowing city lights. Every year, the stairwell of Basel’s St Martin’s tower is lit up from 4pm – 6pm on weekdays, and from 28 November to 23 December, the tower is offering unique view across the Christmas lights in the Old Town. Admission costs CHF 6.

Chur (24 November – 23 December)

The car-free cobbled Medieval streets of Switzerland’s oldest town, nestled in the Alps, provide the perfect atmospheric backdrop to the Christkindlimarkt. You’ll find more than 150 stores selling everything from warming glühwein to traditional raclette to baubles and trinkets, plus rides for children and ice skating. 

Photo credit: Oliver Bear
Geneva (16 November – 24 December)

Geneva’s lakeside is transformed into a magical backdrop for the Noël au Quai, where you’ll find dozens of wooden chalets selling local arts and crafts, stalls tickling your taste buds with festive treats like raclette and mulled wine, and a traditional cosy Christmas Pub, where you’ll often find a DJ. For little ones, there’s a traditional carousel and a yurt with story-telling, face-painting and other entertainment.

For more information about Christmas in Switzerland, including the markets, visit Switzerland Tourism.

Main image credit: Maude Rion

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