Visit a Swiss Marché de Noel or Weihnachtsmarkt during Xmas Time
The best Christmas markets (Marché de Noel or Weihnachtsmarkt) to visit in Switzerland are in Basel, Bern, Geneva, Montreux, Pilatus, St Gallen, and Zurich.
In recent years, many Swiss cities have introduced Christmas markets to bring some holiday cheer to the December advent period. Very few Christmas markets in Switzerland can claim the long tradition of German Advent markets and most are much smaller and less lively. The Christmas lights in many Swiss cities are spectacularly beautiful and often stay switched on until mid-January. Well-known Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) in German-speaking Switzerland are in Basel, Bern, St Gallen, and Zurich while Montreux (pictured above) on Lake Geneva has the most famous Marché de Noël in French-speaking Switzerland. Mt Pilatus and Rochers-de-Naye have Christmas markets on Alpine peaks. Many ski resorts have small markets that may stay open past Christmas Day.
The Top Christmas Markets in Switzerland
The best Christmas markets in Switzerland are to a large extent recent inventions by local cities and the Swiss tourism industry. Very few Swiss Christmas markets can claim a history much longer than two decades but the markets are now a well-established part of the Advent period. Larger cities have the better-known markets but many smaller towns and especially Alpine ski-resorts also have smaller markets to entertain visitors.
Famous Christmas markets in Switzerland include:
- Basel – the Basler Weihnacht has around 150 stalls in the old town and a claim to the longest Christmas street in Europe (Dresden claims something similar so no doubt a closer investigation of the fine print will reveal the truth!).
- Bern – the Berner Weihnachtsmärkte are held on squares inside the beautiful old town of the Swiss capital.
- Geneva – the Marché International de Noel combines Swiss traditions with foreign ones in this famously internationally-oriented city (but the market overall is a bit of a disappointment).
- Montreux – the Marché de Noël is one of the most famous in Switzerland and continues a few days after Christmas. The main market is on the banks of Lake Geneva with a special medieval market in Chateau de Chillon Castle. Santa’s House can be visited on Rochers-de-Naye – a special cog-wheel train goes from Montreux to the top of this Alpine peak overlooking Lac Léman.
- Mt Pilatus – the Christkindlimärt at 2,132 m (6,995 ft) is the highest Christmas market in Europe.
- St Gallen – the Weihnachststadt is in the old town famous for its UNESCO-listed monastery library.
- Zurich – the Zürcher Christkindlimarkt is held inside the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) and may well be the largest indoor Christmas market in Europe.
Opening Hours of the Best Christmas Markets in Switzerland
Swiss Christmas markets generally open from end November to Christmas Eve. Smaller towns and ski resorts often have markets only over weekends or just the few days leading up to Christmas. Markets are generally open from late morning to around 8 or 9 pm. Late afternoon, early evening is often the most atmospheric time to visit open-air markets.
The best Christmas markets will generally not be open on Christmas Day (December 25) but some may be open on Christmas Eve (December 24) but probably not at night. In some tourist areas, the markets are now extended for a few days past Christmas Day and even into the New Year.
Travelers familiar with a true German Weihnachtsmarkt may well find Swiss Christmas markets a bit of a disappointment. Not only do they not have the same long tradition but they are generally much smaller and on quiet days may feel far less exciting too. Also prices are much higher, especially following the appreciation of the Swiss franc in recent months.