What is MOST amazing in this world: imagine being surrounded by mesmerising alps, views of sparkling winter wonderland everywhere you see, with Christmas festive mood and cheer. Well, let’s take you to the best places to visit in Switzerland in winter to experience a fairytale getaway!
There are so many reasons to visit Switzerland in winter. It is an off-season for cities, yes expect fewer crowds at attractions. Ski resorts are busy, but for good reasons and they have plenty of things to keep skiers and non-skiers happy and delighted!
Yes, it is a perfect winter getaway for romantic couples, skiers and outdoor lovers, festive cheer, and family adventures. Switzerland gives Canada such a competition, that it’s hard for us to choose which one we love more – winter at home (Banff, Canada) or Switzerland.
Preparing for your trip to Switzerland winter getaways
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As a country Switzerland is compact. It is easy to get from an international airport to a ski resort or Alpine town using their train network. You can buy a Swiss Pass to save money on your commute.
You can explore a city/town and then head to the mountains for a weekend or more – so whether you are looking for a relaxed vacation or a adrenaline filled winter sports getaway, Switzerland has you covered.
What are the Winter Months in Switzerland?
Winter months in Switzerland are from December to February. Starting from November the weather becomes chilly and crowds are fewer. December pulls crowds to pretty Christmas markets and towns. January and February are the coldest months in the country, and they are perfect for winter sports and festivals. They are also considered peak season for winter activities.
JANUARY is the cheapest month to fly to Switzerland! And it is also the coldest!
- Zurich: High: 2 C/35.6 F Low: 0 C/32 F
- Lucerne: High: 4 C/39.2 F Low: – 2 C/28.3 F
- St Moritz: High: – 2 C/28.4 F Low: – 16 C/3.2 F
- Zermatt: High: 2 C/35.6 F Low: – 7 C/19.4 F
READ: Our post on 7 days in Switzerland Itinerary, to combine multiple destinations in one winter trip.
Does Switzerland have snow all year?
Switzerland is not covered in snow all year long, and that’s why winter is special if you wish to see snow. Overall it experiences a mild climate. Trust me, their winters are milder than Canada!
Mountains or high altitude areas are different, they are mostly covered in snow in winter time. But cities and towns are milder, you will see snow and it will be cold, but not severe cold (temperatures don’t drop below – 15 degree Celcius for prime destinations).
Switzerland winter packing list
Here is a packing list for Switzerland in winter, you can grab a printable copy here
- Warm Boots – 1 or 2. Wear them in-flight to travel light. Click to buy this warm boot from Sorel
- Sneakers or comfortable shoes – For all the walking and wandering in the old town and transiting through different cities
- Warm socks – Carry a few (depending on your stay)
- Warm Parka Jacket – Temperatures in the winter in Switzerland are below the freezing point for most places listed in this article. It will be colder and chillier when you go to observation platforms on the mountain top
- Cardigan/thermals – Carry 2 cardigans to wear as a layer inside the jacket. If you are skiing or not used to minus temperatures, then add thermals to the list as well.
- Tops/thermals – Long sleeves tops or thermal wear to keep you warm.
- Sweater Dress – For Christmas markets. You can pair them with leggings
- Leggings or long johns
- Warm cap or beanie – Carry 1 or 2. Get something with a pop of color for your photos
- Scarf – Travel scarf for in-flight, and outdoor
- Warm Gloves – My hands get zapped the most in the winter. And Switzerland is no different. Carry gloves to stay warm and toasted.
- Sleepwear or loungewear
12 Best Places to visit in Switzerland in winter
Zurich: Festive Cheer in Zurich, Shop & Dine
How much I LOVE Zurich! Zurich is one of the prettiest cities in Switzerland. The medieval old town or Altstadt is absolutely stunning in the winter. Festive lights are lit up everywhere, from streets, shops, and sightseeing attractions.
Located in the old town are prime tourist attractions like the Fraumünster, Grossmünster, Lindenhof Hill, and of course Bahnhofstrasse. One of my favorite things to do in Zurich in winter is to wander the Bahnhofstrasse with hot chocolate in hand, whilst soaking in the festive cheer. There is a small Christmas culinary market set here for the season (Werdmühleplatz), which is a must visit.
At the Old Town, visit the Fraumünster. This 11th century church is stunning inside with the stained glass windows and outside,as it is wrapped in festive spirit.
Christmas Markets in Zurich are one of the finest in Europe. The largest market is located at the main train station, so definitely stop by here before making your way to other places in Switzerland. The crowd puller is the giant Swarovski Christmas tree, adorned with twinkling lights.
Zurich is an excellent starting point to explore more of Switzerland. Zurich Airport is the largest in the country and the principal hub of Swiss International Air Lines. Read our guide on accommodation in Zurich
Rapperswil: Visiting Christmas Markets in Switzerland
Located 30 minutes outside of Zurich, and adorned by Lake Zurich is another medieval town of Rapperswil. It is home to one of the popular Christmas markets in Switzerland.
The entire town is decorated with beautiful lights and the old town area is like a fairytale Christmas village with around 250 market stalls. Shop here for Christmassy decor, gifts and souvenirs to take back home.
The market area has fun activities for children, including musical events, choirs, carousel rides and concerts.
Other than the Christmas markets, ensure you visit Rapperswil Castle. It is the landmark attraction in the city. During summer the castle has a beautiful rose garden, which is worth visiting. Rightly called, the “City of Roses”, and the views of Lake Zurich makes it very romantic and serene.
Zermatt: A Fairytale Resort Town
The quaint town of Zermatt looks straight out of a fairytale. With the backdrop of the Matterhorn, the stunning peak in the Alps, and cute lanes and cafes, Zermatt will melt your heart.
You can easily reach Zermatt from Zurich (4 hour train ride, one way), and stay there to enjoy winter sports. That is one of the major reasons why mountaineers love Zermatt so much. It is a quick and easy access to the mountains and world class skiing!
If you are not into skiing, don’t worry. How about embarking on a cable car ride in the Swiss Alps to soak in the mountain views, up close and personal. Cable cars take you to the surrounding mountains, maybe plan that with your loved one. And enjoy a relaxing romantic winter getaway in the mountain.
Saas–Fee: Winter Sports Adventures
Saas-Fee is a ski village located in the Saastal or the Saas Valley. It falls within the jurisdiction of the canton of Valais in Switzerland. You can reach Saas-Fee from Zermatt. The road distance between the two places is 50.9 km.
Why you must visit Saas Fee in winter is because it is as iconic as a traditional ski resort town gets – pretty accommodation, mountain views, and ice rinks and sports. BUT… it is still a hidden gem, and not super crowded like Zermatt.
In Saas-Fee, you can enjoy prime winter activities like skiing, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, and also get into the body of the glacier at the Ice Pavilion. The town has a car-free city centre, and is known for its stunning views of mountains in Europe.
Bernina Express: Embark on a scenic train ride in the winter in Switzerland
Train rides in Switzerland are super scenic. And in the winter it is even more gorgeous. Imagine tucked in a blanket (in a train with huge glass windows) and drooling at the snow-dusted landscape and the light rays of the sun.
For those seeking a relaxed romantic getaway, this experience is a must. There are many train routes in Switzerland, each connecting between different touristy points. The most popular and a favorite is the Bernina Express. This train route connects St. Moritz in Switzerland with the town of Tirano Italy, via the Bernina Pass.
The entire ride is completed in 4-hours, one way. You can make reservations for the Bernina Express trains in winter for CHF10 per seat.
Glacier Express: Soak in gorgeous views of the Alps
Glacier Express is another popular scenic train route to enjoy in Switzerland. And this one takes you from Zermatt to St. Moritz. You can enjoy skiing and a romantic getaway and then continue on to St. Moritz for some more outdoorsy fun.
While onboard, the train route welcomes you with gorgeous views of the Alps as they travel bridges, snowy valleys, tunnels, and the iconic Oberalp Pass. The Swiss Pass covers the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, and Golden Pass scenic routes.
St. Moritz: More Winter Adventures in a picture-perfect Christmas town
St. Moritz is one of the stunning places to visit in winter in Switzerland. The nearest airport to reach St-Moritz is Lugano (LUG) Airport which is 90.4 km away. What makes this town unique is that it hosted the Winter Olympics twice, once in 1928 and 1948.
During winters, St. Moritz turns into a snowy wonderland, and with added festive illuminations the entire town transforms into a picture perfect Christmas town. It is okay if you don’t ski, there are still amazing things to do in St Moritz.
First off, stay at a (ski) resort surrounded by jaw dropping mountain views. The beautiful alpine landscape with mountain lakes, and glaciers, and the slowly dusted snow makes it a dream like winter destination.
Make time to wander the village, and learn about its history, and architecture. Looking to shop? St Moritz is home to luxurious brands and pretty stores. While you are wandering, stop by to try delicious cheese fondue!
Now, for the outdoorsy buddies. St Moritz is a skiers, tobogganers, snowboarders paradise. From world class skiing resorts, ice skating rinks and infrastructure to nature Almighty the ground is set for winter sports in St Moritz.
Ski resorts and hotels have everything you need (from ski rentals,instructors to transportation) to make your dream winter vacation, a reality!
Jungfrau region: Head to the Top of Europe
Jungfrauregion is located in the Bernese Oberland region in Switzerland. It is known for one of the most stunning peaks in Europe – the Jungfraujoch. Even more popular is the highest railway station on the continent, called the ‘Top of Europe’; which pulls crowds to the region.
Being a touristy site, you can expect bustling activities in the winter time too. Primarily visitors flock there for winter sports (skiing, snowboarding) and scenic mountain views. At 3454 metres high, this is an EPIC spot to take in all of what Switzerland stands for – alps, snow and ice and jaw dropping landscape, as far as your eyes can go.
Other than the views and skiing, you can also embark on winter hikes in and around Jungfrau.
Château-d’Oex: Best Balloon Festival in Switzerland winter bucket list
One of the best balloon festivals worldwide is located in the cute town of Château-d’Oex in Switzerland. And this lovely festival happens every year at the end of January and lasts for nine days. So here’s another great item to check off in Switzerland in winter!
Many countries around the world participate in the festival, and each country shows off its beautiful colorful balloons. The balloons fly around the town, surrounded by tall standing magnificent mountains (I mean it is the alps!).
There is also a lot of food and drinks, so you can drink while you watch the colorful balloons light up the sky. One of the best things to do at this festival is to ride a balloon. When on top, it is one of the most beautiful views you will ever see!
This festival tradition has been going on since 1979. On one Wednesday, there is even a day where the festival is dedicated to the children. It is an especially great time to bring the family on this day.
Zurich to the town of Château-d’Oex is 3 hours by car or train.
Lucerne: Explore the city with a chapel bridge and stunning views
Lucerne is one of the best places to visit Switzerland in winter. For one, the city is not super crowded as it is off-season, and secondly the hotels and AirBnbs are super affordable around this time.
BONUS? You ask. Lucerne is stunning, and when you look up or wander a bit outside of the city, the mesmerising snow capped mountains are not far off.
According to us, Christmas is the BEST time to visit this charming city. So plan your trip for December and January to enjoy festive lights (and accommodation fares). The iconic Chapel Bridge is a must visit, and imagine how beautiful it looks with all the twinkling lights under the crisp winter nights.
Just outside of the Lucerne Old town is the popular Mount Pilatus. If you are staying in Lucerne, use this time to reach the top of the mountain, and enjoy breathtaking views.
Another option is to head to Mount Rigi from Lucerne by train. The views from Mount Rigi are also beautiful, although it is not as high as Mount Pilatus, it is worth a visit.
Piz Gloria: Dine at the world’s highest revolving restaurant
Would you like to celebrate Christmas and New Years at the world’s highest revolving restaurant? Then look no further than the Piz Gloria. It is located at a height of 2,970 metres (9,740 feet) at the summit of the Schilthorn near Mürren. Murren is in the Bernese Oberland region in Switzerland.
You can reach Schilthorn by a cable car from Mürren. Head there for celebrations, while you soak in mountain views. Apart from the restaurant, there is a viewing platform to enjoy the panoramic views.
The nearest airport to Mürren is located in Berne which is 49.5 km away.
Geneva: Winter outdoor and indoor fun
Geneva is a fun city to visit in Switzerland. Geneva in the winter is perfect for those who love to spend time outdoors as well indoors. There are skating rinks, and skiing opportunities at the nearby Jura Mountains, home to three Alpine Ski Areas. If this is your first time skiing, ensure you opt for a beginner class they are totally worth it.
Geneva’s fountain Jet d’eau is a must visit. Dress warm as it is quite cold and chilly near the waters.
If the cold is too much for you, head to the museums. First off, the United Nations site at the Palais des Nations building. For those who love History (like me), visit the Musee d’ Art et d’Histoire – learn all about prehistoric cultures here.
Geneva is also an amazing Swiss destination to explore Christmas markets in the winter. They have not one, but several markets sprinkled all across the city, where you can enjoy mulled wine and other typical Christmas treats. The most traditional-style Christmas market is on Rue du Mont-Blanc, which is held from late November to early January. Food is an important part of Christmas celebrations. Head to Café du Soleil to try their delicious fondue.
If you are in Geneva, the Sunday before Christmas ensures you don’t miss the Coupe de Noël, which is Geneva’s annual Christmas swimming race. In this race about 2,000 swimmers dive into the icy waters of Lake Geneva, wearing fancy dress and wetsuits.
Additional Tips for Switzerland Winter Trip
Travel documents and visa
Switzerland is not part of the European Union, but they follow the Schengen agreement for non-visa exempt countries. Read our detailed guide to applying to the Schengen visa.
Passport holders from the US and Canada can stay up to 90 days in Switzerland visa-free. From 2022, they are required to apply for eTIAS – online entry authorization prior to arrival in Switzerland.
How many days do I need in Switzerland?
A week’s itinerary is enough to explore the prime highlights in Switzerland. Start in Zurich or Geneva, and then from there explore Zermatt, Montreux, Jungfraujoch and many other destinations like Berne, Lucerne and Lausanne in Switzerland.