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Christmas in Zurich promises all travellers an endless variety of experiences. A welcoming destination sitting on the tip of a crescent-shaped lake, Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. During Christmas, it exudes an unmissable sense of wonder and festivity, coming alive with traditional markets, celebrations, and events, and urban, chic and contemporary attractions, from quirky pop-up bars to designer shopping to boisterous Christmas sounds. Advent in Zurich, a city that enjoys direct, non-stop flights from Singapore, is not to be missed.
Advent in Zurich: a festive treat for all the senses
Advent, the period that runs this year from late November-December 24, lets visitors savour the joy of local delights every few steps — a stand serving raclette, a chalet stocked with fondue, or vendors known as Marroni hawking freshly roasted chestnuts. To officially usher in Advent, crowds converge on Bahnhofstrasse to witness the “Lucy” Christmas illuminations, with more than 20,000 white, blue, and red LED crystals along the famous shopping street bathing it in light.
The twinkling lights are an enduring image of Advent in Zurich. In addition to “Lucy”, other installations make the city a gorgeous setting for an evening stroll. Turn off Bahnhofstrasse into Rennweg to see lights that seem to flutter down like snow and along Neumarkt’s and Rindermarkt’s winding alleys, pretty small coloured lights sparkle.
The Christmas stars at Löwenplatz are made from recycled bottles, while at the financial centre Paradeplatz, the façade of the Credit Suisse building and a large Christmas tree shines in warm orange and red hues. Elsewhere, the Illuminarium light shows project a parade of stunning 3D images around the inner courtyard of the National Museum, a great escape for couples, and an electric-bike-powered Christmas tree glimmers in the concourse of Zurich Main Station.
The unique Hotel Noël (named after the French word for Christmas) opens at this time of year. Marrying luxury accommodation with artistic expressionism, the hotel comprises 10 rooms spread across 10 city hotels — including the Hyatt Place and B2 Boutique Hotel – that follow the theme of Christmas Paradox.
Get into the holiday spirit with a visit to one of Zurich’s famous Christmas markets
A visit to Zurich at Advent isn’t complete without a stop at a Christmas market, each one notable for its own character and ambience. The oldest market in the Old Town’s Niededorf quarter, the Dörfli market has a romantic feel. Wienachtsdorf at Sechseläutenplatz is one of the largest markets, directly in front of the Opera House and close to the lake, with 100 stalls selling products from up-and-coming Swiss designers and a large fondue chalet and children’s village.
In the concourse of Zurich Main Station, the Christkindlimarkt is one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe with 140 stalls that focus on local businesses; the highlight is the 15-metre-tall Christmas tree. Framed by Fraumünster church and guild houses, Münsterhof market offers traditional Tsüri sauces, DillySocks (colourful socks) and writing utensils from Landolt-Arbenz.
Near Bahnhofstrasse the Christmas market at Werdmühleplatz is famed for the Singing Christmas Tree: Choirs arrayed in rows on a vertical podium shaped like a Christmas tree sing carols, a vocal treat for the holiday season. Other great markets include the Christkindlimärt in Rapperswil-Jona, with the medieval Old Town and Rapperswil Castle as backdrops, the Einsiedeln Christmas market in front of Einsiedeln Abbey, a Benedectine monastery, and the wooden chalets selling candles, organic jams, jewellery, and textiles in Winterthur’s Old Town, a short train ride from Zurich.
Activities for families this Christmas in Zurich
Advent sates all visitors, from romantics to families to lovers of all things Christmas. St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, drives children aged 4-9 through the city on his brightly decorated, red Märlitram, while two angels recount Christmas stories.
Visitors can make candles at Bürkliplatz, a traditional pre-Christmas event that suffuses the air with the bittersweet scent of hot beeswax. At Elfendörfli (elf village), children will find a Christmas extravaganza at the Opera House — a children’s movie theatre, Santa Claus’s post office, a book corner, and numerous activities programmes. At the beginning of December, on the Käferberg summit near Zurich, St. Nicholas spends one week in a small forest hut where he entertains children and families.
Other adventures celebrate the outdoors. The 2.5-kilometre Hoch-Ybrig toboggan run starts directly next to the summit station of the chairlift and is suitable for all ages as it curves through the forest. Zurich is also home to some ice rinks such as the 6,000-square-metre Dolder rink, one of the largest in Europe.
The best of Zurich’s Boutiques
Boutiques across Zurich appeal to the trend-conscious and fashionistas, with great finds at the tradition-steeped Jelmoli and Globus department stores. Other highlights are Bücher Brocky book store next to Enge train station, and Brockenhalle Tigel for antiques with an adjacent carpenter’s workshop for custom orders.
The sustainable shop Circle, in the heart of the Old Town, sells sustainable and ethically produced fashion, shoes, and accessories, while Marktlücke has beautiful products and articles handcrafted in small workshops. Schweizer Heimatwerk, founded in 1930, is famous for quality Swiss handicrafts, from wooden spinning tops to glass bowls and jewellery.
Artists laud over Fabrikat in Zurich’s Langstrasse district, with its exceptional pens, brushes, paints, paper and tools. The Franz Carl Weber shop on Bahnhofplatz is a paradise for children, while adults will enjoy the colourful, recycled tarpaulin bags at Freitag. Shopping during Christmas time is also lively, with stores sometimes open also on Sundays.
Zurich: A foodie’s paradise
A gastronomic centre of Switzerland, Zurich comes alive during Christmas, from first-class restaurants to offering visitors the simple pleasure of sipping hot chocolate while wandering the streets. Kosmos Bistro is French and has a spacious terrace and the feeling of a comfortable living room. The historical Café & Restaurant Sprüngli serves a famous Konditor-Zmorge (confectioner’s breakfast) with homemade bread, fresh jam and Birchermüesli.
At The5, Michelin-starred chefs treat guests to a spectacular five-course-menu at this seasonal pop-up; in a setting with 360-degree video projections, meals are a thrilling exploration of flavour and moving imagery.
Numerous local companies can supply the perfect foodie treat or gift. Berg und Tal sells handcrafted food without artificial flavours or additives, like dried meat, pasta, nut cakes, and oils. Wabe3 has honey made in the city, Züri Tirggel St. Jakob makes traditional Zurich cookies with honey, flour, and spices, and Züri Fondue supplies a fondue mix made from regional ingredients.
Relax and make merry in Zurich
Inhabitants of Zurich love their apéros, social gatherings usually after work. Enjoy one at Bar am Wasser, a bar/restaurant/café that has a 400-bottle-strong, two-story high spirits gallery and 25 signature cocktails. Few spots match the views of the Jules Verne Panorama Bar, with vistas over the rooftops of Zurich and fine drinks and cocktails.
Other apéro ideas include a glass of mulled wine while walking through the snow-covered forest with a flaming torch near the Hotel Zürichberg or sipping hot chocolate on a cogwheel-train ride up to the castle-style Dolder Grand hotel. One of the most unique social gatherings is the Fondue Tram, which trundles through the city while guests inside dip fondue forks into steaming melted cheese.
While there is plenty to do in Zurich at Christmas, the city also allows visitors chances to seek peace and reflection before recharging. A beautiful Winter Garden at the Romantik Seehotel Sonne on Lake Zurich allows visitors to enjoy a glass of hot punch in a charming atmosphere. The lake has a sauna boat, where travellers can build up a sweat before jumping into the ice-cold water, also available at the sauna in Seebad Enge, a lakeside swimming facility.
Tobogganing in the middle of the city is a possibility at the run on Uetliberg, while winter walks along the historical fortification wall, along Lake Zurich and the River Limmat, or in the forests around the city are beautiful ways to appreciate nature. And for a manmade visual treat, the Blüemlihalle in the Amtshaus I is a striking police station entrance hall created by artist Augusto Giacometti.
Advent in Zurich, and its rich array of experiences, wouldn’t be possible without the city’s Christmas-Makers, who toil tirelessly to bring joy and wonder to visitors. Guido Schweizer is the tram driver for Santa Claus; Katja Weber is the mastermind behind the Wienachtsdorf Christmas village; Hans Kunz and his wife produce what is considered the city’s best mulled wine; Daniele Marques, Charles Keller, and Adrian Schiess are the precise architects of the “Lucy” Christmas illuminations. And don’t forget Santa Claus, the inimitable figure who swims alongside hundreds of locals during the Samichlausschwimmen (Santa Claus Swim) event held in early December. It’s this dedication, spirit, and joie de vivre that make Advent in Zurich such a memorable occasion. ◼
© This article was first published online in Dec 2022 – World Travel Magazine.