December is perhaps the most magical time of year for visiting Switzerland. The country seems to be tailor made for the holiday season and is one of the best at putting on a proper celebration.
A vacation to Switzerland in December must always include a visit to the Christmas Markets, whether you go for the big ones in Bern or Zurich or prefer the quaint festivities in Montreaux or St. Gallen. Skiing is also a must in December and the world-class resorts of Zermatt, St. Moritz and more can accommodate all levels.
If you plan to spend your holidays here or even if you’re making a quick getaway before the ski season is in full swing, you’re in for a real treat vacationing in Switzerland during the month of December.
Switzerland Weather in December
December in Switzerland is a true Winter wonderland. The snows have begun to fall and have covered most of the country by now, though the countryside will always have more on the ground than the city. The cold has really set in across Switzerland this month, so temperatures will be chilly no matter where you go.
On average, you can expect December to be cold with occasional snowfall in most locations. The ski resorts will see the coldest weather this month, while there may still be a few mild days left in the Southern or low altitude areas of the country. No matter what, plan to bring some good walking boots for the snow.
Before your trip, prepare yourself by looking into the altitude of the cities you’re visiting, since this will often dictate the expected temperature and weather. Low altitude cities like Zurich will see December lows and highs from 30˚F to 40˚F (-2˚C to 5˚C), while high altitude places such as Zermatt, will see temperatures ranging from 20˚F to 33˚F (-6˚C to 1˚C).
Average December Temperature in Switzerland (By City)
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Switzerland Affordability & Crowds in December
December is one of the months where Switzerland starts to see a new spurt of visitors due to the holiday season. Tourists will come to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s here, with a big uptick happening toward the end of the month. The beginning of the month may still have a slower pace to it though.
Switzerland is never going to be a cheap trip when compared to other countries in Europe, but December will allow you to budget a little more easily than you would during peak ski season in January through March. Hotels may be moderate this month, along with lift tickets and touring prices. However, plane tickets, train transport and car rentals may be a bit high especially toward the end of December.
The very good news is that all accommodations and restaurants have opened back up in time for the holidays and for ski season, so you have plenty of options to choose from for vacation.
Switzerland Snow & Skiing in December
Snow is pouring down all over Switzerland, with the most falling on the mountain peaks and high altitude ski resorts. The snow quality is also such that skiing in December will be excellent almost anywhere you choose to go. Though December is still not considered peak ski season, all of the resorts should have plenty of open runs this month since snow will have covered a majority of the pistes.
Best Switzerland Ski Resorts in December
Most all of Switzerland’s ski resorts and public ski areas are open in December. Some may still have a few runs closed or require snow machines to cover the trail, but skiing in December will be a great experience just about anywhere. Here are the best places to choose from for your next Swiss ski trip.
Zermatt is probably the most iconic ski resort in the world, located at the famous Matterhorn mountain. It also happens to claim the highest altitude in the country. The village here is charming, embodying the old world hospitality and feeling of Swiss tradition and culture. Not only does the town itself make a vacation here worth the effort, the skiing is some of the best in the country.
The slopes at Zermatt are great for all level of skiers, with special accommodations for expert skiers. There are over 200 miles of pistes at Zermatt, including the connecting pathways at Breuil-Cervinia, Italy. You can access this connection point by taking the extensive gondola system all the way to the top of the Klein Matterhorn.
This is perhaps one of the most interesting portions of the resort, since guests can ski into Italy for lunch, then take miles of winding runs back to the base village. There are also at least a dozen great restaurants on the mountain that offer ski-in/ski-out access, including Chez Vrony, which has delicious Swiss comfort food and the most picturesque view of the Matterhorn.
St. Moritz is decidedly one of the ritziest places for a ski vacation, but perfect for those who need a little upscale class for their Winter getaway. The Swiss really do it well in St. Moritz with tons of shopping, dining and relaxation opportunities throughout this luxury alpine town. Apres ski is taken to a whole different level here, so non-skiers will even have a blast.
Known as a two-time host of the Winter Olympics, St. Moritz seems to be tailor made for Winter sports like ice skating, sledding, Nordic skiing and even kite skiing. Any skier can find a sweet spot on St. Mortiz’s slopes since the varied terrain is landscaped with beginners and experts in mind. Aside from the regular pistes at Corvatsch and nearby Diavolezza, you can head to Corviglia Snow Park’s 30 different obstacles for a proper challenge.
Verbier is massive, accommodating multiple levels of skiers with over 240 miles of pistes on it’s sweeping slopes. The sheer number of runs available means that you won’t get bored on a weeklong ski vacation here. The village may be small and quaint, but the very traditional Swiss style of lodging and dining really add the perfect dose of charm to a December ski trip.
Verbier is equipped with loads of off-piste runs that are perfect for tree skiing and experts who are looking for a challenge. Plus, the Tortin – Europe’s steepest descent – is the thrill-seeker’s dream. In addition to the challenging terrain, Verbier is also part of the Four Valleys ski area, which means you can also ski Thyon, Nendaz and Veysonnaz with the same lift pass.
Saas-Fee is a beginner’s haven, featuring a whole separate ski area where newbies are made to feel safe and comfortable without more advanced skiers whizzing by. If you are looking to take ski lessons on your Swiss ski trip, consider Saas-Fee for its world-class ski school and expert care for beginners.
The proximity to glaciers Dom and Allalinhorn guarantee that Saas-Fee will maintain that cold Winter snowpack, no matter the conditions at other ski resorts in the country. In addition to the abundance of beginner slopes, there are another 26 trails set for intermediate skiers, which makes Saas-Fee ideal for families in December. And if you’re looking for the dining adventure of a lifetime, trek up to the world’s highest revolving restaurant Drehrestaurant Allalin on the glacier.
Engelberg is the perfect option for skiing if you choose to visit Lucerne or Zurich. It’s the closest resort to these popular destinations, so it tends to be quite busy during peak ski season. In the Summer, this area is popular for hiking and sightseeing, but it’s transformed into a Winter playground come December.
The small town of Engelberg hosts thousands of guests this time of year, seated at the base of Mount Titlis. Titlis is the main ski area and is most suitable for less experienced skiers in the beginner or intermediate category. There are nearly 50 miles of runs that fit this level, with a few expert runs dabbled in. For more of a challenge, you can opt to take some of the off-piste trails through the trees right off the main lift system.
Grindelwald is a beautiful town that’s seemingly made for adventurous family vacations. The Bodmi Arena, in particular, offers great beginner slopes and ski lessons for children to gain confidence before joining their parents on the blues at Grindelwald ski resort. Night skiing is even available on select nights when the weather permits.
This regions is known for its reliable snow and lengthy runs from the top, giving skiers plenty of time on the snow instead of the lift. A great benefit of choosing Grindelwald as your base is the fact that your lift pass includes the connecting Wengen resort, plus you can see the Eiger glacier from the village or travel via cable car to see it up close.
The quaint village of Grindelwald is also filled to the brim with iconic Swiss architecture, Germanic design, stony storefronts and rolling hills, giving you a gorgeous homebase for your travels through the Bernese mountains. From Grindelwald, you also gain access to the Jungfrau region and Lauterbrunnen via train.
Andermatt is a highly active mountain that appeals to advanced and expert skiers who love the steep slopes and off-piste powder. Though it’s best for highly skilled skiers, there are still plenty of families and intermediate skiers that flock to Andermatt for the season, primarily due to the great snow conditions promised in December. The resort has undergone quite extensive renovations in the last few years, helping it to skyrocket in popularity.
One of the coolest parts of staying in Andermatt is the fact that the village area remains true to it’s traditional Swiss roots, featuring historic buildings, original woodwork and seemingly unchanged accommodations; while the ski resort prides itself on keeping up to date with state-of-the-art renovations and facilities.
Villars-Sur-Ollon is a Vaud canton ski resort that overlooks the Rhone valley. It’s an excellent option for a day trip if you’re vacationing near Lake Geneva. Sitting at the top center of the ski area is Bretaye, with nearly 70 miles of terrain that extends from Gryon, Les Diablerets and even over to Glacier 3000. You can also see the top of Mont Blanc from this ski area.
There are three different snow parks to explore at Villars-Sur-Ollon and over 25 miles of cross-country skiing here. The snow kindergarten is a great option for tiny beginners, and the adults will enjoy the apres-ski scene which is one of the best in the area.
Crans-Montana is closest to Geneva and Lausanne, making it popular with weekend crowds coming in from these areas, but the weekdays should be pretty open and relaxed. This resort is focused on good family fun with loads of activities for children. Some fun experiences to consider Snow Island snow tubing park and the Chalet Alabama indoor action sports center.
The 86 miles of terrain here are primarily geared toward intermediate skiers, but beginners and experts can find runs suitable for them among the pistes. While the snow quality is not quite on par with others mentioned on this list, it’s helpful to know that Crans-Montana places a high priority on snow making capabilities and covers nearly a third of their runs with snow machines.
Best Things to Do in Switzerland in December
December is the most magical time of year for visiting Switzerland and you won’t want to miss out on all the Christmas-y, festive fun. Almost every city in the country turns into a Winter wonderland, with sparkling lights and delicious comfort foods, but we’ve got some of the best experiences listed here.
Celebrate in Basel
Basel is the embodiment of a traditional Swiss Christmas. Though it’s busiest this time of year, it’s certainly worth the effort sorting through the crowds in order to experience the pure bliss of festive joy and activity leading up to the holidays. The Christmas Market cannot be missed and is one of the biggest and longest lasting markets in the country. Imagine sipping gluhwein, dining on baked goods and shopping for locally crafted Christmas decorations and ornaments in a wintery, festive setting.
Basel is an art and culture hub, which conveniently sits on the Swiss border near France and Germany – making their Christmas markets readily accessible, too. Basel also has great museums, art galleries and Medieval buildings that glisten in the twinkling holiday lights. The art-nouveau St. Paul’s Church, along with the gothic Basel Minster are incredibly relaxing and beautiful for touring while here. Plus a stroll down the Rhine River will complete your Basel experience.
Geneva is a well known city and the home of Europe’s United Nations. This French-influenced city is rich in history and culture and has lots of great activities to experience any time of year; like boat cruises, cultural museums, and even chocolate tasting tours. But nothing compares to the magic of Christmas in Geneva during the month of December.
Geneva has some of the best Christmas Markets in Switzerland and cannot be missed if you plan to travel here. One of the unique things about Geneva’s markets are that they are spread in pockets throughout the city and have different themes for patrons to enjoy, complete with glittering lights and stalls. Open air ice skating rinks, hot mugs of spiced wine, and a citywide icy plunge into Lake Geneva on Christmas Eve are all part of the festivities you can take part in at Geneva.
Lucerne, like all Swiss cities, is a sight to behold in the month of December. It’s beautifully decorated for the holidays and is warm and welcoming to all visitors. Lucerne has some of the most charming Christmas decorations, including sparkling streets and a large Advent calendar-inspired Medieval building. The markets are teeming with shoppers, the ice rink is glowing with illuminations, fondue is in abundance, and you’ll want to slow down to take in each experience.
In December, the cold weather make this historic town feel even cozier and more delightful. The Old Town’s intricately painted architecture, the Medieval Chapel Bridge, and walks through the nine towers at Musegg Wall have a whole new look and feel with soft flurries and chilly winds. A stroll through the Glacier Garden and a stop at the Lion Monument should be on your list of things to see, as well as nearby Mount Pilatus.
Tour Abbey of St. Gall
The Abbey of Saint Gall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest, most historic sites in all of Switzerland. It’s most especially beautiful at Christmastime when the entire city is illuminated by 700 stars and a tree that’s strung with 18,000 lights. The city of St. Gallen also hosts a Christmas market in true Swiss tradition.
The Abbey, the star of the city, is a Carolingian cathedral which has been impressively preserved since its construction in 719 AD. The interior of the Abbey also has some of the highest revered collections of Baroque artistry in Switzerland.
Certainly a sight to behold, most visitors take a day trip from Zurich or Appenzell just to see the Abbey. The monastery has changed hands over the centuries, but it’s maintained a pristine exterior and strong Catholic influence. Not only is the architecture impressive, but the Abbey boasts one of the oldest and best preserved libraries in the world.
Christmas Markets are a European tradition that extends into Switzerland. American tourists especially will marvel at the excited effort and festive flourishes that cities put into their nightly Christmas markets which draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, is the most obvious choice for this experience. But there are several other cities in particular that you should add to your list for this special experience.
Zurich’s Christkindlimarkt is one of the largest and longest Christmas markets in the country, covering six different city sections and lasting a full month from November 24 to December 24. The magic of the season is felt at every street corner, where different vendors and light displays highlight the walkways. A glamorous Swarovski Christmas tree is showcased at the center of the market.
Montreaux Noel does not reach such a grand scale, but the historic nature and charming scenery of this glittering town. The snowy peaks in the background and the charming stalls on cobblestoned streets really set the tone for a perfect holiday. You can take your experience to the next level by sipping on a hot mug of gluhwein as you walk under the sparkling night sky. This market lasts a little longer, beginning November 18 and ending on Christmas Eve.
Lausanne’s Marche de Noel is the longest market yet, starting November 17 and going through New Year’s Eve. Lausanne has a more modern approach to the traditional Christmas market, incorporating Christmas light sculptures and pop culture references into their decor. The food scene gets a little cultural twist, as well, serving up interesting comfort foods alongside traditional Christmas fare.
December Events in Switzerland
St. Nikolaus Day
The entire country celebrates St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and while businesses are still operating this day, the people are in a very festive mood. The day seeks to recognize St. Nicholas’ good deeds and memory by sharing small gifts like chocolate and gingerbread with friends and family. Big cities tend to have a parade and Swiss families tend to have smaller celebrations with their children in their homes.
Fete de l’Escalade
Geneva uses this festival to commemorate the victory against Savoy. History says the fight began when Mere Royaume tossed a cauldron of hot soup on the invaders as they climbed the ramparts of Geneva. The festival now uses cauldrons of chocolate fondue to celebrate. The entire city is in celebratory merriment on this long weekend, with festivities ending in a bonfire in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral.
Christmas is celebrated all over Switzerland for the entire month of December. Some cities even begin their festivities as early as the end of November. In addition to the Christmas Markets highlighted above, towns will host other family events and activities. On Christmas Eve, you’ll notice most businesses shutting down with the intention of reopening after Christmas Day. Keep this in mind when celebrating the holiday while on vacation, and stock up on good food or plan to eat inside your hotel.
New Year’s Eve
Fireworks light the midnight sky all over Switzerland and several cities are best for big celebrations. Bern, the capital, will have the largest celebration, but Geneva, Zurich and Basel are also great places to be. The general population celebrates with parties, drinking and live music, and ringing the cathedral bells in town.
The entire month of December is filled with festive delight and holiday cheer in the Wintery villages of Switzerland. Visitors from all over the world come to see the magic of the snowy mountains, marvel at the glistening lights on the decorated streets and indulge on that famous cheese and chocolate fondue.
No matter if you’ve come to celebrate the holidays in all their glory or revel in a ski trip with excellent snow conditions, December is a great month for a vacation to Switzerland.
This article is part of Roundtript’s series of expert Switzerland travel guides for every month of the year.
Spring in Switzerland
Summer in Switzerland
Fall in Switzerland
Winter in Switzerland
For a summary of each Switzerland month & season all in one place, check out our big guide to the Best Times of the Year to Visit Switzerland.