Experience Christmas in Zurich – A Season To Remember

Zurich Switzerland

The city of Zurich knows how to celebrate Christmas and makes sure that it’s not just a holiday period, but a true Christmas experience.

There is so much to do during this time of the year: wandering through the festive Old Town, admiring the Christmas lighting or enjoying one of the many Christmas markets spread around town.

The smell of roasted chestnuts will almost always be present, a cheese fondue never far away and a mug of mulled wine always at hand.

Zurich has so much to offer. Let’s have a look!

Zurich Christmas Markets

Christkindli Market in the main station, Zurich
Christkindli Market in the main station, Zurich

There is definitely no shortage of Christmas Markets in Zurich. I’m sure you will find one that satisfies your needs in terms of Christmas shopping, atmosphere and of course food stalls. Some are bigger than others, some are busier than others.

One thing is sure: on the weekends the Christmas Markets are packed. So, either you try to go early evening during the week or you join the crowds and let it all wash over you. No matter what, I bet you will go again, again and again.

I have written a detailed post on the most important Christmas Markets in Zurich. If you don’t have time to read it, click on the links below and you will find the necessary information on the most important Christmas Markets.

Zurich Christmas Lights

Christmas lights in Niederdorf, Zurich
Christmas lights in Niederdorf, Zurich

This is one of my favourite parts of Christmas in Zurich. Every year I drag my partner around the city during the Christmas period to remind him how beautiful it is. Zurich goes through quite an effort to turn the city into a magical sea of lights.

On top of that, different areas have different lights, so it’s well worth spending an evening strolling through the different areas and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere.

The Christmas lights are turned on every year on the second last Thursday of November at 6 p.m. until January 6.

In 2023, thousands of people will gather in the Bahnhofstrasse, on Thursday 23 November, to witness the switching on of the lights and have their first Glühwein! On this particular night, most shops also have late-night shopping until 9 pm.

These are the different areas worth checking out:

Bahnhofstrasse

The most famous street in Zurich also has the most famous lights, called “Lucy”, named after the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. 11 550 crystals decorate the Bahnhofstrasse at a length of 1 km.

They twinkle in different shades depending on where you are standing. Inside the crystals, 23 100 energy-saving LEDs shine in different brightness and create a beautiful starry sky. You can find more detailed facts on Lucy here.

Rennweg & around

Turning off Bahnhofstrasse into Rennweg another string of tiny lights seems to fall out of the sky. Moving further, direction of Rathausbrücke, you will wind your way up and down narrow streets filled with the most beautiful spiky golden balls, mounted on the walls. These are my personal favourites.

Löwenplatz

Parallel to the Bahnhofstrasse, at the back of Globus, the Löwenplatz is lit up with tiny stars all made out of PET bottles. Much like Lucy, they require very little energy: twenty-seven of these PET stars use as much electricity as a 60-watt light bulb.

Paradeplatz

In the middle of the Bahnhofstrasse, at Paradeplatz, several big buildings are lit up in warm red and orange lights. A big Christmas tree provides the perfect spot for that perfect Christmas shot.

Niederdorf & Neumarkt

On the other side of the river, the display of Christmas lights continues. Especially around the Rindermarkt, Spiegelgasse, Predigergasse, Froschaugasse and Brunngasse, lots of tiny coloured lights create a very unique and cozy atmosphere in the little alleyways.

Zurich Singing Christmas Tree

Singing Christmas Tree, Zurich
Singing Christmas Tree, Zurich

Where else in the world can you find a singing Christmas tree?

At Werdmühleplatz, just off the Bahnhofstrasse, you will find a small, but very cute Christmas market and the famous Singing Christmas Tree.

So what is this Singing Christmas Tree all about? Well, several local choirs sing Christmas carols on a vertical podium in the shape of a giant Christmas tree. They sing, wear green jackets and red hats and create a very unique atmosphere. Once they start singing, you will forget the hectic that comes with the Christmas preparations and you will feel like you’ve entered a different world.

Get there early, get a Glühwein, find a spot close to the stage, and let yourself be carried away by the beautiful songs sung by young and old. I particularly enjoy the gospel and children’s choirs, but they are all very talented and always give me goosebumps.

The performances start on the 23rd of November until the 23rd of December 2023.

Performing times of the choirs:

Monday to Thursday5.30 pm, 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm
Friday2.30 pm and 3.30 pm / 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm
Saturday & Sunday2.30 pm and 3.30 pm / 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm
More information on the program can be found here.

Jemoli Märlitram

Jemoli Märlitram in Zurich
Jemoli Märlitram in Zurich

When I see the Jelmoli Märlitram pass, it’s definitely one of those moments. You buy your children a ride on this tram and they will never forget. It’s at times like this, I really wish I was still a kid again!

The Jelmoli Märlitram (Fairy Tale Tram) is an institution and has been around for a long time. It’s bright red, all lit up, festively decorated and right out of a Christmas movie.

Children between the ages of 4 and 9 can board this fairy tale tram and are not only captivated by the scenery but also by the Christmas stories told by the two angels on board. The stories are told in German, but to be honest, I don’t think it really matters what language they’re told in. Every single child, no matter what nationality, leaves that tram with a very big smile on its face.

The tram leaves from Bellevue and tickets can be purchased online or at the Jelmoli Kids World on the 2nd floor from November 17, 2023.

The ticket purchase is quite a challenge. Long queues are the norm and for the purchase online you might have to set your alarm very early in the morning in order to gather a ticket.

Adults are not allowed to go with the kids. The kids sit in the tram on their own and you will meet them again at the end of the short 20-minute ride.

  • Location: Zurich Bellevue
  • Dates: November 25 – December 23, 2023 (the tram does not run on November 26 & December 11)
  • Price: ca. 8 CHF

Zurich Illuminarium

Illuminarium Zurich
Illuminarium Zurich – Image via Jorge Franganillo

At the beginning of November, the inner courtyard of the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) is turned into a unique spectacle of light, music, images and culinary delights.

The entrance to the inner courtyard is free and several bars and food trucks provide delicious food and drinks. You can huddle or cuddle around one of the many open wood fires with gentle music playing in the background. There is a great buzz and early in the evening, it’s not too busy. On certain nights famous DJs play and the inner courtyard turns into one big open-air dance floor.

To enter the specific shows of the Illuminarium you need a ticket which can be bought online or on-site. The shows are quite popular, so I recommend you buy your tickets online.

Once inside, you can watch two unique light shows, projected onto the old walls of the museum. The Yuki-Show is a heartwarming story of Yuki and her friends and is more family-oriented. The Digital Art Show is more geared towards adults and consists of complex lighting and laser technologies tuned to modern electric dance music. You can buy separate tickets or combined tickets for both shows.

  • Location: Swiss National Museum
  • Dates: 9 November – 30 December 2023
  • Show Times:
    • Yuki-Show: every 45 minutes from 5 pm to 8 pm / Duration: 25 min
    • Digital Art Show: every 45 minutes from 8 pm to 10 pm / Duration: 25 mins
  • For more information and online tickets, please click here.
  • Good to know: the entire area, including bars and food trucks, is cashless, so you can only pay with card, no cash is accepted.

Zurich Zauberpark

Zurich Zauberpark
Zurich Zauberpark – Image via Felix Kälin

Around Christmas, the shopping and entertainment park The Circle at Zurich airport, turns into a winter wonderland with lots of things to discover.

Along the panorama route both young and old can marvel at the dozen art light installations along the way.

On top of that, there are daily concerts of famous artists who ensure a good mood. The line-up for 2023 can easily keep up with the ones of the summer festivals. I’m expecting the tickets to sell out fast.

In the late afternoons, there are performances of magicians, storytellers, ventriloquists, as well as musicians for the younger ones.

And of course, you won’t go hungry as there are many food stands serving all kinds of culinary delights.

It’s very easy to get to the airport from Zurich Main Station, regular trains and trams whisk you in 10-20 mins to the airport, so it’s an easy trip and definitely worth a visit.

Tickets can be purchased online and come in different categories. If you just want to visit the light installations along the panorama route, I suggest you buy the “Late Night Walk” ticket which gives you access after the concerts are finished at 9 pm.

For more information on the program and the different acts, please check here.

Zurich Candle Making

Candle Making Zurich
Candle Making Zurich

Candle dipping or candle drawing forms an integral part of a Swiss Christmas Market. In Zurich, the first candle dipping happened in 1969 and continued to grow over the years. It’s fully run by volunteers and all the profits go to charity.

The cozy chalet, located at Bürkliplatz, feels like a little oasis in the city centre and makes you forget about the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle. You focus on making your candle and having a chat with people from all kinds of ages and cultures. The atmosphere is very relaxed and kind.

The process itself is very straightforward and easy. You will walk away with a candle in some shape or form.

  • Location: Zurich Bürkliplatz
  • Dates: 11.11 – 20.12.2023
  • Opening Times: daily from 10 am – 8 pm
  • Price: depends on the size of the candle

Zurich Lichterschwimmen

Every year Zurich Tourism thanks the local people for their hospitality towards national and international visitors.

At the “Lichterschwimmen” (Floating Candles), hundreds of tiny lanterns, made by students of the Canton Zurich, float from Stadthausquai down the river Limmat. Lots of locals and tourists watch the sea of passing lights and enjoy this beautiful spectacle.

Afterward, Zurich Tourism invites everyone to a glass of hot punch and something sweet at Weinplatz.

Music at the Zurich Opera House

Zurich Opera House
Zurich Opera House

It’s hard to miss the beautifully lit-up Opera House while you’re sipping your Glühwein at the Christmas Market on Bellevue. But there is also something happening inside the Opera House.

In the foyer of the Opera House artists from the Philharmonia Zürich, the Orchesterakademie and the International Opernstudio, play short concerts for you to enjoy. They only last 15 minutes, but your mind will come to rest and you will forget about that long Christmas to-do list.

The program is published daily on their Facebook and Instagram page. Or you you just stop by spontaneously and let yourself be surprised by what’s on offer

Have a peek inside, it’s worth it.

Zurich Circus Conelli

Zurich at sunset from the Limmat River
Zurich Circus Conelli on the Limmat River

Switzerland’s first Christmas circus, Circus Conelli, stands very proud at Bauschänzli. With its big bright red tents and thousands of lights, it provides the perfect Christmas setting. The picture on their homepage shows exactly what it looks like.

The circus has been around for a few decades and never fails to capture its audience with crazy acrobatics, poetry, comedy and lots of music. The atmosphere inside is cozy and intimate. Conelli keeps its audience size small in order to create a bond between the artists and the spectators.

They also offer “Gala” performances with an excellent gourmet menu. Yet another great idea for a night out.

  • Location: Zurich Bauschänzli
  • Date: 23.11 – 31.12.2023
  • Opening times: they have 1 performance in the afternoon and 1 performance at night at different times. On Sunday they also have a performance at 11 am.
  • Price: different categories at different prices

Räbechilbi Richterswil

The Räbechilbi in Richterswil is an annual festival held in the town of Richterswil, situated close to Zurich. Almost every town in Switzerland has a Räbeliechtli parade, but the one in Richterswil is quite big and special. It’s a major attraction that draws people from near and far.

Around 30 tons of turnips (Räbe) are carved into lanterns (Liechtli) in different shapes and motives. Nearly every school and club in the area participates in this unique event to celebrate the autumn harvest.

Hundreds of children and adults walk through the streets with their lanterns and sing songs. The parade is around 1 kilometer long and also shows bigger pieces of art made out of turnips.

There are a few concerts by locals choirs and orchestras before the start of the parade and over 20 market stalls make sure you won’t be going home hungry.

It’s an event you will not want to miss if you’re in the area. Richterswil is only a 30-minute train ride away from Zurich Main Station.

  • Location: Richterswil
  • Date: 11 November 2023
  • Time: parade starts at 6.30 pm (concerts start around 3 pm)
  • Price: free

Late Night & Sunday Shopping

Do you want to shop until you drop? Zurich late-night and Sunday shopping will satisfy all your needs. Combined with the beautiful Christmas lighting and Christmas markets, Christmas shopping is not that bad after all.

As mentioned above, shops are open until 9 p.m. when the Christmas lights are switched on on 23 November 2023. In addition, the shops also open on the following Sundays:

  • 26 November 2023: 11am – 6pm
  • 3 December 2023: 11am – 6pm
  • 17 December 2023: 11am – 6pm

No more excuses for not finding that special Christmas present!

Zurich Silvesterlauf

The Zürcher Silversterlauf is one of its kind. Imagine this: a city already dressed up at its best with twinkling lights everywhere, its people finally relaxed after the Christmas hectic and thousands of people running through town before starting the New Year.

The Silvesterlauf (Silvester meaning New Year’s Eve) unites everyone: from the serious contenders in full running attire to the families with the strollers to the ones all dressed up for the occasion. And there is the occasional tourist, who’s done with all the sightseeing and eating cheese fondue and ready for a fun physical activity.

The run takes you through the old town, along the banks of the river Limmat and past hundreds of spectators cheering you on.

As usual, it’s perfectly organised, we are in Switzerland after all. The race itself offers different options from a 10km run to a more relaxed 1,5km run. There is something for everyone. You can sign up online and after paying a small fee you’re ready to go. You will receive a bib, a starting time and something small to remember this epic run.

What are you waiting for? You can have that glass of champagne after your run!

  • Location: Zurich city centre
  • Date: 10 December 2023 (Registration closes on 3 December)
  • Time: every category has a different starting time
  • Price: depends on the category

Zurich Samichlaus Parade

On every last Sunday in November, Zurich has the Samichlaus parade in the Bahnhofstrasse. Families and friends gather together to watch the Jelmoli Märlitram (see above) followed by brass bands, lots of Samichlaus and Schmutzli who distribute little goodies to the children. It’s very festive and the perfect preparation for the upcoming Christmas period.

The parade starts at 5 pm at Werdmühleplatz and finishes at Bürkliplatz. It moves very slowly, so if you’re standing in the middle or more towards the end, wear warm clothes and get a Glühwein to keep you going. There will be a lot of people, so get in early to gather a spot in the front row.

Children can participate in the parade dressed up as angels or as one of the helpers to Samichlaus. You can sign up here as of 2 October 2023 (website only in German).

  • Location: Zurich Bahnhofstrasse / Start: Werdmühleplatz, End: Bürkliplatz
  • Date: 26 November 2023 (always on the last Sunday of November)
  • Time: 5pm
  • Price: free

Zurich Samichlausschwimmen

Switzerland is all about tradition and the Zurich Samichlausschwimmen is no exception.

Picture this: it’s early December, and hundreds of people put on their Samichlaus costume. But this time it’s not to walk around the city and distribute presents. No, this time it’s to take a plunge in the icy waters of the river Limmat. Yes, you heard that right.

The swim is 90 or 140 metres (312 or 459 ft) long, the water temperature around 8-10 C° (46-50 °F). The brave souls dive into the frigid waters cheered on by hundreds of spectators, who are huddled up in thick winter jackets, mittens and beanies included. The swimmers only have their Santa suit, maybe a wet suit, nothing else.

The swim ends at the river baths of “Oberer Letten“. Over a hot tea and some freshly made barley soup, the swimmers laugh and talk (with or without chattering teeth) about their short, but intense adventure.

And not to forget: all profits go to charity.

So, if you’re in Zurich and in need of an unforgettable experience, sign up or at least go and support these crazy Samichlauses from the banks of the Limmat.

Location: The starting point is yet to be defined at the time of writing, but it will be close to the river bath “Oberer Letten

Date: 3 December 2023

Time: Starting slots between 1:30 – 2:45 pm

Price: depends on category

Zurich Samichlaus Forest Hut

Do you want to combine a walk in the forest with a visit to Samichlaus? It’s possible and this very close to Zurich too. Every year the Käferberg forest hut turns into the home of Samichlaus and his Schmutzli.

After a short 20-minute walk from the Bucheggplatz tram stop, you arrive at the hut where Samichlaus welcomes children and their families, tells stories, recites poems and listens to the children. Most of the time the children have learned some Christmas poems or songs at school, so here’s the time to show it.

It’s all very cozy: it’s a simple, but nicely decorated hut which provides the perfect setting with a thatched roof and wooden beams. If you’re lucky, there might be even some snow in the forest.

It’s important to know that this is not a private visit. You’re not alone in the hut. They usually have groups of 20-30 people inside.

Outside the hut, there is a fire crackling on which you can grill your own sausage or vegetables. Sometimes they even serve you some nice warm soup. There are a few donkeys outside and of course, Samichlaus’s Schmutzli who take care of the animals, and the fire and of course interact with the children.

It can be a bit of a long wait, so dress warmly and take a picnic, so the little ones don’t get too bored.

The appointment with Samichlaus needs to be booked ahead. Yes, it will be busy, especially on the weekends. If you can, try going during the week. Appointments can be made as of 22 October 2023, 12 pm (Waldhüsli Termin buchen)

It’s best to go with public transport if you can. There are a few car parks in a blue zone along Käferholzstrasse, but they do fill up fast. The path to the forest hut is very easy to find and signposted from Bucheggplatz and Restaurant die Waid. Most likely there will be many other families going up.

Location: Waldhüsli Käferberg

Date: 2-7 December 2023

Opening times: daily, 10 am – 4 pm

Price: free

Zurich Christmas Pop-Ups

Who doesn’t like a good surprise? During Christmas unique and charming pop-ups appear out of nowhere and often are an ideal place to have a mug of mulled wine, raclette or cheese fondue.

There are many pop-ups, often announced spontaneously on social media or in a newsletter, so this list is by no means complete. You have to keep on the ball and talk to the locals. They often know where the real treasures are.

Listed are just a few to whet your appetite. There are lots more, but most of them were not confirmed yet at the time of writing. Enjoy and let me know, if you have found another hidden gem!

Christmas Garden at Baur au Lac

Baur Au Lac Christmas Tree
Baur Au Lac Christmas Tree

We came across this beautifully decorated garden by coincidence. Not only does it have the tallest Christmas tree in Zurich, it also has a huge gingerbread house, made out of real gingerbread.

You can enter the garden via the main gate of the hotel. We asked the concierge very politely, as we weren’t sure whether it was actually allowed for nonhotel guests to visit the garden. It was no problem at all and within minutes we were surrounded by lots of beautifully decorated tiny chalets, Christmas trees and that crazy gingerbread house.

The giant Christmas tree is adorned with 70,000 little lights, switched on when the Christmas lighting in Zurich is officially turned on (second last Thursday of November). You can attend this event by gathering a ticket online. It’s again a very popular event, so keep an eye on the Baur au Lac website for updates.

Baur au Lac Gingerbread House
Baur au Lac Gingerbread House

My personal highlight was the big gingerbread house. You can smell the gingerbread while passing it, which is quite crazy. It seems like it just comes out of the oven and it was very hard to explain to my godchild that this one was not for consumption.

To top it all off, we were the only ones in the garden! A very nice escape right in the middle of Zurich.

Location: Hotel Baur au Lac

Date: to be confirmed at the time of writing

Price: free

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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