Interview with Natascha Martin from Basel Tourism, Diccon Bewes, best-selling author from Bern, and Céline Guido from Montreux Riviera Tourism.
From late November until Christmas Eve, market stalls appear in many cities and towns across Switzerland. These Christmas Markets are a much loved tradition and offer not only a place to purchase gifts and specialty items for Christmas, but also a chance to socialise and catch up with friends.
In this episode of the podcast, I chat with three Swiss locals who share the highlights of their city’s Christmas Market and tell us about other festive events that are worth a visit.
Even if a Swiss Christmas isn’t on the cards for you this year, after hearing what our guests have to say, I’m sure there will be plenty of reasons to make a Swiss Christmas a priority for you in the future.
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Destinations and topics covered in this episode:
- Basel has two main Christmas markets at Münsterplatz and Barfüsserplatz. Combined they feature over 130 market stalls selling everything from high quality handmade toys and jewellery to food and drinks.
- Local specialties include Glühwein (warm, mulled wine), Feuerzangenbowle (punch with rum), Basler Leckerly (or Basler Läckerli), a traditional cookie featuring candied peel, fruit and honey that is enjoyed at Christmas.
- A must-visit stall is the Anis Paradies stall at Münsterplatz which sells intricately patterned cookie moulds.
- Basel Christmas Market hours: the last Thursday in November until 23 December from 11am to 8.30pm (earlier closing on 23 December).
- Other festive events in Basel include the Advent Calendar in the windows of the Theatre, gospel night at St. Martin’s Cathedral, winter fondue cruises on the Rhine, and a Christmas ferry decorated with lights. On weekdays from 4pm to 6pm it is also possible to climb the illuminated tower of St. Martin’s Cathedral to witness the sea of Christmas lights spread out below.
- Basel’s Christmas events and activities for children include a Nativity Trail with the windows of 40 shops displaying the Nativity scene, a specially decorated Christmas tram driven by St. Niklaus, and, on December 6, St. Niklaus and his helpers riding motorbikes through the main shopping centre collecting donations for charities.
- The huge Christmas tree in Münsterplatz is decorated with ornaments made by local Johann Wanner. You can also visit the Johann Wanner Christmas House all year round.
- Bern has three main Christmas markets – one located in front of the Bern Cathedral at Münsterplatz which sells artisan products; the main market on Parliament Square which sells Christmas decorations and ornaments as well as clothing, toys and household goods; and the smaller Stars Market in the park at Kleine Schanze, which is a mix of eateries and stalls and is a popular meeting place for locals.
- During December, there is a carol concert in English in the Cathedral.
- Throughout the four weeks of Advent, the city is decorated with Christmas trees and lights and Advent candles can be seen in many public places.
- Bern Christmas Market hours: from the first week of December until 24 December the markets are open from around 11am until at least 6pm with earlier closing on 24 December. The Stars Market runs until 31 December and is closed on Christmas Day.
- The Montreux Christmas Market stretches for around 1 kilometre right alongside Lake Geneva. It is home to over 150 chalets selling a range of crafts, gifts, mulled wine and local specialties.
- Light on Ice is a brand new (for 2021) illuminated ice rink inside the Convention Centre. An ice pathway leads visitors through a magical enchanted forest. Admission includes skate rental. Non-skaters are welcome to stroll through the illuminated forest, too. Light on Ice will remain open until 9 January, 2022.
- At Place du Marché you will find chocolate making workshops for children.
- Each evening at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm (as well as 4pm on Saturdays), Santa Claus flies across the sky above Lake Geneva. Led by his reindeers, this is a unique experience that no child – or adult – should miss.
- Switzerland’s most-visited historic monument, Chillon Castle, also hosts Christmas activities. On the first weekend of December, traditional handicraft workshops for children are held. The Castle is decorated with Christmas finery and artisans of yesteryear stroll through the rooms.
- One of the most-loved things to do in Montreux at Christmas time for children is to visit Santa Claus in his home and office at Rochers-de-Naye. Santa’s home can be reached by cogwheel train from Wednesday to Sunday (25 November to 24 December), with hourly departures from Montreux from 9.17am until 3.17pm. Additional services will also operate on Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 December, 2021. Each child who meets Santa receives a gift and a certificate. Bookings can be made on the MOB website and are recommended, especially at weekends.
Christmas in Switzerland
The Swiss typically celebrate on Christmas Eve by sharing a meal with family and friends. This is also when children receive their presents from the Christkind (Christ child).
Christmas Day is a public holiday in Switzerland and most businesses, including restaurants, will be closed. The exception is some hotel restaurants and some restaurants in tourist/ski resorts. There is usually a small grocery store open at the railway station in major cities.
There is no traditional Christmas Day meal in Switzerland so be prepared to eat what you might consider a ‘non-Christmassy’ meal.
You can hear more about Switzerland’s Christmas traditions in episode 60. > Listen here.
You can read more about the Christmas Markets covered in this episode and many more of Switzerland’s Christmas Markets in this article. We also have a list of the opening dates for Switzerland’s most popular Christmas Markets here.
More information about Basel and the Basel Christmas Markets can be found on the following links:
You can learn more about Diccon Bewes on his website and in episode 32 of the podcast where he discussed his books and shared his tips for visiting Bern.
For further information about Montreux and the Montreux Christmas Markets, you can visit these links:
- Montreux Christmas Market website
- Official Montreux Riviera Tourism website
- Things to do in Montreux and Vevey
- Episode 10 of the podcast
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