Winter view of Matterhorn with village of Zermatt in foreground
Planning

Essential Information for Visiting Switzerland in Winter

October 13, 2022 Last Updated on October 13, 2022

Have you dreamed of visiting Switzerland in winter but are unsure just how practical it is to visit at this time of year?

With shorter daylight hours, colder temperatures and concerns about what transport and attractions will be operating, it’s only natural that many travellers are hesitant to travel to Switzerland from November to March.

We can confirm, though, that a winter vacation in Switzerland is a wonderful experience.

In this guide, we provide the essential information you need to know to plan your Swiss winter vacation.  

We cover the weather in Switzerland, transport options, winter closures and the best things to do in winter in Switzerland.

You’ll also learn about New Year and Christmas in Switzerland as well as other winter festivals and events, and, importantly, what to wear in Switzerland in winter.

Read on for practical tips for visiting Switzerland in winter.

The information in this guide is also covered in episode 55 of our podcast. > Listen here.

[This post may contain compensated links. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.]

Weather in Switzerland in winter

One of the first things you’ll probably want to consider before planning your Switzerland winter vacation is the weather.  Temperatures, weather forecasts and the number of daylight hours can all have an impact on your trip so it’s good to have an idea of what to expect.

Although the Northern Hemisphere winter is officially from December to February (inclusive), we will include the months of November and March in this guide.  

All five months – from November through to March – generally have fairly cool temperatures and are regarded as ‘off season’ for visitors (except in the ski resorts).

With changes to the climate all around the world, it can be hard to predict exactly what the weather will be like, regardless of the time of year you travel.  

Based on previous years you can expect temperatures of around zero degrees Celcius overnight in cities like Zürich and Basel and as low as minus 15 degrees Celcius overnight in the mountains.

Average winter temperatures in Switzerland

The table below shows average winter temperatures in Zurich, Lugano and Davos.

CityNovDecJanFebMar
Zurich5.11.81.12.16.1
Lugano8.74.94.15.59.4
Davos0.5-3.3-4.3-3.9-0.4
*All temperatures are in Degrees Celcius

Weather conditions in the cities and lowlands tend to include fog and rain with little sunshine and very little snow.

In the Alps, weather conditions (if not, temperatures) are often much better with more sunshine and clearer days.

We recommend using the MeteoSwiss app or meteoswiss.ch website for the most accurate weather forecasts.  

If you are planning a visit to a mountain resort, it is wise to check the live weather conditions before you head up the mountain. 

Almost all mountains have webcams installed which beam live images to their website so you can quickly check the current weather conditions.


Where to expect snow in Switzerland

We mentioned above that it rarely snows in cities like Zurich and Basel so you may be wondering where are the best places to visit in Switzerland in winter to see snow?

Your best option is to head to the Swiss Alps. Winter is beautiful in the Alps – wooden chalets line the streets of charming alpine villages and with the addition of dustings of snow on their rooftops, it’s like stepping into a postcard.

Thanks to their height, many of Switzerland’s most famous mountains are snow-capped all year round but during winter they take on an even more magical appearance.

If you want to wake up each morning and gaze out at snowy winter wonderland, then staying in the Swiss Alps is the answer.

If time restraints don’t allow you to spend a night in the Alps, you can always take a day trip to a one of the popular Swiss mountain peaks. > See the options here.

The Swiss alpine village of Grindelwald in winter
The alpine town of Grindelwald is picture-perfect during winter.

Number of daylight hours in Switzerland in winter

As you would expect, the number of hours of daylight in Switzerland during winter is much less than in the summer. 

In December, you can expect around 8.5 hours of daylight in Bern, increasing to 10.5 in January and almost 12 hours in February.

MonthSunriseSunsetHours of daylight
November07:31 am04:57 pm9:26 h
December08:07 am04:43 pm8:36 h
January08:09 am05:09 pm9:00 h
February07:32 am05:55 pm10:23 h
March06:41 am06:36 pm11:55 h
Sunrise and sunset times are approximate.

Travelling around Switzerland in winter

Before you finalise your Switzerland winter itinerary, you’ll need to decide how you are going to travel around.  There are a number of options which we’ll cover below.

Train

Travelling around Switzerland by train during winter is very easy and very convenient.  In fact, it’s how most of the Swiss get around.

The Swiss public transport network – which includes trains, buses, boats and trams – offers at least hourly services on most routes right throughout the year.

Services are rarely affected due to rain or snow except in the case of major weather events.  The Swiss Federal Railways app SBB Mobile (or their website SBB.ch) will display any delays on the relevant timetables.

As well as covering almost the entire country, the Swiss public transport network is clean, safe and reliable.  It is also very cost effective when you purchase a Swiss Travel Pass, a hop on hop off ticket for the entire network. 

You simply purchase a pass for the number of days’ travel that you require and show the ticket inspector on board when requested.  

Most stations have lifts and ramps to access each platform so there’s no need to carry your luggage up flights of stairs that may be slippery.  

We do recommend you allow extra time to get to the platform, though, as wheeling a suitcase along a platform that is wet and slippery or covered in melting snow, can be challenging.

Read more about travelling by train in Switzerland > here.

Luzern Interlaken Express in winter
Train travel in Switzerland is rarely disrupted by bad weather or snowy conditions during winter. Photo © Swiss Travel System.

Car

Renting a car and driving in Switzerland is another option but unless you are used to driving in snowy conditions it’s not an option we recommend.

Whilst the roads are cleared of snow fairly regularly, they can still be very icy and slippery, making it more difficult to control your car.  In the mountain areas, roads are also steep, twisty and narrow, adding to the difficulty factor.

Winter Tyres and Snow Chains

In most cases, winter tyres are required to be fitted to your vehicle. If you are renting a car, the rental company usually charges a ‘winterisation’ fee which includes fitting the appropriate tyres.

Depending on where you are driving to, you may also require snow chains on your vehicle. 

There are some smaller mountains which have no tunnel and therefore you have to drive on high altitude roads that are exposed to the elements. Snow chains would need to be fitted in these circumstances.

Unless you are familiar with driving on snowy roads, we recommend you use the public transport system if you are visiting Switzerland in winter.

If you are driving on Swiss motorways you will also require a road tax sticker (Vignette) to be affixed to your windshield. 

Read about the Swiss Vignette and other useful information in our Driving in Switzerland Guide.

Car driving on snowy roads in winter
Added caution is required when driving on snow-covered roads, particularly in the mountains.

Group tour

If you’d rather leave the planning and navigation to someone else, joining an organised group tour of Switzerland is a great option.

There are numerous tour companies who offer a wide range of itineraries over various durations from one day to a couple of weeks.

Winter tour itineraries include half and full day city sightseeing and mountain trips, multi-day tours that visit much of the country, and everything in between.

Both coach and rail tours are available, and with your accommodation included on multi-day tours, budgeting for your trip can be easier, too.

An added bonus is your tour guide who is on hand to provide useful information about the destinations you visit. 

Tour bus driving on snowy road
Joining a tour is a great way to see Switzerland in the winter as everything is organised for you.

Private tour

Another excellent option for those who are looking for a more personalised experience, or have specific destinations or sites they would like to visit, is a private tour of Switzerland.

Itineraries can be designed to suit your individual interests and the time you have available.

One day or multi-day tours can be tailor made especially for you.

Travelling with your own private driver/guide in a smaller vehicle means you are able to access more off-the-beaten-track places.

You’ll enjoy the convenience of being driven ‘door to door’ in most cases – a real luxury during winter when outside temperatures can be low.


Planning a trip to Switzerland?

At Holidays to Switzerland we are passionate about sharing our love of Switzerland and helping you to plan the perfect trip. Read our guide to planning a trip to Switzerland to kick start your travel plans and join our free Switzerland Travel Planning group on Facebook to chat with other past and future travellers.

Want monthly news and podcast updates, helpful travel tips and special deals sent straight to your inbox? > Click here and we’ll send you a bonus copy of our 10 Useful Things to Know Before You Visit Switzerland guide.


Winter closures of services and attractions in Switzerland

One thing to be aware of if you are planning to visit Switzerland in winter is that there are periods when some services and attractions will be closed. 

These closures are usually only for a short period of time but if you don’t plan for them in advance, they can result in you being disappointed because you can’t do something you had planned to do.

If you are visiting Switzerland in November, it’s important to be aware that many cable cars and funiculars are closed for their regular maintenance during November (and sometimes even in October or December) before the busy winter season starts.  

Schilthorn cableway
Many cable cars close for a period of time during October/November for maintenance. Photo © Peter Whitten.

This is also the time when many of the mountain railways, such as the Brienz Rothorn and Schynige Platte trains, close for the winter period, although they mostly don’t resume operating again until April or May.

A couple of exceptions to the closure rule are the train to Jungfraujoch and the cogwheel train from Vitznau to Mt. Rigi, both of which operate 365 days a year.

You can check the closure dates for Switzerland’s most popular cable cars and funiculars in > this article.

Just as some cable cars and funiculars are closed, some hotels and restaurants also close for a short period in November. 

This is particularly the case for smaller, family owned businesses but can apply to larger hotels and restaurants as well.

In most cases, if there are two hotels in a small village, they will alternate their closing dates so that there is always somewhere for visitors to stay.

> Click here to search hotels in Switzerland


Best things to do in winter in Switzerland 

When considering things to do in Switzerland in winter, the first thing that’s likely to come to mind is skiing. 

Many Swiss children in fact start skiing at a very early age, in some cases when they’re only been walking for a year or two. 

Due to the (usual) abundant snow, many local people also get into snowboarding, sledging and cross-country skiing.

Ice skating is also a popular pick among winter activities in Switzerland. In some mountainous areas, the flat ice is right out there, ready and waiting in the forest.

This means you can skate over ice through the trees, which is pretty cool and makes for a memorable winter vacation memory.

Couple hiking in Grindelwald Switzerland in winter
Non-skiers can still enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking. Photo © Jungfrau Region Tourism.

So what about Switzerland in winter for non-skiers? If you want to find things to do in Zermatt in winter, for instance, then another option is to go snowshoeing. This is very similar to hiking in some ways. 

If you have a warm, sturdy pair of boots, you can also go hiking or walking in many other places in Switzerland. Routes through the valleys are good for those who don’t want to tackle steep slopes.

In Grison (Graubünden), for example, there are scenic valleys where you can hike and feed the birds. The birds and squirrels there wait for walkers to feed them, which is really cute, especially for younger visitors. 

For people that aren’t really into snow sports, what are the best things to do in Switzerland in December, January or February, you might be wondering. There are other activities to do and attractions to visit during winter. 

Taking a walk around a picturesque Swiss village can be, for example, very satisfying. These places look like something from a postcard or chocolate box when all the buildings and trees are covered in pure white snow. 

Lights twinkling in the village of Zermatt in winter
Day or night, a stroll around a snowy alpine village is a must-do when in Switzerland during winter.

There is plenty to do around Christmas time, too. Various places in Switzerland are illuminated with twinkling festive lights during this season, creating a magical atmosphere.  

Many larger towns and cities also have Christmas markets to discover.

Sampling local foodie delights is also something to do during any time of year. A must-do is to try an authentic Swiss fondue, or sample some raclette.

This cheese speciality is usually served with potatoes, and is often made using fresh local cheese from the mountains.

Wellness centres and thermal spas are also popular during snowy weather. 

Or you could take a scenic train trip such as the Glacier Express or the Bernina Express, head to some museums or enjoy city life. 

If the weather is bad and you don’t want to spend time outdoors, you can still find plenty of things to do such as these rainy day activities for Interlaken.

There is always something to do in Switzerland, whatever the season and whatever the weather. You’ll find lots more suggestions in our 10 Must-do Switzerland winter activities guide.

The Bernina Express travelling in winter
Travelling aboard one of Switzerland’s premium panoramic trains is a great way to see the wintery landscape.

Renting ski and snow gear

When planning a skiing holiday in Switzerland, another question that might come to mind concerns winter sports equipment. Even if you have your own, you may not want to bring it all the way across the continent or even the world with you. 

If you are wondering if it is simple to rent all your ski gear and snow gear once you arrive in Switzerland, the answer is yes.

The truth is that even many Swiss people don’t have all their own skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing equipment. It’s not really worth buying or storing it if you’ll only use it once or twice per season.

Read more: The Jungfrau Region, Switzerland. A fabulous winter holiday destination.

Most Swiss villages will have at least one sports store that rents out all the equipment to both locals and international visitors.

They usually have quite a large supply but it doesn’t hurt to contact them in advance to check that they will have what you need and the correct size in stock.

This is particularly relevant if you are heading to a very touristy area such as the Jungfrau region or Zermatt during high season.

Skiing at Zermatt
There’s no need to bring your ski gear from home as you can rent everything you need in Switzerland.

Christmas in Switzerland

Many folks that visit Switzerland in December will be there for Christmas so an often-asked question is which are the best places to visit in Switzerland at Christmas? 

The truth is, there’s no one single ‘best’ place, it depends on your interests.

If you want to be sure of a white Christmas and are wondering does it snow in Switzerland in December, you really need to plan your Christmas stay in the mountains.  

As we discussed in the Weather section above, snow is not common in Switzerland’s cities so a mountain stay is your best chance of enjoying a white Christmas in Switzerland.

From late November until around Christmas Eve, the Swiss Christmas markets are a great place to wander. 

Here you’ll find gifts and Christmas decorations for sale as well as food and drink, and there is often entertainment, too.  

The Christmas Markets are usually open from around midday until 10pm but do check in advance so you’re not disappointed.

Stein am Rhein Christmas Market
Stein am Rhein’s Christmas Market in the Old Town. Photo © swiss-image.ch / Jan Geerk

If you will be spending the festive season in Switzerland, then do expect the shops to be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Stores usually close their doors on Christmas Eve, and reopen on 27 December. 

When supplies are required during this time of closure, you should be able to get what you need from the shops at major Swiss train stations.  At Zurich’s train station or airport, for instance, the stores are open every day. 

In smaller villages, though, shops will be closed from the evening of 24 December and won’t reopen until December 27.

As in other parts of the world, Swiss people tend to spend Christmas at home with their families. The typical Christmas meal in Switzerland varies by region.

LISTEN: Festive Fun at Switzerland’s Christmas Markets

In French-speaking areas they tend to tuck into a Christmas goose, while in the German-speaking regions meat fondue is the usual dish. 

The meat fondue is known as Fondue Chinoise, and is probably the top traditional Swiss Christmas dish to share on Christmas Eve.

If you’re coming from a country such as the United States, Australia or the UK at Christmas time, then you may want to know if you can have a traditional Christmas meal on Christmas day itself. 

In more touristy areas, some restaurants will be open. If they know that tourists will want to eat, then they may choose to open to cater to this need. 

In the biggest city, Zurich, some restaurants are likely to be open, too.

Fondue with meat is a typical Christmas meal in the German speaking parts of Switzerland.

If you do want to sit down to a festive meal on Christmas Day, then it’s best to check with the hotel or restaurant ahead of time. Not least because if they are open they could also be fully booked! 

Many eateries will display a clear message on their website regarding Christmas opening hours. 

As for the traditional turkey meal that you may be used to at home – or whatever you usually enjoy where you come from – you may need to be a bit more flexible and instead eat meat or cheese Fondue or Raclette.

In any case, if you’re going to spend Christmas in Switzerland, then surely you may as well enjoy a traditional Swiss Christmas meal.


Celebrating New Year in Switzerland

If you’re visiting at the end of December, then you may be wondering about things to do in Zurich in winter that involve New Year celebrations. 

As with many locations across the globe, New Year in Switzerland can often be a time for fireworks and celebrations, especially in the bigger towns and cities. 

Though some Zurich attractions in winter have been halted in recent years due to the Covid pandemic, all being well, you can expect fireworks displays to resume. 

These also take place in the Italian-speaking cities of Lugano and Locarno in the southern canton of Ticino. The fireworks reflected in the lakes are a spectacular sight. 

January 1 is a public holiday in Switzerland, and in some cantons the 2nd is too. So do check in advance: make sure you know what’s going to be open and what’s going to be closed while you’re there. 

Many cities hold fireworks displays to welcome in the New Year. Pictured are fireworks in Lugano.

Festivals and Events in Switzerland

If you’re looking for things to do in Switzerland in January, December or February, then it’s also worth finding out about major events or festivals taking place during the winter months. 

So what’s going on in Switzerland between November and March?

The Christmas markets are obviously one of the things to do in Switzerland in November and December, and there are lovely ones in places like Montreux, Lucerne, Bern and Zurich.  

As the end of winter approaches, several mountainous Swiss regions follow a tradition to scare away the ghost of winter. 

In Engadine, for example, this involves huge cow bells. Everyone walks through the village wearing the bells plus traditional clothing, and making lots of noise. 

In Wallis (Valais), people wear masks instead to scare the winter away. Seeing or even taking part in one of these practices can really make visitors feel like they’re part of the local community. 

Santa's sleigh flying above Lake Geneva and Montreux Christmas Market
One of the highlights of the Montreux Christmas Market is seeing Santa Claus fly across the sky above Lake Geneva. Photo © Montreux Riviera Tourism

Things to do in Bern in winter include the onion market in late November, when you can enjoy mulled wine and delicious, freshly baked onion tarts. 

In January, things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland in winter include the Lilu Light Festival, while in Wengen there’s the Lauberhorn Run. There’s also an international balloon festival in Chateau d’Oex in late January.

For those seeking things to do in Switzerland in February, consider timing your visit to coincide with Fasnacht, also known as the Carnival of Basel.

Meanwhile in St Moritz, the frozen lake becomes a race course for horses and jockeys during the White Turf event.

A group of Waggis playing the piccolo at Basel Carnival in Switzerland.
A group of Waggis playing the piccolo at Basel Carnival, also called Fasnacht.

What to wear in Switzerland in winter

How should you dress for Switzerland in the winter? A visit during the snowy season is about bringing the right clothing to make sure you’re warm and comfortable wherever you go. 

Layering is key when visiting Switzerland, and this applies to all seasons. Higher elevations can be much colder, so you’ll need warmer clothing at the top of the mountain than down in town. 

Waterproof boots are also recommended for winter. They don’t need to be incredibly warm, but they really do need to be waterproof. 

When it rains in Switzerland the snow starts melting, and it’s just wet everywhere. Cold, wet feet will soon feel like ice blocks when it rains. 

Pack plenty of warm clothing and dress in layers when you visit Switzerland in winter.

If you plan to visit the mountain peaks, do bring a really warm jacket with you. Not only is it very cold up there, it’s also windy.

For temperatures of zero or below you need to wear a good warm jacket and a scarf, hat and gloves, even in the cities. 

As with anywhere you visit, layering really is the best approach. Even if you’re exploring the city then enter a museum or shop, it can often be so warm inside that you’ll soon feel too hot. 

Wearing layers allows you to easily adapt your clothing to suit the temperature both inside and out. 

Appropriate clothing is equally important if you plan to visit a Christmas market. Many people underestimate how much time they’ll be spending outside.

For an hour you may feel completely fine, but after two or three hours, you really will feel the cold. 

Packing and wearing lots of layers is therefore so important in Switzerland!


Final Thoughts about Visiting Switzerland in Winter

Don’t be deterred by colder temperatures or shorter days – with the right clothing and planning, a visit to Switzerland in winter is a magical experience.

The Swiss Christmas markets have a fairytale appeal with the aromas of mulled wine, gingerbread and roasting chestnuts in the air. 

Snowy alpine villages with their cosy chalets are postcard-perfect destinations for both skiers and non-skiers, and the cities offer a plethora of museums to visit and events to enjoy.

Armed with our tips, you can plan your Swiss winter vacation with confidence.


🇨🇭For more practical trip planning tips, read our Planning a Trip to Switzerland guide.

Zurich in winter

SWITZERLAND TRAVEL ESSENTIALS