Switzerland in the winter is a magical place, and for many, it’s a favourite time to visit. December in Switzerland is full of the magic of Christmas, with festive markets held in many towns and fairy lights illuminating the night skies.
After the New Year, Switzerland winter holidays are often focused on winter sports, and there’s so much more to these than world-class ski resorts.
Whether you want to go to Switzerland in December and would like to find out about Christmas events, or want to know about the best places to visit in Switzerland in winter for sports other than skiing, this guide will help you plan for winter in Switzerland.
Covered are the Swiss winter weather and how this varies from one place to another, as well as details of all the snow sports it’s possible to take part in. These include snowshoeing, sledging, snowkiting and speedriding as well as skiing.
Plenty of other things to do in Switzerland in winter are also available for non-skiers, or sporty types who are seeking a change from the slopes. These include kayaking on a Swiss lake or taking in the scenery from a train or mountaintop.
Other winter activities in Switzerland include fondue tasting and of course those fabulous festive markets and pastimes.
Continue reading so you can plan which are the best places to visit in Switzerland from December to early March – and find out the answers to questions such as does it snow in Switzerland in December?
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Winter Weather in Switzerland
Let’s begin by taking a look at the weather – what’s the Swiss alps winter really like, and what should you expect in the towns and cities that are further from the mountains?
The peak season for snow is during the months of January and February, plus early March. In mountainous regions, snow can also be expected at any time between October and April.
Places with a high altitude can be more snowy than lower-lying areas. The towns and cities of Lucerne, Geneva, Zurich, Basel or Locarno, for example, may not be snow-clad in winter, while some of the loftiest mountain peaks may be snow-capped all year round.
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You can expect snow in ski resorts during winter, as it’s the very reason they exist!
When planning things to do in Zurich in winter, for example, don’t expect snowy landscapes all around, though you may well see some snowy mountain peaks across the country. The same applies with things to do in Geneva, Switzerland in winter – as with other low-lying regions.
If you’re wondering about visiting Switzerland in November, you should be aware that this is autumn rather than winter, so it may not yet be snowing. By the end of the month, though, you could start to see snow. Some of the Christmas markets also open before December even begins.
Those considering things to do in Switzerland in December should also know that this isn’t one of the peak months for snowfall. That honour belongs to January and February, which is why people from all over Europe often flock to Switzerland after Christmas rather than before.
If you’d like to see snow but feel that it isn’t essential, then late November and early March can be good times to visit as it’s quieter. Do keep in mind, though, that during these months some cable cars and mountain railways may be closed for maintenance.
For more-or-less guaranteed snow, stick to January and February. December, meanwhile, is the best time to visit for all things festive.
Depending on exactly when and where you visit during your Switzerland winter vacation, temperatures may dip as low as -15℃ (around 5℉). Highs may reach around 6℃ (about 43℉).
You can thus expect chilly weather in winter, even if it’s not quite cold enough for snow. In general overnight temperatures might be well into the minuses (in celsius) and daytime highs may be in the low pluses only.
Now let’s move onto the topic of how this weather affects the best things to do in Switzerland in winter.
10 of the Best Switzerland Winter Activities
For many people, the best places to be in Switzerland during winter are the ski slopes. Switzerland is one of the planet’s top skiing destinations and many Swiss resorts are world famous for their white, powdery snow, smooth slopes and range of beginners’ to advanced skiers’ pistes.
The evening apres-ski scene also attracts people to some areas.
A Ski World Cup event is held during mid-January every year, firmly placing Switzerland on the global skiing map. The Internationale Lauberhornrennen Wengen isn’t the only reason the country is famous, though, and even this region isn’t only suitable for seasoned professionals.
In fact the resort areas of the Bernese Oberland and the Jungfrau Region offer lots of variety for all levels of skier, and for this reason their slopes make popular ski destinations for family trips.
The outdoor BodmiARENA in Grindelwald is in fact the biggest beginners’ ski area in the Jungfrau region, and offers plenty of snow-based family fun.
Recommended Ski Activities
If you want a piece of the snowy action, visitors of all ages can ride on the child-friendly slopes at Grindelwald’s BodmiARENA, and inclusive tickets cover use of regular and balancer sleds and snow tubes as well as access to the magic carpet.
Jungfrau region ski experience
You can take this full-day trip to the slopes of the Jungfrau region from Zurich or Lucerne. This means you don’t have to stay at a ski resort to join in the fun, and it’s a trip designed specially for first-timers. All transport, equipment and tuition is supplied.
Zermatt full day ski instruction
While Zermatt has year round skiing, the most powdery pistes are experienced during the winter. A full day’s tuition should get you started off properly, so you might just be zooming down those slopes in no time.
Davos Ski and Fly
This unique experience takes place at the top of Jakobshorn mountain and combines both skiing and paragliding. As you’re attached to an experienced professional throughout, this ski and fly activity is thrilling yet very safe.
Gstaad ski school
Take part in ski school in Gstaad and you’ll be assigned an instructor to match your level of experience. You’ll have around 5 hours’ tuition so you can polish your skills to perfection, all under the trained eye of a professional.
3 Chamonix ski resorts
This trip to Chamonix includes transport, clothing, equipment and a ski pass that gives you access to a trio of Chamonix resorts. Departing from Geneva, you’ll cross the border into France for one incredibly memorable day – with views of Mont Blanc throughout.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie who’s always wanted to fly, this tandem speed riding experience in Lauterbrunnen is one of the most thrilling things to do in Switzerland in winter for non-skiers. You can pick between speed riding and speed flying in tandem.
For those seeking things to do in Lausanne or Lucerne, Switzerland in winter, snowshoeing makes an exciting day trip. Both activities provide snowshoes and transport, and take place in the midst of the scenic Swiss Alps.
Also proving that Lausanne is among the best places in Switzerland to visit in winter is this sledging experience. After taking the Diablerets Express ski lift, you’ll go sledging on Switzerland’s longest luge track, which is around 4.5 miles long.
How does snowkiting on the Simplon Pass sound? This is a snow school with a difference: you’ll wear skis or a snowboard, but be pulled along by a kite as you skim over the surface of the slope. Equipment and tuition is provided.
Scenic Swiss Views
Head to a mountain peak for stunning views of the snowy landscape. Many mountains are accessible during winter for sightseeing including Schilthorn, Jungfraujoch, Titlis, Glacier 3000, Gornergrat and more.
Recommended mountain excursions
Mount Titlis day trip
This day trip from Zurich to Mount Titlis is the easy way to see the slopes of the mountain in addition to trying out snow tubing and skiing. Departing from Zurich, it includes a tour of Lucerne, cable car tickets and basic ski equipment.
Jungfraujoch day trip
Join a fully-guided tour from Zurich, Lucerne or Interlaken for an excursion to one of Switzerland’s most popular attractions, Jungfraujoch Top of Europe. You’ll see the beauty of the Swiss alps from aboard the Eiger Express cable car and the famous Jungfrau cogwheel train with ample time to enjoy the activities and breathtaking scenery at the Top of Europe.
Winter Kayaking on Lake Brienz
Take part in a winter kayaking tour on the serene waters of Lake Brienz to see another natural geographical feature Switzerland is famous for – its lakes. This is one of the top things to do in Switzerland in January for those who want to see another side of the country.
Scenic Train Ride
Take a trip on the Bernina Express or Glacier Express to experience one or both of Switzerland’s most scenic train routes. The former connects Switzerland with Italy, while the latter passes through the Swiss Alps between St Moritz and Zermatt, and is widely known as the slowest express train in the world.
Sample Swiss Fondue
Although it may be eaten all year round, fondue is traditionally a winter dish so there’s no better time to enjoy it than during a winter visit to Switzerland. This 90-minute tuk tuk tour of Zurich is highly recommended, and includes a fondue tasting accompanied by Swiss wine. Yum!
The best places to visit in Switzerland in late November and December are often those where you can experience the magic of Christmas – Swiss style. Options include shopping at a Christmas market, joining a guided walking tour or even taking the little ones to see Santa’s grotto.
Santa’s Grotto, near Montreux
The house of Father Christmas can be found in Rochers-de-Naye, a lofty point reached via a one-hour cogwheel train ride from Montreux. At over 2,000 metres above sea level, the grotto is full of wonder for younger visitors.
Basel or Vevey Christmas Magic walking tour
See the city of Basel or the town of Vevey sparkle when you book one of these guided walking tours. You’ll be shown all the best streets and spots for seeing the Christmas lights and decorations. A trip to the Christmas market is also included.
During the tour, your guide will also tell you all about how Christmas is celebrated in the local area.
Lucerne Christmas Edition walking tour
This walking tour of Lucerne takes you to see all the city’s key sights illuminated at night by magical Christmas lights. A delicious hot drink is included to help keep you warm, alongside a gingerbread snack.
During the evening you’ll explore the Old Town, see Chapel Bridge and the River Reuss, and pay a visit to a Swiss Christmas market.
Zermatt Christmas walking tour
If you’re seeking things to do in Zermatt in winter, then this two hour walking tour will let you into the city’s festive secrets. These include local seasonal legends and a visit to the Christmas tree of Zermatt.
Final Thoughts on Switzerland Winter Activities
There’s plenty to do during a winter visit to Switzerland besides skiing, though for beginners it’s the ideal place to try out a new sport. Other things to do in Switzerland during the coldest months include taking Christmas tours, a scenic train ride or a trip up to a mountain summit.
You could also sample traditional cheese fondue, take a kayak onto Lake Brienz or try out another winter sport such as snowshoeing, snowkiting, sledging, snow tubing or speed riding.
Winter is the ideal time to visit Switzerland if you’re into snow sports, Christmas or simply soaking up the stunning scenery. Don’t forget that many of the usual historic and cultural attractions are open to visitors then, too.
Unfortunately, sometimes the weather just isn’t suitable for being outside. If you happen to be in the Jungfrau Region and strike rainy or inclement weather, there are still plenty of rainy day activities in Interlaken to keep you amused.