Snow starts to fall in earnest in Switzerland in December, and with it are the tourists that flock to the mountain ski resorts. There are also charming markets held in various cities in the lead-up to Christmas. Whether you're interested in outdoor or city attractions, December's a great time to visit Switzerland. Read on to learn more.


Although snow may have been falling in the Alps since November, December is the actual start of winter in Switzerland. The thickest snow doesn't settle until later in the season, but ski fields reopen throughout December. Winter's föhn winds (warmer southerly winds on the northern slopes of the Alps) can also lead to unpredictable and changeable weather.

In Switzerland's towns, cities, and lower valleys, December weather can be dull, cold, and wet, but not necessarily snowy. Heavy snow is uncommon at lower elevations, and although you might experience a dusting, full-blown white Christmases are rare. The days are also short, with the shortest day of the year in late December, making the temperatures feel even colder without much sunlight. In lowland cities like Zürich, Geneva, and Lugano, the average December temperature is 39°F (4°C). Temperatures at higher elevations in the Alps are generally colder: the average December temperature in Zermatt, for example, is 25°F (-4°C).

Crowds & Costs

Early December can still be considered low season before many ski fields open. As the resort towns come back to life, though, and in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, Switzerland switches into high-season gear. Facilities that may have been closed for the fall, such as cable cars and scenic train journeys, reopen. 

While many visitors to Switzerland head for the mountains, the lower-lying cities en route become busy. Most people traveling to the mountains stop in a city for a day or two, particularly before Christmas when festive markets are held in some places. Of note are Basel, Bern, Lucerne, Geneva, and Zürich.

Expect to pay peak-season prices in late December and make accommodation and transportation bookings well in advance. The last two weeks in December are about Switzerland's busiest of the year.

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Where to Go

Whether you're a downhill skier, snowboarder, cross-country skier, or just want to experience the beauty of Europe's most prominent mountains in winter, head to the Alps in late December. St. Moritz (in the southeast) and Zermatt (in the southwest) offer some of Switzerland's best skiing and other snow sports. If you want to experience a white Christmas, leave the cities and head up to Saas-Fee, St. Moritz, and Zermatt.

If you're not much into skiing or snowboarding but do want to get outdoors in the mountains in December, have a go at winter hiking. There are great trails in the Upper Engadine, Lower Engadine, Upper Rhône, or Matter valleys. It's not safe to walk just anywhere in the mountains in winter, but these places have well-prepared trails designed for winter hiking. 

What to Do

In December, another major attraction of Switzerland is the Christmas markets in the towns and cities. As well as shopping for souvenirs for yourself and gifts for your loved ones, you can sip on mulled wine, listen to Christmas music, and generally enjoy the decorations, twinkling lights, and ambiance. Some towns and cities with the best Christmas markets are Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, and Basel.

The dates of these Christmas markets vary, with some starting as early as late November and others not until mid-December. Similarly, some wrap up a couple of days before Christmas, while others continue until the end of the month. 

Events in December

L'Escalade, Geneva. In the second week of December, this festival celebrates the quashing of the Duchy of Savoy's attempt to take over Geneva in 1602). The highlight is the smashing of cauldrons made out of chocolate.

Lumières Festival, Lausanne. Lausanne comes to life in the month leading up to Christmas, with light installations created by local and international artists. 

Christmasnationwide. December 24, 25, and 26 are public holidays in Switzerland, and many businesses are closed. The Swiss tend to celebrate Christmas and give gifts on December 24, Christmas Eve.

New Year's Evenationwide. New Year's Eve is celebrated in Switzerland on December 31, much like elsewhere in Europe: with parties and fireworks in the cities. Also, expect to hear church bells ringing at midnight.

More Helpful Information

Switzerland in November
Switzerland in January
Best Time of Year to Visit Switzerland
How Many Days to Spend in Switzerland