Snow-covered Zurich

Often wrongly perceived as a boring financial hub, Zurich is in fact an exciting, confident city with a surprisingly edgy shopping and nightlife scene. Come December and Switzerland's largest city transforms into an enchanting winter wonderland filled with Christmas markets, lights and music – a perfect time to experience the two wildly different sides of Zurich.

Christmas magic

It all kicks off when the "Lucy" Christmas lights get switched on at the end of November on Bahnhofstrasse. As thousands of light bulbs suddenly illuminate one of the world's most famous shopping streets to loud cheers from the excited crowds, and the winter's first snow starts falling, I am reminded of why this season can feel so special. A few metres away, a "singing Christmas tree" – literally a tree made of carolling children – adds to the magic on Werdmühleplatz. Mulled wine, Christmas songs, snow and a hint of nostalgia: 'tis the Christmas season!

Christmas in Zurich - Choc+treeSprüngli chocolate truffles and Zurich's singing Christmas tree
WTG / Coralie Modschiedler

It's my first time in Zurich and I must confess: so far, I'm pretty impressed. The city and especially the Old Town's cobbled streets are charming, while the sheer number of Christmas markets easily rivals any German city. In the Old Town, artists and traders from around the world sell their goods at the most traditional and oldest Christmas market in the city, on Hirschenplatz, Niederdorfstrasse and Rosenhof.

But the biggest of them all is the Christmas Market at the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station). It's Europe's biggest indoor market, with more than 150 wooden huts selling all sorts of gifts and treats, although its most striking feature is arguably the gigantic Christmas tree made of over 7,000 Swarovski crystals (guarded by security at all times mind you).

Offbeat Zurich

Across the river from the station, the narrow lanes of the medieval Niederdorf district are bustling after dark. Amongst the many cool shops, cafés and galleries, one spot stands out: Cabaret Voltaire (Spiegelgasse 1). It's one of Switzerland’s most vibrant contemporary art spaces and home to an unconventional boutique and bar. As the founding place of the Dadaist art movement, Zurich became the centre of the art world in the early 1920s. The movement’s mandate was to make up the rules as it went along, and this ethos lives on at Cabaret Voltaire, its original base.

Beyond the Old Town, there is one area that's grown into the hippest place in Zurich in recent years: Zurich West. Brimming with edgy designer boutiques, art spaces, restaurants and clubs, this former industrial district has been revived and transformed into an über-cool hub.

Christmas in Zurich - Wall+lightsEdgy Zurich West and Christmas lights on Bahnhofstrasse
WTG / Coralie Modschiedler

One of my favourite spots in Zurich West has to be the Freitag flagship store (Geroldstrasse 17), a 26m-high (85ft) conceptual structure made out of reclaimed industrial refuse and refurbished shipping containers. Back in the 1990s, inspired by the traffic that rumbled through the intersection outside their Zurich flat, the Freitag brothers designed a courier bag made of old truck tarpaulins, used bicycle inner tubes and car seat belts. Today, Freitag is one of the hippest bag and accessory companies in Europe, producing some 400,000 products every year, including iPhone cases, wallets and laptop bags – perfect Christmas gift ideas.

Zurich for foodies

When in Zurich, you have to try the city's most famous dish, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes: sliced veal in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with rösti, a speciality made of grated potatos. A particularly tasty version is prepared at the traditional guild house Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten (Limmatquai 40). Another Swiss classic is of course cheese fondue; tucked-away restaurant Le Dézaley (Römergasse 7) serves one of Zurich's best fondues and excellent white wine to match – I highly recommend the St-Saphorin Chasselas from Château de Glérolles. For those who prefer vegetarian food, you will find a delicious vegetarian version of the Zürcher Geschnetzeltes in Haus Hiltl (Sihlstrasse 28).

Farmers, bakers and butchers from the region offer fresh products six days a week at the Market Hall under the Viadukt arches in Zurich West. Some specialise in organic produce and the market ambience under the railway viaduct is quite unique.

Christmas in Zurich - Fondue+cakeIndulge in cheese fondue and chocolate treats in Zurich
WTG / Coralie Modschiedler

For a sweet treat, no visit to Zurich would be complete without an indulgent breather at Sprüngli (Bahnhofstrasse 21). Despite being the country’s most mouth-watering chocolate shop, the local favourite is the colourful "Luxemburgerli" macaron. Chocolate lovers will also want to check out Läderach (Bahnhofstrasse 106), which sells all sorts of deliciously smooth pralines and truffles as well as colourful chocolate slabs.

Another must-visit for the sweet toothed is locals' favourite Péclard (Napfgasse 4), an elegant 19th-century café (previously known as Café Schober), and one of Jay-Z's favourite spots when he’s in town. Located in the Old Town, time seems to almost stand still while you sit at the café’s mahogany tables, tucking into homemade cakes and rich hot chocolate with whipped cream.



Getting there: SWISS offers up to 19 daily flights to Zurich from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester. Fares start from £129 return, including taxes.

Where to stay: The centrally located, stylish four-star Hotel Glockenhof (Sihlstrasse 31) offers spacious designer rooms minutes away from popular Bahnhofstrasse. For something a little more secluded, Romantik Seehotel Sonne (Seestrasse 120) boasts a gorgeous setting on the shores of Lake Zurich.

Getting around: The ZürichCARD, available for 24 or 72 hours from the tourist office, train stations and hotels, gives access to all public transport in the city (including trips to and from the airport) and provides free entry to most museums, as well as a range of discounts.

More information: To find out more, read our Zurich city guide and visit

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.