WHAT TO DO IN WINTER IN ZURICH – ACTIVITIES + TRAVEL TIPS
- 1 WHAT TO DO IN WINTER IN ZURICH – ACTIVITIES + TRAVEL TIPS
- 2 TIPS FOR ZURICH IN WINTER
- 3 THINGS TO DO IN ZURICH IN THE WINTER MONTHS
- 3.1 Christmas Markets
- 3.2 Jelmoli Märlitram
- 3.3 Uetliberg
- 3.4 Tobogganing
- 3.5 Ice Skating
- 3.6 Lindenhof Hill
- 3.7 Old Town
- 3.8 Fraumünster
- 3.9 Limmatquai Riverfront
- 3.10 Illuminarium
- 3.11 Grossmünster
- 3.12 Lake Zurich
- 3.13 Zurich Thermal Bath
- 3.14 Bahnhofstrasse
- 3.15 National Museum
- 3.16 Lindt – Home of Chocolate
- 3.17 Mount Rigi
- 3.18 Mount Pilatus
- 4 CONCLUSION: VISITING ZURICH IN THE WINTER
Are you headed to Zurich in winter? Then check out this winter guide for Zurich to find out what to expect if you visit in the cold months.
Switzerland’s largest city is one of my favorite places in Switzerland. I have spent quite a lot of time in the city and feel at home. BUT I am going to be honest: winter in Zurich can be semi-great. If you visit Zurich before Christmas, it can be an amazing place because the Christmas Markets take place. However, if you visit on a rainy day – especially in January or February – it feels like a… let´s say not-so-good place. And if you visit Switzerland on such a day for the very first time, you might be disappointed.
Switzerland is one of the most stunning places in the world, but Zurich on a gray winter day might not convince you of that. However, there are some fun things to do in Zurich in winter, and here are my tips for your Zurich winter trip, along with many travel tips.
TIPS FOR ZURICH IN WINTER
Before discussing the best Zurich winter activities, here is some info for your trip.
How to Get Around in Zurich in Winter
Exploring Zurich on foot and public transportation is the way to go – there is no need for a car.
- Public Transportation: Zurich has amazing public transport, and it is the best way to get around in the cold winter months. However, most of the time, you can walk but when needed just – so on a tram/bus.
- With the Zurich Card, you can use public transport and have free entry to almost all the museums in Zurich which is great to explore much of the city. Click here to find out more and check out prices.
- If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, you will not need an extra Zurich Card. With the Swiss Travel Pass, you can use unlimited public transportation, even use the boat on Lake Zurich, and get access to many museums and some attractions without any extra fee. Click here to find out more about the Swiss Travel Pass. I highly recommend a Swiss Travel Pass if you stay for more than 3 days in Switzerland and if you plan to visit other cities/places in Switzerland as well.
Where to Stay in Zurich in Winter
- My full accommodation guide for Zurich is here.
- Luxury Hotels in Zurich: Zurich has some great luxury hotels which are amazing to get spoiled and enjoy life. Baur au Lac is one of the best-rated luxury hotels close to the city center.
- Budget Hotels in Zurich Warning, there are not many budget hotels in Zurich. This is a good-rated hostel that I stayed at recently. It is a decent hostel with a perfect location right in the center of Zurich.
Read more: For more Zurich travel tips, check out my detailed 2-day Zurich itinerary.
What to Pack
Though Switzerland in December is not as bad as many think, it is still important to dress warmly. Or better, to dress in layers.
- Coat: A warm, waterproof jacket should be one of the first items you think to pack. Avoid choosing a bulky jacket that takes up a lot of space. This can make you feel uncomfortable when you have layers underneath. Instead, opt for a lightweight trench raincoat that will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable.
- Hat: A knitted beanie is a perfect solution for keeping the warmth in while you venture out. A hat will keep you toasty warm wherever you are.
- Gloves: A pair of gloves can do wonders for your mobility, dexterity, and comfort. When selecting your options, it’s worth investing in a pair that can dry quickly and are touch-screen compatible.
- Scarf Or Turtleneck: A warm scarf and/or turtleneck sweater are key items for keeping your neck covered. A turtleneck sweater is perfect as a garment to wear underneath your jacket, while the scarf can be removed easily.
- Leggings: Leggings are an essential item to pack as you can dress them up or down. You can even wear them underneath your denim as an extra layer of warmth.
- Socks: When it comes to packing socks for your Switzerland trip – the thicker, the better. The chances are that you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in the snow, and you’ll want your feet to be warm and cozy.
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: If you can only pack one pair of shoes, make sure they are a trusty pair of warm and comfy shoes. You’ll want your shoes to be as versatile as possible.
THINGS TO DO IN ZURICH IN THE WINTER MONTHS
Okay, here are some winter activities in Zurich – whether you visit Zurich in December, January, or February, you will find activities for each time of the year.
If you visit Zurich in December (from late November until Christmas, to be more precise), then you can experience some of the best Christmas Markets in Switzerland.
Though I am not the biggest fan of Christmas Markets, Zurich´s markets know how to impress. There is a Christmas Market for every taste – whether you are looking to buy gifts or want to enjoy strolling the illuminated and beautifully decorated markets. Especially with tons to eat and drink (people are somehow crazy about mulled wine at Christmas Markets), it is a good place to eat your weight in yummy food and drinks.
Visit Zurich’s oldest Christmas market in the Old Town, or the urban “Weinachtsdorf” Christmas village on Sechseläutenplatz near Bellevue.
Even the Zurich train station dresses up, and you’ll find a 15-meter (49 ft) tall sparkling Christmas tree at the Christkindlimarkt. With around 150 stalls, it is actually one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe.
Date: The Christmas Markets take place from the 24. November – 23. December, so Zurich in December is a good time for the festive atmosphere. Please check the exact times before your visit, as it might slightly differ each year.
Who likes to listen to Christmas stories in December in Zurich – while enjoying a tram ride? I guess this would be a quite popular activity for people of all ages. Bad news: the Jelmoli Märlitram is just for kids between 4 and 10 years old.
So, if you visit Zurich with children in winter, book tickets for this unique winter activity. Angels read Christmas stories while the tram is getting around, dressed in its best “Christmas dress“. The 20-minute trip starts and ends at the Bellevue station – the kids will be safe and the parents can enjoy some time without the little ones.
- The tram rides through Zurich from 26. November to 24.December 2022.
- Tickets can be bought up to a week in advance, but also might sell out quickly. The prices are about 8 CHF.
I am a fan of mountain views, and even though Uetliberg – Zurich´s very own mountain – is not a high mountain (by Swiss standards) I still recommend visiting it.
Uetliberg is the “house mountain” in Zurich and part of the Albis chain, rising to 870 meters above sea level (2,850 feet) and towering around 450 meters over the city. It is a great place to visit in the winter and enjoy a day in the snow – though snow is not guaranteed.
Uetliberg is easily accessible via train from Zurich. Once at the train station at Uetliberg, the train station, it is just a few more minutes (uphill) walk.
At the top, you will find a restaurant and a tower. It is a few extra stairs but the views are even better from the very top. They charge CHF 2 for the platform (you can walk the first few steps for free and then have to pay if you want to get to the very top).
- The train up is free with your Zurich Card or Swiss Travel Pass.
Switzerland in winter is normally a lot about winter sports – and while winter Zurich surely is not the very best place to do winter sports, there are a few things you can do. Whether you are big or small, tobogganing is a popular winter activity for locals and visitors alike.
Since snow in Zurich does not last for long – if there is some at all – the best place to go tobogganing is outside of Zurich. One of the best places to do that is the Uetliberg.
What a great coincidence that I have mentioned it as a great place to visit in the winter before – so combine a trip to Zurich´s Uetliberg with some tobogganing. There are also more places to toboggan, like Mount Rigi, Mount Pilatus, and Mount Titlis – which are all near Lucerne and where you have snow.
Ice skating is quite big in Zurich in the winter, so join the locals and visitors and do your rounds, too. You can choose from numerous ice rinks – whether you slide on natural ice rinks of frozen – lakes or indoor rinks. If you visit Zurich in December, you can ice skate in the areas set up in the middle of a Christmas market.
Another popular ice rink opens already in October and stays open until March – the Dolder open-air ice rink is one of the biggest of its kind and is directly located near the luxury hotel of Dolder Grand.
No matter when you visit Zurich, make an effort and “hike“ up Lindenhof Hill.
If you are in the Old Town, it is just a few minute’s walk up to enjoy lovely views from a small hilltop park known as the Lindenhof. It is a popular public space where locals often bring their food and have a quick lunch. In warmer months, you could probably chill and sit on the benches for a while. In the winter, though, it might be too cold to sit there forever – but the view is still lovely even in the cold months.
The Old Town in Zurich is one of the city’s prettiest places – especially in late November and December.
You´ll find many boutiques and stores – and of course, many restaurants and cafes. And let’s not forget about the beautiful old buildings – which Americans, in particular, find overly exciting. It is a lovely place to visit during the day, but also in the afternoon/evening.
- One popular way to discover the old town is via a guided tour. You can check out tours here.
Of course, there are also some churches to visit in Zurich – not only to warm up but to admire the beautiful – yet simple – interior. One of the most important churches in the city is the Fraumünster. The church is quite easy to identify from afar thanks to the golden clock face on its bell tower and the greenish roof. Visit the church before Christmas and enjoy the special atmosphere.
- In the winter months, it is open from 10 am to 5 pm, except for Sundays and holidays when it is only open after services.
- Tourists have to pay an entrance fee of CHF 5 (and then visit the crypt museum), while non-tourists can enter for free and join services.
Strolling along both banks of the Limmat River is a lovely thing to do in the winter. There are many restaurants you can sit down at, have a proper dinner, or have a drink.
There are some beautiful buildings along the river, making a stroll one of the best things to do in Zurich in winter.
In November and December, the inner courtyard of the National Museum transforms into a winter wonderland of light, illumination, illusion, music, and culinary delights known as Illuminarium.
In the inner courtyard, which is free of charge, are a bar, a fondue chalet, and various food stalls. In the other part, where there is an entrance fee, visitors can watch two elaborately staged light shows.
Dates: 10th November – 30th December
Another indoor place to visit in Zurich in winter is Grossmünster. This church is easily recognizable because of the two Romanesque towers and is located close to the Limmatplatz.
You can visit the towers for an entrance fee and enjoy some lovely views (be prepared to climb 187 narrow steps).
- The church itself is free to visit.
- In the winter months, it is open from 10 am to 5 pm – and on Sundays, it opens after the service.
On a gray day, Lake Zurich does not look that beautiful. That is my honest opinion. But somehow, it is still a must in the winter months to stroll Lake Zurich. And if it is sunny or snowy, it is actually lovely! Very lovely!
The lake is quite large, and you probably won‘t be able to walk around the whole lake. If you start from Buerkliplatz, you can walk along the left or right shores. Both are lovely though I would say, if you keep right it is probably quieter and less busy. As far as I have experienced it. I enjoy Lake Zurich definitely more in the summer, but it is not a bad place to visit in winter either.
Zurich Thermal Bath
Before this fall (2021) I admit that I had never experienced spa treatments in Zurich – mainly because I like to explore the outdoor places and because Switzerland is very expensive. However, I just found out that a cool thermal bath is not actually that expensive. And thus, I went. And though I went on a day in the fall and not in winter, I imagine it to be fantastic in the winter season, too. So, if you want to “indulge”, you can visit the Thermal Baths & Spa.
Take an outdoor bath while enjoying great views of the city – the views were some of my favorites in Zurich. You might worry it is too cold outdoors – no need to as it is a hot tub! Also, there are some indoor pools – plus a lounge area with a restaurant to chill inside.
It is strictly forbidden to take pictures – you have to leave your cameras/phones inside lockers.
If you want to do some shopping – e.g., Christmas Shopping – then stroll Bahnhofstrasse. This is the most expensive shopping street – IN THE WORLD.
In December, it is quite busy but also very festive, and at the beginning of the year, the crowds are gone. But so are all the snack stalls and most of the illuminations. If you worry about your budget – though the street is expensive, there are also quite a few affordable stores.
You can do this activity at any time of the year, but also save it for a rainy and gray day – visit the National Museum. It is located right behind the main train station and is the place to go if you want to learn more about Switzerland’s cultural history.
- It is open daily (except Mondays).
- With the Zurich Card or a Swiss Travel Pass, you will have free entrance.
Lindt – Home of Chocolate
As a chocolate expert, I can guarantee you: Swiss chocolate is the best! This is how chocolate has to taste! And you will find a number of chocolate museums in the country. One of the most prominent chocolate brands in Lindt. You can visit the interactive Lindt Home of Chocolate Museum, which is next to the Lindt & Sprüngli factory. Find out about the long journey that cocoa takes from bean to bar on an audio-guided tour and learn about the production process through multimedia exhibitions.
Or check out the 9-meter tall chocolate fountain or stroll the biggest chocolate shop, spread over more than 500 m2.. But what would a chocolate museum be if you could not do some chocolate tasting? Savoring a variety of chocolate delicacies is probably one of the highlights (or is it just me?). The Lindt Museum is one of a kind – and perfect for people of any age!
- It is located near Zurich.
- When you book your ticket, you can choose the time of your visit.
- Check out tickets for the Lindt Museum here.
Beautiful Mount Rigi – nothing beats watching the sunset on a snowy day on Mount Rigi. The “Queen of the Mountains“ is located near Lucerne, so it is a train ride there, but it is absolutely doable to visit in one day or even half a day.
While there is not that much snow in Zurich, the chances of a Winter Wonderland are very high at Mount Rigi. This makes Mount Rigi a fun place for easy winter sports activities – but if you are like me, you might be happy to enjoy the sunset (it is one of the prettiest places to watch the sunset in all of Switzerland).
- If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, the train ride from Zurich to Lucerne is free. You can also use the funicular up to Mount Rigi without any extra costs with your Swiss Travel Pass in 2021.
Another fun mountain trip from Zurich in winter would be a trip to Mount Pilatus.
Of course, Mount Pilatus is a great alternative to Mount Rigi. A bit more time-consuming and a bit more expensive, but definitely worth a trip in winter.
The views are great. But it is, of course, not only about the views but also about winter sports. Skiing, snowshoe hiking, snowboarding, and sledding – you can do all this in the region of Lucerne, and especially on Mount Pilatus. It takes about an hour to get to Lucerne from Zurich, and then it takes some time to get up Mount Pilatus so you should plan a full-day tour.
In the winter months, the cogwheel train ride is not available, so you can only go up via cable car!
- Read more: Here are more fun day trips from Zurich
CONCLUSION: VISITING ZURICH IN THE WINTER
Zurich in December – or in general Zurich in winter – can be a great time to visit. However, since I always want to be honest with you, it is not my favorite time to visit Zurich.
December in Zurich is great because of the Christmas Markets and the winter lights, but the city itself can be sleepy in January or February. However, it can be fun if you know what to do. And I hope the above-mentioned fun winter activities will help you plan your trip to Zurich in winter.
Have a safe trip!