“If I’m going to go all that way, I want to see some snow!” ~ Alyse.
When the opportunity arose for me to spend 3 weeks in Europe during winter, my initial thought as an Aussie was “SNOW.” I knew there would be loads of reasons to visit Switzerland in winter – even as a non-skier – so I figured why not go back and create awesome memories to rival the ones I made there during the summer a few years prior?
Little did I know Switzerland was about to take my breath away in a way that hadn’t been done before.
Turns out, winter is the PERFECT time to visit Switzerland, even though I didn’t ski during the trip. I discovered quite a few benefits to visiting during the colder months that I’m about to share with you so you can have an amazing experience, too!
If you fancy getting 50% off your train, bus, boat and cable car journeys, find out how I did it and how much I saved in my 7 Days in Switzerland Itinerary.
Without further ado, please allow me to convince you why you need to visit Switzerland in winter!
This guide to visiting Switzerland in winter for non-skiers will cover:
This post contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
With incredible winter scenery that seems to be straight out of a fairytale, a Switzerland winter holiday is always a good idea! Visiting Switzerland in December also means enjoying various Christmas Markets that pop up in larger towns and villages to partake in the festivities.
The Swiss Alps in winter create a beautiful, charming and romantic atmosphere that makes for an unforgettable experience. There’s also so many things to do in Switzerland in winter besides skiing so you’ll never be at a loss for how to spend your time!
Here’s 9 inspiring reasons (+ bonus!) for why you should definitely consider a winter trip to Switzerland, the best places to go in Switzerland in winter, where you can stay, plus how to get to each destination. How many of these points were you aware of?
1. Cities see less tourists in Switzerland in winter
While many people choose to visit Switzerland in winter for skiing, you’ll find these folk are doing just that. This frees up the main cities and leaves them less crowded for you to explore in an enjoyable, relaxed way. Less crowding on the intercity trains for day trips is another massive win, too!
Obviously the Christmas Markets in cities such as Gstaad, Bern, Zurich, St Moritz, Zermatt, Basel, St Gallen and Chur will be busy. But if you visit Switzerland in January or early November, you’ll be able to dodge any Christmas Market crowds.
During a winter trip to Switzerland, it’s possible to marvel at the gorgeous painted façades of buildings in the Old Towns without having loads of people unintentionally photobombing your snaps. Be sure to hunt down these postcard-worthy structures in Lucerne that date back to the Middle Ages like the ones pictured here:
2. Great hotel deals, especially after New Years and before Easter
As always, I wanted my accommodation to be right in the heart of the city centres I was going to visit. Staying during the off-season after New Years and before Easter meant there were quite a few great hotel deals to snap up. This wasn’t exclusive to Switzerland, either (find out why March is the best month to visit Paris here).
As an example, in Lucerne for the same cost as my usual accommodation budget I scored an awesome deal that meant I could lap up the benefits of staying in 4* hotel with private balcony overlooking the stunning Reuss River. What an absolute treat that was! However, if I were to have stayed there during summer the price would have been more than double.
TIP: I can highly recommend staying in Hotel des Balances, Lucerne if you decide to visit Switzerland in winter. It’s truly a beautiful hotel located in the Old Town and overlooks the Reuss River (pictured below), is steps away from restaurants, shops, cafes and is a few moments walk from Lucerne Railway station.
3. Winter Swiss train journeys will leave you speechless
One of the best things to do in Switzerland in winter is enjoy the scenic train journeys! What’s better than admiring the crazy-beautiful landscapes outside from the warmth of a speedy Swiss train? It’s the perfect excuse to snuggle up with your loved one (or by yourself!) as you watch the snow-covered mountains, frozen waterfalls and lovely Swiss countryside pass by from your window.
There are a number of scenic Swiss train rides throughout the country that journey to some of the most beautiful places in Switzerland. If these sound like fun to you, here’s some ideas to get you started:
Fancy visiting Europe’s highest railway station? My visit to Jungfraujoch “The Top of Europe” via the Jungraubahn was a highlight of my second Switzerland trip! More on this further down the page.
Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn
I absolutely LOVED this scenic train journey in Switzerland! Combining cogwheel and rack rail, the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn climbs 144 kilometres from the Zermatt village through the stunning Matter and Rhones valleys to Brig before reaching the highest point at Oberalp Pass (2033 metres above sea level).
Along the journey, the iconic pyramid-shaped peak of the Matterhorn ducks in and out of view as train passes through alpine scenery and villages below. The elevated and uninterrupted view of the Matterhorn once the train is above the trees is one of my most favourite memories from Switzerland! More on this down the page.
Known as the “Window to the Alps”, this 8 hour journey offers unparalleled panoramic scenery as you meander through mountains, valleys and 291 bridges from St Moritz to Zermatt.
Don’t worry about getting hungry as snacks are available on board and a multi-course lunch is offered in Excellence Class. The train passes by the Landwasser and Solis Viaducts, spiral tunnels, the Rhine Gorge and the Oberalp Pass. This journey is covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, too!
One of Switzerland’s more famous rail journeys, the Bernina Express is the highest railway across the Swiss Alps. It transcends from Chur/Landquart south to Lugano, close to the Italian border and passing through many Italian-speaking towns of Switzerland along the way (yep, this country has four official languages!)
On this journey, you’ll pass over 196 bridges, spy glaciers and enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage section of rail line from Thusis – Valposchiavo – Tirano. Definitely a Switzerland bucket list experience!
4. A Zürich winter day is easily brightened from gloomy to vibrant
I mean, how could you not be in a good mood whilst seeing these colourful structures lining Augustinergasse in the Old Town? This vivid street was once home to medieval artisans in the 17th century and the store owners competed with each other for the best façade.
The intricate wood carvings and bright colours adorning the stores make it a popular street to visit in Zürich, but thankfully during winter it isn’t too crowded. Don’t forget your camera!
Another colourful sight is the view over Zürich from Lindenhof. Perched high up on a hill, this area was once home to a Roman castle in the 4th century and the outlook over the town cannot be beaten. The Old Town, Grossmünster Church, University of Zürich, City Hall and the Limmat River are all visible from this tranquil location and you can even try your hand at chess on one of the life-sized boards incorporated into the grounds.
Zurich is also an ideal spot for chocolate lovers with the newly-opened Lindt Home of Chocolate factory. Witness one of the world’s largest chocolate fountains, stock up on treats in the world’s largest Lindt chocolate shop, enjoy a guided tour and even make your own confections as a souvenir!
TIP: Read ore about how to spend one day in Zurich with my self-guided walking tour itinerary!
How to get to Zürich
Zürich is a great day trip from Lucerne, a speedy 45min journey on SBB rail. An adult one-way ticket is CHF 13.00 with the Half-Fare Travel Card.
5. Mt Pilatus during winter is absolutely breathtaking
During my first summer trip to Europe I was fortunate enough to have stayed at Pilatus Kulm, an old hotel with an observation area at the summit of Mt Pilatus, Lucerne. It was such a wonderful experience waking up on top of the Swiss Alps and hearing the soft ring of cowbells float through the crisp mountain air.
But let me tell you, this place is even more incredible during the winter! Never have I been anywhere where the weather around me changed so rapidly.
Although the clouds were grey and ominous I decided to head up the gondola to Mt Pilatus anyway, knowing there would be a bit of snow to see up there. There was more than just a BIT and panoramic views of the surrounding scenery were incredible!
The sun decided to finally come out whilst I was at the summit and my breath was taken away by how beautiful (and different!) everything appeared around me in the winter. You could say this Aussie was happy as a pig in poo to be able to experience snow on top of the Swiss Alps! It was one of my most memorable travel experiences to date.
Getting to Mt Pilatus from Lucerne
Catch a bus to Kriens (15mins from Lucerne) to the base of the gondola. Purchase your ticket (cost CHF 36.00 round-trip with the Swiss Half Fare Card) and take the gondola up to Mt Pilatus. Dining options are available at the summit as well as a gift shop and views to stay with you forever!
6. Zermatt in winter is a sight to behold
Boasting sunshine 62% of the year, Zermatt is not to be missed if you visit Switzerland in winter. The “Sunniest Corner” of the country creates perfect conditions for those who ski and the surrounding Alps are a magnificent backdrop to be enjoyed by anyone, especially from the Gornergrat lookout.
I was greeted with absolutely perfect weather during my visit and my heart did a little happy dance when I first laid my eyes on the Matterhorn! Its pyramid shape makes it the most photographed mountain in all of Switzerland (and some would argue, the world).
The town itself is a fairytale winter wonderland with its boutiques, wooden ski lodges and high-pitched roofs layered with snow, resembling icing on a cake. It’s a truly magical place!
Getting to Zermatt from Bern
Zermatt is an easy day trip from Bern, a picturesque 2-hour journey each way with SBB rail. Ticket prices vary depending on the type of Swiss rail pass you have, if you decide to purchase one. An adult one-way ticket is CHF 45.50 with the Half-Fare Travel Card.
7. Bern in winter has medieval arcades to shield you from wind or snow
With origins dating back as early as the 12th century, the entire Old Town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Europe’s most underrated capital cities (in my opinion). The enchanting medieval architecture is wonderfully preserved in the Old Town (Altstadt) and the 6 kilometres of arcades provide welcome shelter outside in snowy weather.
Be sure to take in the intricate details of the iconic Zytglogge – a 15th century astronomical clock displayed on Bern’s bell tower and is said to have inspired Albert Einstein.
TIP: Head to the hills in the early morning to view Bernese rooftops dusted in snow!
Where to stay in Bern
I highly recommend Hotel Bern. Located in the beating heart of the city centre yet tucked away from bustling streets, a few steps from Zytglogge and moments walk to many of Bern’s main sights and Bahnhopf Bern, the main train station. Staff were polite, rooms were cosy and modern and the wifi was fast. Would definitely stay again!
8. Jungfraujoch is literally a winter wonderland
Complete with ice sculptures, ice tunnel, mini museum and more, Jungfraujoch is the highest point in Europe that can be reached by rail and is very worth-while visiting especially if you’re a history buff. Several restaurants are also here for you to relax and admire the view outside – an ultimate dining experience at 3,454 metres up!
On the journey to the top, the Jungfraubahn stops at two lookouts on the way: Eigerwand lookout (elevation 2,865 metres) and the Eismeer lookout (elevation 3,160 metres). On the day I visited the weather was clear and the views were awesome. A thermometer recorded the temperature as -15.5°C but thankfully it didn’t feel that cold!
Construction of the railway began in 1896 and the first rail journey commenced in 1912. Today, the Jungfraubahn safely transports passengers through the Alps up to this winter wonderland. You can find out more about Jungfraujoch’s interesting history and railway construction here.
Getting to Jungfraujoch from Bern
Jungfraujoch is quite isolated and the journey to get there reflects this. It’s possible to do as a day trip from Bern like I did, taking about 3 hours with 3 rail changes (via Interlaken Ost – Lauterbrunnen – Kleine Scheideggeach) each way with SBB rail.
Ticket prices vary depending on the type of Swiss rail pass you have, if you decide to purchase one. An adult one-way ticket is CHF 67.20 with the Half-Fare Travel Card.
9. Geneva in winter will be off-duty
Financial, diplomatic and international headquarters for numerous organisations such as the United Nations, Geneva is usually a bustling global city. During the winter months before Easter it’s a different story, though.
Enjoy afternoon tea in one of the many cafes without the crowds and wander the cobblestone streets filled with art galleries and antique stores. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time and may forget the important role Geneva plays on the world stage in the present day.
Why not enjoy the city from the water on a Geneva sightseeing cruise? If the skies are clear, you’ll even be able to see Mt Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain peak. The cruise is free for Swiss Travel Pass holders so be sure to take advantage of it!
TIP: Read my in-depth itinerary for spending one day in Geneva here!
Getting to Geneva from Bern
Geneva is an easy day trip from Bern, approx 1h45 journey each way with SBB rail. Ticket prices vary depending on the type of Swiss rail pass you have, if you decide to purchase one. An adult one-way ticket is CHF 25.50 if you use the Half-Fare Travel Card.
Where to stay in Geneva
I wish I had spent more than just a day in Geneva! I’d really like to go back and explore more, so if you’re considering spending the night I’d highly recommend it.
BONUS: Swiss hot chocolate will keep you cosy!
Obviously, the Swiss know how to make darn good chocolate. Drinking chocolate is no exception! Whenever it got a little too cold outside I’d head to a cafe to warm up with a delicious hot drink. I had the nicest hot chocolate ever during my visit to Switzerland, and wherever I could I would stock up on the little sachets of Caotina, pictured below (with me they didn’t last very long).
I was pretty sad to learn it wasn’t available anywhere in my home country so I look forward to the day when I can revisit Switzerland to enjoy that sweet, chocolately goodness in a cup ☕ Nothing compares, seriously!
Are you convinced to visit Switzerland in winter yet?
I hope you found these 9 reasons to visit Switzerland in winter pretty convincing ? If you need more ideas for your trip, don’t forget to check out my guide for how to incorporate these cities into a One Week Switzerland itinerary!
I’m always blabbering on to my friends about why they should visit this alpine nation during winter. I believe Switzerland is a country that flies under the radar of many travellers, especially during the colder months when people tend to seek warmer climates. If you’re after more inspiration here’s a fellow blogger’s tips for more of the best places to visit in Switzerland.
As you can see, even if you’re a non-skier there are plenty of astonishing sights to discover and keep you busy! But, what’s the next step?
Get your Switzerland itinerary planning off to a good start by searching for hotels in Bern or Lucerne here. You can also get a 50% discount on transport costs around Switzerland by purchasing a Swiss Half Fare Card here. Yes, it includes cable car, bus, train journeys and more!
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