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CHRISTMAS

It’s Christmas market season! Glug a Glühwein at these wonderful Swiss markets this year

The Local's guide to the best Christmas markets to visit this year.

It's Christmas market season! Glug a Glühwein at these wonderful Swiss markets this year
Photo: Jan Geerk/Swiss Tourism

There's nothing more festive than strolling through a Christmas market, stopping for a Glühwein/vin chaud here and there, picking up handmade gifts and scoffing local treats such as Berner Honiglebkuchen and Basel Läckerli.

Switzerland has a Christmas market in practically every city and town – in the bigger cities such as Zurich and Bern they are month-long events, while other smaller towns may stage a market for a weekend or a few days. Many are classic affairs, while some like to do things a little differently.

Here's our pick of the best Christmas markets to visit this year.

Lausanne, November 23rd to December 31st

Photo: The Local

Christmas in Lausanne is always a bit alternative thanks to its annual festival of lights, which sees light installations set up around town. So far, so festive – except they rarely have a Christmassy feel. Past illuminations have included a giant face sporting some pretty bizarre expressions, colour-changing octopuses hanging under Flon bridge, giant pencils over Rue Centrale and ghostly figures floating over Place de la Palud. The city's ever-expanding Christmas market is grouped into several different locations about town, with the biggest being in St François square.

Basel, November 23rd-December 23rd

Photo: Basel Tourism

Claiming to be the largest in Switzerland, Basel's Christmas market takes place in two main locations in the city centre – Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz. Overlooked by the magnificent cathedral and boasting a huge Christmas tree, the latter is the most atmospheric. In total, 180 stalls offer handmade goods and gifts, as well as local edible treats including Basel Läckerli. Münsterplatz also has a ‘fairytale forest’ where kids can make candles, decorate gingerbread and bake cookies while you partake of another Glühwein. 

Montreux, November 23rd-December 24th

Photo: Montreux Noel

It's another whopper, this one. Though the crowds may make it too hectic for some, Montreux Noël has to be experienced at least once during your time in Switzerland. As well as 160 stalls strung along the lakeside promenade, there's live music, plenty of food and drink in the Lumberjack Village and a Elf Village with workshops for kids. New this year is a light show projected onto the facade of the Fairmont le Montreux Palace hotel and a market of second-hand goods from Dec 6th-10th.

St Gallen, November 30th-December 23rd

 
Photo: St.Gallen-Bodensee Tourismus
 
St Gallen sparkles with 700 stars during advent. The beautiful star-shaped illuminations are strung up over the streets of the city and its stunning medieval abbey district. Handicrafts and local produce including St Gallen sausage are for sale on the 120 stalls in the Christmas market. 
 
St Ursanne, December 2nd-3rd

This pretty medieval village in the Jura is lovely to visit at this time of year when its small Christmas market brings added atmosphere. Stylish stalls line the cobbled streets and a 100-year-old carousel is a delight for kids.

Einsiedeln, December 2nd-10th

Photo: einsiedler-weihnacht.ch

It’s a short one this year, but still worth the trip, because the small town of Einsiedeln in the canton of Schwyz has possibly the most spectacular setting for a Christmas market of any in Switzerland – in the main square in front of the Benedictine Einsiedeln Abbey. The town makes the most of this by staging a large market of 130 stalls that’s become known as one of the best in the country. As an added bonus, visit the town’s small museum devoted to gingerbread, an Einsiedeln speciality also sold on the stalls.

Yverdon-les-Bains, December 2nd-24th

Set in and around the town’s medieval castle is a traditional Christmas market that’s less frantic than some others. Kids will love the ice skating rink, while adults can quaff local beer and pick up artisan gifts and regional produce on the stalls.

Stein am Rhine, December 6th-31st

Photo: Jan Geerk/Swiss Tourism

The medieval Old Town of Stein am Rhine, near the German border, is taken over by Christmas festivities every December with stalls, beautiful lights and plenty of child-friendly entertainment. A highlight is the medieval market (Dec 15th-17th only), which makes the most of the town's atmospheric architecture with sword-fighting knights, a blacksmith forging iron and a dressmaker's shop where you can try on medieval robes.

Bremgarten, December 7th-10th

It may only be on for a few days but Bremgarten’s large Christmas market attracts visitors from far and wide. As well as a whopping 320 stalls, there’s traditional music, carriage rides and children’s entertainment including storytelling, a treasure hunt and a carousel.

Murten, December 8th-10th

Photo: Murten Tourism

Resembling a mini version of Bern’s Old Town, Murten – or Morat in French – is well worth a visit for its beautiful medieval old centre, and there’s no better time than when its Christmas market takes over for three days in December. It may be short in duration, but with 150 stalls it's brimming with gift ideas.

Gruyères, December 8th-10th

A wonderfully atmospheric setting for a Christmas market is the medieval village of Gruyères, whose main cobbled square will be taken over by festive chalets for one weekend only. There's also a St Nicholas parade, children's enertainment and a concert in the church. 

Rapperswil, December 15th-23rd

Another beautiful medieval town with an imposing castle, this place on Lake Zurich is an atmospheric spot for a Christmas market, now one of Switzerland's biggest, with 250 stalls taking over the small town. 

Interlaken, December 16th-26th

Photo: Interlaken Tourism

Browing this Christmas market comes with the added bonus of being able to try your hand at ice skating on the giant Ice Magic complex, a series of five ice rinks linked by runways. You can also book a curling lane and take ice skating lessons.

Which Christmas markets will you be visiting this year? Tag us in your photos on Instagram @TheLocalSwitzerland

 

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CHRISTMAS

GUIDE: The Local’s gift guide of classic Swedish Christmas items

Swedish Christmas decorations are minimalist but 'mysig', with the lights appearing in every window around this time of year a welcoming sight to brighten up the darker months in the run-up to Christmas. Here's our guide to some Christmassy Swedish gifts.

GUIDE: The Local's gift guide of classic Swedish Christmas items

Christmas lights

Some characteristic Christmas lights you have no doubt spotted in the windows of houses and apartments where you live ar the julstärna or Christmas star and the adventsljusstake or Advent candlestick.

These Christmas decorations are available in countless different variations, both cheaper options at stores like Clas Ohlson and IKEA, and more expensive versions at design stores like Svenssons i Lammhult or Designtorget.

Other popular decorations include the änglaspel, angel chimes which rotate when candles are lit underneath, and the Julbock, a Christmas goat made of straw modelled after the famous Gävlebock, the 13-metre-high goat often set on fire by arsonists in the northern Swedish city of Gävle.

Also worth mentioning is the Jultomte, Christmas gnomes that are often mistaken as Santa. These can be found in almost all souvenir shops in many different sizes and are an unmistakably Swedish decoration found in every household.

Christmas snaps. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Christmas drinks

Many would say that a Swedish Christmas celebration is not complete without snaps – traditionally served at all major holidays, it is essentially Swedish vodka with spices and herbs like aniseed, fennel and caraway seeds.

The ritual of drinking about 60ml of snaps with pickled herring and potatoes is accompanied by singing drinking songs called snapsvisor, which get increasingly more rowdy as the night goes on and as more alcohol is consumed.

Coupled with the other Christmas favourite, glögg (spiced wine), snaps is an essential part of the Swedish Christmas dining experience. You can make your own snaps at home by steeping some spices in vodka or unflavoured brännvin, or buy a bottle to gift to a snaps-loving friend or family member at the nearest Systembolaget. Here is The Local’s Swedish-style snaps recipe and more about its history and why it is so popular at Swedish holidays.

Knäck and pepparkakor. Photo: Jurek Holzer/SvD/TT

Christmas treats

A Swedish julfika (Christmas Fika) is incomplete without a few staples. The most classic are lussekatter (saffron buns), bright yellow buns most often formed into an S shape eaten around Christmas, pepparkakor, which are thin spiced gingerbread biscuits and julknäck, small caramel flavoured sweets.

You can serve these with warm glögg (alcoholic versions available at Systembolaget with low-alcohol or alcohol-free variants available at most supermarkets), or with some sort of Christmas tea or coffee – look for lussete (tea spiced with saffron, orange and sometimes, chilli), julte or julkaffe (tea or coffee with Christmas spices). Pick any of these depending on your preference, these treats are perfect for warming you up on a cosy winter afternoon.

Other classic Swedish favourite Christmas snacks and drinks include juleskum – soft candy with an admittedly unappetising name in the shape of Santa, and julmust Christmas soda. Julmust is so popular in Sweden that it outsells Coca Cola during the Christmas season every year.

Although Swedes might not be massively impressed if you gift them juleskum or pepparkakor as a Christmas present, they can be great gifts for friends and family back home if you’re celebrating Christmas outside of Sweden this year. Most if not all of these items are available at supermarkets, and you might even be able to pick them up in the airport or train station if you’re looking for a last-minute gift.

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