Six of the best: Swiss Christmas markets


MÜNSTERPLATZ, BASEL

Although this isn't Basel's largest Christmas market (head to Barfüsserplatz for that), this is the most atmospheric, wedged into an old-town square tight against the looming, pink-hued cathedral. It's particularly good for food, with wooden huts selling cockle-warming glühwein, gingerbread and charcoal-cooked salmon, while locals cram into a log chalet to tuck into fondue. Bare branches overhead are strung with star-shaped lights and a huge tree is decorated by native son Johann Wanner, tree designer for celebrities and movie sets. At 6pm the cathedral offers a half-hour of candlelit silence. Runs 11am-8.30pm daily, November 24 to December 23, 2016. See basel.com

MARCHÉ DE NOËL, MONTREUX

The expansive lakefront Christmas market, with its 150 stalls, is excellent for the range of both its shopping and eating and (on a clear day) has spectacular views to the French Alps. An entire full-size chalet appears and dishes up raclette, or melted cheese served with potatoes and pickles. Montreux sets itself apart by offering other seasonal fun, including medieval shenanigans at Chillon Castle and a jolly old St Nick lurking on top of the Rochers-de-Naye, a fabulously scenic peak reached by rack railway. Runs 11am-8pm daily (10pm Fridays and Saturdays), November 24 to December 24, 2016. See montreuxnoel.com

FRANZISKANERPLATZ, LUCERNE

There are small handicraft and designer-gift markets in Lucerne and a half-hearted attempt in the train station, but the main game is on Franziskanerplatz in the lee of a church in one of Switzerland's best old towns. It features choirs, wood carvers, toe-tapping oompah bands and the occasional march-through of folk clanking enormous cowbells. The huge Christmas wreath and candles around the square's fountain are lovely. Have a punch heated with a poker straight from the fire. The city also has a great ice rink bathed in multicoloured lights. Runs 11am-9pm daily, December 3 to 21, 2016. See weihnachtsmarktluzern.com

SECHSELAEUTENPLATZ, ZURICH

Switzerland's largest indoor market greets you right inside the train station, centred on a tree glittering with Swarovski crystals, and Zurich has numerous other markets. The newcomer in front of the opera house, though, has the edge for being eclectic and upmarket. Its huts avoid the usual makeshift feel and sell products such as fine art, jewellery and cosmetics as well as the expected seasonal fare. Several stand-up bars attract wine-craving office workers on their way home. A small rink offers ice skating and curling. Runs 11am-10pm daily (8pm Sundays), November 24 to December 24, 2016. See zuerich.com

WEIHNACHTSMARKT, EINSIEDELN

A ribbon of cheerful stalls winds almost from the train station through the elegant old town of Einsiedeln before bursting out into an open square in front of a vast Benedictine monastery and its over-the-top baroque church. Bakeries along the route tempt you to gluttony. A location high above Lake Zurich usually means snow, not often the case in Switzerland's low-lying cities. The cuteness factor is ramped up with a huge nativity scene and a gingerbread museum, while carols in German and English drift from loudspeakers. Runs 11am-7.30pm daily (9pm Fridays and Saturdays), November 26 to December 4, 2016. See einsiedler-weihnacht.ch

MAERLISTADT, STEIN-AM-RHEIN

Maerlistadt means "fairy-tale town", and certainly the myriad lights and shopfront decorations provide something of a wonderland in what is already a very pretty old town of half-timbered, frescoed houses on the Rhine. Each year a different fairy tale is chosen as a theme. Kids will enjoy the miniature train and carousel, though you'll have to explain why Santa has ponies instead of reindeer. A medieval craft market also pops up in the courtyard of St George's Abbey over the second December weekend. Runs 11am-8pm daily (10pm Fridays and Saturdays), December 1 to 31, 2016. See maerlistadt.ch

See: Christmas markets in Germany

Brian Johnston was a guest of Cathay Pacific, Rail Europe and Switzerland Tourism.

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