After arriving at the Main Station and getting settled into my hotel, I spent the first day walking thru Zurich and getting to know the city.
Augustinergasse (pictured top right) is an old medieval lane or narrow street, in the pedestrian zone of Zurich, filled with shops and beautiful buildings. As you walk thru the neighborhood, you’ll come upon St. Peter’s (bottom left) which is one of the oldest parishes in Zurich and its clock face is the largest in Europe. You can see the beauty of the Romanesque-styled Grossmünster Protestant Church. Although I didn’t go inside, it’s said to house some beautiful stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti.
One thing you should make a point to see in Zurich are the Giacometti Murals at the Zurich Police Station. Referred to by the locals at “Blüemlihalle” (Hall of Little Flowers), the entrance to the station is a small room with beautiful murals painted by Augusto Giacometti between 1923-1925. There’s no fee to see them, you just have to let them hold your ID/passport for the few minutes you’re there. And, unfortunately, you can not take pictures, but you can see some photos and read more about it here.
Another place worth the visit but where I wasn’t able to get photos is The Fraumünster Church, which sits across the river from the Grossmünster. It also houses some stained glass by Giacometti, and some by Marc Chagall. I was able to sneak a peek while they were setting up for an event and they’re quite beautiful.
Christmas Markets – Niederdorf (Old Town)
Cost: FREE for Christmas Market, $30 for Raclette dinner at Fondue Alp
As the evening started to fall and the lights started to come up, Zurich began to sparkle. In the Old Town area, or Niederdorf, the Christmas Markets started just outside the door to my hotel! As soon as I stepped out, I was surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christmas. A short walk away is the Fondue Alp Zwingliplatz, a pop-up chalet restaurant where I had my first raclette dinner – melted cheese served with small potatoes, pearled onions, and gherkins. Can’t really go wrong with a dinner plate of melted cheese!
Christmas Markets – Werdmühleplatz and City Markets
Walking across the bridge, the lights reflected off the river and made the night glow.
I had the most fun at the Singing Christmas Tree at Werdmühleplatz Christmas Market. Essentially, it’s a tiered stage set up in the middle of the square and every night different choirs sing carols to the crowd. There was a Children’s Choir there that night and they were so cute! The crowd, which I’m sure were a lot of parents and grandparents of the young singers, was full of energy and in good spirits. It was a wonderful way to get into the Christmas spirit and start the season.
From there, I walked over the City Christmas Market. All along the way, lights hung from above creating a sparkly, magical feel to the night.
Illuminarium Light Festival
Cost: Free (to enter the courtyard, extra for the sound & light show)
In the courtyard of The National Museum Zurich (Landesmuseum Zurich) is a delightful explosion of color and lights called Illuminarium. You can visit the courtyard to enjoy the gorgeous bright lights for free but there is a bigger sound & light show happening for a fee if you’re interested. There are also some restaurants and food/drink stalls here and I bought a Bailey’s spiked hot chocolate to warm up on a cold December night.
Cost: $11 train ride (Round Trip)
The next morning, I took a train ride up to Uetliberg. It’s about a 30-minute train ride, then once you reach the station, you take another 10-minute walk uphill…
…and at the top, you are rewarded with these amazing views!
At the top of the hill, is a hotel and restaurant, but you are welcome to just walk around the area, climb the tower if you wish and enjoy the views all around. They even had a few ice sculptures and decorations on some of the trees!
Zurich City Streets and Äss Bar
Cost: $3 for treats
Back in the city, I was looking for an inexpensive lunch near the hotel and found some cheap treats at the Äss Bar, (do note the two dots over the A!). Essentially it’s a day-old bake shop – they have pastries and take away sandwiches at a reduced price but not reduced quality. I spent just $3 for my stuffed pretzel and almond croissant!
Also, I quickly learned, when walking thru the city, always look up, you never know what you’ll find! Check out these cute decorations in some of the patios above the street.
Kunsthaus Zurich Museum of Art
Cost: FREE on Wednesdays!
After lunch, I went to the Kunsthaus Museum. I didn’t realize at first just how large it was! The collection here spans the middle ages to contemporary art with an emphasis on Swiss artists. It was interesting to see the Giacometti Collection. They also had a room with three of Monet’s Water Lilies – this was especially beautiful. (And, now that I’ve also seen them in Paris at the Musée de L’Orangerie which is super crowded, I appreciate just how amazing it was I could look at them at my leisure with only one or two other people around.)
I found a new piece I liked by Henri Matisse – a study of four sculptures done over the years of a woman leaning against a wall. It was really interesting to see the differences and changes in both the work itself and his work as an artist.
They had some colorful paintings by Marc Chagall, a Mondrian, a couple of Warhol works (including one of the early Soup Cans) and the usual assortment of Picasso, van Gogh, Magritte, Gaugin, Cezanne, Kandinski. There was a room filled with Edvard Munch – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much of his work in one place before. There were a number of rooms I didn’t see as I was getting overwhelmed – the museum was huge and I found myself constantly lost!
Outside, they also had one of Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which I’ve now seen in Paris, Philadelphia, and Zurich.
But the best part, on Wednesdays admission to the main collection is FREE for everybody! (Special Exhibits may have a separate fee.)
Main Station Christmas Market
Cost: FREE for Market, $8 for Brat
Now that evening was approaching, it was time to visit some more Christmas Markets. There’s a Christmas Market inside the Main Train Station in Zurich and the centerpiece to this one is the Swarovski Christmas Tree, beautifully decorated with Swarovski crystal ornaments from the current and previous years.
Zurich’s “Wienachtsdorf” at Sechseläutenplatz
(Zurich’s Christmas Village at the Opera House)
My final Christmas market was at the Zurich Opera House. Staged just in front of the building, it includes a merry-go-round and ice skating rink, in addition to the food and market stalls. Plus, the year I went (2017) they held FREE mini-concerts (15-20 minutes) inside the entrance of the Opera House every day in December!
Cost: Single Room $160
During my visit, I stayed at the Hotel Adler (this is not a sponsored post, just sharing information on where I stayed). My room was quite small but very cozy. It was a couple of floors above street level so I didn’t have too much noise from the crowds at the Christmas Market below. The room was set up with the usual coffee/tea tray but also included a fridge they stocked daily with 2 bottles of water (flat and sparkling) at no charge. Also included in the price was a pretty robust free breakfast buffet – this came in handy as my jetlag had me up before 6am every day, well before anything nearby was open.
What do you do with the spare Swiss Francs in your pocket before you’re about to leave Switzerland? Buy candy at the kiosk for your train ride of course!
Itinerary and Budget
Here are my final itinerary and budget for my visit to the Christmas Markets in Zurich:
My budget has been translated to USD, based on my final credit card charge or a google conversion where I paid in cash.
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I love christmas markets! Uetliberg looks like such a winter wonderland. Can’t believe that this itinerary costs only $250! Candy is always a good idea. I collect candy from wherever I go.
Yes, I think candy is going to be my new go-to souvenir!
You are right about the Giacometti at Fraumunster Church – and you saw more Giacometti at Kunsthaus Museum! Good tip about the free Wednesday admission for everybody. Christmas Markets are popping up all over Europe. The Illuminarium Light festival must really steal the show, though.
Nice assortment of sweets – fizzy candy is my weakness.
The fizz candy was a lot of fun! I would definitely get it again.
My mouth is watering. I miss the breads in Switzerland so much. I have never visited in winter but this looks so amazing, those snowy hills, I can just picture myself sledding down the hills.
Oh, that would be so much fun to go sledding here!
This is awesome, Switzerland is on of our favourite places in the world but it can be bloody expensive. However I visited Basel myself for a long weekend and was able to do it on a budget so it just proves that if you are sensible, budget and plan out what you do then it is so possible. Also, what better place to see Christmas markets!
Yes, just takes a little thought and planning, but it can be done with a budget! I’ve heard Basel is beautiful – hope to see it one day!
Christmas markets are always fun as they are very vibrant and creates the whole atmosphere very festive.
Illuminarium Light Festival in the courtyard of museum is very illuminating and I would love to see lights and this light festival looks similar to Indian festival – Diwali. Thanks for sharing all tips about Zurich’s Christmas markets.
I agree – there is such joy at all of the markets, it’s adds to the festiveness of the season.
What an interesting post this is. You are so right…one need not always splurge to have the best experiences. Zurich is so pretty and festive in all the pictures.
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! It was such a fun experience, I’m glad that comes across in the photos!
I’ve been wanting to see the Christmas markets in Europe for ages. (I’ll be spending it here in Colombia this year, so perhaps next year!) I’ve never been to Zurich, so this gives me even more motivation to get over there. I love all the decorations, art exhibitions, and mountain views. The Ass Bar would definitely have caught my eye. 😛 The opera house also looks gorgeous!
Zurich was so pretty, I hope you get to spend Christmas there one day soon!
I spend a lot of time in Zurich for work and I really do love the place but gee it is super expensive. I think it is great that you were able to do it for $250 very impressive. I have never seen the Christmas Markets in Niederdorf (Old Town) they sound and looks so pretty and I am definitely going to see them next time.
The Old Town area was my *home* while I was there, and it was so cool to walk right into the market when I left the hotel!
This sounds like a fun itinerary. We love visiting markets when we travel, and Christmas markets would seem so festive! The art museum and the train ride also seem intriguing to me.
It was such a fun visit!
Zurich has been on my bucket list for so long! The markets here look amazing – thanks for sharing!
The markets were great fun – definitely worth the visit!
Wow, I thought you’d pay that for a hotel night in Zurich alone!!! Good to know it’s possible to visit cheaper – those Christmas lights look enticing!
There certainly are plenty of hotels that would cost that – and more! I so enjoy when I find a cool place to stay and still enjoy a weekend away without breaking the bank.
Amazing how much you can do in one day! The light festival itself looks worth the trip…
There was SO much to do in Zurich and so many things I’ll have to get to next time!
That snow-covered hike–it looks amazing! I never considered traveling to Europe in the winter, but you’re making it look like an enticing option! Oh, Christmas markets!
I was a little worried about the weather but got lucky in that regard. It did get chilly and a little windy, but definitely was manageable and could still walk around comfortably.