If there is one thing that has been on my bucket list before even knowing what a bucket list was, it’s having a White Christmas.
My whole life I have pictured Christmas as having snow and being rugged up in big thick winter coats.
Christmas is kind of strange in Australia.
Don’t get me wrong. I love heat. I love having a summer Christmas. I’ve never had anything different until now.
It just never feels completely how it should.
Despite having summer Christmases, we are still raised with all the winter images of Christmas that exist elsewhere in the world.
Our Christmas carols dream about a White Christmas. Our Christmas imagery has snow. We use pine trees for Christmas trees. Santa comes on a sleigh… Everything is kind of… well, wrong.
Although BBQs are becoming more and more common every year, many people still have the more traditional roast and ham even though cooking a hot meal in 30+ degree weather sucks.
We don’t seem to have embraced new Christmas traditions as well as what you might think we should have by now.
If you are Australian, you’ll know what I mean. If you are not, you may find this strange.
In fact, just the excitement I saw on others’ faces in Australia when we said we were going to Switzerland for a White Christmas says a lot. It does seem like the proper way to do Christmas.
Although admittedly, growing up in Hobart meant there was a Christmas or two when there was snow on Mt Wellington at Christmas 😀
If you’d rather read about Christmas in Australia, check out this site.
Where to go for a White Christmas in Europe?
Once we decided we were going to have a White Christmas, it became about the where.
We quickly narrowed it down to Christmas in Europe. We wanted the romantic image of a little village surrounded by snow. We also wanted a full Christmas experience with Christmas markets and Europe is what we pictured. Most of the towns in Switzerland have their own local Christmas market, like Alsace where it is traditional.
With our kids in bilingual German education settings in Australia, we narrowed our choices to Switzerland, Austria and German which all seemed perfect since we also wanted Christmas in Europe in a destination that had Christmas markets and was likely to have snow.
We wanted a whole Christmas experience and all of these destinations seemed perfect.
White Christmas in Switzerland
I started by looking at Switzerland as the one image I had of Switzerland in my head was huge mountains.
Once I started researching Switzerland, it was decided. It sounded so beautiful and perfect and would deliver everything that we wanted from our Christmas in Europe.
We were concerned with the price – Switzerland sounded substantially more expensive than the surrounding countries – but it seemed silly to worry about spending a bit more once we were there for a once in a lifetime experience and with how much it costs to get there from Australia.
It was more important to us that it delivered a magical Christmas, exactly like the carols promised!
Our White Christmas in Switzerland experience
Switzerland totally delivered everything we wanted from our White Christmas and more.
That perfect Christmas image in our head was part of our everyday experience over our two weeks.
Switzerland Christmas markets were sometimes not as atmospheric as I would have liked but there are definitely some bigger, awesome markets which are just perfect. We did not make it to the Zurich Christmas market or Basel Christmas market, but the one in Montreux was our top pick.
Montreux definitely should be top of the places to visit in Switzerland at Christmas.
They have a whole Christmas festival which is just perfect.
We were able to ascend up to the mountains at Rochers-de-Naye where we could visit Santa Claus’ house and meet the big man himself.
We celebrated a Medieval Christmas at the famous (and beautiful) Chillon Castle.
We watched Santa fly over Lake Geneva in the evenings. You can watch him here:
And the Christmas market was just perfect.
Walking along Lake Geneva sipping vin chaud (hot wine), Christmas music playing, enjoying the Christmas market while snow fell around me is not something I will ever forget.
I would come back here every Christmas if my husband would let us!
You can read more about the Montreux Noel (Christmas festival) here.
Montreux was also where the kids first saw snow and we had great fun playing on the hotel terrace.
We visited many other places in the week and a half we had before Christmas Day including Geneva, Gstaad, Gruyere, Jungfrau Region and Bern.
Our Swiss Christmas took place in Leukerbad.
This town is in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of 1,402 metres so it had a good chance of snow on Christmas and, if it didn’t snow, there are two quick cable car rides up to surrounding mountains where it was incredibly unlikely we wouldn’t get to play in the snow on Christmas day.
The town is also known for its thermal baths and the idea of soaking in the thermal waters (you can see it here) combined with playing in the snow just seemed too perfect. I also liked that it seemed to attract local tourists more than foreign ones which I hoped meant for a less touristy Swiss Alps Christmas.
It was an absolutely perfect choice.
Given we had snow everywhere we visited in Switzerland, we definitely had not needed to worry about snow in Leukerbad. There was plenty of it. It was so much fun!
We spent Christmas Day sledding, eating and soaking in thermal baths. I really can’t think of a better way to spend Christmas apart from with family. If only they could have been there.
I’m not sure what traditional Switzerland Christmas Food is, but we had an absolutely fabulous lunch at the Waldhaus Restaurant.
My husband had their six-course Christmas lunch and the rest of us ordered off the menu. It was all fabulous.
All our time in Switzerland was perfect and it is a stunning country, just perfect for a winter vacation. Spending Christmas in Switzerland makes it even better and I highly recommend it.
Temperature in Switzerland
We saw our White Christmas as a once in a lifetime experience because we hate the cold.
I have spent years of my life travelling but I have rarely ever visited anywhere in winter. We always follow the sun and I’ve never spent time in a climate like a Swiss winter.
Friends from the northern hemisphere told me it would be fine and not as freezing cold as we imagined because everything is built to handle the cold much better than in Australia.
And they were right. In fact, my only complaint about the temperature in Switzerland is that it was far too hot in many of the places we stayed. I don’t know why hotels felt the need to heat the rooms to ridiculous temperatures but it was common. We started keeping windows and doors open to not overheat.
No one else seemed to have a problem though so I guess it may have been an Australian thing.
I assume we had colder temperatures than usual during our visit since we had snow the entire time except for the first day in some form. It did not bother us.
It is worth noting if you want a White Christmas in Switzerland that there definitely is not always so much snow.
I found it aggravating how many people (usually not Australians) had to point out that it was unlikely I would have a White Christmas when I said we were going to Switzerland to have one. So it is definitely not guaranteed.
However, with some research, you can definitely make it likely. Make sure you stay at high altitudes or with easy access to mountains.
The other thing is that a White Christmas to me is not just about the snow. It’s about the whole winter Christmas experience and you’ll get that with or without the snow.
But geeze the snow is awesome!
If you want more chance of snow, the best time to visit Switzerland is not until after Christmas.
What to take
One of the main reasons I have hesitated to visit a winter destination is because I had no idea what to pack.
Thanks to friends and the Aldi snow gear sale, we were able to navigate this and it really wasn’t as bad as I imagined.
Like everyone says, it’s all about layers.
We always wore long sleeved and legged thermals under everything. We wore good socks. We wore normal clothes and then a warm jacket or coat on top.
In the snow, the kids also wore snow pants. When it was colder, we wore beanies and gloves. We also had snow boots.
We bought most of the snow gear at the Aldi snow gear sale. It meant buying quite a while in advance but it was worth it.
For each of us, I tried to get:
- Snow jacket
- Snow gloves
- Snow pants (kids)
- thermals x 3
- Snow boots
That sale is crazy and, despite going to four different stores, I couldn’t get everything we needed. I did get most of it though and we found the gear to be very good.
Anything I missed, I bought from [easyazon_link keywords=”snow gear” locale=”US” tag=”simplerandsmarter-20″]Amazon.com[/easyazon_link]. I found it easier to buy from the US than from Australia.
Otherwise, we wore our regular clothes.
I highly recommend a compression bag for travelling with the snow gear. I bought this one and it was AMAZING how much space it saved. It must have compressed it to about 1/3 of the size.
The extra large one held all our snow gear for 5 people. If you are looking for a rucksack, here’s a guide.
For the long flight, I also recommend taking some entertainment for the kids of the electronic variety. It’s what keeps us sane when flying long haul! Here’s a list of some cool free apps you can download.
The Swiss rail network is extensive and impressive and we ummed and ahhed about taking trains to get around versus driving ourselves.
We weren’t particularly keen to drive in possible icy conditions when we had never done it before.
However, we also hated the idea of solely relying on public transport with 3 kids including a one-year-old and luggage – far more luggage than we would usually travel with due to winter clothes as well. It also troubled me that taxis were out for us – Car seats are required in taxis for kids up to 12 years old and we weren’t travelling with three car seats!!
It was a bit overwhelming to think about how we would get from train stations to hotels with luggage, kids and possibly horrible weather with no taxi fall back.
It’s also far more expensive to take trains than hire a car for a family. A one hour train ride for all of us is over $100 and that’s even with two of our kids being free (under 6’s are free as long as you are happy to have them on your lap – can’t say I am happy with that for a 5.5-year-old so we paid when seating was reserved).
I posted in a family travel group asking for advice and most people said train but now that we did a bit of both, I am so glad we hired the car. To the point where I wonder if the people replying had really taken trains in winter with lots of luggage and three young kids.
The trains are fabulous but it’s really tough getting a family and luggage on and off them. To the point of being very stressful. One of us would be holding the one-year-old so the other parent had to handle two suitcases, a large duffel bag, their usual backpack, a stroller and travel crib.
Yep, sounds fun, right.
Try getting that up and down stairs on a train while on a short stop and people are trying to get on as well. It would take a few trips while worrying the train would take off with our stuff and/or kids.
Road tripping was so much better!
It was much easier with a car.
We hired one from Sixt who I do not recommend.
It worked out ok in the end but we ended up spending a couple of hours at their offices waiting for them to sort out a car for us.
My husband can only drive automatic and, despite the fact that we had paid a couple of hundred dollars to book an automatic, apparently, that is no guarantee. You have to find some hidden comment field on their site and write automatic to get one.
I imagine that part was made up by the staff but whatever the truth, it was not a fun wait while we tried to work out what to do without a car. Eventually, they gave us a brand new one and waived the upgrade cost (can you believe they expected us to pay more?!).
I would not hire from them again.
On a more positive note, driving around Switzerland was fine. We mostly drove in snowy conditions and it was not an issue at all. We had no problems.
To say I loved our White Christmas in Europe is the biggest understatement ever.
It was awesome, fantastic, brilliant and, well, just perfect.
I loved every moment of Switzerland in winter. I could happily come back and do the same thing every year.
It was magical.
I’m sorry Australia. I love you, but your Christmases just don’t compare.
Have you ever had a White Christmas? Where did you go? What was it like? Or maybe you are lucky enough to have one every year?