Could there be anything more opulent than a Christmas tree covered in 7,000 glittering Swarovski crystal ornaments?
Anywhere else it might seem an ostentatious display, but it’s a rather fitting showpiece in Zurich’s Hauptbahnhof Christmas market, Christkindlimarkt, in Switzerland’s fashionable financial capital.
Divine boutiques on every corner sell cutting-edge fashion and designer homewares, while sharply dressed locals stroll through the markets, considering classic wooden toys, sumptuous chocolate or unique jewellery for Christmas gifts. There’s no tacky plastic rubbish here.
Starting my journey at the central station market, it reminds me of the traditional Christmas markets found across Germany, albeit with a Swiss twist.
Avenues of wooden huts surround the crystal Christmas tree, and spiced apple or orange punch is as popular as mulled wine (Glühwein).
I’m instantly drawn to a stall selling chäsmeischter, a hollowed out bread roll with molten cheese oozing from its centre.
It’s equal parts fromage heaven and lactose intolerance nightmare, and there’s certainly no dignified way to eat it. Following it with punch and fruit preserved in delectable chocolate, I realise I need to walk it all off.
So I step outside to explore what is, in essence, a whole-town Christmas fest. There are 10 markets across Zurich and each almost flows into the next as stalls line the streets.
Across the other side of the city, Sechseläutenplatz hosts the largest and is certainly a favourite with children.
They skip around me on their way to a skating path, a course running around a small house and along fir tree-lined alleys on the southern edge of the market. Adults clearly enjoy it too.
No Christmas kitsch here either, as the 100-odd stalls across the square have locally sourced designer and artisan goods on sale, alongside a surprisingly multicultural range of cuisine.
Aromas from curries, stir fries, burgers and pasta fill the air as I make a beeline for the fondue chalet, hoping to tuck into a raclette and beer. But I’m told that due to popular demand, tables need to be reserved days in advance.
I console myself with a hot chocolate as I leave to meander through Zurich’s old town. Narrow lanes invite exploration as they trickle down to the river off Niederdorfstrasse, where the oldest Christmas market in the city draws me in.
Chocolate, wine, boutique jewellery, clothes and souvenirs fill out this Christmas village, where I could easily spend an entire evening. However, there’s one more market I want to witness. One I’m told is firmly in the hearts of the locals.
Over the river at Werdmühleplatz I make it just in time for a truly unique event, Zurich’s singing Christmas tree. A dozen choristers take to a vertical triangle-shaped podium to serenade their audience with festive hits. It’s an enchanting end to my evening.
When it comes to location, it’s hard to beat the Marktgasse Hotel. Rising above Niederdorf market, the chic accommodation is a new addition to Zurich’s old town. Rooms offer fine views of the streets below, while the two restaurants and bar maintain the understated elegance of the hotel’s interior design. Doubles from Chf234 with breakfast.
Head straight to the cheese chalet at Zürcher Wienachtsdorf to get your fondue fix. It’s popular amongst locals, so book a table in advance. Raclette starts at Chf9.50, while a glass of beer is Chf6. Visit wienachtsdorf.ch
Once Zurich’s first movie theatre, Razzia is now a fine-dining restaurant with an interior that has been refurbished back to its 1920s heyday. Main courses range from Chf20-50.
Cabaret Voltaire on Niederdorfstrasse is a popular cocktail spot. Part museum devoted to Dadaism, which was born there 100 years ago, and part cabaret, it gets a bit raucous at night. Drinks start at Chf15.
Hidden away on the back streets of the Old Town is the Old Crow, serving some of the best cocktails in the city. Rare and forgotten mixtures are the order of the night, from the more than 1,500 spirits on offer. Drinks start at Chf15. Visit oldcrow.ch
How to get there
SWISS (swiss.com) offers flights from Cork and Dublin.