Last December, Ian complained to me that he wasn’t feeling very Christmassy. So this year, I decided to take him to Christmas.
For his birthday present last May, I booked us December flights to Basel (pronounced Bar-sel), a Swiss city that sits on the border of France and Germany. (Side note for geography fans: The airport is technically in France, and there are three separate exits to three different countries. My mind is still in awe of this fact.)
So what made me choose Basel? Well, three reasons: Firstly, after reading on countless websites that the city had one of the biggest and prettiest Christmas markets in Switzerland, it was a no-brainer. I also read that you receive a free card for travel around Basel when you stay in one of the city’s hotels, which made it an affordable option. And then neither of us had been to Switzerland before either, so it was a good opportunity to explore somewhere a little different in the lead-up to Christmas.
Christmas markets in Basel
Good news: it turns out that Basel takes Christmas very seriously.
For starters there’s the Christmas markets, spread out across Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz in the heart of the city centre. Many people come to the city for these two markets alone, and with over 180 stalls in rustic wooden sheds it’s not hard to see why. We had approximately 149753 looks around both markets but we didn’t buy all that much – it turns out that they weren’t lying when they said Switzerland is expensive! Nonetheless, I loved wandering around the stalls, speaking to the sellers about their wares, and mentally spending my way into my overdraft…
The markets are a few minutes’ walk from each other, so it’s more than easy to cover both in one day. My favourite of the two was Münsterplatz, purely because of its gigantic Christmas tree outside Basel Minster. There was also a Märchenwald (festive forest) section for kids with interactive workshops, a giant advent calendar and a tiny train that weaves its way around the stalls.
While I was a little bitter about the fact I’m over 20 years too old to take part in the Märchenwald festivities, there was one big bonus of visiting as an adult – the glühwein! Both markets have various stalls selling commemorate Basel mugs. When you first get your glühwein, you have to pay for the drink as well as a 4 CHF (roughly £3) deposit to cover the mug- however, if you return your mug you’ll get that money back. Naturally we took ours home as a little keepsake of our Christmas getaway…
Both Christmas markets had food choices aplenty, mostly focused around cheese and bread. At Barfüsserplatz we tried a fondue hot dog, which is effectively just a hollowed out baguette filled with melted cheese. I had no idea that fondue was made using white wine, and I sadly found the taste a little sharp for my liking. Nevertheless, I persevered in the name of cold winter evenings and a hungry belly!
At Münsterplatz we booked a table at Wacker Fonduestübli for our very own fondue for two on the Sunday night. It was one of the cosiest spots we found in Basel, dressed up like an Alpine ski lodge with gingham fabric and wooly blankets everywhere. At £38 for two people, the price of the fondue wasn’t obscene, although it definitely felt like it at the time because we had misread the menu and had only budgeted for half that! However, we definitely got our money’s worth with the amount of cheese and bread we were given.
One thing I did appreciate was the fact that both Christmas markets wrapped up in a timely manner (8:30pm each night to be precise). Once you’ve had your last glühwein you can head back to your hotel for an early night – or onto one of the bars or restaurants dotted around the city centre.
Other Christmas spots around Basel
Christmas in Basel isn’t just confined to the markets. In fact, you’re left in no doubt about what season it is as you wander around Basel, with Christmas trees propped up against the walls practically every 10ft.
Most of the shop windows get in on the Christmas action too, including the dollhouse museum (Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel) which had seasonal scenes mapped out with teddies and dolls.
Talking of museums, another one not to miss is Hoosesaggmuseum, which is quite possibly one of the smallest museums you’ll ever see. It’s definitely the smallest museum in all of Basel, hidden in the Imbergässlein near Marktplatz. You have to be feeling especially observant to find it, as it’s quite literally just a shop window. The residents of the house itself regularly change the display so that it’s seasonal, and it’s worth stopping by to see what they’ve done with it!
Not far from Barfüsserplatz you’ll find Johann Warner – one of the most famous Christmas shops in the whole world, which provides Queen Elizabeth and the White House with their tree ornaments.
Open all year round, the shop sells traditional, fun, wacky Christmas baubles in a variety of colours and price ranges. You could literally find a bauble for just about anyone there, whether their interest be dogs, food, flowers, or even Star Wars…
Fun fact – Johann Warner also provided the decorations for the big tree that features in Münsterplatz, as seen from the top of the Basel Minster:
Across the river and into the ‘cheaper’ side of Basel (their words, not mine. It’s definitely no Poundland), we found a pop-up area in Rheingasse selling drinks and nibbles. We popped into the festive wagon for a cup of tea (me) and a pint (Ian), and the lady who worked there gave us lots of recommendations on food to try and museums to go to.
Another spot you definitely should not miss out on is the Town Hall in Marktplatz. You can’t miss it – it’s a bright red building covered in elaborate paintings. It was the sound of live Christmas music that drew me in to its inner courtyard, and when I did I let out the biggest gasp – the Christmas tree was one of the most beautiful I’d ever seen! With its gold and red colour scheme, and simplistic design, it was my idea of a perfect tree. It was at this point that my festive feeling really kicked in for the season!
Also in the courtyard is the Basel wish book which invites everyone – tourists and locals – to write their hopes, dreams and Christmas wishes. While I popped my Christmas wish list in (lots of cats, naturally), Ian left our mark by drawing our little faces.
I loved our time in Basel. It did just the job of getting both Ian and I into the festive spirit, and I’m definitely on the opinion that a Christmas weekend away needs to be an annual thing for us!
I’d definitely recommend Basel for a long weekend away during the Christmas season. To sum it all up for you, here are my 9 must-see/must-do/must-eat recommendations for experiencing Christmas in Basel:
- Barfüsserplatz market
- Münsterplatz market
- Fondue/fondue hot dog
- Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel
- Johann Wanner Christmas shop
- The inner courtyard of the Town Hall
Other blog posts to read
I’d definitely recommend giving these blogs a read before you head to Basel:
- An extensive and festive guide to the Basel Christmas markets – Yoko Meshi
- Where to eat in Basel, Switzerland – Adventures of a London Kiwi
- Basel, Switzerland: A haven on the Rhine – While I’m Young