Weekend in Basel

December 2-4, 2022

The older I get, the more and more excited I seem to get about Christmas decorations and the holiday season in general. I try to buy at least one ornament on each trip, which has been a fantastic way to help us remember our travels over the years, but my absolute favorite places to find new holiday decorations are the Christmas markets that pop up in cities and towns across Europe each season. We had to cancel our 2021 Christmas market trips due to the Omicron variant breakout, so I was more than ready to finally head to Basel over the first week of December to experience its legendary Christmas market scene.

Basel is an absolutely charming city located on the Rhine River in the northwestern corner of Switzerland — it’s so close to the French and German borders that its airport, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, serves all three countries and you can actually exit from the airport to either France or Switzerland. This unique location makes it a particularly international-feeling city with equally strong French, German, and Swiss influences and it was very easy to navigate. Basel has been one of Europe’s most important cultural and commercial hubs since the Renaissance era, and its rich history has been phenomenally preserved in the architecture of its medieval old town and in the 40+ museums spread throughout the city-canton, including the Kunstmuseum, which houses the oldest public art collection in the world.

In addition to being the cultural capital of Switzerland, Basel is famous for being one of the most beautiful European cities to visit during the Christmas season. The official Basel Christmas Market is spread between Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz in the heart of the Old Town, but the entire city was elaborately decorated and absolutely brimming with Christmas spirit. It was absolutely freezing outside, but we had a wonderful weekend exploring all that “Basler Weihnacht” had to offer and I would highly recommend it as a stop on any European Christmas market tour.

If you’re planning a trip to Basel, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in Switzerland.

Food & Drink

  • Schlüsselzunft: We had a fantastic dinner at a restaurant located in a 14th-century building in the Old Town that was originally the meeting place for the city’s powerful merchant guild known as the Zunft zum Schlüssel, and is still home to the Zunft zum Schlüssel, the most prominent of Basel’s four modern guilds. We sat on the ground level and had a fantastic view of the stunning ceramic oven in the center of the room as we enjoyed an excellent tasting menu, wine pairing, and exquisite service.
  • Restaurant Gifthüttli: This cozy, bustling, restaurant in the Old Town serves traditional Swiss specialties, including a seemingly endless list of different types of cordon bleu. We enjoyed a buttons-bursting lunch and a few pints of Swiss beer here on Saturday, and it was the perfect way to warm up before heading back out to the Christmas Market.
  • Holzofenbäckerei Bio Andreas: There are a few storefronts for this quirky bakery throughout the city, but we went to the Spalenberg location both mornings. The menu was pretty extensive for a café, but we both went with the obvious (and delicious) choice of coffee and pastries.
  • Läckerli Huus: Basler Läckerli is a traditional type of hard spice biscuit that tasted kind of like (a very hard) gingerbread made with honey and nuts. Although these cookies have been a Basel specialty for several hundred years, Läckerli Huus has been the clear market leader since it opened at the turn of the 20th century. There were plenty of storefront options throughout Basel, but the airport shop was definitely the best place to buy biscuit tins for gifts/souvenirs.
  • Didi Offensiv: Our trip happened to coincide with the World Cup Round of 16 matchup between the U.S. Men’s National Team and the Netherlands, so I had to scramble to find a sports bar. Thankfully, this awesome pub owned by two football fanatics on the Kleinbasel side was the perfect place to comfortably watch the game (albeit with German game commentary and surrounded by Dutch fans).

Activities & Attractions

  • Basler Münster (Basel Minster): Originally a Catholic cathedral, the gigantic, twin-spired red sandstone church in the heart of Basel’s Old Town was built between 1019 and 1500 and today serves as a Reformed Protestant church, as well as the burial place of one of Basel’s most famous historic residents, the Dutch philosopher and Catholic theologian Erasmus of Rotterdam.
  • Basler Rathaus (Basel Town Hall): The 500-year-old red sandstone building reigning over Marktplatz is the seat of Basel’s government. During the Christmas season, the courtyard is also home to a gigantic Christmas tree in addition to a charming tradition known as the Basel Wish Book, a huge book where locals and visitors can add their wishes for the advent season. The fresco-adorned ceilings made it particularly beautiful and unique, and much more interesting than the average municipal building.
  • Basel Christmas Market: The Basel Christmas Market was comprised of ~160 rustic wooden chalet-style stands spread across two locations in the Old Town. In addition to all the artisans and vendors selling all kinds of gifts, souvenirs, and decorations, there were plenty of classic Swiss foods and drinks to indulge in, including raclette, the infamous “fondue dog” (basically a baguette filled with fondue), waffles, Baseler Läckerli cookies, and Glühwein (mulled wine).
    • Münsterplatz: The large square in front of the beautiful, twin-spired Basler Münster was the perfect setting for a magnificent, gigantic Christmas tree decorated by the local ‘King of Christmas’, Johann Wanner. We thoroughly enjoyed rösti (potato pancake) and some mulled wine, as well as the beautiful ceramic decorations we bought, but the real attraction of this part of the market was its ambiance and tasteful decoration. All of the rustic vendor stalls were ornately adorned with lots of fairy lights and tinsel, and many of them were topped with elaborate mechanical decorations.
    • Barfüsserplatz: The second-largest market was on Barfüsserplatz, which is at the intersection of a bunch of the main tram lines and therefore was quite a bit busier than Münsterplatz. This market was more focused on selling gifts, decorations, and homewares and the ambiance was less cozy, but it was still very ornately decorated and also had several carnival-style attractions to offer.
    • Adväntsgass im Glaibasel: The third “official” part of the Basel Christmas Market was actually located across the river from the Old Town on Rheingasse in Kleinbasel. This area was much more lowkey and focused primarily on food — it was really cool and well worth the walk across the Rhine, but it was more of a food truck street with festive decorations vs. a traditional Christmas market.
    • Johann Wanner Christmas House & Swiss Souvenirs: Although it’s not technically part of the Basel Christmas Market, this deceptively large store along the picturesque Spalenberg is home to the world’s largest manufacturer of handmade Christmas ornaments. Johann Wanner has been making hand-blown and hand-painted decorations (and other Swiss souvenirs) for 50+ years, as well as decorating Christmas trees for celebrities, world leaders, and royalty across the globe. The store was SO crowded and a bit overwhelming, but it was actually by far the best place to buy memorable, Swiss-themed Christmas ornaments.

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