When we decided to visit Basel, Switzerland in Winter, only one thing came to mind – Christmas Markets! We wanted to eat plenty of Raclette cheese and then wash it down with warm Gluhwein out of adorable themed cups. We spent 3 days in Basel during winter and fell in love with cute cobbled streets, the view along the Rhine and of course, the festive atmosphere. The Basel Christmas markets are everything you picture when you imagine traditional European Xmas markets and they are also one of the biggest in Switzerland.
So if you are planning a festive winter weekend in Basel, put on your Christmas jumper and grab yourself a cup of tea, as I share everything you need to know about before your visit.
A festive guide to the Christmas Markets in Basel
The Basel Christmas Market Dates
You will want to make sure you book your visit to the Christmas Markets across the correct dates. The Basel Xmas markets start from November 22nd until December 23rd, and between that time they are open everyday between 11am and 6pm.
The markets open on November 22nd with an official opening ceremony where the lights are usually turned on by an official member of the government. The evening usually consists of a live choir and other festive events.
We visited across the first weekend after opening, the main Christmas markets in Munsterplatz and Barfüsserplatz were open, along with many of the other festivities through out town, however the Märchenwald ‘festive forest’ was not yet open (usually opens one week later). Therefore if you want to experience everything being open, you may want to wait until mid way through the Christmas Market dates.
The benefits of visiting earlier in the season, we found, were the markets were not as busy as we assumed they would be closer to Christmas. During the day especially, we found we could easily browse the markets and not have to queue long amounts of time for food. But do return to the markets after dark, they are slightly busier but they have a much more festive feel.
Many of the stalls in the markets sell beautiful Christmas tree ornaments, therefore if you visit earlier in the season you can purchase some really unique ornaments to have on your tree that year.
The Basel Christmas market location
The two main Christmas markets in Basel are located are Munsterplatz and Barfusserplatz, which both located right in the city centre, at the festive heart of the old town.
The Markets at Munsterplatz are set in the historic town square over looked by the cathedral. In this square you will also find a magnificently large Christmas tree decorated by Johann Warner. At Munsterplatz, vendors offer goods from around the world, as well as from nearby Germany and France. Locally crafted pottery and glassware are also on sale through the various decorated huts.
The Barfusserplatz market is just a short walk away from the Munsterplatz. I felt this market was bigger, and had more stalls which sold food as well as the traditional Gluhwein (a spiced mulled wine served in an adorable commemorative cup). As well as the various stalls selling Christmas present ideas and delicate ornaments, in Barfusserplatz you can also buy an ‘Alpen Dog’ , a hot dog served with sauerkraut and a ton of melted Raclette cheese.
Due to its small size, Basel is extremely accessible by foot, however if you did want to catch a tram to the markets, you can alight at Barfusserplatz, which is directly outside the first market, and from here you can take a slight up hill walk to Munsterplatz market as well.
If you are a tourist in Basel and staying in a hotel you will receive a Basel Tourist Card. This card allows you free access to public transport across the city, as well as free public wifi and discount at various attractions across the city.
There are also smaller markets dotted across the city, however these are a collection of around 6-8 vendors, as opposed to the larger amounts in the two main areas. A smaller Christmas market is located on the opposite side of the Rhine River on Claraplatz in Kleinbasel, this one generally opens slightly later in the month than the two main markets.
So what do people do at the Christmas markets? – Eat, drink and be merry of course!
There is a wonderfully festive atmosphere throughout Basel in November and December, it is heart-warming to take in. Take time wondering through the markets looking at the thoughtful gift ideas and delicate ornaments, be sure to purchase a few for unique memories for your tree at home.
Be sure you to taste the Gluhwein, a traditional spiced mulled wine which is perfect for warming up on a chilly evening. The wine is served in a commemorative china cup which also makes for a great souvenir to bring home. When you first purchase your Gluhwein (average price 4 CHF, roughly £3) you will also be asked to pay a further 4 CHF, this is your deposit for the cup. Once you have finished you can either take back your cup in exchange your deposit or choose to keep the cup. As the cups are all the same across both markets, you can take it back to any beverage stall, which is good if you are planning on wandering through the markets while drinking it.
Another great souvenir can be obtained at the photobooths, these are dotted throughout the markets and they printed your photos with a special Basel Christmas Market themed background. Be aware, these machine only take cash and they do not give change. I would advise carrying cash on you in the markets, as many of the stalls do not take card.
The majority of food available in the Christmas markets is fast food. A wide range of food is available, including typical Swiss specialties such as raclette (melted cheese) with potatoes and Flammkuchen (pizza style bread). Sausages, pancakes, waffles and other baked items are widely available too. There are also vendors which sell chocolate and other sweet treats, which are perfect for either snacking or gifts.
Hotels near the Basel Christmas Market
Located in the lively centre of Kleinbasel, right at the Rhine River, East-West Riverside Hotel is just a short walk across the bridge from the Old Town of Basel and a 10-minute tram ride from the Messe Basel exhibition centre.
We stayed here and absolutely loved it. Our room had a riverside view meaning we had the stunning Rhine river directly in front of our window, which was especially beautiful at sunset. Despite being on the right side of the river (the main centre is on the left of the river), the city of centre of Basel is a short walk away and there is a tram spot located a few minutes walk away.
The hotel offers a continental breakfast which serves one of the best croissants I have ever had in my life – warm and filled with Nutella!
Overall, it is a really great moderately priced hotel which has recently been renovated.
Situated in the centre of Basel’s Old Town, on the banks of the Rhine, Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is one of Europe’s oldest city hotels, where such personalities as Napoleon, Elizabeth II, Pablo Picasso, Thomas Mann and others have stayed.
If you are looking for pure luxury during your stay then you will want to book into Basel’s only 5 star hotel – Les Trois Rois. The hotel also boasts a restaurant which has been awarded 3 Michelin stars and 19 Gault Millau points.
During Christmas lobby of the hotel is transformed with a floor to ceiling elegant Christmas tree while the rest of the room is dressed decorations fit for royalty. Even if you choose not stay at this hotel during your city break to Basel, I recommend visiting the lobby to take see the decorations.
Other things to do in Basel at Christmas
Visit Johann Wanner’s Christmas Shop
Address: Spalenberg 14, 4051 Basel, Switzerland
Johann Wanner is a contender for one of the most famous Christmas shops in the world. This particular Christmas decoration store supplies the Christmas tree ornaments to the White House, the Vatican and the Queen of England. We visited this store numerous times during our weekend in Basel, it is like walking into Santa’s grotto. In the store you will find just about any Christmas tree decoration your heart desires and best of all the shop is sectioned by colours.
Write your heart’s desires in the Basel wish book
In the courtyard of the Town Hall you will find the Basel wish book, each Christmas the book is brought out so visitors can fill the book with their private thoughts, wish-lists for Santa Claus and hopes for peace, love and good health. The book is collection of decades worth of wishes, therefore you will adding your desires to a piece of history. The book is also joined in the courtyard by a massive free standing Christmas tree.
Watch the Basel City Run
The Basler Stadtlauf (city run) is a unique experience which sees over 9000 participants run through the city. The date of this event changes each year, however it generally tends to be near the first weekend of the Christmas Market season. We were lucky enough to be in Basel for this event, Christmas music was played throughout the city and locals lined the street to cheer on the runners, there was such a great atmosphere and it showed the great sense on community which is present in the city.
Go decoration spotting
The entire city of Basel really seems to get into the Christmas spirit, therefore all the local retailers decorate their shops for the occasion. Take some time to wander around the streets and take in all the decorations, my favourite display was in the windows of the Toy Museum (Steinenvorstadt 1, 4051 Basel, Switzerland) – which is also the largest toy museum in Europe, spanning over 4 floors.
Take the Children to Märchenwald
Marchenwald is also known as the ‘festive forest’ and if you have young children, they will love it! In the festive forest kids are given the opportunity to make candles, decorate cookies, ride the fun train, forge metal objects and even visit a star workshop. The Marchenwald is an interactive forest designed for children to learn while getting into the spirit of Christmas.
Take in a view of the festivities from above
During the Advent period, the stairwell of the Basel Cathedral will be illuminated between 4 and 6 pm (from Monday to Friday only), providing a unique view over the Christmas lights in the city. Admission is priced at 5 CHF and the last entry is at 5.30pm.
Other fun things to do during your weekend in Basel during winter:
Winter is a great time to visit Basel, not only do you get to take in one of the largest Christmas Markets in Switzerland, you get to take in the festive atmosphere across the entire city. Visit the Basel Christmas Markets was a perfect opportunity to kick off the holiday season for me as well as pick up some special gifts for family and friends, and is one I would recommend for anyone who is deciding on where to go for the perfect festive weekend getaway.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Basel as a guest of Basel Tourism