As the snow begins to fall, covering the ground with a light dusting the sound of music can be heard playing softly in the distance.
It’s -1 degrees but, despite the cold snap, there is a distinctive atmospheric warmth. It could be the sweet smell of glühwein, or the soft glow of fairy lights strung throughout the streets, but the cosy sensation is undeniable. It’s Christmas time in Switzerland and it is pure magic.
If you were tasked with visualising a quintessential Christmas scene, you would likely conjure images of Basel in December. Reminiscent of a classic festive film, the town has all the hallmark characteristics of a whimsical yuletide scene. Narrow alleyways, hidden squares, and old world architecture offer a unique charm, highlighting the city’s rich historical past. In short, it is the perfect backdrop for the annual Christmas markets, which have been coming to life in late November since 1977.
The air, thick with the sweet scent of cinnamon, is also thrumming with a diverse array of accents. This is due to Basel's proximity to the point where the Swiss, German and French borders meet, making the city a colourful metropolis of people from far and wide.
Split across two locations, the market in its entirety is easily walkable, making it a wonderful way to explore Basel’s street life whilst ticking everyone off your gift list . The Münsterplatz markets are located opposite the Basler Münster cathedral, nestled among the town square with sweeping views of the Rhine. The Barfüsserplatz iteration is the larger of the two, positioned in the main square.
The market consists of over 180 wooden chalets, selling a variety of thoughtful wares, from edible to decorative. Delicate Christmas tree ornaments fashioned from felt, handcrafted pieces of jewellery, and one-of-a-kind wooden toys are just some of the eye-catching gifts to be found here.
Adopting a quality over quantity approach, Basel’s markets are slightly smaller in size to other European counterparts, but even more charming. A far cry from the mass-produced goods which are often synonymous with gifting season, local artisans and traders have poured their heart and souls into their products, and it shows.
Given the country’s affinity for sweets, it should come as no surprise that sugary delicacies are somewhat of a staple at Basel’s Christmas markets. A thick slice of stollen is sure to hit the spot; the dense fruitcake’s cross-section appearing more like a work of art, than a mid-afternoon snack. Equally, a trip to Basel isn’t complete without a generous serving of Basler Läckerli— the regions’ specialty spiced biscuit.
For cheese lovers, a traditional fondue is a must-have . Drawing in hordes of tourists annually in its own right, generous chunks of bread are dipped and twirled in bubbling pots of melted cheese, kept warm by a tabletop burner. While weaving through the markets, you can see several fondue pop-up restaurants offering a moment of respite from the winter chill with a truly hearty meal.
Before retiring for the evening, a visit must be paid to Rathaus Basel — the city’s 500-year old town hall. Here, you can view the towering Christmas tree adorned with lights so bright, they feel as though they could be seen from space. And, if you should find yourself overwhelmed with holiday spirit, seeking a moment of respite, this year has seen the creation of eighteen magical courtyards offering just that. Dotted throughout the city, these tranquil spaces are waiting to be discovered, allowing you to absorb the festive ambience in peace.
It is special touches like these which ensure Basel’ markets are in a league of their own in yuletide festivities offerings. Declared the ‘best Christmas market’ by European Best Destinations, the event runs from November 23 to December 23 and is a once-in-a-lifetime event for any festive lover.
Below, discover a few more unmissable stops during your time in Basel.
Refuel at Basel’s oldest tea house
Step back in time at Basel’s oldest coffee shop, Confiserie Schiesser. A fixture of the Marktplatz since 1870, this venue is a historic institution for anyone seeking a true taste of Basel. On the ground floor, you can find chocolates, truffles, and biscuits enclosed in glass, which stretches the entire length of the shop. Upstairs lies a traditional tea and coffee house overlookingthe Rathaus and market square.
Of course, coffee typically calls for something sweet to cut through the earthy acidity (especially if you’re ordering an espresso). While there is no shortage of delicious treats in the shop, it would be remiss to forgo a zimtsterne. This delicious, cinnamon star-shaped cookie is a delicacy in Switzerland, with no festive occasion complete without its presence. Confiserie Schiesser’s recipe for the sweet treat dates back over 150 years and has survived the test of time for a reason — it is simply delicious.
Experience the magic of Johan Wanner
As the world’s largest manufacturer of handmade Christmas decorations, there is no place more whimsical than the Johan Wanner store. Baubles descend from the ceiling, miniature trees line the walls, and every inch of the store is covered in festive decor. Wandering through is akin to being on a Christmas movie set where everything feels surreal and larger-than-life. Over its many operative years, Johan Wanner has decorated Christmas trees inside Buckingham Palace, The White House and The Vatican, so you can trust every design is in good taste.
Take a day trip to Fondation Beyeler
Showcasing both modern and traditional art, Fondation Beyeler is a fixture of the creative world, hosting an impressive series of events and exhibitions to excite viewers from all over the globe. Today, the collection comprises more than 400 classic modern and contemporary works, showcasing a range of artistic talent from the late greats to the up-and-comers.
Established in 1997 by the late Ernst Beyeler, who, at the time, was a co-founder of Art Basel and a prominent art dealer in Europe. The museum originally housed his private art collection from the likes of Monet, van Gogh, Picasso and Giacometti, and is now the most visited museum across Switzerland.
Interested in planning a trip to Basel? Find more details here.
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