The bustling sounds of a Christmas marketplace mingle with the smell of gluhwein, hot cider, and melted cheese, as lights glow in the trees of the square and on the towering Christmas tree.
Welcome to the Basel Christmas Market, serving heavy doses of Christmas cheer, unique stalls and goods, and – most importantly- melted cheese in a variety of forms!
Where Is Basel?
The city of Basel is found on the northwest border of Switzerland, riiiiiiiiiight up near the border of Germany and France. (In fact, you can exit into any of these three countries from the Basel airport!)
Basel is squarely in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, though you will find many French and English speakers.
The city of Basel is absolutely beautiful, situated along the Rhine River, which cuts through the center of town. Classic, stately Swiss architecture features prominantly, and during the Christmas season, lights and decorated trees are set up around the city.
Speaking of which, it’s time to hit those markets! Let’s start with the basics.
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Where to Stay in Basel
Prices for hotels can really jump during the Christmas season, and they can sell out early, so I highly recommend booking your hotels as soon as possible. Additionally, Switzerland is just a more expensive country across the board, so just know even the “budget” options are not really cheap.
Here are a few great options for where to stay in Basel:
($$$) Les Trois Rois: This luxurious hotel in a historic building just oozes old world charm. The view over the river (including from the roof) is fantastic, and the decor and architecture seem like something right out of Napoleon’s time. Plus, the food served at the on-site brasserie is top notch!
⭐Rating: 9.3 of 10 stars, read reviews
Drinks at the Basel Christmas Market
Real quick, we need to talk about drinks – an integral part of experiencing a European Christmas market!
Around the markets, you can find drink stands selling various alocholic and non-alcoholic hot beverages. When you buy your drink, you also pay a small deposit for the cup it is served in. In Basel, the deposit was 5 CHF.
When you finish your drink, you can return the mug for your deposit back OR you can keep the mug as a fun market souvenir.
We collected mugs from all over Europe and brought them home with us – a fun souvenir that I see every time I open my cupboard doors (pro tip: when packing, stick each mug in a sock, and then place all the mugs in a carry-on duffel bag, padded with clothes).
Basel had a few different mug varieties, including a boot shaped mug and this cute blue mug you see above.
If you are keeping your mug instead of returning it for your deposit back, you can still go up and exchange the dirty one you just drank out of for a clean one (people were really nice when we did this – it seems like this is pretty common).
Truly, I found the mugs to be such a delightful part of the Basel Christmas market. It was one of my favorite aspects of all the European Christmas markets we visited!
Dates for the Basel Christmas Market in 2023
The Basel Christmas Markets will open on Thursday November 23, 2023, and close on Saturday December 23, 2023.
Opening times haven’t been announced yet, but in 2022, the markets were open from 11am-8:30pm daily, except for December 23, when the market closed at 8pm.
The Two Official Markets in the Basel Christmas Market
There are two Christmas market locations in Basel: Munsterplatz and Barfusserplatz. Here’s what each market is like.
Munsterplatz is located right next to the beautiful Basler Munster cathedral, with its red bricks and two spires. And, very appropriately, there is a mechanical clock and sundial on the face of the church.
The market itself has so much ambiance. It’s nestled among the trees of the square, with glowing decorations in the trees above.
Right outside the entrance to the market is a grand Christmas tree, and just inside the entrance is a large Christmas pyramid, a traditional fixture of European Christmas markets. This pyramid was particularly enchanting, as the figurines on it were mechanized and moved in creative ways – like a Santa who did flips on a gymnastics bar.
Pick up a drink at the bar under the pyramid to sip as you peruse the market – gluhwein (hot, mulled wine) is the most popular drink, but heiss chocolate (hot chocolate) or kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic cider) are also solid options.
This market had a great selection of handmade and interesting wares for sale, but it also had a lot of food options, including a few sit-down, almost restaurant style booths.
The market at Barfusserplatz features a bit more of a carnival feel and is more in the heart of the city. It features different types of decorations on the stalls with most being lined with garland and having various large decorations like stars, snowflakes, or Santas on top of the stalls. There was no church, large trees, or pyramid, though, but the stalls were very cozy.
The front part of the market almost exclusively sold goods, like Christmas decorations, treats to take away, and toys or jewelry.
Head to the back of the market to find the drinks and hot foods.
Other Spots to See in Basel During Christmas
Minster Basel Cathedral
This cathedral was built as a Catholic church but today is a Protestant church. It’s right next to the market at Munsterplatz, so it is easy to stop in as you are touring the markets.
Freie Strasse Street
One of the most beautiful streets in Basel at Christmastime, Freie Strasse boasts an archway of lights down this main street. It hosts several shops and banks. While it is pretty during the day, you definitely need to walk through after dark!
The Basel Town Hall is located to Marktplatz (it’s the cool red building in the picture!) and there’s also a big, beautiful tree in this square. It’s a pretty place to admire and take a picture.
Spalentor (the Gate of Spalen)
This tower is a remnant of the old city wall and is worth the 10 minute walk it takes to visit. First, the walk, especially the street it is on, brings you through charming parts of the city with fun Christmas decor.
The tower itself… well… towers over you and showcases a great blend of intricacy, function, and intimidation. It’s great at night, but it is also nice in the daytime as the pink color is delightful.
There are two other gates in the city, with St. Alban being the other gate close to the markets. (St. Johanns -Tor is a bit father away.)
What to Eat at the Basel Christmas Market
The fresh hot food offerings at the Basel Christmas market were second to none! Most of it centered, unsurprisingly, around cheese – I was in heaven. Here are the main players in the food game:
Fondue Stuffed Baguette
Melted cheese is stuffed inside a hollowed out baguette half and topped with crispy onions. If this isn’t the perfect market food, I don’t know what is!
Cost: 9 CHF
Not to be confused with quiche, these little tarts had a buttery crust and a baked cheesy interior. The version with the gruyere cheese was fantastic (I came back twice for one of these bad boys!)
Cost: 5.50 CHF
Raclette is a quintessential Swiss dish and a must-try at the Basel Christmas market. Raclette cheese is melted and then scraped onto a plate, where you eat it with sides such as potatoes (a must), pickles, and pickled onions. Don’t leave Switzerland without trying raclette!
Cost: 9 CHF
A classic Swiss dish – this egg “pie” is accented with onion to compliment the delicious cheese and flaky crust. Other common ingredients can include bacon or other vegetables (like spinach).
Cost: 6.50 CHF
Chimney cake is original to Hungary, but was common throughout German and Swiss Christmas markets. A sweet dough is wrapped around a metal tube and cooked, and then brushed with butter and cinnamon sugar – what’s not to love?
These fritters were fresh sliced apples, dipped in batter and fried, and then dusted with cinammon sugar. They were delicious!
Cost: 5 CHF
A “potato pancake”. This is a Christmas market staple – shredded potatoes are fried until crispy and golden brown and served with applesauce!
Cost: ~5 CHF
What to Buy at the Basel Christmas Market
You can find a huge variety of goods at the Basel Christmas Market, including Christmas decorations, ornaments, candles, pyramids, and nativitiy scenes and paper stars. There are also home goods, jewelry, toys and games, and other items of interest. Here is a sampling of types of goods you can buy:
Some Basics About Visiting the Basel Christmas Market
- There are no entrance fees to visit the Christmas markets.
- Currency in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc (CHF). 1 CHF is equal to 1.09 US dollars.
- People in Basel speak Swiss German, and many people also speak French. You will find that most people working with tourists will also speak at least some English.
- There are some stands that will accept card, but many places will just take cash. There are ATMs around the city, so it’s not hard to find a spot to pull out some francs. (And there are no ATM fees!)
- Weekends can get very busy, so if possible, visit the Christmas markets on a weekday.
- Each market had a free public bathroom you can use – plus, they were very clean!
Christmas Market Essentials
These are a few of the things I wore or brought with us for our Christmas market tour!
Wool Coat: Like most Christmas markets in Europe, the Basel Christmas market was chilly – I cozied up with this cute and affordable wool coat.
Pom-Pom Beanie: This beanie was cute and warm and comes in a variety of colors.
White sneakers: Comfy shoes are important – you’ll be putting a lot of miles in as you explore the markets. These are my favorite sneakers – they are so soft and cushy!
Green/Black skirt: If you want a fun, festive outfit, this skirt is perfect for the holidays.
Black Tights: These tights are thick and opaque and go well with any winter dress or skirt, or just as another underlayer.
Crossbody Purse: I always bring this cognac crossbody purse with me on trips – I keep it zipped and in front of my body to prevent pickpocketing.
Power Adaptors: Switzerland uses type C plugs, so if you’re coming from the US, you’ll need a power adaptor. This set is affordable and comes in a 3-pack – perfect so everyone can charge their devices.
Packing cubes: I LOVE using these packing cubes to keep all of my clothes and gear organized in my suitcase (is there anything worse than all your stuff mixed up after one day?)
Power Bank: Being out sightseeing and taking pictures all day can seriously drain your battery. I love this power bank because it gives us several charges and has a digital screen.
Travel Umbrella: If there’s rain in the forecast, this travel umbrella packs down small – easy to stick in a purse or backpack.
Traveling to Christmas Markets in Other Cities?
While you can easily take the train between many cities in Europe, for this trip we chose to rent a car and drive between towns (since we were going at a fast pace to visit other markets like the Luxembourg Christmas Market, the Colmar Christmas Market, and the Strasbroug Christmas Market).
Driving in Europe is straightforward, the roads are well-maintained, and the signage is easy to follow. If you want maximum flexibility in your Christmas market itinerary, then driving yourself around is your best option.
My biggest tip for renting and driving a car in Europe is book your rental car as early as possible– rental cars are in high demand and the prices go way up and the availability goes way down the closer you get to your travel dates.
👉We have found that we get the best prices and availability and options for rental cars on DiscoverCars.com – check prices here!
Where to Park in Basel
While you can definitely just walk and take the public transportation around Basel city center, if you are arriving by car, you’ll need to park somewhere. There are plenty of parking garages around the city, and they cost between 30-40 CHF to park per night.
Additionally, if you’re driving into Switzerland from another country (we were coming in from Germany after visiting the markets in Cologne and Trier), there is a 40 CHF “entrance fee” you will need to pay as you enter the country.
Basel is literally minutes from the German border, and there are free parking lots in Germany, so you could also park in Germany and take public transit into Basel. This is what we did, and it worked very well.
It actually was a pretty funny story because we arrived after midnight to the parking lot, so public transportation had ended for the day. We ended up walking the German to Switzerland border in the middle of the night, a situation that hearkened back to many a World War 2 novel I’ve read (except, for the small point that our lives weren’t in danger and the border wasn’t actually guarded. Details!)
You can find this parking lot at Dreilander Garten in Weil am Rhein – the city on the German side of the border. It is a free lot. There also appeared to be free parking on the street (Basler Strasse) as you approached the border, and we saw many cars parked here (ostensibly to do the same thing we were), but we weren’t able to confirm that it was free.
It appears that this is a common thing that people do, and was not actually an illegal border crossing (ha!)
Getting Around Basel
The areas that you will visit during the Basel Christmas Markets are all pretty walkable. However, as mentioned above, Basel does have a very well-developed tram system throughout the city. If you stay at the East-West Hotel or Les Trois Rois Hotel, you are given a complimentary Basel Card which includes free access to the trams.
The trams come very regularly and most stations have a screen saying when the next one will come, and the trams have screens listing the next stations coming up.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
Final Thoughts on the Basel Christmas Market
The Christmas markets in Basel were delightful and delicious, and the lights on the streets were enchanting. Make sure you peruse the city and markets during the day AND night to get the full experience that Christmastime in Basel has to offer!