Located right at the intersections of France, Germany, and Switzerland, Basel is a fairly easy visit on European travels. It's just train ride from other major cities like Zurich, Bern or Lucerne, plus, it’s not as expensive as its other costly Swiss counterparts like Zürich and Geneva. However, seeing this third most populated city in Switzerland in the summertime is a much more appealing thought as far as I’m concerned. As we walked along the Rhine River, I shivered from the cold breeze while trying to imagine the city in warmer weather. Our tour guide was telling us how people really take advantage of the water in the summer, relaxing along the banks and dipping into the Rhine. Looking at the river now in the cold month of December there was hardly any activity, but it provided a calm and beautiful view of the city, waiting until the weather warms up to be used as more than a backdrop once again.
I’m not fond of winter travel in general. It’s not just the cold that I despise, but also all the extra clothes that I have to pack practically doubles the size of my wardrobe. Jackets, beenies, gloves, scarves. It all becomes baggage burden to me. However, the holiday festivities during these cold months more than makes up for the trudging around with loathsome winter gear.
We were visiting Basel right before Christmas and the New Year and Basel’s holiday spirit aided in lifting mine. The city really kicks it into gear for Navidad. The Christmas market scene in Basel occupies two of the main squares, Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, and is considered the largest in the country. Though many stalls sell unique crafts and various knick-knacks that would make perfect last minute holiday gifts, Auston and I had our sights set on consumption and gluttony. Show us the food and drink please! There is absolutely nothing better than glühwein in the evening during the winter. Pair it with a fondue (a Swiss specialty) filled bread loaf as we did and you are in gastronomic heaven!
Basel is also the home of Johann Wanner’s Christmas House and Christmas Parlour, stores dealing in the – you guessed it – Christmas business! Christmas House is open year round and packed with all the decorative goodies you could possibly imagine. His world renowned Christmas decor has blessed famous sights like the White House and the Vatican. He is proof that Basel knows how to do Christmas right. We were walking in the historic district of Basel when our tour guide spotted him coming down the street and introduced us. He has a loving grandfatherly-like attitude and bubbly personality. His joyous outlook and welcoming spirit are like the products he sells – filled with holiday joy and Christmas spirit! With a friendly smile he passed along his card to us and continued on his way. Of course, we had to check out the Christmas Parlour after that!
Aside from the Christmas scene, Basel a very walkable city but still provides a great tram network as well which we took full advantage of. It’s a perfect city to explore on your own as it’s no trouble to get around and it’s wonderful to get lost in the side streets and to admire the architecture of the old town and even contemporary designs around the city as well. Basel was largely undamaged during WWII so its historic buildings are well preserved considering.
If you need to cross the river, there are 4-5 ferries located between the bridges that will take you across without a motor as they are attached to a line and use the current to steer. It’s a fun and peaceful way to make the short journey. Eventually your own two feet will guide you to the Basel Minster as it’s red sandstone exterior and towers mark it’s location among the cityscape quite clearly. We popped in here with our tour guide and of course we wanted to know how old it was. Questions like these always seem to have the “it depends” sort of answer. Because it does depend. With many historic sights being destroyed in wars, from fires, natural disaster, or being remodeled with large additions, how old the building is technically depends on what part of the building you’re looking at. The cathedral in Basel was built between the 12th and 15th century. In 1356 it was destroyed by an earthquake, then rebuilt and in 1421 it was extended. The final southern tower was completed in 1500.
Having visited the cathedral and toured a bit of the historic district of the city and its main squares, we were really enjoying the charm of Basel which was enhanced even further by the intense splashes of Christmas throughout. A perfect way to end the day of sightseeing in the winter time was obviously to buy freshly roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and jump on the tram back to our hostel. Nestled in jackets and scarves, we munched away at our deliciously warm snack while we admired the city center through the window. Perhaps my negative view of winter travel is a bit skewed. After all, who could complain about Christmas markets, glüwein, holiday decorations, and freshly roasted chestnuts? Only the Grinch! And I’m quite sure that as long as Johann Wanner, Mr. Christmas himself, lives in Basel the Grinch is most certainly unwelcome.
Have you ever wanted to visit Basel? What’s you’re top Switzerland destination? We want to know so share with us in the comments!