Shaped by art, this Swiss city celebrates the festive season at every turn, from award-winning markets to the scents of chocolate and mulled wine wafting through the air.
“We don’t fit in with the cliches of Switzerland,” says Natascha Martin, sales and marketing manager at This is Basel. “We offer an alternative to the ski slopes.” We meet Natascha at Restaurant Kunsthalle, a sophisticated restaurant in the city centre. As we hungrily tuck into our delicious meals — pumpkin soup and venison deer — Natascha dives into the city’s charms.
“This year, selected courtyards across Basel will be transformed into a peaceful Christmas oasis,” she explains. Set apart from the city’s shopping streets, these courtyards, situated in Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, will be inviting locals and tourists alike to enjoy its luminous setting.
December will also see Theatre Basel put on a free 30-minute performance daily until Christmas Eve.
After our meal, we meet our guide Margrit by one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Tinguely Fountain, and begin our journey through the Old Town.
There are Christmas trees in every direction, while the cathedral cloister stands out brightly, covered in lights to signal the coming of Christmas.
As the light faded, we headed off to Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz and found that the latter was littered with people, music and the scent of mulled wine.
The Basel Christmas market was named the Best Christmas Market in Europe (2021) by European Best Destinations — and for good reason. From chocolate churros to a baguette filled with fondue cheese, it really is a foodie’s paradise.
First port of call on our list was the Kunstmuseum Basel, which houses the oldest public art collection in the world. There are hundreds of pieces here that will take your breath away, from biblical depictions by Noel Bellemare to portraits by Vincent van Gogh.
Our next stop was Novartis Campus, reached by walking along the banks of the Rhine, and it’s by this river that you can truly appreciate the unique blend of culture that Basel stands for.
The Novartis Pavillon is home to a wealth of information — among the highlights is the interactive ‘Wonders of Medicine’ permanent exhibition.
On our way back towards the Old Town, we made sure to stop by Johann Wanner Christmas House & Swiss Souvenirs. As the largest Christmas decorations shop in the world, it’s no wonder that Johann has previously supplied the White House with his ornaments.
Dining in Switzerland offers a hugely varied experience, no doubt due to its central European location. You can choose whether you’d like to visit Germany, France or Italy by means of your culinary selection. We chose Italian in the end — fabulous pasta and wine at Osteria Little Italy.
Our final stop was the Basel Wish Book, which has been part of the city’s festivities for the past 20 years.
In the inner courtyard of City Hall, locals and tourists line up to write down their wishes for the New Year, and most pages are filled with hopes for peace, love and happiness. It’s this type of unique tradition that gives Basel a very special festive charm.