It’s Christmas Time in Basel

Basel, Switzerland

I really like Basel.  It has a very solid, Germanic, clean, gently sophisticated, sensible air.  It wasn’t really a surprise, therefore that its Christmas markets had the same spirit.  We visited on a Sunday afternoon, and it was wonderful to see so many families out together.  It wasn’t noisy, it wasn’t even uncomfortable when there were crowds in crowded areas.  It was just very pleasant.

Basel claims to have the biggest Christmas market in Switzerland – but actually it’s two markets.  There are over 140 stalls, apparently, at Barfüsserplatz, and 40-odd at Münsterplatz, which is less than a five minute walk away.

Barfüsserplatz was rather crowded on Sunday afternoon.  The market goes around the Barfüsserkirche, a former Franciscan monastery church, which now houses a branch of the Historical Museum of Basel (Historisches Museum Basel).  There are lots of stalls selling food and drink, but there are also interesting stalls selling very reasonably priced glass decorations and fair-trade items.  It did get very busy and it required a certain amount of determination to get to look at the objects for sale, and honestly after a while I lost the will to battle – which was a shame, because I liked the selection of items that I did see.

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Barfüsserkirche surrounded by the market, Basel, Switzerland

And they have strange little people on the stall roofs that look like the Austrian actor, Paul Hoerbiger.

 

A rare lull in the Barfüsserplatz Market, Basel, Switzerland

A rare lull in the Barfüsserplatz Market, Basel, Switzerland

The platz itself has been used as market place from the 1300s onwards, selling different types of items over the centuries, so it seems appropriate that it’s used for such a big event now.  It’s also a picturesque site, with a higgledy-piggledy feel, which you don’t expect in the middle of a big city.

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Looking out over Barfüsserplatz, Basel, Switzerland

Santa is doing somersaults at the idea of getting some glühwein in Barfüsserplatz, Basel, Switzerland

Santa is doing somersaults at the idea of getting some glühwein in Barfüsserplatz, Basel, Switzerland

Münsterplatz is, strangely, less busy.  But then there are also fewer stalls.  Maybe because of the presence of the Märchenwald (Fairy Tale Wood) which is aimed at children, there were a lot more younger families.  It was lovely to see toddlers running around and young children having non-alcoholic (I presume) glühwein.  The square itself is also so picturesque that it’s nice just being there, soaking up the atmosphere.

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The red sandstone Cathedral at the Münsterplatz, Basel, Switzerland

A view over Münsterplatz, Basel, Switzerland

A view over Münsterplatz, Basel, Switzerland

At Märchenwald children can, among other things, make candles and decorations, and decorate gingerbread.  When I had a quick peek in there, I heard a lot of English being spoken, so I think it’s going to be suitable for Anglophone little ones.

Entrance to the mini-Märchenwald at Münsterplatz, Basel, Switzerland

Entrance to the mini-Märchenwald at Münsterplatz, Basel, Switzerland

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Riding the train around Märchenwald at Münsterplatz, Basel, Switzerland

One stand I was particularly taken with was dedicated to Springerle and Springerle moulds. These are biscuits flavoured with anise that can be found throughout Germanic lands, and they are extremely beautiful.  The wooden carved moulds are mini works of art, but it is extraordinary how the design can be transferred perfectly onto an edible little biscuit.  Not that I’ve eaten mine yet.  It’s far too pretty to be consumed.  Since it’s also just made of egg white, flour, sugar and anise, it can presumably last for ever.  I should have bought one to stick on the wall in the kitchen!  Lesson learned….?

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So In Summary

While the markets were not exceptionally exciting, and I would say they’re not worth travelling across Europe for, they were very nice to visit if you’re nearby, because they do offer a comprehensive Christmas market experience.  They’ve got the food, the glühwein, the cute stalls selling a good selection of traditional and random items.  It’s very calm and very family friendly.  So why am I a bit down on it?  Maybe because it lacks that magic that you want when visiting a Christmas market.  Perhaps visiting in the evening would have brought that sparkle, but as the night began to draw in, I wondered if that’s not what Basel does.  Basel does solid, reliable.  And actually, that’s no bad thing.

Practical Information

Basel prides itself on its Christmassyness.  The streets have pretty lights along them, and the shops have bright, classy festive displays which add to the joyful spirit in town.  There are various events going on: www.basel.com

Basel is also very good at marketing its events: you can pick up a comprehensive leaflet which shows you all the Christmas events going on in town.  It’s very helpful and clear, so it’s easy to navigate yourself using its map.

We went to the market on the 3rd December 2017.

How to Get There

The two markets are centrally located in the old part of Basel and it is possible to walk to them from the train station, but there are plenty of trams running close by; both these sites have information in English: www.blt.chwww.bvb.ch

To find out how to get there by train, www.sbb.ch is as useful as ever.  This also covers information about international trains to the city.

 

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