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26 December 2017


the funny thing about basel is, we weren't entirely sure which country we were in for some time after we landed. in the airport, the signs were all in french and german - and english, and there were directions saying things like "for france" and "for switzerland" and we were two very confused humans - especially when my phone connected to roaming and my service provider sent me a text saying "welcome to france!" on first impression, it was a confusing place. but, once we made it to the hotel and recharged our batteries, we were excited to get exploring the second-largest swiss city. with just over 36 hours to explore, these are the things we knew we just had to do:

eat at the markthalle

this amazing food hall was located minutes from our hotel (which was super central, thankfully!), so served as dinner on night one. i'd read on trip advisor that the markthalle could get very busy on a friday night (when we planned to go), but to persist because people were in an out quickly. we braved it, because hunger, and i'm so glad we did! the huge big-top style food market was edged with what seemed like static restaurants and bars, while the centre stalls come and go week by week (the market even transform into a flea market on some weekends, and a cultural space for events and shows at other times); the range of foods on offer in the centre hall was eeeepic. totally affordable, too. of course, we wanted to get some swiss cheesey goodness into our bellies, but actually, i went with vietnamese. find it here

take a vintage tram tour

basel is serviced by a loooot of trams, but there's one in particular that you definitely need to jump on (the others are totally unnecessary - the city is easily walked around) is the vintage tram tour that runs every sunday from outside the train/tram/bus station. the trip takes about an hour, and will take you literally into the french history of basel (you cross the border at one point), into the more recent german era, and finally, into when basel (and switzerland) became a town all of its own. it's really fascinating, actually - especially as when you cross the border into france your currency, language - everything changes to suit (they're still using swiss francs in switzerland, not the euro). the tour itself? really interesting. you get to see a lot of the city, and get your bearings, which is really helpful too. sadly, the tour only runs on sundays, and we left sunday evening, so we already knew our way around by that point. it's pricey, but it's the most we spent on a "thing" that wasn't food all weekend.

see more here: https://www.basel.com/en/Media/Offers/Discovery-trip-in-a-vintage-tram 

check out the christmas market

the basel christmas markets are considered to be some of the prettiest and largest in switzerland, and i am here to say, that they lived up to their rep. it's hard to know really, if basel isn't actually the real home of christmas instead of lapland, because it certainly had those "santa's grotto" vibes going on while we were there - i'd hate to imagine basel any other way, frankly. the markets were all over the city - based in both barfusserplatz and munsterplatz, but the christmas lights and festive-ness can be seen from every single corner. it's honestly the most christmassy city i've ever seen.. it's wonderful, and definitely has been one of my favourite winter breaks.

get a ferry across the rhein

oh, how i love me a european river-split city. usually, this means beautiful, intricate bridges. sometimes it means traditional gondolas. rarely, it means really, really old man-operated ferries, but that's exactly what we got in basel. there are four different traditional ferries (and one really modern one) that cross the rhein in various places, but the one we jumped on crossed at the munster. the fee to cross is only 1.60 francs, and the trip is pretty much over and done with in a matter of minutes, depending on the strength of the current. these ferries are attached to steel ropes and float across the river by water power only, and really only need a human to achor the ferry at each end. it's a cheap attraction, and a nice way to see the city from the very middle of the river. great views for sure!

try the burgers at braunen mutz

the braunen mutz (the brown bear) is one of the oldest restaurants in basel, and because of that, it's most renowned for its traditional menu of beer, drinks, and foods from across the tri-border region. it's where locals and tourists come for their fix of swiss delicacies like calf liver, beef and raclette burgers, g'hackts with homemade applesauce, of fresh veal sausages. there's something for everyone, but you havvvve to have the burger. the melted raclette compliments the perfectly cooked meat, and the combo will leave traces running down your hands onto the plate for you to mop up with the crispy fries, and then wash down with a local amber ale. you'll be happy about your choice, i promise. don't get me wrong, it'll cost you (like, £23 for the burger alone), but it'll be so worth it.

visit the botanic gardens

especially if it's as cold as it was when we visited, because the tropical house at the university of basel's botanic gardens is warrrrrm. so warm in fact that it steamed up my camera lens and i was unable to do much about it until we hit the cold air again. there are four main greenhouses (tropical, aviary, arid, and exotic), and open to walk through during all day-time hours (even during school holidays, and weekends) - there's even a small student-operated cafe (and fab public loos) by the biggest of the four houses if you need to warm up, but my fave was the "sukkulentenhaus" - also known as: cactus city. and, we all know i love a cactus.

walk around the old town

and it's right by the botanic gardens, so two birds, one stone! the old town is your typical euro-hybrid, cobble-stoned labrynth of brick houses, stone windows, and wooden shutters, in pastels, browns, and alpine greens. it's a mish-mash of centuries, techniques, and influences, and it's wonderful. and it's totally easy to navigate on foot, which makes it all the better to explore - camera in hand (obvs).

...or the new-ish town

just across the river is kleinbasel - which is the self-declared new town. it's just as old as the old town, but it's the "newer" side of the city, where industry is booming, and the kids have moved in and made their hipster mark on the city by opening bike shops that front as underground coffee shops, parked caravans on the street and decorated them with fairy lights, and where the word "vegan" doesn't need to be translated from any other dialect, because it's written in english everywhere. it's the cool side, but not necessarily the better side (it's still worth a look, promise!).

watch the choir at rathaus

this was a fluke of ours, but a pretty special one. we happened to get to the town hall just as the town choir were finishing up their angelic set under the stairs, and by the tree in the main entrance. dressed in traditional costume (or, maybe regular clothes?) they were singing hymns or carols or german pop songs - who knows what it was, but it was glorious. we stood and watched, and applauded, and couldn't believe how bloody lucky we were to have caught such an act on our first day in the city. if you're feeling lucky, you need to head down and take a chance - you won't want to miss that. or, any of it, really. basel was wonderful, and i'd recommend it as a city break any day of the week (but especially at christmas, yes.).

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