Basel, Switzerland: A Kind of Chaotic Christmas

This Christmas I spent my holiday in Basel, Switzerland. In this post, I'm going to talk a bit about my experience in Basel during the Christmas season. Note that these are all my opinions based on what I experienced while travelling there for about 4 days! 

When I was looking for a place to spend Christmas this year, I googled a list of the best Christmas markets in Europe and I kept seeing Basel, Switzerland being recommended. Guillaume and I decided to travel there based on the amazing images we saw on Google, filled with Christmas shops and fresh snow. Unfortunately, it was very much an 'expectation vs reality' moment as soon as we arrived. Pulling into Basel SBB train station, it seemed that Dijon's grey and rainy weather had followed us. However, we tried to make the best of our trip and explore the area! 

Hour one in Basel, we discovered why so many people had issued a word of warning about the infamous 'expensive' nature of Switzerland.We decided to try and find a local restaurant to eat something, and while walking down the main strip we spotted a Vietnamese street food place called Voodles. The service was amazing; very friendly staff that spoke a multitude of languages and officially welcomed us to Switzerland. However, the bill made our jaws fall open in shock: ~€40 for 2 average sized bowls of noodles. Though the food was delicious, we had a sinking feeling that these kind of prices were going to be the norm during our strip.

And we were right. 

It almost became a game: we would walk up to any restaurant and gawk at the exorbitant prices. I recall seeing a plate of spaghetti bolognese for ~€24 and a Tex-Mex restaurant selling a plate of enchiladas for ~€30. 

With all this said, we didn't do a lot of eating in Switzerland to try save our wallets the anguish. Our BNB was located right over the border of France and Swizterland, so we ended up eating dinner in France every night to save money. It's actually pretty simple to do! There is a bus that takes you right to the border, and then you just walk across. 

My tip: Before arriving in Basel, research restaurants in the area and create a budget of what you're comfortable spending, then plan your eating schedule around the attractions you want to visit. 

After eating lunch, we went straight to the famed Christmas market, expecting to see dozens of vendors selling Christmas bits and bobs as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, this was a bust as well. Since it was already the 23rd of December, the Christmas market was on it's final day, and most of the vendors that had been there previously seemed to have packed up and left, leaving us with around 20 stands to choose from.

Half an hour later and we had seen it all, buying only a Christmas ornament and some delicious caramel fudge that, by the time we got back to our Airbnb, was eaten in a flash. We spent the night inside, cuddling and watching Christmas movies to get into the spirit.

The next day we decided to go to the border of where Germany, France, and Switzerland meet, the Passerelle des Trois Pays (Passage/Bridge of 3 Countries). Despite the rain, it was a cool experience to hop over to another country just by walking a bridge. 

Across the bridge on the Germany side was a more industrial type area with not a lot of food choices, so we ate at a German McDonald's. This lunch turned out to be way better than I had ever expected! I had a vegan burger, seasoned curly fries and sweet chili dipping sauce. If you're in Germany and want a quick bite, I recommend it.

After our short lived fast food lunch in Germany, we crossed back over the border to Switzerland, did some window shopping, and tried to visit an indoor botanical garden. We stood outside the greenhouse, Google Translating a sign that said it was closed due to COVID, when it began raining heavily. 

We decided this was a sign from the heavens to go back home and called it a day. 

That night, we did another round of Christmas movies after calling our families for Christmas eve, then went to bed early since we had a big day planned for the 25th!

The third day in Switzerland was easily the best day. It was finally Christmas! We spent almost 6 hours in Basel Zoo, which is the oldest and largest zoo in Switzerland. If you're in Basel for any amount of time, I highly recommend going here. Due to the rainy weather, some of the animals hid in their enclosures, but for the most part we got to see most of the exhibits and even walk with penguins! We walked with them side by side, with their trainer trailing behind us. It was a really unique experience, as I've never had a penguin inches away from me before. 

The zoo has a self-service restaurant with a more expensive set menu restaurant inside of it, however,  I recommend skipping the restaurant altogether and going to the kiosk just outside of it on the right. It has simple food options you can eat while walking and a really delicious vegetable soup that cost me half of what I would have paid if I ate the self service style lunch.

The staff spoke both German and English, which was really cool. I'm not used to speaking to staff in English anymore after living in France, so it was kind of refreshing.

I got most of my favorite shots here at the zoo, my favorite being the jellyfish photo below. 

How cute is this giraffe?! :)

One cool thing I want to make a note of is that Basel has a lot of public transport, which makes it easy to get around the city. The buses and trams run on time, and there is always a tram going either up or down the street at any given time of day. 

You need to buy a ticket at the ticket machine before getting on, but throughout our 4 day stay, not ONCE was our ticket ever checked by ANYONE. I'm not recommending that you don't buy a ticket, as you can get fined 100 CHF if you're caught, but it was very surprising to me that our tickets were not checked a single time.

All in all, due to the weather and the sky high prices, our Christmas this year was a little different than the one we expected. Though I don't see us coming back to Basel anytime in the near future, it was a good experience, and my first 'international' trip with Guillaume. 

It was also our first Christmas in person, and that was the biggest gift in itself. After spending such a long time long distance, wishing we could see each other, I realized how lucky I was to be hand in hand with the person I love during Christmas.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and I'll see you very soon for my New Year's post. Bye!