Are you looking for a full guide to Basel in winter? You’re in the right place!
Sitting in the corner of Switzerland, its parameters touching both Germany and France, Basel’s often overlooked when it comes to European cities.
But in the winter months, it offers a jolly Christmas market (one of the best in the country!), plenty of museums, cosy cafés, striking architecture, and a unique culture, blended from its French and German influences.
As a winter chill descends upon the city, Basel adorns a festive spirit.
Wrap up and stroll along the Rhine River or enjoy the twinkling lights of the city at night.
With close proximity to other European destinations in Switzerland, Germany and France, it’s an excellent base for day trips, too!
I’ve visited Basel numerous times, as one of my closest friends lives in the city – and I’ve been a few times in winter!
So, here’s exactly how to visit Basel in winter, including tips on what to do and where to stay.
What is Basel in winter like?
Situated on the River Rhine in northwest Switzerland, Basel’s a charming city where the German, French, and Swiss borders converge.
Its location lends itself to a unique blend of cultures and languages, shaping a vibrant and diverse cultural scene that brims with nearly 40 museums, a buzzing food scene, and architectural marvels.
Winter in Basel invites visitors to savour the beauty of its cobblestone streets under a potential dusting of snow, the majestic Rhine flowing through, and the grandeur of its beautifully preserved old town, Grossbasel.
The city’s Christmas market is a staple of the season, bringing in visitors from all over the world for a taste of Swiss holiday magic.
From late February to early March, the city also hosts Fasnacht, Switzerland’s largest and most enchanting carnival.
It’s an excellent city holiday destination in Europe, especially for those who want to experience Swiss culture without being too cold!
What is the Weather Like in Basel in Winter?
During winter months, Basel’s weather ranges from mild to cold – although it’s nowhere near as cold as other Swiss destinations, thanks to its low altitude.
January is the coldest month, with temperatures typically hovering between -2°C to 4°C (28°F to 39°F).
It’s certainly not a winter sun destination, but snowfall is intermittent and mostly light.
Days are shorter with less sunshine, typical of a European winter.
Here’s a breakdown of the average winter weather:
|Days of Rain
Things to Do in Basel in Winter
Festive markets brimming with holiday cheer, diverse museums, a vivacious local food scene, traditional festivities like the Fasnacht Carnival and incredible architecture: there are so many things to do in Basel in winter.
Basel Christmas Market
Basel Christmas Market, one of Switzerland’s largest and most traditional (and one of the best in Europe!) engulfs the city from late November to the end of December.
Renowned for its expansive size and authentic atmosphere, it transforms Basel’s city centre into a spectacle of joy and light.
This is an opportunity to immerse yourself in Swiss Christmas tradition.
Amidst the crisp winter air, visitors are welcomed with the comforting aroma of hot Gluhwein.
Complement your wine with an assortment of sweet treats available at the numerous stalls.
From Swiss chocolates to Basel-style gingerbread, the market presents a delightful gastronomic journey.
The market is also a treasure trove of unique holiday gifts, offering everything from artisanal crafts and handmade ornaments to local Swiss souvenirs.
Explore Basel’s Best Museums
Basel’s home to almost 40 museums that cater to a wide range of artistic and intellectual tastes.
Each museum houses vast collections that speak volumes of various eras, cultures, and artistic movements.
The Kunstmuseum, also known as the Art Museum, holds pride of place.
As the oldest public collection of art in Europe, it invites visitors on a journey through centuries of artistic brilliance.
Its extensive assortment, featuring everything from medieval masterpieces to contemporary classics, has cemented its reputation as one of the world’s leading art museums.
Then, there’s the Fondation Beyeler, a modern and contemporary art museum situated amidst an idyllic park.
It showcases works by seminal figures like Picasso, Warhol, and Hockney. The building itself, designed by Renzo Piano, is a work of art.
The Tinguely Museum is a unique space dedicated to kinetic art. Through its permanent and special exhibitions of Jean Tinguely’s kinetic art pieces, it encourages visitors to engage with art in a playful and creative manner.
Finally, the Naturhistorisches Museum invites you to delve into the mysteries of nature. Its permanent collection spans from prehistoric artefacts to present-day biological wonders, offering fascinating insights into our planet’s past and present.
Rising above the city with its striking red sandstone façade and twin spires, Basel Cathedral (Basler Münster in German) bears testimony to Basel’s rich historical past.
From its beginnings in the 11th century to its renovation after the earthquake of 1356 (the most significant recorded earthquake in this part of Europe), the cathedral’s architectural details tell fascinating stories of the city’s journey through time.
It’s free entry to visit the cathedral and explore its stained glass windows and the historical crypt.
You can even climb to The Pfalz where there’s a terrace which is one of the best views of the city, over the Rhine River!
Winter nights in Basel offer the perfect setting to indulge in an evening of performing arts at the renowned Basel Theatre.
It has a rich history dating back to 1834 and it’s the largest multi-genre theatre in Switzerland, presenting an eclectic mix of operas, ballets, and plays.
For opera fans, it has performances that span across various eras and styles.
The ballet performances are also enchanting.
Basel Theatre also hosts a variety of plays, many of which are seminal works of European and global theatre.
Affectionately known as “Zolli” by the locals, Basel Zoo is renowned as Switzerland’s oldest and largest zoo.
It has a plethora of animal species and a range of exhibits designed to both entertain and educate.
A standout feature of Basel Zoo, especially appreciated in winter, is its array of indoor exhibits.
The Vivarium, a large indoor complex, showcases aquatic and reptilian species.
Similarly, the Monkey House and the Antelope House offer intriguing insights into these creatures’ habitats and behaviours.
Basel Zoo even stays open on Christmas Day!
Personally, I choose not to visit zoos.
However, understanding that perspectives vary greatly on this topic, I’ve included it in this list as it is a prominent family-friendly attraction in Basel.
Explore the Old Town
Basel’s Old Town is referred to as “Grossbasel” and it’s like stepping back in time.
As you meander through its winding lanes and cobblestone squares, the city’s rich past comes to life in the form of its preserved architectural treasures.
Grossbasel is home to a collection of beautifully aged buildings, their facades bearing the mark of eras gone by.
In this part of the city, small boutiques are abundant and art aficionados will love the abundance of art galleries.
The Old Town is dotted with cosy cafes that beckon you to take a break from your stroll, such as the 1777 Kaffee Restaurant Bar.
What better way to escape the chill than warming up with a hot drink?
If your journey to Basel aligns with the closing weeks of winter, typically in February or March (the Monday after Ash Wednesday) the city offers a lively spectacle in the form of the Fasnacht Carnival.
As Switzerland’s biggest carnival, Fasnacht is a pulsating, vibrant event that sweeps the entire city up in its whirl of celebration.
The Fasnacht Carnival is a cornucopia of sights and sounds.
Parades are a key feature, with participants dressed in elaborate and often satirical costumes.
They traverse the city to the tune of traditional Fasnacht music, played on piccolos and bass drums.
Whether you’re witnessing the Morgenstreich — the lantern-lit early morning parade, appreciating the craft of the costume designers – or enjoying the array of traditional Fasnacht treats like the flour soup or the iconic Fasnacht pastry called ‘Faschtewaije‘, the carnival’s completely engaging.
Winter’s arrival in Basel ushers in outdoor ice skating.
The city houses a few ice rinks that open their doors to the public during the chillier months, offering an experience for both seasoned skaters and enthusiastic beginners.
Eglisee is one such venue, which, with its spacious rink and welcoming atmosphere, is a favourite among locals and visitors alike.
Equally inviting is Margarethen, another popular ice rink in Basel; there are actually two ice rinks here, one of which is covered!
Visiting Basel in the cold? How about a spa day?
A day spent at a local spa serves as a soothing antidote to winter’s cold, offering a cocoon of warmth and tranquillity.
AquaBasilea is a celebrated wellness destination located just outside Basel.
This expansive spa complex extends a variety of rejuvenating experiences designed to uplift both body and spirit.
From aromatic steam baths and serene relaxation rooms to a selection of therapeutic massages, the offerings at AquaBasilea cater to diverse wellness preferences.
The spa houses an impressive sauna landscape, where you can sweat out the stress while immersed in an atmosphere of calm.
Complementing these facilities is a pool area for those interested in a leisurely swim or simply a quiet soak.
Basel’s culinary landscape boasts an array of dining experiences that satisfy a wide spectrum of gastronomic desires.
For an authentic Swiss dining experience, trying fondue is a must.
This quintessential Swiss dish, typically made with melted Gruyère and Emmental cheese, is perfect for sharing and is a staple in many local restaurants.
It’s eaten communally; you’ll dip pieces of bread into the shared pot which creates a cosy and convivial atmosphere.
Equally satisfying and equally Swiss is raclette, a dish that involves melting a wheel of raclette cheese and scraping the gooey layer onto boiled potatoes and pickles.
Restaurants serving raclette often use a raclette grill to melt the cheese right at your table, making for a delicious and interactive meal.
While there are many dining spots to choose from, Restaurant Kunsthalle comes highly recommended for both fondue and raclette.
Winter day trips from Basel
From the enchanting allure of Lucerne’s lake to the cosmopolitan hustle of Zürich, the medieval charm of Freiburg, and the vibrant culture of Strasbourg, there’s a multitude of destinations reachable within a few hours from Basel.
Regardless of your interest—history, culture, architecture, or shopping—these day trips provide an added dimension to your winter visit.
|Distance from Basel
|Scenic beauty, History lovers
|Lucerne Lake, Chapel Bridge, Swiss Museum of Transport
|Urban explorers, Shoppers
|Zürich Lake, Bahnhofstrasse, Altstadt
|History buffs, Art enthusiasts
|Bear Park, Zentrum Paul Klee, Federal Palace
|Architecture enthusiasts, Nature lovers
|Freiburg Minster, Old Town, Bächle water channels
|History buffs, Foodies
|Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Petite France, European Parliament
|Culture enthusiasts, Christmas Market goers
|Old Town, Petite Venice, Bartholdi Museum, Christmas Market
An hour’s train journey from Basel transports you to the charming city of Lucerne.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of snow-capped peaks and adjacent to a mirror-like lake, Lucerne exudes a distinct allure.
A defining feature of Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), one of Europe’s oldest wooden bridges.
This covered walkway has a signature water tower and a stroll across the bridge offers panoramic views of the city – it’s especially enchanting when dusted with snow.
Lucerne’s Old Town encompasses narrow, winding streets which lead you past colourful buildings adorned with frescoes, providing an appealing blend of history and artistry.
Culture enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Swiss Museum of Transport.
As the most frequented museum in Switzerland, it houses an impressive collection of transport-related exhibits, ranging from vintage automobiles to space travel artefacts.
An hour-and-a-half train ride from Basel takes you to Zürich, Switzerland’s largest city.
There’s plenty to see here, but you can easily take in the atmosphere with just one day in Zurich.
Zürich in winter carries a distinct beauty as snowflakes settle upon its urban landscape.
Zürich Lake is a must-visit.
Its tranquil waters boast to leisurely lakeside walks, while the backdrop of snow-covered mountains adds a touch of majesty to the scene.
The heart of Zürich’s shopping scene is Bahnhofstrasse, a high-end retail heaven.
The wide boulevard stretches from the main train station to the shores of Lake Zürich and is lined with stores representing major international brands, Swiss boutiques, and watchmakers.
Zürich’s Altstadt, or Old Town, offers a delightful contrast to its modern counterpart.
With cobbled streets winding between medieval buildings, here history permeates the air.
Visitors can wander around, taking in the grandeur of Grossmünster, the historical importance of Lindenhof Square, or simply the allure of hidden alleys and charming cafes.
Colmar, situated a mere 45 minutes from Basel by train in France, exudes an old-world charm.
The city’s well-preserved old town, dotted with vibrant half-timbered houses, looks like a storybook come to life, particularly if there’s a fresh dusting of winter snow!
Venturing into the heart of the old town, you’ll find Maison Pfister, an architectural marvel dating back to the 16th century.
The wooden galleries, intricate frescoes, and distinctive turret of this iconic building form a picture of refined elegance.
Another marvel of Colmar is its district known as Little Venice.
Characterised by winding canals lined with stunning old houses, Little Venice offers a truly picturesque scene.
Winter adds serenity to the area, with frosted edges along the canals and twinkling fairy lights contributing to a magical atmosphere.
The Colmar Christmas Market is one of the most enchanting in all of Europe.
I visited Colmar en route to Strasbourg and was completely taken by the festive spirit pervading the market, with festive stalls, heartwarming lights, and the inviting scent of mulled wine and traditional Alsatian pastries filling the air.
Venturing just under an hour by train from Basel will lead you across the German border and into the charming city of Freiburg.
Freiburg Minster is the city’s shining beacon, an impressive Gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline.
Its ornate details and stunning stained glass windows are a testament to the craftsmanship of a bygone era.
Climb a tower to enjoy a rewarding panoramic view of the city’s snow-covered rooftops.
Freiburg’s Old Town is a delightful maze of narrow, cobblestoned streets, lined with colourful buildings that date back centuries.
Unique to Freiburg are the Bächle, narrow water channels that run alongside the streets of the Old Town.
Originally installed in the Middle Ages for firefighting and livestock, they now add a distinct character to the city.
A train ride of just 1.5 hours from Basel will see you crossing another border into the enchanting French city of Strasbourg.
Known for its unique blend of French and German influences, Strasbourg transforms into a winter spectacle.
At the heart of Strasbourg, you’ll find the breathtaking Gothic masterpiece, Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
Petite France, with its timber-framed houses and cobblestone streets, is Strasbourg’s most picturesque district.
I took the train to Strasbourg when I was in Basel, primarily to visit the city’s renowned Christmas market.
With its vibrant stalls, twinkling lights, and intoxicating aromas of mulled wine and spiced cookies, the market was a highlight of my winter trip!
Private Glacier Express panoramic train tour
Embark on an unforgettable journey through half of Switzerland on the world-renowned Glacier Express Train.
With your private guide, experience the ultimate scenic tour on this panoramic train, marvelling at the stunning views of the Swiss Alps from the comfort of your assigned seat.
This round-trip tour takes you from Chur to Brig over the course of four hours.
As the train weaves its way through the magnificent landscape, you’ll cross 291 bridges, pass through 91 tunnels, and ascend to approximately 7,000 feet above sea level.
The sweeping views of the spectacular valleys and mountains of the Swiss Alps are nothing but enchanting.
To enhance your onboard experience, a 3-course lunch will be served right at your seat.
Your local tour guide, dedicated solely to your group, will accompany you from the starting point, pointing out the changing landscape and answering any questions you may have about Switzerland and its people.
You also have the flexibility to make brief stops at Chur or Brig, allowing you to stretch your legs and explore these charming Swiss towns.
Included in the tour are all taxes, fees, and handling charges, as well as an informational booklet about the journey.
The meeting point for the tour is at the Basel train station, where your guide will await you in the departure hall, in front of the ticket office and the official meeting point.
This private Glacier Express Panoramic Train Tour is an ideal way to witness the natural beauty of Switzerland!
Things to know before visiting Basel in winter
Keep in mind a few things to ensure your winter trip to Basel is as enjoyable and hassle-free as possible.
From packing essentials to cultural nuances, here’s what you need to bear in mind:
- Weather: Basel winters can be quite chilly with temperatures often falling below freezing – although it’s not as cold as elsewhere in Switzerland. Ensure you pack warm clothing, including thermal layers, a good quality winter coat, gloves, and a hat. Waterproof shoes are also recommended for snowy days.
- Daylight Hours: During the winter, daylight hours are reduced, typically from around 8 AM until 4:30 PM. Plan your sightseeing accordingly to make the most of the daylight.
- Public Transport: Basel boasts an efficient and reliable public transport system that remains functional even during winter. Trams and buses usually run on schedule – Switzerland is very prompt!
- Language: Many people in Basel speak English – a lot of international businesses operate in the city. The main language is Swiss German, but knowing a little High German (which everyone can also speak) could be helpful! Many people also speak French.
- Currency: Switzerland uses the Swiss Franc (CHF), not the Euro. It’s important to have some local currency on hand, although credit cards are widely accepted.
- Local Etiquette: Swiss people are known for their punctuality and politeness. When using public transport, follow the queues and respect silence!
- Basel Card: The Basel Card is a great option if you want to make the most of the city’s top attractions.
How to get to Basel
Reaching Basel is fairly straightforward, given the city’s excellent connectivity by air, rail, and road.
Depending on where you’re travelling from, you can choose the most convenient method:
- By Air: Euro Airport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is the nearest airport, located just 6 km from Basel city centre. Basel-Mulhouse Airport is well-serviced by numerous airlines, offering regular flights from the UK and European cities. From the airport, you can easily reach the city centre by bus.
- By Train: Basel’s central train station, Basel SBB, is one of the busiest railway stations in Switzerland. Direct train services connect Basel with major Swiss cities and other European cities, including Zurich, Lucerne, Geneva, Munich, and Frankfurt. The station also offers easy access to France and Germany, thanks to its strategic location on the border.
- By Road: Basel is well-linked by an extensive network of motorways. If you’re driving from other parts of Switzerland or nearby countries such as Germany or France, you’ll find the journey straightforward. Do remember that you’ll need a vignette (toll sticker) to drive on Swiss motorways.
Where to stay in Basel
Whether you’re looking for a luxurious hotel, a comfortable mid-range stay, or a budget-friendly option, Basel has accommodations to suit all preferences and budgets:
Ibis Budget Basel City offers a blend of comfort and value, providing clean, simple rooms with essential amenities.
Located near the Basel SBB train station, it’s a convenient base for exploring the city and its surroundings.
Hotel Spalentor is a mid-range hotel that offers spacious, comfortable rooms, a private garden, and excellent service.
With a tram stop just outside, the hotel provides easy access to Basel’s attractions.
One of the oldest city hotels in Europe, the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is the epitome of luxury.
Overlooking the Rhine, it offers elegantly furnished rooms, gourmet dining, and top-notch services. Its central location makes it ideal for exploring Basel in style.
What to Pack for Basel in Winter
In winter, Basel can be quite chilly, with temperatures often dipping below freezing.
Therefore, it’s essential to pack items that will keep you warm and comfortable during your visit.
- Warm Clothing: Basel’s winter weather calls for warm clothing. Pack layers like thermal tops and bottoms, sweaters or fleece jackets, and a warm, waterproof coat.
- Accessories: Don’t forget winter accessories like a scarf, gloves, and a warm hat to protect your extremities from the cold.
- Footwear: Comfortable, waterproof shoes are essential, especially if you plan on doing a lot of walking. If you’re visiting snowy areas, consider packing boots with good grip.
- Umbrella: Basel can have wet weather in winter, so it’s a good idea to pack a compact, travel-sized umbrella.
- Skincare: The cold weather can be harsh on your skin. Bring moisturiser and lip balm.
- Swimsuit: If you’re planning on enjoying a spa day or visiting thermal baths, don’t forget your swimsuit.
- Travel Adaptor: Switzerland uses type J sockets. Don’t forget to pack a travel adaptor to keep your devices charged.
Where is the closest place to ski from Basel?
Switzerland in winter seems like the obvious choice for a mountain lover.
However, Basel’s actually not really the place for a snow panorama; snowfall usually happens once or twice a year, but it’s never guaranteed.
If you want to try your hand at winter sports, there are a few places fairly close to Basel.
The closest place to ski from Basel is the Feldberg ski resort in Germany’s Black Forest, approximately a 1.5-hour drive from Basel.
Feldberg offers a good range of slopes for both beginners and experienced skiers.
It’s not as expansive as the larger Swiss or French Alps resorts, but its proximity to Basel makes it a convenient option for a day of winter fun on the slopes.
For those willing to travel a bit further, the Swiss Alps offer some of the world’s best skiing, with resorts like Engelberg-Titlis and Jungfrau Region around 2 to 3 hours away by car or train.
Situated in the heart of the Swiss mountains, these locations have facilities to cater to all levels of skiing ability.
FAQs about visiting Basel in winter
Here are some answers to common questions about winter travel to Basel.
Is Basel worth visiting in winter?
Absolutely, winter gives Basel a special charm. The city’s beautiful architecture is often dusted with snow and the season brings an array of exciting activities like Christmas markets and the Fasnacht Carnival. Indoor attractions like the many museums offer a cosy retreat from the cold.
Is Basel nice in December?
Basel is particularly enchanting in December. The city is bedecked with festive decorations, Christmas markets pop up, filling the air with the aroma of sweet treats and mulled wine, and the streets resonate with the joyous spirit of the holiday season.
Does Basel have snow in winter?
Basel does experience snowfall in winter, typically from December through February. However, the amount of snow varies each year and heavy snowfall is infrequent. Nonetheless, the sight of Basel’s picturesque landscapes covered in a dusting of snow is truly a magical experience.
Is Basel Christmas market worth visiting?
Basel Christmas Market is certainly worth a visit. It’s one of the most traditional and largest Christmas markets in Switzerland. The air is filled with the fragrance of seasonal treats, and the stalls are a treasure trove of unique gifts and festive ornaments.
Does Basel have a Christmas Market?
Yes, Basel hosts one of Switzerland’s most traditional Christmas markets. It typically runs from the end of November until just before Christmas. With over 180 stalls, the market offers a vast array of seasonal treats, unique gifts, and festive decorations.
How many days in Basel is enough?
Generally, a 2 to 3-day trip allows enough time to explore the main attractions of Basel, including its historical Old Town, its plethora of museums, and the Basel Minster Cathedral. However, if you’re planning day trips to nearby cities, you may wish to extend your stay.
Is Basel cheap to visit?
Like many Swiss cities, Basel is not typically considered a budget destination. However, by planning ahead and choosing budget-friendly accommodation and dining options, one can manage costs. Remember, a lot of the city’s charm can be appreciated simply by exploring on foot, which is entirely free.
Does it snow in Basel at Christmas?
Snowfall in Basel around Christmas varies from year to year. Some years may see a magical white Christmas, while others may have milder weather – many other places in Switzerland are snowier. . Regardless, the festive decorations and holiday atmosphere ensure a charming experience.
Is Zurich or Basel better to visit?
Both Zurich and Basel offer unique experiences. Zurich, being larger, offers a greater variety of shops and nightlife, and has a beautiful lake. Basel, the cultural heart of Switzerland, boasts over 40 museums, a beautiful Old Town, and is closer to the French and German borders, offering easy access for day trips.
Is Geneva or Basel better?
The choice between Geneva and Basel really depends on your personal preferences. Geneva offers a beautiful lake, an international vibe, and proximity to the French Alps. Basel, on the other hand, is famous for its art scene, hosts a vibrant Carnival, and is closer to the German Black Forest and the French Alsace region.
Is Basel more expensive than Zurich?
The cost of living and travelling in both Basel and Zurich can be quite similar, as they are both located in Switzerland, one of the more expensive countries in Europe. The costs can depend on various factors such as your choice of dining and accommodation. However, day-to-day expenses, like dining and shopping, may be slightly higher in Zurich.
Are you ready to visit Basel in winter?
Whether you’re taking in a dreamy winter panorama from the top of the church tower, walking around the city’s beautiful streets lined with festive stalls or staying in town for the Carnival, there are tonnes of things to do in Basel Switzerland in winter!