The largest and oldest Autumn fair in Europe?
The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. Fog coats the streets in shades of grey. Here in Switzerland, you will find chestnut vendors on every street corner in the city. Autumn is well and truly here. For Basel, what comes next at this time of year is a little bit magical.
A glimpse of a hidden world
Imagine you’re walking in a foggy street and you hear some noise from far away. As you get closer, you realise that it is actually a mix of different sounds. Loud electro and pop music, single shots, clanging aluminium cans, ringing bells. All with a variation of human voices; screams, shouts, talking and singing. You start to smell burned almonds and a scent that reminds you of a bakery. With every step you get closer you see more lights beaming into the sky. As you turn the last corner, you see the whole breathtaking spectacle in front of you. Welcome to the Basler Herbstmesse – Basel’s Autumn Fair.
The bells are ringing
Every year on the last Saturday in October at 12 noon, the ring of the Martinbells signals the start of the Basler Herbstmesse. The reason for the bell? Well, all the way back in the year 1471, when the Basler Herbstmesse was founded, the bell was rung to signal to everyone that the same rules apply for all of the vendors. This, for example, meant that sellers from another country did not have to pay any additional toll charges to sell their goods at the fair. The same bell rang – and still rings – at the end of the festival.
What is where?
The Basler Herbsmesse is spread throughout the whole city of Basel and is roughly divided into 7 locations. All of them are an easy distance from each other by foot or local bus/tram – check here for the public transport map.
If the Basler Herbstmesse was a book, then this would be the intro. Here you will find a bit of everything. There are some rides as well, but not the big, crazy, adrenalin-filled ones you will find elsewhere. The octopus ride was always my favourite ride when I was younger and it was the wildest one I was allowed to go on as well.
Tram stop Barfusserplatz
Petersplatz is one of the main hubs of the Herbstmesse and on first visit, brings to mind the European Christmas markets with its delicious sweets, melted cheese aromas and small wooden stands selling a variety of gifts and goodies. This is probably one of the best places to buy typical Herbstmesse sweets like “Magenbrot”, “gebrannte Mandeln” and “Rosenküchlein”. Check out our Basler Herbstmesse – A food guide post if you want to find out more about this! But there is so much more than food to discover there as well. We took some pictures to give you just an impression of things you can see and do there. One of my favourite stalls is the one where you can buy proper old-fashioned mead. At the back of Petersplatz there is also the “Häfelimärt”, where you can buy beautiful chinaware such as cups, bowls, plates and other pottery.
This is the oldest marketplace/fairground in Basel. Even without the Herbstmesse, the walk is worth it for the fantastic views out over the Rhein. The Münster is one of the top sights to see in Basel, sitting atop the city in the middle of the colourful lights and with a stunning view out over the Rhein and Kleinbasel. You cannot miss is during it during the Herbstmesse as there is a huge ferris there. Enjoy the view!
Tram stop Marktplatz/Barfusserplatz and then walk uphill to the Münster
This is the place for all the thrillseekers and adrenalin junkies. You find the wildest and craziest rides here. Of course there are also places to get yourself food here and there are attractions like throw bush.
Tram stop Kaserne
Right, there is this crazy freefall tower that goes through a hole in a building (check out the picture)! But, there is also the legendary “Fressmeile” (it means “eating mile” in German, although “fressen” generally refers to eating without any manners, like an animal, and may be considered a bit rude to use towards a person in everyday language!). Here you can fill your belly with delicious street-style food like “Klöpfer” (traditional swiss sausage). This was always my favourite place at the Basler Herbstmesse when I got hungry, and Sarah has an office so close by that she has been there to eat for lunch on occasion.
Tram stop Messeplatz/Gewerbeschule
Back in the days where I was only allowed to go to the Basler Herbstmesse with my parents, a part of the Herbstmesse took place inside a building. Later they closed that building and I can remember how much I missed this special place (especially when it rained). Everything inside the hall was similar to what you can find at the Herbstmesse outside the hall, but much more intense for being indoors. The colours shone brighter, the noise was louder and the smells were so much stronger! Because I was not the only one who apparently felt like that, they brought back this concept. As if that wouldn’t be awesome enough, they made the whole Messehalle 3 in the style of the 80’s.
Tram stop Messeplatz
Tips and further information
So do you remember the lights I mentioned earlier? They are one of the main reasons to go to the Basler Herbstmesse after dark. The display of colours creates lot of the extra charm. For this reason, visiting the Herbstmesse during the day means it is less crowded. Speaking of crowds, it can get very busy over the evenings and weekends. The Herbstmesse attracts more than a million visitors, spread over 13 days. This year the Herbstmesse goes from the 29th of October until the 10th of November. If you need any more information go this webpage (German only).
Other fairs at the same time
There are 3 other fairs in Basel that take place in the same two-week period as the Basler Herbstmesse. There is the “Basler Herbstwarenmesse” where you can buy a variety of different products, from vacuum cleaners to electronics to kitchen utensils. Also, the “Weinmesse” and its partner festival, the “Feinmesse“. A wine and fine-food fair respectively, they take place in the Messeplatz, and you need tickets for entry. One of our other blog posts (coming soon!) covers some tasting highlights from the Winemesse and Feinmesse.
If you’d like to know more about the food you can find at the Basler Herbstmesse, check out our Foodie Guide to the Herbstmesse.