For anyone fond of a day trip to explore new places, Mulhouse is the perfect place. While the city itself might seem lacking in it’s own tourist attractions (although it has more to see than it first lets on), it’s position in Alsace, and particularly near the border with Germany and Switzerland, makes it perfect for hopping over to a nearby town or city, whether in France or not. A few weeks ago I visited Freiburg, the last of what I would consider the main day trips possible from Mulhouse, alongside Basel and Colmar. Strasbourg is, of course, the most likely go-to but I already have a blog about my first visit there. There are of course many more places to be explored, particularly some of the smaller villages or even some places a bit further afield like Dijon or Lyon but I’m sure I will get there at some point.
The easiest and quickest day trip from Mulhouse will actually take you into Switzerland! Basel is in Switzerland’s north-eastern corner and is the counrty’s third most populous city after Zurich and Geneva. It is known for its museums and is a cultural centre in Europe.
There are four trains an hour from Mulhouse to Basel, costing as little as €3 for a 30 minute journey or €8.40 for the slightly faster 20 minute journey. And that’s without any discount cards. The national young person’s discount card, la carte avantage jeune, will take the 20 minute journey down to €6.30 and the Grand Est regional young person’s card, la carte primo, makes that ticket just €4.20. Basel SBB train station is located on the edge of the centre of the city, just a 15 minute walk to the old town, the main square and the river. If you want to travel out of the city centre, there is a tram hub right outside the station. A ticket for a single trip will cost you CHF 2.30. A reminder that Switzerland doesn’t use the euro but its own currency, the Swiss franc, although the exchange rate is almost 1:1.
Basel is really known for its abundance of museums. The Kunstmusem was the first collection of art in the world that was publicly accessible in 1666 and is also the largest art museum in Switzerland. The Museum of Contemporary Art was the first public museum of contemporary art in Europe. Overall there are forty museums spread across the city! So far I have only been to one but I plan on visiting more when I can. The best time to take advantage of the abundance of museums is the first Sunday of the month when entrance to many is free! I’ve barely even scratched the surface of Basel’s museums but I’m excited to go back and see more.
The one museum I have visited already is the Fondation Beyeler which is technically just outside Basel in Riehen (fun fact, this is where tennis player Roger Federer grew up!) and is easily accessible by tram from the city centre. I went with my flatmate Andy to see a Georgia O’Keefe exhibition. You may remember that I saw her exhibition when I spent the day in Paris and really enjoyed it. It was great to see more of her pieces and while there were a few that were the same or similar, there were a lot of works that I hadn’t seen before. There were some pieces by other artists in the museum that I loved as well, including ‘Naissance d’une galaxie’ by Max Ernst and ‘Fuga’ by Wassily Kandinsky.
Another fun thing to do in Basel is take one of the reaction ferries across the river. Reaction ferries are boats that use cables and the current of the river to pull itself from one side to the other. It costs a couple of euros, only takes about five minutes and is wholly unnecessary but still fun! It is super peaceful because of the lack of motor sounds in the background. It’s honestly much quicker to just use one of the nearby bridges to cross the river but the novelty factor makes it worth it, at least once.
Food and Drink
You might have heard the rumours that Switzerland is very expensive and I’m here to tell you, they’re true. Because of this, I’ve always tried to limit my eating and drinking while in Basel but there are still ways to enjoy some food and drink in the city without breaking the bank. For example, on exiting the Foundation Beyeler with Andy, we were both starving and in need of some sustenance. We came across a kebab shop where I got a big chicken kebab sandwich and a beer for CHF 12 – a bargain!
Another option is a selection of food trucks that can be found in the main square, called the Marktplatz. You can sample some currywurst or a Swiss hot dog topped with raclette cheese, onions and mustard amongst other things. Marktplatz is also worth a visit to see the Rathaus, the 16th Century city hall.
I have also visited a great little hot chocolate cafe called Xocolatl when I went to Basel to meet Anya who was on my Chinese course in first year. There is a whole menu with different types of hot chocolate, different percentages, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, so many choices! I had one called ‘the Marie Antoinette’ which included a shot of espresso.
Finally, I’ve saved the best for last. My number one go-to spot that I have visited every time I’ve gone to Basel. Mystifry is a specialty vegan doughnut shop, the first of its kind in Switzerland. For any Edinburgh folk reading, imagine Considerit Doughnuts and you’ll get the idea. The flavours change every month as well as having seasonal specials. So far I have sampled the plum pie, cinnamon icing with plum compote and a little swirl of cream, the orange blossom and toasted almond and the blueberry. It has never disappointed and I hope to continue my tradition of visiting every time I’m in the city!
Next up in potential day trips is the smaller town of Colmar, just over half the size of Mulhouse. Colmar is known for its beautiful old town and considers itself the capital of Alsatian wine. It literally looks like a postcard and reminded me immediately of the village in Beauty and the Beast! It also happens to be the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, better known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty, and Pierre Hermé, celebrated pâtissier known for his macarons.
To get to Colmar from Mulhouse, it takes between 20 to 35 minutes, depending on the train that you get. There are three or four every hour, costing €9.70 with no discount card. With the carte avantage jeune it is around €7 and with the regional carte primo around €5. Once you arrive in Colmar, everything is pretty walkable. From the station, it takes around 15 minutes to walk to the Petite Venise area.
The number one top sight in Colmar is La Petite Venise, an area of the town around the river Lauch, lined with the iconic half-timbered houses. It is an absolutely gorgeous place. I remember being more and more in awe with every cobblestone street I walked down the first time I visited. A particularly picture perfect spot is the bridge next to the Place des Six Montaignes Noires and a bit further in at the Quai de la Poissonnerie. Next to the Quai de la Poissonerie you will find the marché couvert (the covered market) which is worth a little dander around to see the many stalls filled with Alsatian delights.
Just walking through the streets of Colmar, there is plenty to see. The main cathedral, l’Église Saint-Martin, is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture and the nearby Maison Pfister is considered one of the symbols of Colmar. The Kofïshus (or l’Ancienne Douane), the old custom house, is also a favourite of mine as it has a beautiful and vibrant tiled roof.
Another great spot in Colmar is the Musée Unterlinden. The most visited museum in Alsace is housed in a 13th century convent and an early 20th century public baths building. It hosts an impressive collection of medieval and early renaissance art from the Upper Rhine. The Unterlinden Museum is home to the Isenheim Altarpiece, a set of panels depicting the life of Jesus Christ that were commissioned for l’Église Saint-Martin. The seven surviving panels are on display at the museum. I found the layout a little confusing and personally there’s only so much religious art that I can take. However, I enjoyed the modern part much more although the tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica that I really wanted to see was on loan to Paris. I guess I’ll just have to go back!
Food and Drink
Most of my experiences of eating and drinking in Colmar come from when I visited during the Christmas markets. I’ve said it before but I really liked the markets there, more so than the much bigger and more famous one in Strasbourg. To this day I still think about the Nutella and praline crepe that I ate there.
Last but not least, the German city of Freiburg! My visit here a few weeks ago was my first time in Germany and it made a very strong first impression. Full name Freiburg im Breisgau, the city is apparently the warmest and sunniest city in Germany (I can definitely believe that from what I experienced!) and is the gateway to the Black Forest. It is also known for being an incredibly eco-friendly and sustainable city.
Getting to Freiburg from Mulhouse is a little trickier than Basel or Colmar. There are two main options, via a small town called Müllheim or via Basel. The Basel option takes between 1 hour 10 minutes and 1 hour 50 minutes and costs €35-40. The Müllheim option takes about 55 minutes and costs just under €15. They run at fairly irregular intervals throughout the day, although the Müllheim option runs much less frequently than the Basel option. With the route via Basel taking longer and being more expensive, there doesn’t seem to be much advantage to taking it other than the fact that they are much more frequent. This is important when you know that you only have 10 minutes to change platforms in Müllheim. A bit of a dash ensues because the Mulhouse train gets in at one end of the platform and the only tunnel to traverse the platforms is all the way at the other end, miles away (at least it felt like that). This was fine on the way there but on the way home our train was delayed by ten minutes. We pulled into Müllheim with a minute to spare and raced down the platform just in case there was any chance we could make it. There was not. And that was how we came to be stranded in Müllheim for two hours. Beware!
I had such glorious weather the day I visited that everything looked beautiful. The city looks very similar to a lot of Alsatian towns and cities. While wandering around, we passed some of the main points of attraction, including the Martinstor, an old city gate dating back to the 13th century where women accused of being witches were burnt, and the altes rathaus (the old city hall). We made it the Münsterplatz, the main square where you’ll find the Freiburg Cathedral and the Historic Merchant’s Hall.
A great spot for panoramic views of the city is the Schlossberg, a hill overlooking the old town. It is topped with Schlossberg Tower but there are several lower viewpoints that give equally good views across the city, such as the Kanonenplatz. There is a funicular that makes the top of the hill accessible to all. There was originally a castle on the hill but only the ruins remain now.
Another point of interest in Freiburg are the shallow gutters that run through all the streets, called the Freiburg Bächle. Originally they were used to fight fires and feed livestock but now they keep the city cool on hot days and provide entertainment for children who race small boats down them. Legend says that if you accidentally step in one you will marry a Freiburger!
Food and Drink
My main food and drink recommendation for Freiburg comes from the farmers market that happens in the Münsterplatz everyday except Sunday. There is a great selection of food trucks including a vegan’s dream tofu truck, a more traditional German sausage truck and the one that eventually pulled me in, enticingly loaded fries. There were also all kinds of stalls, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, toys, crafts, cheese, meats, liquorice, sweets and more. I even found some caramelised onion chutney, something I’ve been missing from home and haven’t been able to find anywhere in France!
Another excellent spot is the beer garden on Schlossberg hill. Just a couple of hundred metres up the hill but perfectly placed for a light refreshment, you can enjoy a pint of pilsner while taking in the view!
And there we have three easily accessible day trips from Mulhouse! I’ve been to both Basel and Colmar a few times now but would definitely like to go back to Colmar to wander around some more and to Basel to visit some more of the museums. I really loved Freiburg and feel like there’s a lot more to discover there, plus I was able to practice my beginner German and learn a lot more while I was there. Hopefully some of this information will be useful if you ever visit these cities and you can enjoy some of the recommendations as well!