This is post 1 of 1 in the series “Travel To Baselworld – Lessons Learned and Advice”
Travel to any foreign country can be fraught with traps and pitfalls. But, travel to the Baselworld show in Switzerland even more so due to the nature of it being a worldwide or global event. Being prepared and having the knowledge going into it can be a huge time saver that is sure to lower your stress levels and make for a much more enjoyable event.
If there’s a Mecca for watch guys and girls it has to be Basel, Switzerland. But for only one week a year; the week in which a series of coliseum size structures and hotel spaces are transformed into the mythical realm known as the Basel Watch Fair, or Baselworld; the largest gathering of watch manufacturers and fans in the world. Over the course of the week throngs from around the world will visit to witness the thousands of displays. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have visited the event twelve times and counting. With that experience in mind am hoping to share tips I wish I’d known as an attendee much earlier on. In this article I’ll focus on basic travel and lodging tips.
Like many Swiss cities Basel dates back centuries; to at least the 11th. It’s a cross section of cultures with suburbs residing in three countries, France and Germany being the other two. When visiting you’ll hear old and new Basel being referenced. The old being a bit more of the strolling experience amidst picturesque old structures contrasting against the new, which is much more the modern industrial experience. Very few watch fans see the old, as Baselworld is both time consuming and the property of the new side of things. In all my visits to the area I’ve seen the old town only once and that was due to attending a dinner hosted there by a watch brand. The “old town” and “new town” sections are connected via a bridge as shown in the image above.
The first time visiting Basel I made at least three key mistakes; flying to Basel, renting a car, and staying in Basel. That’s not to say that there’s not great crash pads to be found; am told that Les Trois Rois is quite the experience at four figures a night if you can get a room, with “lesser” properties asking below 1000 dollars. Not having that budget I wasn’t anywhere near the action. The car? Well, turns out parking is a bit of a premium, not even so much paying for it as finding a space to pay for in the first place. One day I couldn’t believe my luck; there was a space directly outside one of the major Baselworld halls. Will never know why it wasn’t towed but the car actually survived the full day in a space likely expecting one of the Lamborghinis. Usually I spent a significant time each morning circling for a more distant space or parking garage. Oh, and why not fly straight to Basel? Because short of flying private there’s no such thing as a direct flight so you’ll be adding a time consuming additional leg to a journey that from the US likely has at least one stop already in the lineup.
I can share from experience that it’s simpler to fly into Zurich and then take the train right out the lower airport level to wherever you’re staying. It is good to embrace what a lifeline this system can be. True to the stereotype the Swiss trains do run on time, very on time, and the rail lines are a sleek way to reach almost any area via clean comfortable modern cars with spaces for luggage. From the Zurich airport train station you can buy the round trip airport train ticket as well as a multi-day pass for the passage from your town of choice to Basel. The biggest difference between first and second class ticket options is fewer people in first and with less smoking. Grab a train schedule from any ticket window, show up on time and you’re set. The train system even sets up “express” trains from surrounding communities into the Basel station for the week to meet the demand. Of course you can rent a car. Having done that several times I would say that unless your destinations or schedule demand a private vehicle then the train is the way to go. You’ll avoid the high cost of petrol as well as the ongoing parking challenge mentioned earlier.
Basel accommodations will likely command a premium and are often sold out a year in advance. Some exhibitors book the next year’s stay while in the midst of the current one. Over the visits I’ve found that staying in outlying towns offers other advantages and so would encourage you to look beyond the host city. I’ve stayed at a very comfortable hotel in the historic German town of Freiburg. By the way if you’re in the area check out the Zum Roten Baren (The Red Bear) restaurant that has been operating somewhere around 900 years. If you drove, the autobahn will get you swiftly from Germany on the way to the show and, yes, I’ve done that. Driving that legendary stretch of road is a bit of rush and it seems to operate on the overall rule of “slow to the right”. On occasion I would find myself in the incorrect lane with the impeded Porsche or Mercedes flashing their headlights, bidding my rental to get over. The image above is of “old town” Lucerne and includes the hotel I and my companions usually stay at (the Hotel des Alpes) while at Baselworld as well as the beautiful Chapel Bridge that crosses the lake.
Trains service Basel routes from France, Germany, or in country. Choose one of the Swiss towns on a line that can get you to Basel in about an hour or so (Lucerne is a spectacular example) depending on distance. Follow the crowd out of the train station and you will see a well marked trolley line set up for the week that runs to a stop immediately adjacent to several of the key show halls. Inbound trains start early in the AM but I would caution that the return schedule may not be running deep into the evening so be sure to keep on eye on that.
Obviously there’s a balancing act at play here. The farther out you stay the more likely the cost of lodging will go down with the tradeoff of travel time to and from. Personally I find the train ride to be part of the experience, gliding through the spectacular Swiss countryside before arriving.
So let’s talk currency. I’ve found it most practical to buy Swiss francs before the visit. There is the option of buying in the Zurich airport but the way I look at things it’s one less thing to worry about in country if already taken care of. Major credit cards will be widely accepted (train, hotel, stores, most restaurants) but you may encounter the occasional food vendor where cash may come in handy. Within this topic I should mention to brace for some sticker shock; Switzerland is expensive, often very expensive, so just be prepared for a new level of price for a coffee, meal, and of course the requisite souvenir.
I’ve found that a mistake often made by visitors is planning their schedule only for the Baselworld show and not budgeting time to enjoy Switzerland itself. So I will close this article by recommending that if you can plan a day or two to see some of the most spectacular mountain country found anywhere in the world. Also, should this be your first time flying to Europe from the US, note that you will likely arrive rather tired and jet lag will descend. Resist the increasingly powerful urge to lie down for five minutes; this will likely end badly with you up and wide awake in the middle of the night. Make that first day a “burn day” by filling it with seeing some sights and exploration to pass the hours. Staying awake until at least after a reasonable dinner time will help your transition into the first full day be a bit easier.
I hope these tips will prove useful as you plan your Baselworld show visit. In Part II of this article, I’ll discuss what you can expect while onsite at Baselworld
TLDR? Attending the Baselworld (the Basel Watch Fair) is the goal of many a watch geek but attending on your own with little to no experience can seem a bit daunting. Having attended thirteen Baselworld shows, I’ve put together some tips that may help someone considering attending.
- Don’t fly to Basel. It’s possible but unless your flying private, it’s unlikely that the perceived closer proximity will be worth the hassle of the additional required plane changes. Fly into Zurich and make your way from there (by train is the easiest). Some attendees opt to stay in Zurich and take the train to Basel for the event.
- Don’t rent a car. Public transportation to and from Basel, to outlying towns and indeed the Baselworld itself is very efficient. Gas is expensive and parking is at a premium.
- Plan on a “burn day” when traveling east to Europe. You’ll likely land quite early (around 8am or so, sometimes earlier) and once you have secured your accommodations, it will be tempting to lay down for five minutes. BIG mistake! Don’t do that! Find things to do to keep you awake until at least mid-evening. You’ll likely sleep well and will awaken with much less of a jet lag effect.
- Stay outside of Basel to keep costs down. Switzerland is expensive and things can add up quickly. Yes it’s convenient to stay close of the event. But you will find that hotels are going to be pricey, if not sold out. By using the rail lines you can bring that cost down while getting to see some the spectacular Swiss countryside during the rides to and from your hotel.
- Get Swiss currency before leaving home. Currency is available at the Zurich airport and credit cards are widely accepted. But having some “walking around money” in Swiss francs is always a good idea. Taking care of that before the trip is one less thing to worry about later and will likely be much less expensive.
- Make sure you see the sights! Baselworld is quite the experience for the watch geek. But don’t forget to get out and experience Switzerland too! It’s truly a spectacular place.