Welcome to Basel!
The city of Basel, Switzerland, perched upon the German and French borders, is geographically speaking one of the most multicultural cities in western Europe. Rather than being a confusing blend of three cultures, the city has a proud history and its own unique personality.
Often overlooked for better-known destinations in the region, Basel is full of intrigue and beauty that only a true worldwide local will unlock. Here is our guide to making the most from your time in Basel.
Where to Begin
The medieval Old Town lies at the heart of the city and is home to a staggering array of architecture. From the Romanesque Cathedral to the renaissance Town Hall, these narrow streets surrounding the Central Marktplatz are the beating heart of the city. The Marktplatz itself still plays an active role in daily local life, selling all manner of fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and much more. From here, it’s just a short stroll to the banks of the Rhine river and the historic Mittlere Brucke (literally Middle Bridge). The river is a favorite hangout for locals during the summer when the Basel weather runs hot, and it’s not unusual to see people bathing in the cool waters right in the city center!
Worldwide Local Tip: For outstanding panoramic views over the city, climb the 500-year-old St Martin’s Tower of Basel Cathedral. On a clear day, you can see as far as the German Black Forest, to the north and the French region of Alsace, to the north-west.
Basel, as with most Swiss cities, is home to an excellent integrated public transport system of buses and trams, which connect every corner of the city, from Basel Airport to the city center. Ticket machines accept both Swiss Francs and Euros, but they can be a little confusing for the uninitiated. Talk to the manager at your Basel hotel for assistance. A one-day ticket, called a Tageskarte, is an economical and convenient option costing just CHF 8 ($8.19 USD). Alternatively, Basel is one of the few major cities where it may actually be worth purchasing a tourist card, known as the Basel Card, for CHF 20 ($20.47 USD). Not only do you get 24 hours of unlimited travel, but you also enjoy free entry into the excellent Basel Zoo and a complimentary boat tour. Of course, if you intend to spend your entire time in the Old Town, you will need nothing more than your own two feet!
Worldwide Local Tip: Notch up another unique experience by riding one of Europe’s only international trams. While Lines 3 and 10 passes into or through France, Line 8 terminates in the German suburb of Weil am Rhein. No passports needed, and you probably won’t even notice the border.
Art and Culture
A culturally proud city, Basel boasts no less than two-dozen museums and art galleries, the most famous being the Kunstmuseum Basel, which plays host to a wonderful collection of classical art--including an entire room dedicated to Picasso. The neighboring Museum of Contemporary Art is also worth visiting, while the extensive Basel Zoo is one of Europe’s finest. It’s a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
Worldwide Local Tip: While less boisterous that proceedings in Cologne or Munich, Basel’s own carnival celebrations known as the Basler Fasnacht are a highlight of the city’s annual calendar. Elaborate parades, traditional music, and extravagant costumes are central to the three-day celebrations, which are taken very seriously by local residents!
Eating in Basel
Basel has a strong café culture, and in the summer months, the streets and squares are lined with outdoor seating and people enjoying a coffee in the sunshine. Eating out is generally more expensive than in other European cities, but the quality is usually good. Swiss classics such as Potato Rosti, Fondue, and Geschnetzletes (pork fillet cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce) can be found almost everywhere and are hearty enough to keep you going all day. For a quick and budget friendly snack, a grilled sausage from the market is a great option on the go.
Worldwide Local Tip: For a budget-friendly lunch and the chance to meet some of Basel’s younger generation, head to the canteen of the Mensa Universität. Good value, filling lunch menus are available to all, not just students, and can be enjoyed on the pleasant outdoor terrace. Eat up and chat with the students about the chances of the popular Basel FC team.
Enjoy Your Visit!
While perhaps lacking the magnificent lakes or towering mountains of other Swiss cities, Basel is home to a compelling blend of history, culture, and fun that only a true worldwide local will unlock. But once you’ve had a taste of what the city has to offer, much like a good fondue, you can’t quite get enough!