A little bit about Basel
Basel is the third most-populous city in Switzerland behind both Zurich and Geneva and joined the Swiss Confederacy, precursor to modern day Switzerland, in 1501, shortly after which they built the distinctly red Town Hall (Rathaus) in the Marktplatz to mark the occasion.
Standing on the river Rhine, the city is now a hub for arts and culture and hosts annual event Baselworld each spring, which is a large trade show for many leading watch and jewellery brands.
Why should you go?
Though not one of the more traditional places to visit in Europe, Basel has a fair amount to offer its visitors.
On a sunny day you’ll have some amazing views of the Rhine on which you can take one of four boats if you’d prefer that to crossing via bridge, and the buildings lining the banks’ edges. There are also plenty of interesting, if not obscure museums.
It’s really easy to get around with an extensive tram system serving each part of the city and their crime rate is rated as ‘very low.’ The fact that Basel also runs close to both the borders of France and Germany makes for both an unusual tourist attraction, and a cultural melting pot with unmistakeable French, German and Swiss flavours.
The main attractions
Basel Minster is not only a tourist attraction, but also one of Basel’s main landmarks. The twin-towered Protestant church rises up over the Rhine, and looks down on it from its perch at the edge of the bank.
It is also easy to pick out due to its red sandstone complexion and intricate, coloured roof tiles, and the gardens at the back provide a nice view of the river, bridges and city as a whole
It is less than spectacular inside, but the church still retains its beauty in the form of some stunning stained glass windows.
Price: Free entry
Opening times: Summer; Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Saturday 10am-4pm, Sunday 11:30am-5pm Winter; Mon-Sat 11am-4pm, Sun 11:30am-3pm
Rhine ferries (Rhinefahre)
The main stretch of the Rhine through Basel city centre is home to four river ferries – all at different intervals. Each ferry goes from one bank to the other in a short space of time, but they are well worth the meagre fare to get a unique view of the city.
As TripAdvisor’s current number one attraction for Basel, it is most certainly worth doing. And if you’re than enthusiastic then you can give each one a go and take a nice walk down by the river’s edge.
Price: 1.60 CHF (Adult) / 0.80 CHF (Child)
Opening times: Summer; 11am-11pm, Winter; 11am-5pm
Although I never actually went because the Kunstmuseum is currently closed for what looks like extensive renovation, it is one of the highest-rated museums in the city.
According to their official website, “its world-famous collection, the Offentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, now encompasses around 4,000 paintings, sculptures, installations and videos, as well as 300,000 drawings and prints from seven centuries.”
This fine arts museum is a must for art fans and is a testament to the makeup of the city.
Price: 21 CHF (Adults) / 8 CHF (Concessions)
Opening times: Mon Closed, Tue-Sun 10am-6pm
Basel’s oldest and most central bridge is the perfect place for your souvenir photograph in Basel. Dating back to 1226, the bridge is one of the city’s most iconic monuments.
Getting a photo on it, and then one in a surrounding area with it as a backdrop is a must and for extra points, try snapping a pic as a tram crosses.
Opening times: N/A
Paper Mill Museum
Basel has been Switzerland’s paper producing centre for centuries, and all of its glory is available to see at the city’s Paper Mill Museum.
The museum is set out across four different floors, each focusing on a different aspect of the paper making process and its evolution to the current day.
One of the best things about the Paper Mill Museum is its interactivity, with paper making tutorials and quill scribing on offer to visitors. If you don’t want to pay that much money, then it is worth just going down for the amazing water wheel which is still in use.
Prices: 15 CHF (Adult) / 13 CHF (Concession) / 9 CHF (Children)
Opening times: Mon Closed, Tue-Fri & Sun 11am-5pm, Sat 1pm-5pm
By rail: Basel Bahnhof SBB is a massive train station on the outskirts of the city centre. It is reachable directly from eight other European countries, as well as most other places on the Swiss rail circuit. Train prices and timetables can be found here.
By bus: There are also bus routes operating to Bahnhof SBB, with Eurolines operating one such service.
Where to stay
There are plenty of places to stay in Basel. But as you’d imagine, budget accommodation is few and far between.
I stayed with easyHotel, located north of the river right by Messeplatz which is home to Baselworld. easyHotel is as basic a hotel as they come, but the television with plenty of channels was a nice bonus. Try Booking.com for great deals on hotels in Basel.
A hostel is another alternative for budget travellers – but even then there are only three, all of which can be found at HostelWorld.
Where to eat and drink
Trying to find cheap eats in one of Switzerland’s major cities is akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack – it’s not simple at all.
But Basel’s answer to Hard Rock Cafe, L’Unique, is down the lower end of the spectrum. Three courses and an alcoholic drink will set you back somewhere around the £35-£40 mark.
There’s also the slightly less gourmet Papa Joe’s, who serve primarily Mexican and American cuisine. It is also a popular hotspot for drinkers, and their Caribbean bar comes complete with a balcony overlooking Barfusserplatz, which is home to many bars and eateries.
Also, make sure to try some of the AMAZING chocolate that’s on offer. There are plenty of chocolatiers, but Laderach, although on the expensive side, is one of the very best. Even if you don’t intend on buying anything, it’s worth going into the shop for the smell alone.
To make things cheaper, there are always fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King, and kebab shops seem to be a popular thing – though, let’s face it, it’s nothing on a sit down meal.
If you go to Basel, then you HAVE to go to Bar Rouge, located on the top two floors of the Basler Messeturm building. On a Saturday night the place is packed, with good music playing and amazing views to be had. Even going to the toilet is fun, as each cubicle has its own window looking out over the surrounding areas.
Avoid Sundays if you can
Almost every shop is closed on a Sunday in Basel – the Sabbath appears to still be king. Trying to buy something as simple as a bottle of water is a challenge and, as a result of little business hours, the city is a lot less busy.
For those wanting to see Basel in its true form, try sticking to other days. However, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for tourist attractions as most are open all weekend.
Take plenty of money
Switzerland, simply put, is expensive – especially when it comes to dining – so make sure to take a little extra just in case. They deal in Swiss francs, but a lot of places take Euros, too.
One of the good things about the city is that the attractions shouldn’t take up a lot of the budget. The same can’t be said for an evening meal, though – so be prepared.
The Rhine looks surprisingly clean
If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll know how disgusting the water in the river Thames is. The Rhine on the other hand? Not so bad.
In fact you can go swimming in the river year-round at various spas, saunas and swimming structures along its banks - even in winter, if you can brave the cold!
One of the best things about my stay was free public transport. Now while I am unable to confirm whether it was just for our hotel, or whether it was in conjunction with Baselworld, or not, we were given public transport passes for the duration of our stay upon check in.
If it is standard practice for hotels to provide their customers with public transport passes then it is another feather in Basel’s cap. It’s even valid between the city and the airport, too!
Three Countries Corner is awesome
Basel is located along the Swiss borders with France and Germany. As a matter of fact, all three meet at a central point in the Rhine which is visible from a spot aptly names Three Countries Corner.
There is a marker pointing to the location of each country, and although it isn’t actually visible, the tip of the viewing platform is just metres away.
It is a little bit of a walk from the centre, but for geography geeks like myself, this is a must-see.
Did you know?
Basel’s airport – also known as EuroAirport – is actually in France! Not only does it serve the Swiss city, but also nearby Mulhouse, also in France, and Freiburg in Germany.