Before moving to Basel in April, I had never been to the city or even to Switzerland. Upon my arrival, I dove right into exploring my new home. From my first day walking around the city square and along the Rhine, I fell in love with Basel. It’s a charming city full of winding alleys, pastel buildings with brightly colored shutters, and bikes along the river. It’s also one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in Europe. Walking around Old Town Basel you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
Basel is not only picturesque, it’s also steeped in culture. Despite its small size, Basel is known as the “cultural capital of Switzerland“ and the city lives and breathes art and culture. In fact, many of its cultural institutions and events, such as Art Basel, are internationally acclaimed.
What’s more, Basel is located in the heart of Europe with Germany and France just across the border. It’s a clean, safe city that is easy to navigate by foot, bike, or public transportation, making your visit all the more enjoyable. So put Basel on your bucket list and while there, use this guide to discover the very best that Basel has to offer!
1. Discover Old Town Basel
On every corner of Old Town Basel you will find buildings dating back as far as the 15th century. Wander the streets and get lost amongst the winding alleys, picturesque buildings, and elaborate fountains. You’ll feel like you just walked into a fairytale! Don’t miss the Spalentor, the city’s most magnificent medieval gate, and the impressive Basler Münster (Basel Cathedral) with its red sandstone walls, colorful roof tiles, and twin towers.
2. Immerse yourself in art at the Beyeler Foundation
Visiting the Beyeler Foundation is a must-do for any art lover. The Beyeler’s collection of classical modernism is internationally renowned and its current Monet exhibit is a real treat. After touring the museum, enjoy the foundation’s lush gardens where art, architecture, and nature are united.
3. Experience old-world luxury at Les Trois Rois
A visit to Basel is not complete without experiencing Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. Les Trois Rois, or The Three Kings, is Basel’s nicest hotel and one of Europe’s oldest. Founded in 1681 as an inn for gentlemen and rebuilt in 1844 as a Grand Hotel, Les Trois Rois’ guest book reads like a who’s who of world history. Situated directly on the banks of the Rhine, Les Trois Rois boasts one of the city’s best views. At night, the hotel is completely lit up and it glows in the most magical way. If you’re willing to splurge, have dinner at three Michelin star gourmet restaurant Cheval Blanc (read about my birthday dinner at Cheval Blanc here). If you want something more low-key but still a special fine dining experience, La Brasserie is another fantastic option. You can also stop in for tea or a drink and soak up the old-world glamour of this grand hotel.
4. Explore Marktplatz
Basel’s market square is dominated by the imposing bright red City Hall. Peak into the inner courtyard of this 500-year-old building which continues to serve as the seat of government of the Basel-Stadt Canton today. During the week, the square is transformed into a market full of fresh produce, flowers, meats and cheeses, and food stands. My favorite food stand is Piadina which serves up their namesake, a thin Italian flatbread with cheese, meat and vegetables.
5. Take a dip in the Rhine
When the temperature soars, the Rhine is the only place to be (especially since air conditioning is almost nonexistent in Basel). The Rhine becomes full of life with people grilling on the steps, drinking beers, and hanging out with friends. In the summer months, the Rhine is dotted with what the locals call “fish.” These fish-shaped floats keep your belongings safe and dry while you float down the river. Get yourself one and join in on the fun!
6. Visit the quirky Tinguely Museum
This hands-on art museum contains the works of Jean Tinguely, a famous Swiss sculptor who created intricate sculptural machines out of junk. Tinguely’s interactive, moving art is fun for children and adults alike. Also, the museum’s park on the Rhine makes for a great setting for some of his massive works.
7. Enjoy top-notch restaurants and bars
The Swiss take their food seriously and Basel has many great restaurants to choose from. After living there for four months I still didn’t get to go everywhere on my list! While in Basel, take advantage of the Swiss love for all things local and organic and treat yourself to some seriously memorable meals. Top on my list: the baguettes at Kaffe 1777, the Wiener Schnitzel at Walliser Kanne, the meat and veggie plate at Landestelle, and the cocktails at Werk 8. For more recommendations, check out my food and drink guide for Basel.
8. Spend an afternoon at the Vitra Design Campus
Vitra is a Swiss furniture company that manufactures some of the most internationally renowned furniture designs. But Vitra not only makes furniture, it also has its own Campus with buildings by prominent architects such as Nicholas Grimshaw, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. Today the campus serves as a fully operational production site and as a field of experimentation for architecture and design. Located about 20 minutes outside of Basel, Vitra’s sprawling, otherworldly Campus is open to the public and it is a must-see. While there, make sure you stop by VitraHaus, Vitra’s flagship store. At VitraHaus, you can see their furniture in different settings and try out their latest contemporary designs. There’s even an all-pink Alice in Wonderland themed room which is not to be missed.
Read about Vitra’s famous Summer Party during Art Basel here.
9. Relax in the city’s parks
If you need a break from sightseeing, head to one of the city’s many well-kept parks for a little R and R. In nice weather, the parks become a hub of activity with Baselers sunbathing, grilling with friends, and playing with their kids. We loved relaxing in Schützenmattpark, a leafy green park right by our apartment. If you’re lucky, a local stork will make an appearance! You can find more great parks in Basel here.
10. Wander around
Finally, just let yourself wander around the city. If you see an intriguing alley, take it. If you’re curious about what’s around the corner, see what’s around the corner! I discovered so many unexpected and delightful parts of the city simply by walking around and taking a few detours along the way. The best part is, Basel is small enough that you won’t get yourself truly lost. It’s also so safe that you don’t have to worry about running into harm’s way. So go explore! You just may stumble upon a few treasures 🙂
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