Basel is the third largest city in Switzerland and is definitely worth a weekend’s stay. We were there for a weekend and enjoyed the beauty of the city. The “Altstadt” in particular is lovely to walk through, unhindered by traffic. We will give you an overview of the highlights of a city trip to Basel.
Background information on Basel
Basel is located in the northwest of Switzerland, on the border triangle with Germany and France. The city has less than 200,000 inhabitants. The Rhine crosses Basel and divides the city into two. The part on the south bank is called Grossbasel, this is the oldest part of the city. The part on the north bank is called Kleinbasel. Many people live here and the large congress centre is located here.
Basel is economically important for Switzerland. It has the only port in the country. It is also an important commercial and industrial centre. Pharmaceutical companies in particular are located in Basel. It is also the oldest university city in Switzerland. Art Basel is the biggest contemporary art fair in the world, which will take place in mid-June of 2019.
Highlights of a city trip to Basel
The city centre of Basel is surprisingly compact. It is wonderful to walk through the narrow streets here. As many are steeply rising or falling, there is no other traffic than other walkers. That makes it very relaxed to stroll through, despite the little slopes. The highlights below are all very easy to reach on foot in the Altstadt.
Basler Münster and Münsterplatz
The great Basel cathedral with its dark red stones is an unmissable sight in the city. The construction of the church started in the 8th century. The present cathedral dates from the 12th. The church has beautiful paintings in the crypt. In addition, the “Galluspforte” on the outside is very special and in the northern aisle, you can see a panel from the 11th century with six apostles on it. In the Gothic corridors on the south side of the church are many tombs. There are epitaphs on the walls. In the church you can also find the tomb of Desiderius Erasmus. This philosopher lived in Basel for many years and was buried here after his death.
The cathedral is located on a large rectangular square, the Münsterplatz. The square is located on the grounds of a former Roman camp. It is surrounded by beautiful houses and buildings. When we were there, it was actually very empty and quiet the whole time. A single tourist was walking on the square, but we hardly saw any locals here.
Rathaus and Marktplatz
The Rathaus is the seat of the Basel government and its parliament. In the middle of the old town, it is particularly striking with its bright red façade, the large clock surrounded by statues, the characteristic tower and the various frescoes. A visit to the Rathaus is definitely worth the while, especially because of the council chamber, attractive courtyard, romantic arcades and the tower.
The Rathaus is prominently located on the Marktplatz. For centuries, markets have been held here on a daily basis. It mainly sells vegetables, fruit, cheese and flowers. At the various cheese farmers, there are often long queues of buyers who want to buy a delicious piece of Swiss cheese. In addition, the various city festivals take place on the Marktplatz.
Hardly any other monument in the city of Basel has become such a symbol of the city as the Mittlere Brücke. It was opened in 1226 and is one of the oldest crossings on the Rhine between Lake Constance and the North Sea. In the Middle Ages, convicted criminals were killed in the old bridge chapel. Now the bridge is a romantic place to watch the sunset over the city.
The Spalentor is the most beautiful and impressive of the three city gates left over from the Stadsfortwerken of 1400. In ancient times, many important supplies and provisions entered the city through this gate from Alsace. The façade is decorated with three figures dating from the 15th century: Saint Mary and two prophets.
Wandering through the Altstadt
By going on a beautiful city walk through the Altstadt, you will get beautiful views of the Rhine, you will see many beautiful buildings that house nice shops and you will enjoy the peace and quiet of this city. Because of the compactness of the city, it is not a long walk but every street will give you a new highlight from your city break to Basel. Certainly the “Rhreinsprung”, which turns into the equally beautiful “Augustinergasse”, is very worthwhile. Then you automatically come to the Münsterplatz with its cathedral.
Visiting museums during a city trip to Basel
Nearly 40 museums give the city the highest density of museums in the country. Internationally renowned museums such as the Kunstmuseum Basel, the museum of the ironworking sculptor Jean Tinguely, the Fondation Beyeler and the Museum of Cultures attract art lovers to the city.
The Museum Fondation Beyeler has a special exhibition until 26 May. It is dedicated to the paintings and sculptures of the young Pablo Picasso from the so-called blue and red periods, between 1901 and 1906. For the first time, all Picasso’s masterpieces from these years can be seen in Europe.
Practical matters for a city trip to Basel
Here are some practical tips for a great city break to Basel:
There is plenty of hotel accommodation in Basel. Keep in mind that the price level is on the high to very high side. Just outside the city, in the surrounding villages, it is a little cheaper though here too you pay more than you are used to in your own country. Overview of hotel accommodation in Basel.
We spent the night in an Airbnb belonging to Jean. This retired professor rents out three rooms in his big house, within walking distance of the city centre. He talks passionately about his charitable projects, which he carries out with the help of the income from renting rooms in war zones, especially in Africa. This is one of the reasons why a stay with him is recommended. The room rate is very low for this city (about €60 per night) and the breakfast is really fantastic.
In Basel, you can do anything on foot. If you still want to use public transport, it is free for tourists. When you arrive at your accommodation, you can receive a free Baselcard. This gives you free use of public transport and a 50% discount on admission to museums, the zoo, the theatre and a guided city walk.
Food and drinks
You will find the best restaurants and bars in Kleinbasel on the north bank. Especially in the summer months, the terraces on the waterfront are open and it is very nice there. We had a nice dinner in restaurant Linde, which was reasonably affordable and you will only find locals, not tourists. When they talk to each other, it is impossible to follow in their funny dialect.
Best time to visit Basel
Basel is actually easy to visit at all times of the year. Winter has its charm because of the snow-covered houses and streets, which give the city even more atmosphere. In the summer, the terraces along the Rhine are crowded. It is very special to be in Basel during carnival. The “Fassnacht” means four days of celebration in the city.