I have been visiting / living in Basel for a while now, and although there is still a lot left undiscovered, I have definitely found a few favourite places. The list is far from exhaustive, but it’s tried and tested. So, without further ado, here are my ideas for what to see, eat and do in this border city…
(also available as a downloadable PDF here)
SEE & DO
Basel is a city of many faces. It’s a centre of contemporary art, yet hides a beautiful and well-preserved medieval city centre; it’s most famous buildings range from a frescoed cathedral, to a space-age congress centre designed by Herzog & De Meuron, and its activities cover everything from exploring Roman settlements to swimming down the Rhine.
1. BASEL MÜNSTER: The medieval cathedral that dominates the riverside skyline is worth a trip for the peaceful cloisters, the impressive frescos and sculptures (inside and out) and to climb the towers for a birdseye view over the rooftops of Basel. www.baslermuenster.ch
2. KUNSTMUSEUM: One of the largest art collections in Switzerland, exhibiting works from the fifteenth century to modern day. www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch
3. FONDATION BEYELER: A little outside the city centre, this former private collection exhibits some of the most important names in contemporary art and sculpture. www.fondationbeyeler.ch
4. MEDIEVAL TOWN CENTRE: With its fifteenth century university and old merchant houses, its worth spending time meandering through the winding streets of the city centre and along the river bank. www.basel.com
5. SWIMMING IN THE RHINE: In summer the city swelters, and locals in-the-know don their swimsuits and leap into the Rhine. Grab a ‘wickelfisch’ (waterprof bag) and simply float the heat away. www.basel.com/en/portrait/rhine-life
6. IT’S SHORTER BY WATER: Basel has five bridges crossing the Rhine, but if you’re in a hurry, then catch a ride on one of the four ferries. “Wilde Man”, “Leu”, “Vogel Gryff” und “Ueli” cross using just the current and an overhead cable. www.basel.com/en/activities_excursions/ferries
7. CINEMA UNDER THE STARS: Every summer the Münsterplatz is transformed into a huge open-air cinema courtesey of mobile phone provider Salt (formerly Orange). www.saltcinema.ch/basel/basel.html
8. MEET THE ROMANS (not on map): At the impressively intact nearby Roman settlement Augusta Raurica in the town of Augst. www.augustaraurica.ch
EAT & DRINK
I may have been known to bemoan the culinary offerings of Basel when compared to London, but actually there are some great places hidden away. You just have to know where to look…
1. ST ALBAN ECK: Tucked down an old residential side street just back from the river, this beamed bulding hides a contemporary European restaurant with one of the most interestng menus in town. www.stalbaneck.ch
2. RHYSCHÄNTZLI: Contemporary and cool industrial interiors combine with a menu of traditional Swiss dishes given a modern twist. The atmosphere is young and friendly, and the food is done well. www.rhyschaenzli.ch
3. ELISABETHEN STÜBLI: You can’t come to Switzerland and not have fondue, whatever the weather. This is my favourite in town. although if you’re not in the mood for a melting pot of cheese (if not, why not?), this cute, wooden-panelled spot also serves other Swiss classics. www.elsbethenstuebli.ch
4. BODEGA ZUM STRAUSS: You can’t miss the giant ostrich adorning the facade of this local favourite. Come for the excellent Italian / European-style menu, stay for the drinks and company. Barfüsserplatz 16
5. GLATSCHARIA ÜNA: Hands down the best ice cream in the city. Fresh alpine milk is transformed into refreshing, colourful treats at this tiny kiosk hidden behind the University. Classic fruit and chocolate flavours abound, but try the Fior Di Latte, a traditional sour milk ice cream which is surprisingly sweet. Rosshofgasse
6. CAFE KAFKA: A cute little cafe attached to the Literaturhaus Basel with good hot chocolates and a small menu. A nice alternative to the nearby Starbucks on Freiestrasse. www.literaturhaus-basel.ch
7. CONSUM: Tuck into local wines and cheese before dinner at this bar opposite the Kraft Hotel. There are cheese and meat platters and a good selection of white, red, rose and sparkling wines by the glass. www.consumbasel.ch
8. VOLTABRAU: A stylish industrial-style space with a good selection of own-brewed beers and a slightly exposed patio. www.voltabraeu.ch
9. FLANNAGAN’S: Irish pubs don’t always get the best rep, but this one actually feels like the genuine article, complete with quiz. www.flanagans.ch
This is a city that loves to celebrate. In costume. All of the time…
JAN: Vogelgryff A celebration of the Klein Basel guilds. The symbols of each guild (a lion, a griffon and a wild man) process down the Rhine before dancing on the Klein Basel banks.
FEB: Fasnacht The biggest carnival in Switzerland. For 72 hours from the Monday after Ash Wednesday, cliques process the streets to the sound of sombre drum and piccolo marches, dressed as a mockery of global and local events. Begins with the Morgenstreich, or lighting of the lanterns, at 4am on the Monday.
JUN: Kantonal Schwingfest or Swiss wrestling.The rules are a mystery to all but those involved but it’s a fun family-friendly day out.
NOV: Weinachtsmarkt: The classic Christmas market complete with lights, crafts and hot chocolate.
Being right on the border of France and Germany is sometimes a little culturally confusing (not to mention linguistically), but it has its benefits…
1. ADLER IN SCHLIENGEN: Hop over the border to Germany and the Black Forest for some of the best meats and fondue (at reasonable Euro prices) in the region. www.adler-schliengen.de/index.htm
2. WASSERFALLEN: This mini mountain combines adventure park with hiking. Ride the cable car up, take a little wander to the summit, then head down on the giant, adult-sized trottinets. www.region-wasserfallen.ch
3. VITRA DESIGN MUSEUM: Part museum, part shop, the Vitra centre is home to the brand that created some of the most iconic furniture of the modernist era. From Charles and Ray Eames to Philippe Starck, Vitra have worked with amazing designers throughout their sixty-plus year history. www.design-museum.de
1.Basel Münster, Basel Münster, Münsterplatz 2. Kunstmuseum, St. Alban-Graben 16 3. Fondation Beyeler, Baselstrasse 101, Riehen 4. Old Town, Altstadt 5. St Alban Eck, St. Alban-Vorstadt 60 6. Rhyschänzli, Lichtstrasse 9 7. Elisabethen Stübli, Elisabethenstrasse 34 8. Bodega zum Strauss, Barfüsserplatz 16 9. Swimming in the Rhine 10. Rhine ferries 11. Salt Cinema, Münsterplatz 12. Glatscharia Üna, Rosshofgasse 13. Cafe Kafka, Barfüssergasse 3 14. Consom, Rheingasse 12 15. Voltabrau, Voltastrasse 30 16. Flannagan’s, Picassoplatz 8
Not on map: Augusta Raurica, Adler in Schliengen, Wasserfallen, Vitra Design Museum