Before we made our way to Basel, Switzerland, we didn’t know much about it. We had looked up blog posts (including an old guest post we had on this blog) and no one really had much to say about it. Everyone had the same old points when it came to visiting the cathedral and exploring the old town. (which are beautiful), but Basel has so much more to offer. In fact, Basel was one of our favorite cities in Switzerland.
Basel has fantastic gastronomy, beautiful landscapes and excellent green spaces and cycle paths. While Basel is often overlooked in favor of Zurich or Lucerne, there are plenty of reasons to visit Basel and place it at the top of your Switzerland itinerary.
Reasons to fall in love with Basel Switzerland
1. Basel is quirky
We had heard that people from Basel jumped into the Rhine on a whim and floated down to their hearts’ content, but we really didn’t understand what it was about. Well, if you’ve visited Basel before in the summer (or even in early spring or late autumn) you’ll notice a lot of bobbing heads sailing down the Rhine.
2. Well bathing
We told you Basel is bizarre, right? A popular activity in Basel is fountain bathing. When they don’t swim in the Rhine, they swim in the fountains. We saw families having a fantastic time in the many historical fountains. Basel is a city of fountains where you can top up your water bottles with fresh, clean water, but if you are a local you can just jump in and have a “fountain bath”. Trust me, some of them are as big as swimming pools.
3. You can swim in the Rhine too
Bathing in the Rhine is most popular with locals and tourists in Basel. Pick up a wrapped fish in Basel and make your way to Museum Tingley. From there, take off all of your belongings, save on your swimwear, and tuck them in your wrapped fish. After undressing, hop in the water and get ready to float up to two kilometers down the Rhine. Sit back and relax as you admire the beauty of the city, the banks of the Rhine and oh yes, keep an eye out for ships, boats and ferries.
4. Basel has Weidling
If you don’t want to jump in the water, one of the coolest attractions in Basel is the traditional shipping technology from Weilding. We joined our guides Urs and Lisa on the right bank of the Rhine under the Tingley Museum to begin our lessons. Urs builds his boats by hand according to a 2000-year tradition. We learned to row and prick upstream. It was great to pass by the locals enjoying aperitifs on the riverside and cheering us on as we pushed our way forward.
The river was moving fast, but we covered a lot, with Urs doing most of the work for us. That doesn’t mean we didn’t deserve our dinner, this is a fantastic workout that reminds us of the Venice gondoliers. Visit the website for a lesson or book a wine and cheese river tour where you can sit back and relax.
5. You can cross the Rhine without a motor or a paddle
For 2.5 CHF (approx. 3 USD) you should definitely get on board the ferry that crosses the Rhine. It’s a short trip, but it’s unique. There are four reaction ferry terminals between the five Basel bridges that bring passengers across the Rhine. The four ferries connect Großbasel with Kleinbasel without a motor. The ferries instead use a cable and rely on the current of the river to propel them across the river, the faster the current, the faster the boat will move. We went down behind the Basel Minster to the ferry terminal. There is also a place to have a cocktail at sunset.
6. Basel is beautiful
Basel is the architecture capital of Switzerland. While many of the buildings in Switzerland are historic (and much of Basel is too), there are plenty of modern designs and buildings in Basel that make the city stand out from the rest. The city has done an excellent job integrating modern buildings with their medieval wonders.
7. Museum of Cults, Basel
The Museum de Kulteren stands out with a classicist design from 1849 and a modern roof with hanging gardens that brings it into the 21st century. The modern reflective ceramic tiles mimic the medieval roofs of the old town.
8. Basel Exhibition Center
Messe Basel is another outstanding design that ensures the perfect Instagram-worthy shot. The entire complex is a work of art, but the giant Oculus catches the eye. The massive hole that penetrates the ceiling opens over a public square, adding a modern twist to a historic city.
9. Basel is perfect for cycling
One of our favorite days in Basel was when we explored the landscape on an e-bike. There are numerous cycle paths around Basel and one of the best cycle paths for tourists is the Rehberger Weg “24 Stations”, which runs from the incredible museum of classical modernism, the Foundation Beyeler, to the modern Vitra Design Museum in Germany, designed by the renowned architect Frank. Gehry leads. Before you get on your bike, treat yourself to a snack in the Beyeler restaurant in the park and fill up your water bottle at the fountain outside.
10. Beyeler Foundation to Vitra Design Museum Trail
We picked up our e-bikes from Rent a Bike in the main train station, where we set off to explore as much of Basel as possible. You can go a lot on an e-bike and it’s a fantastic way to get around. We highly recommend it when you are exploring a city in Switzerland. “Museum shopping with the e-bike.”
11. Cycle to Germany to see a Frank Gehry design
Have you ever heard of something this decadent? Further information can be found on the Beyeler Foundation website and the Vitra Design Museum website.
12. In Basel you can visit 3 countries at the same time
There aren’t many places in the world where you can stand in one place and stand in two other countries. (We did it before in Brazil) but at the Three Country Corner you can stand on the Switzerland Grand Tour and be in three countries at the same time! This is where France, Switzerland and Germany meet. The industrial district is transformed with bars on the river. Deck 57 is a cool bar in an old ship, or you can enjoy cocktails right above the border triangle while watching the incoming ships.
13. Basel has great street art
You don’t come to Switzerland and often think of street art, but when you are in Basel you should definitely take an Urban Art Tour to discover the city’s hidden treasures. It was only when our guide Nina drew attention to the invader tags in the city that we noticed all the stylishly decorated street art in the city. Invader is world famous for its Space Invader tokens, which have been seen everywhere from the ocean floor to space.
Our favorite work of art looked like a broken glass window at first glance, but on closer inspection (and through the camera lens) we saw the ingenious work of Swiss artist Simon Berger. He made a famous Kamala Harris etching in Washington DC, but the original glass design is in Basel, Switzerland. Urban Art Tours in Basel can be booked through Artsubli. get booked
14. Basel has fantastic museums
Dave and I haven’t visited many museums in our travels and we definitely missed something. Now that we’ve slowed down a bit (and maybe got a little more sophisticated?), We’re starting to go inside to appreciate artists from the past and present. We couldn’t get enough of the Kunstmuseum Basel and if we had more time we would have taken a whole day to explore Cezzane and Gauguin, Van Gough and Picasso. Check their website to see what’s going on at the Khunstmuseum.
15. Basel also has the smallest museum in the world
Blink and you may miss it. We would never have known it was there if we hadn’t been on a stroll through the old town. The Hoosesagg Museum (Pocket Museum) is housed in a tiny 2×2 foot window of a 600 year old building. The exhibition changes every few months and our guide Margrit has told us that people can request that their memorabilia and important items be displayed. (It’s not officially the smallest museum in the world, but I’ve searched for smaller ones online and haven’t found any so I’m giving it this title)
16. Basel has one of the most beautiful city gates in Europe
Basel was once a fortified city and you can still see parts of the old city wall. The Spalentor is a fairytale gate that has stood since the 14th century.
17. It also has a beautiful town hall
The town hall is the crown jewel of Basel, which stands proudly in the center of the market square. Its 500 year old red facade is one of the most beautiful in Europe. It is particularly beautiful with its red facade and colorful frescoes. The town hall is still a functioning town hall and the current base of the Basel government and parliament. Most people look at it from the market square, but be sure to go into the courtyard.
18. Basel has a great food scene
We have eaten in many places in Switzerland and nowhere have we enjoyed our culinary experiences as in Basel. Our favorite restaurants were right on the Rhine. Le Rhin Bleu is located in the picturesque St. Alban district on the Rhine. It has an outside terrace and turns into a sauna in winter. We also had great service on Ufer7 on the Rhine and of course a visit to Basel would not be complete without a cocktail in the Three Kings.
19. Feel welcome to Les Trois Rois (The Three Kings)
Les Trois Rois is the most fashionable place in Basel with a view of the Rhine in a 5-star deluxe hotel. It may be pretentious, but we walked in after a day of cycling and they greeted us with grace as we strolled in our shorts and sneakers. The relaxed atmosphere was a perfect spot for a sunset aperitif. This place has welcomed visitors since the 17th century.
20. Basel is the cultural capital of Switzerland
It’s a small city, but Basel has 40 museums, countless theaters with musical theater, ballet and stage productions. With 300 days of sunshine a year, Basel offers many outdoor festivals, cinemas and markets. It also has its own carnival. The Basel Carnival is a three-day festival that is the largest festival in Switzerland with masked musicians and artists.
Basel has a very popular Christmas market that seems to be on the list of all “things to do in Basel”. It also hosts the largest art fair in the world and is the theater and cinema capital of Switzerland. When we were there in August, was on Munster Hill in front of the Basel Minster, a former Catholic cathedral that is now a Reformed Protestant church.
As you can see, Basel Switzerland is an amazing city to visit. If you dig deeper behind the minster and explore the old town, there is so much to see and do that you will fall in love with Basel too.