Before making our way to Basel in Switzerland, we didn’t know much about it. We had looked up blog posts (including an old guest post we had on this very blog) and nobody really had much of anything to say about it. Everyone had the same old points about visiting the cathedral and exploring the old town. (which are nice) but there is so much more to Basel, Switzerland. In fact, Basel ended up being one of our favorite cities to visit in Switzerland.
Basel has a fantastic food scene, beautiful scenery, and excellent green spaces and biking trails. While Basel may often be overlooked in favor of Zurich or Lucerne, there are plenty of reasons to visit Basel and put it at the top of your Switzerland itinerary.
Reasons to Fall in Love with Basel Switzerland
1. Basel is Quirky
We had heard that the people of Basel jump into the Rhine river on a whim and float down until their heart’s content but we really didn’t understand what it was all about. Well, if you have ever visited Basel in the summertime (or even early Spring or late fall) you’ll notice a bunch of bobbing heads cruising down the Rhine.
2. Fountain Bathing
We told you Basel is quirky right? Well, a popular activity in Basel is Fountain Bathing. When they are not swimming in the Rhine, they are swimming in the fountains. We saw families having a fantastic time in its many historic fountains. Basel is a city of fountains where you can fill up your water bottles with fresh clean water, but if you are a local, you just may hop in and do some “fountain bathing.” Trust me, some of them are as big as swimming pools.
3. You Too Can Swim in the Rhine
Swimming in the Rhine is the most popular thing to do in Basel for both locals and tourists. When in Basel, get yourself a Wickelfisch and make your way to the Museum Tingley. From there, take off all your belongings, save for your bathing suit, and put them in your Wickelfisch. After you have stripped down, proceed to hop in the water and get ready to float down the Rhine for up to two km. Sit back and relax as you take in the beauty of the city, the banks of the Rhine River, and oh yeah, keep an eye out for ships, boats, and ferries.
4. Basel has Weidling
If you don’t want to hop in the water, one of the coolest attractions in Basel is the traditional boating technique of Weilding. We joined our guides Urs and Lisa on the Right Bank of the Rhine under the Tingley Museum to begin our lesson. Urs builds his boats by hand following the tradition dating back 2000 years. We learned to row and spike our way upstream. It was awesome to pass the locals enjoying aperitifs on the river banks cheering us on as we pushed our way along.
The river was moving fast, but we covered a lot of ground with Urs doing most of the work for us. That’s not to say we didn’t earn our dinner, this is a fantastic workout that reminded us of the gondoliers of Venice. Check out their website for a lesson or you can 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 (about 3 USD) Make sure to hop aboard the ferry that crosses the Rhine. It’s a short trip, but it is one-of-a-kind. Located between Basel’s five bridges are four reaction ferry terminals that take passengers across the Rhine. The four ferries connect Grossbasel with Kleinbasel without the use of a motor. The ferries instead use a cable, and rely on the river’s current to propel it across from the river the faster the current, the faster the boat moves. We walked behind Basel Minster down to the ferry terminal. There is a place to have a cocktail at sunset there as well.
6. Basel is Beautiful
Basel is Switzerland’s architectural capital. While many of the buildings in Switzerland are historic (and much of Basel is as well) there are many modern designs and buildings in Basel that make the city stand out from the rest. The city has done an excellent job of integrating modern buildings with its medieval wonders.
7. Museum der Kulteren Basel (Museum of Cultures)
A stand-out is the Museum de Kulteren which has a classicist-style design dating back to 1849 and topped it with a modern rooftop with hanging gardens bringing it into the 21st century. The modern reflective ceramic tiles mimic the Old City’s medieval roofs.
8. Basel Exhibition Center
The Basel Exhibition Center is another stand-out design that makes for the perfect Instagram-worthy shot. The entire complex is a work of art, but the giant oculus is what catches your eye. Piercing through the ceiling, the massive hole opens up above a public square putting a modern twist on a historic city.
9. Basel is Perfect for Cycling
One of our favorite days in Basel was when we hopped on an e-bike to explore the countryside. There are numerous cycling trails around Basel and one of the best trails to hop on for tourists is the Rehberger Weg “24 stops” that runs from the incredible classic modernism museum, Foundation Beyeler to the modern Vitra Design Museum in Germany designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. Before you hop on your bike, grab a snack at Beyeler Restaurant in the Park and fill up your water bottle at the fountain outside.
10. Foundation Beyeler to Vitra Design Museum Trail
We picked up our e-bikes at the Rent a Bike in Central Station where we set off for the day to explore as much of Basel as possible. You can cover a lot of ground on an e-bike and it is a fantastic way to get around. We highly recommend it when exploring any city in Switzerland. “Museum hopping by e-bike.”
11. Cycle to Germany to see a Frank Gehry Design
Have you ever heard of anything so decadent? For more information visit the Foundation Beyeler website and the Vitra Design Museum Website.
12. You Can visit 3 Countries at Once in Basel
There aren’t many places on earth where you can stand in one place and stand in two other countries. (We did it once before in Brazil) but at The Dreiländereck (Three Country Corner) you can stand at the Switzerland Grand Tour and be in three countries at once! This is where France, Switzerland, and Germany meet. The industrial neighborhood is transforming with bars lining the river. Deck 57 is a cool bar situated in an old ship, or you can have cocktails directly above the Dreiländereck as you watch the ships come in.
13. Basel Has Awesome Street Art
One doesn’t come to Switzerland and often thinks of street art, but when in Basel, make sure to take an Urban Art Tour to find the hidden gems around the city. It wasn’t until our guide Nina pointed out the Invader tags around town that we started to notice all the stylishly situated street art in town. Invader is world-famous for his Space Invader tiles that have been seen everywhere from the bottom of the sea to space.
Our favorite piece of art looked like a shattered glass window at first glance but upon closer viewing (and through the camera lens) we saw the ingenious work of Swiss Artist Simon Berger. He created a famous etching of Kamala Harris in Washington D.C. but the original glass design stands in Basel, Switzerland. Urban Art Tours in Basel can be booked through Artsubli
14. Basel Has Fantastic Museums
Dave and I didn’t use to hit up many museums during our travels and we were definitely missing out. Now that we have slowed down a bit (and maybe have become a bit more cultured?) we are 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 whiled away an entire day exploring the likes of Cezzane and Gauguin, Van Gough, and Picasso. See what’s on at the Khunstmuseum on their website.
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 walking tour of the Old Town. The Hoosesagg Museum (Pocket Museum) is housed in a tiny 2X2 foot window of a 600-year-old building. The display rotates every couple of months and our guide Margrit told us that people can apply to have their memorabilia and important items put on display. (It isn’t officially the smallest museum in the world, but I looked for smaller online and couldn’t find any, so I am giving it that 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 gate is a fairytale-like gate has been standing since the 1400s.
17. It Also Has a Gorgeous Town Hall
The Rathaus (City Hall) is the crown jewel of Basel standing proud in the center of Marktplatz. Its 500-year-old red facade is one of the most beautiful in Europe. With its red facade and colourful frescoes it is particularly beautiful. The Town Hall is still a working city hall and is the current base of Basel’s government and its parliament. Most people look at it from Marktplatz, but make sure to go inside the inner courtyard.
18. Basel Has a Great Food Scene
We ate at a lot of places in Switzerland and in no place did we enjoy our dining experiences as much as we did in Basel. Our favourite restaurants were located directly on the River Rhine. Le Rhin Bleu is located in the picturesque St. Alban Quarter on the Rhine River. It has an outdoor terrace and in the winter it turns into a sauna. We also had superb service at Ufer7 on the Rhine as well and of course, no visit to Basel would be complete without having a cocktail at the Three Kings.
19. Three Kings
Les Trois Rois is the swankiest place in Basel that overlooks the rhine in the deluxe 5-star hotel. It may be swanky, but we went in after a day of cycling and they welcomed us with grace as we sauntered in our shorts and sneakers. The relaxed atmosphere made for a perfect place for an aperitif at sunset.
20. Basel is the Cultural Capital of Switzerland
It is a small city, but Basel boasts 40 museums, countless theaters featuring musical theater, ballet, and stage productions. With 300 days of sunshine a year, Basel has plenty of outdoor festivals, cinemas, and markets. It has its own carnival too. Basler Fascnacht is a three-day festival that is the biggest festival in Switzerland featuring masked musicians and performers.
Basel has a very popular Christmas Market which seems to be on everyone’s “things to do in Basel” list. It also hosts the world’s largest art fair and it is the theater and cinema capital of Switzerland. When we were there in August, an open-air cinema was set up on Münsterhügel (Minster Hill) in front of 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. Once you dig deeper beyond the cathedral and exploring the old town there are so many things to see and do, you will fall in love with Basel too.