20 Plus Reasons Why Basel Should Be Your Next Destination

By: Amanda Vo

Vogel Gryf celebration on Mittlere Bruecke
Vogel Gryf celebration on Mittlere Bruecke

Basel - a charming Swiss city located at the intersection of Switzerland, Alsace, France, and the Black Forest of Germany – is often overlooked by international tourists, who often go straight to the more popular Zurich and Geneva.  But don't disregard this city based on its looks and quiet demeanor. Basel is a hidden gem, a culture-filled city offering a plethora of festivals and cultural events throughout the year.  The third largest city in Switzerland, Basel offers ample historic landmarks and 37 museums focused on everything from fine arts to regional history to children's interests.

The best and most efficient way to experience Basel is via a combination of walking, buses and trams.  Driving in the Basel center can be a nightmare, not to mention the difficulty of finding parking. Public transportation operates like clockwork here and is connected to all the landmarks and museums.  SBB, the Swiss transportation organization, offers a thorough and easy-to-navigate website, SBB home page, to assist tourists and Baselers with finding the best and quickest route to anywhere. A city guide app for Basel can also be downloaded to help all navigate the city. Click here to download app.

Pressed for time, I would recommend checking out the following key landmarks and neighborhoods.

Key landmarks to visit:

  1. The city gate "Spalentor," or the Gate of Spalen, is one of seven gates built in the 13th century to safeguard Basel from natural disasters.  Today, only three gates remain - Spalentor, St. Alban-Gate, and St. Johanns-Tor.  Of the three, Spalentor is the most impressive and most beautiful with its fairytale-like castle standing proudly in the historic Spalentor district of Basel.  

  2. The eye catching, brightly colored 14th century Rathaus (also known as the town hall) is situated in the heart of central Basel next to Marktplatz, a town square filled with tourists and suited office workers mingling about in a multitude of restaurants and shops.  The bustling farmer's market offers everything from gourmet food to take away hot sandwiches and lovely floral arrangements.  

  3. A short distance away is the picturesque Mittlere Brücke, which is the largest and oldest bridge to extend across the Rhine River, connecting Klein Basel to Gross Basel and the site for the Vogel Gryf festivity.

  4. Just outside the center of town, there is the popular Tinguely Brunnen fountain, a favorite of both adults and children, designed by the renowned Swiss artist Jean Tinguely.  The rotating gears and gadget sculpture mirror the actors who once performed on a stage that is now the site of the fountain.  

  5. Climb to the top of Munster Church for a spectacular 360 view of the city.

For the art lovers and museum goers, Basel offers a wide gamut of collections ranging from fine arts to toys to local history.  The city has an impressive high density of museums compared to other metropolitan cities of similar size. There are about 37 museums in and around Basel.  Click here for the full list - Basel museums.  The majority of Basel museums provide information and audio guides in English as well as German, French and Italian.  

If you plan to visit multiple museums during your stay in Basel, consider getting the museum pass.  The cost of an annual membership will pay for itself after just a few museum visits.  Plus, the pass allows for admission to museums in neighboring regions – Alsace France, the Black Forest of Germany, and nearby cities in Switzerland.  For more information about this pass, click here - Museum Pass.

Don't Miss these Museums:

  1. The Beyerler Foundation has both its permanent private collection and rotating special exhibitions of world-renowned artists.  In past years, the foundation secured the collection of artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, Jeff Koons, and Henri Rousseau.  Currently, the museum features the works of Swiss artist, Ferdinand Hodler.

  2. The Kunstmuseum houses the largest art collection by the Holbein family and the most significant art collection in Switzerland.  The museum presents artworks from the 15th century to modern day.  In addition to its noteworthy permanent art collection, the Kunstmuseum Basel is currently exhibiting "The Picassos Are Here!", artworks of the artist collected by Basel residents and establishments.

  3. The Tinguely Museum houses the largest collection of artwork by the renowned Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tingely.  The collection is a favorite amongst children and adults alike.  His unique and mesmerizing contraptions are something to marvel at.

  4. The Spielzeug Welten museum with its monstrous collection of teddy bears (2,500 to be exact) and dolls spread over four floors is a favorite for children and adult doll collectors.  My children's favorite is the realistic mechanical carousel that rotates as carnival music plays in the background, perhaps reminiscent of "Herbstmesse" in the olden days.

  5. The Paper Mill Museum (Basler Papiermuehle) is a working museum located in an actual paper mill established by the Galician family in 1453.  The museum is a functional workshop with hands-on exhibits for all to try.  Children and adults alike can create handmade paper from pulp, try old fashion typesetting, and create decorative paper.

Basel also abounds with festivals and celebrations. The city government organizes some kind of event every month, providing its citizens and visitors with endless entertainment throughout the year. This city on the Rhine hosts the internationally renown Basel World and Art Basel, as well as a profusion of smaller festivals such as Basel Viper, Basel Design Expo, and the Basel International Dance Festival. It is also the home of the internationally recognized Basler Fasnacht!

Every month is a good month to visit Basel:

Here are a few of the traditional celebrations that put Basel on the contender list of must-visit cities in Switzerland.

  • January: Experience an old Basel celebration – the Vogel Gryff is an old Basel tradition with roots in the 14th century, when three honorable societies of the brotherhood of Kleinbasel used to safeguard the city. Today, the tradition continues to celebrate the existence of Kleinbasel. The event is staged on a rotating three year calendar occurring on either January 13th, 20th, or 27th of the month.  

  • February: Basler Fasnacht is the biggest and only Protestant carnival in Switzerland.  Baslers, or "Bebbi" in Basel dialect, look forward to this festivity every year and plan months in advance for its arrival.  Each year Basler Fasnacht presents a theme which almost always involves a heated political topic. Basel’s world famous carnival event, Basler Fasnacht, kicks off on the first Monday after lent at 04:00 and lasts for three days ending on Thursday morning at 04:00.   For more information, visit the official Fasnacht website.

    Basler Fasnacht Carnival
    Basler Fasnacht Carnival

  • March: As the weather warms up, venture outside to watch Basel Viper - an international film, video, and new media festival featuring films from all over Europe.  

  • April: Baselworld is an internationally recognized watch and jewelry fair hosted annually in Basel. The fair attracts vendors, visitors, and buyers from all over the world as they gather to catch the latest trends in watches and jewelry.  

  • Late May/early June: Basel welcomes Art Basel, an internationally renown art show, showcasing artwork from 2,000 artists represented by 300 art galleries from all over the world.

  • July: Don’t miss “The Picasso are Here!” exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel. Most artwork comes from the private collection of Basel citizens and institutions. The exhibition closes on July 21. The eye-popping fireworks to celebrate Swiss National Day occurs on July 31 in downtown Basel-Stadt even though the official holiday is August 1.

  • August: For 32 years, Basel has celebrated the heat of the summer with a community float down the Rhine known as the Rhine Swim. This year, the Rheinswimmen will take place on August 13 at 18:00. For more information, click here.

  • September: Basel Marathon – Run to the Beat will take place on September 22, 2013. Bring your MP3 players, running shoes, and run to the beat.

  • October: 2013 hosts the 543rd Basel Herbstmesse, a fairground like festival that spreads throughout central Basel and encapsulates the city with its music, theme park rides, food, and much more. The event is a favorite of children as well as adults. Don’t miss the Oktoberfest tent which features a live band and an overflowing abundance of beer.

  • November: Another most-liked tradition in Basel is the Basler Stadlauf, which is a 5.5 kilometer run through old town Basel. The event begins at 17:00 with the youth races followed by the adult runs. This year’s run will take place on November 30 and will kick off Basel’s Christmas festival.

  • December: The most anticipated event of the year, of course, is Basel’s Christmas market, also recognized as the most traditional Christmas market in Switzerland. Between November 28 and December 23, the streets and squares in Barfusserplatz and Munsterplatz transform into a radiant winter wonderland. If possible, stay until December 31 to watch the fabulous firework display in Basel to bring in the New Year.

Basel is truly a wonderful city to live in. There is nightlife as well. However, being a mother, I don’t get to experience it and hence, can not write about it!

Why not give this city a try the next time you are planning your trip to Switzerland? You may find Basel so intriguing that you come back again and again.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAmanda Vo is an American expat living in Switzerland. Blog description: A blog about Basel living and travels by an American family (expats) currently living in Basel.
Help to win!
Help this expat WIN by sharing a link on your website/blog/forum/groups!

Grab a badge that links to this contest entry!

Copy and paste code to display this Contest Entry Badge:

Contest Comments » There are 9 comments

Icarus wrote 9 years ago:

So if we visit, can we stay with you?

Betsy wrote 9 years ago:

Ooo, the paper museum (and making spot) and Christmas market sound amazing. So much to see! Great article. :)

Kate Göhring wrote 9 years ago:

Thanks for all of the great information. My family is visiting soon and this is so helpful for them to read before their visit.

Susie wrote 9 years ago:

Great job, Amanda. You hit every month, and all the top must-dos. Always wanted to do the town's group jump into the Rhine. One day I'll be here in August!

Sean Seeley wrote 9 years ago:

Very useful tips for visitors!

Molly wrote 9 years ago:

Great article Amanda! We'll have to add Basel to our list of travel destinations.

Rachel wrote 9 years ago:

Very informative. A great pre-visit read for visiting friends and family.

Jamie wrote 9 years ago:

Wonderful information! Great to have when looking for things to do around town! Thanks!

Diane wrote 9 years ago:

Very well written and informative.

Leave a great comment and help to WIN a prize:

Your Name *
Email * (not published, needs verification one time only)
Website (NOT required - include http://)

IMPORTANT: Rules for comments to be accepted:
- Positive in nature - If you haven't got anything nice to say... you know!
- More than 10 words - We're not looking for simply "Great post!" etc, make it meaningful please :)
- Verify your email address - One time only, we'll send you a verification email (CHECK SPAM FOLDER!)
Comments that fall outside of these guidelines won't be published!
Please note that there MAY BE A DELAY BEFORE PUBLISHING comments, so don't worry!

Your Comment: *
  • Facebook
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • RSS feed
  • Facebook

Latest Headlines

3270 Expat Blogs By Destination

Submit your blog for inclusion!