Google Switzerland travel and Basel barely rates a mention. Yet this Swiss city is surprisingly cool. It has an enviable location on the Rhine at the tri-point of France and Germany. There are museums and art galleries galore and hip contemporary urban design. It also has one of Europe’s best winter carnivals.
Here’s nine reasons Basel should be on your radar:
#1 You can stand in three countries at once
So intertwined is Basel with France and Germany, that some of its suburbs are in both countries. But if you want bragging rights, head to Dreilaendereck. A short tram ride from the city and easy 15-minute walk, this monument overlooking the Rhine, marks the spot where all three countries converge.
#2 There’s an art trail linking Switzerland and Germany
An abstract cuckoo clock, a stack of yellow “pop” tree trunks and a bright blue and orange street lamp are just some of the signposts along the “24 stops Rehberger Weg”, a fun 6-kilometre walk along winding trails and vineyards connecting Switzerland’s contemporary Fondation Beyeler gallery with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.
#3 Swimming in the Rhine is a thing
Come summer and the banks of the Rhine are packed with people eager to brave its waters. The mother of all swims – the Basel Rhine Swim – happens in August. For one day only, boat traffic is stopped and thousands take to the Rhine to swim and float along with the current. To keep gear dry, you can buy a Basel Wickelfisch (waterproof sack) from most tourist offices.
#4 The city packs an artistic punch
Crammed into its tiny 37 square kilometre radius are 40 museums. Some are little more than hole-in-the-wall galleries. Others, like the Kunstmuseum Basel in the city centre, with its significant collection of fine art, or the Fondation Beyeler modern art museum on the outskirts of Basel, are world-class. Basel is also home to ArtBasel, Europe’s largest international art show held each year in June.
#5 Basler Fasnacht is a one for the list
Basel Fasnacht is a 72-hour carnival kicks off at 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday with the Morgestraich, when the city is plunged into darkness and around 200 bands of costumed revelers wind through its streets. What follows, is three days and nights of merriment and music, elaborate masked and costumed parades, a kid’s day and colourful display of lanterns in Mūnsterplatz.
#6 The industrial area is a happening place
A bunch of bars and restaurants have popped up in Basel’s semi-industrial port area, just before the docks. Housed in repurposed shipping containers and rundown wooden huts, it’s a funky scene and popular local hang-out. Just follow the Rhine towards Dreilaendereck (the tri-state corner).
#7 Basel has two distinct personalities
Grossbasel (Greater Basel) on the south bank of the Rhine is home to luxury shopping, grand hotels and the charming Old Town. But for nightlife and an edgier vibe, head across the river to Altstadt in Kleinbasel (Little Basel). This working class area is a melting pot of ethnicities and the place for live music and small bars, local designers and modern bio dining.
#8 Its art scene is only rivaled by its architecture
So distinctive is Basel’s urban design and architecture, there are walking maps of the city. Its medieval streets are full of ancient buildings and squares and above it all, the Gothic Muenster Basel building (and Pfalz viewing platform at rear). While, dotted throughout, are modern designs by the likes of Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron and Zaha Hadid.
#9 Getting around is easy
Basel’s Mobility Pass makes it easy to explore the city without it costing a cent. Available to all hotel and youth hostel guests, it’s an unlimited travel pass that can be used on all buses and trams, as well as the Euroairport train line, for a maximum of 30 days.
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Belinda Luksic visited Basel courtesy of Switzerland Tourism. For more info, click here.
Belinda Luksic is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer and photographer. Her work appears in Jetstar, MiNDFOOD, Holidays for Couples, AWOL, CruiseCritic, Wego, Get Up & Go, TravelTalk, Arabian Travel News and others.