Visit the Swiss city of Basel, Switzerland’s most underrated tourism destination

Basel Travel Guide
Basel Travel Guide
One of Switzerland’s underrated tourism destinations, Basel has a beautiful medieval old town centre, a fascinating carnival, and several world class art museums built by architects like Renzo Piano, Mario Botta and Herzog & De Meuron. Basel is also rich in architecture old and new, with a Romanesque Münster (cathedral), a Renaissance Rathaus (town hall), and various examples of high quality contemporary architecture, including more buildings by Herzog & De Meuron, Richard Meier, Diener & Diener, and various others.

Located in the Dreiländereck (three countries’ corner), Basel is a gateway to the Swiss Jura mountains and nearby cities of Zurich and Lucerne, as well as the neighbouring French region of Grand-Est and the German Black Forest. There are a number of things to see and do if you have a few days to spend.

Introduction to Basel

Dreiländereck, borders of Switzerland, Germany, and France meeting at the Rhine harbour of Basel

The town of Basel lies in the north-western corner of Switzerland. The town shares borders with France and Germany and is the heart of this tri-national region – the Dreiländereck (three countries’ corner). Besides its own attractions it can serve as a good entry point to the Grand-Est, Black Forest regions or the canton of Basel-Land.

A Basilisk, the mythical dragon holding the coat of arms and protecting the city

The Rhine curves through the city and divides the town into two parts. Situated on the south and west bank is Grossbasel (Great Basel) with the medieval old town at its centre. Kleinbasel (Little Basel), featuring much of the night-life, is on the north bank.

Visiting Basel can be a holiday for your vocal cords if you plan to absorb the beautiful art in silence exhibited in the many first-rate museums. Once a year it also hosts Art | Basel (see Do) which is the world’s premier fair for modern classics and contemporary art.

Basel has one of the most amazing carnivals you’re likely to see, called Fasnacht. If you’re there during the “three loveliest days” of the year, prepare to be amazed, and don’t expect to be able to sleep. (See DoFestivals).

BaselTourismus, +41 61 268 68 68, the local tourist information service, has several offices, including at the main station, Bahnhof SBB, and in the city centre, in the Stadtcasino building at Barfüsserplatz, directly across the street from McDonald’s. To organize guided tours, you can also visit the office at Aeschenvorstadt 36, +41 61 268 68 32.

The quiet, shy and reserved Swiss city of Basel is not a top tourist city, but it should be. The most revered cultural hotspot in Switzerland, Basel is the gateway to some of the finest art collections and cultural architectural icons in the country. The historic and magical centre of the stunning Old Medieval Town is in a class of its own – bringing visitors who are in the know, from all over the world to experience it.

Some of the world’s premier architects have built some of their most famous and distinctive works of construction genius here and legendary art museums have homes built by big names like Mario Botta, Herzog and De Meuron and Renzo Piano. Contemporary and modern architecture can be found nestled between historic gems that line cobbled walkways and whom are perched majestically peering over the breeze-ruffled Rhine River.

Basel is situated at the crossroads known as Dreiländereck – Three Countries’ Corner, or border of Switzerland, France and Germany– and is the bustling gateway to cities like Lucerne, Zurich and the Swiss Jura mountains, as well as being on the fringes of the German Black Forest and the French District of Alsace. There is an absolute abundance of exciting activities to be enjoyed in and around the city and few days might not be enough to explore everything.

The summer carnival is perhaps not as famous as those of Rio and Venice, but can certainly meet the revelry and festivities superbly on par. The summer months brings an uncharacteristic summer heat to Switzerland – the hottest in all the country – bringing visitors and normally reserved locals out to party, fill up the heaving sidewalk cafes on cobbled streets enjoying wine and milkshakes out in the sunshine. The Rhine is packed with people out and about enjoying their time bobbing about on the water and children splashing about in the cool waters of the water fountains.

The Best Time to Go

Basel Travel Guide
Basel Travel Guide

Being some 3 degrees higher latitudinally-speaking than any of the other Swiss cities in a northerly direction of the Alps, Basel is the warmest city of them all. It makes the city great in the winter time, as Basel doesn’t have the characteristic below freezing temperatures and snowy conditions of the rest of the country; however in summer it can get rather hot and uncomfortable.

Because the city is located in the basin of the Rhine Valley, the heat during summer beats down on the houses and swirls throughout the city, bringing wonderfully warm and balmy days.

The best time for visitors to come to the city would be the busy season from the middle of May, right through to the end of June.

There is a quiet spell from then until the middle of August, which then picks up again right through until the middle of October. The rainy season is usually at its peak during the spring time in April and May and everything is green and lush going into summer.

The winter season where it is really cold is actually quite short here in Basel and there are only a few short days of snow every year and unfortunately very rarely bring a white Christmas; the coldest months being from the middle of January to the beginning of March. The Basel Carnival is the 3 festive days starting directly after Ash Wednesday, and really is something special to experience if you are visiting the city during this time.

Getting Around in Basel

Basel Travel Guide
Basel Travel Guide

Getting around the small city is easy and inexpensive as the public transport is well-organized. It is not advisable for any visitor to drive themselves around the city- it can be confusing and frustrating and dangerous if you don’t know what is what. And in any event, you will have absolutely no need to drive anyway.

Walking is a great way to see the city; everything is in close proximity to each other. Plus, it will give you a chance to walk off all of the delicious chocolates and Swiss pastries on your hilly walking workout on the cobble stones.

But do be careful because the bright green trams have right of way over and above every one – including cars and pedestrians.

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