One of Switzerland's underrated tourist 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 Zürich and Lucerne, as well as the neighbouring French region of Alsace and the German Black Forest. There are a number of things to see and do if you have a few days to spend.
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 Alsace, Black Forest regions or the canton of Basel-Land.
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 Do, Festivals).
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.
Basel is a cosmopolitan city because of its university and industry and its proximity to the borders of France and Germany. The official language of the city is German, but the majority of the population speaks Baseldytsch, an Alemannic dialect, as their mother tongue. German is taught in schools and fluently spoken by virtually everyone, so if you speak German and they notice that you are a foreigner, they will most likely answer you in German. Also widely spoken are English and French, both of which many people are able to communicate in comfortably enough to deal with everyday interactions and will gladly work to understand you. Borrowed French words are fairly common in everyday conversation; for example, Baslers often bid each other farewell with the French "adieu". Basically, the average Basler understands and speaks fluent Baseldytsch, German, English, and often French.
The best airports for Basel are the city's own EuroAirport just 4 km away, or Zurich 90 mins away by train. Other options are Geneva, with excellent flight connections but 3 hours away by change of train, and Bern (1 hr) and Strasbourg (90 mins) which have fewer flights.
1 EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg (BSL IATA, MLH, EAP) has flights to many cities in Europe, plus Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Morocco. English-speaking destinations are Bristol, Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester, and several London airports. There are no flights within Switzerland as land travel times are short. Transat has summer flights to Canada, but there are otherwise no direct flights to North America; nor to the Gulf - so Zurich is better for Asia. As the airport sits near the convergence of three countries it has three IATA codes: BSL Basel, MLH Mulhouse, and (less often) EAP EuroAirport, so it may help flight search to try all three.
The airport lies in France, 4 km north of Basel - it's connected to the city and to Switzerland by a customs-free road. On arrival you either go through Swiss or French passport control and customs, into a small hall where you rejoin the people who went the other way. To reach the city:
- Take bus 50 from the Swiss arrivals exit to Basel SBB main railway station (runs daily, takes 15 min). You'll need a two-zone ticket - buy it at the bus stop for Fr. 4.70 or equivalent in Euros. This ticket is valid to anywhere in Basel, including transfer to trams. If you have a hotel booked in Basel, try showing your reservation to the driver, you might be allowed a free ride. Most hotels offer a free transport pass, which includes the airport bus, so the return to the airport will be taken care of.
- Take bus 11 from the French arrivals exit to St Louis railway station and change to the commuter train to Basel main station. If you already have a trioregio local ticket, it covers this route.
- Take a taxi. Or rent a car if you're exploring the region, but you won't want it in the city.
- Flixbus runs directly from the airport to Zurich (4 per day, 1 hr 40 min), Freiburg Germany (12 per day, 1 hr) and Strasbourg (four per day, 2 hr 20 min).
Zurich Airport (ZRH) has its own railway station, with direct trains at least hourly to Basel SBB, and other frequent connections via Zurich main station. The journey takes 90 mins and a walk-up single adult fare is Fr 20. If you fly with Swiss, the national airline, you can through-book via Zurich to Basel: the connection is by train and the IATA code in Basel is ZDH the railway station, not BSL the airport. You have flexibility over which train you take, and don't need a ticket, just a boarding pass (printed or mobile) that shows your barcode.
Basel has two main railway stations. Almost all trains run from 2 Basel SBB about 1 km south of city centre. Within Switzerland, SBB trains take just under an hour to Zurich and Bern, two per hour; there are good connections across the entire country. Paris is only three hours away via the TGVs of SNCF; change at Mulhouse for French regional connections. Direct trains also run to Strasbourg (1 hr 10 min) and Milan (4 hr 30 min). ICE trains into Germany follow the Rhine north via Karlsruhe to Frankfurt (3 hr), Cologne (4 hr), Hamburg (6 hr 30 min) and Berlin (7 hr). There are also sleeper trains once or twice nightly, taking 11 hours to Berlin or Hamburg, run by Nightjet, a subsidiary of Austrian ÖBB.
The trains into Germany also call at 3 Basel Badischer Bahnhof (abbreviated Basel Bad Bf), north of the river in Kleinbasel. However some regional trains to southern Germany start from Basel Bad and don't call at Basel SBB: these hug the border as far as Schaffhausen then follow the Danube to Ravensburg and Ulm.
When arriving from Germany via the A5 highway, you pass the border control near Weil am Rhein just outside Basel and enter the city via the same highway, now named A2/3 (you're in Switzerland), which passes north of the city centre and continues on to other Swiss cities, including Zürich, Berne, and Lucerne. To get to the city centre in Grossbasel (the larger section of the city) look for signs to Bahnhof SBB; if you want to arrive in Kleinbasel (the smaller part on the other bank of the Rhine), look for Messe Basel. Arriving from Zürich or central Switzerland, you are on the same A2/3 highway, just in the opposite direction - same exits. For parking in the city, see below Get around - By car.
If you drive into Basel, make sure you have a valid Vignette (toll sticker) if you drive on the Autobahn! The Vignette costs Fr. 40 and is valid for the calendar year indicated on the sticker. If you do not and are caught without one, expect to pay a fine of Fr. 100 plus the cost of a Vignette.
In summer cruise ships (various operators) sail the Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel. But these are scenic cruises taking 8 days to tour the cities along the way; they're not point-to-point ferries.
Flixbus operates long distance buses from Basel SBB direct to Frankfurt (5-7 hr), Munich (6-9 hr), Cologne (8 hr), Hanover (10 hr), Hamburg (13 hr), Milan (5 hr 30 min), Brussels (9 hr), Paris (9 hr), Amsterdam (13 hr), and Rome (14 hr).
This is the standard mode of travel for many within the city. Old Basel isn't very large and there are many narrow and winding side streets with incredible slopes.
The shopping streets in the old city are closed to car traffic. Tourists will walk a lot - and be pleased and impressed at every turn. But the walking can be a bit strenuous after a while, particularly when walking on cobblestone alleys in the old town, which can also get quite steep. Walking around Basel can be a real cardiovascular workout for some if you wander off the main streets - but it's the best way to experience the city.
WARNING: Trams have the right of way over just about everyone - all the time. Keep an eye out for them as you cross a street, including on pedestrian crossings.
By tram and bus
Basel has an extensive tram (light rail) and bus network. The bright green trams and buses are the greatest amenity you can imagine: absolutely prompt, relatively inexpensive, clean and very convenient. Each stop has maps of the public transport system and a listing of arrival times.
The 8 and 10 trams and the 38 and 55 buses cross international borders - bear this in mind for carrying goods and identification!
- Ticket Machines: Buy single tickets here, there is no vending inside the trams and buses. Every stop has one - bright green as the trams. They take both Swiss Francs and Euros. Some train station vending machines also sell tickets for trams and buses.
- Inside the city limits, all destinations farther than 4 stops away are 1 Zone and cost Fr. 3.80. As long as you are travelling away from the stop where you got on, you can ride on the same ticket for as long as the ticket is valid. The fare for buses and trams is the same and transfers (changing) is free. There are also special buses that connect to nearby towns in France and Germany.
- Mobility Pass: All hotels in Basel, including the youth hostel, offer each registered guest a free "Mobility Pass" upon check in. This gives free unlimited travel in Basel and suburbs (including to and from the airport) for the duration of their stay. This is easily worth the price of a lunch every day you stay. (If you have written confirmation of a hotel reservation you can also use this to travel from the railway station or airport to your hotel. At least one respected hotel in Basel advertises this fact on their web site.)
- Day Pass: You can also buy one-day passes (Press "Tageskarten" then "Basel + Agglomeration" buttons on the touch-screen ticket machine) with the same validity as the "Mobility Pass" above (zones 10, 11, 13 und 15) for Fr. 9.90. There are also multi-trip tickets or multi-day tickets.
- 6-Trip One Zone Multi-Ticket (Mehrfahrtenkarte): 6 trips for the price of 5. Worth buying for a group or if you plan on spending more than a couple of days in Basel. Available at every kiosk in town and at ticket machines which have a credit card reader. Not significantly cheaper but it saves you having to fiddle around with change.
- Halbtax-Abo: If you own a Halbtax-Abo (half-tariff card) issued by Swiss Railways SBB, you can buy half-tariff tram tickets as well. (The cost of the Halbtax-Abo is Fr. 150, worthwhile if you plan to spend more than Fr. 300 on Swiss train tickets during your trip or within one year - which can happen quite quickly).
Tram and bus travel is on the honour system. Nobody collects your ticket. Periodically, a number (4-8) of "tram police" (undercover agents) board a tram and quickly examine everyone's ticket before the next stop. If you don't have one, there is an on-the-spot fine of 80 Fr. Even in this exercise, there is efficiency - if you don't have cash available you'll be given the option to pay later at the office on Barfüsserplatz, but then it will cost you Fr. 100.
Handling trams and buses
To open the door from outside press the button near the door on newer (low floor) trams, or the orange lit button beside the door on older trams and buses. Inside, press a button on the door of the newer trams or the small black button on the grab rail near the door on older trams and buses, and the door will then open automatically as soon as the tram stops. Doors close automatically before the tram starts moving. Hold on! Trams accelerate quickly and brake quite abruptly. Upcoming stops are announced by a recorded voice in Standard German (as well as English and French at main stops) along with the numbers of connecting trams at that stop.
Trams change routes slightly at certain times of year (summer, Fasnacht). This will be signposted at stops, and usually also on the overhead screens that display departure times - see photo (look for a scrolling message highlighted with ***). If a tram is temporarily diverted because of an accident this is announced inside and at stops over PA - but in Swiss German: ask a fellow passenger or the driver if it's Greek to you.
Basel is a bicycle-friendly city, with many well-marked bicycle lanes throughout the city, and even traffic signals and left-hand turn lanes for bikes. While drivers are generally aware of bikers, be sure to use hand signals and ride defensively. Beware of the trams! If you are not careful, your wheels may also get stuck in the tram tracks and this can make you fly. Helmets are not required (although recommended), but lights and bells are. The Swiss are quite keen cyclists, so don't be surprised when an old lady goes flying past you on her bike while going uphill.
Besides local commuter bike lanes, there are specific bike trails that connect to other parts of Switzerland (via the Veloland Schweiz network, (recommended for overland bicycling tours). These bike trails are indicated by signs at some intersections.
Bikes can be rented locally from the Rent-a-Bike underground bike park, +41 51 229-2345, at Centralbahnplatz, underneath the Basel SBB railway station.
- You can be carried across the Rhine by Fähri, one of Basel's four small ferry boats, which, hanging at a steel rope, are silently drawn by the current between the two banks of the river. One river crossing costs Fr. 1.60 for adults and 0.80 for children. The most popular one may be the one that starts in Grossbasel just below the Münster.
- Various day excursions up and down the Rhine, on large motor boats, are offered by Basler Personenschiffahrt, Reservations phone +41 61 639-9500. Boats depart from Schifflände, near the Grossbasel end of Mittlere Brücke.
Driving in Basel is not recommended for visitors, as inner city streets can be confusing - and are shared with trams (cars must yield to trams). Parking in the old city is relatively expensive and scarce. Most mid-range or luxury hotels have or help with parking. In addition, there is a network of clean, safe (and payable) public garages at the periphery of the city centre, generally open 24/7. If you stay for the day only and are driving via highway into Grossbasel, try Centralbahnparking near the SBB Station; if you're entering in Kleinbasel, try Parking Badischer Bahnhof, near the German railway station. Closer to the city centre in Grossbasel are Steinen Parking at Steinenschanze 5 and Elisabethen Parking, at Steinentorberg 5, and in Kleinbasel Messe Basel Parking at Messeplatz. A handy website with availability and driving directions to all public garages can be found here.
Basel Old Town is a compact, walkable area bounded to the north by the Rhine and to the south by the Zoo and SBB main railway station. There are many museums, some with a free opening hour at the end of the day.
- 1 Basler Münster (Basel Minster), Münsterplatz. Nov-Mar M-Sa 11:00-16:00, Su 11:30-16:00; Apr-Oct 10:00-17:00, Sa 10:00-16:00, Su 11:30-17:00. Now a Reformed Protestant cathedral, it was built from 1019, badly damaged in an earthquake of 1356, and completed in 1500 in Romanesque & Gothic style. The Galluspforte (Gallus portal) on the western façade is a magnificent sculptural work. Figures carved on the main (south) façade include St. George slaying the Dragon. Inside, there's a sandstone lectern, and a crypt with tombs of early bishops of Basel; also buried here is Jacob Bernoulli, who discovered the mathematical constant e. You can climb either or both towers: St. Martin's is 62 m and St. George's is 65 m. Free; Fr 5 to climb towers.
- 2 Elisabethenkirche, Elisabethenstrasse 14 (T-jcn with Henric Petri Strasse). M-Sa 09:00-19:00, Su 12:00-19:00. Protestant church completed in 1864 in neo-Gothic Revival style. Note the stone pulpit with wooden canopy.
- A good start to a walking tour of the Old Town is Marktplatz, the market square. Lots of flowers, fresh fruit & veg, breads and pastries; Saturday mornings are the busiest. The Rathaus or Town Hall here is a beautifully renovated Renaissance palace. It's still in official use, but you can wander into the courtyard, or join a guided tour with Basel Tourismus.
- Extra city walls were built after the great earthquake of 1356, and several gateways still stand around the city perimeter: Spalentor to the west, St. Alban Tor near Aeschenplatz to the east, and St. Johanns Tor to the north near the Rhine.
- 3 Kunstmuseum Basel (Fine Arts Museum), St. Alban-Graben 16 (city centre), ☎ . Tu-Su 10:00-18:00. Huge permanent collection of 19th and 20th century works, including a whole room of Picasso, and medieval and renaissance paintings from Holbein, Grien and others. Housed in two buildings: Hauptbau & Neubau.
On the same ticket but in the separate Gegenwart building at St. Alban-Rheinweg 60 (10 minute walk from the main facility) is the Museum of Contemporary Art, open Tu-Su 11:00-18:00. Fr 16 for all 3 buildings.
- 4 Kunsthalle Basel, Steinenberg 7 (city centre), ☎ . Tu W F 11:00-18:00, Th 11:00–20:30, Sa-Su 11:00–17:00. No permanent collection, this is Basel's main non-commercial art space for changing contemporary art shows. Throughout the year, the Kunsthalle shows cutting edge international artists in meticulously curated shows.
- 5 Museum der Kulturen (Museum of Cultures), Münsterplatz 20, ☎ . Tu-Su 10:00-17:00. Ethnographic museum featuring exhibits from South America, Africa, East Asia and Oceania. The exhibits from the South Seas, Ancient America, Tibet and Bali are world-famous, as are its textiles.
- 6 Antikenmuseum Basel (Museum of Ancient Art and Ludwig Collection), St. Albangraben 5 (Across street from Kunstmuseum), ☎ . Tu W & Sa Su 11:00-17:00, Th F 11:00-22:00. Huge collection of antiquities: some Egyptian and Mesopotamian art, but mostly Greek art. Fr 10.
- 7 Spielzeug Welten Museum (Toy World Museum), Steinenvorstadt 1 (jcn with Barfüsserplatz). Tu-Su 10:00-18:00. Colossal collection of teddy bears, dolls houses, puppets and other toys. Fr 7; accompanied children to 16 free.
- Bounding the Old Town to the north is the Rhine. The bridges give a good view, and a 3 km promenade stretches along the riverbank. The Faehri (ferry) plies along it - see "Getting Around". You can even take a dip in it if it's really hot, as many locals do (see "Do / Sports" and Stay safe).
- Bring your passport, as even a short bus or tram ride may carry you out of the country. It's all Schengen area but security checks are always possible.
- 8 Museum Jean Tinguely, Paul Sacher-Anlage 1 (N bank of river, 1.5 km east of Mittlere Brücke, follow promenade; or bus no. 36.), ☎ . Tu-Su 11:00-18:00. Enjoy the wacky animated mechanical artwork of Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), and other "kinetic" modern artists. The building was designed by Mario Botta, whose other museum buildings include the San Francisco MOMA.
Another of his machine sculptures, the Fasnachtsbrunnen ("Carnival Fountain") can be seen on the plaza in front of Restaurant Kunsthalle on Steinenberg. There's more of his work in Fribourg, where he was born. Fr 18.
- 9 Basel Zoo, Binningerstrasse 40 (400 m west of main railway station), ☎ . Daily 08:00-17:30. Oldest and largest zoo in Switzerland. Have lunch watching the elephants and see the monkeys solving problems for food in the Monkey House. Fr 21.
- 10 Fondation Beyeler, Temporary entrance via Bachtelenweg during 2018 (In Riehen 10 km E of centre, take tram no. 6), ☎ . Daily 10:00-18:00, W until 20:00. Elegant museum designed by Renzo Piano, housing the fabulous collection of art dealer Ernst Beyeler. Highlights of the permanent collection include works by Mark Rothko and a vast nymphéas (water lily) painting by Claude Monet. There's usually also temporary exhibitions, and see also Art Basel under "Events". Note temporary entrance during construction on Baselstrasse throughout 2018, transport unchanged. Adults Fr 28.
- 11 Laurenz-Stiftung Schaulager, Ruchfeldstrasse 19 (5 km south of centre, take tram 11), ☎ . Tu-Su 10:00-18:00, Th to 20:00. Schaulager means "display-warehouse" and the building is a hybrid between a storage space, art history research centre, and museum, with changing temporary exhibitions. The core of it is the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation's modern and contemporary art collection. The Foundation was created by heirs to the fortune of the pharmaceutical multinational Hoffmann-La Roche. Fr 22.
- 12 Kunsthaus Baselland, St. Jakob-Strasse 170 Muttenz (2 km E of centre, take tram 14 from Barfüsserplatz to Schänzli), ☎ . Tu–Su 11:00–17:00. Changing exhibitions of contemporary art, particularly the Regionale, an annual platform for young artists from the "Three Countries' Corner". It also houses the BEWE Collection (donated by collectors Bruno and Elisabeth Weiss), which focuses on the oeuvre of two renowned Basel based modernist artist groups: Rot-Blau and Gruppe 33. Fr 12.
- 13 Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Str. 2, Weil am Rhein, Germany (east of Rhine 6 km from Basel centre: bus 55 from Basel), ☎ . Daily 10:00-18:00. Museum of furniture and lighting in three buildings. The main building (by Frank Gehry) hosts large exhibitions, and the Gallery smaller ones. The Schaudepot, opened in 2017, makes it possible to see the permanent collection.
Other remarkable buildings on the Vitra campus (guided tour Tu-Su at 12:00 and 14:00, 2 hours, call ahead) are by Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando, Nicholas Grimshaw and Alvaro Siza. And yes, you exit through the gift shop: VitraHaus allows you to sample, order and purchase. 11€, with Schaudepot 17€.
- 14 Fernet Branca Musée d'Art Contemporain, Rue du Ballon 2, Saint-Louis, France (12 km west of Basel, take bus from Schifflände (near Mittlere Brücke) to Carrefour), ☎ . W-Su 13:00-18:00. Changing contemporary art exhibitions, see website for schedule. 8€.
Basel is one of the major cities in Switzerland and offer all activities of an urban centre. Most popular is the Basel Carnival but the Basel ferry is the icon.
- Basel ferry (behind Münster). The Basel Rhine ferry is an icon of the city and a visit to Basel without a ride on a ferry would be incomplete. It only takes two-three minutes but it offers a great view (during sunshine).
- The Third Man. Chase The Third Man? While Carol Reed's classic post-war film noir actually takes place in Vienna, you can recreate its dark atmosphere by taking a guided tour of Basel's underground sewerage system (don't worry, this being Switzerland, it's not overly smelly). After entering a tunnel at Heuwaage, you follow the Birsig river underground to its estuary in the Rhine. The 1 1/4 hour tour ends at Restaurant Safran-Zunft in the city center, where you are taken up into the light again - and to tasty snacks. Because the tour requires a group to justify the somewhat high cost of Fr. 250.- (per group, not person) you should either find like-minded folks or try to join an existing group. Contact the urban planning firm Lindenberg 3], +41 61 683 56 52, for details and reservation.
Events and festivals
This is Basel's version of Carnival, and a premier event during the year, lasting for three straight days, beginning on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. Don't confuse it with the more raucous festivals in traditionally Catholic areas, such as the German Rhineland (Karneval) and Munich (Fasching), or Carnival in Rio or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It can actually have a kind of somber feel, although with a distinct poetry and subtle humour, which you may learn to like. Many locals are dead-serious about it, often preparing their costumes and practising their skills on the traditional musical instruments (military drums and piccolo flutes) throughout most of the year. If you are not a Basler, avoid dressing up silly or putting on make-up, as this is neither customary nor appreciated by locals - who mostly prefer to stay among themselves for what many consider "the three loveliest days" of the year. But that's no reason to be discouraged (thousands of tourists aren't anyway), just have the right approach:
Fasnacht starts Monday morning with an eerie procession called Morgestraich: At precisely 04:00, street lights are turned off, and hundreds of traditional bands (cliquen), dressed up in elaborate costumes and masks ("larven"), parade through the densely packed streets of the old town. Arrive well in advance - and on foot - or you will not get through to the city centre. It's not recommended for the claustrophobic, although it is peaceful, despite the masses. Absolutely DON'T use flash photography! It ruins the atmosphere, marks you as a tourist and creates hundreds of instant enemies. Morgestraich lasts for about 2–3 hours, during which restaurants are open - if mobbed - and you can warm up with a traditional zibelewaie (a kind of quiche) and a mählsuppe (a soup made of sauteed flour). It's an acquired taste, so perhaps wash it down with a glass of white wine. Almost all of the restaurants mentioned in the Eat section below are open during Morgestraich - but perhaps don't choose McD. After Morgestraich, everyone goes home to get some hours of sleep - or sometimes to work, if you are a Basler.
There are similar parades, the cortège, by the cliquen on Monday and Wednesday afternoon, along a predetermined route through most of the inner city. The elaborate costumes and masks, and the large hand-painted lanterns ("ladäärne"), are the pride of each clique, and are often designed by a local artist. Each clique chooses a sujet, a motto that typically pokes fun at some (often local) political event of the past year and which is reflected in the costumes and lanterns. You don't need to understand the sujet to appreciate the beauty of the artistic renderings. The lanterns are also on display on Tuesday nights, at Münsterplatz. In the evenings, the cortège route is all but abandoned, and large and small cliquen roam through the smaller alleys of the old town (gässle). It is common for spectators who like the look or sound of one of the cliquen to follow it around on foot for a while. As the pace of the cliquen is a slow stroll, and as the music can be lovely, this may even be kind of romantic, particularly if you are holding hands with a date. But Fasnacht is nothing like Mardi Gras, so don't expect ladies baring their breasts. Overt sexuality is a no, and aggressive attempts at picking up are frowned upon, as is binge-drinking. Remember: it's an almost somber if poetic affair. Try to blend in with locals, perhaps express some friendly curiosity about a costume or a sujet when talking to someone, and you are likely to have a much better time.
Tuesday is the day of the children, and of the Guggemusig, noisy brass bands that intentionally play off key. On Tuesday night at 22:00, dozens of these bands play on two stages, at Claraplatz and Barfüsserplatz. This is the one day where things get much merrier, particularly in the more proletarian neighbourhoods of Kleinbasel, where many of the Guggemusige have their home.
- Chienbäse. Combine Fasnacht with the amazing fire spectacle of Chienbäse parade in nearby town of Liestal, capital of the neighboring canton Basel-Landschaft (15 minutes by train from the SBB Station), which starts at 19:15 on the Sunday evening preceding Morgestraich. Locals clad in (kind of) fireproof garb parade through the narrow and spectator-lined streets of the town, carrying large burning wooden brooms (bäse) above their heads. Other groups are drawing iron carts with huge bonfires - which they even rush through some of the old town gates, as the flames lick the structures above. There are a number of inconclusive interpretations of this pagan-seeming custom but, again, you don't necessarily need to understand any of them to appreciate the eerie and even mildly threatening beauty of the parade.
- Fasnachtsbummel. The three Sunday afternoons following Fasnacht, the cliquen tour the countryside and small towns around Basel and return to Basel for a final large evening parade - the bummel (lit. stroll). No costumes, just music.
Art | Basel and other art fairs
- Art | Basel Mid-June. Co-founded by gallery owner Ernst Beyeler (see Beyeler Foundation) in the late 1960s, this is the world's premier fair for modern and contemporary art. Another event that seems to all but double the population of the city. The five day fair attracts major galleries and wealthy art collectors from around the world. ArtBasel showcases works by virtually every important artist from the late 19th century up to red hot trendsetters. Concurrently with Art | Basel, three other contemporary arts fairs are held in Basel each year, Liste, Voltashow and Hot Art. Liste and Voltashow feature international but generally younger and less established artists from around the globe, while Balelatina focuses on art from Latin America. All three "little sister" fairs tend to make room for (somewhat) more affordable artists than Art | Basel. Competition among galleries to get into Art | Basel is immense and prices for renting a booth astronomical. So expect the prices to reflect that. But Basel is well worth a trip just for this gigantic artfest if you are interested in seeing modern art, in being seen seeing modern art, and in buying modern art (if you can afford it). The international art world virtually takes over Basel for the week leading up to and during the fairs, with all kinds of art-themed parties and side events and much the same kind of beautiful (and somewhat self-important) people whose company you can enjoy, or not, in New York's Chelsea and London's East End. If you're serious about visiting the fairs, plan at least three days to see them all - Art | Basel alone is exhaustingly vast in scope and requires at least a day (unless you already know which Picasso or Rauschenberg you've got your eyes on). By the way, because of its immense success, Art | Basel has branched out to a second fair, Art | Basel | MiamiBeach, held in December in Miami, Florida, by all accounts an even bigger zoo.
- Basel is a permanent exhibit of the expertise of artisans. In the alleys near Barfüsserplatz and Marketplatz - and near the University, just look at the paving stones in the streets. The patterns inlaid in the streets are beautiful! Clearly, the handwork of artisans over the centuries is manifest in so many places. A simple walking tour - anywhere in Basel - reveals extraordinary performance. This standard extends in the modern time to the handcraft of the local pastries and chocolates. There is a tradition here. History sets the standard and in modern times - at least in some practices - the tradition continues.
Other fairs and markets
- BaselWorld. International Watch and Jewelry fair. Late March-Early April. The world's biggest watch and jewelry trade show. The city's population more than doubles during this convention. The watch displays are particularly elaborate, with the exhibition space set up like an indoor version of New York's 5th Avenue.
Art | Basel and BaselWorld shows take place at Messe Basel, Messeplatz (Kleinbasel) one of Switzerland's biggest trade fair venues, which also hosts several other trade shows throughout the year.
- Basel Herbstmesse (autumn fair). Two weeks beginning on the last Saturday of October every year. Rides, booths, shooting alleys and lots of food in several locations all over the city, including Messeplatz (biggest site with most attractions, including rollercoaster and the like), Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz (where you get nice views from the ferris wheel). Recommended: the cosy market at Petersplatz, near the main University building, where you can take a leisurely stroll and buy almost anything you never needed - from china, spices and tea, hand-drawn candles, knitted sweaters, leather goods to the latest household cleaning tools - and of course tons of tasty fast food, from healthy corn on the cob to less healthy Wurst varieties.
- Basler Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). Last week in November until 23 December in Barfüsserplatz.
Theatre and classical music
- Theater Basel, ☎ . Box office, is a three stage public theater in the city center. The Grosse Bühne (grand stage), in the theater's main building on Theaterplatz, is primarily used for operas and ballet. The Schauspielhaus, re-opened in 2002 in a new building on nearby Steinentorstr. 7, offers drama and comedy plays (in German and sometimes Swiss-German). The Kleine Bühne, also in the main building, is used for smaller drama productions or other unclassifiable genres. The repertoire of all three stages typically features a mixture of classic European canon (plays by Schiller, Chekhov, Ibsen, etc., operas by Mozart, Verdi, and the like) and contemporary, sometimes experimental, shows that may defy genre borders. Even classical plays or operas will generally be given a contemporary treatment. Not for a traditionalist's taste but enjoyable for the adventurous spectator. Both the drama and opera productions garner attention beyond Basel and are reviewed by the German speaking press all over Europe.
- Symphony Orchestra Basel (Sinfonieorchester Basel). is the opera orchestra of the Theater Basel (see above), and also performs classical symphonies and other pieces on the Grosse Bühne and in another venue, Stadtcasino Basel, which features an excellent grand auditorium. Tickets for the Orchestra are generally available via the Theater Basel box office (see above)
Other theatre venues include Fauteuil and Tabourettli, box office +41 61 261 26 10, two small stages in a medieval manor on picturesque Spalenberg 12, near Marktplatz, presenting (very) light comedy, usually in Baseldytsch, and some Fasnacht-related events during the season; and Musicaltheater Basel, Feldbergstrasse 151, near Messe Basel, box office via Ticketcorner.
Dance, rock and jazz
- Atlantis, Klosterberg 13, city center near Heuwaage, ☎ . Is probably the most venerable venue for all kinds of popular music Basel has to offer. It's been around since the 1950s and is, after many incarnations as a jazz club, theater, rock venue, now one of Basel's most popular dance clubs. A national and international set of DJs turns the tables nightly and finds an audience aged between 17 and 30. But the spirit of Rock is still alive, and the 'Tis also provides a stage for numerous local bands, with concerts taking place about five times a month.
- Kaserne, Klybeckstr. 1b, Kleinbasel, ☎ . A concert (Indie Rock, Electronic Music, Hip Hop, Drum'n'Bass), theater and dance venue.
- the bird's eye, Kohlenberg 20, city center, ☎ . A casual jazz club and home to mostly local talent.
- Offbeat/Jazzschule Basel is a promoter of jazz concerts, often bringing big international names to the city. Concerts take place in various venues, including Stadtcasinoo and Theater Basel (see above). Check current programming via Offbeat, tickets also there, or at the Theater Basel box office +41 61 295 11 33.
- Roche'n'Jazz. A jazz event every last Friday of the month, except September, starting at 16:00, in the galleries of Museum Tinguely (see See, Museums for address details).
- Hinterhof, Münchensteinerstrasse 81, M-Parc station, ☎ . Live acts, bar culture, exhibitions. This place opened its doors in winter 2011 and has been vibrant ever since. Suitable for short visits to the rooftop bar and dancefloor, since they offer frequent parties with no entry fee.
- Nordstern, Voltastrasse 30, Voltaplatz station, ☎ . Club & lounge with a reputation for good electronic music. Free entry Ragga & Dancehall parties on Mondays.
- Annex and Acqua, Binningerstrasse 14, Markthalle station. Hotspot near the zoo and the old city centre; very popular with a young crowd. They serve mostly Electronic at Annex. Acqua is part restaurant, part bar; chill out here in a unique environment and enjoy the DJs from a local radio station while they broadcast live from within the bar.
- Verso, Petersgraben 45. This venue is run by students and open every Thursday evening during lecture period. Climb down the stairs to the cellar of the university and enjoy the cheap drinks and friendly people. The music played and live acts on stage are subject to constant, chaotic change.
- Watch football ie soccer at FC Basel, who play in the Super League, the top tier of Swiss football. Their home ground, capacity 38,000, is St Jakobs Park, Gellertstrasse 235. It's two km east of city centre next to Basel St Jakob railway staion.
- Kick a football or fly a frisbee in one of Basel's parks, e.g., Schützenmattpark, reachable by tram No. 8 from central Barfüsserplatz (direction Allschwilerweiher); or in Kannenfeldpark, reached by tram No. 3, also from Barfüsserplatz (direction Burgfelden Grenze), or tram No. 1 from Bahnhof SBB.
- Ashtanga Yoga and Japanese archery, among other things, are offered by Unternehmen Mitte, Gerbergasse 30, +41 61 263 36 63 (see also the Drink section).
- Swim the Rhine! While recommended only for good swimmers - and only during the height of summer, when the water temperature allows to actually enjoy it, it is a fun way of cooling off and getting free sightseeing of the medieval old town at the same time. There are several possible points of entry, including the Badhysli [bath house] Rheinbad Breite, St. Alban-Rheinweg 195, +41 61 311 25 75, on the Grossbasel bank of the river. Exit at the Badhysli Rheinbad St. Johann, St. Johanns-Rheinweg, +41 61 322 04 42, also on the Grossbasel bank, roughly 2 km /1.2 miles below the Breite bath. Alternatively you can also enter the river on a variety of points on the Kleinbasel bank of the river, where the water is accessible along a promenade of about 3 km / 1.8 miles. Since you'll be swimming with the current, you will have to either carry your clothes along in a sealed plastic bag (the Tourist Office sells bright orange ones), or be prepared to walk back in your bathing suit. It is probably best to take a swim with a local. The water is generally considered pretty clean, but you may wish to inquire about current conditions (including the strength of the current and other possible hazards) with one of the Badhysli. See also the Stay safe section below. Each August, there is a popular Rheinschwimmen with up to 3000 participants and accompanying boats providing some security. You can also just sunbathe and take a dip without swimming very far at either of the Badhysli, which both feature outdoor restaurants (with limited menus), showers, and locker facilities.
- There are also several outdoor pools, including Gartenbad St. Jakob, St. Jakobs-Str. 400, +41 61 311 41 44, Gartenbad Bachgraben, Belforterstr. 135, +41 61 381 43 33 and Gartenbad Eglisee, Egliseestr. 85, +41 61 267 47 47. But while these are popular as well, they are far less exciting than a swim in the Rhine.
- Wintertime offers ice-skating on a number of large rinks: Eiskunstbahn Egliseee, on the grounds of the swimming pool of the same name (details see above); Kunsteisbahn Margarethen, Im Margarethenpark, +41 61 361 95 95; or Genossenschaft St. Jakob-Arena, Brüglingen 33, + 41 61 377 51 74 (next to the St. Jakob public pool). All but St. Jakob-Arena are open only in the wintertime. Restaurant Kunsthalle (see Eat, Splurge) has in some past winters also set up a romantic ice rink in their garden.
- Rockclimbing or, for the less adventurous, hiking in the nearby Jura Mountains. Falkenfluh, near the picturesque little town of Seewen (about 15 km/9 miles south of Basel, reachable by car or train and post bus) is a popular destination, featuring some 227 marked climbing routes, most of which are medium to challenging. To learn more about rockclimbing contact Irène & Martin Brunner, Rüttenenstrasse 19, 4513 Langendorf, Switzerland, +41 32 622 34 37. There is also an indoor rock-climbing centre near the SBB train station, called K7. It is family-friendly and offers courses. There is an even bigger climbing gym over the border in Germany, at Weil am Rhein with badminton, squash and ice skating facilities.
- University of Basel (Universität Basel), ☎ . Switzerland's oldest university, founded in 1460. The main campus is on and around Petersplatz, reachable by tram no. 3 (direction Burgfelden Grenze, stop at Lyss or Spalentor). For student exchange or study abroad programs visit the University's website and go to International Students. Because of its close links with the Basel-based pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche (see Work), the University's school for molecular biology, Biozentrum, attracts many international doctoral and post-doc students and is considered one of the top schools in Europe in this area.
- University Library (Universitätsbibliothek), Schönbeinstr. 18-20 (near the main campus), ☎ . You need not be a student or member to read inside or use the internet terminals, but you need a membership to borrow books. There is a café on the top floor, which serves coffee, snacks and even limited lunch options at reasonable prices.
- Schule für Gestaltung Basel, Vogelsangstrasse 15, ☎ . One of Switzerland's leading art and design schools, offering academic curricula for design professionals and artists, as well as apprenticeships for trades such as bookprinting, jewelry making and photography.
Basel is a centre of the pharmaceutical industry. The international pharma giant Novartis is headquartered in Basel. as well as the smaller Hoffmann-La Roche. There are also other large chemical and life sciences companies such as CIBA Specialty Chemicals, Syngenta and the aluminium company Lonza.
Basel also has several IT and software companies that offer international jobs.
Basel is (jointly with Zürich) headquarters of UBS, Switzerland's biggest and internationally active bank and home of the Bank for International Settlements.
Swiss immigration laws are strict. To become a legal resident of Switzerland and to legally access the labour market requires the necessary permits. If you are a citizen of one of the 15 countries of the EU prior to the latest enlargement, a bilateral agreement providing for free movement of persons makes it much easier to get the permits. If not, you will need to have special skills and generally have to be sponsored by an employer. Working illegally can lead to criminal prosecution and detention pending deportation.
- Buy some Basler Läckerli, the local biscuit speciality, a kind of gingerbread (without ginger, however). Addictive, even if you buy the non-brand ones from the Migros supermarket chain.
Basel's "shopping mile" goes from Clarastrasse (Claraplatz) to Marktplatz and up Freiestrasse and Gerbergasse to Heuwaage and Bankverein. Much of the shopping here is in speciality stores and luxury boutiques, with a few department stores. Like other large Swiss cities, Basel has many jewelers, horologers (watches), and chocolatiers. Try to veer off the beaten track and check out Schneidergasse (off of Marktplatz), the hilly Spalenberg and adjacent little alleyways such as Heuberg, Nadelberg, which are not only lovely to walk through but where you are likely to find more original shops, selling artisan jewelry, antiques, specialty items, vintage clothing, books, art, etc. Retailers are generally cheery and very competent, polite and helpful.
There are many places in Basel, including bigger kiosks, where you can buy (relatively) cheap - and mostly kitschy - souvenirs, but if you're looking for something special, go to Heimatwerk (see below). Souvenirs are also available at the SBB Station.
Prices of name brands are generally uniform across the city - and across the country. Discounting has made inroads in Basel. Expect to pay the same price anywhere for a Swiss Army knife or a watch.
Most stores close promptly at 18:30 Mo-Fr, except for Thursday when many stores are open until 20:00 or 21:00. Stores close by 17:00 on Saturday and nothing is open on Sunday. Exceptions are the stores in and around the train station, the supermarket Coop Pronto at Barfüsserplatz and a number of small family businesses in residential areas. VAT is included in prices, and there is generally no haggling. Some luxury stores offer tax-free shopping for tourists.
Basel market (in the Marktplatz) runs Monday to Saturday until 13:00, selling mostly local organic produce. Not cheap, but worth considering for a picnic.
For the very cheapest, try the Fleamarket in Petersplatz on Saturday.
Shops worth visiting
- Läckerli Huus, ☎ . Gerbergasse 57, city center. Another location is at Cafe Spitz (see Eat Splurge) on the Kleinbasel side of Mittlere Brücke. Traditional and non-traditional versions of the famous Basler Läckerli and many other sweets - nice souvenirs.
- Confiserie Brändli Barfüsserplatz 20, +41 61 261 70 33, and Freie Strasse 109, +41 61 271 50 05, . One of about half a dozen excellent Basel confiseries (pastry shops) that create unbelievably good pralinés. Chocolate candy is a very poor translation for these little marvels that are absolutely to die for.
- choco loco, Spalenberg 38a, ☎ . An unusual chocolate shop, selling not mass-produced brands like Lindt or Cailler - not that there is anything wrong with those - but unusual artisan chocolates, including spicy ones, most of which are (heaven help!) not even made in Switzerland.
- Confiserie Sprüngli. At Basel SBB station, upstairs. Satellite location of the famous Zürich chocolatier. Wide variety of chocolate products and pastries. Try the dark chocolate or Luxemburgerli, something like little macarons - just better.
When you have filled your stomach with chocolates you may wish to move on to more substantial items:
- Heimatwerk, Schneidergasse 2, near Marktplatz, ☎ . High quality traditional and neo-traditional Swiss goods, such as silken bands (formerly Basel's main export), cotton towels and handkerchiefs from Appenzell, wood toys and traditional clothes.
- TARZAN, Güterstrasse 145, ☎ . in a cosy backyard behind Bahnhof SBB, Swiss label for trendy and high quality streetwear. The shop sells cotton shirts, hoodies, underwear and also some special design items. Clothes for heroes and other suspects.
- erfolg, Spalenberg 36, ☎ . Trendy underwear and t-shirts, somewhat reminiscent of the AmericanApparel brand.
- Kiosk 18, Kasernenstrasse 34, Kleinbasel, +41 61 681 50 45. Conveys Swiss design fashion and accessories by brands such as beige, prognose, and Chantal Pochon. Try the colorful silk scarves by Sonnhild Kestler - they beat Hermès by a wide margin.
- Plattfon Record Shop, Feldbergstr. 48. Very cool, small and independent record shop carrying mostly vinyl of genres like: Hip Hop, Electronica, Techno, Drum n Bass, Punk Rock, Dub, Metal and so on. It is open Wednesday through Saturday 12:00–20:00. There's also a small selection of books and zines about music, anarchy, situationism and alternative art. Definitely a place worth checking out.
- Marinsel*, Feldbergstrasse 10. Crazy little shop, independent fashion for boys and girls, over 50 local brands, colorful stuff like comics, stickers, buttons, bags, and belts.
- Globus, Marktplatz 1/2, ☎ . High-end department store, with two floors of gourmet grocery store (take the elevator or escalator downstairs).
- Bucherer, Freie Strasse 40, city center, ☎ . High-end jewellery and watches, especially Rolex.
- Flohmarkt. If Bucherer is outside your budget or range of interests, try the weekly Flea Market, each Saturday on Petersplatz (Grossbasel, tram no. 3). Find just about anything (except what you needed and came for), and enjoy what you usually never get to do in Switzerland: heavy haggling!
Basel, home of the renaissance philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam, also prides itself of many good bookshops. Here are some:
- Bider & Tanner, Aeschenvorstadt 2, city centre, ☎ . Large bookstore with a well-stocked English book section and a wide selection of travel books and maps. The place to go to get local topo maps and Swiss bike maps.
- DomusHaus Buchhandlung für Architektur und Design, Pfluggässlein 3, city centre, + 41 61 262 04 90. Excellent design and architecture bookshop, off of Freie Strasse.
- Pep & No Name, Unterer Heuberg 21, old town, near Spalenberg, ☎ . Wide selection of books, including on art and photography, limited selection of titles in English. It's also a photography gallery featuring changing exhibitions.
- Comix Shop, Theaterpassage 7, city center, ☎ . If you're into comics, whether the American Spiderman & Co., or arty French bandes déssinées, plan to spend an afternoon in this vast shop with a terrific selection. Also sells postcards and other comics related items.
- Thalia (formerly Jäggi Bücher), Freie Strasse 32 (near the central post office), ☎ . This is Switzerland's version of Barnes & Noble, and part of a major German chain. The biggest bookstore in town, but not the most personal one. Also carries a small selection of English books (including computer books) and stationery.
Basel has a thriving restaurant and café (see below Cafés) culture, and the streets of the old town are lined with outdoor seating in the summer.
Not all restaurants in Basel accept credit cards (though an increasing number do). If in doubt check first.
As in most of Europe, tipping is not a requirement. It is common (but not universal), to round up to the nearest 10 or 20 francs, for example by refusing the change from a note.
Food in Switzerland is generally more expensive than other countries in Europe, and those on a budget should consider preparing their own food from the grocery store (closed in the evenings), or taking a trip up to nearby France or Germany.
- Mensa Universität Basel, Bernoullistrasse 14. One of the students cafeterias. Serves an inexpensive lunch menu not only to students from Monday to Friday. By no means 'gourmet' food, but you can eat your lunch on the terrace during warm weather.
- Marktplatz and Barfüsserplatz. Usually you can find some street vendors in these areas selling pretzels, sandwiches, pizzas, and sometimes crêpes, for around Fr. 3-5 each. On many days in Marktplatz you can buy a variety of tasty sausages (Wurst) hot off the grill from the yellow cart of the Eiche butcher for less than Fr. 6 each. These are served with a piece of bread and a condiment, and there are usually stands nearby where you can eat. During Herbstmesse (see To Do, Other Events), there are significantly more Wurst and other fast food carts and booths in various locations where the fair takes place.
- Mister Wong. Good Asian food, as cheap as Fr. 7-8 to around Fr. 16 for a meal, situated at the Steinenvorstadt (near Barfüsserplatz) and at the Centralbahnplatz (by SBB station). Many vegetarian options. Self-service.
- Some of the large department stores in the city centre, Coop City, Pfauen, Migros and Manor, have self-service restaurants/cafeterias on the top floor. While they are not particularly cheap, they serve good food that is a reasonably priced alternative to a full-service restaurant. that salad bars often sell food by plate, not by weight.
- The Brötli-Bar at the Stadthof Hotel, Barfüsserplatz, has a large selection of open sandwiches ("Brötli" to the Swiss).
- If you are looking for a snack, the Coop Pronto convenience stores usually have fresh baked breads and pastries, and sometimes heartier pastries filled with meat and some packaged sandwiches. As can be expected, drinks are much cheaper at grocery stores than at cafés or restaurants.
- Many of the excellent bakeries and confiseries in town sell petite sandwiches that you can take away, and usually you can get some kind of small snack at any street café.
- Hirscheneck, Lindenberg 23. Tu-F 11:00-00:00, Sa 14:00-01:00, Su 10:00-00:00. Traditional left-wing, punk-run restaurant. You get a relatively cheap square meal. Always serves vegetarian and vegan food too. Breakfast on Sundays until 16:00.
- Migros Gourmet in Bahnhof SBB, the Swiss train station, a store of the largest grocery store chain in Switzerland, provides sandwiches, tarts, fresh-baked bread, pizza, döner kebab, etc. at very reasonable prices, perfect for picnic lunches on outings. Similar: the Coop shop opposite the station (Centralbahnstrasse). Unlike all other grocery stores in the city, both are open late at night and on Sundays.
- Lily's Maxim, Rebgasse 1 (off Claraplatz). Daily 10:00-00:00. "Pan-Asian" bench table restaurant (like Wagamama but with more than noodles). Inexpensive good Asian food, outside terrace in summer. No reservations needed, and they do takeaway.
- Sams - The best American style eat out place. Has a take away counter which serves filling Turkish wraps and pizzas for around Fr. 8. By far the best in Claraplatz.
Many of the restaurants in the historical part of Basel near Marktplatz are generally of good quality, these include the easily located Löwenzorn ("lion's fury"), Gifthüttli ("poison cabin"), and Hasenburg ("hare's castle"), all of which serve traditional Swiss dishes in a rustic environment - don't be scared by the names, no one gets devoured by wild animals or poisoned. These places are always packed during Fasnacht. In addition, here is a list of places, not necessarily in the old town but still worth a visit:
- Restaurant Zum Braunen Mutz, Barfüsserplatz 10, ☎ . M-Sa 08:00-00:00, Su 10:00-00:00. Great local food such as bratwurst with rosti (around Fr. 20) served in a traditional beer hall.
- Bodega zum Strauss, Barfüsserplatz 16, ☎ . M-Sa 12:00-14:00 & 18:00-00:00, Su 18:00-21:30. Italian and Spanish dishes in a noisy but friendly atmosphere on the ground floor. Slightly more elegant (reservation recommended) on the upper floor.
- Alter Zoll, Elsässerstrasse 127 (tram no. 11 to Hüningerstrasse), ☎ . Tu-Th 16:00-00:00, F till 02:00. Serves excellent, homemade food for moderate prices (lunch Fr. 17.50, dinner Fr. 20-30). Calm relaxing atmosphere.
- Zum Goldenen Fass, Hammerstrasse 108 (in Kleinbasel), ☎ . Tu-Sa 18:30-00:00. Trendy place with good food. For an after dinner drink head to the Fassbar next door and fraternize with local hipsters over a few rounds of pinball.
- Restaurant Birseckerhof, Binningerstrasse 15 (Central, near Heuwaage viaduct), ☎ . M-F 11:30-14:00 & 18:00-00:00, Sa 18:00-00:00. Daily changing menu of creative (Italian influenced) food, with great desserts (try the Schoggi Mousse if it's on) and a good wine list. mid-range going on pricey.
- Blindekuh (Restaurant in the Dark), Dornacherstrasse 192 (500 m SW from railway station), ☎ . W-Sa 18:30-23:00. "Blindekuh" is German for "Blind Man's Buff" and you eat in total darkness, with blind staff to guide you. This sharpens your senses to touch, taste and sound. Blindekuh is one of the largest private-sector employers of blind & partially-sighted people.
- Nooch Barfi, Gerberstrasse 73 (near Barfüsser Platz). M-Sa 11:00-23:00, Su 12:00-22:00. Asian dishes to suit most tastes, great range of sushi, plenty of vegetarian options, as most dishes can be made with tofu. Very fast cooking.
- Restaurant Kunsthalle, Steinenberg 7, ☎ . M-Sa 09:00-23:30. A Basel classic, divided into the Schluuch or brown-table section, a beer-hall serving rustic fare, casual but not cheap, and the "white" section which is an elegant dining hall, reservations essential. Outside is a beer garden in summer, which in winter becomes a skating rink. At the far end of the garden is the Campari Bar, a cool Italian style bar.
- 1 Café Spitz, Rheingasse 2 (overlooking the Rhine just across Mittlere Brücke in Kleinbasel), ☎ . Daily 07:00-21:30. Not simply a café - excellent seafood, with a nice terrace overlooking the Rhine. In the summer, there is a special menu with a variety of grilled fish. The outdoor seating area overlooking the Rhine has a reduced (and less expensive) menu.
- Chez Donati, St. Johannsvorstadt 48 (at Johanniterbrücke), ☎ . Tu-Sa 11:30-14:00 & 18:30-22:00. Reservations needed. Run by Les Trois Rois hotel - see "Sleep", this is heavy but exquisite north Italian fare: the Osso Bucco (braised veal knuckles) are outstanding. Beautiful interior adorned by modern art, some of it by former patrons such as Andy Warhol.
- Restaurant Stucki Tanja Granditz (Stucki Bruderholz), Bruderholzallee 42 (1 km south of railway station), ☎ . Tu-Sa 12.00-14:30 & 18:30-01:00. Reservations needed. Fine restaurant in an old manor serving classic French cuisine, well worth coming the extra distance from town.
In Barfüsserplatz, the major beer hall (at least in years gone by) receives its resupply via a tanker truck from the brewery with a very large hose delivering its precious cargo into the tanks of the rathskeller. This looks a lot like a delivery of heating oil in most commercial enterprises! The consumption of beer in this area (near the University) is really serious!
- BarRouge. Messeplatz, in the Messeturm, Basel's tallest building, take the express elevator to top (31st) floor: a cool modern-style bar with panoramic views of the city - even from the stalls in the bathroom! +25 Years Club
- Zum Braunen Mutz, Barfüsserplatz. A classic beer hall. A good place to get in contact with locals and have a beer or two. Never mind sitting at a table that still has a stool that's not taken.
- Cargo Bar, St. Johanns-Rheinweg 46 (underneath Johanniter Bridge and Restaurant Chez Donati), ☎ . Cool/artsy bar on the board of the Rhine . Art events, movie nights, book readings, and lots of drinks into the wee hours.
- Fischerstube, Rheingasse 45, ☎ . The oldest brewpub in Switzerland, with Ueli Bier micro-brewery on plain view in the back of the restaurant. The nice selection includes a particularly excellent wheat beer. Also good local cuisine.
- Restaurant Linde, Rheingasse 41, ☎ . Here you can help yourself to a pint of Ueli at a "self-service" beer table. These are good hangouts during Fasnacht - if you can get in!
- Rio Bar, Barfüsserplatz 12, ☎ . Starting point for many a late night and inevitable station in the upringing of every self-respecting local 'bohemien', real or imagined. Have a seat in a booth for four to six if you have or like company, or at the bar. Serves only bar fare - to lay a foundation for your drinks: the main pursuit in this Basel classic.
- Fassbar, see under Eat Mid-range.
- Restaurant Kunsthalle, strictly the brown schluuch section. See under Eat Splurge.
- Campari Bar, adjacent to Kunsthalle.
- Unternehmen Mitte. Gerbergasse, between Marktplatz and Barfüsserplatz). Interesting hangout and modern-style bar with lots of seating indoors and outdoors. On some evenings, it becomes a venue where you can enjoy classical musicians (Wed evenings) and watch Tango dancing (Thu). See also Cafes.
- Pickwicks, Steinenvorstadt 13. Brit/Irish pub. Friendly atmosphere spills out onto the pavement.
- Klingental, Klingental 20 (in the heart of the small red light district), ☎ . One of the rare places that do warm plates after midnight and therefore a place for professional ladies to have their break. (They are having a break, so don't intend to do business with them in there.) Quite a rough atmosphere sometimes but definitely not a dangerous place to go.
- Webergasse 7 (in the red light district). Small bar with a hotel that rents rooms on a "short timeline basis". Although definitely used as a "contact room", still a nice little dodgy bar with still affordable prices after midnight. Best of all: You don't get chatted up.
- Fasnacht - "Cliquekeller". During Fasnacht many of the Cliques open up their practice/social rooms to the general public, to enjoy less expensive drinks and food than in most restaurants and bars. These places are often in cellars (hence the name), many in the alleys on the hill between the University and Marktplatz. Check for colorful Fasnacht lanterns above the doors. Worthwhile, as they sometimes easier to get into during Fasnacht than the standard bars - and more fun: decorated in Fasnacht regalia of past years, they are run by cheerful volunteers and homebase to the Cliquen, who come to relax after some hours of roaming the streets. The tone tends to be bit rough, but don't let that scare you, it's not personal. Be courageous and try out your Baseldytsch and see a bit of Basel normally closed to tourists. You also get to see a few of Switzerland's ubiquitous nuclear shelters, as some of the Cliquekellers double up as bunkers.
You can choose between a wide array of old-style, trendy and alternative coffee houses. Many restaurants or bars also serve coffee outside meal hours and before nightlife begins and it is perfectly acceptable to nurse a cup for an hour while reading a newspaper or book. Some places have outdoor seating in the summer.
- Grand Café Huguenin, Barfüsserplatz (corner of Streitgasse), ☎ . M-Th 07:00-19:00, F Sa 07:00-22:00, Su 08:00-19:00. Venerable coffee house on the second floor of an old office building, with big windows onto the square, has been serving all ages, for ages. Nice cakes.
- Zum Isaak, Münsterplatz (opposite the Cathedral), ☎ . Daily 11:00-23:30. Located on one of Basel's finest squares, this is nice and cosy to warm up after a winter visit to the Münster. Offers creative, organic cuisine. The owners fought and eventually won an epic battle to rid the square of a big parking lot - a win also for the visitors.
- Ängel oder Aff (Angel or Ape; formerly zum Roten Engel), Andreasplatz 15 (near Marktplatz), ☎ . M-F 08:30-22:00, Sa 09:00-23:00, Su 10:00-20:00. A student hangout on a charming little square. Serves good Birchermuesli and wide selection of teas. Great to sit outdoors in the summer.
- Fumare/Non-Fumare. Two cafés - for smokers and for non-smokers. See Unternehmen Mitte under Drink. Great café lattes and cappucinos.
- Jugendherberge Basel (Youth Hostel St. Alban), Alban-Kirchrain 10, Grossbasel (In St Albans, 1 km east of centre, S bank of river), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Hostel in a converted 19th Century factory, a bit spartan. Dorm Fr 30, singles Fr 80.
- Basel Backpack, Dornacherstrasse 192 (Gundeli district just S of main railway station), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean, easy-to-find, adequately equipped hostel. Dorm Fr 30, singles Fr 80.
- Generation YMCA Hostel, Gempenstrasse 64 (300 m south of main railway station, take B'hof Sud / Gundeldingen exit), ☎ , fax: . Clean, well-equipped, central hostel. Dorm from Fr 30, single rooms Fr 90.
- Aparthotel Adagio Basel City, Hammerstrasse 46, ☎ . Central 3-star with 77 self-catering studios or 1 bedroom apartments, with contemporary decor. From Fr 100.
- Au Violon, Im Lohnhof 4, ☎ . 3-star boutique hotel in converted detention centre - no surprise the rooms in former cells are small. Those in former police offices are a bit bigger. Ranged around a tree-lined courtyard with fountain. Also a French brasserie restaurant, with indoor and outdoor seating. From Fr 150 double.
- Schweizerhof, Centralbahnplatz (next to the SBB Station), ☎ . 3 star, handy for local transport. Double from Fr 130.
- Krafft Basel, Rheingasse 12, Kleinbasel (on the shore of the Rhine), ☎ . 3-star historic hotel (Hermann Hesse wrote parts of his novel Steppenwolf here); renovated in boutique-style, mixes old with contemporary design. Doubles from Fr 230.
- Münchnerhof Swiss Q Hotel, Riehenring 75 (Opposite fair ground, 600 m from main railway station), ☎ , fax: . Three star hotel. From Fr 70.
- Gaia Hotel (formerly St.Gotthard), Centralbahnstrasse 13, CH-4002 (Opposite main railway station), ☎ , fax: . Four-star hotel. From Fr 150.
- Radisson Blu, Steinentorstrasse 25 (by Heuwaage viaduct), ☎ . Renovated, fully air conditioned, great lobby bar and fair restaurants: Steinenpick and Kaffi-Muehli. Pleasant and helpful staff. Standard rooms are of modest size, not much view, unless you go high-end deluxe business class. Fr. 150-250.
- Hotel Metropol, Elisabethenanlage 5, CH-4002 (Close to railway station), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Modern 4-star city hotel. From Fr 100.
- Muttenz Hotel Baslertor, St. Jakob-Strasse 1, CH-4132 (3 km east of centre), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Three-star hotel in suburb of Muttenz. From Fr 100.
- Pullman Basel Europe (formerly Mercure Basel Europe), Clarastrasse 43 (Next to Messe and Congresszentrum, take Tram 1 or 2 from SBB), ☎ . Modern and elegant Pullman, 4 star, decked out in a subdued mix of beige, brown and gray. Upper floor rooms have a terrace with views over the rooftops of Basel. With gym and restaurant. Fr. 120.
- 1 Dorint Hotel An der Messe, Schönaustrasse 10, 4058 Basel, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Modern boxy affair with 171 rooms & studios, two minutes' walk from the fair and congress centre. Fr 100.
- Engel, Kasernenstrasse 10, Liestal CH-4410 (Liestal is a suburb 15 km from the centre.), fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Four-star hotel. Fr 150-200.
- Teufelhof, Leonhardsgraben 49 (edge of the old town), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 3-star boutique hotel, with spacious modern rooms in an 18th C mansion. Each room has an individual artistic design. Also two restaurants and its own theatre. Fr. 350-550.
- 2 Les Trois Rois (Drei Könige / Three Kings), Blumenrain 8 (on the bank of the Rhine by Mittlere Brücke), ☎ , fax: . Sumptuous, grand old 5-star hotel, refurbished in 2006. The Three Kings are understood to mean The Magi - who didn't stay, but the glittering clientele has included Napoleon Bonaparte, Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Theodor Herzl, Jean-Paul Sartre, Duke Ellington, and the Dalai Lama. In 2001 Pierre Boulez was brusquely awoken at 6 am by the police. They'd discovered that he'd said that "opera hoses should be blown up" - in an interview in 1967. Fr 500.
- Hotel Euler, Centralbahnplatz 14 (Next to main railway station), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Lovely if somewhat old-fashioned 4 star hotel. With own garage. From Fr. 250 single to Fr. 880 for a suite.
- As a rule of thumb, you are safe anywhere in Basel at any time. If you ever feel threatened, go into a restaurant or use a public phone: the emergency number is 117, and operators usually speak English.
- Swiss police usually take on a relatively unobtrusive air. However, they are indeed serious about traffic violations: even jaywalking may be fined on the spot. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that drivers are generally considerate and will stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, even if there are no traffic lights.
- Football (soccer) games are the only notable exceptions to the above rules. Because of an unfortunate history of hooligan violence, games are generally overseen by a large contingent of police officers in riot gear, in case of any major unrest. Nonetheless, it is generally safe to watch a game—just use common sense and stay away from the stadium areas where the hardcore fans congregate (usually the least expensive seats).
- The biggest threat may be pickpockets. Be mindful of how you carry your valuables, particularly on trams and buses.
- The drinking age for beer, wine, and similar low alcohol drinks is 16, while the age for straight liquor is 18. The public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland is legal so do not be alarmed if you see a group of teenagers publicly drinking.
- Watch out for the trams! Particularly the main downtown stops (Centralbahnplatz (Basel SBB), Barfüsserplatz, Marktplatz, Aeschenplatz, Messeplatz) can get very busy and be a bit of a maze. If you are not used to trams, you may easily be surprised by one sneaking up behind your back; their silent running makes them very difficult to hear at first.
- If at night you feel uncomfortable alone on a tram or a bus, ride near the operator in the front. They are helpful if you run into any trouble or are lost. In case of an emergency, they can press a panic button to alert the police of the tram's location.
- Be careful when swimming in the Rhine (see To Do, Sports) - it's not a lazy river! Don't go if you are a weak swimmer; ask locals for good and safe entry and exit points besides the ones mentioned above. Wear sandals or other footwear, as you may have to walk back up to 2 km (1.2 mi) to your point of entry. The tourist offices in Basel sell bright orange waterproof bags that allow you to take your clothing down the river as you swim and increase your visibility. The use of floating toys or swimming aids is forbidden by law. Stay clear of the many bridge abutments and the boat traffic, including the large commercial barges - they cannot and will not deviate from their course for you. Unless you are an experienced Rhine-swimmer, avoid the Grossbasel side of the river: the currents are very strong, exit points limited, and the section is part of the up-river bound trade shipping route. Swimming is safest along the Kleinbasel bank where the currents are weaker and there are many exits along the riverbank. Never try to swim across from one side to the other. Avoid overshooting the last bridge (Dreirosenbrücke): a large commercial port follows, without meaningful exit points but plenty of dangerous commercial boat traffic. If you do overshoot, pick your country of immigration: France to your left, Germany to your right. Jumping off bridges is not only forbidden but also dangerous and outright stupid, as is swimming the Rhine at night - don't do it!
- The main railway station Basel SBB offers free Wi-Fi.
- The Thalia bookstore (see Buy, Shops worth visiting) in the city centre has a free, public WiFi hotspot and some internet terminals for a small hourly fee ("Surfpoint").
- A free wifi spot can be found in Unternehmen Mitte (see Drink).
- An internet café is in Steinenvorstadt, near Barfüsserplatz.
- GGG Bibliothek, Im Schmiedenhof 10 (between Barfüsserplatz and Marktplatz), ☎ . The main branch of the public library offers Internet terminals for a small fee.
- There are a number of free internet terminals in the University Library (see Learn).
- Every Starbucks location offers a limited free WiFi connection voucher with a purchase.
- Every McDonald's throughout the country offers free WiFi.
- Every Migros and each Coop supermarket offers free WiFi.
- Manor supermarket has WiFi downstairs.
- The yellow BLT tramways (10, 11, 17) have WiFi connections.
Every Swiss takes great pride in his/her work. Every position is a profession demanding excellence. The bartender, housekeeper, tram driver, retail clerk, street sweeper, waiter and all other workers aim to be perfectly competent. This attitude is reflected in the everyday life you will experience in Basel and throughout Switzerland. Don't mistake the Swiss penchant for privacy and calmness as indifference. They are earnest and interested, but generally reserved - except during Fasnacht.
Chivalry towards women and the elderly is common. Do not be surprised if you see the pierced mohawk punk on a tram or bus give up his/her seat to an elderly person. Offering to help mothers board their strollers into older high-floor trams is also commonplace. On the same note it is not unusual to see elderly yelling or swatting at young passengers, who they feel are not behaving. Drivers are also known for their gentlemanly attitude towards passengers: even though they aim to be painstakingly punctual, they will find the time to wait for a passenger running towards the bus or tram and keep the front or rear door open.
Lost and found
If you happen to lose something, don't despair. There is a fair chance that the person who finds the item will try to contact you personally, if it has a name or address on it. Real story: A Basel resident found a credit card on the street and took the time to visit a number of nearby office buildings and inquire about the possibility of the card owner working in that building. The rightful owner was eventually found after several inquiries. If you don't want to wait for such a punctilious finder to find you, try the city's Lost and Found to check if anyone has returned the item for claim:
- City Lost & Found: Fund- und Passbüro, St. Johanns-Vorstadt 51, telephonic inquiries: 0900 120 130 (Fr. 1.19 / min).
- Railway Lost & Found: SBB Fundbüro, basement of the Basel SBB railway station.
In the case of the SBB Fundbüro, you may, for a fee, report a loss and provide an address to have the item sent in case it is returned.Given the tradition of good citizenry in returning lost items, it is a point of honour to offer a "finder's fee" of 10% of the property value.
Local, national and international news are provided by the German-speaking dailies bz Basel and Basler Zeitung and a variety of other Swiss and international newspapers, many of which are available at many kiosks, particularly in the city centre or at the train stations.
Basel's mainstream local radio station is Radio Basilisk, FM 107.6 or internet stream, which broadcasts mainly Top 40 music and spoken word programs in baseldytsch (i.e., dialect).
English speakers may consider tuning in to Radio X, FM 94.5 or internet stream, which broadcasts in several foreign languages, including English (The English Show on Tuesday nights, from 18:30 to 20:00).
The following destinations are good day trips by train from Basel:
- Zürich, Berne, Interlaken (see below), Lucerne (see below), Schaffhausen — all in Switzerland, 1–2 hours from the main station (Bahnhof SBB).
- Freiburg and the Black Forest — these are across the border in Germany (bring a passport), roughly 1 hour from the German station (Badischer Bahnhof) in Kleinbasel.
- Colmar — in Alsace (passport!), leaving from the French (SNCF) station, at the far end to the right of Bahnhof SBB)
- Lucerne — One of the most picturesque towns of Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Lucerne, with terrific panoramic views of the Alps. Flooded with tourists during the summer season, but still worth a day trip. Nice restaurants along the Reuss river, which you can cross using the famous wooden Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). From Lucerne, you can take an air tram up to Mount Pilatus (3 hours roundtrip, including snack and enjoying more panoramic vistas, or 5 hours if you want to walk back down, recommended - but with solid shoes only). The old town also has lots of souvenir shops with T-shirts and other relatively inexpensive trinkets.
- The Kapellbrücke is an astounding historic landmark. Built of wood, it suffered a disastrous fire in the 90s. The loss was confined to only part of the bridge and it has since been rebuilt. The history of the bridge goes back a long time and the loss in artwork was tragic. If you visit Lucerne, walk the bridge paying attention to the artwork in the rafters. This is a most delightful ten minute walk through the history of both graphic art and the skill of wooden bridge-builders.
- Interlaken — Scenic valley town in the Bernese Oberland, between two lakes (hence the name), and right at the center of the Alps. Interlaken is an ideal starting point for day hikes in the Alps, and for sightseeing three of their most famous peaks: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. A most spectacular view is from the mountains opposite. From Interlaken train station, walk or take a bus up the road leading away from the Eiger. About 4–5 km (2-3 miles) up that road is a bus stop at a restaurant-chalet that is ideal for gazing at one of the most picturesque sights in the world! Relax, have a beer or two, order a light lunch and shoot your photos. In addition to the peaks, the view of the valley floor far below with its patchwork of farms and Interlaken itself is awesome.
- Lugano — Palm trees in Switzerland? - You'd better believe it! At the southern end of Switzerland, near the border with Italy, lies the Ticino, the part of Switzerland where Italian and Swiss culture blend. A direct train from Basel to Lugano (3½ hours) crosses all of Switzerland and eventually quite literally the heart of the Alps. After the town of Erstfeld, the tracks wind their way up and then down again, using a series of underpasses and tunnels, which culminate in the 18 km (11 mile) long St. Gotthard tunnel. On the way south, as the train passes the town of Wassen, you can see the same little church, perched up on a hill, no less than three times: first on the left, then on the right, and then again on the left of the train. Upon exiting the tunnel into the Ticino valley, you immediately sense the proximity of Italy, particularly in the architecture - and in the weather, which tends to be significantly warmer than in the northern parts of Switzerland. In Lugano, ride the funicular from the train station down to the lakeside to get a quick start on your excursion. There are several local cable railways and areal trams to surrounding peaks, such as Monte Bre, or Monte San Salvatore. Pretty little towns nearby include Morcote and Melide (with a miniature Switzerland exhibition - great for kids), both about 15 minutes from Lugano with the local FART bus, and Como in Italy (15 minutes by train, good for shopping, bring a passport). Make an early morning departure from Basel, tour and have lunch and dinner in Lugano and return in the late evening. Wear light clothes for sub-tropical Lugano and don't be surprised by the skiers getting off the train in parkas at the mid-Alps stops.
- Laufenburg — Not as big and well known as the above-mentioned destinations, Laufenburg is a small but pretty medieval town, half Swiss half German, divided by the Rhine. It's a pretty half-hour drive or train ride along the Rhine from Basel. You can continue the drive for up to two more hours until you get to Schaffhausen and the Rhine falls.
- Lörrach — Visit Rötteln Castle. The fortification was one of the most powerful in the southwest, and today is the third largest castle ruin in Baden. The outer castle is free and open year round. The inner keep and museum is open each day in summer and on weekends at other times. It´s a half-hour drive or train ride from Basel main station to Lörrach main station. In Lörrach ride Bus no. 16 to Röttelnweiler plus 15 minutes walk or about 50 minutes walk from the main station.
- Saint-Louis (Haut Rhine) is just across the border in France, served by the Basel tramway and a popular shopping destination for Basel residents