What are the best things to do and see in Basel (Switzerland 🇨🇭)?
Located on the banks of the Rhine, on the border of France and Germany, Basel is a very beautiful medieval city, with a rich architectural heritage, a wide variety of museums, and located in a splendid natural setting.
Although it’s the third largest city in Switzerland by its population, it’s not well known to tourists. However, Basel is really worth a visit because there are many things to do there and the city can be visited very easily on foot, with the various points of interest not very far from each other.
Basel is divided in two by the Rhine, with the Greater Basel on one side and the Lesser Basel on the other. The most interesting sites are located on the Greater Basel side, built on two hills.
In short, Basel is really an ideal destination to put on your itinerary if you are travelling in Switzerland, or for a day-trip if you’re travelling by car in Switzerland.
Here are 10 ideas for visits and activities not to be missed from Basel, Switzerland.
1. The Basel Town Hall
The superb town hall (Das Rathaus) dominates the market square with its red façade decorated with frescos. Built in pink sandstone at the beginning of the 15th century, it replaced the first town hall that was destroyed in an earthquake in 1356. It has superb wall paintings and trompe l’oeil decorations, and in the courtyard there is a statue of the founder of the first Roman settlement in the region. Free admission or guided tour on request at the tourist office.
2. The Spalentor
The gate of Spalen (the Spalentor) is a remnant of the old surrounding wall that protected the city. With its two 28-metre high towers and pointed roof covered with glazed tiles, it can be seen from a distance.
3. The Tinguely Museum
Jean Tinguely was a Swiss artist who did original works of art made of metal: an example can be seen in the centre of Basel with the Tinguely fountain (or carnival fountain) which offers an astonishing spectacle with its machines pedalling in the water or spitting it out through pipes. The Tinguely Museum allows you to discover other strange works by the artist.
4. Cross the Rhine river in a Fähri
The Fähri is a traditional motorless boat, guided by a cable that allows you to pass from one bank to the other simply by the force of the current. There are four lines located at different locations on the shore. For CHF 1.60, it will allow you to admire Basel from the Rhine. It is also possible to take cruises on the Rhine from Basel.
5. Go to the top of the the Basel Cathedral (Münster)
The imposing Cathedral, built in pink sandstone, can be seen from a distance with its two towers with glazed tile roofs. The church houses the tomb of the renowned theologian named Erasmus. Located on a hillside overlooking the Rhine, its outdoor gardens offer a beautiful panoramic view. The visit of the church is free of charge but to admire the view from the top of the towers you have to pay 5 CHF.
6. Basel Zoo (Zoologischer Garten)
This zoo is the oldest in Switzerland. Opened in 1874, it has more than 6,000 animals of 600 different species from all continents such as giraffes, elephants, rhinos, hippos, monkeys, felines… It is one of the most important zoo in Europe. It also has aquariums with seahorses, sharks and even penguins. Admission fee: 21 CHF
7. The Kuntsmuseum
The largest art museum in Switzerland, which gathers about 3000 masterpieces of painting from the Upper Rhine and the Netherlands, but also of French painting (Delacroix, Monet, Gauguin…). Admission fee: 15 CHF. Admission is free on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 6pm and on the first Sunday of each month (except for special exhibitions).
8. The Botanical gardens of the University of Basel
Plant lovers will enjoy discovering the botanical garden of the University of Basel, which is located near the Spalentor, free of charge. You can visit greenhouses that shelter a wide variety of plants (8000 different plants): cacti, orchids, aquatic plants, desert plants…
9. Swimming in the Rhine
A very popular activity in Basel in summer, as long as you are a good swimmer and do not move too far from the edge because the current is very strong! A good starting point is behind the Tingueley Museum but check in advance where you will get out of the water. Also remember to bring bathing shoes and a waterproof bag to put your belongings in and act as a buoy. If you don’t like swimming, there are plenty of places to relax by the Rhine and you can also take a walk on the riverside walks (don’t miss the view from the Wettstein bridge).
10. Visit the paper mill (Papiermühle)
The paper museum is nestled on the edge of a canal in the Saint-Alban district, in an old paper mill dating back to medieval times, you can see the paddle wheel that fed the mill. The visit to the mill is not free, you can discover how paper is made, how to bind a book and print it, and even how to make your own paper.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN BASEL
If you have some time in Basel, here are some other places to visit in Basel and its surroundings that are worth a look:
- Admire the view from the top of the tower of the Saint-Elisabeth church
- The Puppenhausmuseum (doll house museum)
- The cartoon museum (cartoonmuseum basel)
- The Beyeler Foundation: a superb collection of 20th century artworks
- The Roman ruins of Augusta Raurica: located in Kaiseraugst, on the banks of the Rhine, they are the largest Roman remains in Switzerland. About 20 minutes to get there by train + walk from Basel.
- Rheinfelden: a charming little town on the left bank of the Rhine.