Best Things to Do in Basel – 2 Days in Basel (Winter or Summer Itinerary)
Switzerland is known for its amazing scenery, pristine lakes, cute villages, and… art!
Yes, it is not all about nature (and amazing chocolate) in Switzerland.
At least not if you visit Basel. Basel is the city closest to the German and French border. Up in the very north, the scenery is less spectacular, but there are other reasons to visit Basel. If you are wondering what these reasons are and what to see in Basel, you will find the answers here. These are my top 10 reasons to visit Basel.
This is not a typical Basel itinerary – it doesn’t give you detailed info on what to do at what time. Also, it is neither a typical “Things to do in Basel in the Winter“ or “Things to do in Basel in the Summer“ list. However, since most of the suggestions can be done throughout the year, I have also listed a few Basel activities you can actually only do in winter or summer.
Before answering questions like “what to do in Basel,” and talking about the best things to do in Basel and the best places to visit, I will give you a brief overview of the city and some important travel tips for Basel.
Basel Travel Tips
For us visitors, we will most likely spend the majority of our time in Großbasel (Big Basel) and Kleinbasel (Small Basel)- both neighborhoods are located by the Rhine River and connected via several bridges.
How to Get to Basel
Basel is the most northern city of Switzerland – you can actually walk from Basel to Germany or France. However, I believe most people arrive by train or plane.
By plane: Basel has its own airport – the EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg which is only about a 10 minutes drive from the city center.
Or you will fly into Zurich (as I did) and from Zurich Airport, you can hop on a train and go directly to Basel train station (about an hour‘s train ride).
By train: Basel has two train stations. One is Badischer Bahnhof in Kleinbasel and the main train station to which you can arrive from places like Zurich (a bit more than an hour), Lucerne (and many other Swiss train stations), or cities in Germany or France.
It is just a stone‘s throw from the train station to the Old Town of Basel – you could walk or take the tram, which brings you directly to the old part, or even to Kleinbasel.
By car: Many people start or end their Grand Tour of Switzerland in Basel. Personally, I have never driven to Basel by car, but even if you do, I suggest leaving your car at the hotel and using public transportation during your stay.
How to Get Around
Basel has an amazing public transportation system – seriously, I never waited more than 5 minutes for my tram.
Though I stayed close to the old town and could have walked most of the time, I did enjoy the tram rides. Reliable, fast – and free. If you stay in an official accommodation (even an Airbnb), you will get the Basel Card at your hotel/accommodation, which will allow you to use public transportation for free.
In the town center is the Old town and Kleinbasel, and you can walk to many sights easily. If not, then the tram stations and stops are frequent.
If you get to Basel by car, I suggest leaving your car at the hotel and using the Basel Card to get to any tourist attractions in Basel (you seriously don’t need a car here).
Okay, what exactly is the Basel Card? As mentioned before, it is really great to use for unlimited public transportation in Basel ANNNNND you can use it for a discount on museums and attractions.
Before buying tickets, check whether you could get a discount with your Basel Card.
Where to Stay in Basel
I stayed at the Hyperion Hotel, which is very well-known for its great views. It is located in Kleinbasel and the tram station is just in front of the hotel.
The hotel was great: good breakfast, good location, and a modern style – but if you book the hotel for the views, ask for that in advance. I am all about good views, so I was quite disappointed when I found out I overlooked the opposite building, which wasn’t great, However, the hotel itself is still a good choice. Find out more about the hotel here.
For the most luxurious stay, check out rates and prices at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois which is centrally located and one of the best hotels in the city. Find out about the rates here.
We all know that there are no real bargains when it comes to accommodations in Switzerland. However, there are a few budget hotels and hostels that you can check out here.
Where to Eat
As you might have realized (at least as a frequent reader of my blog), I do not often give advice on where to eat. Most of the time, this is because the food isn’t always as amazing as I wish it would be.
However, in Basel, I got to eat in this one restaurant that was amazing. So, whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore, the Cantina Don Camillo has great food.
Best Time to Visit
Basel Art, one of the most famous art exhibitions around, takes place each year in June for a few days – art lovers have probably marked these days already. Other than that, December is a great time to visit or summer.
In summer, you can do a few fun activities (more on that later), and according to locals, Basel is still not overrun by tourists, so it is a good time to visit.
I visited in December – and I came for the Christmas Market (amongst others). The Christmas Markets in Basel are known as some of the best in Switzerland, and if you enjoy a nice mix of art, culture, and traditional Christmas Markets, then December is the best time to come to Basel.
If you are looking for a “snowy” time, the best chances to see snow is in February.
Bring your own water bottle because, in Switzerland, it is free water for everyone. I can‘t emphasize how much I love that free drinking water is provided to all. So, whenever you see a fountain, you can drink from it (unless a sign tells you otherwise).
Unlike many other places, Basel isn’t necessarily hilly. So, you don’t need special clothes. Even if you go on a hike (more on that a bit later), you don’t need to bring your hiking clothes.
The old town has some cobblestone streets, so high heels probably aren’t the best choice.
Best Things to Do in Basel – Where to Go and What to See
Okay, let’s start with the top things to do in Basel and the best things to see.
The Basel City Hall is probably the most unique and unreal town hall I have come across so far. It looks like it was just created, and it is quite unique. Located right in the middle of the old town, it dominates the Market Square with its red facade.
It is the seat of the government of Basel City. And before Christmas, you can actually write down your wishes in the big wishbook that is laid out for anyone.
If you are lucky, your wish will be granted by the government #alwaysbepositiveanddaydreamitcanhurtandwonthappenifyoudonttry
During high season, you can do a guided tour of the town hall. In the winter months, this tour isn’t offered, but you can still visit the courtyard and look at all the little details that make this city hall one of the best places to see in Basel.
The Munster Cathedral, next to the Rhine River, is one of the main Basel attractions. It is located on the Münsterplatz (a little square) and is almost impossible to overlook.
It is a lovely place to visit. You can tour the inside of the cathedral and marvel at the interesting architecture. It was built between the 11th and 15th century, and now you can visit the crypt, the chancel, and the tomb of Erasmus of Rotterdam (that name may sound familiar to those who have heard about the Erasmus program).
For me, travel is a lot about the view. How about you? If you enjoy views and seeing the city from above, getting up there can be a bit of a challenge even if you are fit or carry a few extra pounds with you. I wore my warm winter jacket, and with my big handbag, I sometimes struggled. It wasn’t always easy, but the view was so worth it.
You can also explore the entire grounds and walk behind the gardens.
Cost: about 4.50 € for the view, the cathedral is free to visit. Please check opening times before your visit.
Strolling Basel´s old town is a lovely way to discover the city and find out a bit more about its history. Old towns tend to have narrow and windy cobblestone streets, but not all old towns have houses dating back to the 15th century.
If you’d like to enjoy a free walking tour, then download the iTour Basel app (or use a brochure, which you can pick up from the tourism office) and discover the old town in your own way.
Hop on a Ferry
Hopping on a ferry is a popular thing to do at any time of the year – and is an inexpensive thing to do in Basel (prices are around 1.50€ to get from one side of the river to the other).
Of course, it depends on your interests and speed, but this would probably make a great first day in Basel.
Places to Visit in Basel – The Best Museums
Okay, Basel has about 40 museums and, of course, I haven’t visited them all. Actually, I have visited three so far – two of the main and most popular ones, and a less famous one. Though a teacher called me a philistine back in the day, I can proudly say that times have changed. While art per se is still not the main reason for my travels, I do try to visit an art museum here and there.
I managed to visit three of the 40 museums in Basel – meaning that I visited more museums in Basel in two days that I visited in all of 2018.
So, please excuse my layman’s terms, but here they are: a few of the best museums to visit in Basel.
Here are my opinions on the three I have visited (p.s. given the number of museums, I realize how great Basel is to visit, whether it is rainy or sunny. But as you can see, most of the Basel attractions are great to do during any time of the year).
This was actually the most interesting museum because it combined interaction and history.
You get different information on the four different levels – learn how to make paper (you can even make your own), and find out about the history of writing, paper, books, and printing, as well as a lot of fun facts.
Did you know you can save up to 29 trees in your life if you reduce your toilet paper consumption by 4 toilet paper squares each time you clean your butt?
There was a Spanish-speaking family with three teenagers there, and the kids seemed to enjoy it as much as I and the parents did. They were fascinated by the typewriter – you can actually touch a lot of the items on display, making it a perfect place for a curious person like me who is always tempted to touch things in museums.
Location: Next to the Rhine River, a few minutes walk behind the Kunstmuseum. It’s not open daily, so please opening times
The Foundation Beyeler is actually the most visited art museum in all of Switzerland and is known to be one of the best in the world.
Probably this alone makes Basel the art capital – but, of course, there is a reason for its popularity. Ernst and Hildy Beyelergathered an art collection that is on display for people from all around the world.
Apart from a permanent collection, there are also contemporary art collections on display. At the time of my visit, the pieces of Balthus were being exhibited. At the beginning of 2019, there is a Picasso exhibition scheduled (an artist that even I know).
I won’t even try to analyze and give my two cents on the art collection. However, as a layman, I definitely felt like Charlotte York (from Sex and the City, except she is an art expert), admiring art in one of the very modern and special art exhibitions in New York City.
It is located a bit further, but you can still easily get there by tram (don’t forget your Basel Card for a discount).
Find out more opening hours and prices.
More Fun Things to Do in Basel
Okay, I squeeze this activity in between the museums, because itinerary-wise it makes sense to hike from one museum to the other. So, while it might seem odd to have that in the middle of the museums I have listed, I have actually carefully thought this through for you…..You are welcome!
As mentioned, nature is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Basel – however, there is a nice hiking path. Actually, the hiking path is pretty special because in a short amount of time, you can hike from Switzerland to Germany (and France). There is no border control, but please bring your passport/ID/visa with you – just in case.
So, for lovers of the outdoors, you can easily visit three countries in one day – just by hiking.
From Foundation Beyeler, you can hike all the way to Germany. It takes about an hour to get to the Vitra Campus in Germany, and you can overlook the beautiful vineyards while you are hiking. There are 24 stops along the way, with pieces of art by Tobias Rehberger on display.
While I did this hike in December, it was not as lush and there were no grapes, so it does make a difference in regards to the time of your trip. However, the hike was still beautiful, though I wasn’t sure if I really got the whole “Rehberger- Weg” experience.
Along the path, you will find some art pieces that guide you (and there is a hiking map you can get for free), but I think that I still missed some spots. But, either way, I got where I wanted to go – Vitra Campus – and enjoyed some time outdoors.
More Museums to Visit in Basel
Okay, here are more museums to see in Basel..or near Basel.
Vitra Campus actually isn’t in Basel, but in Weil am Rhein, Germany. It could be the final stop on your hike. Entry is free, and you can see modern architecture and find out about the furniture manufacturer.
Of course, you can also just have a coffee in the cute cafe before heading back to Basel. You can either hike back or, conveniently, take a bus (included in your Basel Card) and head back to Badischer Bahnhof station. From there, take a tram to get to your hotel, etc.
Okay, here is another museum and, actually, I liked it a lot. This is probably the best art museum for people with only a little knowledge of art (a.k.a. me) because it has a wide array of different styles and pieces.
As a mountain lover, I enjoyed the paintings of the Swiss mountains and the pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries, but the modern art was also intriguing and I seriously wished that I had more time to spend here.
Tip: Get an audio guide, so you can learn a lot about the different pieces.
The Kunstmuseum is conveniently located near the Rhine River. The tram takes you right to the entrance door.
It is closed on Mondays – for more info on opening hours and prices.
Things to Do in Basel in the Winter
Basel is not a winter wonderland in regards to snow and winter sports activities. So, while there might be some snow (most likely in February), you can still do a few other fun things in the winter.
All above mentioned activities can be done throughout the year – the tips below are specific to winter (and December) though.
Visit the Christmas Markets in Basel
Okay, this Basel activity is apparently only doable in December – so, it is a perfect December/winter activity in Basel.
The pearls of Switzerland´s Christmas Markets are the ones in Basel. So, as I know how much people love Christmas Markets, I am happy to tell you that you will not be disappointed with the ones in Basel.
There are a few to choose from: The Christmas Market at Münsterplatz (just next to the pretty Basel Cathedral) that also includes a Fairy Tale Forest (the perfect place for families with younger kids); and the Christmas Market at Barfüsserplatz, which is close to the one at Münsterplatz and felt like the biggest as it is right in the center of the old town. Both markets have a combined 180 stalls (approximately), and it is all about food, drinks, and Christmas gifts.
Then there is a smaller one – the Adväntsgass im Glaibasel. This one is much smaller and located in Kleinbasel. If you head from Großbasel to this market, walk over the “Mittlere Brücke,” which is a bridge that connects both parts and is lit up beautifully.
Each of the markets has its own charm – eat your weight in sweets or hearty food, and warm yourself with a mulled wine (Glühwein) or hot chocolate.
Stroll the perfectly decorated and illuminated markets, and experience winter in Switzerland in a different way (as you can see, it is not only about winter sports in Switzerland – even in the winter).
Ride the Christmas Ferry
As mentioned, riding the ferry is a popular thing to do (even among locals), and during Christmastime, the Klingental ferry transforms into a little Christmas Ferry (the only downside is it only runs until 5 pm) and it costs less than 2€ each way.
Hop on the Christmas Tram
The Christmas Tram immediately caught my eye – I saw it while heading to the Christmas Market in the old town and was delighted. What I did not know was that it is not reserved for groups or special occasions – actually, you can get on it for free (with your Basel Card or a regular tram ticket).
Things to Do in Basel in the Summer
Though I did not visit Basel in the summer, I have heard about some pretty fun summer activities which I am sharing with you now. Of course, you can do ferry rides in the summer and visit museums, too. These few tips below are actually only meant to be in summer (or if you are braver, you could do in the winter or spring/fall).
Floating in the Rhine River
As I heard from other visitors, floating in the river is absolutely popular in Basel. Yes, of course, you could also swim in the river. The rivers and lakes in Switzerland are in general very clean, but floating is something quite unique here in the city.
You can, apparently, rent or buy those floating bags (Wickelfisch), put all your stuff in the bags and just float with the downstream – and get out wherever you want. With dry and safe items in your bag. I really have to check that out…There are things that are hard to believe until seen.
Of course, there are more fun things to do in Basel – like spending time at the river, swimming in the Rhine, having drinks in one of the outdoor cafes and more. But the “floating thing” sounded so unique, I felt I had to add it here.
Okay, I think and hope, this post has given you a good overview of why to visit Basel, what to expect and what to do in Basel and you will have a wonderful Basel trip – regardless the time of your visit.
Disclaimer: I was invited to discover Basel by Basel Tourism and My Switzerland. As one of the biggest Switzerland fans, I could not say no to visit one of my favorite countries ever and whether I pay for my trips or I do a press trips – you always read my own opinions which are not influenced at all. This post contains affiliate links which means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product (at no extra cost to you) after clicking on my link. More about it here.
If you are looking for more information, please feel free to check the website of Switzerland Tourism or email them: email@example.com if you have further questions.
For people in Germany: Why not ask your questions via phone and give them a call for free?
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READ MORE: Here are all my Switzerland posts for you