WHAT TO DO IN BASEL – SWITZERLAND
If you are wondering about the best things to do in Basel, then this post is for you. Whether you visit Basel in winter or summer, these tips can help you plan your trip.
Switzerland is known for its amazing scenery, pristine lakes, cute villages, and… art! Yes, it is not all about stunning outdoor places in Switzerland. Well, Basel is not about this amazing nature. Basel is the city closest to the German and French border and up in the north – the scenery here is less spectacular. However, there are other reasons to visit Basel – and you are going to find out what makes Basel special.
This post is not a typical “Things to do in Basel in the Winter“ or “Things to do in Basel in the Summer“ list. Most of the suggestions can be done throughout the year. Some of the Basel activities can only be done in winter or summer.
I will give you a brief overview of the city and some important travel tips for Basel before discussing the actual activities.
Basel Travel Tips
Most visitors will likely spend most of their time in Großbasel (Big Basel) and Kleinbasel (Small Basel). Both neighborhoods are located by the Rhine River and connected via several bridges.
Disclaimer: I was invited to discover Basel by Basel Tourism and MySwitzerland. However, opinions are my own. 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.
How to Get to Basel
Basel is the most northern city in Switzerland. You can actually walk from Basel to Germany or France!! However, I believe most people arrive by train or plane.
- PLANE: Basel has its own airport. The EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg is only about a 10 minutes drive from the city center. Or you will fly to Zurich. From Zurich Airport, you can hop on a train and go directly to Basel train station (about an hour‘s train ride).
- TRAIN: Basel has two train stations. One is Badischer Bahnhof in Kleinbasel. The main train station is Basel Bahnhof (or Basel SBB). Trains from places like Zurich, Lucerne, and many other Swiss, German or French cities arrive here. 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.
- CAR: Many people start or end their Swiss road trip in Basel. In case, you get to Basel by car, I suggest leaving your car at the hotel and using public transportation during your stay.
How to Get Around Basel
WALK: You can easily walk to many sights if you are mobile. Make sure to wear comfy shoes – there are some cobbled-stoned streets.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Basel has an amazing public transportation system. If you cannot and do not walk all the time, then the tram stops are frequent and you can just hope the tram for a stop or two.
Though I stayed close to the old town and could have walked most of the time, I did hop on the tram a few times. Reliable, fast – and free! Free only, if you stay in an official accommodation (even an Airbnb), you will get the Basel Card at your hotel/accommodation, which allows you to use public transportation for free. It is also free with your Swiss Travel Pass.
Basel Card: 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.
CAR: Parking in the city center might be challenging and so the easiest would be to not use it. 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 (you seriously don’t need a car here).
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, a 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 city’s best hotels. 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 in Basel
As you might have realized (at least as a frequent reader of my blog), I do not often advise 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 amazing restaurant. So, whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore, the Cantina Don Camillo has great food.
Best Time to Visit Basel
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.
Basel Art, one of the most famous art exhibitions, 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 in the summer. I visited in December – and I came for the Christmas Markets (amongst others). The Christmas Markets in Basel are known as some of the best in Switzerland! 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 chance to see snow is in February. However, Basel is not a winter wonderland, so I would not base my decision on when to visit Basel on this.
More Tips for Your Basel Trip
- 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 proper hiking boots or clothes. The old town has some cobblestone streets, so high heels probably aren’t the best choice.
THINGS TO DO IN BASEL (ANY SEASON)
Okay, let’s start with the top things to do in Basel – activities you can do regardless of the season and weather.
The Basel City Hall – the seat of the government of Basel City – 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 unique. Located right in the middle of the old town, it dominates Market Square with its red facade.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 attractions. It is located on the Münsterplatz (a little square) and is almost impossible to overlook.
You can tour the inside of the cathedral and marvel at the interesting architecture. It was built between the 11th and 15th centuries, and now you can visit the crypt, the chancel, and the tomb of Erasmus of Rotterdam. This name may sound familiar to those who have heard about the Erasmus student program.
For me, travel is a lot about the view. If you enjoy views and seeing the city from above, getting up there is a must. It 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 6CHF for the bell tower and the view. The cathedral is free to visit.
- Please check opening times before your visit (different opening times for the church and tower).
Strolling Basel´s old town is a lovely way to discover the city and learn a bit more about its history. Old towns tend to have narrow and windy cobblestone streets – and you will find these streets also in Basel. But not all old towns have houses dating back to the 15th century – but you will find such old houses in Basel.
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. You can also check out guided tours here.
Hop on a Ferry
Hopping on a ferry is a popular thing to do at any time of the year – and it is also inexpensive. Of course, it depends on your interests and speed, but this would probably make a great first day in Basel. There are four ferries that connect Kleinbasel with Grossbasel – you could also cross one of the bridges but that is less fun.
- Prices are around 2 CHF to get from one side of the river to the other.
Basel is a lot about museums – and you can find also museums, that are not about art. The Basler Papiermühle was actually the most interesting museum to me because it combined interaction and history.
You get different information on the four different levels and learn how to make paper (you can even make your own), find out about the history of writing, paper, books, and printing, and you will also get 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 when I visited, and the kids seemed to enjoy it as much as the parents and I did. You can actually touch many 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.
- Ticket prices are around 15 CHF – you get a 50% discount with a Basel Card and it is free with your Swiss Travel Pass.
- It’s not open daily, so please check the opening times.
The Foundation Beyeler is actually the most visited art museum in Switzerland and is known to be one of the world’s best.
Of course, there is a reason for its popularity. Ernst and Hildy Beyeler gathered 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. In 2019, a Picasso exhibition was scheduled (an artist that even I know). So, even if you have visited Fondation Beyeler before, you might want to revisit it because there is always something new on display.
I won’t even try to analyze and give my two cents on the art collection. However, as a layman, I definitely felt 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 not located directly in the city center but you can still easily get there by tram.
- Find out more opening hours and prices (don’t forget your Basel Card for a discount).
As mentioned, nature is not the first thing that comes to people´s minds when thinking of Basel.
However, there is a nice hiking path which is pretty special. In a short amount of time, you can hike from Switzerland to Germany (and France). There is no border control, but 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.
I did this hike in December – it was not lush, there were no grapes, and there was no snow. However, the hike was still beautiful, though I wasn’t sure if I really got the whole “Rehberger-Weg” experience. But I think, this hike will be even more beautiful in summer or fall with fall foliage.
Along the path, you will find some art pieces that guide you. You can also get a hiking map for free. It is great to spend some time outdoors while being away from the busy attractions.
I missed a few art pieces but in the end, I got where I wanted to go – Vitra Campus.
Vitra Campus actually isn’t in Basel, but in Weil am Rhein in Germany. It could be the final stop on your hike. You can see modern architecture and find out about the furniture manufacturer.
Of course, you can also 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.
- Entry is free
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 Swiss mountains’ paintings and the pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries! The modern art was also intriguing, and I seriously wished that I had more time to spend here.
- Tip: Get an audio guide so that 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 regard to snow and winter sports activities. However, there are a few other fun things in the winter.
You can do all the above-mentioned activities throughout the year – the tips below are specific to do in winter (and especially in December).
If you visit Basel in December, then visit the Christmas Markets. 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,” a bridge connecting 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. You can see, it is not only about winter sports in Switzerland – even in the winter.
Another popular winter activity is riding the Christmas Ferry. As mentioned at the beginning, riding the ferry is a popular thing to do (even among locals). During Christmastime, the Klingental ferry transforms into a little Christmas Ferry
- The only downside is it only runs until 5 pm.
- It costs less than 2€ each way.
The Christmas Tram immediately caught my eye – I saw it while heading to the Christmas Market in the old town and was delighted. I, however, thought it is reserved for groups or special occasions. BUT, actually, it is not. It is for all of us – no reservation needed!
- You can actually get on it for free (with your Basel Card or a regular tram ticket).
What to Do in Basel in the Summer
Though I have not visited Basel in the summer (yet), 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 it in the winter or spring/fall).
Floating in the Rhine River
As I heard from other visitors, floating in the Rhine River is absolutely popular in Basel. In Switzerland, the rivers and lakes are very clean, but floating is unique here in the city.
You can rent or buy those floating bags (Wickelfisch), put all your stuff in the bags, and 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…Some things 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, that I felt I had to add it here.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BEST BASEL ACTIVITIES
I think and hope this post has given you a good overview of the best things to do in Basel and how to plan your trip. Whether you visit in winter or summer – Basel is always a good idea!