21 Things To Do In Basel
Friends! It’s almost the weekend, and I have to say, being in Switzerland for the last 3 weeks has been absolute perfection. Not that Switzerland or the Swiss needs any more praise after being on lists like #1 Country in the World or Country with the best quality of life – you get the drift. Most people travel quickly through Switzerland as the prices of everything from mineral water to a whole chicken are enough to scare you off with a minor heart attack, but we’ve taken the time to spend some time with our amazing Swiss friends and explore this beautiful country canton by canton (and eat as much cheese and chocolate as humanly possible in the process)
I’ve been in Basel for a good 2 weeks now and I would say it is the most underrated Swiss city! People often think of Jungfraujoch, Zurich, Geneva, Interlaken, and Lucerne as hot spots for tourists who want to see everything. Prior to arriving in Basel (it’s Bah-zero, not Bay-zeal), I knew practically nothing about the city, except that it could potentially be part of a good few basil and herb jokes. But after 2 weeks in the city, I got to know the city really well, even where to get groceries and bread on Sundays. Here’s a list of 21 Things to do in Basel (most of them are free too!) which double as reasons why you should pay this underrated city a visit!
- Ride a bike through the city
Basel is such a bicycle-friendly city it almost hurts. From bicycle lanes to bike rentals from the SBB train stations, it could not be a better way to explore the city. The only things you have to watch out for are tram lines and trams of course! There are also tons of bike paths both on and off-road, making it a joy to cruise through the city’s main sights on two wheels! No bikes? Not a problem, there are still heaps of things to do in Basel that are within walking distance.
- Take a boat ride across the Rhine
The Rhine is definitely the heart of Basel and locals flock to the river by the dozen after work, on weekends and pretty much anytime the sun is out! There is the passenger boat you can get on for a sightseeing boat ride down the Rhine, or the current powered little dinghy to get to the other side of the river. I personally love the latter
Float down the Rhine
Don’t be surprised if you see bobbing heads in the Rhine floating with the current downstream – they’re just ballers enjoying the river! It’s not really swimming for exercise, more bobbing along with the current! It looks really fun but makes sure you are a confident swimmer! The official ‘start’ point is right outside the Museum Tinguely
Don’t leave Basel without a Wickelfisch!
Designed by Tilo Ahmels, this waterproof bag is iconic to Basel. And I am not kidding when I say literally every Basler has one! Not surprising since it has multiple uses, from storing your valuables while bobbing down the Rhine to using it as a waterproof cover for your valuables while cycling in the rain. It’s such a great and practical souvenir too! The best place to spot the colorful Wickelfisches is definitely along the Rhine in the evenings and on weekends.
- Climb up the Basler Münster
The Basler Münster is one of the most iconic landmarks of Basel. It also has one highest points in the city accessible to the public. Head on up there on a beautiful sunny day for an amazing view of the city from the top.
- Walk down Steinenvorstadt
Steinenvorstadt is called cinema road because that is literally where all the cinemas are in Basel. But it is also a great place to grab a drink from the many cafes, gelaterias, pubs, and people-watch. The street gets absolutely crazy every time FC Basel has a match or has won something though! You have been warned! (;
Farmers market at Marktplatz on weekends
This is a great place to stop for a snack or just to check out the amazingly fresh swiss produce. From freshly baked bread to bouquets of flower arrangements, the little square is transformed every weekend into a kitschy market filled with both tourists and locals alike.
- The Iconic Rathaus
Rathaus Basel is the city’s town hall. It is painted in a shade of red you definitely cannot miss right in the center of the Marktplatz. The beautiful red and gold façade of red and gold makes for great photography and the murals on the interior are worth checking out too! Although photographed often and over 500 years old, the Rathaus is still in use today by Baslers who cast their votes on citywide issues.
Support FC Basel at St-Jakob Park
The city of Basel is absolutely crazy about their football team FC Basel. Their home stadium at St-Jakob-Park is the largest football stadium in Switzerland! The giant Basel.ch sign is also one of the first things you see driving into Basel city on highway 3 from Zurich. On game days, the city is decked out in the team’s traditional red and blue and the atmosphere is positively popping. Even the buildings and city trams are not to be left out and are proudly adorned with the team emblem.
Picnic or BBQ at Kannenfeld Park
Not that Basel has a lack of places to host the perfect picnic, the Kannenfeld Park is one of the more family and kid-friendly places. There are no crazy bikes whizzing around for one, and no overly enthusiastic dogs chasing after sticks here. Just a ton of children’s playgrounds to keep the little tots busy and a couple of ping pong tables too. You don’t even have to bring a picnic blanket as the park has many movable picnic tables and chairs! Switzerland, I think you have outdone yourself now.
Tinguely Water Fountain
What used to be the stage of the old city theatre company is now one of the most fun landmarks of Basel. It is basically an art installation of machines in a shallow fountain that plays with water and creates art. Not only does it make for a good meeting point and talking point, there is also something really calming about just staring at synchronized jets of water in fluid motion with one another. After, of course, you need to learn a little more about the artist behind the sculptures – Jean Tinguely.
- Museum Tinguely
Pronounced (dough-ger-lay), and named after the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, Museum Tinguely has one of the most interactive exhibits as far as museums go. It takes a little getting used to, without the ever-popular pop art paintings or the pieces of modern art. Instead, it has slightly Bizzare machine-like installations which move at the press of a button. It spreads out over 3 floors but cumulates with the giant centerpiece installation where you can actually be part of the moving art.
Farmers Market in Marktplatz
If you are looking for Basel’s equivalent of Chelsea market in New York City or Queen Victoria’s Market in Melbourne, the Marktplatz is it. While not as extensive as either above, it still has a great range of little stalls selling everything from sushi to cold-pressed juices and homemade tiramisu.
Explore Altstadt on foot
The Altstadt is the old city of Basel and it has all the makings of a typical pretty Swiss town. Colorful buildings, cobblestoned streets, a view of the river, and steep little hills make you feel like you are expanding some effort in exploring the city (: Of course, you can ride a bicycle through it as well but walking gives you a better appreciation of the shops and al-fresco dining that the Swiss love so much.
- Have a coffee by one of the pop-up shops in the containers by the Rhine
Hanging out by the Rhine is definitely not just for tourists. Baslers love their iconic river and hang out there as much as they possibly can. From lounging on the river banks listening to music, having a beer and/or a barbeque to exercising to catching up with friends – the Rhine caters to all. There are even little old-shipping containers-turned-pop-up cafes that sell snacks, coffee, and local brews. I particularly love Flora Buvette café – their iced tea is divine! Plus the atmosphere there at night is absolutely perfect. Remember to return your beer bottles for some spare change back too!
- Have a Raclette meal / Cheese Fondue
If you are lucky enough to have some amazing Basler/Baslerins as friends, you might be invited to a Raclette meal at their place. If not, you can always check out Stadtkeller Basel for a meal of cheese in an old wine cellar. Although cheese fondue is something often eaten during the winter months to give the Swiss something to look forward to after work (; you can definitely still get it in restaurants in Summer. No Swiss friends? No worries, you can still get your cheese fondue fix at Walliser Kanne. Be warned though, dining out in Switzerland, Basel notwithstanding can cost you an arm and both legs
Flohmarkt Petersplatz (weekend fleamarket)
Held every Saturday from 7.30 am to 4 pm, this is what the dreams of bargain hunters are made of. The little park square is absolutely packed with people on Saturday mornings. From little trinkets to scary dolls to used electronics and second-hand clothes for really cheap, you can literally find anything here. I love heading to flea markets when I travel, not because I need things or have space in my backpack for them, but mainly for my love of browsing, people-watching, and petting cute dogs!
- Drink from the Basilisk water fountains
The Swiss are known for having some of the best water in the world. They also come from these water fountains unique to each city in Switzerland. As Basel derives its name from the mythical Basilisk, there are countless Basilisk water fountains all over the city. I say it is still pretty novel to drink water from the mouth of a Basilisk no matter how many times you do it. Can’t help but keep thinking of Harry Potter at the mention of a Basilisk (haha!)
- Visit the 3 Country Corner
Fancy being in 3 countries at the same time, well you can do just that in Switzerland at the Three Country Corner. With the actual country lines being in the Rhine, standing at the monument was epic enough for me. Being in France, Germany, and Switzerland all at once, pretty cool I must say!
Visit France or Germany (or both!) for the day
Is Switzerland too expensive for your pockets? Why not head over to France and/or Germany for a quick jaunt. Be it just to see the neighboring towns of Saint-Louis (France) or Friedlingen (Germany) and buy some groceries or food
Taste the local brew
Beer is practically second to water in Europe and being in Basel, I had to try out the local brew that people seem to order more often than your typical Heineken. Both on tap and in bottles, it can be found pretty much in the little shops along the Rhine or in restaurants. Plus they have really pretty beer labels too which I collect as souvenirs!
- Art Basel
Last but most definitely not least, Art Basel is one week when the city of Basel has a giant art explosion, as the name suggests. It is a world-renowned festival with pop-up galleries all around the city. You can buy a ticket online and have access to all this artwork. I for one have a disability in appreciating art but I think I am a minority. My art and history teacher in school would be shaking her head at me right now.
Basel has been an absolute blast thus far from the beautiful, lively Rhine to our amazing Baslerins who have been nothing but amazing to us! I can’t wait to come back again one day to float down the Rhine on my Wickelfisch but for now, it’s off to explore the next city! Let me know if there are any key experiences I missed out on in Basel and I will add it to the list! Merci!