Basel: A Hidden Gem

Once a Roman fort, Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501. It is the third-largest city in Switzerland.

Basel is 53 miles from Zurich and 61 miles from Bern. If you happen to be in Paris, you can take a train to Basel. The travel time is approximately 5 hours.

Basel is situated on the banks of the Rhine River where French, German, and Swiss borders meet. On the left bank is Grossbasel and Kleinbasel is on the right bank.

Basel is the beginning or end point of several European river cruises. If you are spending a weekend or a few days in the city, highlighted below are a few places to visit.


Like many European cities, Basel’s Altstadt [Old Town] is best discovered on foot. I love aimless wanderings through the streets of old European city neighborhoods. There are wonderful discoveries to be made on both the Grossbasel and Kleinbasel sides of the Altstadt. Grossbasel has several mainstream shops while Kleinbasel has a number of small independent shops. A good place to start is at Claraplatz in Kleinbasel, the beginning of Basel's shopping mile. You can take tours from a book or live guided tours of the Altstadt. The architectural diversity of the Altstadt historical area is impressive. (Photo credit: Birgit Böllinger)

Mittlere Brücke

Opened in 1226, Mittlere Brücke is one of the oldest Rhine River crossings between Lake Constance and the North Sea. The Mittlere Brücke links Grossbasel and Kleinbasel. The excursion boats moor at the pier and you can take a cruise to the Jean Tinguely Museum or Vitra Design Museum, or just a cruise on the Rhine. (Photo credit: chiarodiluna)


With its red sandstone walls, towers, and colourful roof tiles, the Münster [Cathedral], built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles, is a famous Basel landmark. The Cathedral was built 300 years before Basel became a part of Switzerland. Guided tours of the Cathedral are available–you need to register online. Erasmus of Rotterdam is buried in the northern aisle. The Cathedral’s terrace offers panoramic views of the city and Rhine River. For a better view that requires a fee, you can climb the St Martin’s tower. (Photo credit: Photo-pixler)


The Kunstmuseum is the oldest museum in Switzerland. It consists of three venues--Hauptbau and Neubau on St. Alban-Graben, and Gegenwart on St. Alban-Rheinweg. Your entrance ticket is valid at all the three venues. Admission to the Kunstmuseum is free between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., as well as the first Sunday of each month. The museum’s collections comprise over 4,000 paintings, sculptures, works of installation art, and 300,000 drawings and prints. I enjoyed viewing Böcklin’s “Die Toteninsel” alongside “Die Lebensinsel.” (Photo credits: Kunstmuseum Basel, Julian Salinas)


The Rathaus [Town Hall] is a 500-year-old building dominating the Marktplatz. I purchased a ticket for a guided tour of the Rathaus. I don’t speak nor understand German but it was nice to have a story unfold through my eyes. [Note: English tours are available on Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.] The original construction of the Rathaus was completed in 1514. An extension was added in 1608, with additional updates that included the tower and an administrative building. The Rathaus is one of the most ornate and historic government buildings I have visited. (Photo credit: Hans Braxmeier)


Located in a restored medieval building, Papiermühle, also known as the Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing, began its life as a paper mill 500 years ago. Papiermühle has an entrance fee and it offers workshops and demonstrations. Some of the activities offered are making your own paper, writing with a goose quill, typesetting and printing, etc. (Photo credit: Papiermühle)

Foundation Beyeler

Open 365 days a year, the Fondation Beyeler is a museum of modern and contemporary art. You can take a 20-minute tram ride from the Basel city center to the museum. The building, designed by Renzo Piano, is tucked away in Berower Park with a historical villa and water lily ponds nearby, with views of cornfields, vineyards, and foothills of the Black Forest. The gardens surrounding the museum occasionally serve as a venue for special exhibitions. (Photo credit: PantaRhei)

Zoologischer Garten

When I first visited Basel, I did not envision a visit to a zoo but luckily stumbled upon it during a weekend stroll. Zolli, as referred to by the locals, is easily accessible from the city center to Basel SBB train station. The zoo is well-known for breeding endangered species in captivity. Animal feeding times at the zoo are quite popular with the public but this activity, along with the penguin walk, have been canceled due to the current pandemic. It might be interesting to note that 32 Indian rhinos have been born in Basel and most Indian rhinoceros populations in zoos across the world have the same lineage. (Photo credit: Freddy Amend)

University of Basel

When I travel for leisure, I like to visit college and university campuses. In addition to the several free events such as lectures, art exhibitions, film screenings, etc., that are open to the public, these campuses provide a peek into the lives of students, some that come from all over the world to pursue their higher education.

The University of Basel is the oldest university in Switzerland. The University was founded in 1460. Some notable alumni of the University are Erasmus of Rotterdam, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Gustav Jung, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, and more. Visit the University’s Anatomical Museum and Pharmacy Museum if you are interested in the development of medical research. For those into plants or simply wanting to take a stroll, visit the botanical garden close to the Spalen Gate, which is one of the three remaining gates of the old walled city of Basel. (Photo credit: Universität Basel/Christian Flierl)

A few points to note:

  • At your hotel’s reception desk, a BaselCard is issued at check-in to every visitor who stays overnight in Basel. BaselCard is valid for the entire stay [maximum of 30 days]. The card provides for free public transportation, free WiFi at various locations, one-time 50% discount on museum tickets, and more.
  • Drinking water is available from 300 public fountains in Basel. You can fill your bottle for free.
  • Stop by the daily farmers market at Marktplatz to get a feel for the city.
  • The COOP is a great place to buy chocolates that you might want to take back to your family and friends. The COOP has a small salad bar, ready-to-eat sandwiches, and pastries.
  • Have a picnic in the Fondation Beyeler gardens or Merien Park, or find a spot along the river.

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