Top 10 things to do in Basel

Visiting Basel: what are the best things to see and do in this Swiss city on the border of France and Germany?

Although not as glitzy as Zürich and lacking the grace of Geneva, Basel is in many ways more sophisticated than these two other Swiss cities. Situated on the border of two of Europe’s most assertive countries, France and Germany, and set directly on the banks of the Rhine, Basel has grown remarkably urban and cosmopolitan, but it’s delightfully eccentric too. This medieval city, a 30-minute drive from Mulhouse, is rich in architecture, and begs to be explored. Here are the best things to do in Basel!

1. Basler Münster, Basel Cathedral

Cathédrale Munster, Bâle

Wikimedia – Norbert Aepli

The so-called Münster is a rare cathedral. Built of red sandstone, it is an imposing structure. What makes this building so singular is the irregular construction of its two towers. Apart from that, the architecture is magnificent. The original building was constructed between 1019 and 1050, but was damaged in an earthquake in the 14th century. It was rebuilt and now houses the tomb of the world-renowned theologian, Erasmus. The church is also famous for its pulpit, which was built from a single block of stone.

2. Rathaus Basel, Basel City Hall

Rathaus Basel, Hotel de ville de Bâle

Flickr – Robert Cutts

Switzerland has many Rathaus, or town halls, but Basel’s is perhaps the most striking: blood-red walls, gilded details, an attractive tiled roof, all crowned by an enormous tower. It dominates the Marktplatz (market square). The main building, with its arcades, is in the late Burgundian Gothic style (1504-1521). The new wing to the left and the high tower to the right are 19th-century additions. Theclock on the façade dates from 1511-1512. The wall paintings in the inner courtyard date from between 1608 and 1611 and have been restored. The statue (1574) on the outside staircase represents the city’s legendary founder, Lucius Munatius Plancus. You can see the two council chambers (the Regierungsratssaal with its impressive wood panelling and the Grossratsaal, which contains the 15 coats of arms of the Swiss cantons).

3. Marktplatz, around the market square

Marktplatz Bâle

Wikimedia – Gryffindor

Marktplatz, or Market Square, is Basel’s main square. Here you’ll find the Rathaus, as well as many other buildings, museums and activities. Walk towards Freie Strasse to admire the Renaissance Gelten Zunfthaus (1578). At no. 25, the locksmiths’ guild house, beautifully decorated in Baroque style in 1733, now houses a restaurant. At no. 34, the Hausgenossen house boasts attractive wall paintings.

Don’t miss the Pharmacy Museum at the University of Basel, dedicated to the history of pharmacy. It’s one of the richest museums on the subject. It’s no wonder that Basel is today a major hub of the global pharmaceutical industry. The museum is located at 3 Totengässlein.

To the northwest of Marktplatz is the small Fischmarkt (fish market) with its Gothic fountain.

4. Münsterplatz

Augustinergasse, Munsterplatz, Bâle

Flickr – Robert Cutts

Marktplatz and Münsterplatz are separated by the Freie Strasse. This is where you’ll find Basel Cathedral. From here, too, there’s plenty to see:

On Augustinergasse (photo), which runs north-west from Münsterplatz, you’ll see a neo-classical building housing the Museum of Natural History. Behind it is the Museum of Ethnography, with exhibitions on Melanesia and Oceania. The collections are the result of the museum’s own expeditions.

Next, head for the Martinskirche Reformed Church: take Augustinerstrasse joining the Rheinsprung, which descends to the Mittlere Brücke bridge, passing the former University on the left. Find Martinsgasse, which runs parallel to the Rheinsprung. Here you’ll see two patrician houses, the Blaues Haus (Blue House) and the Weisses Haus (White House), built between 1763 and 1770 for wealthy silk merchants. At the end of the street, on a square with a fountain, stands theChurch of St. Martin (1398), the oldest church in the parish of Basel.

5. Kunstmuseum, Basel’s art museum

Kunstmuseum Bâle

Flickr – 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

This exquisite art museum houses an impressive permanent collection of works from the 19th and 20th centuries (including a whole room full of Picasso masterpieces), as well as a vast collection of paintings by European artists from the medieval and Renaissance periods (Hans Baldung Grien, Hans Holbein, among others).

Under the same roof, but in a separate building, the Museum für Gegenwartskunst focuses, as its German name suggests, on contemporary art. Together with the Fondation Beyeler, these two collections are a must for art lovers.

6. Museum Tinguely

Musée Tinguely, Bâle

Flickr – Unknown

Of all the museums and galleries you can visit in Basel, the most eccentric is surely the one dedicated to Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. Born in Fribourg, but raised in Basel, he created some of the most astonishing sculptures you’ve probably ever seen. Many give the impression of having been created by a mad scientist using salvaged materials such as those from a laboratory or an engine. If you thought the Swiss were dull and boring, this museum will change your mind.

7. Taste the Läckerli

Läckerli Huus Bâle

Flickr – Frank

For the past 700 years, Basel has been famous for one product: Läckerli, a kind of hard gingerbread that was originally made only at New Year’s. Nowadays, you can buy them anywhere in Switzerland at any time. Nowadays, you can buy them anywhere in Switzerland at any time, but a visit to the Läckerli Huus in Basel is always worthwhile. The cookie is a blend of honey, nuts, candied fruit and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Incidentally, the word « Läckerli » does not exist in any other language, but translates more or less as « small and delicious ». Address: 57 Gerbergasse.

8. The banks of the Rhine

Fähri Rhin Bâle

Flickr – Jack Torcello

Basel is crossed by one of Europe’s largest rivers, the Rhine. Stroll along the banks of the river in fine weather. Cross the Rhine on one of the many bridges, or take a cruise on one of the small traditional boats called Fähri, or one of the Basler Personenschiffahrt boats.

9. The Basel Wall and its gates

Spalentor Bâle

Wikimedia – Sissacher

A (third) ring of fortifications around the entire old town was built in response to Basel’s growth. Construction was completed in 1398. In 1859, the city council decided to demolish the walls and gates, which were no longer needed, in order to promote the expansion of the city. A number of these gates can still be seen within the perimeter of what was once the medieval city: Spalentor (Spalen Gate), St. Alban Tor (St. Alban Gate), and St. Johanns Tor (St. John Gate).

10. Other Basel sightseeing ideas

If you still have time to spare, you can devote more of your stay to visits such as these:

  • As mentioned above, the Beyeler Foundation is a must-see.
  • Basel Zoo, Switzerland’s largest and oldest zoo
  • Basel Carnival (Basler Fasnacht) on the Monday following Ash Wednesday, lasting 3 days.
  • Buildings and museums around Barfüsserplatz
  • Art Basel, for art lovers every year in mid-June

Basel: how to get there Where to stay?

Basel shares the same airport as Mulhouse and Fribourg (Aéroport de Bâle-Mulhouse-Fribourg). This is accessible by direct flight from many French cities with the low-cost airline easyJet. Check out the best prices on Ulysse. You can also get to Basel by train. The Swiss city is only 3 hours from Paris by TGV.

Basel boasts a number of quarters with distinctive characters. Luxury, budget, authentic, cultural… there’s something for everyone. One thing’s for sure: there’s something for everyone! Don’t hesitate to use our Generation Voyage hotel comparator to find the cheapest and best-positioned hotel in Basel.

Have you visited Basel?

Map of hotels and accommodations – Basel