Window to the world: Basel, Switzerland

Window to the world: Basel, Switzerland

Proud of its reputation for art and history, Basel is an alluring blend of European architecture, sun-drenched market squares, and riverside dining. This Swiss city draws visitors from all over, seeking to discover its rich culture and exciting nightlife.

When it comes to travel destinations in Switzerland, we often think of Geneva, Zermatt, Zürich, and Lucerne as the go-to places to visit. Nevertheless, over in the northwest lies a quaint little gem which is worth the pilgrimage: the city of Basel. Located close to where the Swiss, French, and German borders meet, you’ll find that this medieval city has a unique mix of cultures and languages to immerse yourself in.

Sitting on the sunny banks of the magnificent Rhine river, Basel is the ideal destination for anyone craving a feast for the eyes with architecture dating back to the 16th century. You can’t miss the Rathause, the iconic town hall built from a deep-red sandstone, which continues to have an influential role in the life of the city to this day by housing the meetings of the Cantonal Parliament and the Cantonal Government of the canton of Basel-Stadt.

The eye-catching building dominates the Marktplatz (Basel’s Main Square), with flocks of snap-happy tourists and locals alike gathering below to admire its distinct design.

Another spectacular structure worthy of exploration is the Basel Cathedral, which has a show-stopping vantage point over the city. For keen history enthusiasts, the 12th-century gothic structure contains the tomb of the Dutch scholar, Erasmus, whose works are housed in the city’s University.

Things to do in Basel

If you’re looking to spend your days enjoying the city’s temperate climate, there’s plenty to do outdoors with open-air concerts, parties, and concerts.

The tram network spreads across the city and is the easiest way of getting around if you are in a hurry. However if you have the time, we recommend enjoying the city in a more unique way. When the weather is feeling warm, join the locals and go for a swim in the Rhine, putting your clothes in a ‘Wickelfisch’ swim bag which floats along with you as you let the gentle current carry you through the old town.

If you’d prefer to travel on foot, then you can catch little ferries which will take you across the river or stroll over the bridge. Spend your mornings wandering through the charming narrow streets before grabbing a bite to eat at Old Town’s Marktplatz daily food market under its domed roof.

Places to eat in Basel

Indeed, the Marktplatz is where a Swiss culinary adventure starts, spanning across a variety of restaurants around the city. We recommend dining at the Michelin-starred Cheval Blanc, a superb riverside restaurant located in the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois serving French haute cuisine enriched with Mediterranean and Asian influences.

After you’ve enjoyed delectable dishes such as langoustine with madras and green apple, or Wagyu beef with a shallot and okra vinaigrette, you can head out for evening drinks at the Volkshaus bar. The lively hipster venue boasts a classic European beer garden and hosts a variety of shows and music concerts.

Bursting with culture and interest

The city itself is a treasure trove of historical and artistic significance. There are nearly 40 different museums with spectacular collections and special exhibitions waiting to be discovered. The museum of art, Kunstmuseum, was the first collection of art made accessible to the public in Europe in 1661 and the largest museum of art in the whole of Switzerland. It displays treasures from old masters such as Hans Holbein as well as modern classics. Starting this spring, both the Kunstmuseum and the Fondation Beyeler are exhibiting must-see paintings from the younger years of Pablo Picasso, known as the artist’s Blue and Rose Periods.

The city’s magic comes from its picturesque streets and the richness of its history. But where other cities fail, Basel succeeds in keeping its identity as vibrant as ever. It relishes in guiding visitors towards finding a fresh way of seeing the past. The ever-changing yet seemingly constant Botanischer Garten der Universität Basel (University of Basel Botanical Garden) dates back to the university’s 16th-century inception, and is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. While the annual Dame Fasnacht Festival (Carnival of Basel), which is the country’s largest festival, can trace its origins even further back than the gardens.

This unique festival is integral to Basel’s vibrant and creative personality, held in March when ‘the city goes mad’ for three days. It’s an experience like no other, and you can expect to see lantern processions, bizarre costumes, and topsy-turvy performances.

With so much life still beating strong, it’s no wonder that in 2019 Basel was ranked among the ten most liveable cities in the world. There’s no doubt that this place is a gem worth seeing for yourself.