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We visited Basel, Switzerland in the spring; the sun was shining, the air was warm, the flowers were in full bloom. While the city boasts an astounding number of museums (the count is somewhere near 40), our Basel sightseeing plans didn’t include entry into a single one – we just couldn’t bear the thought of spending our time indoors. Instead, we sought out things to do in Basel where we could enjoy the city sights and atmosphere in the sunshine.
Top Things To Do in Basel
If you have one day in Basel or one week, we think these are the best things to do in Basel, so be sure to add them to your itinerary! Tip: We’ve included a Basel Map of Sights at the end of the post.
#1 Tour Historic Sights in Basel Old Town
Old Town Basel, Switzerland is where every visitor should start exploring the city. We devised a 3km (1 hour) walk to the best Basel sights. Tip: Use this link for Google Maps for step-by-step directions for this self-guided Basel Walking Tour.
Mittlere Brucke (Middle Bridge)
The historic Mittlere Brucke marks the oldest crossing of the Rhine River between Lake Constance and the North Sea. The original bridge opened in the year 1226, but the current bridge dates to 1905, when it was built to accommodate trams.
Petersplatz (St. Peter’s Square)
Petersplatz dates to 1277. It has been used as public park, sports field, marketplace and military grounds. Today, the park hosts the Saturday Flea Market, where vendors sell everything from antique clocks to used clothing to cell phone batteries.
Spalentor (Gate of Spalen)
The landmark Spalentor city gate is one of three remaining gates in Basel. The square tower, flanked by two rounded towers, was built in the 1400s at a time when the city was encircled by city walls.
Marktplatz (Market Square)
Dating to at least the 11th century, Marketplatz is the center of the Old Town. The impressive Basel Town Hall (also called Basel City Hall) sits on the square and the center of the square is still used as a daily market of fresh produce and flowers.
Rathaus (Basel Town Hall)
The red sandstone Basel Town Hall is an iconic sight in the city. Featuring ornate frescoes, billowing flags and a rising bell tower, the 500-year-old building is still used by the Basel government.
Basler Munster (Basel Cathedral)
As a strategic point along the Rhine River, Cathedral Hill has been inhabited since the 1st century BC. Sections of the Basler Munster date to the 11th century, but the Gothic elements and towers were added in the 14th and 15th centuries. Visiting the riverside Cathedral, with its two bell towers and colorfully tiled rooftop, is one of the top Basel things to do. The Cathedral is free to visit, but there is a fee to climb the bell tower. Visitors are also invited to Pfalz, the terrace behind the church offering fantastic views of the Rhine River.
Tinguely Fountain on Theaterplatz
On the site of the former city theater stage is the Tinguely Fountain. Designed in 1977 by Jean Tinguely, a Swiss artist, the fountain consists of 9 mechanized parts that move and spray water in various ways. The current Basel Theater (the fourth theater since 1834) opened on the square in 1975.
Offene Kirche Elisabethen (Open Church of Elisabeth)
Built in 1857 in the Gothic Revival style, Offene Kirche Elisabethen has a 236-foot-tall spire (which can be climbed for a fee) and is an urban ‘Open Church’ catering to the spiritual needs of the city’s citizens from all backgrounds.
Tip: Learn more about the city of Basel on a Guided Walking Tour. Beyond the historic Basel sights there are stories about events, people and culture that shaped them. Join a Guided Tour to learn more about the city and important Basel facts.
#2 Basel Sightseeing on the Rhine River
Sightseeing in Basel, Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without spending time along on the Rhine River that flows through the city. On sunny days, both residents and tourists flock to the river where they can socialize, exercise or just enjoy the picturesque scene. On both riverbanks, a lovely riverside promenade provides the perfect path for a leisurely stroll – and along the route are benches and buvettes (snack stands).
North of Mittlere Brucke, on the east side of the Rhine, is Holzpark Klybeck– an artistic creative space filled with unique containers and makeshift structures that serve food and drinks. The hip hangout is an inventive part of Basel, Switzerland nightlife. Beyond Klybeck, at the tip of a spit of land, is Dreilandereck (3 Countries Monument). The spire marks the nearby point in the river where the borders of Switzerland, France and Germany come together.
Tip: Since the country boundaries meet in the middle of the river, standing in all three countries at once is impossible. However, from the 3 Countries Monument, it’s possible to be in all three countries on a short walk. Start in Switzerland, walk north into Germany and then cross the bridge into France!
For an opportunity to be on the river, there are ferries, water taxis and cruises. The four Basel ferries in the city center (found between the bridges) transport passengers from one side of the river to the other – using nothing more than natural power. The boats, which are attached to a cable, are pulled across the water using the swift flow of the river. The short ride, which has been operating the same way for the past 150 years, is one of the fun things to do in Basel. (One ride is free with the BaselCard…more on the card at the end of the post!).
In the summertime, being on the water isn’t close enough – and a favorite Basel thing to do is beat the heat with a swim in the Rhine. Although it wasn’t warm enough for us to take the plunge during our spring visit, we did see one brave soul floating down the river during our stay. Other Rhine River activities include kayaking and stand up paddle boarding.
#3 Kick back in Basel Parks
Looking for some green near the city? There are a few parks near the Old Town – and visiting them is one of the top things to do around Basel. Our two favorite green spaces were the University Basel Botanical Gardens and the Erlen Verein Park and Zoo. The Botanical Gardens are located just north of Spalentor Tower. The manicured gardens and greenhouses are a lovely city retreat that feels miles from the city center.
Erlen Verein Park and Zoo are located north of the Basel Badischer Bahnhof train station near the German border. The zoo, which is free to enter, first opened in 1871 and features a variety of animals (lynx, bison, foxes, owls and deer). We were, however, less interested in seeing the animals and more keen to wander along the Wiese River. Unlike the Rhine, the Wiese is lined by natural, grassy land and shaded by a forest of trees.
#4 Indulge in Delicious Basel Chocolate
The Swiss are known for many things, like army knives, cheese, watches…but, most importantly: chocolate! There are numerous Basel chocolate shops in the Old Town – the sweet scent wafting from shop doors lured us in more than once. Visitors can visit one (or many!) of the top shops in town, like Xocolatl, Confiserie Bachmann or Confiserie Sprungli. However, the best chocolate in Basel that we tried was from Laderach.
With a location right on Marktplatz (next to McDonald’s), Laderach is easy to find…and difficult to leave without purchasing at least one sweet treat. It’s impossible to miss the rounded case of delectable truffles, but we were more interested in the Fresh Chocolate – slabs of carefully created chocolate creations just waiting to be broken apart and consumed. If the choices are too overwhelming, we recommend trying the Chocolate of the Month…or try a variety with the FrischSchoggi (FreshChocolate) pre-made bags.
Tip: Want a taste of Basel cuisine? Sample your way through the city on a Taste My Swiss City Tour.
#5 Enjoy a drink al fresco at the Best Bars in Basel
With the gorgeous spring weather we had during our Basel trip, all of our activities were geared towards the outdoors – even sipping a few adult beverages. After long days of Basel sightseeing, we were pleased to find ample drinking establishments offering outdoor seating. In fact, many Basel Buvettes (Refreshment Stalls) only open when the weather is nice. The container shops can be found along the river and throughout the city. One of our favorite city spots was Buvette Bollwerk, located atop stone walls in the Basel city center.
A popular spot for BYO refreshments is the north riverbank near Mittlere Brucke. The steep embankment is lined with wide concrete bench seating where friends, families and couples start to gather in the late afternoon to watch the sunset behind the historic city. Beer and wine can be purchased inexpensively at grocery stores. For those preferring craft beer, stop at Bierrevier in the Basel Markthalle for a large selection of to-go beers from around the world.
Note: Although craft beer is our preference, it is a fairly new concept in Basel. We did find two local producers of craft beer – Volta Brau Craft and BBB – but we, unfortunately, never made it to their tasting rooms.
Basel Tourist Map of Sights
Day Trips from Basel
There are many tours from Basel, Switzerland that make great day trips! During our Basel visit, we made a couple of day trips. We planned our own transportation, but there are also guided tours. There are many tours to nearby cities, mountains and castles – and most can be booked in advance!
Basel’s location near the borders of France and Germany allow visitors to plan day trips from Basel to nearby cities in all three countries! Here are a few of the most popular Basel day trips to nearby cities:
- Zurich Half-Day Sightseeing Tour with Hotel Pickup (Book now!)
- Lucerne Half-Day Tour with Transport (Book now!)
- Colmar, France
- Freiburg, Germany
- Strasbourg, France
- Engelberg with gondola ride to Mt. Titlis (Book now!)
- Train to Lauterbrunnen Valley in Bernese Alps and cable car to Schilthorn, featured in James Bond Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Book now!)
- Top of Europe Tour to 11,000 foot-tall peak, Jungfraujoch and two mountain towns (Book now!)
- Lucere to Vitznau boat trip and cogwheel railway to Mt. Rigi (Book now!)
Nearby Basel Castles
- 11th-Century Rotteln Castle Half-Day Tour with Hotel Pickup (Book now!)
- Guided tour to High Koenigsbourg Castle in the Alsace Wine Region (Book now!)
- Scenic Railway Journey on the Glacier Express (Book now!)
More Things To Do in Basel
We think our above list pretty much covers what to do in Basel, but here are a few more ideas:
- Museums: Check out the Best Museums in Basel according to these TripAdvisor Reviews
- Basel Zoo: Visit the Zoological Gardens, an award-winning zoo
- Spa Day: Relax in the hot springs at Cassiopeia Thermal Spa
- Amusement Park: Experience Germany’s largest theme park, Europa-Park
Unlike most city cards that need to be purchased, the BaselCard is free when you stay overnight! The card should be presented to you when you check in to your accommodations. The benefits of the card are:
- Use of public transportation
- Use of city wifi (on 17 hotspots)
- One free ferry crossing
- One-Time 50% Discount on admission to museums, entry to Basel Zoo, admission to Theater Basel, sightseeing bus tour, Old Town walking Tour and cruises on Basler Personenschifffahrt
Where to Stay in Basel
We were in Basel pet and housesitting, but we spent a few days before and after our housesit in the city and stayed in a hotel. We chose to stay in the Ibis Budget Basel City, which we can highly recommend for being affordable and at the doorstep of multiple tram lines. However, there are many hotels in Basel Old Town to choose from – consider staying at one of the top-rated hotels (by guest reviews!) in the city center, like Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, Hotel Rochat or Motel One Basel or start your search for Basel hotels on Booking.com, like we do!
Getting To Basel, Switzerland
Basel can be reached by plane, train, bus or car. We arrived by bus (from Strasbourg) and departed by plane. The closest airport is EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, which is just two miles from Basel, and is serviced from several top European cities such as London, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Start your search for the best deals on flights to Basel on SkyScanner. Tip: Book your private transfer from the airport to your hotel in advance.
Before You Go to Basel
- Basel is a city of fountains (almost 250 of them!), many of which are drinking fountains. On your trip to Basel, be sure to bring a reusable travel water bottle and refill with the clean Swiss water flowing in the fountains around town! Tip: Our favorite fountains were the basilisk (reptile-like animal) fountains. The creature is a symbol of the city and the fountains featuring basilisks can be found in various places throughout the city.
- Basel is a walkable city…but only if you have the right shoes! Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around in any foreign city…and especially Basel Old Town! Make sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook before arriving. And, if you are exploring more of Switzerland, get the Lonely Planet Switzerland Guidebook, too!
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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