Most of us have heard of the superglam Art Basel annual event, where celebrities and billionaires descend on this charming Swiss village each summer to attend lavish parties and buy contemporary art for insane amounts of money. I’ve personally been three times. (In my mind. When I’m medicated.)
Whether you’re planning a trip to Switzerland on your own or going as part of our 2022 Amsterdam and Castles of the Rhine river cruise (which ends in Basel, a couple of weeks after Art Basel ends), Basel is a lovely place to spend time. It’s split in two by the Rhine river, and its older side, the left bank is where you’ll want to concentrate your time, because it’s here that you’ll find the super charming Old Town (“Alstadt” in German) and museums.
The Museum Scene
There are more than 40 museums in Switzerland’s second largest city. If you’re not a museum fan but you are a fan of architecture, you may explode, so take something to clean up the mess. Many of these buildings were designed by world-famous architects like Renzo Piano and Frank Gehry, and they’re gorgeous pieces of art in themselves.
Basel’s Old Town is a wonderful place to spend a few hours, wandering about the market stalls in the Marktplatz, having lunch at a café (see dining below) and visiting sights like the Rathaus (Town Hall).
If you’re in the mood to get animal, Basel’s zoo (the “Lolli”, as its known by locals) has been named one of the 15 best zoos in the world. You can walk here from Brand g’s host hotel.
The language is primarily Swiss-German, but young people also speak English, so if you’re in restaurants, stores, etc. (where younger people make up a majority of the workers), you’re likely to have few problems communicating. And many signs are in English alongside their native language.
The Swiss, like their German counterparts, are notoriously on time, and their transportation runs similarly. Basel is served by a comprehensive network of trams and buses, which operate quite frequently, often as little as 3-5 minutes apart. Tickets are purchased at each tram/bus stop, and you should have your ticket before you board (with exceptions, you cannot buy them onboard).
The ticketing machines are slightly intimidating. You can figure them out but allow yourself an extra five minutes to do so. (Or just do what I do, stand there and cry until someone offers to do it for you.) Fortunately, the machines operate in 4 languages, one of which is English. Their fare system is zone-based (the farther you travel, the more expensive the ticket) and covers all forms of transportation (tram, bus, train), so whether you’re traveling across town or to the furthest reaches of the country, you can buy one ticket that covers it.
Note that Switzerland offers a Half Fare card (good for one month or one year), which allows you to purchase tickets for half the normal rate. But the card itself is expensive, so unless you’re staying in Switzerland for a week or more, it’s probably not worth it.
Half Fare card website:
Basel has some exceptional restaurants, with prices to match. There are three Michelin-starred restaurants, including the gorgeous, 3-Michelin star Cheval Blanc.
If you’re looking to splurge, check out these outstanding options:
And this article lists some more casual options that offer excellent value (relatively speaking).
Switzerland is, by world standards, extremely safe, so you can wander Basel freely with little worry, provided you take normal precautions and be aware.
Basel, like all of Switzerland, tends to be expensive, so plan accordingly. Good hotels run $400-500/night, simple two-course dinners in non-fancy restaurants can run $50-60 per person. If you’d prefer to get more value for your money, consider taking the train to one of the spots mentioned below.
Great Jumping Off Point
Basel is positioned at the juncture of the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland, so it’s an easy, inexpensive train ride to many wonderful European spots. If you’re taking our 2022 cruise which ends here, once you’ve seen a bit of Basel, consider tacking on a few days in Paris (3 hours by train), Frankfurt (3 hours), Munich (4.5 hours) or Berlin (7 hours). Or hit another Swiss city, like glamorous Zurich (just over an hour away).
In case you’re not familiar, here’s a wonderful site that shows you the options for how to get from one city/country to another. (Use this for traveling almost anywhere in the world.)
Ready to be a Swiss Miss? Join our 2022 Amsterdam and Castles of the Rhine cruise. Limited availability remains. Swiss Miss costume not required. (But trust us, several people will have them anyway.)