Basel Guide. Leisure Guides.

 

Dissected by the Rhine with boundaries in France, Germany, and Switzerland, Basel is conservatively traditional and industrial yet artistically avant-garde and sometimes architecturally deconstructed. Somehow it harmonizes these polar opposites into a cultural tour de force.

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Getting around


Baslers start getting twitchy if their metronomic public transport is a few seconds late. But it rarely is. Airport bus (number 50) integrates you into the über-punctual, near-infallible BVB yellow-and-green tram system. From key transport hubs of central Bahnhof, Barfüsserplatz, Marktplatz, and Schifflände (for Rhine water-taxis), 13 tramlines cover downtown Basel linking Grossbasel to Kleinbasel. 
 
The yellow-and-red BLT trams and punctual buses deliver passengers further afield into the suburbs. Most innovatively, any visitor checking into a hotel receives a free ‘mobility ticket’ covering all public transport throughout their stay. Cycle lanes throughout Basel provide a healthy and safe way to navigate the city while small ferries powered by river currents crisscross the Rhine for a few Swiss Francs – the most useful of these operates just below Münsterplatz. Taxis are expensive and not really needed unless you are overburdened by luggage.
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Hotels


A new wave of design-conscious offerings has reenergised a sector once top-heavy with bland business hotels. In a nutshell, on the Rhine’s west bank, Grossbasel offers character and history around the ancient Old Town while across the Mittlere Bridge in opposite Kleinbasel is a greater concentration of business hotels clustering around the important Messe Exhibition Centre. 
 
Swishest of Kleinbasel’s five-star offerings is Swissôtel Le Plaza (Messeplatz 25) although it is dwarfed by the nearby 105-metre-high glass edifice of the Messeturm tower housing the Ramada Plaza (Messeplatz 12) with top-floor Bar Rouge offering the best sunset drinks in town. Grossbasel’s four-star offerings include Hotel Victoria (Centralbahnplatz 3-4), handily placed opposite the main railway station, and the aesthetically pleasing Hotel Euler (Centralbahnplatz 14) within a 19th-century powder-blue townhouse. Further out, the Marriott Courtyard’s (Hardstrasse 55) exterior isn’t exactly eye-candy but its fun-filled Aquabasilea waterpark is a splash with leisure-seekers. 
 
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Nightlife


Nightlife options for every mood and budget abound to kick-off an evening in Basel. Locals launch theirs with drinks in one of Barfüsserplatz’s myriad bars but if you’re going for a splash, hit the high-priced cocktails and grandeur at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois (Blumenrain 8). Beyond this, Basel’s nightlife is a tad conservative given avant-garde artistic tastes yet there’s enough to keep you busy with numerous bars, a smattering of hip clubs and live music venues.
 
Café Des Arts (Barfüsserplatz 6) and Campari Bar (Steinenberg 7) possess a bygone lounge vibe; for the design conscious, Baragraph (Kohlenberg 10) serves cocktails with sleek sexy minimalism while long-established Atlantis (klosterberg 13) transmogrifies from smart dining to weekend clubbing spot. Mash up with the twin-floored Kult Club’s (Steinentorstrasse 35) younger energetic crowds or more retro groove on an antique circular dancefloor at Singerhaus (Marktplatz 34). Foot-tap to sax appeal at Bird’s Eye Jazz Club (Kohlenberg 20).
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Restaurants


Basel’s evolving culinary cosmopolitanism is increasingly harmonising French finesse and Asian flavours. Yet its staple diet still delivers a hearty Oompah based around breads, potatoes, dairy and meat. Locals don’t eat late, while the institution of afternoon coffee and cake is well ingrained at doyennes such as Café Confiserie Schiesser (Marktplatz 19) whose confectionary is infinitely more delicious than the café’s name suggests.  
 
Hasenburg (Schneidergasse 20) serves excellent rösti (Swiss potato patty) with everything and is always full with a buzzy atmosphere. For a lounge-style brasserie setting at the railway station, try stylish Les Gareçons (Badischer Bahnhof) while two-Michelin-star fine dining at deluxe Cheval Blanc (Blumenrain 8) requires advance booking. Less formal, Fischerstube (Rheingasse 45) cooks up a gastropub atmosphere within an in-house microbrewery. Obvious Asian influences include Negishi (Gerbergasse 80), a little hole-in-the-wall sushi bar, while vegetarians won’t find a schnitzel in sight at the buffet-style Tibits (Stänzlergasse 4). 
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Shopping


Awash with Swiss designer brands and international couture, Basel’s shops ooze equal measures of chic and sophistication guaranteed to haemorrhage your wallet. The streets surrounding Freie Strasse are metaphorically paved with gold: providence of expensive jewellers, goldsmiths and watchmakers chocker with Swiss timepieces such as Rolex and Piaget at age-old establishments like Bucherer (Freie Strasse 40). If these prove a fiscal cliff too far, find solace in local chocolatiers such as Xocolatl (Blumengasse 3) and do try Basel’s definitive treat, läckerli, a moist spiced biscuit on sale at Läckerli Huus (Gerbergasse 57). 
 
As department stores go, Globus (Marktplaz 2) offers everything from funky furnishings to a lower floor of moreish gourmet delights. But if one street defines Basel’s reputation for luxury handmade items, it’s fairytale Spalenberg with its alluring specialists shops. Most famous is Johann Wanner’s (Spalenberg 14) fantasy world of Christmas decorations. 
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Top 10 sights


Münster

Get your bearings at this 11th-century hilltop Romanesque and Gothic cathedral masterpiece for searching views from adjacent Pfalz terrace over the Rhine corridor. The intricate cloister beneath the Münster’s elaborate twin spires is a place of true contemplation and serenity.
 
Münsterplatz
www.baslermuenster.ch 
 
Marktplatz

Bubbly beating heart of the Old Town, this cobbled square hosts a lively daily market of fresh produce; delicious cheeses, honey, breads and flowers. Most eye-catching is the lavish burgundy-coloured 16th-century Rathaus (Town Hall) overlooking Marktplatz with its fairytale scaly tiled roof.
 
Marktplatz
 
Botanical Garden

Gulp down a lungful of morning-after-the-big-night-out fresh air with a stroll around one of Europe’s oldest botanical gardens. Greenhouses of orchids and tropical foliage are located along pathways that wind by ponds and woodland. 
 
Schönbeinstrasse 6 
http://botgarten.unibas.ch 
 
Foundation Beyeler

If time permits just one artistic foray, hop onto a tram to the world-class modernist collection assembled by Ernst Beyeler. Inside a contemporary museum designed by Pompidou architect, Renzo Piano, the collection is an A-Z of modern art: from Lichtenstein’s pop to Bacon and Mondrian. Perfection is the naturally lit Giacometti gallery sublimely illuminating his anorexic bronzes.
 
Baselstrasse 101 
www.foundationbeyeler.ch 
 
Museum Tinguely

Although not as recognized as he deserves to be outside of Basel, Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) possessed the mechanized thought processes of Salvador Dali. Fab and fun, his dedicated museum jolts and judders into life as his witty Frankenstein-ish mechanical sculptures of salvaged scrap explode into life.
 
Paul Sacher-Anlage 2
www.tinguely.ch 
 
Top 5 sights for old hands
 
Modern Architectural Hike

Grab a tourist office leaflet for a self-guided trail to discover how Europe’s greatest architectural gurus have redefined Basel’s cityscape. Futuristic visions include the Elsässertor from Herzog & De Meuron, alongside creations from Richard Meier, Renzo Piano and Mario Botta.
 
www.basel.com 
 
Flea Market
 
Centrally located in Grossbasel, this is an enjoyable sociable outing centred around a lovely tree-lined plaza drawing Saturday crowds of browsers. Retro and antique bargains include silverware, cameras, and vinyl LPs, amid bundles of secondhand clothes and toys.
 
Petersplatz
www.messen-maerkte.bs.ch/flohmarkt 
 
Augusta Raurica

Located 20 kilometres east of Basel, the amphitheatre showcasing this excavated Roman city dating back to 44BC is an impressive sight. The brilliant onsite museum houses thousands of finds including a glittering collection of Roman coins. During summer it can be reached by Rhine riverboats from Basel. 
 
Giebenacherstrasse 17 
www.augustaraurica.ch 
 
St Alban-Tal 

A local sobriquet describing this district of waterways as ‘Little Venice’ maybe gilds the lily yet St Alban-Tal’s tranquil off-the-beaten-track streets east of the Münster provide a snapshot of ancient Basel. Among timber-framed buildings and old paper mills are several fine museums not far from an impressive 600-year-old city gate. 
 
Vitra Design Museum

The only reason this extraordinary museum inside a deconstructed Frank Gehry masterpiece isn’t mainstay is because it’s a fair schlep to reach in Basel’s German suburbs. But for disciples of groundbreaking interior design it’s a pilgrimage. Displayed in a sort of IKEA-shelving format, look out for Frank Lloyd Wright chairs and design classics such as Bauhaus-era lamps by Wagenfeld. 
 
Charles-Eames-Strasse 2, Weil am Rhein 
www.design-museum.de 
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Top 5 activities


Rhine swimming

Drift down the fast-flowing Rhine at Olympian speeds. Passing beneath Basel’s great bridges, the fast currents necessitate competency in swimming, particularly to exit the Rhine at specially erected riverside platforms. Huge fun.
 
Ice skating 

Wintertime’s outdoors ice rinks include family-friendly Margarethenpark in leafy suburbs north of the Bahnhof. Eiskunstbahn Eglisee doubles up as a swimming pool in the summer.
 
Rhine cruise

Summer sees a veritable armada of riverboats trawling the Rhine via Schifflände (boat station) where a ticket office outlines cruise options. Enjoy Basel’s rustic environs heading upriver towards Rheinfelden town via the Augst and Birsfelden Locks.
 
Football

FC Basel has been the veritable powerhouse of Swiss soccer in recent times. Watching the Rotblau in the club’s magnificent new Herzog & De Meuron-designed St Jakob-Park stadium is a comfortable but passionate affair. 
 
Cycling 

Bikes can be rented from various outlets – the central Bahnhof for one – in a city ripe for two-wheeled exploration. There’s a fine and flattish route along the Rhine on the Kleinbasel bank to the Tinguely Museum and further beyond towards Rheinfelden if you’re feeling energetic.
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Top 5 events


Fasnacht 

Historic confetti-strewn carnival madness is a citywide explosion of parades undertaken by musical drum and pipe cliques. Carnival goers chase away winter blues in a flurry of exotic costumes and handmade lanterns warmed by alcoholic coffees and floury mehlsuppe (a strongly flavoured soup based on beef stock and spices).
 
Date: Monday after Ash Wednesday until Thursday
Venue: Citywide
 
Art Basel 

Purchasing a Warhol might be a little outré financially but there’s a thrill browsing the world’s leading contemporary art show salivating over established avant-garde pieces and maybe taking a punt on more affordable up-and-coming artists? 
 
Date: June
Venue: Messe Exhibition Centre
 
Rheinschwimmen (Rhine Swim)

Several thousands Baslers plough into the Rhine for the annual summer Rheinschwimmen. Merry crowds are swept along for several kilometres before clambering out for festive drinks and music on the Kleinbasel riverbank.
 
Date: August
Venue: From Schaffhauserrheinweg
 
Herbstmesse

This 5-century-old annual autumn fair transforms Basel’s main squares into a citywide amusement park of Ferris wheels, children’s carousels and some seriously more scary rides. 
 
Date: October-November
Venue: Citywide
 
Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market)

Christmas lights, stalls of goodies, hopefully snow and decorated Chritsmas trees, accompanied by mulled wine, create a touch of festive stardust. 
 
Date: December 
Venue: Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz

Written by World Travel Guide

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