Cozying up with France and Germany, the corner of Switzerland that Basel nestles into is unique even within the valleys of Europe. Running along the Rhine river bed, the three countries meet in the middle of river eddies – only the fish swim the exact point – but the effect that the 3 nations have on this city is remarkable.
Disclaimer: My trip to Basel was kindly supported by the Basel Tourism board but my (very many) thoughts, nautical cliches and enthusiasm are only ever genuinely mine and mine alone.
Many people (including a lot of friends) use Basel as a starting point for the glorious train journeys, but they miss discovering a city well worth wandering and spending a leisurely long weekend in.
Basel is the third largest city in Switzerland, and it doesn’t feel crowded but has a pleasant hum of life to the streets.
For me, an island dweller, strolling through Basel airport (which is actually based in France) and simply hopping on a bus or tram and then deciding which country to visit still blows my mind. It really was that easy – but Basel was my destination this day…
1. Explore the city from high to low
There are hundreds of years of European history within the Basel city walls. The stories and buildings of yesteryear are just waiting to be unfolded by patient visitors – and experienced tour guides. (I was lucky enough to be shown the highlights of Basel on foot by the fabulous Georges.)
2. Love culture? There are 40 museums within 37 km2
With everything from toy museums to fine art, from firefighting to domestic life – there is something for everyone amongst the bevy of Basel Museums. There’s even Kunsthalle Basel, dedicated to exhibiting, discussing, and reflecting on the art of the present, which it has done so ever since its founding in 1872.
I explored the beautiful Fondation Beyeler for a glorious hour or two. The 250-odd works of classic modernism reflect the views of Hildy and Ernst Beyeler on 20th-century art and highlight features typical of the period: from Monet, Cézanne and van Gogh to Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Bacon.
I definitely need a return trip, just to explore Vitra – a campus with buildings by incredible architects like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando, Álvaro Siza, Nicholas Grimshaw and SANAA (all idols of mine when studying my architecture degree.)
3. Follow an ancient tradition and take a swim in the Rhine river
The green, green Rhine bisects Basel, and like London very much dictates the ebb and flow of the city. But, locals take it a step further and use the river as a commute in summer – they float their belongings in a waterproof ‘Wickelfisch‘, and float along the current in dedicated lanes. We enjoyed watching swimmers bob along the currents, clearly refreshed and enjoying their dip.
4. Admire the mix of modern and traditional architecture
Herzog & de Meuron is an architecture firm founded in Basel in 1978. In 2001, they were awarded the Pritzker Prize, the highest of honours in architecture and jury chairman J. Carter Brown commented, “One is hard put to think of any architects in history that have addressed the integument of architecture with greater imagination and virtuosity.”
5. There are a myriad of concerts & open air cinema events – not to mention a possible 300 days of sunshine a year.
Can you already tell how much I enjoyed exploring Basel?
6. Luxuriate in the good restaurants, bakeries and confectioners around the city
I faithfully tried a few different places – formal and informal spots within the city – but they definitely deserve a post all on their own. Over 20 restaurants that have won GaultMillau or Michelin awards if that’s any indication of quality.
7. Shopping in the curving, twisting lanes lined with boutiques
One of the highlights of my walking tour was being shown the narrow lanes lined with boutiques stores – especially as I had plenty of time to wander back and fill up my suitcase with all kinds of goodies…
…not to mention the city market on Marktplatz, held from Monday to Saturday, offering a wealth of delicious products.
In short, you definitely need to visit Basel. The streets are alive with art, music, performances and delicious food – and it’s a wonderful European city break. Especially for a solo Kiwi who has an unending curiosity about the world.
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