Despite being the third most populous city in Switzerland, Basel is relatively compact, covering just 37 square kilometres. The city is sliced in half by the River Rhine, and six bridges connect the two sides, the oldest of which, Mittliere Brucke, was built in 1226.
Although a Swiss city, Basel is close to both Germany and France, making it the perfect hub from which to explore further afield. However, the city still manages to maintain its own character, embracing culture and art with gusto.
As you’d expect from a city that has a history dating back 2000 years, there are a wealth of Basel tourist attractions, including historical landmarks, stunning architecture, and more than 40 museums.
There’s more good news, too as there are plenty of free things to do in Basel. Take a walk around the Old Town either following your own path or using one of the five free self-guided walks on the local city app.
If you’re visiting the city on the first Sunday of the month, head to one of the many of the museums in Basel that offer free entry.
You will need more than just a day or two to take all in the sights and sounds that Basel has to offer. Pick up a Basel tourist map and start exploring this wonderful city.
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Top things to do in Basel, Switzerland
The pretty, historical centre of Basel (Basel Altstadt) is relatively small but very charming. Amble along the cobbled streets, pausing to look at the old houses, many dating back to the 14th century, and medieval churches.
Around the Old Town you can’t fail to spot the many colourful fountains – there are 100’s of them still providing fresh water today. Look out for the particularly quirky fountain designed by Swiss sculptor Jean Tinquely, which is a popular attraction in Basel.
The Old Town is the perfect place to start your Basel sightseeing. Explore the narrow streets and soak up the artisan atmosphere.
If you head along Freiestrasse, you will find yourself at the Renaissance Geltenzunfthaus, which dates back to 1578. You’ll also be able to see Baroque style buildings and wall paintings as you stroll along. If you manage to make it to Fischmarkt, be sure to look out for the Gothic fountain.
Explore the Altstadt Basel by foot or sign up for a walking tour and gain the insight of a well-informed guide. There are plenty of things to see in Basel, and you will learn about the landmarks and interesting focal points, as well as dig deeper into the history of Basel.
Choose from a range of Basel walking tours:
- 1-hour Must-See Express Tour > click here to check prices and details
- Walking tour through Basel Old Town (2 hours) > click here to check prices and details
- Welcome to Basel: Private tour with a local > click here to check prices and details
- Instagram-worthy places in Basel > click here to check prices and details
Located on Minster Hill, you’ll find Basel Minster; paying a visit here remains one of the top things to do in Basel. With its protruding spires and colourful roof, The Minster (church) really stands out – resplendent with its red stone exterior.
Originally built in the 11th century, the building was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1300s and was then rebuilt in the Gothic style you see today. Sadly, there was more turmoil to come: the altar and some of the fittings were damaged during a raid in the 1500s. However, some of the treasures were salvaged and are now on display in the museum.
Make sure you stop to take a look at the Romanesque stone carvings in the St. Gallus doorway, where you will see a depiction of Christ, along with Peter and Paul. There are also impressive frescoes on the ceilings where you can see scenes played out from the New Testament.
The crypt is worth a visit too; it’s the final resting place of a number of notable bishops.
Town Hall and Marketplace
Of all the places to visit in Basel, you must make the Town Hall (Rathaus) and Market Place (Marktplatz) a priority. The vibrant market is a Basel must-see and runs daily. Take your time to stroll around the stalls, smell the flowers, and try the local delicacies – this place is a feast for the senses.
At the heart of the square, you will find the Basel Rathaus – it’s red exterior is unmissable. Stand back and appreciate the striking Gothic style. The main building was erected in the early 1500s, as was the clock, which was designed by Master Wilhelms. You can also cast an eye over the left wing and tall tower – both were added in the 19th century.
The courtyard is a sight to behold, too. There’s a statue of the town founder, Munatius Plancus, perched on the staircase, and beautiful wall paintings that are worth a look. Look a little further, and you’ll come across a duo of council chambers – one featuring a Swiss cantons coat of arms and the other showcasing wood panelling.
The Spalentor Fortified Gate
As one of only three remaining medieval gates in the city, Spalentor is another of the attractions in Basel worth visiting. This fortified gate dates back to 1370 and was once part of the old city walls.
The attractive tower features a central section topped with a pointed roof decorated with glazed tiles, and two crenellated turrets. An arched opening in the tower leads to Spalenvorstadt, a narrow alley lined with shuttered houses.
Spalentor can be found on the west side of the Old Town.
Museum of Art
If you love art, Basel has a museum that’s right up your alley. Located on St Alban-Graben, the Kunstmuseum houses a collection of fine paintings – an eclectic mix of art by the masters, and contemporary works, too.
There are renowned Dutch and French paintings, including the 1627 David and Goliath’s Head by Rembrandt. You will also find work by Picasso, Klee, Dali and Van Gogh, to name but a handful of the impressive and talented artists who have work showcased here.
If you happen to be visiting during June, you can enjoy Art Basel week, when culture vultures can really embrace the city. If you can think of nothing better to do than visit an art fair, Basel is the place to be – there’s plenty to choose from.
Museum of Antiquities and the Ludwig Collection
One of the best things to do in Basel is to pay a visit to the Museum of Antiquities and the Ludwig Collection. On display are all manner of artefacts including Greek, Italian and Egyptian antiquities, some dating back to 4000 BC.
There are also some spectacular sculptures and vases, as well as clay figurines and beautiful gold jewellery to look at.
If you are keen to see more, why not head to Skulpturhalle Basel Switzerland? This is also run by the Museum of Antiquities but is located close to Basel University. Here you’ll find lots of plaster casts and Roman and Greek sculptures.
Of the many things to do in Basel, Switzerland, sometimes the simple things are the best! The River Rhine is a showpiece of the city and it provides an interesting means of transport for both locals and visitors alike.
The fast-flowing current can carry small boats, known as Fähri, across the river without any propulsion. The boats – which have no motor – use the natural river current to cross from one bank to the other and are a popular method of transport.
You can also enjoy round trip cruises along the Rhine or a harbour cruise around the Border Triangle, where Switzerland, Germany and France meet.
A fun summer activity on the Rhine is to float downstream holding a Wickelfisch, a fish-shaped waterproof bag that acts as a buoyancy device. It’s a popular way to cool off on a warm summer’s day.
There is also a bathing area and beaches that are prime spots to sit, relax, and soak up the sun.
Click the green button below to listen to our podcast episode about Basel.
In terms of cultural things to do, Basel has plenty to offer but how about other attractions? Basel has a large zoo, founded in 1874, which is referred to as Zolli by the locals.
At the zoo, there are plenty of animals to see, including monkeys, birds, reptiles, and carnivores. The lion enclosure provides a chance to see these powerful predators up close and personal.
You can also marvel at the elephants as they take a cooling shower in their specially designed enclosure.
Basel Christmas Markets
In the city of Basel, things to do are varied, but if you are visiting in the weeks prior to Christmas, a visit to the Basel Christmas Markets are an absolute must.
The city comes alive with festive cheer as twinkling lights sparkle above the Old Town and the aromas of roasting chestnuts and gingerbread permeate the air.
Basel’s main Christmas Market at Münsterplatz, beside the Minster, is also Switzerland’s oldest and largest, with over 180 stalls selling their wares. Another highlight of Christmas in Basel is the giant Christmas tree adorned with ornaments made by local artisan, Johann Wanner.
Learn more about the fantastic festive events held in Basel in the lead up to Christmas in our Christmas Markets podcast episode.
If you have a little more time to spend in Basel, just south of the city at Augst you’ll find Switzerland’s largest archaeological park, Augusta Raurica, which dates back to Roman times.
Taking centre stage in this open-air museum is an impressive Roman theatre with tiered seating for 2,000 people, but there are also carefully excavated temples, baths and sewers a Roman house with authentic rooms.
Some of the many antiquities excavated from the site – including a large collection of silver plates, bowls and coins – are displayed in the museum, and an animal park displays domestic animals that were kept in Roman times.
Why not join a guided tour to learn more about this fascinating Roman site? > click here to check prices and details
Where is Basel?
Basel is located in northern Switzerland close to the borders with France and Germany. It is 86 kilometres from Zurich, 252 kilometres from Geneva, 96 kilometres from Bern, 332 kilometres from Frankfurt and 571 kilometres from Paris.
How to get to Basel
Many visitors to the city arrive by river cruise ship (usually on an Amsterdam to Basel river cruise) however, thanks to its proximity to neighbouring France and Germany, the city can also be easily reached by both road and rail from across Europe.
Below you’ll find a quick reference guide to travel times to/from Basel.
Basel – Zurich : train 1h:15 / car 1h
Basel – Bern : train 1h / car 1h
Basel – Lucerne : train 1h:15 / car 1h
Basel – Geneva: train 3h / car 2h:30
Basel – Paris : train 3h:10 / car 5h:15
Basel – Frankfurt : train 2h:45 / car 2h:55
Arriving by air
The nearest international airport to Basel is Basel EuroAirport, also called Basel-Mulhouse Airport. The airport is serviced by a number of airlines who fly to numerous destinations across Europe and beyond.
The airport is 4 kilometres from the centre of Basel and buses (line 50) connect the airport and the main railway station multiple times per hour. Journey time is 17 minutes.
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Where to stay in Basel
When it comes to accommodation in Basel, you’ll find a good selection of styles to suit all budgets from 5* luxury hotels to apartments, B&Bs and hostels.
The most convenient location to stay is close to the main train station but the public transport network in Basel – buses and trams – is excellent so wherever you stay, you’ll be able to reach the Old Town and main sites within minutes.
Most visitors to Basel choose to stay in one of these three locations:
Close to the main train station
If you are arriving in Basel by train, a hotel close to the station might be the most convenient. Try:
- Hotel Victoria – 4* > click here to check current prices
- Hotel Schweizerhof – 3*S > click here to check current prices
In Basel Altstadt (Old Town), you’ll find a number of small boutique hotels and apartments including:
- Gast – und Kulturhaus Der Teufelhof Basel > click here to check current prices
- Motel One Basel > click here to check current prices
- HITrental Marktplatz Apartments in Basel > click here to check current prices
Near the Congress and Exhibition Centre
As you’d expect, there are a number of business and chain hotels located near the Congress Centre. Other hotels worth considering for your stay include:
- Hyperion Hotel Base – 4* > click here to check current prices
- Hotel Wettstein – 3* > click here to check current prices
- Aparthotel Adagio Basel City > click here to check current prices
Useful things to know about Basel
Basel Visitor Tax and BaselCard
All overnight visitors to Basel are required to pay a City Tax which is charged at CHF 4 per adult (12 years and over) per night. The City Tax applies to guests staying in hotels, hostels and apartments.
In return for paying the City Tax, visitors will receive the BaselCard which includes free travel on public transport in Basel (zones 10, 11, 13 and 15, including to and from EuroAirport), free guest Wi-Fi and discounts on cultural and leisure offers. Receive 50% off some of the top things to do in Basel just by presenting your BaselCard.
See our Basel Travel Guide for more useful information about the city.
Basel, Switzerland – Things to Do for Everyone!
Whether you are visiting Basel before or after a European river cruise, are making it a base for your travels into France or Germany, or are stopping by just for a day, there’s sure to be something to appeal to your interests.
With such a variety of top sites and attractions, you won’t be left wondering what to see in Basel. The hardest decision you’ll have to make is what to do in Basel first!
Find more helpful information about Basel in our Basel Travel Guide.
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