There’s plenty to see and do (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Autumn is a great time to get away for a European city break.
Not quite so blisteringly cold that you don’t want to go outside and explore, but not so stunningly hot that seeking out sights and tourist spots is a chore.
Basel, Switzerland, should be at the top of your travel list, if you’re sussing out your next getaway.
Known for its pretty architecture and gazing over the River Rhine, see it as an alternative to Amsterdam and Paris once you’ve ticked those biggies off: Europe has plenty more to offer.
Situated on the borders of France and Germany (don’t get confused at the airport, as you can exit in all three countries), Basel has an eclectic mix of Swiss, German and French influence, with one road taking more of nod from one territory and the next being completely different.
With this in mind, Switzerland’s third largest city has plenty to see and do.
You don’t need long to get a good feel for the place (and frankly, your bank account won’t want you there longer than a weekend – a McDonald’s burger was 17 Swiss Francs, so you’re better off ending a night out with the country’s beautiful chocolate) – and we recommend it for a fun, aesthetically pleasing and warming weekend.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours there.
What to do in Basel
With any city break, starting with a walking tour can be the best way in.
It helps you get your bearings, gives some history, and often you can get good food recommendations from the host.
Spot the difference in architecture (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Stopping off at a church (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Our guide, Esme Forester, gave me a whistle-stop tour across key parts of the city, stopping to tell us about cultural points and historical stories. I also stepped into a beautiful church and learned about some religious history.
It was a great way to start the weekend – plus she gave us some food for thought about what to do in our spare time.
Basel can be as full on or chilled as you want it to be (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Museums and galleries
There are around 40 museums in Basel, so you should visit at least one.
I checked out Wonders of Medicine at Novartis Pavillon. Basel has a big pharma industry, so there’s a corner of town full of pharma campuses that looks nothing like the cutesy olden buildings, instead it’s hyper sci-fi.
For an interesting and futuristic exhibition experience, this does the trick. I’ve never been so impressed by tech, which was interactive and truly felt advanced. If this is the future of exhibitions, I’m keen.
Science fans will adore (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Get your art fix (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
To paint a picture: as you moved around, an audio device knew what information to tell you, without you needing to touch or do anything, and holograms of people appeared as you approached certain objects.
The next day I went to Fondation Beyeler, an art gallery that’s quite far out – though there’s a tram that drops you straight outside.
Getting around is easy – there are buses, trams, trains and everything runs right on time, and limited services go into the night.
The focal point of the city – swimmers, dwellers (and weed smokers) alike gather here to socialise and exercise.
You’ll see locals swimming down and then jumping out, walking back home in their trucks like that’s completely normal.
The current is fast in this river, so you’ll be carried along no problem, just ensure you plan your exit point in advance so you don’t go too far down.
Take a trip on the ferry (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Watch the world go by (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Sit along here for a while (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Basilisks are all over the city on fountains for religious reasons dating back to the Medieval times (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
The city even sells float bags that zip your valuables and clothes compactly inside so they stay dry and you have something to hold in the water, which is very clever.
For those feeling less active, have a stroll then perch up alongside the water. I did this with a bunch of locals who were lying back in the sun, and it felt very peaceful.
The ferry across is fun to take too.
Basel is a strange place for nightlife – some areas are devoid of life, while others are brimming with it.
At the centre of the old town on Friday, people of a mix of ages were dancing in the road until well into the night as a DJ played music on a boombox on the pavement. Asking a local whether this was a regular occurrence – a night time street party – he said yes, this happens all the time.
Basel is good for bar hopping (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Next I headed to a random rock pub (I didn’t get the name of it, sadly) then to Soho, a bar with a small basement dancefloor, then Balthazar, which was bigger and easier to dance in.
If I were to go again, I’d skip Soho and go straight to Balthazar, which was more fun, had better club lights, and had much cheaper drinks.
Exploring different areas
Start with the old town. This is by far the prettiest part of the city and there’s lots going on here.
Kleinbasel is considered more trendy and is worth a stroll through – even if just to admire how totally different it looks to the old town. It feels like a different city full-stop.
Don’t bother with little Venice – you’ve seen it now (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
One to skip: I walked for a while to get to ‘little Venice’, which honestly wasn’t worth it. It’s just a stream of water… the buildings along the walk to it are pretty, but don’t go expecting much else. Calling it little Venice feels a stretch to say the least.
Where to eat in Basel
Veal sausages are a must-try if you’re a meat eater, as they’re popular in this city, as is rosti.
Chocolate is also a must, whether it’s from a supermarket or chocolate specialist. I found one near my hotel that served up all kinds of flavours (though it was a little pricey).
Quick lunch before the flight home (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
From Klara (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Hungry when I first arrived, I picked up a delicious sausage, roll and sauce all cooked and prepared on a little grill in the middle of a road in the old town for 3 Swiss Francs – not bad at all. The conversion is close to the pound, for reference.
There was a small street food festival happening, and this stand I picked up a plate from was a part of it.
In Marktplatz, food stands serving hot options and groceries operate most days, so is also worth checking out.
Restaurant Kunsthalle had a lovely ambiance, with large renaissance-style paintings on the walls and old wooden furniture. It’s the perfect dinner location.
The food and wine options there were great, too.
Fine dining (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Local cuisine (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Klara was somewhere I visited the next day and it’s like an indoor food market serving up a mix of cuisines under one roof. It’s a cooler spot that might appeal to those looking to get off the beaten track.
I went to the Vietnamese stall and loved the dish.
A dish to try (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
To try fondue, I visited Walliser Kanne one lunchtime. This is considered one of the best spots for fondue in Basel, but to be honest, I found one of the members of staff rude (the other delightful, so it was a toss up) and food to be meh, which considering I’d spent around 48 Swiss Francs for a pot of hot cheese, felt disappointing.
Go somewhere less revered – and therefore cheaper – to experience this instead.
Where to stay
Hotel Basel was my home for the weekend. Located in the old town, it’s the perfect point to get to most things within 20 to 30 minutes.
The single room was small and sweet – ideal for someone who will be out most of the time, then wanting comfort when they do get in. The bed in particular was very comfy.
A quick stop off (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
A cosy room (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Cave or dining hall (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Delicious breakfast (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)
Breakfast was delightful too. An upmarket buffet-style offering featuring lots of breads, cheeses, meats and pastries which went down well.
Hot food is made to order, which isn’t well advertised but is worth knowing.
Staff were attentive too, so I enjoyed my stay.
With its leafy streets, ample culture and interesting architecture, Basel is the underrated city break deserving of your time.
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