There aren’t many places on earth where you can see three countries from a single vantage point, much less doing so while bobbing down the Rhine in an inflatable orange sack.
Basel offers much more besides: a laid-back city that borders France and Germany, it boasts a thriving arts scene, exciting festivals and delightful sights along the Rhine. Whether you are just passing through or planning to stay for a while, Basel is an ideal stop on any European holiday.
The Rhine makes its way through Basel, splitting it in two between Grossbasel on the left bank and Kleinbasel on the right. The left bank is where you will find the main historic centre, as well as important landmarks like the Münster cathedral and Barfüsserplatz. Kleinbasel offers its own charms, including the Museum Tinguely, a modernist installation with fanciful machines somewhere between Rube Goldberg and Monty Python. Finally, towards the edge of town, Three Countries’ Corner is a novelty site where you can walk right to the edge of Switzerland and peer at France and Germany at once.
With a laid-back atmosphere and so much to discover, Basel is a perfect city getaway. You’re your flight to Basel today and discover this magnificent city.
Discover the city where three countries come together and book a flight to Basel now.* You can travel from Zurich to Basel by train. Your train ticket for this connection is included.
What currency should I bring?
The currency in Switzerland is the Swiss franc. The currency can either be obtained prior to departure or in the airport on arrival. You can also withdraw francs in-country from ATMs using your bank card or credit card, though make sure to check with your bank first! Since Basel is right next to the Eurozone countries of Germany and France, euros are also easy enough to come by for any cross-border jaunts.
What language is spoken in Basel?
Switzerland is a country of many languages, with four (yes, four!) official languages within its borders. The main language in Basel is Swiss German, though its location on the French border means that French is commonly spoken as well. English is fairly widespread, especially among the younger population.
How do I get around in Basel?
Basel is served by a network of bright green buses and trams that travel through the city as well as the surrounding area, with some routes even crossing into Germany and France. For a short visit where you will be travelling a fair amount, it is worth investing in a BaselCard – often provided free of charge with a hotel booking. In addition to giving you unlimited travel on the trams and buses, it also provides discounted rates on local attractions. Bike hires in Basel are a little harder to come by than in other cities, though the main train station does offer rentals. That said, the city is quite easy to bike around, with plenty of bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly areas.
Attractions in Basel: A Swiss urban getaway
A getaway to Basel means spending time amidst the art, culture and history of a uniquely European locale. Basel’s proximity to the goings-on of the continent have allowed it to showcase some of its finest art and architecture for visitors, while presenting a few surprises of its own.
- Fondation Beyeler:
- Three Countries’ Corner
The city’s main cathedral dates back to the fourteenth century, though parts of it are much older. The red sandstone church is famous for intricately carved scenes, including the St Vincent Panel, dating to around 1100.
This sublime art gallery is Basel’s finest, though not for lack of competition. Its extensive collection spans some of the best artistic minds of the twentieth century: Giacometti, Picasso, Warhol and more.
Three Countries’ Corner
A curiosity unique to Basel, this pillar is at the extreme northwest of the city, at the end of tram line #8. Gaze ahead into Germany or across the river into France – then, thinking deep thoughts, head to the nearby Sandoase bar for some refreshments.
The centre of historic Basel, where lively pubs ply their trade next to historic museums and where fairs and Christmas markets set up shop. The Münster cathedral is a short walk away, and it is just steps to the Tinguely Brunnen, a series of theatrical fountains.
Art in Basel
Basel’s art scene is undoubtedly what puts it on the international stage: it is the eponymous founder of Art Basel, one of the world’s largest art fairs. Being so closely connected to the larger European sphere, it has also been able to attract breath-taking collections to its museums, including the popular Kunstmuseum, with its immense array of twentieth-century art. The Fondation Beyeler is also not to be missed, with its small but striking collection that includes works by Monet and Dalí.
Basel is a city with some interesting traditions as well – in the summer, residents inflate large orange sacks and let the Rhine’s current sweep them through the city, cooling off in the river’s water. The city’s two most famous festivals, meanwhile, take place later in the winter and spring. Fasnacht begins on the Monday after Ash Wednesday and features parades through the city and an all-night masked carnival. Vogel Griff, in January, features a symbolic ritual with pagan roots that fêtes the city’s guilds. There is a procession featuring a wild man, lion and griffin, and it all culminates in much revelry.
For more to see and do in this beautiful city, see our guide about Basel.
Basel for the gourmet
Basel’s status as an international business hub does mean that its restaurants tend towards the pricier side, but a stroll through the city’s squares will turn up any number of cosy restaurants serving up home-cooked, straightforward fare. Of course, if you’re in the mood for luxury, some of the city’s fine dining establishments are quite literally palatial.
The hearty and the sweet in Basel
The location between three countries halped to shape the food as well, you may find influences from southern Germany as well as from the French Alsace Region. A very typical food of Basel is Basler Mehlsuppe, a soup made from flour, sbrinz (a hard cheese), onions and red wine. It is typically eaten for breakfast. Another typical food is Basler Laubfrosch, literally translated as tree frog. They are actually a kind of stuffed cabbage, the name comes from the green cabbage leafs. A wonderful and typical street food is Chäsbängel, appropriately described as a fondue to go. A baguette-like bread is drilled open and filled with molten cheese. As most Swiss towns, Basel has its very own tradition in sweets and pastries, and you will also find locally produced wines that are surprisingly high quality.
Shopping in Basel: Swiss style
For a shopping trip to this Swiss city, be sure to start out in Barfüsserplatz and Marktplatz, then head down the pedestrian-only boulevard of Freistrasse. Fashion, fine foods and luxury brands are on offer throughout the city’s shops. For a sweet gift, head to the Läckerli-huus on the Gerbergasse and pick up some local Läckerli biscuits or Rahmtäfeli caramels. Meanwhile, Changemaker, on the Marktgasse, offers unique gifts that are responsibly produced.
Our guide about eat and drink in Basel has more tips on dining, entertainment and shopping options in Basel.