Basel might not be quite as popular as Zurich or Geneva but it’s an incredibly interesting place to visit. It is known as a major commercial and industrial center, but for tourists it’s the city’s distinguished cultural heritage that’s interesting. To explore the city’s historical center and best museums you really only need 1 day in Basel. You may not be able to experience all the best places to visit in Basel, but a brief visit will definitely work. That’s especially the case if you let this Basel itinerary lead the way.
Best Time to Visit Basel
To make the most of your trip to Basel, you’ll want to visit at the right time of year. Most agree that the best time to visit Basel is either side of summer. In the months of May, June, September, and October you’ll get warm days and cool nights and not have to worry about high season rates.
You’ll want to be careful visiting in April and early May when it can be quite rainy. Also, July and August are the peak season for cruises. However, summertime can be quite a fun time to visit as bars line the riverfront and locals celebrate Swiss National Day on August 1 with a festival and fireworks. Plus, the temperatures in summer aren’t sweltering in Basel.
Since Basel is nowhere near Switzerland’s ski fields, you don’t have to worry about the city being too busy in winter. So December through March can be quite a good time to visit if you don’t mind the cold and snow, or if you want to see the Carnival in February. Plus, the city is home to Christmas markets which aren’t overrun with tourists like some of Europe’s more popular Christmas markets.
How to Get Around Basel
Basel is actually the third largest city in Switzerland which means it’s quite a sizeable, sprawling city. However, When visiting Basel as a tourist you’ll want to focus on the city center, which is considerably more manageable. Exploring the sights around the city center won’t involve traveling too far, so you shouldn’t have any problem getting around on foot.
Basel does have public transport though, should you need it. There are trams and city buses that link up and provide easy access to different parts of the Old Town. These might come in handy if you’re traveling from one side of the Old Town to the other.
Tickets can be purchased at machines at bus and tram stops, at TNW sales offices, or on the BLT Ticket App. A standard ticket for one zone lasts one hour and costs 3.80 CHF, there are also short journey and day tickets.
Where to Stay in Basel
Before heading off on your trip, it’s key you work out where you are going to stay. Basel may be one of the largest cities in Switzerland, but your attention will likely be focused on the historic center. That means the best places to stay in Basel are those that give you easy access to Basel’s city center. Besides staying in the Old Town itself, you can also look at the area directly across the river from the city center, as well as the neighborhood of Gundeldingen, by the train station. As for where to stay in Basel, here are a few suggestions:
For a luxurious stay in Basel, look no further than the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois overlooking the banks of the Rhine. This five-star hotel has rooms decorated in elegant decor, a Michelin star restaurant, and a fitness center.
To get great value for money, consider staying at the Hotel Rochat in Basel’s Old Town. At this highly-professional three-star hotel you get spacious rooms with a sleek, boutique style and a great level of service.
Budget accommodation in Switzerland is never easy to find, but Hyve Hostel Basel is one of your best options. Conveniently located near the main train station, this hostel is clean, quiet, and run by helpful, friendly staff.
For more accommodation options in Basel check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Basel Itinerary
One day to explore Basel may not seem like much, but it is possible to see the best of Basel in a day. Following our guide, you’ll get to experience most of the best things to do in Basel found in and around its historic center.
However, before we get to our Basel itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Having touched on that important bit of advice, let’s have a look at our Basel travel itinerary which will show you exactly what to do in Basel in 1 day to make the most of your time there.
Recommendation: If you’d like to learn a little bit more about the history of Basel, consider booking a walking tour through Basel Old Town. The walking tour will take you through the winding streets of the well-preserved old town, and to the beautiful Tinguely Fountain, Cathedral Hill, and the town hall.
Begin your visit at the Basel Minster, this cathedral is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Although it dates back to 1019, the Minster owes its design to the rebuilding that took place after the 1356 Basel Earthquake. Made from red sandstone and boasting a tile-patterned roof, this cathedral has a unique look that sets it apart from other cathedrals around the world. The church interior is a bit more ordinary, although the stained glass windows in the apse are quite pretty.
Be sure to wander around behind the Basel Minster, there you’ll find the Pfalz observation deck. From the viewing platform you’ll be treated to pleasant views along the city’s riverfront.
Heading deeper into Basel’s Old Town you’ll move from one red building to another as you reach the Basel Town Hall. Decked out in a bold red, the exterior facade of this historic Town hall is hard to miss. The few frescoes seen on the building’s front facade are a little sample of what you’ll find around its inner courtyard; frescos covering every square inch of the courtyard walls climb up several storeys. While still a seat for local government, it’s possible to take a tour through the Town Hall’s rooms and learn more about the city’s political history.
Rhine Views at the Middle Bridge
The Rhine has long been one of Europe’s most important rivers and is a defining feature of Basel. But rather than making money from navigating the Rhine, medieval Basel prospered by building the Middle Bridge to allow traders to cross. While rebuilt in 1905, the original bridge at this spot was built sometime before 1225 making it the oldest existing bridge across the Rhine. The best thing about the Middle Bridge though is the view of Basel’s riverfront.
There was a time when Basel was protected by two rows of city walls. Sadly, only three of those medieval towers are left today, the most impressive of which is the Spalentor. Once the western entrance to the Old Town, the Spalentor (Spalen Gate in English) is in an incredibly good state. With a tiled roof and sculptures on its outer facade, it’s quite a picturesque relic of a bygone era of Basel.
Exploring the local food scene is always a fun part of traveling, which is exactly what you can do at the Markthalle. The dome-shaped food hall is loaded with food stalls selling local, national, and global dishes, so there’s plenty to try. Food styles range from cafe/brunch dishes to international cuisine from all over the world, and you’ll find sushi next to Afghani and Central American food stalls.
Basel Fine Arts Museum
Known for its important cultural institutions, one of Basel’s most important is the Basel Fine Arts Museum (German: Kunstmuseum Basel). The museum has one of the most extensive collections in Switzerland, with exhibits that range from the Renaissance to art movements like Impressionism, Expressionism, and Realism. This means you’ll see names like Van Gogh, Monet, Munch, and Picasso inside. It also boasts collections of contemporary art, with a strong focus on American artists, including works by Andy Warhol.
Natural History Museum
Another of Basel’s major museums is the city’s Natural History Museum (German: Naturhistorisches Museum Basel) which explores paleontology, zoology, entomology, and anthropology. Among its permanent exhibitions are displays of dinosaurs, mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, and many other extinct species. The museum also has sections on fossils and geological forces like volcanoes, earthquakes, and ocean trenches. There’s countless things to learn about the natural and physical world in the permanent exhibitions and there are always other special exhibitions and showcases hosted there.
Have More Than 24 Hours in Basel?
Just because you’ve seen many of the sights around Basel doesn’t mean you’ve experienced everything that Basel has to offer. While 24 hours in Basel is a great start, the culture and nature of Basel’s unique location mean there’s still more to explore. If you have more time in the city, here are some further sightseeing options.
1. Museum Tinguely
The Museum Tinguely is dedicated to 20th century artist Jean Tinguely and features a comprehensive collection of the Swiss artist’s paintings and sculptures. Four decades of work are on display, covering many different art forms, including kinetic art sculptures. There are special exhibitions that showcase artists that influenced Tinguely’s work, as well as other artists’ works from the same time as Tinguely to put his experimental style into context.
2. Basel Historical Museum
Spread out across three different buildings around the city, the Basel Historical Museum (German: Historisches Museum Basel) explores several different aspects of Basel’s history. If you’d like to learn about the cultural history of Basel, then this is the museum to visit. The museum’s main building is inside the Barfüsserkirche, an elegant church from the 13th century. There you’ll find displays on the treasury of the Basel Cathedral, as well as medieval civil and religious artifacts, including several medieval tapestries.
Over at the Haus zum Kirschgarten, which is housed inside a noble mansion, the focus is on furnishings and items from the home in the 18th and 19th centuries. The mansions aristocratic rooms are used to show what life looked like during that period. Finally there is the Musikmuseum, which features the country’s largest collection of musical instruments, some of which are almost 500 years old.
3. Hop Over the Borders
Basel sits right at the meeting point of three borders. Switzerland, France and Germany all meet at a point just north of the city. This means it’s incredibly easy to pop over to not one but two different countries in a single day. This is more of a novelty than a legitimate chance to see things.
Getting to France and Germany from Basel couldn’t be easier. You don’t even need to take a train to reach them from the Old Town as trams run to Saint Louis in France and Weil am Rhein in Germany. It’s even possible to walk to the French border as its only 30 minutes from the Old Town by foot.
So there you have everything you might need to explore Basel in 1 day or more. Hopefully, that’s given you a better idea of what to expect from this underrated Swiss city.