In northwest Switzerland close to the border of France and Germany, is the wonderful town of Basel; with its incredible old town, mass of museums and location close to some of the world’s most beautiful mountains, you can’t go wrong over 1, 2 or 3 days in Basel. Our Basel itinerary will show you how to reach the city, as well as how to move around from hotspot to hotspot.
As Switzerland is a rather small country, you might think there are fewer things to see and do than other countries in Europe, but despite its size, Switzerland offers a great deal for all kinds of visitors – not just skiers!
Basel is perfect for a weekend break or a day trip from western France, eastern Germany or other Swiss towns, with plenty of museums, parks and the wonderful Rhine River to enjoy.
In 1 day in Basel, you can enjoy the charming small streets of the old town, surrounded by glorious historical buildings, but if you can spend 2 days or a weekend in Basel, you’ll also get the chance to relax in the parks or around the river or, if you’re visiting in December, head to the city’s iconic Christmas market.
For a bank holiday weekend or 3 days in Basel, you can either take a leisurely break around the city and visit more museums or spend more time eating Cervelat (Swiss sausage) and people-watching.
If you want to arrive in Basel by plane, the city’s nearest airport, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, is actually in France. However, as France and Switzerland are both part of the Schengen area, you can cross the border with no difficulty.
If you rent a car from the airport, you should be aware that you have to pay road tax upon entering Switzerland.
You can fly to the airport directly from a few European destinations, however, there are cheaper and more eco-friendly routes by train from Frankfurt to Basel SBB; when you factor in airport security and passport control, the journeys take roughly the same length of time. You can view train schedules here.
Basel Airport is just a 15-minute drive from the centre, or 18 minutes via bus line 50, which is scheduled every ten minutes. You can find bureaux de change in the airport and outside the bus station to change your currency to Swiss Francs if needed.
You can also arrive very easily from most French cities, including Strasbourg and Paris by bus. When you arrive, there is an excellent bus and tram system covering the whole city, so although you can walk for most of our Basel itinerary if you want to speed it up or save your legs, then take the trams for an enjoyable and quick journey across the city.
The great thing about Basel transport is that it’s all free with the BaselCard! When you book a hotel or apartment in Basel, you get a free transport card which you can use across the city’s bus and tram system, as well as having half-price access to the museums, zoo, sightseeing bus and guided tours of the old town.
Switzerland has a few official languages, with Italian and French being spoken in some areas, however, the main language used in Basel is German, with its own Basel dialect.
If you’re a German speaker, you’ll get by swimmingly, but even if you just speak English, people are friendly and helpful, and unsurprisingly, polylingual.
The old town of Basel is full of wonderful hidden gems, with small squares and fountains appearing around every corner and some of the historic city’s most iconic buildings. If you want to explore with a guide, there are a number of walking tours such as this 2-hour tour or this walking tour.
Our Basel itinerary begins in the most logical place to start a tour, the incredible fortified Gate of Spalen, otherwise known as the Spalentor.
Previously part of a large fortification to protect the city in the 14th century, now only the Sankt-Johanns-Tor in the North, the Spalentor in the old town centre and the Sankt-Alban-Tor in the East of the city remain, with the Spalentor being by far the most impressive structure.
With its pointed, angular tower at 40 metres high and two round towers on either side, stretching up 20 metres, this mediaeval gate is one of the most amazing landmarks in Basel and hard to miss as you spend 1 day in Basel wandering around the old city streets.
Having welcomed arrivals from Alsace for almost half a century, this great gate welcomes you into the city of Basel to explore and enjoy a taste of the local culture. You can visit the tower 24 hours a day for free, as well as the university’s 16th-century botanical garden just next door from 10 am to 5 pm.
Walking for 10 minutes towards the Rhine, or taking a bus or tram to Marktplatz, you arrive in the old town square. This large square is surrounded by wonderful colourful architecture, the most prominent of which being the Basel town hall.
This large red sandstone building and tower from the 16th century is very striking as you enter the square, and as you approach you can see the colourful tiled roof, similar to those found in Beaune, France, as well as the ornate and intricate designs painted on the façade by Hans Bock in the 1900s.
Previously the seat of the parliament of Basel before the city joined the Swiss Confederation, the building now shows the coat of arms of each of the 12 Confederate members on its outer walls and invites visitors into the courtyard to see the beautifully painted walls and archways.
The town hall is open for visitors for free from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday.
Back in the Marktplatz, you can find a wonderful fresh produce market on weekdays as well as fantastic street food, including the simple and unforgettable Cervelat sausage served with bread and mustard. In Autumn, you can also find Mässmogge, a delicious hazelnut praline-filled sweet treat. If you want to learn more about the Basel food scene, you can take a self-guided food tour.
Basler Munster (Cathedral)
Another 10-minute walk parallel to the Rhine will bring you to another iconic red Basel building – Basel Cathedral. With construction work going on from the 11th to the 16th century, the design spans a few architectural styles, with the classic simplicity of its overall structure demonstrating a Romantic design, and the ornate spires and stained-glass windows showing its Gothic influences.
Within the cathedral, which you can enter for free from 10 am to 5 pm from Monday to Friday (hours differ slightly at weekends), you can discover the crypt and cloisters, as well as the tomb of famous Dutch theologian, Erasmus, who sought refuge in the Swiss city before his death there in 1536. You can find some of his works in Basel University.
Just behind the cathedral, and one of its favoured attractions, is the Basler Pfalz, a large terraced viewing platform on the edge of the Rhine with fantastic views over the northern part of the city and its two famous bridges, the Mittlere Brücke and the Wettsteinbrücke. Seeing this view is definitely one of the best things to do in Basel.
You may have never expected to read the phrase “the world’s largest collection of teddy bears”, least of all in a Basel itinerary, however, Basel’s Toy Worlds Museum houses just that.
Over four floors in a grand building just 5 minutes away from Basel Cathedral, is Basel’s Toy Museum, which has a collection of over 6,000 childhood toys, from teddy bears and dolls to miniature figurines and carousels. If you’re looking for that childhood teddy you haven’t seen in years or want to see what kind of toys your great-grandparents played with, this is definitely the place for you.
On the ground floor, the museum also has an excellent restaurant serving local dishes, Ristorante La Sosta. Although it has the same opening hours as the museum, you don’t have to pay to enter the restaurant or visit the museum as well.
Walking briefly towards the Wettsteinbrücke, you’ll come across an intriguing building belonging to the Kunstmuseum.
The Basel Fine Arts Museum has an enormous collection spread over two buildings, the main and new (Hauptbau & Neubau), which sit opposite each other on the corner of Dufourstrasse.
With works from such revered artists as Rembrandt, Rubens, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein, as well as ever-changing temporary collections, this is one of the most enviable museums in Europe.
The Kunstmuseum is the perfect place for a last stopover on your first day in Basel before you head off to find a delicious fondue to tuck into.
Spend your second of 2 days in Basel exploring a different part of the city, from the Modern Art Museum, through the wonderful Merian Garden, to another artistic centre.
Either starting from the Birsköpfli (where the Rhine meets the Birs) and walking for 30 minutes along the delightful Birs River to the Kunsthaus Baselland, or taking a tram or bus to St. Jakob, the city’s football ground, your second day in Basel begins at the city’s Modern Art Museum.
Having started in the 1940s, the Modern Art Museum has only been housed in its current location since 1997 but has made a big impression on the city and the international artistic community.
In a converted factory, the museum houses many temporary exhibitions and encourages artists to develop large-scale works specifically for the space, which leaves visitors in awe of the modern art surrounding them.
While the exhibitions are the main attraction, the museum does have a modest collection of paintings by local artists which you can also see.
Taking a very short walk from the Modern Art Museum and being careful to use a designated crossing to navigate the busy road and tramway, you’ll come across some pretty winding paths under the road and rail bridges, where you’ll come across an unofficial urban art gallery.
A popular meeting spot for football fans and artists alike, there are usually many people passing through this area, some of whom stop to create their own works of art, many of the FC Basel related. Since so many people use these big canvases, the graffiti changes quickly, giving the area an entirely new appearance every few weeks.
It’s a great area to wander through on your way over the river and around the sports fields to the Merian Gardens.
Open from 8 am until sunset every day and with free entry (although sadly no dogs allowed) the Merian Gardens are a must-see stop over 2 days in Basel.
This great park covering 18 hectares brings more colour to the city every month as the groundskeepers carefully plant and care for all kinds of flowers, shrubs and trees to ensure a beautiful bloom all year long.
The Merian Gardens are a wonderful place to wander through at any time of year to discover the natural beauty and smell the sweet floral scents – what’s more, the beautiful Iris restaurant in the grounds serves scrumptious teas, coffees and cakes to replenish your energy before you discover the neighbouring Park im Grünen.
The Park im Grünen, or Green Park, covers 13 hectares below the Merian Gärten and sports fields, and while you may think you’ve had enough of walking through beautiful gardens and around bodies of water, it contains a few large and curious sculptures that you don’t want to miss.
As well as the red squirrels, fish and beavers you can see around the park’s lakes, you can also discover the park’s most famous sculpture, a huge diplodocus.
Once you’ve wandered around, you can enjoy a game of minigolf or a ride on the carousel, or, if you’re in Basel from the end of June to the beginning of July, you can look forward to a big music festival taking place in the park for around 90 Swiss Francs per day.
Performers have included Sinead O’Connor, Joe Bonamassa and Deep Purple, to name a few.
If you’re yet to quench your thirst for art, you might want to head over the road from the park to the Laurenz-Stiftung Schaulager. This converted warehouse hosts many temporary exhibitions of contemporary works alongside its two permanent pieces.
Or, if you’re ready to start a culinary adventure at the end of 2 days in Basel, take a tram back into the old town, to Musik Akademie or Schifflände, and find a cosy local restaurant for the evening. Try a speciality Cordon Bleu in Gifthüttli, or sample the curious and diverse menus of Löwenzorn or Schnabel.
If you’re in Basel for the carnival in February, try the local flour soup Mehlsuppe – it’s similar to French Onion Soup but less rich.
Basel still has plenty of highlights in the centre, from the Anatomy Museum to the Tinguely Museum, however, for 3 days in Basel, it’s nice to mix it up a bit and take a break from walking the city streets.
If you’ve got time in your Basel itinerary, you should definitely take a trip out to the Dreiländereck, although we haven’t included it because it’s not very close to the city centre. This is a point in the Rhine, the northernmost part of Basel, marked by a large monument, where the borders of France, Switzerland and Germany all meet.
You can reach it from the centre by taking a tram to Weil am Rhein Grenze, but the best way to arrive by far is by boat along the Rhine.
On Fridays and Sundays from April to October, you can take a 50-minute round-trip along the Rhine to the tri-border meeting point and enjoy views of France to one side and Switzerland to the other.
Or, you can go in the opposite direction to take in the wonderful old town buildings overhanging the Rhine, as well as Basel Cathedral and the various other landmarks you can spot along the riverside. With your BaselCard, you can enjoy these trips offered by Basler Personenschifffahrt with a 50% discount!
You can also take evening river cruises and enjoy an aperitif before a magnificent dinner onboard.
Just outside Basel, 15 minutes driving or 12 minutes on the S1 train to Kaiseraugst followed by a 10-minute walk, you can find one of Switzerland’s most outstanding Roman remains.
This huge Roman amphitheatre built around 170 CE may seem delightful now, but was once a place of death, hosting gladiatorial battles, animal fights and executions in front of a 13,000-strong audience.
You can enter the amphitheatre for free and enjoy a picnic there before learning more about the place in the nearby museum and Roman house. A couple of hours is ideal to discover the whole site, before spending the final afternoon of your Basel itinerary taking a ferry on the Rhine from Kaiseraugst back to Basel.
Where to Stay in Basel
Motel One Basel – This hip 3-star hotel is an excellent option for those who are looking for a mid-range option during their trip to Basel. Located in the centre of the city, they have a range of lovely rooms available and an extensive breakfast available in the mornings. Click here to check availability
Hotel Spalentor – Those looking for a luxury option are going to love this swish hotel in the centre of Basel. They have a number of chic rooms on offer, a fabulous breakfast each morning and plenty of other amenities for guests to take advantage of. Click here to check availability
VISIONAPARTMENTS Basel Nauenstrasse – If you’re looking for your own flat while visiting Basel then these apartments are a great choice. They have a number of fully-furnished apartments on offer and there is also breakfast available each morning. Click here to check availability
Hyve Hostel – Budget and solo visitors to Basel will love this highly-rated hostel. Located close to all of the city’s top attractions, they have both private rooms and dorm beds available, good common areas and self-catering facilities for guests. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Basel hotels!
Sandwiched between France and Germany, Basel is a fantastic city in Switzerland for a day trip from any European country; there’s plenty to see and do on a trip to Basel, whatever your interests.
Are you planning to visit Basel? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!