Weekend in Basel, Switzerland: A Hidden Gem in the Heart of Europe

by Global Viewpoint
Basel weekend itinerary and travel guide

Basel: Switzerland beyond the Alps

Most people go to Switzerland for the alpine scenery. They head to Zermatt for the Matterhorn, Interlaken for the outdoor adventures, and Lucerne for a postcard-perfect town. People in the business world frequent Zurich, while diplomats and shopaholics make the trek to Geneva. All of these itineraries are well and good, but there’s another place that deserves a weekend stopover after checking off these boxes – Basel, Switzerland.

The Roche Tower is definitely among the top things to see and do during a weekend itinerary of Basel.
Basel from the Roche Tower, Switzerland’s tallest building.

What makes Basel a hidden gem in the heart of Central Europe?

Basel strikes a unique balance between urban cool and small town by the river.

It’s funny, because on the surface, Basel doesn’t assume the typical qualities of a hidden gem. Located in northwestern Switzerland at the junction of France, Germany, and Switzerland, Basel’s got a multicultural feel to it. It’s the international headquarters of Novartis and Roche, two giants in the pharmaceutical industry. Furthermore, this Swiss city is synonymous with art, home to an array of world-class museums, galleries, and festivals. Yet even still, as I sit on the banks of the Rhine River whilst boats and swimmers pass by, Basel strikes me as a hidden gem in the heart of Europe.

Basel has all the elements of a touristy and cosmopolitan destination, without the crowds. Everybody here has a solid grasp of English, but you won’t hear it much on the streets. Instead, you’ll hear a peculiar form of Swiss German, which even those from Bern—only an hour train ride away—will say is foreign to them.

The truth is, Basel may not be all that far from the sweeping alpine vistas that draw travelers to Switzerland. However, it’s remained off the beaten path for those outside art circles and the pharma industry. Basel is a great place to spend a holiday, even for just a weekend, to get a taste of Switzerland through a totally different lens.

During my recent trip to Switzerland, I spent several days here before heading to the mountains, lakes, and fairytale villages. Though many visitors opt to spend a day or two here before heading to the mountains, I think a full weekend is needed to see the whole city.

Here’s what you’ll want to do during a weekend trip to Basel, one of Europe’s best hidden gems.

My visit to Basel was sponsored by Basel Tourismus. As always, all opinions are my own.

Basel is a hidden gem in the heart of central Europe. Basel is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway.
Basel’s Old Town is much quieter than those I’ve seen in other major European cities.

Day 0: Planning your weekend in Basel the right way

Here’s some logistical information to help you plan a seamless stay in Basel, Switzerland.

Best months to visit Basel

For the best weather in Basel (based on historical data), I recommend visiting between April and October. During July and August, it can get very hot (and crowded – like most European cities in the summer). I visited in August, and one day it was 95 °F (35°C)!

If you can, I’d avoid visiting Basel in the winter. Why? It’s not that close to Switzerland’s best skiing spots, and there’s not as much to do outside in the winter.

Read next: Best Unique Airbnbs in Switzerland

Getting around Basel

When you check into any hotel or hostel in Basel, you’ll get a free BaselCard. This pass gives you free public transportation and discounts on many attractions throughout the city. Because Switzerland is pretty expensive, it’s nice to get discounts on public transport and attractions with every stay.

Though Basel is very walkable, especially on a summer’s day, you’ll want to take buses and trams around the city. Like the rest of the country, the public transportation here is super reliable and convenient. If you’re only visiting Basel for a weekend, then trams and buses are a must to help you make the most of your time.

If the weather permits, bikes are another great way to get around Basel. I went bike riding around the city, and through nearby German and French towns. I’ll touch upon this experience in more detail below.

Trams are a convenient way to get around Basel. It's the perfect mode of transportation during a weekend getaway in Basel.
Trams are a nice way to get around the city.

How to get to Basel

Train

If you’re in Switzerland already, then your best bet to get here is by train. They are expensive, but you get what you pay for: a safe, comfortable ride with some of Europe’s most pristine scenery. Did you download the SBB Mobile app yet? This will help you find the cheapest fares and keep track of delays. I spent more than 2 weeks in Switzerland, thanks in part to the “supersaver tickets” in the app. These tickets allowed me to travel across Switzerland for a fraction of what I paid during previous visits in 2014 and 2017.

If you’re planning to visit Switzerland for less than 15 days, and value convenience and peace of mind, I recommend getting the Swiss Travel Pass. This has a ton of perks, including unlimited travel across the country, discounts on various attractions and cogwheel trains, and free museum entrances. Additionally, children up to age 5 travel along for free.

When you purchase your tickets to Basel, be sure to set the destination as either “Basel SBB” (the central train station) or “Basel Bad Bf” (a station further north). Some trains from Germany and France make a stop in the latter station, so remember to get off there if it’s within walking distance of your accommodation!

Car

Are you planning to rent a car? You’ll find that the road network throughout Switzerland is pretty straightforward. Just keep in mind that Basel straddles the borders with Germany and France, and there may be delays or back-ups if you choose to drive between them. Personally, I don’t see a need in renting a car here unless you’re planning a road trip deep into the Alps. But even still, it’s important to note that some villages (i.e. Zermatt) are only accessible by cable car, cogwheel, or train.

Plane

Basel SBB (central train station) is just a 15-minute ride from the EuroAirport. It’s located just across the border in France, and also services Mulhouse, France, and Freiburg, Germany. From the airport, you’ll want to take either a bus or taxi into Basel.

Where to stay in Basel

Because Basel is compact, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to find an accommodation in the center of all the action. Sure, if you’re willing to pay a premium, then go for it. I don’t mind walking a little extra or having to take a bus or tram in a city that’s pretty small. Here are the neighborhoods I’d suggest staying in:

  • $$$: Altstadt Grossbasel (Basel’s Old Town): If you’re someone who wants to roll out of bed and be right next to the city’s top sights.
  • $$: Altstadt Kleinbasel: If you prefer to be closest to Basel’s best bars and restaurants.
  • $: Gundeldingen: If you want to save money and don’t mind being further away from the city center (it’s not thatttt far).

Staying in a hotel

For my first couple of nights, I stayed at the Swissôtel Le Plaza Basel. This four-star property is just next door to the Congress Center Basel, Switzerland’s biggest convention center. It’s also not more than a 10-15 minute walk from the Rhine River. As such, I think it’s an excellent choice for business travelers, and those attending international events like Art Basel and Baselworld.

Just steps away from Basel’s main convention center, Swissôtel Le Plaza Basel has a modern and cozy feel to it.
Just steps away from Basel’s main convention center, Swissôtel Le Plaza Basel has a modern and cozy feel to it.

The other draw to the Swissôtel Le Plaza Basel is its spa area with a steam room, jacuzzi, and sauna. The fitness center adjacent to it is also impressive.

Just upstairs from the wellness area is the hotel bar and restaurant. Grill25 serves a variety of dishes that are sourced locally, yet carry an international flavor. The signature Grill25 Burger will ensure you won’t get home sick, but there are also lots of European and Swiss specialties, including the Pfifferlings Ravioli (Girolle mushroom ravioli). I found that the hotel restaurant and bar mesh well with the chic lobby and surrounding urban cityscape.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day at the  Swissôtel Le Plaza Basel.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day at the Swissôtel Le Plaza Basel.

Staying in a hostel

For my last couple of nights in Basel, I decided to stay in a hostel. The Hyve Hostel had great reviews, and it exceeded all my expectations. Equipped with a trendy kitchen area and creative co-working space, this hostel was right up my alley. It had a cool and modern feel to it, which made me feel better about paying a premium for a hostel (hostels in Switzerland aren’t cheap). I’ve stayed in more than 50 hostels, and this has to be my favorite.

In addition to hostels, Airbnbs are also a great choice when visiting Basel.

How much do things cost in Basel?

Lastly, before jumping into my weekend itinerary of Basel, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: how much do things cost here. Switzerland isn’t cheap, and neither is Basel (though it is much cheaper than Zurich and Geneva). Expats and business travelers have pushed up the price of real estate and hotels. Food is also pretty pricey, which is why I purchased most of my meals at supermarkets like Migros and Coop. Here are some of the average prices I observed (during high-season):

  • Hotels (median range on Booking.com): $130-280
  • Hostels: $35-55
  • Pastry and coffee: $6-9
  • Meal at a cheap restaurant: $20-45
  • Combo meal at McDonalds: $13-15
  • Domestic beer (.5 liter): $5-8

Though Basel (and Switzerland in general) cost a pretty penny, you absolutely get what you pay for. Basel is a cool cosmopolitan city with stunning architecture, modern art, and a scenic riverside setting. The cost to see it is a mere afterthought when taking into account how beautiful and unique it is. Without further ado, here’s how to make the most of your weekend trip to Basel.

Here are a few of my favorite things I can't resist when I visit Switzerland: Rivella (soft drink), Cailler (chocolate bar), and Butterzopf (bread).
But first, here are a few of my favorite things I can’t resist when I visit Switzerland: Rivella (soft drink), Cailler (chocolate bar), and Butterzopf (bread).

Weekend itinerary: Top things to see and do in Basel

Day 1: Starting your weekend trip to Basel on the right foot

If you’re like me, you want to hit the ground running once you get to a new place. After all, if you’re only visiting here for a weekend, you’ll want to make the most of every hour. Here’s what I recommend doing to ensure your weekend in Basel begins on the right foot.

Basel is a picket-sized city, perfect for a weekend getaway.
Basel is a picket-sized city, perfect for a weekend getaway.

Get a Swiss SIM card or take note of Basel’s Wi-Fi hotspots

Getting a Swiss SIM card is a good idea if you value connectivity and don’t mind paying extra for convenience.

If your trip to Basel is part of a larger European adventure, you’ll quickly find out that your European SIM card won’t work in Switzerland. As soon as I crossed the border from Germany, it was an unpleasant surprise to see that my data plan and messages were kaput. The associate at the Orange store in Madrid assured me my plan would work in Switzerland (but anyway, I digress…).

I purchased my Swiss SIM card at a store called Mobilezone, just a stone’s throw away from the Mittlere Brücke. I also saw several Sunrise Shops scattered around the city, carrying similar plans. You can basically buy pre-paid cards at any telecom shop, department store (with an electronics section), or newsstand. Expect to pay around $2.50/day for unlimited data, but be sure to ask about promotional offers too. Given that I was traveling around Switzerland for over two weeks, I found that getting a SIM card was a no-brainer. It’s significantly cheaper than the international roaming packages offered by US carriers.

However, if you don’t want to pay for a SIM card, take a mental note of all the Wi-Fi hotspots in Basel. The BaselCard, which is free for all visitors with an overnight stay, comes with an access code that gives you unlimited surfing in 26 hotspots throughout the city.

Grab dinner somewhere on the Rhine

If you arrive in Basel on a Friday evening, one of the first things you’ll want to do is grab a bite to eat. Swiss food is delicious, and it deserves to be paired with a view of the Rhine River. It may be too hot in the summer for a traditional Swiss fondue, but there are plenty of other interesting dishes to try.

I really enjoyed Restaurant Krafft Basel, which lies on the Rheinufer Basel promenade. It has a summer terrace with views of the river and the Altstadt (Old Town). In addition to having a restaurant, Krafft is a great place to enjoy a drink and people watch.

In the summer, when the city is especially busy, it’s a good idea to make a reservation in advance. However, if you don’t make a reservation and get turned away, there are plenty of other places along this promenade.

Pork cordon bleu stuffed with Appenzeller cheese and ham.
Pork cordon bleu stuffed with Appenzeller cheese and ham.

Catch the sunset

Before sunset rolls around, grab a beer from a nearby grocery store (i.e. Coop) or go to a food/drink stall on the promenade. In Switzerland, like other European countries, you’re allowed to drink in public. For Americans, like myself, it’s quite liberating to walk around in public with a beer. And when you factor stunning sunset views into the equation, it’s even better.

One of my fondest memories in Basel was enjoying a beer during the sunset. As I dangled my legs over the river bank, feeling the gentle summer breeze, I was in awe at the sight of yellow, orange, and purple clouds painted across the sky.

From the promenade in Altstadt Kleinbasel, you’ll be able to watch the sunset over the Altstadt Grossbasel.
From the promenade in Altstadt Kleinbasel, you’ll be able to watch the sunset over the Altstadt Grossbasel.

In the summer, it can get busy around the Rheinufer Basel promenade, especially near Mittlere Brücke, so give yourself some extra time to find a good place to sit. If you want to get another perspective of the sunset over the Rhine, I recommend walking over to the Wettsteinbrücke.

The Imfluss Festival was going on during my visit in August. The floating stage on the river is set up much of the summer.
The Imfluss Festival was going on during my visit in August. The floating stage on the river is set up much of the summer.

Day 2: Exploring the top sights and attractions in Basel

Basel has so many interesting sight and attractions, so be sure to start your day early to cover as much ground as possible!

Do a walking tour of the city

After having a nice breakfast at your hotel or elsewhere, I recommend doing a walking tour to get your bearings. Basel is pretty compact, so I think it’s much better to explore on foot than by bus.

From Bogotá to Basel, I’m a huge advocate for doing free walking tours in pretty much every city I visit. Free Walk Switzerland has an excellent reputation, and offers a few tour itineraries around the Altstadt (Old Town) and downtown. Of course, nothing in life is actually “free,” and you’re expected to tip the guide.

If you’re willing to spend more for an experienced guide, consider an afternoon tour (2:30-4:30pm) with Stories of Basel’s Old Town. This tour covers Basel’s Old Town, past and present, and its many sights and attractions. It costs just CHF 10 (~$10) with the Basel Card.

From crisscrossing narrow streets in the Old Town to strolling along the river, Basel is a great place to explore on foot.

After doing your walking tour of Basel, you’ll know the city like the back of your hand. Then, during the rest of your morning and afternoon, you can prioritize the sights that excite you the most.

Though the public transportation in Basel is great, I prefer walking around the city.
Though Basel’s public transportation is great, I prefer walking around the city.

Basel Rathaus (City Hall)

A weekend in Basel wouldn’t be complete without checking out the Rathaus, or City Hall.

I’ve seen many impressive city halls across Europe, but this is by far the most memorable. Decked out in bright red sandstone, Basel’s Rathaus sticks out like a sore thumb amid the old town. It dominates the Marktplatz (Market Square), a small outdoor marketplace lined with fresh produce stands and clothing and souvenir kiosks.

The Rathaus and adjacent Marktplatz are must-see sights in the heart of Basel.
The Rathaus and adjacent Marktplatz are must-see sights in the heart of Basel.

The Rathaus courtyard

When you step inside the Rathaus courtyard, you’ll be amazed by all the frescoes and decorations. The artwork and sculptures are also very well-preserved. They tell stories about the history of the city and those who made a profound impact on it.

Built in the neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance styles, the Rathaus dates back to the 16th century. It's one of the top things to see and do in this Basel travel guide.
Built in the neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance styles, the Rathaus dates back to the 16th century.

Taking a guided tour in the Rathaus

For just CHF 5 ($5), you can take a guided tour of the parliament rooms, and learn more about the political history of the building. English tours are at 4:30pm every Saturday, the perfect afternoon activity.

The inner courtyard gives you a 360° visual of the building’s elaborate frescoes, eye-catching clock tower, and red façade.
The inner courtyard gives you a 360° visual of the building’s elaborate frescoes, eye-catching clock tower, and red façade.
Inside the courtyard, there’s an impressive statue of Munatius Plancus, the founder of the first Roman settlement in the Basel region.
Inside the courtyard, there’s an impressive statue of Lucius Munatius Plancus, the founder of the first Roman settlement in the Basel region.

This captivating building is a must-see sight during your visit to Basel. I think there’s no greater historic example of art in this city than the Rothaus (red house)!

The Rathaus is a must-see sight in this weekend itinerary and travel guide of Basel.
The Rathaus is a must-see sight in this weekend itinerary and travel guide of Basel.

Basel Minster

The Basler Münster, or Basel Minster, is another imposing building in the Altstadt. This church is a very visible part of Basel’s skyline. Like the Rathaus, it’s made of red sandstone, though it has a pink tint to it.

What makes the Basel Minster so special?

Built between 1019 and 1500, the Basel Minster contains elements of the Romanesque and Gothic styles. It was originally a Catholic Cathedral before becoming a Protestant church. The interior is equally impressive, adorned with beautiful stained glass windows and relics from centuries past. There’s also a cloister inside the church walls, where you’ll find two courtyards lined with plants and flowers. The day I visited, a band was playing church hymns in here. It was a beautiful moment to witness!

For CHF 5, you can climb up a narrow staircase to the top, where you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Rhine River and surrounding cityscape. The doors to the staircase close at 4:30pm, so be sure to get here before then (unlike me, who sadly missed out).

The interior of the Basler Münster.
From the inside of the Basel Minster, you can definitely tell that it was once a Catholic cathedral.

Münsterplatz

Directly in front of the Basler Münster is Münsterplatz, a large square lined with medieval homes. It serves as a popular event space throughout the year, most notably Basel’s annual Christmas Market. In the vicinity, you’ll also find a maze of narrow streets with old buildings that are archetypal of Old Basel.

When I stopped by the Basler Münster, people were assembling tents and kiosks for an upcoming event.
When I stopped by the Basler Münster, people were assembling tents and kiosks for an upcoming event.

The Pfalz

Just behind the Basel Minster is a terrace with stunning vistas of the river and Kleinbasel below, called the Pfalz. Here, there are a few benches underneath trees, where you can enjoy a snack, and stretch your legs. Some of my favorite photos of the city were taken from the Pfalz.

The Pfalz offers a unique vantage point of Altstadt Kleinbasel and the river that runs along it.
The Pfalz offers a unique vantage point of Altstadt Kleinbasel and the river that runs along it.

Take a boat ride across the Rhine on a Rheinfähre ferry

By this point in the day, you’re probably ready for lunch. If your visit coincides with good weather, I recommend heading to Altstadt Kleinbasel to find a café or restaurant with an outdoor terrace. Instead of walking over a bridge (which you’ll do plenty of times during your weekend visit in Basel), consider taking a Rheinfähre ferry across the river. This mode of transportation dates back to the Middle Ages. Sure, it’s a short voyage (and a bit on the touristy side). But for only CHF 1.60, it’s totally worth it for a unique perspective of Basel.

These ferries don’t have a motor, instead relying on the river’s current to get across.
These ferries don’t have a motor, instead relying on the river’s current to get across.

Mittlere Brücke

After having a bite to eat in the Altstadt Kleinbasel, make your way back towards the Altstadt Grossbasel. You’ll inevitably cross the Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge), the oldest Rhine crossing between the North Sea and Lake Constance.

Originally built in 1226, the Mittlere Brücke was a vital bridge for the city’s international trade. Particularly from the 14th century onwards, this bridge played a pivotal role in shaping trade in the region. In 1905, it was replaced by a new bridge in order to accommodate trams.

The Mittlere Brücke was one of the oldest bridges along the Rhine.
The Mittlere Brücke was one of the oldest bridges along the Rhine.

Though this bridge doesn’t touch the borders of France and Germany, I like to think of it as a symbol of Basel; a bridge between cultures and people, past and present.

Here’s a TikTok video I made on this bridge:

University of Basel Botanical Garden

Looking for a free activity that doesn’t entail architecture or lounging on the river? Head to the University of Basel Botanical Garden.

These gardens and greenhouses are sprawling with exotic plants, including orchids, giant lily pads, and cacti. Even if you’re not into botanical gardens, it’s worth taking a quick stroll to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The University of Basel Botanical Garden is just steps away from one of the city’s top landmarks, the Spalen Gate.

Spalen Gate

Dating back to the 15th century, the Spalen Gate is an architectural masterpiece. It’s one of the three remaining gates that stood along the old walled city of Basel.

This Spalen Gate was where goods and supplies entered the city from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. Like all medieval gates, it was open during the day and closed in the evening to protect its citizens. The gate is remarkably tall and sturdy, hence it was able to repel invading armies.

The gate is surrounded by many shops, cafés, and restaurants. It’s interesting to see such an old gate left standing amid a modern, cosmopolitan city.

The Spalen Gate and St. Alban's Gate are worthy of a stop when visiting Basel.
The Spalen Gate (above) and St. Alban’s Gate are worthy of a stop when visiting Basel.

Spend the rest of the afternoon swimming, shopping, or museum-hopping

Depending on the weather, time of year, and your personal preferences, consider partaking in one of these afternoon activities.

Swimming in the Rhine River

Visiting in the summer? Pack your Wickelfisch and go swimming down the Rhine River like a local. This was the highlight of my visit to Basel, something I did every day of my visit.

What’s a Wickelfisch?

If you didn’t watch my Instagram stories about the Wickelfisch, it’s basically a floating bag that protects your valuables and keeps you afloat. Oh ya, and it’s also shaped like a fish. I believe you can buy one at any department store, but I’d ask your hotel concierge for the nearest store. Once you get your Wickelfisch, here’s how to use it:

  • Put your stuff in the Wickelfisch
  • Seal it tightly
  • Roll the flap at the top 5-7 times
  • Clip the bag around your body. It floats!
The Wickelfisch works wonders in protecting your valuables.
The Wickelfisch works wonders in protecting your valuables.

I really appreciated the Wickelfisch’s simple design, and its practical application. Rather than leaving all your stuff unattended at the edge of the riverbank, it makes sense to transport everything with you. After all, the river current will bring you quite a ways downstream. I loved this contraption so much, that I brought it along for the remaining 4 weeks of my Europe trip, and back home to Boston. Many of you wanted to buy it from me, but it’s not for sale. The Wickelfisch and I have been through a lot together.

In the summer months, swimming down the Rhine River is one of the top activities amongst locals.
In the summer months, swimming down the Rhine River is one of the top activities amongst locals. It’s among the top things to do in this Basel travel guide.

Floating down the Rhine

Once your Wickelfisch is primed and ready to go, you’ll want to find a nice place to jump in and begin your voyage down this lazy river. I started my swim near the Roche Tower, as there’s a decent stretch of river between the tower and Mittlere Brücke. Just before you pass the bridge, there are steps on the right-hand side where you can easily climb out.

This swim down the Rhine is the perfect alfresco scene. On the Kleinbasel side of the river, you see people walking, lounging, and soaking in the summer sun. On the other, a beautiful backdrop of ancient architecture. The water is clean and refreshing, unlike many cities I’ve visited in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

During my visit, the city set up a photo point along the river that took your picture for free.
During my visit, the city set up a photo point along the river that took your picture for free. There was a contest where people could upload their photos to social media with the hashtag #orisfotopoint to win prizes. Sadly, I didn’t win. But I loved the concept!
As you can tell by my facial expression, swimming in the Rhine was one of my favorite weekend activities in Basel.
As you can tell by my facial expression, swimming in the Rhine was one of my favorite weekend activities in Basel.

Shopping in Basel

If swimming isn’t your thing or you’re a shopaholic, consider passing the time by shopping around Freie Strasse and Spalenberg.

Freie Strasse

Translating to “Free Street,” Freie Strasse is the main pedestrian shopping street in Basel. Given that this is Switzerland, you should expect to find more luxury shopping than anything else, including watches, designer bags, and jewelry.

It’s also home to several international brands, including H&M, Zara, Lacoste, and Apple. Though high-end shops and department stores are well-represented here, Freie Strasse also has numerous restaurants and supermarkets.

Freie Strasse is a popular pedestrian shopping street in Basel.
Freie Strasse is a popular pedestrian shopping street in Basel. If you’re into shopping, you should definitely stop by here during your weekend itinerary in Basel.

Spalenberg

Located near the Spalen Gate, Spalenberg is another popular shopping spot in Basel.

Rather than the international influence seen on Freie Strasse, Spalenberg has more of a local feel to it. Shops are nestled amid old buildings and narrow cobblestone streets, emitting a feeling of authenticity and local charm.

If you’re into small boutiques, I recommend checking out Spalenberg.

The streets of Spalenberg have a quaint feel to them.
The streets of Spalenberg have a quaint feel to them. It’s a must-see during your weekend itinerary in Basel.

Museum-hopping, anyone?

If you’ve decided to visit Basel, there’s a good chance you appreciate art and museums. Basel is home to more than 40 museums and cultural attractions, hence its nickname “the cultural capital of Switzerland.”

Even if you can spend hours swimming in the Rhine or shopping ‘til you drop, you need to carve out some time for museums during your visit to Basel. Here are two museums you should add to your hit list.

Kunstmuseum Basel

The Kunstmuseum Basel is home to the largest public art collection in Switzerland. It houses artwork from the 1400s through today.

There are three venues of this museum, dedicated to contemporary and classic European art, as well as special temporary exhibits. Though you’ll find mostly modern and contemporary art here, there’s also a vast collection of older pieces. My favorite exhibits were the 15th and 16th-century art. I also really enjoyed the pieces by Renoir, Monet, and Van Gogh.

During my visit, there was a temporary Picasso exhibit, which was a big hit. As such, be sure to inquire about temporary exhibitions before purchasing a full ticket. The BaselCard gets you a 50% discount, so remember to bring that along with you, too!

Art is one of the biggest draws to Basel, the perfect way to spend your weekend getaway.
The Kunstmuseum reaffirmed my preference for historic artwork over contemporary and more abstract art. I love to visualize how people lived way back then. This museum is a must-see in this Basel travel guide.

There’s free entry at the Kunstmuseum from 5-6pm every week night, as well as the first Sunday of each month.

If you’re someone who could easily spend half a day inside an art museum, then perhaps save this one for your last day in Basel, or a rainy day.

The Basel Kunstmuseum is a fun weekend activity. It's among the top things to see and do in this Basel travel guide.
I recommend getting an audio guide or hiring a local guide to better understand the artwork, as there’s not much signage.

Basel Paper Mill

Not far from the Kunstmuseum is the Basel Paper Mill, the national museum for paper, writing, and typography. It’s housed in a medieval paper mill that lies just next to the river.

The Basel Paper Mill is a museum where you can learn about the history of paper and print, and partake in fun and interactive activities. The workshops you can’t miss include crafting your own paper and writing calligraphy with a quill pen. From printing paper to toilet paper, this museum does a great job teaching history and inspiring visitors to learn about an ancient yet timeless craft.

This paper mill is a great place to visit for a couple of hours, especially if you have children. Like the Kunstmuseum, you’ll get a 50% discount on admission with the BaselCard.

Dinner ideas: which neighborhood in Basel should you go to?

After a long day packed with sightseeing and running around, you’re probably ready for dinner.

I’m sure many restaurants caught your eye during the walking tour today, particularly in Kleinbasel and Grossbasel. If you’d like to instead find a place off the beaten path, consider pointing your Google Maps towards one of these neighborhoods.

  • Gundeldingen: A melting pot of different cultures where you’ll find some interesting international cuisine.
  • Matthäus, Klybeck: These two adjacent districts are nestled along the river near the port of Basel (Basel-Kleinhüningen). There’s an industrial feel to this area, where you’ll find lots of hip bars and restaurants.
  • St. Alban: Known as the “Little Venice” of Basel, this quarter is definitely on the affluent side. It has an interesting mix of restaurants dispersed amid a leafy and quiet neighborhood.
  • St. Johann: A working-class neighborhood-turned-cultural-center, which is home to many new pubs and restaurants.

These neighborhoods offer a great alternative to the restaurants found along the river or near the city’s main squares.

If you’d like to save more money, consider take away or buying food from a supermarket. Then, find a cozy spot along the river to enjoy dinner with a view.

I'd often stop at Coop, pick up a Butterzopf with ham, and eat by the river.
I’d often stop at Coop, pick up a Butterzopf with ham, and eat by the river. This was one of my favorite things to do during my weekend itinerary in Basel.

Attend a weekend concert or other event

To spend the rest of your evening, perhaps look into a special event or concert that’s happening in the city. Aside from the globally renowned Art Basel, this city hosts a variety of other musical, art, and cultural festivals. It’s worth checking Basel’s official schedule of events to see if any coincide with the dates of your visit. I was lucky to be here in August, when the Imfluss concert was happening. Nothing beats a weekend concert in Basel, especially when your view is a beautiful backdrop of the river and Old Town.

In the summer, all types of events are happening in Basel.
In the summer, Basel is brimming with cool events and festivals. It’s such a livable city.

Day 3: Making your trip to Basel a weekend to remember

It’s your final day in Basel, and you’re pretty emotional about leaving. It’s been a terrific trip so far, and you’ve covered a lot of ground.

Perhaps, your next journey is to the Swiss Alps. Or maybe, you’ll be home bound. Regardless, you should use your last day in Basel to do something spontaneous and special. Make this weekend one for the books; one to remember and cherish.

On my last full day in Basel, I did an epic bike ride adventure through Switzerland, Germany, and France. Along with swimming in the Rhine, this was the highlight of my trip. If the weather doesn’t cooperate or you’re not feeling a long bike ride, consider hitting more museums or doing a quick outing to a nearby village like Rheinfelden. If your legs are tired and you want to chill, perhaps spend your last few moments in Basel relaxing by the Rhine.

Based on my experience, here’s what I propose doing during your last day in Basel, Switzerland.

Bike ride through Switzerland, Germany, and France (in one day)

This is a must if the weather is nice and you enjoy a good bike ride. I rented an e-bike from the rental shop in the Basel SBB Station (my hostel offered a substantial discount with them), and spent several hours riding freely through the Dreiländereck (three country region). It was such a cool experience to ride a bike through Switzerland, Germany, and France—all in the same day. I did about 40 miles of zigzagging through vineyards and tiny towns. Here were some of the highlights.

Bike riding is one of the top things to do in Basel.
This was my first time riding an e-bike. It’s a great way to get around!

Weil am Rhein

This quaint German town lies just north of Basel, and on the southern foothills of the Black Forest. As I drove down quiet residential neighborhoods, I was in awe by the beautiful homes and picturesque vineyards.

It’s interesting to see how you can spot identical architecture across the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and France. The half-timbered homes I saw here were similar to what I’ve seen in Basel and the Alsace Lorraine region of France. It goes to show that these communities developed together, regardless of their political boundaries.

As I was riding my bike through Weil am Rhein, I stumbled upon this quaint chapel, Georgskirche.
As I was riding my bike through Weil am Rhein, I stumbled upon this quaint chapel, Georgskirche.

Haltingen

This is a district of Weil am Rhein that’s just north of the town center. It has a village vibe to it, where you’ll find lots of charming homes. Haltingen is located in the Markgräflerland region, which is known for its wines.

Vitra Campus

The Vitra Campus is an architecture park and museum in Germany, just across the border from Basel. It was designed by internationally acclaimed architects, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Álvaro Siza, among others. This campus is made up of the Vitra Design Museum and VitraHaus; each are a must-see during a weekend itinerary in Basel.

Vitra Design Museum

The Vitra Design Museum is a great place to spend at least a couple of hours, where you can see the link between art, architecture, and everyday life. Inside, you’ll have the chance to partake in workshops and guided tours, which are the best way to experience the different buildings and exhibits.

VitraHaus

The VitraHaus is essentially half furniture store and half playground. It was designed to showcase the concept of “zusammenwohnen” (living together). In other words, the assortment of rooms are meant to represent multiple generations living together in one modern household.

The VitraHaus is very colorful, inviting, and worthy of a quick stop on your bike ride. Even if you decide not to ride bikes here, the museum is easily accessible by car, bus, or tram.

The Vitra Slide Tower is a 100-foot slide, tower, and work of art all at once.
The Vitra Slide Tower is a 100-foot slide, tower, and work of art all at once. If it weren’t closed off during my visit, I would have totally given it a try.
“Eyes attract images. Images trigger thoughts. Thoughts link associations. Associations conjure stories. Stories create myths. Myths generate new realities.”
These powerful words really resonated with me: “Eyes attract images. Images trigger thoughts. Thoughts link associations. Associations conjure stories. Stories create myths. Myths generate new realities.”

Binzen and Ötlingen

I was so entranced by all the rolling vineyards that I accidentally wandered into these tiny German towns. There wasn’t a lot going on in Binzen and Ötlingen, but they did have some pretty photogenic city halls.

The Rathaus in Binzen.
The Rathaus (City Hall) in Binzen.
The Rathaus in Ötlingen.
The Rathaus (City Hall) in Ötlingen.

Lörrach

This city in southwestern Germany is where many people from Basel do their shopping. Lörrach’s pedestrian-friendly center has many popular German stores, including DM and Müller. It also has a lively market square, packed with quaint cafés and restaurants.

If you have time during your weekend itinerary in Basel, it’s worth checking out Rötteln Castle situated nearby. These 11th-century ruins were once one of the great castles of Europe.

On my way back to the Germany-Switzerland border, I stopped at a local guesthouse for a beer and a bite to eat. The place was so local, that the waitress and at least one patron were smoking cigarettes inside…something I haven’t seen since the 1990s.
On my way back to the Germany-Switzerland border, I stopped at a local guesthouse for a beer and a bite to eat. The place was so local, that the waitress and at least one patron were smoking cigarettes inside…something I haven’t seen since the 1990s.
Sahnesteak mit Spätzle (steak with cream sauce and egg pasta).
Sahnesteak mit Spätzle (steak with cream sauce and egg pasta).

Dreiländerbrücke

This bridge connects Germany and France, with a view of Switzerland. Located in an industrial area, it’s not a particularly a scenic bridge. However, it’s pretty surreal to be at the crossroads of three countries.

Saint-Louis

When you cross the Dreiländerbrücke into France, this is the first town you’ll encounter. Unlike the other towns I’ve seen in Alsace, Saint-Louis isn’t anything to write home about. But I think it’s worth a quick visit during your weekend in Basel, just to see the main square.

Other helpful tips to consider during your bike ride

If you’re using a Swiss SIM card, it won’t work when you cross the border into Germany and France. This was a blessing for me, as I could ride around freely and soak in the scenery without being on my phone. I’m a huge advocate for making trip planning as efficient as possible, but sometimes it’s better to not have a plan and just go with the flow.

Note: before crossing the border, you should still turn off roaming so you won’t drain your data (just in case).

If you don’t wish to bike ride for 40 miles (I don’t blame you) or you’re pressed for time, consider just going for a joy ride down the Rhine. Who knows, maybe you’ll build up a second wind and find yourself somewhere across the border in Germany or France?

The Germany-Switzerland border.
It’s remarkable to bike ride through Germany, France, and Switzerland in the same day. Visiting these three countries should definitely be on your Basel weekend itinerary.

Hit another museum (or two)

If you ran out of time visiting museums yesterday, now’s your chance to see a couple more before leaving Basel. I recommend checking out the Jean Tinguely Museum, in addition the museums I mentioned yesterday.

Jean Tinguely Museum

For anyone who compares art with watching paint dry, you won’t get bored inside the Jean Tinguely Museum.

Named after the Swiss sculptor and painter Jean Tinguely, this art museum is truly one of a kind. It’s filled with kinetic art sculptures that this artist is best known for. Whether or not you leave this museum with an appreciation of this man as an artist remains to be seen. However, it’s a fun and quirky set-up; perhaps not a museum I’d visit if I had one day in Basel, but in a weekend? Absolutely.

If you have time, there’s another mechanical marvel designed by Tinguely in the Altstadt Grossbasel side of town— the Tinguely Brunnen. I stumbled into this park by accident, and it was quite a surprise to see this interesting performance:

A travel guide for your next visit to Basel, Switzerland

I hope you enjoyed my weekend itinerary and travel guide of Basel, Switzerland! Basel is such an incredible city, packed with so many interesting sights and attractions. I hope this article helps you prioritize the top things to see and do in this hidden gem.

I spent five wonderful days here, and felt it was the perfect way to kick off my trip to Switzerland. Though a weekend feels short to me, I think it gives you ample time to see the highlights and top sights in Basel. A Basel day trip is also very doable, as the city is compact and easy to get around.

To follow more of my travel adventures through Basel, Switzerland, check out my Instagram and Twitter!

Happy Travels!

Jon

When in Basel, be sure to try the Basler Läckerli. It’s a biscuit made of honey, hazelnuts, and almonds, topped with sugar glaze.
When in Basel, be sure to try the Basler Läckerli. It’s a biscuit made of honey, hazelnuts, and almonds, topped with sugar glaze.
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2 comments

Antonio December 1, 2019 - 08:02

So many awesome ideas! Thank you so much. I’m going to visit Basel on the 15th of January. I will definitely use some of your tips to make my itinerary. Cheers! 🙂

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Global Viewpoint December 2, 2019 - 10:50

Hi Antonio,

That’s great news! So glad this is a helpful resource for your trip to Basel. Hope you have a terrific time there 🙂

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