Top things to do in Basel

Must-see Basel sights

Basel is a pretty spot in Switzerland, and home to some fantastic attractions. From the twinkling riverside to the interesting Basel Papermill, there’s plenty to see here.

  1. Visit the magnificent Minster
  2. Head to the glorious riverside
  3. Explore the wonderful Fondation Beyeler
  4. Enter the fascinating Tinguely Museum
  5. Check out Basel Papermill - a unique sight
  6. Explore beautiful surrounding spots in the glorious region

Basel is one to watch. With impressive architecture and beautiful spots in the area, this may be the alternative Swiss break you’ve been looking for.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Visit the magnificent Minster

Basel’s cathedral, the impressive Minster, was built in the thirteenth century of red sandstone with a patterned roof and rebuilt following an earthquake in 1356. The tower of St George, on the left of the main frontage, has some white stonework dating from the original church (consecrated in 1019), as well as a thirteenth-century statue of the saint impaling a dragon. A stone carving from 1280 above the main portal shows the cathedral’s founder, Emperor Heinrich II, holding a model of the church, with his wife Kunigunde to the left. It’s a magnificent sight and one of the best things to do in Basel.

Best for: Incredible architecture

While you’re there: It’s handy to know that a Swiss Pass is valid for free city transport in Basel and free admission to almost all museums.

2. Head to the glorious riverside

East of the Old Town, the riverside gradually becomes more leafy and residential, with St Alban-Vorstadt eventually leading to the St Alban-Tor, a thirteenth-century city gate. In summer, Baslers take to the river to cool off, floating down the fast-flowing Rhine clutching special inflatable bags that hold their clothes.

Best for: Scenic views

While you’re there: The so-called Wickelfisch bags can be bought at the tourist office (Fr.20).

3. Explore the wonderful Fondation Beyeler

What to do in Basel if you’re looking for museums? If you had to pick just one of Basel’s many top-rated museums to visit, go for the gallery run by Fondation Beyeler in the northeastern suburb of Riehen. A masterfully elegant building, designed by Renzo Piano, it houses a small but exceptionally high-quality art collection featuring works by some of the twentieth century’s best artists - Picasso, Giacometti, Warhol, Rothko, Rodin, Klee, Kandinsky, Bacon, Miró and more. Matisse’s paper cutouts (Nu bleu and others) and Mondrian’s geometric abstract works - familiar from innumerable posters and T-shirts - still have the power to startle as full-size originals. For a brief rest, sink into a huge white sofa opposite a giant Monet to indulge in dreamy pondering of the waterlilies in front of you and, through the floor-to-ceiling window, the watery gardens outside. One of the most impressive things to do in Basel for sure.

Best for: Interesting museums

While you’re there: Another good museum is the Antikenmuseum. It explores ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times.

4. Enter the fascinating Tinguely Museum

A half-hour walk from the Old Town or a quick boat ride from the Basel Paper Mill (by the St Alban ferry), the outstanding Tinguely Museumis set on the north bank of the Rhine in Solitude Park under the Schwarzwaldbrücke. The building it occupies was designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta and is a work of art in its own right. Jean Tinguely is perhaps Switzerland’s best-loved artist, a maverick postmodernist who broadened the horizons of static sculpture to incorporate mechanical motion. Living for years on a farm in the Swiss countryside with his long-time partner and fellow artist Niki de St-Phalle, Tinguely used scrap metal, plastic and bits of everyday junk to create room-sized Monty Python-esque machines that - with the touch of a foot-button - judder into life, squeaking, clanking and scraping in entertaining parody of the slickness of our modern performance-driven world. Most are instilled with a discourteous sense of humour (Klamauk, or “Din”, is a moving tractor complete with banging bells and cymbals, smoke, smells and fireworks), but some, such as Mengele Dance of Death, are darkly apocalyptic.

Best for: Art

While you’re there: The Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-see. It houses installations by Frank Stella and Joseph Beuys and others.

5. Check out Basel Papermill - a unique sight

Dating back to medieval times, the waterfront Basel Papermill houses the wonderful Swiss Museum of Paper, Writing and Printing. The waterwheel alongside, remnant of the growth of the industry in the fifteenth century, still functions, and, in among exhibits of paper and typography, the museum stages demonstrations of typecasting, typesetting, bookbinding and - most engagingly - papermaking, where you can work through the whole process yourself, from pulp to final product.

Best for: Unique museum

While you’re there: Note that you can also take walking tours in Basel. Guided walking tours of the Old Town start from the tourist office.

6. Explore beautiful surrounding spots in the glorious region

The countryside in Basel offers Canton Solothurn, which has a quiet, attractive old quarter. An impressive set of Roman ruins stands on the Rhine at Augusta Raurica, while further east, just fifteen minutes from the outskirts of Zurich, is the pleasant spa town of Baden. To the north of Basel in neighbouring Germany, the world-famous Vitra Design Museum tempts many visitors over the border for a fascinating half-day trip. If you’re looking for Basel holidays we recommend staying at Pullman Basel Europe Hotel.

Best for: Exploring Basel and beyond

While you’re there: Make the most of the gift shop!

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