What to do in Basel

by Nicola Reinle

December 6, 2022

Birthplace of Roger Federer, bursting with over 40 museums, and boasting Switzerland’s oldest university, Basel is more than a hub for pharma industry. Whether you’re up for ushering in spring at 4 am to kick off the Fasnacht festival, floating down the Rhine in Summer with your Wickelfisch, riding wild at the ‘Herbstmesse’ fall fair, or for a change of Christmas market scenery, Basel is a culture capital with festivities all year round. Here are a few recommendations for when you choose Basel as your next Swiss city break.

Where to Stay

For accommodation fit for a king (or three) it’s Les Trois Rois. Indulge in the history and luxury of signing the guest book alongside English royalty (Her Majesty QEII) and Swiss royalty (Roger). If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to a night in the rooms, you can always visit for an elevated Sunday brunch or an elegant afternoon tea as a compromise.

Trois Rois
©Trois Rois

Gaia Hotel is conveniently located near the main train station in Basel. It is for the sustainability-conscious traveler who wishes to “come as a guest, leave as a friend” (and who doesn’t love the addition of a spa after a long day of touring?)

With an extensive apiary of room options for a budget stay, including dormitories, family rooms (complete with a slide and ball pit), and ‘Swiss capsule rooms’, The Hyve is a quirky combination of a co-working and community living space with rooms to stay; a selection for the more social creatures.

©The Hive
©The Hive

What to Eat

At La fourchette, Laetitia and Valentine will offer you the opportunity to try ‘a little bit of everything' from their carte of culinary creativity. What’s not to love about that? And what’s more, they have an incredible wine list with a focus on natural wines. If you’re around on the last Wednesday of the month, join their celebration and degustation of natural wines (7 wines with 7 pairings for 77 CHF p/p)

We knew we’d found the right place to eat when we heard their motto: “When you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher fence“. Zazaa is a Lebanese soul food gem that can be found within walking distance from the Rhine, which is just as well because you may need a post-prandial stroll after indulging in their delicious and bountiful Mezze.

In the heart of Basel’s old town sits one of the oldest and most traditional restaurants around, Restaurant Schnabel. Serving hearty and homemade local treats, they also have a novel house specialty ‘Falschi Schnägge’ or ‘fake snails’. They cook beef and display it like ‘escargots’, so you can enjoy all the pomp and flavor of this classic French delicacy, but without the actual reality of eating snails.


Where to Drink

You could, quite literally, hit the high life in Bar Rouge for a cocktail and an incredible view of the city from above (105m up, to be precise). This bar is found on the 30th and 31st floors of the Messe Tower. Hint- the gents can even enjoy the view whilst utilizing the bathroom urinals.

Cargo Bar
©Cargo Bar

For wine, try the Consum Wine Bar found in the hub of the old town, it has more than 100 wines from all over Europe on the menu, so something for every taste. They don’t take table reservations though, so if you turn up and they’re full, try Invino Wine Bar on the other side of the river. (You could even take a ferry across the river for a short fee and additional excursion). This wine bar is more selective in its menu, offering only five different red and five different white varieties, chosen for their ‘stand out’ qualities (origin, grape, vignerons, vinification, or cultivation methods). They switch it up every 5 weeks, so you can visit Basel every month or so and find a new extraordinary wine selection on offer.

If you want to drop the tourist act and blend in with the locals, head down to the edge of the Rhine to Cargo Bar. It's a classic local dive bar with a cozy, hip atmosphere. Order their own ‘Cargo Bar Brew’, a hoppy, full-bodied blonde, and strike up a conversation with the interesting regulars.

Bar Rouge
©Bar Rouge

What Not to Miss

©Tinguely Museum
©Tinguely Museum

Part of the reason Basel is known as a cultural capital is due to its multitude of museums. There are over 40 in this (relatively small) city. Here are some of the favorites:

Hint: Many of the museums in Basel offer free entry at specific times on certain days.

  • The Tinguely Museum is a celebration of the Swiss artist and sculptor, Jean Tinguely (1925-1991). He was born in Fribourg but raised in Basel and he is famous for his innovative kinetic art sculptures of which there are 55 on permanent display. Plus a famous landmark in Basel is the Tinguely Fountain, about a 25-minute walk away from the museum, on the other side of the Rhine. Tip: You can get free entrance to the Tinguely Museum on a Thursday from 6-9 pm
  • Fondation Beyeler is a museum of modern and contemporary art, founded with the vision to display exceptional pieces from renowned artists from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries to a wide audience. Their passion is encouraging young people to explore and encounter art and nature. It's placed a bit outside of Basel's main town in a beautiful location overlooking the foothills of the Black Forest. Tip: Under 25s go free.
  • Natural History Museum of Basel: Explore life, nature, science, and history from the tiniest insect to the greatest beasts (existing and extinct). You’re bound to absorb fascinating facts and learn some interesting dinner party knowledge that will impress even your most well-read friends. The museum is in the old town, almost in the shadow of the Basel Munster Church, where you can find one of the best views of the city, seeing history collide with modern development, including Switzerland’s tallest building, The Roche Towers.
  • Tip: Free admission on the 1st Sunday of the month