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Travel Guide Europe Switzerland Basel

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Introduction

Basel

Basel

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Basel is the third biggest city in Switzerland, and an agreeable place to spend a few days. It has a beautiful medieval old town centre, a fascinating carnival, and several world class art museums built by architects like Renzo Piano, Mario Botta and Herzog & De Meuron. Basel is also rich in architecture old and new, with a Romanesque Münster (cathedral), a Renaissance Rathaus (town hall), and various examples of high quality contemporary architecture, including more buildings by Herzog & De Meuron, Richard Meier, Diener & Diener, and various others.

Located in the Dreiländereck (three countries' corner), Basel is a gateway to the Swiss Jura mountains and nearby cities of Zürich and Lucerne, as well as the neighbouring French region of Alsace and the German Black Forest. There are a number of things to see and do if you have a few days to spend.

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Sights and Activities

Most of the "old town" attractions in Basel are in a walkable area between the Basel Zoo (just south of the Basel SBB train station) and the Rhine. Since most stores are closed on Sundays, it is a good day to plan to see one of the many museums, which are usually open. Basel and surroundings have over 20 museums, and many of these have a free opening hour at the end of the day.

  • Basler Münster (Basel Minster) - Walk up cobbled streets and alleys from Marktplatz or Mittlere Brücke to Münsterplatz (Cathedral square) to see Basel's Münster (cathedral), built 1019-1500 in Romanesque and Gothic style, and the medieval buildings lining the square. The Münster is open to the public. Its highlight is the Galluspforte (Gallus portal) on the western façade, considered the most important Romanesque sculptural work in Switzerland. The main (south) façade also features numerous figures (mostly Romanesque), including St. George slaying the Dragon. The inside has, among other things, a lectern most delicately carved out of sandstone (19th century), and a crypt with tombs of early bishops of Basel. For a few franc, you can climb St. Martin's tower (completed 1500), at 62 metres the shorter of the two towers - the other tower is St. George's, 65 meters, completed in 1492, after the 1356 earthquake destroyed an earlier version. Enjoy spectacular views over the Rhine, the city and Alsace and Black Forest in the distance. However, you must be accompanied in order to be allowed entrance (jumping risk). Views from the Pfalz (plaza) north of the Münster and overlooking the Rhine are some of the best Basel has to offer. This is a nice place to have a picnic. Basel Minster on Wikipedia Q666479 on Wikidata edit
  • Elisabethenkirche, Elisabethenstrasse - St. Elizabeth church is relatively underrated in Basel guides and maps given its historical significance. Built between 1857-1865, it was the first new Protestant church building in Basel following the Reformation and is considered the most important neo-Gothic church in Switzerland. Nearest tram stops are Kirschgarten and Bankverein. edit
  • Marktplatz (Market square) - Fresh fruits and vegetables, breads and pastries, flowers are available each working day. Considerably more vendors on Saturday morning. edit
  • Rathaus (Town hall) - Right on Marktplatz, this beautifully renovated Renaissance palace is still in official use, but you can enter the courtyard on your own, or join a guided tour organized by Basel Tourismus, which also offers tours of other sightseeing destinations, such as the Münster (see below). edit
  • The Gates to the Walled City - A (third) ring of fortifications around the whole old city was constructed after the great earthquake of 1356, to provide security for the then roughly 20,000 inhabitants of Basel. A number of these gates can still be seen at the perimeter of what used to be the medieval city: Spalentor (tram no. 3 from Barfüsserplatz in the city center, direction Burgfelden Grenze), St. Alban Tor, near Aeschenplatz (tram no. 3 direction Birsfelden), St. Johanns Tor, near the Rhine, tram No. 11 direction St. Louis Grenze).

Day Trips

Less than an hour away by train through the southern Black Forest and into Germany is the lovely historic city of Freiburg.

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Events and Festivals

Basler Fastnacht

The Basler Fastnacht is one of the more memorable Carnival/Mardi Gras celebrations in the world. It has none of the timeless elegance of the Venice Carnival or the drunken and baudy cheer of the Cologne Carnival, instead it is rougher and the masks are more likely to give you nightmares. And unlike in the Carnival in Venice or Cologne there is a strict separation between participants and onlookers, only participants will wear masks and costumes. Fastnacht takes place on the last days before the beginning of the Lent, the last occasion for feasting and celebrating before the time of repentance. It is part of the Christian calendar; the frequent rumours about "pagan" origins are wrong. The Fastnacht lasts for 3 days, exact dates vary according to the date of Easter. Basler Fastnacht is held one week later than the Carnival elsewhere because the date is calculated differentlyIt begins with the Morgestraich on Monday morning at 4:00am when the Cliquen march the dark streets with their illuminated lanterns, playing drums and flutes. The following three days see parades and Guggemusik concerts, and people in masks and costume constantlyy roam the streets playing flutes or drums, by themselves and in small groups. Basel's Fastnacht is at the same time highly political; each clique selects and presents their particular topic.

Art Basel

Art Basel is the premier international art event in Switzerland. Taking place in June every year, the festival showcases select work from all over the world from both superstars and newcomers and includes performances, multimedia installations, videos, and more from international artists.

St Nikolaus Day

December 6 is the holiday of St Nikolaus, the "real" Santa Claus. On the Saturday closest to Dec 6, the city is full of dressed-up Nikolauses. Most wear the usual Santa Claus outfit. Only those who appear in churches wear a bishop-like outfit that resembles the original Saint Nikolaus, bishop of Myra. Nikolaus often comes with a companion dressed in black, Knecht Ruprecht or Schmutzli, who is the counterpart of good Nikolaus who can be Nikolaus' helper but also the scary one who punishes bad deeds. They are in shops distributing sweets, in boats on the Rhine, and the climax is the "Harley Niggi-Näggi" parade in the afternoon. The members of the regional Harley club dress up and decorate their motorbikes and do a parade in the city.

Christmas Market

Basel's Christmas market begins in late November and ends on Dec 23. It consists of two parts. The main market takes place in Barfüßerplatz, the second one in Münsterplatz. In Münsterplatz there is also a so-called fairy-tale forest with activities for children.

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Weather

The summers in Basel last from June to September with average highs between 21 °C and 24 °C and lows between 11 °C and 13 °C. Winters from December to February see average highs between 3 °C and 6 °C and lows just below zero. Precipitation average almost 800 mm a year, with some more rain between May and August, the other months being slightly drier.

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Getting There

By Plane

EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (IATA: BSL) is the only airport in Europe that is jointly operated by three countries. It is located entirely on French soil, but has excellent connections to Basel (in fact, much better than to farther-away Mulhouse and Freiburg).
Although the airport is on French soil, there is a special Swiss customs area connected to Basel by a border road.

The airport receives flights from all major European airports, a few intercontinental flights and numerous smaller cities in Europe. Easyjet flies to/from Berlin, London, Porto, Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Cagliari, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Istanbul, Lisbon, Madrid, Málaga, Marrakech, Naples, Nice, Olbia, Palma de Mallorca and Rome. Places served further away include Algiers, Montreal, Istanbul and Reykjavik, though most cities are located in central, western and southern Europe.

The airports connects to the A3 Motorway. Basel's BVB bus No. 50 connects the Swiss sector of the airport to the Bahnhof SBB, which is the main Swiss and French railway station in Basel. French Distribus bus No. 11 connects the French sector of the airport to the Saint-Louis railway station.

By Train

Basel SBB is the station where long-distance trains from Germany and Italy, and local connections to France pass through. The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB-CFF-FFS) has trains to other destinations in Switzerland.

Deutsche Bahn runs high-speed ICE trains every second hour from Berlin (7 h) via Frankfurt (2½ hours), which itself has plenty of trains heading for Basel. Paris is only three hours away with the high-speed TGV trains of SNCF. Basel can be reached from most other major French cities with a single change at Mulhouse which is connected by frequent regional trains to the SNCF station located on the western wings of Basel SBB Station. Other cities with direct connections include Brussels (6½ hours), Luxembourg (3:20 hours) and Milan (4 hours).

By Car

When arriving from Germany via the A5 highway, you pass the border control near Weil am Rhein just outside Basel and enter the city via the same highway, now named A2/3 (you're in Switzerland), which passes north of the city centre and continues on to other Swiss cities, including Zürich, Berne, and Lucerne. To get to the city centre in Grossbasel (the larger section of the city) look for signs to Bahnhof SBB; if you want to arrive in Kleinbasel (the smaller part on the other bank of the Rhine), look for Messe Basel. Arriving from Zürich or central Switzerland, you are on the same A2/3 highway, just in the opposite direction - same exits. For parking in the city, see below Get around - By car.

If you drive into Basel, make sure you have a valid Vignette (toll sticker) if you drive on the Autobahn! The Vignette costs Fr. 40 and is valid for the calendar year indicated on the sticker. If you do not and are caught without one, expect to pay a fine of Fr. 100 plus the cost of a Vignette.

By Bus

Although not strictly into Basel, MeinFernbus operates long distance bus services to Lörrach from Freiburg, Frankfurt, Hannover, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and many other cities in Germany. Tickets can be very affordable, especially when booked in advance. From Lörrach the S-Bahn runs every 30 minutes to Basel SBB.

By Tram

Basel is one of only two places on earth where you can cross an international border on a streetcar, or tram. Tram route 10 crosses the Swiss-French border twice, passing into and out of French territory. So it is possible to travel to Basel by tram from the French commune of Leymen. Unfortunately, Leymen station is not connected to the rest of the French railway network. The international tram line is operated by BLT, public transport company.

By Boat

The Rhine is navigable to Basel, and in the summer cruise ships operate on from Amsterdam to Basel, with intermediate stops.

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Getting Around

By Car

Driving in Basel is not recommended for visitors, as inner city streets can be confusing - and are shared with trams (cars must yield to trams). Parking in the old city is relatively expensive and scarce. Most mid-range or luxury hotels have or help with parking. In addition, there is a network of clean, safe (and payable) public garages at the periphery of the city centre, generally open 24/7. If you stay for the day only and are driving via highway into Grossbasel, try Centralbahnparking near the SBB Station; if you're entering in Kleinbasel, try Parking Badischer Bahnhof, near the German railway station. Closer to the city centre in Grossbasel are Steinen Parking at Steinenschanze 5 and Elisabethen Parking, at Steinentorberg 5, and in Kleinbasel Messe Basel Parking at Messeplatz. A handy website with availability and driving directions to all public garages can be found here.

By Public Transport

Basel has an extensive tram (light rail) and bus network. The bright green trams and buses are the greatest amenity you can imagine: absolutely prompt, relatively inexpensive, clean and very convenient. Each stop has maps of the public transport system and a listing of arrival times.

The 8 and 10 trams and the 38 and 55 buses cross international borders - bear this in mind for carrying goods and identification!

By Boat

You can be carried across the Rhine by Fähri, one of Basel's four small ferry boats, which, hanging at a steel rope, are silently drawn by the current between the two banks of the river. One river crossing costs Fr. 1.60 for adults and 0.80 for children. The most popular one may be the one that starts in Grossbasel just below the Münster.

Various day excursions go up and down the Rhine, on large motor boats, and are offered by Basler Personenschiffahrt, Reservations phone +41 61 639-9500. Boats depart from Schifflände, near the Grossbasel end of Mittlere Brücke.

By Foot

This is the standard mode of travel for many within the city. Old Basel isn't very large and there are many narrow and winding side streets with incredible slopes.

The shopping streets in the old city are closed to car traffic. Tourists will walk a lot - and be pleased and impressed at every turn. But the walking can be a bit strenuous after a while, particularly when walking on cobblestone alleys in the old town, which can also get quite steep. Walking around Basel can be a real cardiovascular workout for some if you wander off the main streets - but it's the best way to experience the city.

Warning: Trams have the right of way over just about everyone - all the time. Keep an eye out for them as you cross a street, including on pedestrian crossings.

By Bike

Basel is a bicycle-friendly city, with many well-marked bicycle lanes throughout the city, and even traffic signals and left-hand turn lanes for bikes. While drivers are generally aware of bikers, be sure to use hand signals and ride defensively. Beware of the trams! If you are not careful, your wheels may also get stuck in the tram tracks and this can make you fly. Helmets are not required (although recommended), but lights and bells are. The Swiss are quite keen cyclists, so don't be surprised when an old lady goes flying past you on her bike while going uphill.

Besides local commuter bike lanes, there are specific bike trails that connect to other parts of Switzerland (via the Veloland Schweiz network, (recommended for overland bicycling tours). These bike trails are indicated by signs at some intersections.

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Eat

Basel has a thriving restaurant and café culture, and the streets of the old town are lined with outdoor seating in the summer.

Not all restaurants in Basel accept credit cards (though an increasing number do). If in doubt check first.

As in most of Europe, tipping is not a requirement. It is common (but not universal), to round up to the nearest 10 or 20 francs, for example by refusing the change from a note.

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Drink

In Barfüsserplatz, the major beer hall (at least in years gone by) receives its resupply via a tanker truck from the brewery with a very large hose delivering its precious cargo into the tanks of the rathskeller. This looks a lot like a delivery of heating oil in most commercial enterprises! The consumption of beer in this area (near the University) is really serious!

Lesbian & Gay Basel

Basel is vibrant at night, and the queer scene opens up as night falls as well, although mostly on the German side of the Rhein.

  • On Tuesday nights check out Zisch-Bar in der Kaserne at Klybeckstrasse 1b
  • Every other evening, your best bet is the café/bar/lounge elle et lui at Rebgasse 39

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Sleep

Budget

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Basel Back PackDornacherstrasse 192Hostel88
Best Western Hotel StückiBadenstrasse 1Hotel-
YMCA Hostel BaselGempenstrasse 64Hostel89
Youthhostel BaselSt. Alban-Kirchrain 10Hostel88
B&B Casa RomanticaRüttiweg 8 (Arlesheim / Basel)Guesthouse-
B&B im St. JohannDavidsbodenstrasse 8Apartment-
Hotel BaladeKlingental 8Hotel-

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Work

Basel is a centre of the pharmaceutical industry. The international pharma giant Novartis is headquartered in Basel. as well as the smaller Hoffmann-La Roche. There are also other large chemical and life sciences companies such as CIBA Specialty Chemicals, Syngenta and the aluminium company Lonza.

Basel also has several IT and software companies that offer international jobs.

Basel is (jointly with Zürich) headquarters of UBS, Switzerland's biggest and internationally active bank and home of the Bank for International Settlements.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Switzerland has a high rate of people with their own internet connection and computers, so internet cafes are not as common compared to other countries and compared to the past. But still you will be able to find a computer in the main cities and tourist areas, also at libraries, video rental shops, train stations or tourist information places. Wifi is widely available, though sometimes at a cost. A growing number of hotels, restaurants, coffee bars and fastfood joints now offer free wifi.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Switzerland's country code is 41 and the emergency phone numbers are 117 (police), 118 (fire department) and 144 (emergency rescue service/ambulance). Swiss phone numbers consist of the area code and a local phone number. The area code has three digits and starts with a zero, such as 022 for Geneva. The local phone number has usually 7 digits, but there are numbers with only 5 or 6 digits.

If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands - they usually cost around 10-40 CHF and are obtainable in the shops of the mobile service providers Swisscom, Orange or Sunrise in most cities. Mobile network coverage is close to 100% by area, even in the mountainous, non-populated areas. There are also a lot of cheap prepaid cards for local calls from other providers. The prepaid cards of the big supermarket chains Migros and Coop for example cost around 20 CHF and include already 15 CHF airtime. The cheapest prepaid card for calls within Switzerland is Aldi Mobile. The cheapest prepaid card for international communication is Yallo. The prepaid cards can be bought online (30 CHF with 30 CHF airtime inclusive), in most post offices (29 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive) or Sunrise shops (20 CHF with 20 CHF airtime inclusive).

Post

Swiss Post is the national postal service of Switzerland and has fast and reliable services. For more information about prices to send postcards, letters and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally, they have a very useful Price Calculator. Domestically, there is priority mail (arriving the following day) and economy mail which takes 2-3 days to be send within Switzerland. Stamps can be bought at the post offices or from shops and kiosks that also sell postcards. In general, post offices are open from 8:00am to noon and 2:00pm to 5:00 or 6:00pm, with a lunchbreak in between. Opening times on Saturdays are usually only during mornings. Larger cities and central post offices might keep longer hours and skp the lunchbreak. If you want to send packages internationally, you might also consider international courier companies like TNT, DHL or UPS.

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Quick Facts

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Population
172,662
Coordinates
  • Latitude: 47.559614
  • Longitude: 7.580611

Accommodation in Basel

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