Resting on the Rhine River in northwest Switzerland, near to both the French and German borders, the city of Basel is rich with history, culture and a youthful vibrancy courtesy of its large university student population.
Its medieval old town is one of the most picturesque anywhere in Europe, dominated by the 16th century, red-sandstone Town Hall and 12th-century Gothic cathedral which affords magnificent city views. Here you can also find the tomb of the 16th century Dutch scholar, Erasmus.
Yet you need not venture far from the city’s well-trodden sights and attractions to discover lesser known gems to enjoy here. We’ve picked out 12 of the best.
1. Basel Paper Mill Museum
Anyone who enjoys the distinctive aroma of fresh paper and ink will want to visit this medieval paper mill, which offers a unique insight into the history of paper production, showcasing many of the traditional techniques that are still used today along with a number of antiquated items such as quills, old stamps, printing machines and even type writers (which your author is old enough to have owned!) During tours of the museum there are a number of activity points, demonstrations and workshops, while at the end visitors are invited to try and make their own paper using specialist hand-operated machines before drying it in a heated press.
LOCATION St. Alban-Tal 37 HOURS Tues-Fri & Sun 11am-5pm; Sat 1pm-5pm; Closed Mon
2. Jean Tinguely Museum
Switzerland’s artistic heritage may not quite be up there with the great painters of the Italian Renaisance, but it does have a small but distinguished alumni responsible for a hugely impressive body of work down the years. One of the most important Swiss artists of the 20th century was Jean Tinguely, most famous for his innovative moving mechanical sculptures.This museum house the world’s largest collection of Tinguely art, including a permanent exhibition presenting a cross-section of his work over some four decades, along with temporary exhibitions that build on his ideas by throwing light on a broad spectrum of artists who inspired him. The building that houses the museum is also a work of art in itself, designed by the leading architect Mario Botta.
LOCATION Paul Sacher-Anlage 2 HOURS Tues-Sun 11am-6pm Closed Mon
3. Volkshaus Bar & Brasserie
Housed in a building that dates back to the fourteenth century, the Volkshaus bar, brasserie and beer garden is one of Basel’s most famous dining and entertainment venues – and for good reason. Once a medieval manor, in recent times it underwent a major refurbishment by renowned local architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron that transformed it into a magical hotch-potch of eclectic furnishings, including LED pedants lamps and bistro chairs with computer generated backs. Even the restrooms are worth checking out for their visual impression, with sinks made from recycled items and wallpaper depicting imagery from 17th century etchings. If you’ve only got one night in Basel, we recommend spending it here.
LOCATION Rebgasse 12-14 HOURS Mon-Tues & Sat 10am-12am; Weds-Fri 10am-1am Closed Sun
4. Eine gefahrliche Uberfahrt
Gently resting along the Rhine river, about a mile from centre of Basel, there is a street with a plaque that pays tribute to the heart-rending tale of two lovers torn asunder. Intrigued? You should be. The plaque is the brainchild of Eames Demetrios, creator of ‘Kcymaerxthaere’, a story of a fictional alternative universe, and is meant to remember two protagonists who were in the midst of crossing the Rhine when Kmpass, the Urgend God of Directionality, straightened, causing the couple to be ripped from each other’s arms. Today bronze plaques have been erected in their honour throughout the physical world, from New York to Dubai to Australia to Basel.
The area in and around Basel is packed full of great opportunities for family play and adventure, from numerous parks and museums close to the city centre to gorgeous hikes just a short drive away. Play-Basel is a wonderful website that shares useful information for families living in or visiting Basel who are looking for ideas on where to let their kids off the leash and enjoy one of the pleasures of childhood – playing. There are tips on the best family-friendly cafes and restaurants, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, sport and leisure opportunities, wind animal parks and farms, and annual events. The website is regularly updated so be sure to check it out for your date of travel.
LOCATION Venues across Basel WEBSITE www.play-basel.weebly.com
For a unique dining adventure, you won’t find anywhere more original in Basel than blindekuh, a restaurant that offers guests the bizarre sensory experience of eating in pitch black. The quirky concept has altruistic roots, originally designed to create employment opportunities for the blind or sight impaired (who make up the waiting staff), but the main focus here is fun and frivolity, with top quality food thrown (not literally) into the mix too. Patrons can either browse the menu before entering the dining room, or order the “surprise” three or four-course dinner and then guess what they’ve been served as they eat.
LOCATION Dornacherstrasse 192 HOURS Weds-Sat 6.30pm-11pm Closed Sun-Tues
7. Pharmazie-Historische Museum
It may be a niche area of interest, but the world of pharmacology has an undeniably fascinating history. Offering a window into its intriguing past, this museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of pharmaceutical artefacts, including an alchemistic lab, laboratory utensils, outdated pharmaceutical books, 15th century ceramic mortars, apothecaries’ shops and historic medicaments, all of which were donated by the pharmacist Josef Anton Häfliger during the early 20th century. More than anything else, this museum provides a stark reminder of how far the pharmacology industry has progresed since those comparatively rudimentary days.
LOCATION Museum der Universität Basel, Totengässlein 3 HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-6pm Closed Sun-Mon
8. Bar Café des Arts
Nestled in Basel’s picturesque old town, Café des Arts is a genteel café by day, but as the sun sets over Basel it becomes one of the coolest hang-outs the city has to offer. This classic piano bar, adorned with iconic artwork, is one of Basel’s top bars with a hugely loyal following. Come here to sample live piano performances, jazz sessions and for those in search of faster beats, a regular club night. With sophisticated drinks and more than two hundred cocktails, the open-air bar area is the ideal spot to start, or bring to a close, your night.
LOCATION Barfüsserpl, 6 HOURS Mon-Thur 11am-12am; Sat 11am-2am Sun 2pm-10pm
9. Fondation Beyeler
Founded by Ernst und Hildy Beyeler in 1997, this museum combines exceptional art, a picturesque setting and eye-catching architecture. Set in an idyllic park, it was designed by the world-renowned architect Renzo Piano and within it visitors can find an incredible collection of mainly Classic Modernist art, from Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh by way of Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Giacometti to Warhol and Bacon. There’s also an equally impressive assortment of ethnographic art from Africa, Alaska and Oceania.
LOCATION Baselstrasse 101 HOURS Thurs-Tues 10am-6pm Weds 10am-8pm
10. Zur Puppenfee
This cute, atmospheric toy shop is a veritable wormhole into a bygone era, long before the uniquitous presence of Xboxes and iPads that can now be found in homes across the land, when the primary source of entertainment for children was the comparatively simple pleasures of puppets and dolls. The store is filled to bursting point with bears, dolls and antique toys, while puppet shows and workshops are also occasionally held here. For picking up a unique souvenir or gift while in Basel, you’ll find Zur Puppenfee hard to beat.
LOCATION Gerbergasse 83
This internationally important art museum is must visit for culture vultures coming to Basel. Home to one of Switzerland’s most diverse and admired collections of art, the museum can lay claim to what is perhaps the world’s oldest municipal art collection. With its origins dating to the 1500s, the gallery serves as a catalogue of the continent’s most significant art movements, but also places a strong focus on looking to the future. An ambitious expansion programme saw a new gallery open in 2016, and the Kunstmuseum Basel collection includes an exceptional array of newer artworks.
LOCATION St. Alban-Graben 16 HOURS Tues-Weds Sat-Sun 10am-6pm; Thurs 10am-8pm; Closed Mon
One of the most famous buildings of its style in the whole Switzerland, this neo-Gothic church dating back to the mid-19th century is a serious attention-grabber. But far more than merely a place of pious worship, the church is also the first Swiss “Open Church”, and is a vibrant cultural venue that hosts all kinds of thoroughly modern events including banquets, fashion shows, art exhibitions, concerts and even disco parties. Additionally, a diverse programme of activities includes Zen-Meditation sessions, spiritual advice for people of all backgrounds, and Eucharist services led by women or the LGBT community. You can also climb the 72 metre high tower and admire the magnificent views over the city.
LOCATION Elisabethenstrasse 14 HOURS Church: Tues-Fri 10am-9pm; Sat 10am-6pm; Sun 1pm-6pm Tower: Tues-Sat 10.30am-5pm