Basel is a great city for any traveler. Indulge in its diverse cuisine, float down the Rhine River, or spend time walking around its various festivals. You’ll also want to spend some time here soaking in Basel’s fascinating history.
Hostel prices – Basel does not have much at all to offer in terms of hostels. Expect to pay an average of 37 CHF a night for a dorm room and 100-120 CHF for a private double. The price usually includes free WiFi, use of the facilities, and a place to sleep. You can expect to pay extra for anything else (towels, breakfast, snacks, etc).
Budget hotel prices – You can spend anywhere from 90-150 CHF a night for a budget hotel double room.
Average cost of food – Consider street food for a cheap alternative to restaurant dining for 3-6 CHF. If you’re dining at a restaurant, prepare to pay between 15-32 CHF for a meal without drinks. A beer at a mid-range restaurant will cost about 7.50 CHF and a bottle of water will cost about 4 CHF! Definitely go grocery shopping, you’ll be able to get produce for very cheap, beers for less than 2 CHF each and water for about 1 CHF.
Transportation costs – Basel is small enough to get everywhere just by walking around. However, if you need to use public transportation, they have trams and buses to move you quickly and comfortably around the city.
Money Saving Tips
Walk everywhere — Basel is too small to justify taking a taxi. Most people walk to get where they need to go, and you should too.
Use Couchsurfing — With dorm rooms starting at 37 CHF per night, you need to lower your accommodation costs. Couchsurfing is the way to do it. It’s a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free (more on it here). It was a lifesaver that allowed me to keep my costs down the most. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
Book an apartment – Airbnb is also a good deal if you’re traveling with someone, as most private rooms are around 80 CHF per night, with cheaper rooms for two starting at 25-40 CHF. Split two ways and it’s much cheaper than a hostel dorm!
Get free public transportation — As a hotel guest in the city on the Rhine, you may also profit from the Basel Mobility Ticket, which allows you to use the public transport network for the entire duration of your stay (up to 30 days).
Book your trains early – While a train ride is a cheaper way to travel than the plane, you can get even cheaper rates by booking your train ticket early. Swiss Rail also offers one-day and weekend group passes to look into.
Don’t drink — Drinking is not cheap here. Most beers are around 8 CHF. (Plus, who wants to hike while hung over?) Most wines are between 10-25 CHF a bottle. If you must drink, stick to hostel bars where you can enjoy 2-for-1 happy hours and cheap drinks for around 5 CHF or buy your beers at grocery stores for as little was 2 CHF.
Eat street food — Instead, eat the street food! Street food is the cheapest way to go and will save you the most money. Expect to spend 3-5 CHF for cheap snacks and about 11 CHF for something more filling.
Cook — With sit-down restaurants costing around 40 CHF per meal per person, eating out in Switzerland can be very costly, so buy your groceries. A week’s worth of food (bread, pasta, rice, eggs, vegetables, cheese, deli meats for sandwiches, and some assorted fruit) will cost you 75-100 CHF. The major supermarkets are Migros, COOP, and Spar. COOP is the most expensive.
Go veggie — Meat is expensive in Switzerland. Every Swiss resident or expat I talked to told me about how they limit their meat consumption because it costs so much. Stick to veggies and avoid buying meat for your meals (especially beef). While I was trolling supermarkets and butchers for grocery prices (travel writing is glamorous, huh?!), I found a pound of meat was 12-14 CHF. At that price, stick to deli meats for protein!
Use lunch specials — If you are going to eat out, do so during lunch, when most lunch specials at cafes and restaurants cost around 10-19 CHF. Moreover, stick to the ethnic restaurants like Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, or Thai for the best deals and biggest portions (and closer to that 10 CHF price). Lunch specials are a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck and to enjoy the dinner menu but at a cheaper set menu price.
Bring a refillable water bottle — At 2-4 CHF a bottle, that’s a lot of money spent on water after a few days. The water in Basel is safe to drink, so refill your bottle before you go out to save money.
Top Things to See and Do in Basel
Shop at Marktplatz – Basel’s farmer’s market happens every Saturday. It’s worth getting up a little early to buy local fresh produce, flowers and specialty items. This is a great place to get fresh grocery items, which in turn will save you money on meals.
Visit the Kunstmusuem Basel – As one of Basel’s most popular museums, it houses ninetieth and twentieth century artwork, including an entire room of Picasso paintings.
Spend time on Rhine River – Bask in the sun or, as the locals do, swim in the river! Walk over one of several bridges or better yet – cross the river by boat.
Party during Baslar Fasnacht – Do not miss this festival. It’s the equivalent of Carnival and lasts for three days and nights, starting on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. There is endless food, music and parades. Just don’t use any flash photography. The locals are pretty particular about that and will kick you out if you do.
Visit Münster Cathedral – Basel’s Münster (cathedral) was built built between 1019-1500 in Romanesque and Gothic style. The Münster is open to the public. Its highlight is the Galluspforte (Gallus portal) on the western facade, considered the most important Romanesque sculptural work in Switzerland. For a few CHF, you can climb St. Martin’s tower (completed in 1500), which at 200 feet is the shorter of the two towers. The other tower is St. George’s, which as completed in 1492, after the 1356 earthquake destroyed an earlier version.
Check out the Basel Zoo – This is the oldest and largest (by number of animals) zoo in Switzerland, with easy access by walking or tram from the central SBB station.
Basel Herbstmesse (Autumn Fair) – This fair occurs in October and there are rides, booths, shooting alleys and lots of food in several locations all over the city. Locations include Messeplatz (the biggest site with the most attractions, with a rollercoaster and the like), Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz (where you get nice views from the Ferris Wheel).
See the Rathaus – The town hall is a beautiful old Renaissance building in the main square. It’s still used actively, but you can take a walk through the courtyard.
Visit the Tinguely Musuem – This museum is bizarre in the best of ways. It features the sculptures of Jean Tinguely, a Swiss artist. These sculptures seem to be assembled from a random assortment of odds ‘n ends, which makes for some fun and surprising results.
Get in the holiday spirit – What better time to visit a mountain-filled country than at Christmas? If you’ve come to Switzerland to get your White Christmas fix, then don’t forget to stop at the Basler Weihnachtsmarkt – Basel’s Christmas market. Stalls are set up in Barfüsserplatz from the end of November onwards.
Catch a football match – FC Basel has a fantastic national record for Swiss football titles, with many under its belt. Come and catch a match at St. Jakobs Park, and join the local fans, who are very passionate about this team.
Eat basler läckerli – This spiced biscuit is famous in Switzerland, and it originates here. It’s comparable to gingerbread, but is made from hazelnut, Kirsch, honey, and candied peel. It’s a treat for anyone with a bit of a sweet tooth.
Walk through Tierpark Lange Erlen – If you like animals, but don’t feel like forking out for the zoo, take a walk through the Tierpark Lange Erlen. This park contains a petting zoo, which is completely free. Even if you’re not interested in seeing the animals, just come here to relax for a couple of hours.