At the intersection of the French, German and Swiss borders in northwestern Switzerland, Basel has a vibrant cultural scene including a ton of riveting museums, art galleries, several opera houses, and theatres.
Here you can enjoy diverse cuisine, float down the Rhine River, or spend time walking its historic city center. The Altstadt (Old Town) has no end of extravagant cathedrals, beautiful fountains, and historic buildings — including the magnificent town hall. It’s a great place to wander around and just get lost in the narrow alleyways and stumble across hidden squares or discover parts of the old city walls including the three gates that remain standing.
The city is pretty small so you only need a couple of days here. But it’s also super beautiful.
This travel guide to Basel can help you plan your trip, save money, and help you make the most of your time in this gorgeous Swiss city!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Basel
1. Shop at Marktplatz
Basel’s farmer’s market, Stadt Markt, happens daily in front of Town Hall, a gorgeous 500-year-old building with a red façade decorated with frescoes. It’s worth getting up a little early to buy local fresh produce, cheese, flowers, and specialty items for a picnic, or to cook at your hostel later on.
2. Party during Basler Fasnacht
This festival is the equivalent of Carnival and lasts for three days and nights, starting at 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. There’s endless food, music, and parades. The daytime activities are fun but the biggest parties take place after 11pm.
3. Visit the Cathedral
This 15th-century cathedral is considered the most important Romanesque works in Switzerland. The highlight is the Galluspforte, the earliest surviving figure gate in any German-speaking country. You can climb St. Martin’s tower for views of the city and the surrounding forest for 6 CHF.
4. Spend time on Rhine River
Bask in the sun, swim in the river, check out one of two Jugendstil bathing houses, and, when you’re hungry, stop for delicious drinks and snacks from the buvettes (refreshment stalls). Don’t miss time on the Rhine! When the weather is nice, it’s the place to be.
5. Check out the Basel Zoo
Open since 1874 and known locally as “Zolli,” this is the oldest and largest zoo in Switzerland. There are more than 600 species of animal here including lemurs, rare Indian rhinos, black-footed penguins, and more. The zoo participates in several conservation programs. Admission is 21 CHF.
Other Things to See and Do in Basel
1. Visit the Kunstmusuem Basel
As one of Basel’s most popular museums, this art museum houses the largest public art collection in Switzerland — including an entire room of Picasso paintings. The museum’s collection also includes pieces Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Marc Chagall, Edvard Munch, and other masters. Admission is 16 CHF for the permanent collection or 26 CHF including the special exhibitions as well.
2. Attend the Basel Herbstmesse
Basel Herbstmesse (Autumn Fair) is spread across 10 piazzas over 2 weeks and includes rides, artisan booths, shooting galleries, and plenty of food. Go to Messeplatz for most of the fun attractions, Barfüsserplatz for treats such as mässmogge (hazelnut praline filled sugar candies) and
3. See the Rathaus
Around 500 years old, the City Hall in Basel is a gorgeous Renaissance building. Its red façade, with beautiful frescoes, makes the building a focal point for the area and the plaza in front plays host to a daily market. It’s still used today as a government building. Tours lasting 30 minutes are offered in English every Saturday at 4:30pm and will show you the building and teach you about the region’s political history and what present-day politics are like. Tickets cost 5 CHF.
4. Visit the Tinguely Museum
Opened in 1996, this museum features the kinetic sculpture machines of Jean Tinguely, a Swiss artist known for creating “metamechanic sculptures” (art sculptures that move). Born in 1925, Tinguely was a pioneer in his artistic field and was known to push boundaries. There are a lot of weird sculptures in this museum, such as Méta-Malevitch, a black wooden box that kind of looks like a deconstructed clock. Admission is 18 CHF.
5. Get in the holiday spirit at the Christmas Market
If you’ve come to Switzerland to get your White Christmas fix, then don’t forget to stop at the Basler Weihnachtsmarkt. Stalls are set up in Barfüsserplatz from the end of November and go until the 24th of December. There are, however, additional markets worth checking out in Münsterplatz, and Marktplatz. During this time, the Klingental ferry also turns into a Christmas ferry and is decorated with holiday lights and a beautiful Christmas tree. Tickets cost 1.60 CHF per ride.
6. Catch a football match
FC Basel has a fantastic national record for Swiss football (soccer) 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. Even if you’re not a huge fan, the locals are die-hards so it’s a fun way to take in this cultural pastime. Tickets start at 25 CHF.
7. Admire art at the Beyeler Foundation
Located in nearby Riehen, this building is home to the art collection of Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, two famous local art dealers. Their world-famous collection includes 300 classic modern and contemporary works, including pieces by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein, Francis Bacon, and more. Admission is 30 CHF.
8. Stroll across Middle Bridge
This iconic bridge was opened in 1226 and is one of the oldest Rhine crossings left in the world. Mittlere Brücke was used for local traffic and, by the 14th-century, it was an important crossing for international trade as well. Now, the bridge provides great views of the city and the Rhine and is just a beautiful historic photo-worthy bridge!
9. Go on a walking tour
Explore the Old Town on a walking tour, provided by Basel Tourism, which guides you around historic buildings, and learning about historic facts and anecdotes on Basel. Visit Town Hall, Basel Münster (cathedral), and Barfüsserkirche. You may also see the Museum de Kulturen, and Tinguely fountain as well as the 3 gates that are all that is left of the 2 layers of city walls that used to defend the city. Tours are 1.5-3 hours in length and are offered in both English and German. Tickets cost 25 CHF.
10. Walk the Rehberger-Weg
Located outside the city, this 5 kilometer (3 mile) trail runs from Riehen, Switzerland to Weil am Rhein, Germany. The trail includes 24 unique markers created by German artist Tobias Rehberger. It takes you through fields and the countryside on quiet footpaths, pausing at contemporary pieces of art while learning about local histories and stories. To get to the starting point at Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, take tram #6. It’s about a 25-minute ride and costs 2.30 CHF. To get back from the endpoint, Vitra Design Museum, take tram #8.
11. Visit the Basel Paper Mill
This popular museum, set in a Medieval paper mill, documents the history of paper and the written word. It has interactive exhibits on typesetting and printing to teach you about bookbinding and offers workshops such as paper making, quill writing, typewriting, typesetting, and paper marbling. It’s super interesting and educational. Admission is 15 CHF.
12. Explore Tierpark Lange Erlen
Tierpark Lange Erlen is an area of green space in central Basel with a small free zoo that is home to deer, lynx, and other mostly local animals. There are also stables and paddocks with ponies, goats and sheep, and an aviary in which a large variety of birds can be observed. It’s free to visit and a good place to bring kids.
For more information on other cities in Switzerland, check out these guides:
Basel Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There aren’t many hostel options in the city and what hostels are here aren’t cheap. Expect to pay 30-50 CHF per night for a bed in a dorm with 6-8 beds and around 70-130 CHF for a private room that sleeps two. Free Wi-Fi is standard but breakfast is not usually included.
There are a few campsites around Basel for those traveling with a tent. Prices start at 7 CHF per person for a basic plot without electricity.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels with free Wi-Fi, TV, and private bathrooms start at 75 CHF per night.
On Airbnb, private rooms start between 35-60 CHF per night while entire homes/apartments usually cost at least 100 CHF.
Food – With strong French, German, and Italian influences, Swiss cuisine is a mix of meat and potato-based dishes along with plenty of local cheeses. Popular dishes include veal and mushrooms, fondue (with bread or potatoes), rösti (fried grated potatoes), and quiche. Naturally, Swiss cheese and chocolate should not be missed either. When it comes to breakfast, muesli is a go-to healthy choice.
If you’re on a budget, consider street food (hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches) for a cheap alternative to restaurant dining. This kind of food costs around 5-10 CHF.
Inexpensive meals at casual restaurants serving traditional Swiss cuisine cost around 25 CHF. If you want to splash out, a three-course meal costs around 50 CHF.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 15 CHF for a combo meal. A large pizza is 15-21 CHF.
Beer is around 7 CHF while a latte/cappuccino is around 5.5 CHF.
If you cook your meals, expect to pay 100 CHF per week for groceries. This gets you basic staples like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. The major supermarkets are Migros, COOP, and Spar. COOP is the most expensive.
Backpacking Basel Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Basel, my suggested budget is about 95 CHF per day. This budget covers staying in a hostel dorm, cooking all of your meals, limiting your drinking, taking public transportation to get around, and sticking to mostly free activities like walking tours and wandering the Old Town.
A mid-range budget of about 195 CHF covers staying in a private Airbnb, eating out for most meals, enjoying a few drinks, taking the occasional taxi to get around, and doing more paid activities like museum visits.
On a “luxury” budget of 390 CHF or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, rent a car for day trips, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
Basel Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Basel is geared more towards mid-range and luxury travelers. And, like the entire country, it’s very expensive. Fortunately, there are a few ways to save money in Basel:
- 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.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing lets travelers stay with locals for free. It was a lifesaver that allowed me to keep my costs down during my time in Switzerland. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
- Get free public transportation – As a hotel guest, you’ll get the BaselCard, which is given to everyone upon checking into a hotel or hostel. It allows you to use the public transport network for the entire duration of your stay (up to 30 days).
- Don’t drink – Drinking is not cheap in Basel. Most beers are around 7-8 CHF. 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.
- Eat street food – Street food is the cheapest way to go and saves you the most money. Expect to spend 3-5 CHF for cheap snacks and about 10 CHF for something more filling.
- 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!
- Use lunch specials – If you are going to eat out, do so during lunch. Lunch specials are the most budget-friendly way to eat out here.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
- Take a free walking tour – To get a feel for the city when you first arrive, be sure to take a free walking tour with the company Free Walk Basel. Exploring a city on foot is the best way to understand it, and if you love architecture and history then this is a must. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
Where to Stay in Basel
There are only a couple of hostels in Basel, so consider booking early if you’re visiting during the busy summer months:
How to Get Around Basel
Public Transportation – 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.
Fares depend on the number of zones you travel with single-ride adult fares ranging between 2.20-4.40 CHF. A one-day ticket is about 18 CHF and a multi-pass ticket that offers you 6 rides for the price of 5 ranges from 12-24 CHF.
Taxi – A taxi in Basel costs a minimum of 6.50 CHF and fares are 3 CHF per km. Skip them. They are expensive and you don’t really need to take them.
Ridesharing – Uber is available here and is a bit cheaper than taxis. However, you really shouldn’t need it since you can walk or take the bus everywhere.
Bike rental – Bike rentals start from 25-35 CHF per day. While it’s a fun way to explore, it’s quite expensive (especially considering you get free public transportation when you book a hotel/hostel).
Car rental – Car rentals start around 30 CHF per day for a multi-day rental. You won’t need a car to get around the city, though they can be helpful for exploring the region. Drivers need to be at least 21 years of age. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required for non-European renters.
When to Go to Basel
The best time to visit Basel is between April-September when the weather is warm enough for exploring on foot, patios are open, open-air markets are in full swing, and the Rhine river is perfect for relaxing. During this time, temperatures reach an average of 23°C (72°F). This is the busiest time to visit Basel (especially June-August), so expect prices to be at least 20% higher.
In June, the Swiss Yodelling Festival takes place over a weekend towards the end of the month, and Summerblues Basel is a vibrant jazz and blues festival. In July, the Basel Tattoo is an exciting week-long festival filled with brass bands, traditional folk music, and dance troupes. August 1st is Swiss National Day, and the perfect time for watching folklore performances, alphorn blowing, yodeling, fireworks, and more!
In winter, temperatures in Basel average at -2°C (28°F). While the festival and events calendar slows down a bit, there is still plenty to do. In November and December, the Christmas market is open and filled with Swiss treats, handicrafts, and mulled wines. In February, the Basel Carnival begins its origins dating back to the peasant revolts in the 16th-century. This is easily one of the biggest parties of the year.
How to Stay Safe in Basel
Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world (it’s ranked 7th safest currently) and Basel is no exception. It’s a very safe city and both violent crime and petty theft are extremely rare here.
That said, always keep your valuables secure and out of reach when in crowded areas and on public transportation.
Solo female travelers should feel safe here, though the standard precautions apply (don’t leave your drink unattended at the bar, don’t walk home alone at night if intoxicated, etc.)
While scams here are rare, if you’re worried about getting ripped off you can read about common travel scams to avoid here.
If you plan on hiking or spending some time skiing in the mountains, pay careful attention to weather reports. Heed avalanche warnings, and stay off the trails if you’re told to do so.
If you experience an emergency, dial 117.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Basel Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
Basel Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Europe and continue planning your trip: