Beautiful Basel has become synonymous with the fine arts and culture. It is home to one of the most famous international art fairs in the world, Art Basel, which has grown so popular that it has spawned two sister shows – one in Miami and another in Hong Kong.
And although Basel is a relatively compact city, it is home to a surprising number of museums, about 40 in total. Basel, which has a population of approximately 170,000, is also the perfect size for exploring — not so big that you’ll feel overwhelmed, but also not so small that you’ll quickly run out of things to see.
Located close to the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland, Basel is a surprising cultural jewel on the Rhine River.
Because Basel boasts one of the best preserved Old Towns in Europe, you’ll definitely want to set aside time to explore its architecture and soak in its historic atmosphere. Divided by the Rhine River into two sections — Grossbasel (Greater Basel) and Kleinbasel (Little Basel) — this city’s Old Town will charm you with lovely 15th century buildings and cobbled streets.
If you’re interested in touring this historic center, consider booking a tour with a guide, who can give you an informed look into Basel’s past. Prefer to explore the Old Town at your own pace? No worries. There are five self-guided walks that start at the Marktplatz.
Just pick up a brochure from Basel Tourism and follow the blue arrows. Some of the sites you’ll see as you stroll through the Old Town include the cathedral or Munster and the rathaus or town hall.
While you probably won’t have time to visit all of Basel’s many museums, it would be a crime not to visit at least one or two. Some of the more interesting and popular include:
This museum is a showcase for Switzerland’s largest public art collection and contains works that date from the 15th century to the present. Named the fifth best museum in the world in 2013 by the London Times, Kunstmuseum Basel’s impressive collection includes artwork from many famous artists, including Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, Paul Rubens and Andy Warhol.
Basel’s Natural History Museum, which contains more than 7.7 million objects, will delight young and old with interesting exhibits related to flora and fauna, dinosaurs, minerals, and the history of mankind.
Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel (Basel Toy Museum)
If you love toys — and, really, who doesn’t — you’ll definitely want to check out the Basel Toy Museum. Here, you’ll find approximately 2,500 antique teddy bears – including one that dates back to 1904 — 1,000 dolls from around the world and a large collection of dollhouses and miniatures.
Anatomisches Museum der Universitat Basel (Anatomical Museum of the University of Basel)
First, a word of warning — because this museum contains real human body parts, including skeletons, it is not for the faint of heart. But if you have an interest in the anatomy of the human body, this museum is a must-see.
Interested in enjoying a sunny day in Basel like a local? Then make sure to pack or wear your bathing suit and bring a towel so you can join Basel’s residents on the banks of the Rhine River. This is where the young and the old congregate to catch some rays and enjoy a few cold drinks and good food.
A day relaxing by the Rhine is a perfect, non-touristy way to mingle with the locals. Do exercise caution, however, if you decide to take a dip in the Rhine. The current can be swift, so only enter the river if you’re a confident swimmer. Speaking of swimming in the Rhine, if you happen to be in Basel in August, you might be able to witness thousands of swimmers hop into the river for the annual Rhine Swim Day.
It’s not surprising that a city known for its culture would also be home to a number of fine dining establishments. Basel even boasts a restaurant, Cheval Blanc, which earned three Michelin stars in 2018. Only two other restaurants in Switzerland managed to earn that distinction in 2018. In addition, one restaurant, Stucki, earned two stars; and two others, Bel Etage and Les Quatre Saisons, earned one star.
Prefer a good beer to a fancy meal? Then you’ll be delighted to know that Basel is also home to a growing brewery scene. A good local brewery to check out is Unser Bier, which offers innovative beers crafted from locally sourced products, such as cherries.