City Guide: Basel, Switzerland – what to see and do
When you visit the Swiss city of Basel, you can see three countries and take in loads of culture – here are some of the best things to do while you're there
- By Christopher Beanland -
What to do and see in Basel
It's no wonder Basel tops those quality of life surveys – clean, safe, cute and cultured, it's a pleasant place to linger, not least because of its beautiful, art-packed buildings. Art has become synonymous with the city, thanks to its annual fiesta, Art Basel, and its many galleries. The grandest is the Kunstmuseum, the largest and most significant gallery in Switzerland, with the world's most extensive collection of works by the Holbein family.
St Alban-Graben 16, 4051. kunstmuseumbasel.ch
Vitra Design Museum
Some of the area's best attractions are outside Switzerland: like the Vitra Design Museum, just inside Germany at Weil-am-Rhein, but entirely walkable. This homage to beauty boasts Zaha Hadid's first building – a fiendish fire station composed of crazy concrete angles, and buildings by Frank Gehry and local starchitects Herzog & de Meuron. Pretty little Weil is nicknamed the 'City of Chairs' because of its long association with furniture making that's continued by Vitra, which is still its biggest employer.
Charles-Eames-Straße 2, 79576, Weil am Rhein, Germany. design-museum.de
Swim at Naturbad Riehen
Swimming is huge in Basel – there are dozens of lakes, pools and pontoons in the Rhine you can dive off. We'd recommended shimmying over the border to Riehen, whose natural swimming pool Naturbad Riehen must rank as one of the most enticing places to swim inland on earth. A huge, naturally filtered pool is surrounded by reed beds and broken into sections for lane swimmers, kids, those who want to muck about and a paddling zone for little ones. Encircling a huge grassy area is a beautiful wooden fence (designed by Herzog & de Meuron) containing seating, changing rooms and café.
Weilstrasse 69, 4125 Riehen. naturbadriehen.ch
Where to eat and drink in Basel
This restaurant's special – and in fact, as far we can work out, the only thing it serves – is that glorious staple of mum and dad's M&S Dine in For Two, the cordon bleu, but here it comes as a bashed-out pork or veal fillet the size of a cat, breaded and deep fried. When you cut into it, cheese spews out towards your potato rosti like a miniature recreation of the destruction of Pompeii – and we mention Pompeii because Basel's heritage stretches back to 30BC, when the Romans arrived.
Schneidergasse 11, 4051. gifthuettli.ch
One of Basel's many hipster-fied hangouts is the Markthalle, near to the Swiss SBB station. Where once-prosaic produce like tomatoes and potatoes were flogged, today a slick mix of organic groceries, flat whites and street food takes centre stage. It takes us no longer than a minute to decide on lunch: beef empanadas from the Acento Argentino stand, run by real Argentines from Buenos Aires. Their verdict on living in Basel? "It's not bad." A response that shows they have become more Swiss than they could ever have realised.
Steinentorberg 20, CH-4051 altemarkthalle.ch
Having sampled Warteck beers at Gifthuettli, we make for its old brewery in Klein Basel, which today has been transformed – like seemingly every factory in the Western Hemisphere – into something a bit more modern. Graphic designers and furniture craftsmen work in ateliers while, perched up on several rooftop terraces, bars and a vegan restaurant cater to a cool crowd. From up here, sipping a drop of the stuff previously brewed in the building below, you can see the Rhine and look over Basel's chocolate-box old town and cathedral.
Burgweg 7-15, 4058. werkraumwarteckpp.ch
Where to stay in Basel
Housed in Basel's first apartment block from the 1950s, Nomad is what we'd describe as 'nuclear bunker chic': austere concrete walls are offset with oak fittings and turquoise soft furnishings. Even the swish bar is cast out of concrete – and it's hipster enough to serve locally brewed beer and host open mic sessions, making it a place to check out whether you're a guest or not.
From £88. Brunngässlein 8, CH 4052. nomad.ch
For something less hipster and more timelessly elegant, try fairytale-worthy Krafft Basel on for size. It's got views across the river to the old town, a beaut sun terrace and a restaurant headed up by a forest-foraging chef. If you're not sold already, a look at the hotel's sleek, white, natural-light-filled rooms – with Vitra-designed furniture, natch – should seal the deal. As will a trip to Consum, the hotel's bar, with a 300-strong wine list that's so good it's become a Basel institution.
From £88. Rheingasse 12, 4058. krafftbasel.ch
Der Teufelhof Kunsthotel
For a stay that blends comfort and culture, Der Teufelhof Kunsthotel has fully embraced Basel's art credentials by making some of its rooms works of art. That means you could be staying in a space that recreates an artist's studio; in the middle of a giant painting; or in amongst some 3D flowers, should any of that take your fancy. If it doesn't, the hotel has perfectly normal and actually very lovely guestrooms, too. It's also home to a wine shop and two restaurants, one of which is Michelin-starred.
From £133 for an art room. Leonhardsgraben 47-49, CH 4051. teufelhof.com