A weekend in Basel: travel guide, things to do, food and drink

Everything you need to know for a break in a city that encompasses three countries

The striking Basler Münster cathedral dominates the city's skyline
The striking Basler Münster cathedral dominates the city's skyline
(Image credit: Basel Tourismus)

Why you should visit Basel

When it comes to unusual locations it doesn't get more unique than the Swiss city of Basel. Despite its small stature, this city of just 170,000 people encompasses three countries – Switzerland, France and Germany. As you walk its historic lanes you can feel the influence of all three, from delicate patisseries and bustling bier halles to decadent chocolate shops.

Basel has more than 2,000 years of traceable history, starting with Celtic tribes and Roman settlements, through the enlightenment to the present day. The Basler Münster cathedral was consecrated more than 1,000 years ago, and its university dates back to 1460, making it one of the oldest in the world.

These days, it is a city that prides itself on its cultural heritage. Premier festival Art Basel, which takes place annually, was launched here and has now been exported to Miami and Hong Kong. There are hundreds of galleries, museums, theatres and concert halls, so there is always something to see and learn.

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Basel straddles the raging River Rhine, which flows through the city on its way north to France and Germany, and as such the Baslers love to spend their time on the water, by the water and in the water. Wild swimming is popular in summer, while the brave will still go for a (very) quick dip in winter, and engineless ferries cross the river using the force of the current alone all year.

Top attractions and things to do

Basel is beautiful and best explored on foot, whiling away the hours wandering its picturesque streets and courtyards. Discover both the dramatic Old Town and the lesser-known Kleinbasel on the east bank, where the port and industrial centre used to be.

Whether it is the Kunstmuseum, which has works by artists like Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, anthropological museum the Museum der Kulturen, or the adorable and child-friendly Basel Paper Mill, there is a gallery for everyone.

Those who stay in Basel are given a free BaselCard pass for the public transport system, which in typical Swiss style, is efficient and easy to understand. Travel to Dreiländereck, where the points of the three countries meet on the Rhine. You can also use the card to rent an e-bike for CHF 20 (£18/$23) a day – head further afield on a tour of the "Concrete Icons" brutalist masterpieces that are just outside the centre. 

Basel straddles the River Rhine

The city straddles the River Rhine

(Image credit: Basel Tourismus)

Eating and drinking

Once at the Dreiländereck border tripoint, you simply must eat at Sandoase. In the summer this is a beach bar complete with palm trees, and as it gets colder it becomes Winterdorf, a Swiss chalet serving bottomless varieties of fondue. You can even rent an individual ski lift gondola for a romantic evening under the stars.

If you are looking for a traditional Swiss tavern experience then Löwenzorn in the heart of the Old Town is perfect, serving local specialities and wines from Swiss vineyards.

Spale Bar is a casual space for a glass of something special and a chat, alongside the Alsatian speciality "flammekueche", a thin and crispy type of pizza.

Confiserie Bachmann is the place to try "Basler Läckerli", a spiced biscuit made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied peel – but don't forget to try the pain au chocolat. 

Volkshaus Basel is located in the lively Kleinbasel district

Volkshaus Basel is located in the lively Kleinbasel district 

(Image credit: Volkshaus Basel/Robert Rieger)

Where to stay 

Situated in Kleinbasel, Volkshaus Basel is a cosy boutique hotel in the middle of the city's liveliest district. It was designed by renowned Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who intended to create an urban place of relaxation and modern hospitality where you can escape the noise of the city.

At various times the site has been a castle, a brewery, a concert hall and offices, and they have refurbished the building sympathetically, but with a sense of style that brings it into the modern age. The chic bar has an innovative array of cocktails, while the brasserie serves classics like schnitzel and steak frites served in an elevated way.

The Spalenberg district in Basel's Old Town

The Spalenberg district in Basel's Old Town 

(Image credit: Basel Tourismus)

How to get there

Easyjet flies to EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg from Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and London Gatwick. Prices start at around £30 ($38) each way. Alternatively, Swiss International Air Lines flies to Basel from London Heathrow, London City and London Gatwick, with fares starting at £140 ($175) each way. Just make sure you exit through the Swiss door and not the French side.

Basel is also well connected by train, and you can travel to the city's main station, Basel SBB, from Paris, Amsterdam, Milan and Frankfurt, as well as other Swiss destinations such as Geneva, Zürich and Lucerne. 

Jaymi McCann was a guest of Basel Tourismus (basel.com) and Volkshaus Basel (volkshaus-basel.ch). Rates at Volkshaus Basel start from CHF 169 (£153/$192) per night, per room, excluding breakfast.  

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