You might expect Basel (Bâle in French), situated on the Rhine exactly where Switzerland, Germany and France touch noses, to be the focal point of the continent, humming with pan-European energy. Basel's voters are the most fervently pro-European of all Switzerland's German speakers but, somehow, the close proximity of foreign languages and cultures has introverted the city rather than energized it: Basel is a curiously measured place, where equilibrium is everything. You won't find anyone shouting about the new Europe here; in fact, you're unlikely to find anyone shouting about anything at all. Even the city's massive carnival is a rigorously organized set piece.
With both a gigantic river port – Switzerland's only outlet to the sea – and the research headquarters of several pharmaceutical multinationals, Basel nurtures its reputation as Switzerland's wealthiest and most discreet city. Its historic centre, dominated by the awe-inspiring Münster, is definitely worth seeing, and the city's long-standing patronage of the arts has resulted in dozens of first-rate museums and galleries, including the stunning Fondation Beyeler. And yet, bequeathed a glittering medieval past endowed with some of the greatest minds of European history (Erasmus, Holbein and Nietzsche, to name just three) and centuries-long access to the best of three neighbouring worlds, it's almost as if Baslers lost the plot when it came to defining their city for today. Most seem to back the standard Swiss default option of gathering wealth in a discreet and orderly fashion, saving money shopping in France and having a better time partying in Germany. Which is all very well, but it tends to leave their own city rather bereft in the process; no town in Switzerland is harder for outsiders to penetrate.
Basel is divided into Greater Basel and Basel Proper (Gross Basel und Kleinbasel). The reasons for this division are historic but the differences between the areas within it may not be immediately apparent.
This district is scattered with many beautiful villas but its main attraction is the Wasserturm (Water Tower). Anyone who climbs to the top on a clear day can enjoy magnificent views of both Germany and France. The city's most famous restaurant, the Stucki , which is always busy, can also be found in Bruderholz.
The Gundeldinger District has suffered from its proximity to the Central Train Station (Bahnhof Basel SBB), but slowly and surely it is attracting attention. Basel's newest brewery, Unser Bier (meaning, "Our Beer") has recently moved into the area, and you can sample its delicious beer in its very own watering-hole. The Gundeldingerhof is a good place to eat and if you are particularly partial to coffee, then you will no doubt feel at home in La Columbiana, where beans are freshly roasted. The Bücher-Brocky is a must for those in search of intellectual nourishment.
The area surrounding the Rathaus (City Hall) is where many locals eat out. Traditional Swiss cuisine, such as Rösti (shredded fried potato with various other ingredients) can be found on the menu at the Hasenburg . This inn is extremely atmospheric, partly because it is seemingly stuck in a time warp; many years ago, there was actually a ban on knitting here! The Zum Roten Engel on the Andreasplatz is known for its excellent cakes and generous caffè latte. Its quiet premises make it ideal for intimate conversation. The Bio Andreas bakery next door, specializes, as its name suggests, in organic breads and if you do happen upon the shop, be sure to buy some of its famous olive bread. Naturally, no city would be complete without its department stores and Basel's finest is the upscale Globus . This is also situated near the Town Hall and its Deli section is particularly noteworthy.
One of the city's main squares, the Münsterplatz, is also near the Town Hall. In the past, it has been described as Europe's most beautiful parking lot. The houses that flank it are very impressive and you can easily walk to the scenic Pfalz, which is behind the Münster from here. This is a very romantic spot; you will soon notice why Basel is such a beautiful place. Once you have admired the view, you can visit the Museum für Kulturen (Ethnographic Museum) and learn more about cultures from all over the world.
The many fast food joints, cinemas, cafes, reasonably priced clothes and music stores around the Barfüsserplatz make it especially attractive to teenagers and the Music Center claims to have the biggest selection in all of Switzerland. The Barfüsserplatz is also the site of many markets, with these varying depending on the day of the week and the time of year. Bars such as the Rio Bar , the Manger et Boire and Bar Cafe Des Art's around this neighborhood also mean that you will find lots of the in-crowd here.
The Heuwaage area, neglected for a long time, has recently seen an upturn in fortune. Developments such as the new Kino-Kind cinema, the Filmpalast have given the area new momentum. Basel's most popular pub, Paddy Reilly's , the Tanzklub der Jugend, the Kuppel, and the Birseckerhof brasserie further ensure that there is always something going on here.
If you plan to venture to the St. Alban district you will inevitably pass the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Karikatur & Cartoon Museum Basel along the way. If you go down the hill, you will reach Restaurant Goldenen Sternen , which used to be in the suburb of Aeschen. Much of St. Alban's picturesque character can be attributed to its proximity to the Rhein. It is also home to two further museums, namely the Museum für Gegenwartskunst and the Basler Papiermühle.
The area around the Central Train Station, also known as the Bahnhofsareal, is dominated by a number of big hotels. And the station itself is rapidly becoming a completely service-orientated building, with restaurants and shops opening up all the time. Many of the locals make use of the extended opening hours to do some post-work shopping. For coffee and cake, Confiserie Frey and Confiserie Bachmann cafes on the square in front of the train station are noteworthy and a visit to either will soon make it clear why Swiss chocolate is famous throughout the world.
This is the city's most multi-cultural area. There are lots of different shops, especially Turkish ones, most of which are family owned. The mix of different cultures has also given rise to much creativity, which can be experienced firsthand at the Kaserne Basel , the Warteck-Areal and the Studio Cinemas. The Manor , a department store is also located on this bank of the River Rhine.
The Fischerstube restaurant brews its own beer, known as Ueli-beer; here, only a glass wall separates the eating area from the brewery, so although it can be noisy at times, you gain a unique insight into what is going on behind the scenes. The best thing to do is sit back and enjoy your beer as if you haven't a care in the world - a signature behavioral pattern the locals!
For a long time, it seemed as if Basel would never be a city known for its good food, yet in the last few years, the situation has improved dramatically. A range of factors, such as longer opening hours, have contributed to this change and anyone who has recently visited the city will no doubt testify that you will be able to find food and drink to satisfy even the most cultured of tastes.
Old Town Center
There are lots of corner watering holes with excellent snack menus. These are easily missed though and it has to be said that there are not as many as there once were. There has, however, been a distinct rise in demand for foreign cuisine. The area around the Central Train Station is home to many good restaurants, such as L'Escargot which, not surprisingly, is a French restaurant. Sakura in the train station has adopted traditional Japanese minimalist decor but its prices are anything but minimalist! Nonetheless, it's a case of "you get what you pay for" and it is without doubt the best place in Basel to sample Japanese cuisine.
A range of restaurants can also be found around the Barfüsserplatz; in fact, you may find it hard to decide what tickles your fancy most, such is the choice. The Kunsthalle-Restaurant is much-favored. Its menu is small but exquisite and in the summer you can sit outside, a practice that is particularly enjoyed by couples. If you are planning to eat at Bodega zum Strauss be prepared for a wait. This is, however, always worth it in the end because the food is mouth-watering. The Stoffero Cafe & Bar first brought the Italian coffee-culture to Basel and is a favorite with the local fashionable crowd. The French brasserie-inspired Birseckerhof near the Heuwaage is also popular.
The Gundeli area still has some catching up to do but if you do find yourself here, you could visit the Gundeldingerhof or the Wanderruh. Both serve good food and are increasingly booked-up in advance.
Go up the mountain a bit more and you will get to the Stucki , named after the district of the same name. Hans Stucki, one of Switzerland's most renowned chefs, worked his magic here for many years and the restaurant has managed to sustain its high standards since his death.
The surroundings of Leonhardskirche are home to the innovative cooking of the Teufelhof. Food is presented elegantly and is understated; connoisseurs and aspiring food buffs will feel right at home here! The restaurant also has an excellent wine list.
Those with a sweet tooth should definitely visit Confiserie Schiesser on the main market place. The cakes here are nothing short of divine and you can gaze upon the picturesque Rathaus. Cafe Pellmont, near Historisches Museum Basel, is also a good choice.
Seafood lovers are no strangers to Basel and people from all over this region of Switzerland flock to the Spitz restaurant, known for its expert handling of fish. The food here, which is already first-class, tastes even better when enjoyed on the terrace overlooking the beautiful River Rhine.
Exploring a city by foot can be tiring yet if you really want to get to know Basel, this is really the best method of exploration. The city center is relatively small and moreover, there is no other way to discover what lies behind many of the narrow medieval alleys.
This tour begins at the main market square (the Marktplatz). Thanks to the many stalls this part of town is alive from early in the morning. You can buy fruit and vegetables, tasty pastries and rolls. Before you venture any further, be sure to cast a glance at the red Rathaus (City Hall). The buildings that border it on either side are not all in their original condition and you will soon spot a few architectural crimes if you look closely. One other building that merits attention is the art-nouveau Globus . There are so many shops around the market place that one could easily succumb to a spot of retail therapy immediately but we are going to walk in the direction of the river Rhine, thereby passing the Lällekönig, a statue above the entrance of the Churrasco restaurant. It mocks those living on the other bank of the river by sticking its tongue out in their direction.
Rheinbrücke & Martinskirche
While walking across the bridge known as the Rheinbrücke , you will spot the small Käppelijoch chapel. Look in both directions from the bridge and you will soon notice what characterizes modern-day Basel. To one side, you will see many industrial plants, most of which belong to local Chemical factories. They still have enormous influence on the city's economics, and they stand in stark contrast to the landscape to the other side of the bridge, which is picturesque and hints at Basel's appearance in the Middle Ages. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that nothing here has changed for hundreds of years. If you're peckish after a walk along the river, stop in at the traditional Basel restaurant Spillman . Once you can see the Münsterhügel (Münster Hill) in front of you, you should begin to tackle the Rheinsprung. A set of steps on the right winds through the Elftausend Jungfern-Gässlein (Street of 1000 Virgins) and it will eventually take you to the Church of St. Martin . This is definitely worth seeing. Once you have reached the Rheinsprung again, carry on walking as you would have done. The university's former building, numbered 11 will soon come into view. The city's university was founded in 1460. Kleinbasel can be admired from the Weisses und Blaues Haus, located between the two bridges. The Natural History Museum a short walk away bears further testimony to the many museums in Basel, as does the Museum der Kulturen . Many years ago, there was an Augustinian Monastery in this area but regrettably, few traces of it can be seen in the present day.
The Münsterplatz, which you should now have come to is a rather odd square. It is always full of vehicles and was once described as "Europe's most beautiful parking lot!" The Zum Isaak , famous for its huge cups of caffè latte and delicious chocolate cake, is always a good place to stop and have a break. By now you may feel rather tired but this tour would not be complete without the Münster . Erasmus of Rotterdam, the famous scholar was buried here and the stations of the cross hung here are true masterpieces. The two Münster Towers are worth the climb but if you don't feel like walking up all those steps you can still admire the view of the Pfalz from behind the building. If you descend at the Pfalz you can take the Basler Fähren to Kleinbasel.
One of the locals' favorite meeting places is Tinguely-Brunnen. Its mysterious figures and the interplay of water and light will make even the longest wait seem short, and you can get the story on its creation and maintenance at the Tinguely Museum nearby. Art lovers can head to Kunsthalle from here and cinema buffs can go to the Stadtkino . Excellent plays are staged at the City Theater. In other words, different cultural outings can be embarked upon from the fountain! In the summer, the courtyard of the Kunsthalle-Restaurant is delightful, and the Campari Bar here is very popular. You can easily while away an hour or two here. A visit to the Puppenhausmuseum near the Barfüsserplatz is rewarding for the old and the young alike. After all, where else does it become more apparent how much childhood has changed? To catch the latest Hollywood import, go to the suburb of Steinen, where many of the city's cinemas are.
Historisches Museum Basel
The Historisches Museum Basel , which is situated in what used to be the Barfüsser Church, is full of curiosities. Many of the trendiest bars and cafes can also be found in the Barfüsser Square. If you like tradition, the Grand Cafe Huguenin is the one for you. You can buy cigars and smoke them in Bar Cafe Des Art's and lovers of Italian cuisine will go to culinary seventh heaven at Bodega zum Strauss . The trendiest watering hole around here is the crowded Rio Bar .
Church of St. Peter
Every Saturday, at the Church of St. Peter a Fleamarket is held on the church square. The university's main building, known as the Kollegiengebäude, is also on the square. Pass the university buildings and walk on–one of Switzerland's loveliest city gates, the Spalentor , will soon catch your eye. The university's Botanical Garden, which has over 8000 different species of plants is also within walking distance from the gate. You may want to relax here for a while!
The Kunstmuseum's (Museum of Art) collection is renowned and art lovers will certainly enjoy visiting it. Cross over the busy road in front of you. You are now in the district of St. Alban, where the Karikatur & Cartoon Museum Basel is located. Most of the buildings are very bourgeois and baroque and the gothic features are characteristic in their architecture.
The Museum für Gegenwartskunst , opened in 1980, is dedicated to modernity. It is also housed in a former factory and visitors can enjoy one masterpiece after the other. The Basler Papiermühle is also nearby. Its home is a former paper mill and since 1980, its permanent exhibition has also dealt with the history of work. Paper is also made on the premises in the same way as it would have been in the past. After your visit, stop in at the lovely Gasthof zum Goldenen Sternen with its breathtaking views of the Rhein for a bite.
Basel Tourismus ( +41 0 61 268 6868/ http://www.basel.com/ )
Basel's Old Town ( +41 0 61 268 6868/ http://www.basel.com/ )
Basel Tourismus ( +41 0 61 268 6868/ http://www.basel.com/ )
Scylla Tours ( +41 61 638 8181/ http://scylla-tours.com/ )
Basler Personenschiffahrt ( + 41 0 61 261 7550/ http://www.bpg.ch/ )
History & Culture Tours
Roman Town of August Raurica ( +41 0 61 268 6868/ http://www.basel.com/ )
Visit Switzerland Tours ( +1 800 255 3537/ http://www.visitswitzerlandtours.com/ )
Switzerland is Yours ( +41 21 331 4848/ http:www.switzerland.isyours.com/ )