Travel tips and things to do in Basel, Switzerland: 20 reasons to visit

1 VISIT THE KUNSTMUSEUM

​While the 1930s Kunstmuseum has always been a major attraction, the new wing across the street takes this gallery's appeal up a notch. Between the two spaces you'll find the largest public art collection in the country. The original museum houses pieces from the 15th century to 1950, while the striking new building is dedicated to modern art, perfectly at home in the dramatic space, which unites metal, marble and scratched plaster (kunstmuseumbasel.ch).

2 DINE WITH MICHELIN STARS

Switzerland is home to a trio of restaurants with three Michelin stars, and the newest addition to the list is located on the banks of the Rhine. Set in the handsome Les Trois Rois hotel (lestroisrois.com), Cheval Blanc by Peter Knogl is a wonderful union of stuccoed ceilings and chandeliers, gilded furniture and art – in warmer months, there is also alfresco dining. Meanwhile, in Bruderholz, on the outskirts of town, chef Tanja Grandits' two-starred restaurant Stucki sees eight- and 12-course degustations themed around colour: an eye-popping yellow dish might, for example, pair egg yolk with fennel flower butter, chicory and mustardseed polenta (tanjagrandits.ch).

3 TASTE BASEL'S BUVETTES

​The banks of the Rhine in Kleinbasel – the opposite side of the river to the Old Town – come to life when the sun shines, with locals descending for lazy lunches or a beverage at the end of the day. Things get particularly busy on weekends, when picnickers pull out rugs in the morning with no intention of leaving before nightfall. Fuel comes courtesy of a series of seasonal kiosks, known as buvettes, often operating out of remodelled shipping containers or food trucks. Each has a speciality, from caprihanas to quince ice-cream, but all serve essential ice-cold beer.

4 TOUR THE OLD TOWN

Basel's medieval Old Town is one of the best preserved of its kind in Europe. The city's compact size makes the atmospheric streets a pleasure to explore on foot; linger over centuries-old homes along the lanes of Spalenberg, the former artisans' district, before exploring the red sandstone Basel Minster and 600-year-old Spalentor gate, decorated with the city's coats of arms. The local government has created five walking tours around the historic centre, each marked on maps available online (basel.com), on an app (iTour Basel) or for collection from tourist information booths.

5 SEE THE GOOD FONDATIONS

​Celebrating 20 years in 2017, the Fondation Beyeler is the passion project of Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, private art collectors who made their paintings and sculptures accessible to the public in a light-filled gallery overlooking the Tullinger Hills. Today, the collection comprises 300 modern and contemporary works: from Monet and Picasso to Warhol and Bacon (fondationbeyeler.ch).

6 WALK THIS WAY

Not-for-profit organisation Free Walk Basel runs a number of insightful by-foot tours across the city. In addition to uncovering the historic charms of the Old Town, there are guided excursions taking in Jewish landmarks and modern architecture. For insights into Basel's hippest hood join the Kleinbasel tour, which takes you to freshly minted craft breweries just steps from the Rhine, galleries showcasing emerging artists, and achingly cool boutiques. The weekly tours operate on a tip-only basis (freewalk.ch).

7 ENJOY BASEL'S ARTY SIDE

Art Basel was so popular when it launched in 1970 that three sister fairs, in Hong Kong and Miami, have since been born. The collective goal is to connect the world's premier galleries and their patrons, as well serving as a meeting point for the international art world. This year saw more than 280 leading galleries showing the work of 4,000 artists, from modern masters to emerging creatives across painting and sculpture, film and photography as well as live performance (artbasel.com).

8 RIDE THE RHINE 

It's the journey, not the destination, that matters, or so the saying goes. In Basel, T.S. Eliot's famous quote rings true on the city's historic ferries, linking Kleinbasel with the Old Town across the Rhine. The four ferries – Wilde Maa, Leu, Vogel Gryff und Ueli – operate without motorised assistance, using only a steel cable and the natural power of the river's current. While the journey is not long, it's certainly entertaining, with ferrymen telling traditional stories as their craft glide over the water.

9 SOAK IN THE THERMAL BATHS

When the mercury drops, the Swiss warm up in thermal baths. One of the most expansive collections of pools can be found at Sole Uno, the spa complex at Parkresort on the outskirts of Basel. The facilities here range from saltwater pools to scented steam rooms, a rainforest-themed shower, saunas and hammams. The fire and ice pools see water heated and cooled to different temperatures, while treatments on offer take inspiration from Finland and Russia (parkresort.ch).

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10 PARTY FOR THREE DAYS

Switzerland's equivalent of Rio's Carnival, Basel Fasnacht begins at precisely 4am on February 19, 2018, and will transform the city into a riot of colour and noise for the next 72 hours – three days of non-stop parties, live music, elaborate costumes and street processions. Deeply rooted in history, the event has a number of traditions that locals take seriously: throwing confetti on crowds, marching with brass bands and listening to Schnitzelbank singers (bards who sing satirical verses about current events) among them (baslerfasnacht.info).

11 EAT THE SWEET TREATS

Switzerland may be known for its chocolate but Basel's claim to sweet fame is the lackerli. A type of spiced cookie made with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied citrus and Kirsch, the treat is cut into pieces and glazed with sugar while warm. It's hugely popular served alongside a mug of hot chocolate at Christmas, but you can buy lackerli year-round at stores such as Lackerli Huus; while you're there, pick up homemade truffles, wafers and caramels (laeckerli-huus.ch)

12 SWIM IN THE RHINE

The Rhine has cleaned up its act in recent years, and paddling about in its shallows has become a popular way to cool down in summer. Once a year, in August, the water levels rise thanks to a mass influx of freestylers for the Basel Rhine Swim. This public event sees participants swim or float from the city's Minster down to the lower Rhine banks. The 1.8 kilometre-long swim is usually completed in about 15 minutes, with thousands of people taking part in the name of raising water safety awareness (bs.ch).

13 SEE THE SMALL WONDER

Of Basel's 40 or so museums, the Hoosesagg stands out for the fact that you can't actually enter it. Arguably the smallest gallery space in Europe, the Hoosesagg is a window display case in a private home in the Old Town. Every month the exhibit changes, with past themes including strawberries, Easter eggs and toy cars – anything that fits into the palm of your hand. Owner Dagmar Vergeat was tired of people peering in her windows as they explored the historic quarter, and decided to give them something to look at. Today, she invites would-be curators to submit ideas and curiosities for future exhibits.

14 WATCH THEM BEND IT LIKE BASEL

It is not necessarily the first destination that springs to mind when you think soccer, but the city's FC Basel has a fantastic national record for Swiss football titles – in fact, it is one of the most successful clubs in Swiss football. Watching a match at St. Jakob-Park, surrounded by passionate fans, is an exhilarating experience. The largest of its kind in the country, "Joggeli", as the stadium is affectionately known, can hold almost 40,000 people and is easy to reach by tram and train – show your match ticket and you'll ride for free.

15 SEE TINGUELY

​ In a city that is obsessed with art, the Museum Tinguely shines brightly for its impressive collection of works dedicated to Basel's most famous artist. Painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely's creative shrine houses a number of the kinetic sculptures that he was known for, complemented by illustrations, photographs and other documents related to his life. It's an insightful entree to witnessing the artist's work in action at Tinguely Fountain, where a riot of wacky machines shoot water into the air (tinguely.ch).

16 TOUR THE OTHER BASEL

On the opposite bank of the Rhine to the Old Town, trendy Kleinbasel's talent recently joined forces to launch REH4: a creative collective comprising more than 45 shops, ateliers, cafes, restaurants, salons and galleries, all profiled on the REH4 website and with a free printed guide to the area's streets. Pick up a copy at Marinsel, which sells distinctive Swiss-made clothing, homewares and accessories, then head down the street to Plattfon and Stampa, where you will find rare records and books (reh4.ch).

17 SEE SOME MODERN WONDERS

While the historic Old Town has its appeal, a new breed of designers is slowly changing the city's skyline. Headquartered in Basel, Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron is leading the charge, with the group responsible for the unconventional warehouse-like Schaulager gallery, where the concept of displaying art in confined, individual spaces is thrown out the window – here, more than 650 works by modern and contemporary artists hang side by side, often touching, on irregular-sized walls. While the Schaulager is largely used by students and researchers, it is also open to the public for special events and annual exhibitions (schaulager.org).

18 CROSS SOME BORDERS

Because Basel lies on international borders, some of its suburbs spill into neighbouring countries. So while Vitra Design Museum is technically in Germany, it is still considered a Swiss institution. One of the most important galleries of its kind in the world, Vitra's building is an attraction in its own right. Designed by Frank Gehry, the deconstructuralist space is crafted from white plaster and titanium-zinc alloy. Inside you'll find changing exhibitions dedicated to current and historical design trends, alongside an impressive collection of modern furniture (design-museum.de).

19 TOUR MARKTPLATZ

The city's main piazza hosts weekly fresh produce markets, seasonal ice-skating, festivals and concerts, yet it is the jaw-dropping town hall (known as Rathaus Basel) that steals the scene. The 500-year-old red sandstone building once featured 1522 frescoes painted by Hans Holbein the Younger – sadly, these have been lost on the original building, but fragments are preserved in the city's Kunstmuseum.

20 TAKE IN THE COFFEE CULTURE

Switzerland is one of the largest coffee consuming nations in Europe, so it comes as no surprise that Basel's artisan cafe scene is at once steeped in tradition and pleasantly progressive. For a taste of yesteryear, Confiserie Schiesser, established in 1870, delights with stellar beans and equally enticing pastries; in summer, tables spill onto the pavement overlooking Marktplatz. Cool Mitte Cafe, meanwhile, has become so popular that it now operates a coffee truck that brews the city's favourite hot beverage in spots around the central market as well as the banks of the Rhine.

Natasha Dragun travelled as a guest of the Swiss National Tourist Office.

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