Before departing on our Amawaterways Rhine river cruise, we had a little bit of time in Basel. My wife Michelle made advance arrangements with Basel tourism for a guide to show us the sights on a short walking tour of the city. This was our first visit to this Swiss city and what a beautiful place.
Getting here from Zurich was quite easy. The trains in Switzerland are the model of efficiency, they leave on time, and I mean down to the minute. If you arrive one minute late, you will have missed your ride. The platforms also have numbers on the wall across the tracks. These indicate what car will stop where, so you won’t have to sprint down the length of the train to find your car, it will stop directly in front of you, just be sure to check your ticket for the corresponding number.
Hotel Merian Basel Switzerland is just to the right of the bridge
Arriving in Basel, and just a short walk from the station, we got on the light rail and this dropped us less than one block from our hotel the Hotel Merian. The reader board on the train made this really easy, with the present stop listed and the next stop, so no surprises here. The hotel has a fantastic view overlooking the Rhine river and the Mittlere Brücke bridge. Here’s a tip, many of the hotels participate in a program where they will give you a Mobility Ticket. This will give you free access to the light rail throughout the city, and being so close to the borders you can get a train in the morning have breakfast in France, lunch in Germany and be back in time for dinner in Basel. But I would stay for the breakfast at the hotel, it is huge and offers everything you could imagine. From the old standbys, bacon, eggs, sausage to local cheese, cold cuts, delicious pastries and an assortment of fresh bread, granola, yogurt and juices. The rooms are very clean, and designed efficiently. What they may lack in square footage (by American standards) is made up with the views, a rail line right out front and yes that breakfast.
The view from our room at the Merian Hotel
Basel has a population of about 170,000 residents, so it’s neither too large to navigate, nor too small. In other words there are many things to see, and it’s perfect for a walking tour. Basel is known as Switzerland’s cultural capitol, it has close to 40 museums, and many are free or have a small admission fee.
The first home locators in Basel Switzerland
Some of the buildings go back to the 1300’s and still have the original names of the family that lived there. This was how you or anyone for that matter could find a family or home pre zip code era. The main town square known as Marktplatz is bordered on one side by the beautiful red sandstone Rathaus (town hall) since the 14th century. Everyday except for Sunday you’ll find the farmers market here selling everything fresh local and of course in season.
Town Hall Basel Switzerland
This is where you’ll find the farmers market, and this is the main gathering place for events of all types. We arrived as the town was preparing and putting up their holiday decorations for the Christmas market. This is known as one of the prettiest markets in Switzerland, but you’ll have to see for yourself as we just missed it. The tourism bureau offers guided Christmas tours so you won’t miss any of the festivals or events.
Munster Cathedral Basel Switzerland
The Munster Cathedral is a sight to behold, the sandstone’s massive architecture with it’s twin spires still manages to be delicate and yet powerful. The architecture here runs the gamut from from half timbered houses to the ultra modern, and yet the city manages to hold on to it’s old world charm.A walk around to the back of the Cathedral is the Pfalz which means Palatium Latin for Palace, as this was the site of former palace of the Bishop. The terrace here has commanding views of the city and the Rhine.
Basler Lackerli Confections
During our walking tour we went to the Lackerli House, a Basel institution that has been making traditional confections for some say 700 years. It’s origins began with basic gingerbread and has evolved over the centuries. Even if you don’t recognize the name you will remember that smell. Named Basler Lackerli, it is a combination of Hazelnuts, Almonds, candied Orange and Lemon peel and spices.
Pocket Museum Basel Switzerland
Our next stop was the Pocket Museum known as The Hoosesagg Museum. This is literally a small door that you peer through to see small displays. It may be toys representing the fire department, Storks or Swiss Airlines. It began as a private residence, and with all of the visitor traffic coming through with guides, the owners had two choices, cover their window or open a kind of shop for visitors to buy locally made souvenirs. They decided on the shop idea, and over time it morphed into the Pocket museum in 1995. The museum is also open to rent for small dinners and receptions.
With the Rhine River running right through the center of Basel there are 5 bridges, but our guide wanted us to try one of the 4 ferries that cross the river on a regular basis. They are easy to find and they use the river’s current for power to cross the Rhine. The ferries are attached to an overhead cable strung with colored flags, so you won’t miss them. You can purchase a BaselCardonline in advance. Its a great way to get a very different perspective of the city and it’s architecture, and to get out on the water.
To end our tour we were treated to lunch at RhyWyera, the name is a play on Riviera, and it works. The outdoor seating is above the riverfront promenade and has a fantastic view of the river, and all of the local people enjoying the outdoors on relaxed walks with their families and friends. The food is a combination of traditional Swiss, with a little German and French influence. The feel was relaxed, and the food was excellent, kind of an upscale comfort food, that was just perfect on a cool fall day. If the weather permits, go for the outdoor seating, it’s a great spot to admire the city from across the river, and be sure to try the local wine, it’s a prefect pairing to go with the local food.
Basel is a unique city, in that for it’s size it offers a lot of cultural experiences, not just in museums, but it’s architecture, food people and wine. Summer is high season here, and you’ll find that the Rhine takes front and center. On hot Summer days you’ll see lots of people on the banks sunning themselves and swimming or just floating down the river to quell that heat and cool off. A really cool thing we were told about was the “Fish Bag” it’s a waterproof (mostly) bag to put your clothes in the take along during your river float, just don’t put any electronics in it. Music festivals are very popular here from the Blues to Classical, House and Techno. To find any event happening in the area go to Basel Tourism Events page for the most up to date information.
For the most up to date information on everything Basel visit Basel Tourism.