Basel, Switzerland, is a friendly and fascinating city located near where the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland meet. With the Rhine River flowing through the oldest part of the city, it is a fantastic port to explore. This museum-rich location truly has something for everyone, along with a population that loves sharing the treasures of their town. For those who enjoy museums and educational exhibits, the experiences vary from the Basel Paper Mill to contemporary art and natural history. There are many unique museums to consider.
Basel has an excellent public transportation system, and it’s free to anyone staying in a local hotel. If you have a chance to arrive a day or two early before a cruise’s departure – or stay a day or two after disembarkation, it is a great use of travel days. There are many trams and buses that cross the city and make site seeing easy. There are a few transportation hubs across the city, and one is the Spalentor (or Gates of Spalen) that was preserved from the city’s historic outer wall, built in the 14th century.
Begin your day with a tram to the Barfusselplatz (Bare Foot Place). During the holidays, this is the place to find Basel’s Christmas Market. But the rest of the year, it is still a hub of activity. Just off this plaza is the Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel, a four-story museum of toys and miniatures. The exhibits represent what must be hundreds of hours of serious toy collections that both adults and children can enjoy. On one floor are several displays of miniature amusement parks, complete with rides and concession stands. Be patient and you can see the park come to life every hour with rides that move and working lights.
A short walk east on Steinberg (coming out of the museum, turn right) is the outdoor water feature, the Tinguely Brunnen Fountain. Jean Tinguely was a Swiss sculptor known for his kinetic art and sculptural machines. The fountain is only one example of his whimsical, intricate and mesmerizing works. The water flows dynamically through his pieces to delight everyone who sees them. For additional insight into Tinguely’s genius, there are many more exhibits at Museum Tinguely, located across the river and farther to the east.
Around the corner from Tinguely’s fountain is the Open Church Elizabeth (Offene Kirche Elisabethen). There’s a café with outdoor seating that gives you a moment to pause in the shadow of its 19th century neo-Gothic architecture and enjoy a café or light meal.
For a giant leap back in history, you must put a visit to the Basel Minster (Munster in German) on your list. Originally built as a Catholic cathedral around the 11th century, the late Romanesque building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1356. It was rebuilt, with the southern tower completed last in 1500. The history and impact of visiting a structure that has literally stood the test of time is transporting. Today it is a reformed Protestant church. For an unmatched view of the city, pay a small fee (about five Swiss francs) and take the steps all the way up to the towers that overlook Basel. There are about 250 steps in total, with narrowing passageways as you climb higher. You can see the inner workings of the bells in the towers and have an unprecedented open-air view of the Rhine River below.
If you’re extra lucky, you may also be at the cathedral during a rehearsal or a live performance by one of the cathedral’s organists. Walking around to the side of the cathedral allows you to see archeological remnants of the Gallic walls from the original settlements of the city by the Celts in the first century BC.
For eating, Basel offers a tremendous variety, all served with a smile and fresh ingredients. Even if you just arrived, you may want a little taste of home but with a Basel twist. Consider taking a step back in time at Mel’s Bar Diner & Play . Like it’s southern California namesake, Mel’s is a retro diner serving burgers and pizza. It might not sound very different from American fast food, but the burgers are made from fresh Swiss beef, and the rolls are made fresh daily. Be forewarned, the flavor of your milk shake may be determined by what flavors of fresh gelato “Noni”, the owner’s mother, makes that morning. But even with substitutions it is, quite possibly, the best milk shake ever made.
For more elevated cuisine, there are a few excellent choices. Schlüsselzunft is located on a quaint street in the older section of Basel. Housed in what was originally a guild house dating back to the 16th century, when it was a gathering place for a guild of wholesale merchants. With a Zunftstube, the original tile stove, as an anchor to the dining room, the eclectic menu, extensive wine list and exceptional service will give you plenty to cater to your culinary whims. A fixed price menu is available for sampling chef recommended courses for both lunch and dinner. The desserts are exquisite, whether you want an indulgent chocolate mousse, an assortment of mini desserts, or a vanilla, caramel and bacon sundae. You’ll even be gifted with a small bag of regional cookies and biscuits to take with you.
If you’re someone who pursues an eating experience and Michelin stars, try Cheval Blanc at Basel’s Hotel Les Trois Rois. French haute cuisine, with Asian and Mediterranean influences is served masterfully in a historic setting, complete with chandeliers, plush purple velvet seating, crisp white table linens and plenty of gold gilt. The experience is not inexpensive, but trusting in a six course, chef selected menu made from fresh and seasonal ingredients will not disappoint. In warmer weather, the patio overlooking the Rhine will only add to your magical Basel experience.